Nov 2018 21

Determined to provoke and agitate with a fiery mix of punk, hip-hop, industrial, and everything in between, Justin Pearson and Luke Henshaw speak with ReGen about their band Planet B, with a few words from guest performer Martin Atkins.
 

 

An InterView with Justin Pearson, Luke Henshaw, and Martin Atkins of Planet B

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

Drawing on their rich backgrounds in the punk and hip-hop scenes, Justin Pearson and Luke Henshaw founded Planet B in 2014 as a means to create music free from stylistic boundaries. With a number of guest performers in tow, not the least of which is the legendary musician, producer, and entrepreneur Martin Atkins, the band’s self-titled debut on Ipecac Recordings showcases an exploratory and exciting sound that demands widespread attention. Elements of cinematic atmospheres, in-your-face punk/rock, vibrant hip-hop beats, and scathing industrial backdrops all coalesce into a perfect soundtrack for acerbic and politically charged lyrics. ReGen Magazine recently had the opportunity to speak with Pearson and Henshaw, with a few words from Martin Atkins, touching on the formation of Planet B and the band’s sociopolitical outlook, as well as words of hope for the next generation, and above all, the imperative for music and art to agitate and provoke a reaction… “Anything but being indifferent.”

 

Let’s get the obvious question out of the way first – tell us about the formation of Planet B, how the two of you came to work together. Did you have any concepts or ideas – either lyrical or musical – in mind that you were keen to explore in Planet B? In what ways do you feel you achieved or surpassed those ideas?

Pearson: Luke and I had discussed working on stuff quite a long time ago, but it just took time to get things lined up. Initially, we worked on a couple songs together, one being a Britney Spears cover, which never panned out. But a few years ago, I had been cast to act in the film Incompresa. One of the scenes in the film was me playing bass and singing to Charlotte Gainsbourg. So, I enlisted Gabe Serbian to work on a couple tracks, which were to be woven into the film. While I was there filming, I asked Asia Argento, the director, about the score of the film and she agreed to let me take a crack at it. It was then that Luke and I, as well as Gabe, started working on some of the film’s score. Soon after the film wrapped, Luke and I started working on more material that what is now Planet B.

Henshaw: Ha, I was just thinking about revisiting that Britney Spears track the other day… probably a bad idea. But I think it was my remix of Justin’s of ‘A Pig’s Orphan’ that really shaped the sound of Planet B. The plan for me was to mix Justin’s aggression with my style of breakbeats and basslines and sprinkle them with chaotic spacey sounds. It’s hard to say if we’ve actually achieved it. We have so much going on right now, so there’s really no time at the moment for us to look back.

 

 

What was the songwriting dynamic between the two of you, and in what ways does it differ from your other bands/collaborations?

Pearson: Luke does the bulk of the initial songwriting. He usually presents skeletal or even more fleshed out tracks. Then I usually step in, track some vocals, demand Luke changes stuff, hopefully in a loving way, and then things come to life. Some of the non-traditional aspects that I find with Planet B is that the material is written and recorded one track at a time, where with a more traditional band and writing process, you’d write everything and then record an album all at once. And lastly, one of more impressing assets is that Luke tends to use multiple drum lines as well, which technically means there are two or three drummers on each song.

Henshaw: I get to the studio pretty early in the morning and start writing and recording. By the time Justin comes in in the afternoon, my computer screen (due to my addiction of layering sound after sound) looks like the game Tetris right before you’re about to lose. If you get the square brick piece, you’re done, but you are hoping for that long skinny piece so you can rush it to the side and get a Tetris. Justin is that long skinny piece in that he peels off a few layers so the track can breathe and he can do his thing and I appreciate that about him.

The album features a myriad of guest performers, not the least of which is Martin Atkins on ‘Come Bogeyman.’ How did he come to be involved in the creation of this track – in what ways did his presence alter or evolve your initial ideas for the track?

Pearson: Martin and I met a few years ago, where we were both on a panel for the San Diego Music Thing, where we talked about various aspects of the music industry. I think we initially hit it off and since then, he had asked me to speak at SEA (Social Enterprise Alliance) in Chicago where he is a professor, and he was recently on the Planet B podcast, Cult and Culture. But a couple years ago, Martin had plans to come to San Diego, so we organized an improv recording session and some of his drums were used on the Planet B track, ‘Come Bogeyman.’ On a perfect planet, we’d have him be a permanent part of Planet B.

Henshaw: The whole track was built around his drum parts.

 

 

To Martin, you’re known for your many collaborations and the numerous bands you’ve been a part of. What was it about Justin and Luke that appealed to your way of working, and what do you feel you brought to what they are creating in Planet B?

Atkins: I saw Justin perform in San Diego years ago and was drawn to the precise frenzy of it all (man, I forget the band of the band – Retox or Headwound City). Then the next time he was in Chicago, he let me interview him with students about his label and how he gets things done – sometimes those interviews can show you more than you really want, but I really enjoyed everything he had to say. So, the next time I was on the west coast, I suggested we ‘jam.’

You’re certainly no stranger to punk music and incorporating hip-hop modes into your own work, and we seem to be seeing more of an appreciation of hip-hop/industrial crossovers like Ho99o9 and Death Grips. What do you feel are the connecting threads between the two genres, and what are your thoughts on the audience’s perceptions of them now?

Atkins: Jason Pettigrew also pushed the idea along. It has to do with how I stretch myself (more socially than drumming wise) really, but just as MINISTRY challenged me to step into industrial from post-punk, I was excited to see where this went.

 

 

Planet B’s music does draw heavily on your respective backgrounds – Justin in the punk/hardcore scene, and Luke as a hip-hop producer – to create a sound ‘just out of reach of genre.’ Similarly, Atkins comes from a punk and industrial background. What are your thoughts on the dissemination of different styles and genres in modern music? Do you feel there will ever be a point when the whole notion of ‘genre’ is done away with?

Pearson: Thanks for your critique here. It’s flattering and hopefully spot on. I’ve spent most of my musical ‘career’ trying to avoid genres and categorizing what it is that I’m part of. I do think that San Diego has something special here, where we are able and comfortable to draw from whatever we want. Part of me thinks it’s due to the city being fairly conservative and not as welcoming and accepting to the arts, so we all have constantly had to think outside the box to function. If you consider the bands and artists who I grew up appreciating such as Drive Like Jehu, Crossed Out, Crash Worship, and then considering bands that I felt were part of my direct community such as Unbroken, Cattle Decapitation, Secret Fun Club, we’ve all managed to just blur the lines of genres for what we all do here. Anytime I’m asked what type of music I play, I always respond with ‘annoying.’ I grew up with Martin’s work, and specifically was affected by his work with PIL, which I also think fits into the realm of artists and ideas that I had mentioned in San Diego. Geography and generations aside, I think Martin and Planet B are cut from the same cloth.

Henshaw: What is the atheist’s equivalent for ‘Amen?’

There is a history of political activism and rather direct lyrics in punk, hip-hop, and industrial, and Planet B’s lyrics reference ‘the lack of humanity in the world and particularly in the U.S.’s current administration.’ Given that these are issues that have pervaded all of human history, do you as artists ever feel like the messages and ideas you’re trying to convey are lost on audiences?

Pearson: I grew up submerged in politics and activism. When I was 15 and started playing music with my first band, Struggle, it was one and the same to be socially aware, thought provoking with music and imagery, and really hone in on the aggression that we were experiencing. Also, San Diego is a fairly conservative city and when I was starting to play music, the city had a lot of issues with Nazi skinheads and institutional racism due to us being a border city. So, there was always a message that we could address in our music and art. It always was and still is a reaction to the world that we live in. The message(s) have mutated and changed over the years, but for some reason, things have seemed to come full circle with current politics and the political administration that we are dealing with now. However, I do think that being overtly political can alienate and limit your reach with art. I think being a bit more subversive creates a way to get past speaking to the choir and give way to reach people and have them ponder what certain elements of our messages mean. It’s one thing to discover art, have it spelled out for you, and then dismiss it. For me, and I think with Planet B’s album, we are able to reach past genres and possibly provoke peoples’ though processes. Granted, we are just making music, but at the end of the day, it’s music that is what crosses boundaries such as language, age, class, gender, etc., and it’s able to speak to anyone if they listen. I just hope that we get a reaction, and that they love it or hate it… anything but being indifferent.

On a similar note, right wing, sexist, racist, and nationalist ideologies seem to be finding their way into musical forms (like punk, hip-hop, industrial, etc.) that have traditionally been perceived to be the opposite. What are your thoughts on why this is? Are they losing the plot?

Pearson: Those ideologies have always had a place in musical forms. Even with something like punk or hip-hop, which is supposed to be progressive, you still have that shit that is present at times. It’s rare that you hear garbage politics in good music. A good example of this is Skrewdriver, who has always sucked, no matter how you try to spin it – it’s horrible music, even before you consider the ignorant lyrics. I think the only time I have had to contemplate offensive music and actions by a band that I wanted to like, and who were musically good, was Bad Brains, who were openly homophobic and for some reason got a pass for their bullshit. The sexist stuff might be the most common though. It’s certainly a drag to come across artists who are ass-backwards and who are oppressive in what their message might be. Even subgenres and subcultures of any sort will unfortunately rear their ugly side from time to time. I guess it just means that those who have their shit together need to make even better and more punctual art.

Henshaw: The whole act of creating music starts with the freedom of being able to do so and the freedom to create something with no borders or boundaries. The idea of people making music to express their bullshit views that oppress others is sad. They can’t be losing the plot if they can’t even conceive what the plot is.

As we see newer generations coming up and dealing with these issues, what are your thoughts on their potential to bring about positive change? Or do you think we’re doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes?

Pearson: I think part of me realizes what year it is and thinks that we should have things figured out by now. But as much as it feels like certain things take too long to die off or correct themselves, however you want to look at it, we are in fact progressing. A good example for right now might be the shift in gender politics we are seeing. Patriarchy is starting to fear for its survival – sort of like the white nationalists who are upset and cry that they are eventually going to become a minority. I mean, as long as we get our asses in gear and stop destroying this planet, we will have to start looking to Space X to actually get us to a Planet B.

Henshaw: When it comes to the newer generation, I always look towards my son and his friends. I see all the great things they are into and doing aesthetically and it makes me believe in a positive future for them. We were all crammed in a car driving back from a live podcast we did at UCSD a few months ago and Cody Votolato had this sort of speech about the newer generation. I forget the exact details, but he was so passionate and without a doubt that the newer generation was not only going to get it, but take it by the horns and steer it into great change. It was pretty rad and filled me with so much confidence. Then there are days when I’m like, ‘We are so fucked.’ I guess you can only do your part and be there for the newer generation so they can do theirs.

Are there any plans to perform as Planet B live? What would such a show entail as far as the visual and band presentation – live musicians, video/projections, props, etc.?

Pearson: Yes, and we have played live. The setup typically consists of Luke playing two MPCs, live drums (which has varied in the past with Gabe Serbian, Jung Sing, and Kevin Avery), and vocals. I had played bass in the past, but prefer to just sing on the newer material. We’ve also had visual elements added to our live shows in the past, but it’s not a permanent thing at every show.

Henshaw: The setup has always been a little different for each show and its challenging on my end playing with MPCs because it’s so easy to fuck up. If I was playing a guitar (and I’m not taking anything away from the guitar or comparing it to the MPC in any way), but I could play one wrong note, realize I’m screwed up, then get back on track right away. But if I hit a wrong sound, then the whole song is doomed. But it’s getting there. I’m also very open to the idea of having Justin double as vocalist and kazoo player.

Pearson: The kazoo was only on one track. It is a great instrument though.

 

 

Live shows and tours more so are a huge undertaking, and some of the artists I’ve spoken to are under the impression that they’re not as important to fans as they used to be. I can understand what they mean when it seems that concert attendance is fighting more of an uphill battle than before. And economies always tend to suck when creativity is at its height… but I’m old school and tend to think that a good live show is always worthwhile as an experience, both for artist and audience. What would you think should happen to motivate audiences to come to a show, any show? What do you see as the future of live music?

Pearson: If I had the answer to this, I would sell it to the corporate music industry. But for now, I have low expectations in what I do and that way, I’m always satisfied and appreciative of what I get to take part in. I don’t really have time to worry about the future of live music when I just worry about the future in general.

What’s next for Planet B?

Pearson: We are currently working on new material, as well as a cartoon with our comrade Eric Livingston.

Henshaw: We also have our Cult and Culture podcast, which is gaining some momentum. So, expect new episodes of that.

 

Planet B
Facebook, Bandcamp
Three One G
Website, Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, YouTube
Ipecac Recordings
Website, Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, YouTube

 

Photography by Becky DiGiglio – courtesy of Three One G Records and Planet B

 

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