Interview with vocalist Justin Pearson and programmer Luke Henshaw | By Thomas Pizzola
Justin Pearson of The Locust, Retox, Dead Cross, and founder of Three One G Records started his new project Planet B in 2014. Formed with hip hop producer Luke Henshaw—known for his work with Sonido De La Frontera and First Power Crew—and often featuring Pearson’s longtime collaborator, drummer Gabe Serbian, the San Diego band had an interesting gestation period.
“The band got started in conjunction with Luke, myself, and Gabe Serbian all working on the soundtrack and score to the Asia Argento film ‘Incompresa,’” Pearson says. “So, Planet B ended up being birthed in a pretty organic manner. Nothing was planned out, and there wasn’t really a grand idea of what we were going to be doing.”
Planet B’s music is Pearson and Henshaw’s take on the alt hip hop of bands like Death Grips and Ipecac Recordings labelmates Dälek. Those acting surprised must not have seen how Pearson operates, as he has a thirst to explore new sonic avenues with each project he undertakes.
“I’d like to think that each thing I do is different in some way from my previous work. I’m constantly learning and trying to grow with what I can contribute to any sort of collaboration,” Pearson says. “Since Luke’s roots seem to be in the realm of hip hop, there is a pretty standard 16-bar verse and finding some sort of pre-chorus and chorus part, but the more interesting thing for me was delivery, punctuation, and adapting to the beats that Luke created.”
Meanwhile, Henshaw had his own motivations for taking on the project.
“As a producer, I love taking people out of their comfort zone and challenging them to do something new,” Henshaw says. “With this project, it wasn’t so much taking me out of my comfort zone as it was challenging myself to develop something that, to me, was impactful both musically and lyrically. I grew up with every genre that is labeled with Planet B, and I had always wanted to do something like this but could never find the right sounds to do it or find the right person to do it with. Then I met J.P., and he has this ‘fuck it, let’s do it’ attitude, so that made it easy for me to say ‘fuck it’ and dive into it.”
The group started slowly at first, releasing the Wrong Utopia 7” in 2015; a split 7” with Invisibl Skratch Piklz and a collaboration with Adam Gnade entitled Life Is the Meatgrinder That Sucks In All Things in 2017; and working with Nick Zinner of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs to contribute a cover of Depeche Mode’s “Never Let Me Down Again” to Loose Grip Records’ Love Oakland compilation, a benefit for the victims of the tragic 2016 Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, California. Eventually, these small tastes turned into a bigger meal, and the project soon grew and took on a life of its own.
Planet B have now released their debut self-titled LP through Ipecac on Nov. 23.
“Planet B started out pretty part-time, so we would do stuff in between and among each of our other projects,” Pearson says. “The way we work is one track at a time, for the most part. Therefore, some of the material on the album is much older than other tracks. After a while, we seemed to have enough for a full-length, which also projected [the band] into becoming a more prominent project for both of us.”
Henshaw concurs, “I was very aware of our different schedules and other projects, but I was secretly hoping we were going to do a full-length from the beginning. Then, some songs went here, and some went there, and I started scratching my head—but I get it now and am glad it turned out how it did. It gave us a chance to weed out the weak and build a stronger chemistry and friendship between us.”
Planet B is an exciting dose of musical alchemy. Pearson rallies against the current state of the world, while Henshaw provides him with a varied sonic attack that draws on hip hop, industrial, horror soundtracks, and whatever else he felt like throwing in the mix.
“My hours are odd compared to the average producer; I wake up super early and head to the studio,” Henshaw says. “For the most part, everything began with the [Akai] MPC. I would put together some drums and a heavy drone sound or bass, then play ‘eeny, meeny, miny, moe’ with records and other stuff I have access to—a kazoo, a five-dollar swap-meet accordion, my old electronic blackjack game, etc.—to build the sounds. Then, I’d wait for J.P. to wake up and respond to my email: yea or nay. If yea, he would write. Gabe would come in around this point and layer his drums—sometimes I’d record him to a click track first and build around that. After the vocals were recorded, J.P. and I would then arrange the song and sort of deconstruct the song until it made sense. Toward the end of finishing the album, I got a Moog Sub 37, so I went back to a few songs and added layers. I also sampled a bit of J.P.’s basslines throughout the album—even got him whistling once. I’m trying to convince him to yodel so I can morph it in the near future.”
While working on the new album, nothing was off limits sonically.
“The direction of the sounds of Planet B just fell in place: it’s the sum of both of our backgrounds. On my end, I used whatever was in my reach,” Henshaw says. “I’ve been collecting records, weird sounds, and half-working equipment for most of my life now, and I wasn’t going to neglect any of these in making this album. I even went on new digs to discover new shit for each song—if you listen closely, you can hear sounds of submarines I sampled from old VHS tapes—but as far as sounds being off limits, hell no! Musically, it was about taking familiar sounds and manipulating them.”
Conversely, Pearson’s lyrics take dead aim at current societal woes.
“I’m not sure it’s a decided route, as the stuff I tend to write about is generally political—or perhaps more socially political—but a bit abstract or metaphorically-driven,” Pearson says. “Nonetheless, I think the lyrical content is stuff that should be said or things that need to be addressed. Hopefully the way we deliver it isn’t a deterrent. I know plenty of people get pretty turned off by politics in music at times. But then again, I couldn’t give a shit what people think when they get upset about the types of stuff I say with my lyrics.”
Just don’t call it protest music.
“As far as it being protest music, I wouldn’t really call it that,” Pearson says. “If anything, it seems pretty obnoxious, annoying, aggressive, aggravated, etc. I mean, that seems pretty reasonable for the world we are currently living in. The real protest, in my eyes, comes down to how you live your life. Sure, the music is a voice, which hopefully resonates with others, but my protest is more microscopic, or perhaps more subversive.”
In addition to Serbian, Planet B boasts a collection of guest artists including Kool Keith on “Crustfund,” Zinner on the aforementioned Depeche Mode cover, post-punk legend Martin Atkins on “Come Bogeyman,” and more, proving this is truly a genre-bending musical experiment.
From part-time project to full-length album, Planet B have proven to be another gem in Pearson and Henshaw’s diverse bodies of work. Planet B is like nothing either of them have ever done, and that is its beauty.