Fans of The Locust, a chaotic hardcore punk act known for their political edge and sometimes-grotesque stage presence, know vocalist and bassist Justin Pearson as the confrontational ringleader of shows where extreme sights nudity and vomit became all but commonplace.
In the new documentary Don’t Fall in Love With Yourself, Cleveland filmmakers TurnStyle Films peel back the curtain on Pearson — from his abusive home life as an adolescent to cracked collar bones on international stages.
The film, screening at the Grog Shop on April 2 and at the Nightlight in Akron on April 4, marks the company’s second full length documentary after their Anti Flag-centered Beyond Barricades in 2020. After developing a relationship with Pearson as a fan, Nix saw the vocalist and his antics as another great opportunity; a compelling-if-uncomfortable story to tell.
Yet, even more than a glimpse at Pearson, the documentary peeks into an often-unaddressed subculture — an alternative genre of music where complex metal riffs, punk tempos and jazzy interludes all melt together to create something new and subversive.
For filmmaker Jon Nix, love for the music heavily influenced his and TurnStyle’s work from the start.
“I mean, we all have like a pretty varied range in tastes, all the other members of TurnStyle,” Nix says. “But music always played a very important role in my life — especially huge role in my creativity and how I interact with art.”
Ahead of the screening at the Grog Shop, which includes a Q&A with Pearson and Nix, we sat down with the filmmaker to discuss the ins and outs of documentary making and his love of the music that fueled the doc’s vision.
Cleveland Magazine: From Anti Flag to The Locust, you’ve centered your filmmaking on music. How did that become TurnStyle’s focus?
Jon Nix: There was a period where we were shooting music videos almost every weekend for the better part of a year. It was just a great way to keep our hands busy and build an audience and work with a wide range of collaborators … playing in different genres and just kind of honing our skills. We were just fresh out of college when we were doing some of those music videos for as low as, like, $100.
We first started just because we wanted to work; we were hungry, and we just wanted to make sure we had output. I mean, I think that the squeaky wheel gets the oil, and it was definitely a way we were making a name for ourselves.
CM: How did Pearson, an artist based all the way out in San Diego, become the focus of your film?
JN: I grew up on punk and metal through most of my childhood. And I just remember when I found The Locust and Three One G … and there's a craziness to that music and a mystique and a technicality to it that just melted my brain when I first listened to it. It opened tons of doors for me to things like jazz and the harsh noise and ambient stuff. And there's just such a varied range of influences that all those bands have. They're also creative, and they're also unique. And at the center of it was Pearson who owned Three One G, the record label.
I just started deep diving him because he was not as notorious as [someone like] G.G. Allin, but one of those kinds of characters. And he's in all these different bands and, like, what is the legend of this person? Being on Jerry Springer or stuff like that?
When I was 19, I just shot him a Facebook message and told him how much his music meant to me. He was really receptive and kind, and we ended up hanging out at the next show. We stayed in touch for years, and then, finally, about three years ago or four years ago, I shot him a message and was like, "Would you be into me doing a documentary on you?"
CM: How do you think the music and film will resonate with a new audience, especially kids that may not have had the chance to experience an act like The Locust before they disbanded?
JN: Ohio has such a good hardcore scene going right now — there's so many bands that are doing really, really cool stuff. And … I think Zoomers in general resonate with stuff like Three One G's music a lot more than even Gen X and millennials during its heyday, because I think people kind of weren't prepared for it — they were still very into that two-step tough guy hardcore. This is coming from a much more snotty, bratty, femme, kind of queer angle. And I think that it makes so much more sense. And I think it was very, very ahead of its time.
So, I hope that it finds an audience. I have been surprised by the reactions that we have gotten … a lot of people that are really young that you would figure would not necessarily know about obscure music from 10 years ago.
CM: Coming off of Beyond Barricades, is there anything you’ve learned going into Don’t Fall in Love With Yourself?
JN: I think the biggest thing that goes into documentary making is patience. They don't come together quickly. It takes a long time to source footage. A lot of it has to do with building relationships with people and then working connections from those relationships that you make. A lot of it is just kind of learning, being observational, seeing when opportunity strikes and seeing what connections you can make. I think with any ongoing long project, projects like this … patience is the biggest thing.
I think both projects are very different, even though they're both about politically focused, underground music. [Now] I definitely overthink things less. I was very young when I first started working on Barricades — I think 22 or something like that — but either way, I was very young, and it was all about trying to hit everything perfectly. I was overthinking every decision, and sometimes simple decisions just present themselves. You don't have to worry about being so showy. I feel like this edit, definitely if you put the hours next to each other, I'm sure it took significantly less to do.
Tickets are still on still on sale for both the Cleveland and Akron screenings of the film, sponsored by EarthQuaker Devices.
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