Justin Pearson isn't sure punk rock exists anymore. In fact, he pretty much thinks it's dead.
“I hate that shit,” says Pearson, over coffee in Mission Hills. “I like the concept and ethics of hardcore and punk. It's so important, but to me there's punk and there's punk rock. Punk rock is dead, but punk will never die, ya know?”
For Pearson, the word “punk” is more acceptable as an adjective and, when it comes to Head Wound City, what he did with that band 10 years ago was punk as fuck. Bandmate, musical BFF and Head Wound drummer Gabe Serbian agrees.
“I don't think there was really that much thought put into it. It was just like, we did it. We played one show and we recorded that record,” says Serbian. “Wait, I think the record was made before the show. I could be wrong about that. I don't remember. It's been a while.”
That it has. The band was formed—and, at first, existed only briefly—in 2005, but the legend of Head Wound City has only grown through the years. Made up of an all-star cast that includes locals Pearson and Serbian (The Locust, Holy Molar), Seattle musicians Cody Votolato and Jordan Blilie (The Blood Brothers) and Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner, the band broke up almost as soon as they got together. Well, they didn't really break up. There weren't any drawn out statements of indefinite hiatuses or musical differences. They just did the most punk rock thing there was to do: make one gnarly 10-minute EP, play one legendary show at local club The Epicentre, and then disappear just as the buzz was beginning. Now, they're back together playing shows and recording new material.
Head Wound City play June 25 at The Casbah
“There was no intention other than to do the band for fun and create something with friends,” says Votolato, who plays guitar in the band along with Zinner. “We never put any parameters on what the band would and wouldn't do. The future has always been open in regards to Head Wound City.”
One listen to that seven-track EP from 2005, which Pearson recently reissued on his Three One G label, and it's evident now, just as it was then, that these are just five dudes who like playing spazzed-out noise-rock together. Just as with the band's original conception, their reunion was just as carefree. Put simply, Zinner moved out to L.A. from New York and was asked to curate a relatively small music festival called BEDROCKtoberfest this past September. He thought that it would be cool to have Head Wound City play a couple shows and, even though all the members were busy with other projects, they somehow made it work.
“Dude, it was wild. A lot of people came up and said stuff like, ‘I've been waiting 10 years for this,'” says Pearson, reflecting on the show the band played at the punk club The Smell. “When we played there, it was really special. We played the set and when we were done people were like, ‘fuckin play more,' and we played the same sets again. So we played all the same songs again and people were just as into it.”
The band came out of the shows feeling like they had a good time, and they wanted to do more.
“I look at the EP almost like a demo,” says Pearson. “Like, ‘come on, let's try this out' and yeah, 10 years later, we made a real record.”
In a lot of ways the recording of the new album was the exact opposite experience of the first EP. They had time and a budget and, perhaps more importantly, they were different people as well. To hear them tell it, the new material is still hard and visceral, but it's also mature and sonically varied. They're no longer five twenty-somethings just banging away on their respective instruments with abandon. They're five thirty-somethings banging away, but this time with feeling. They also brought in veteran producer Ross Robinson, who produced classics like At the Drive-in's Relationship of Command and The Blood Brothers' …Burn, Piano Island, Burn.
“He was like a coach. Between takes, he'd talk to us about what we'd been doing and why we were doing it,” says Serbian. “He'd just get us pumped up between takes and I've never had anyone do that.”
While the resulting album doesn't have a release date yet, the band is talking to a couple labels and has a small West Coast tour planned starting with a date at The Casbah on June 25. Pearson says they're also planning a larger tour in the fall and that, for fans who've waited a decade to see them, he's confident they'll leave feeling like the wait was worth it.
“Yeah, it's going to be loud and annoying sounding. All those things that punk and hardcore are supposed to be,” says Pearson. “But it's also a lot of things that punk isn't supposed to be. There's no stupid nihilism. It's progressive, it's thought out and it's from the heart.”
He pauses and then reaffirms, “It's still hardcore. It's still punk.”