Uncut conversation with Brian Jonestown Massacre leader Anton Newcombe
In a blog post last week, I showcased a feature-length piece I wrote concerning Anton Newcombe, the leader of the band the Brian Jonestown Massacre. I have long been fascinated by Newcombe and his music, so when the opportunity came up for me to see his band live as well as interview Newcombe himself via e-mail prior to the BJM’s recent east coast tour I couldn’t resist.
While not all my notes and observations made it into the completed article, I thought readers would enjoy seeing the uncut version of my interview with the infamous bandleader. So, I have posted the entire exchange here with only small edits made for spelling and clarity. Enjoy!
Underground: First off, where am I reaching you for this interview?
Newcombe: I’m in Berlin enjoying a brief break before I return to the United States to finish the tour.
What were some challenges you faced during the recording of your latest album Aufheben?
I no longer drink alcohol and that changes the way a person hears sound, among other things. I am lucky that I work with an engineer full time in Berlin and he helps me avoid second-guessing myself while we record and mix music.
How did you overcome such obstacles?
The same way I deal with fear of any kind. i think about my awareness of a problem or situation then I confront that fear or thing and I move forward, but i do not give up. I set goals and meet them realistically.
What led you to name the album Aufheben?
I was reading an article that mentioned the word and decided to learn more about the concept and meaning. I can see clearly that it is very topical in many ways to many problems facing humanity and mankind, but more importantly western civilization and governments. Take for instance global warming. To address that issue we will need to abolish, lift up, preserve etc many things, most things in our cultures in order to survive and thrive.
How would you characterize the dual meaning of the album’s title, which can be translated as both “to abolish” and “to preserve”?
Humanity needs to address a multitude of habits, and attitudes on many levels in order to progress and thrive. This should be obvious to even small children. The status quo is harmful.
How would you describe the audience reaction to the new material on your tours so far?
Overwhelmingly positive and I am thankful for that.
What is it like for you to perform these new songs live?
I enjoy certain elements of our entire body of work, to that end, the new songs fit in seamlessly.
Do you have any favorites out of the new tracks?
I don’t play favorites or even select the songs to be played. My group figures that stuff out. I treat the creation of our music as conceptual art. Our concerts are performance art, meaning that in the live context I am more or less a part of a team. These two things are not always related in a direct way nor should they be.
I have no problem writing music by myself for the project and why should I? However I feel strongly that these ideas take on the life forms in the live context and that is where they truly shine.
Of your older material, what are some of your favorite songs to perform?
We are not and have never been a singles/ song-based project in the way your question presents. To me it’s about the entire context of a concert. I enjoy presenting a full spectrum of sounds and emotions and do not play favorites, as I don’t limit my own interests so narrowly. I create environments.
What can audiences expect/ not expect from your shows on this upcoming East Coast tour in the US, especially your Boston performance at the Royale Nightclubon August 24?
You can expect the concert to be sold out, so I would advise you to act fast and secure yourself a ticket.
What can you tell me about the band opening for you on this tour the Magic Castles?
I would like to encourage anyone planning to go to this concert not to miss the first act. I believe in their project enough to release it with my own money as a document. Actions speak louder than words. Music is meant to be heard more than talked about. I love the way some of their songs make me feel.
Watch the video for the Magic Castles' "Ballad of the Golden Bird" here:
What are some other bands you are listening to now?
Shifting gears back to Aufheben, the track “Stairway to the Best Party in the Universe” contains a part that seems reminiscent of the Rolling Stones’ song “Paint it Black.” What are some of your other favorite Rolling Stones’ songs?
Everything about the Rolling Stones including their name is a point of reference to something else. I find it interesting that their organization avoids referencing Brian Jones and his contributions. Shame on them.
There’s definitely a lot of ‘60s psychedelic influence in your work, but you also have experimented with electronic sounds and recorded in places like Iceland and Berlin. What is it about these other sounds and places that inspires you?
I taught myself to play music on mini-moogs and korgs and rolands - Iceland and Berlin are both very forward thinking cultures/places – that’s what I need in my life, in my art and the world would do well to investigate both of these societies and emulate many aspects.
What has it been like to collaborate/ tour with Matt Hollywood and Joel Gion again?
I love both of those people for many reasons. At the same time, we are all independent of each other. So it’s the best of both worlds I think.
What can you tell me about the other members of your current band?
Half of the group I’ve played with for 10 years the other half more then 20. I think each of us respects and annoys each other in equal measure. That’s honest and fair.
What are some future projects/ recordings that you have planned?
I very much want to continue exploring song composition, production with other groups with a primary focus on soundtracks for cinema. I want to do an epic soundtrack for Lars von Trier or even [Quentin] Tarantino. In some way I would like to make a great movie even better with audio/ sounds/ song craft and score.
As an artist faced with the proliferation of cell phones and other recording devices, how do you feel about audience members recording you and taking photos during a concert?
It’s a shame people cannot be in the moment. My natural reaction is to be as lifeless and unkempt as possible on stage in hopes that people tire of filming me and revert to listening to the music.
What do you make of your experience broadcasting DEADTV via USTREAM? What do you hope fans get from watching your online broadcasts?
I have zero desire to morph into a presenter. However, I hope that I can inspire other to attempt creating media they themselves would enjoy instead of being so passive and cynical about the lack of quality media that speaks to them. It’s a powerful tool that can be as eclectic as your own imagination. As an artist I am very interested in the actual “folk” media - things created by people for people that bring people together in spite of financial considerations. Get the fuck off of Facebook. Stop reading about other people's lives and start living again.
Is there any question or topic I should have asked about but didn’t? If so, what would you like to talk about or maybe elaborate on?
I would like to encourage everyone to spend 15 minutes online a day learning something new. Trust me it will enrich your life. Any subject. Search for the stimulation you did not know you needed. The mainstream is a sewer.
Any final thoughts?
Yes. I think Henry Kissinger is a fucking asshole.