The Brian Jonestown Massacre: An Interview With Anton Newcombe

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The Brian Jonestown Massacre touch down at the Teragram May 31st. Aquarium Drunkard caught up with Newcombe via Skype last week, from his home in Berlin, to discuss (among other things) his thought on recording, the music industry and…war.

Aquarium Drunkard: So, you’re in the middle of recording a new record…

Anton Newcombe: Well, several of them, yeah.

AD: And the Jonestown one, since you’ve been posting a lot of the previews online via twitter and such, it looks like it’s the first time that the touring members of the BJM have been in the studio with you in a while. And you’ve got Tess Parks.

Anton Newcombe: Well, all kinds of things are happening. I just write. The band happened to be here to track after we played Manchester, so they did some stuff. Now Tess is here doing some stuff helping me out.

AD: Just this morning you shared “Fingertips” with Tess on vocals and it sounds great. You brought out a side of her voice that I’d never heard before — she’s singing in a higher register, which made me think about how you’ve worked with so many different people on various projects and how you bring out unique things in them. How do you feel about that?

Anton Newcombe: Well, I don’t know. You know that’s up to the song inspiring. She felt the same thing. I mean, we were just talking a minute ago and she said, ‘Oh, I can hit those high notes, I just don’t.’ (laughs)

AD: Yeah, and I wonder if it’s one of those things where we would never have gotten to hear it if it wasn’t for that conversation. But it’s almost like a little bit of music magic, in that the whole thing of bringing out talents in people happens when there’s an open conversation for creativity.

Anton Newcombe: But then there’s the other side of it, which is like, an idea has more power than no ideas. So, does that make any sense to you? Like, I always say an idea has more power than no idea.

AD: Yeah, like where famous musicians get together with other famous musicians and work together and it ends up being not very interesting, yet when you do this with artists it often does bring out a whole other side of things.

Anton Newcombe: The weird thing about me, you know, is that I’m not really interested in jamming. If I was gonna play music with anybody, it would be something with a passion because I would be like ‘No, just play this because I’m not just gonna sit there and have you play nothing.’

AD: I think that’s probably the key right there, its not jamming – its somewhat structured. I was gonna ask about how the title “We are the Radio”, which more or less predicted what was on the horizon with things like Dead TV and podcasts; where people can share ideas and music freely without any kind of nonsense.

Anton Newcombe: I think the philosophy is obvious about that stuff. It’s like brew your own government, it’s sort of that anarchist do-it-yourself sort of mantra. We are the radio — its like ‘No, fuck this, there’s no radio for it so we have to do our own radio.’ That’s what that’s all about, right?

AD: So, you’ve been at this for 25+ years now and you’ve survived all the major label bullshit of the ’90s signing frenzy, etc. and its been completely on your own terms. Do you have any advice for those who are just starting out in music?

Anton Newcombe: You know, I was talking Tess earlier today about a situation. You know we love (Alan) McGee so much, and here he did all these things we love, Creation Records, and all that shit. It’s a dream to work with him, right? So he comes right at her and says I’ll give you a 50/50 deal, like it’s your best buddy. That’s like everybody’s attitudes, but people don’t know – what gives anybody the right to ask for 50%? Why the fuck are they already asking for 50%?

It’s like it’s a joke. That’s a fucking joke. What did you actually do? You haven’t done anything for what? 5 grand and you want 50% of my money for all time? That doesn’t sounds like a good deal. So, already people are really in these weird situations. You know, not just Tess. I’m talking about everyone. Like Burger Records straight off the bat – and then they split that with two other people going up the chain. Their money is 50% but they’ll be splitting it with – with their boss at Red Distribution and Sony gets their cut. So it’s like 50% of 12% is more like it. You know it’s not 50/50.

AD: It’s difficult. On one hand anybody can release music now, where it can be heard around the world, yet there is still the power of the label to get the physical product out and then having the promotion of the label. So it’s a tough call.

Anton Newcombe: Well, the key to music and its association. you know, if you want to get paid you have to have something that’s going to be ordered. Just getting it out there, getting your record out there. Put a box full of your records out on the street and just leave it there, that’s getting it out there. That’s the same thing as you shipping it out and never getting paid, basically. Go press up 1,000 records, go to a gig and leave the box sitting at a table at the club and leave.

AD: You have a big US Tour coming up. What are the differences musically in what you are doing now on stage compared with the history of BJM? How are things different?

Anton Newcombe: Things go good, I think! When people remember their parts it goes good, but when they don’t, it’s such bullshit. We just played in Germany and we started playing a song and I turned around to the drummer and I stopped the song and was like “You’re not even playing the same song as us. You should fucking stop playing drums as a drum break because in your head you’re playing a different song” and he was like “oh sorry” and I was like “yeah, exactly” And that kind of happens a lot

AD: How many songs do you play a night?  Like forty-five?

Anton Newcombe: Yeah

AD: Alright, I have some questions from some friends here: the first one is from Matt Piucci from the Rain Parade, who would like to know who some of your favorite bands were when you were growing up in the ’80s.

Anton Newcombe: First of all, my favorite bands, it goes from eras. From my mom’s record collection, early on, it was Rubber Soul and Revolver and any peripheral of the Beatles records around that. I was listening to Hard Day’s Night and all the early stuff, but what I really loved was Revolver and Rubber Soul. Those are my records, you know, and Simon & Garfunkel side 2 of Sounds Of Silence with “Richard Cory”. And I’ll always love Jimi Hendrix, I love “The Wind Cries Mary”, I love “Foxy Lady”, I love the way that makes me feel. I liked the Doors when I was a little kid, I always liked LOVE, and Donovan…so I like all that stuff. I didn’t like a lot of ’70s music, except hearing Joni Mitchell, hearing the CS&N and Neil Young stuff. My mom started getting more into the Eagles, ELO and all that shit and all that music lost me. I remember there used to be a radio station called KFJ, and it was from Mexico, but you could get it all the way up into Seattle, it was one of those superstations.

AD: I used to listen to that when I was a kid too, on the AM.

Anton Newcombe: I remember in ’77, or whenever that was, there was one day when they dropped Talking Heads, B52’s and “Rock Lobster” came on and then Blondie came out – and that was on the majors. All that stuff was on the radio, and I listened to that, but I was more interested right after that and connected with the PIL and all the punk stuff — Magazine and Echo And The Bunnymen. On the live side it was cool to see Rain Parade and Opal as the years went by, all that stuff. I would say that by the time The Butthole Surfers played with Dead Kennedys, that was about when I called time-out on going to punk shows, and then it was just whatever was interesting to me besides that.

AD: All of those influences have shown up at various times in your career along with the ’60s influences.

Anton Newcombe: Things like local bands, like I’ve seen surf bands playing at parties and all that kinda stuff — all the post-punk things that they were making and they gave it some Crampy, dark stuff and all that was going on. I used to listen to the Cramps all the time. All the peripheral stuff.

AD: Okay, another question from Steven Maddox: is there is anything you want to accomplish in the future with your music; do you see any directions that you haven’t yet explored?

Anton Newcombe: Just to keep going, again. Right?

AD: Alright, that’s all that I have for you. Anything you want to add?

Anton Newcombe: Fuck war. I want to add that. I don’t think very many people say that. I think more people should practice saying it.

AD: Yeah, I’ll come out and say that too – fuck war and fuck the politicians who support the war.

Anton Newcombe: Well, we don’t have to blame anything. All we have to do is start with stopping, how’s that, and then all things are possible. See, with all that extra energy and time, then you can start studying lives and how to prevent and how to clean up messes and all that stuff, but you start by stopping. words/interview –  d see