The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe interview
After various attempts at talking to his manager between one concert and another, between trips …I was finally able to interview Anton Newcombe. Ouuu yeeaahhh!
The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s enigmatic and charismatic leader- the worldwide, psychodelic indie benchmark band on the scene whose name comes from a macabre word play in which Newcomberinde tribute to Brian Jones (guitarist and founding member of the Rolling Stones and first member of the “The 27 Club”) and which is intertwined with the 1978 Jonestown massacre (the collective suicide of 909 members of the Jim Jones sect) – is backed up by a prolific career spanning over almost three decades, which has left no one indifferent.
Anton is a peculiar type, with a captivating personality and who is very intelligent and conflictive in some moments due to his erratic behaviour and his tumultuous relationship with other musicians, but also because he’s an artistic genius capable of playing over 80 instruments, composing a lot of music for a variety of projects in the same year while producing for other bands. It’s non-stop.
Hello Anton. How are you?
I’m okay. I just woke up.
How was the concert yesterday?
Long! The concerts are long. We played a three hour set again.
Three hours, wow! Shall we get started?
When did you realise that you wanted to be a musician?
I always loved music, but I never really thought I could play in front of people, until I saw people playing in [public/pubs] then I knew I could do it. You know when you watch a video of Jimi Hendrix or somebody playing or more importantly, The Beatles or something, they’re not showing you that you can do what you want to do. You end up putting them up on on a pedestal and idolising them.
How many instruments do you play?
I play pretty much everything. Not perfectly, but you have to remember that you go on Youtube and there are six year-old Korean kids playing the cello perfectly, so if you set your mind to it you can do it. I always think about that and then I remember the internet kid that didn’t take piano lessons, the guy that plays sitar didn’t take sitar lessons, so it’s really all mindset.
What does your band mean to you? What does the Brian Jonestown Massacre represent to you right now?
Well, I’ve played for a long time. I’ve been playing music since I was twelve or whatever, so it means different things.
It’s your life.
Well I do a lot of other things. I have children, I like to cook, I do all kinds of stuff. I produce music for other people. It’s not my life. I have all kinds of things that are part of my life. But mostly I like doing soundtracks for movies. I just like music. It’s just one thing.
There are a lot of other musicians that consider themselves geniuses. Do you consider yourself a genius?
Well I don’t really think about it. I know that I write music differently than other people, but I just go to the studio and make music because I like it.
So you don’t really care about this kind of opinion. You’re just making music and nothing more, right?
Yeah. I just make it up for me. I just love that creating the culture that you need is an organic thing. So you have to create the world that you need to survive in, you know. For me, it’s like your house. Your house is the way you like it and then your work and everything is set up so that you’re happy and then all the people come together, and this is like the glue. I’m more interested in the folk medium than some rockstar bullshit like heavy metal. Like some people that want to be a star or some shit.
I don’t even show everybody everything. I don’t make it up for money. I don’t make it up for record companies. I don’t make it up to fuck women. I don’t make it up to do drugs at a party. I just make music because I enjoy it.
Is there anyone besides that is essential to the band? Or is there anyone you miss playing with?
Oh, I don’t know. Things are the way they are for a reason. I can’t play music with junkies. They do nothing, so I don’t miss that.
What does the documentary Dig! represent to you? And what is your current relationship with the Dandy Warhols?
Well, the movie doesn’t have anything to do with anything. First of all, the movie didn’t even show me talking to anybody. I can speak to you, even though we’re not speaking in Spanish, I can speak to you in sentences that have over 23 words in them that make perfect sense and they’ll be understood, right? But they don’t show me saying anything. My relationship with The Dandy Warhols is good, I talk to Courtney every now and then. I’ve done remixes for them, I do all kinds of stuff.
But you’re still friends with the Dandy Warhols?
I always have been friends with them. You know, I set up the situation in which these people were allowed to film and then they told the world and that they had made this move and made these people. If you watch the movie they don’t even know who the fucking Dandy Warhols are. When the Hollywood agents asked me if I wanted to be in a movie and I met with the directors, I said, “I’ll take over your film. This is a story. I have a story here. I think this is stupid. This is a good story. I’ll introduce you to a band.” I got that band a record deal and I told that record company, “You have to let them continue be in this movie.” My friend gave those people money so they could film. So that woman just thought she was a star maker and she told the story but she didn’t have the ending, so she said, “These guys are great and these guys aren’t great,” but actually I knew them really well.
I was at the Dandy Warhols concert in Bristol and they admired you.
I’m friends with those guys. I talk to them all the time, I talk to their wives. It’s not a big deal.
What are you working on at the moment?
Last Easter for the holidays I was cooking food for them. It’s not a big deal.
Are you creating new material for the new album at the moment?
I recorded 45 songs before we went on tour and did two remixes for Primal Scream,,.
I heard the song ‘Fingertips’ sung by Tess and I love it. Why did you decide to collaborate with her and do you want to do something similar with other artists?
I always record with other people, since the very beginning. I write music for other people. It doesn’t have to be me.
I think symphonically so I get pleasure seeing the idea happen, not just playing. I don’t have to be Elvis. I’m more like Mozart, it’s a different thing. I like to just watch the show.
So are you going to do more songs with Tess, or is this the only one?
Oh yeah. I have much more music we’re going to do. She’s all over the new Brian Jonestown Massacre records. I had too many songs and I needed more words, so I asked her to help me.
Which song would you like to have composed?
I don’t know. I just want to keep working hard. I don’t want to take anything away from anyone else.
What do you think about music nowadays? Do you like it? Do you have a favourite group? What kind of music do you listen to?
I like some groups from here and there. My favourite British band are the Mornings… they’re so good. I don’t know, most pop music I don’t like.
Do you go to concerts? Do you like live music? Do you go to festivals, as an audience memberrather than as a musician? Do you go to concerts to see other musicians?
Well sometimes I do.
What about the USA tour? Do you like it?
Yeah, I enjoy touring. I like to play because when I’m in the studio it’s just conceptual art. When I play live it’s performance art, where the music comes alive with the people. So they’re two different things that are very important.
You’re going to come to Madrid on the 8 September. Have you been to Spain before?
I have. I really like Spain. I’ve been several times. I really like the people. Everyone knows this, especially in Spain, there is no one Spain. There’s the different regions and the different cultures within Spain and they’re all different but I like them all. I like travelling around. I like Spanish people a lot. But let me tell you, I wasn’t saying that it should break up, that’s up to the people of Spain. I know that there’s different parts.
Yes, exactly. Because Madrid and Barcelona are completely different.
Do you want to play at Primavera Sound? Have you been there?
Yeah. We played a couple of times. The last time I think we played Apollo, the night before to kick it off. They had us play with Har Mar Superstar. It was stupid because right after there were so many people trying to see us, there were like 20,000 people and everybody just left, so I think they messed it up. But I’d like to go back.
This is a personal question, so if you don’t want to answer I understand. What to you is the meaning of life?
Right now the meaning of life is existing in this bullshit. Everything’s not so simple. It’s not so simple just to be yourself. It’s like trouble comes to you, you don’t have to go looking for trouble. So you have to have what you want, your mind and these things all have to be working. Otherwise life will just eat you up.
It’s complicated to find the balance.
You go to school to try and learn something and they turn you into something. You have to actually know who you are before you get to school and get turned into something. You find out very quickly that you’re not even you.
Yes. Exactly. Do you feel happy right now? Is this a good time for you?
Well I just woke up from a siesta and I think if I drink some tea right now I’ll be great.
What’s your favourite place to get lost?
My mind! “Estoy loco en la cabeza,” right?