Thursday, May 17, 2012

live from sydney australia

brian jonestown massacre
the raveonettes

8pm AEST


The Humans Are Dead

Anton Newcombe, the maniac at the helm of controversial psychedelic rock bohemians The Brian Jonestown Massacre, talks to Chris Yates about his new album, Aufheben, aliens destroying the human race and DJs that he’s glad are dead.
Anton Newcombe – the legendary frontman of one of rock music’s most interesting outfits of recent years – is in an unexpectedly jovial mood as he answers the phone from Germany. It’s early in the morning in Berlin, but still, he’s surprisingly with it and ready to rant.
“I read an article in The Economist,” he starts, explaining what the title of the new album, Aufheben, is all about and already contradicting the image of the drug-addled vagabond he’s often laughably portrayed as. “It talked about this German word that meant to destroy something in order to revere it and rebuild it. Germany has this word, because of their history over the last hundred years, so they have had to destroy their history and culture in order to build it back up again.
“I wanted this idea like you know how they sent out this record into space and it has all this music on it, like The Beatles and all this music that’s for the aliens to find or whoever – well I like the idea of just sending out a plaque with the pictures of the humans on it (he’s referring to the cover of Aufheben – a Carl Sagan diagram from The Voyager program), and it just says this one word, to let them know that in order to understand or preserve the human race, they’re gonna have to destroy it first.”
Trying to coerce aliens into destroying the human race – that’s more like it!
The album itself is one of the strongest of BJM’s career, built from the ground up around solid drum beats and heavy bass lines that Newcombe says were just the result of him fucking around in the studio, not really knowing where to start.
“Wow, that’s so amazing that you came to that from listening to it, because that’s absolutely how it came together. I don’t go into a studio with ideas ready to record, I just get in there and see what happens. So we’d been in the studio for three days and there were all these people who were in there with me and I had nothing. I was coming up with nothing. So then I was like, you know, I just got on the drums, and I would watch YouTube videos and I would like try to de-construct what the drummers were doing and just try to play the drumbeat myself, and then it would all fall apart but we’d have some part of a song and I would just build it up from there.”
He sounds confused when trying to recall specifics from the album sessions, and when asked whether Will Carruthers from Spacemen 3 played bass on the whole record he kind of trails off.
“Yeah he played some bass... I think... on some of the tracks, but you know I just need to be around people when I’m making music, because the music doesn’t come from within me. You know? I just pull it out of the air or something so whether that’s my friends or some guy from Iceland or whatever, you know, I need those people around for the music to come out or it just doesn’t happen.”
Over the last few albums, and particularly on 2010’s Who Killed Sgt Pepper? EP, Newcombe has dabbled in adding some electronic elements to the band’s sound. Let’s get a few things straight about where he stands on this kind of thing: he hates German electronic music, saying it’s all stupid house and techno, but he does like some of the trippier elements of dubstep and in particular rates the work of Burial very highly.
“I don’t have this feeling where I want to make or I enjoy electronic drum music, you know like UNKLE – those expert remix DJs or whatever. Man, like I fucking do not understand it. Also like you know those DJs, someone sent me a photo or tweeted a photo of this guy with his laptop open and it said like ‘DJ A-Trak’ or someone ‘just played a killer set!’ (laughs) I was, like, you know, if you stole their laptop and you could learn how to press play on his iTunes then you could play a killer set as well. It’s like fucking Madonna man, you know, she goes to Europe and she goes to Denmark and she gets the best guy in Denmark to make her a song and she gets the best DJ from someone else to make her a song and then she just sings on them and then somehow they’re her songs. But that’s her power, and you know what, we’re talking about her right now. Even that DJ AM, you know, he died recently, and he just got Mixmaster Mike or someone to make all this cool shit for him and he would just replay it on a computer, you know? Fuck that guy.”
Okay then, shit’s getting a bit real. Let’s try a different tack and concentrate on why Newcombe has managed to keep a band together after all these years, when bands that emerged from the same ‘scene’ like the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club had massive peaks before disappearing into relative obscurity.
“That’s been a very clear agenda from me from the beginning,” he says with renewed focus. “I didn’t want to make music that could be used on the television or the radio to sell tampons or toothpaste or whatever. There was never any danger of my music having that appeal, and that’s why I think it’s still going. You know like The Stone Roses or my friend Steve Kilbey from the church, because he had this flash in the pan success it’s like he’s doomed to never be taken seriously again. It doesn’t matter how good his music is, it’s like because of this one-time success, no one looks at it the same way. I never went out and said, ‘I’m gonna go in and make this kind of record.’ Like, ‘I’m gonna put on a leather jacket and make this kind of music.’ And heaps of people do it that way, and have always done it that way. Like The Beatles, you know, they were like, ‘We’re gonna take Chuck Berry and... I don’t know, oh, Elvis, and we’re gonna be that band today.’ And it worked for them. But I never know what I’m gonna do before I do it or how it’s gonna sound before I make it.
“Plus there’s this thing with my music that it can be taken in so many different ways. Like it’s a rock band, or a psychedelic band, or a folk band or an art project or something. It can slot into so many different places that I never had to worry about it appealing to any massive audience.”
Chris Yates
Inpress (May 16, 2012) Time Off (May 16, 2012) Drum Perth (May 17, 2012)

The Brian Jonestown Massacre's frontman Anton Newcombe shuns mainstream and makes a point of telling it like it is
''I was thinking about something,'' Anton Newcombe announces, preparing to wander off on another tangent. ''Think about how obscene and absurd it is that they use rock music to advertise and sell cars. When I buy an automobile, I'd want it to be safe, dependable and long-lasting. Every rock musician that I admire and idolise, like Jimi Hendrix, was unsafe, irresponsible and burned out,'' he says chuckling.
''Basically, rock'n'roll is supposed to represent something that is the opposite of all the qualities that you look for in an automobile,'' he continues, ''but at some point it became suitable. I'm more interested in the opposite perspective. I don't particularly want to sell soap and I'm not concerned with moving units or that other stuff, reaching the lowest common denominator.''
Newcombe, the frontman and driving force behind US psych-rock band the Brian Jonestown Massacre, is one of the more amiable and forthcoming interview subjects you are likely to encounter, eager to chat until his slowly draining phone battery renders his voice a digital mush. Unsurprisingly though, given his restless musical tendencies, the man does have a habit of only vaguely addressing questions presented to him before veering off into his own pre-occupations. Today, mainstream American television seems to be vexing him.
''I'm banned from American television, basically,'' he says. ''I was invited to play David Letterman and Conan O'Brien like five times and then there was always word, 'No, you can't do it.' There'll be trouble no matter what. I speak my mind.''
Not that these missed opportunities are of much concern to Newcombe.
''There's nothing on TV I want to watch anyway,'' he says. ''I don't really look at mainstream media or accolades as being representative of anything. I heard that Tame Impala has got a lot of recognition in Australia. See, that's a good situation, getting some credit where credit is due, but in America it's just not that situation. If Nicki Minaj is performing for 25 minutes on the Grammys, it's a symptom of a completely diseased culture.''
Though Newcombe is now based in Berlin, Fly's interview finds him in the band's studio in Los Angeles, where the group has assembled from up and down the US East Coast - and guitarist Ricky Maymi from his adopted home of Perth. Even founding member, bassist and songwriter Matt Hollywood - who quit the Brian Jonestown Massacre after an infamous onstage scuffle that saw a sitar bear most of the brunt - is back in the fold.
It was this incarnation of the band that recorded the recently released 12th LP Aufheben. The album is a wide-ranging beast, focusing less on guitar-driven tunes and more on groove-orientated, warped instrumental workouts with tinges of exotica and kraut rock.
''Lazy journalists will just pick the Take it from the Man record and go 'These guys are prostrating themselves at the temple of the Rolling Stones,' '' he says, sighing.
''I never really view this strictly as a retro project, I always thought of it as a combination of things.
''Our music doesn't owe as much to black music as the Rolling Stones does, at all,'' Newcombe says. ''It's not primarily a blues-based thing: none of the composition is. It owes more to some other kind of sensibility that weaves in and out of that.''
In fact, Newcombe says he sees his band as more of a ''folk-music situation'', citing Bob Dylan's musical bowerbird-like tendencies as an example.
''He took all of these influences from black, white, country to blues and put them together in this mix-match as his own,'' he says. ''Even when he was electric, his eclecticism, his tastes, his personal take on everything, it's very much a folk perspective - not just folk with an acoustic guitar, it's 'of the people'. Like an expression of the everyman. I think we do the same thing for psychedelic music. I approached it very much like a folk thing. I saw other people of limited means playing music and said 'I can do this, too'.''
Newcombe says he didn't want to be a rock star or any of the roles that come with that title.
''I was more interested in learning how to play, playing music with my friends, booking our own shows, making our own records and creating some sort of scene. It was much more akin to some sort of counter-culture bohemian folk thing, that happened to be electrified.''
When Newcombe talks about working on Aufheben and the group's other albums, it appears his methods are as free-form as his conversational style. As he describes it, the whole recording process seems to be done on the fly.
''I tend to write whatever I feel like just to make music,'' he says. ''Then I get inspired, that leads to some sort of manic work ethic and you just get into a big cloud and create a whole bunch of stuff. Then you have to try and figure out what would be suitable for some sort of a record.
''I want the music to reflect some sort of full-spectrum human emotion, rather than to go in and say 'I'm anticipating there to be full-scale civil unrest in this next summer of 2012, so here, I'm going to make this edgy record','' he says.
Newcombe says he doesn't actually have any goals when he enters the studio.
''Every single time that I start a project, to be honest, I don't go in with ideas so I have to confront that. You have to question yourself, you're like 'f---' - pardon my language, it's just a manner of speaking - but literally sit there and go 'f---, have I run out of ideas? Can I still do this?' ''
It is surprising to hear Newcombe, one of today's more prolific musicians and a man with a seemingly endless supply of creative energy, questioning his abilities.
''No, I have self-doubts like almost anybody,'' he says. ''Probably more so.''
The Brian Jonestown Massacre
WITH: The Ravonettes
WHEN: Tomorrow, 8pm
WHERE: ANU Bar, Acton
TICKETS: $75.55 + bf from Ticketek
Peter Krbavac is a Canberra music writer, musician and radio presenter with 2XX.

No comments:

Post a Comment