Tuesday, July 17, 2012

destroy build destroy 

“If you look at German culture throughout the last century, at multiple times they had to completely destroy in order to lift up and preserve. It’s a real heady concept without a context. When you see the old classic ‘70s litter bin with the hand throwing the litter in there? Germany’s just say “Auftheben.” To clean up. To preserve.” 
I did not want to interview Brian Jonestown Massacre frontman Anton Newcombe about his new album Auftheben. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a huge fan of his work and spent many nights in col- lege listening to Their Satanic Majesties Second Re- quest at 2 a.m. when coming down from too many Jager Bombs. But on the day we were scheduled to talk, I was in no mood to field any rock star ego— earlier that day I had discovered that my ex-girl- friend, whom I had dated off and on for a decade, had gotten engaged to a dude she had only been seeing for five months. Even with an iPod full of Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen songs to soothe my hurt and anger, I was not exactly feeling at the peak of my journalistic powers. But I bucked up, wiped my eyes and prepared to call Newcombe at his Best Western hotel room in Portland. The show had to go on. 

To my immense joy, I discovered a friendly, thoughtful artist of almost imposing intelligence who was far from the wild-eyed maniac the world witnessed in the documentary Dig! (Newcombe disavows the film, claiming it takes everything out of context). Always outspoken and never lacking for something fascinating (and controversial) to say, Newcombe even gave me advice on healing a broken heart. And it helped. Thanks, Anton!
Ghettoblaster: First of all, you’ll have to help me, because I suck at pronouncing German. How do you say the title of the new album? Anton Newcombe: Off-hugh-ben. 

GB: Thank you. Now that word encompass- es a lot of contradictory meanings—to build up, to abolish.
AN: Isn’t that wonderful? 

GB: Definitely. So what was the significance in choosing that term as an album title? AN: Well, let me give you some background on the word so I can put it in a healthy context so you can visualize it. If you look at German culture throughout the last century, at multiple times they had to completely destroy in order to lift up and preserve. It’s a real heady concept without a context. When you see the old classic ‘70s lit- ter bin with the hand throwing the litter in there? Germany’s just say “Auftheben.” To clean up. To preserve. So that’s what that means. So what was your question?

GB: Well, what was the point of choosing
that as an album title? 
 AN: The image (on the album cover) is of the plates that were sent out with Voyager probes. On these probes that were launched in the mid- ‘70s, there’s a gold disc in each one, with greetings in mathematical code, in all of the major languages and some greetings that were never disclosed to the public. There were examples of our art and culture; samples of Bach, Beethoven, The Beatles. And there’s that picture that says ‘This is humanity. This is where we come from. This is where Earth is located. This is how you operate this gold disc.’ It’s like our greeting card. I thought it would be funny if an alien species found that with the word “Auftheben” on it. In other words, this has to be destroyed to be preserved. Because that’s where I see Western Civilization—we need a radical rethink. That’s what I think and you can disagree with it but as a kid, I was always encouraged to be so optimistic about the future. You know, the hip- pie teachers and the educational programs, even the media was a little more content-heavy—look at After-School Specials or the “very special epi- sodes” of Eight Is Enough where so-and-so is deal- ing with this or that issue. Everything is just abso- lute puke. I don’t understand why cable TV has to be a series of copycat situations where you have this one jackass from New Jersey and you’re going to follow him and watch him do stupid shit, then you turn the channel and here’s a jackass in Hawaii and he’s chasing bail jumpers then you switch the channel and here’s this jackass driving these con- tents of storage supplies and it just goes on and on. With all this technology there’s less content across the board and you see it in the recording industry and music and all this shit. And it disturbs me. I guess traditionally, if you had the means, you would get a tutor, and you would explain to your children Machiavellian style so they could under- stand the ways of the world and then they would dominate. But what is the consequence of having a brain-dead, uninspired population? It gets hard just to go out in public. A perfect example is if you’re in a restaurant and you choke. People are just go- ing to watch it like its reality TV and not get up and do the Heimlich Maneuver. I actually saw that happen once on Kim Kardashian’s show. 

GB: Right. It seems like more people are living their lives on Facebook and Twitter these days and there’s such a decline in real- life social interaction that people almost don’t know how to respond when confront-
ed with something like that.
AN: Yeah. It’s Brave New World. It’s totally what Orwell wrote about in 1984 when they would scare the shit out of the population into submis- sion. But we’re living it. And the only people who will comment on it are these strange elements, like Alex Jones (conspiracy theorist/conservative radio host). Whether some of his information is accurate or it’s just hysteria, he’s talking about it. It’s treachery in the extreme. If you’re intelligent and you look at the news and what is newswor- thy and what isn’t, it’s so bizarre. Here’s a perfect example—if I was making death threats of any kind against, say, the Kardashians, there would be a restraining order placed against me at the very least, if not arrest. But FOX News can have Newt Gingrich advocating an attack on Iran and that’s perfectly acceptable. There’s no restraining order being placed against Newt Gingrich. There’s like this kind of sociopathic, weird schizophrenia cul- ture-wise. I’m not saying “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” but I’ve had enough to the point where I now live in Berlin. 

GB: And that brings me to my second ques- tion—what is it about Berlin that draws you there?
AN: They spend over a billion Euros supporting the arts and part of that is out of necessity because of the history of the destructive aspect of German culture. Germany is known for other things, too besides that—excellence in science, engineering. So they very much support the arts and that’s a cool environment. Another thing is I don’t speak German fluently so I am completely immune to being bombarded by the media—commercials, idle chit-chat, or anything. It just doesn’t register in my consciousness. And Germans in general don’t invade your private space. You don’t get in a situation where someone wants to know your life story when you bump into them at a party or something. It’s really important because we’re all victimized by advertising; even if you’re only on Facebook, you’ll constantly attacked by ads. So it’s really cool because I’m really interested in my own ideas and my own creative process unfettered. So living there is brilliant for me.
GB: I can’t help but think of those three al- bums that David Bowie recorded with Brian Eno in the late ‘70s because he basically said he found that by living in a city where he didn’t understand the language, he was able
to cleanse himself artistically.
AN: Yeah, it draws right back into what I see are these corporate, reverse totalitarian tenden- cies. Here’s the problem. When civilizations start leading towards any form of fascism—you have to remember that when Mussolini defined fas- cism, he said it was about expanding the role of corporations in the State. We’re there. We’re there 100 percent. Here’s the thing about these situations as a form of government—they never rescind that authority voluntarily. They never say “Well, this was just a reaction to the situation at the time.” They only fell from their own mistakes or an angry population or an outside influence like the G.I.s in World War II or something. So that’s the danger of all these things, so I consciously decided to move to Berlin because guess what? It’s the last place on Earth—literally—where they can’t dress up and act like Nazis. It’s not only an internal cultural safeguard, but it’s there physically. I may be out of my head but I don’t think so. And also they have a social contract that’s interest- ing—they never allow people to be slackers. I’m in Portland, Oregon right now, and they say that Portland is where young people go to retire. So it’s not like that in Germany. Then again, I don’t have to establish myself. I don’t have to sing for my supper in Germany. I’ve already done my work to be able to support me. I just work now because I enjoy putting albums out and I want to experience what it means to be a mature artist. In the main-
stream they only talk about this youth-oriented thing, like (Justin) Bieber. He’s 18 and he’s only being marketed to 10–12 year olds, which in my mind makes him almost some kind of pedophile. In another time, you could take a group like The Carter Family—it’s music for babies to grandmas. It’s much more healthy. I want artists to feel com- fortable not chasing after this adolescent folly. A good example was when Neil Young came back with Harvest Moon after Trials and Tribulations and stopped trying to chase MTV and just did what hewastherefor.Iwanttobethatguybutona less commercial level. I want to be able to throw down, even though I’m older, and be less like Ste- ven Stills, who’s just going to have like 10 versions of Crosby, Stills and Nash live and be irrelevant. 

GB: What is it like to be working with Matt Hollywood again?
AN: Well, ever since I first taught him how to play guitar and we taught each other how to play music, we have that psychic twin thing where we know what we’re getting at immediately. We have the same style in musical expression but not always in writing. But we understand each other, so it’s kind of the best of both worlds in collaboration. So that’s cool. It doesn’t always work but it’s cool to have that. I don’t talk about this a lot, but I never let other people’s concept of what the band is inter- fere with me writing a song in any style. I just like to create. I will pull people off the street—liter-
ally—and ask them “will you help me sing this part on a song?” It all works into the bigger picture. It’s kind of weird though. People miss the point. In our first concerts, they wouldn’t let us play anywhere in San Francisco so we had to rent out Masonic halls. Immediately, after those first concerts—we had 700 people there—every (record company) rep from the West Coast was at our shows, say- ing “We want to sign you to Warner Brothers! We want to sign you to Island! We want to sign you because you could be the next Nirvana!” And I would tell them, “I don’t want to be Nirvana.” And then we’d go into a studio and people would give us a contract and tell us “We want 50 percent of your money for the rest of your life.” Or then they’d be changing the sounds or telling us how to record it. So we were in the mode of “Look, we’re just going to learn and do our thing. Everything will be a demo and we’ll just try and strive and make something happen live.” A lot of that got fucked up with drugs and people issues. People talk about our “classic lineup” or how there have been 40 people in the band. A lot of those people went on to be in BRMC (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club) and that was the only reason they playing with us; like, “I’ll teach you everything I know, then you can go and start your own band.” Some of those people are still on junk and I can’t tour Israel with junkies... to me, we’re always trying to create the music live because that’s where (the music) really lives, not in the demos or in the records. 
GB: You’ve introduced a lot of people to your music through your work on Boardwalk Empire. How did that deal come about?
AN: Mark Wahlberg and Scorsese and that whole team, they chose a music supervisor, and the su- pervisor said, “I want to make a statement.” I’ve never seen that show, but from what I understand is that whenever there’s an authoritarian crack- down, the seedy underside gets pushed up. And for whatever reason, they wanted to mix it up even more and imply that we were outlaws or what- ever the fuck it was. But it was presented to me like, “Hey, Martin Scorsese’s doing this thing. How do you feel about us using a track as the theme?” So I said, “Great.” Within the establishment, there are a few points of light and I think HBO—I don’t really watch TV—but I know about some of the content they provide and it’s pretty challenging ma- terial. Scorsese’s career has been the same way. It’s within the system but with integrity. So I just said, “thank you” when they used the song. Getting that gig was the same thing as getting management or a record deal.
GB: I’ve always wanted to ask you about the world music influence upon your work. As a young man, was there one album in particu- lar that got you interested in international music? 

AN: To me the term “psychedelic” means “mind- expanding.” And I was always inspired by that whole psychedelic era, that open-mindedness, the possibilities. And yeah, I was inspired by Spanish music, gypsy music, all of that. But to be honest I never thought I could play music, because of the rock star thing and the mythology. Being a fan of Jimi Hendrix and Simon and Garfunkel—the level of excellence was scary. There was no way in a folk context you could see yourself being on TV or be- ing like The Beatles. But when it’s a punk band or a garage band it’s another story. When I was around 10, punk and garage bands gave me the interest. I figured if they could do it, I could. From there, I learned about dub and all that angular stuff and that all influenced me. 

GB: You’ve been sober for a few years now, but do you think the media and your concert’s audience still thinks of you as the crazed, violent, drugged-out character that Dig portrayed you as?
AN: It’s just like anything else. People come to concerts for different reasons. It doesn’t matter. Let me tell you something. I got into opiates be- cause I was in the hospital for over 13 days wait- ing for surgery for a double compound fracture. They kept me on morphine and Demerol. When I realized that an individual could do that to their brain and get that feeling, it was a recipe for danger and death. Knowing intellectually that you have the power to do that to your head really set me on a life journey. It took everything I had and from the
help of a lot of people. I never embraced Narcotics Anonymous. I began drinking to deal with the pain of quitting the dope, which I did, and then because I liked being a mellow drunk—being buzzed all the time and using (alcohol) as a social lubricant—that was another recipe for disaster. I was drinking a liter of vodka every day. It was time to drop that. If you have your mind in the right place, it’s physi- cally possible to drop that shit for the right reasons but you just have to be done with it. You can’t say ‘Oh, there’s a party going on,” “I’m depressed,” or whatever. The weird thing about being high all the time is that it stops changing your mood. You just live through a filter. It was never my intention to have my emotions solely dictated by alcohol or a drug so it became time for me to move on. It is possible to do that. If you are ready to stop, it’s just as easy as visualizing yourself in jail and not being able to get drugs. I’m very much into freedom. But I’m not one to tell someone how to live their life. All my life there’s been a war on drugs and as far as I can tell, it’s a fucking disaster. 

GB: I know that you’re happily married but what is Anton Newcombe’s cure for a bro- ken heart?
AN: Wow. That’s a really good question. It doesn’t have to be a broken heart; it can be anything. There’s a kind of detachment that is the opposite of this brave new world. You don’t care about poli- tics or anything because you’re too busy with blind- ers on trying to improve your life. It’s not that kind of detachment—it’s the kind of detachment where you just have to acknowledge that you’re heart is broken or that it’s not an ideal situation. You have to acknowledge that and really just move on. If it’s beyond your control, it’s beyond your control and you can’t do anything about it. That’s the weird thing about obsessions—you don’t have control over them. They’re illogical. America, more so than other countries, is very difficult about rela- tionships. Young people will break up over money issues, which is absolutely retarded. The thing about marriage is that 50 percent of them won’t work out, so you can’t take any of it personally. The whole concept of relationships nowadays is so screwed up. People are like, “Having kids? Oh, I’m just going to do my thing until I’m fucking 42 and then I’ll find a surrogate.” It’s ridiculous. It’s so topsy-turvy. You just cannot take it personally. Relationships are almost like hitchhiking. The car ultimately may be headed to New York, but you’re going to Chicago, so you just ride for as long as you can go to get there safe. Just wish people you love the best. It’s not about you. If you love somebody you just have to hope that they’re happy and well. You can’t take it personally if you’re not their fla- vor or if things just didn’t line up. It may not be you. But it hurts. Believe me, I know.
Words: Jason Webber 

joanna pickering interview in zani



No comments:

Post a Comment