Artist LImelight: aNton Newcombe
of Brian Jonestown Massacre
WORDS and PHOTOS by CYN COLLINS
Anton Newcombe, formed the Brian Jonestown Massacre in San Francisco in 1990. Their music is an amalgam of genres including psychedelic, electronica, folk, blues and experimental. Current members include: Will Caruthers on bass, formerly of Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized; Matt Hollywood – guitar, bass, vocals. He was a founding member from 1990–1999, then from 2009–present, and also founder of the drone group Rebel Drones. Jón Sæmundur Audarson is on guitar and does artwork, and collaborates with Newcombe on installations, videos, and recording. He currently heads the DEAD clothing store in Reykjavik, Iceland, as well as leading the drone/experimental group Dead Skeletons. Henrik Baldvin Bjornsson plays guitar and collaborates with Newcombe on recordings. He is also of the Icelandic bands Singapore Sling and Dead Skeletons. Constantine Karlis plays drums.
Over more than two decades the very prolific BJM have released at least 20 albums and EPs. Their latest, excellent record, Aufheben, was released in May 2012.
Rockstar Motel had the opportunity to interview Anton Newcombe on their tour bus after their fantastic show at First Avenue, kicking off their East Coast tour with Magic Castles of Minneapolis, (whose new eponymous double-vinyl compilation was released on Newcombe’s ‘a’ Label).
What do you recommend artists do in today’s music industry?
Anton Newcombe: Do some stuff all of the time. Keep moving forward a little bit. If you spend a $1,000 making a record, spend a $1,000 on advertising, and you’ll get it back. Make it work somehow. Don’t worry about sending out promos. Get your fans to make videos on youtube, just for the sheer fun of it. Be like, “Sure you can make a video! I don’t give a goddamn. Just do it.”
Try to engage that whole aspect. Because if you say you have a new record on Bandcamp and go up to Warner Brothers and say “I have a record on Bandcamp,” they’ll say “that’s not a record. That’s the sound your profile on Facebook makes.” And everybody makes it. That’s nothing. I don’t care if you f-cking made $34 last year on Bandcamp. You have to be like, “Well, me and my people are making videos, we’re making some songs, we have a couple of projects in the works, and we play with these other guys . . . “ Basically you’ve got to show “I’m doing lots of stuff, I’m not just sitting on my ass.”
I’m doing all kinds of stuff. It’s true. I’m not just selling my record on Bandcamp. That would blow it. I use every f-cking thing. I’ve got a lawsuit against Napster. But at the same time, I’m using everything on the planet. It's ridiculous to come out against that shit. Until it stops, you need to be for and against it. Use everything.
I work with Rockstar Motel . . .
AN: I just saw the Magic Castles write-up there. That’s brilliant. It’s really well done. I like how you noted it was a connection about the music, that I got in touch with them after I heard their music.
I put out their record, because of that one song. Because to me, that one song on vinyl made the record worth owning, regardless of what they all had . . .
In Germany, DJ’ing, I walked by this bar down below my house – it’s a roommate’s bar. It’s the best one. I was like, “Eddie, what is this f-cking song?!” Eddie’s like “I’m just playing this song off YouTube. It’s these guys . . .” “Is this out? Is there a record?!” He said, “You can’t get it.” I’m like, “How do I find them? I really want to put out a record!” So I talked to Jason [Edmonds], “Look. I don’t care what you make. I just want this one song. Why do you have these records nobody in Europe can get, nobody knows about you. Why don’t you just make a compilation, and it’ll just be what it is. I’ll put it out in England, as a different release.”
Then he had this artwork that was so cool. It was orange and silver and this face.
I've known them for years, and their music is so good.
AN: Yeah, but it’s one of those things. It will take time.
The Beatles went on tour and sold like 20,000 singles, and everyone went crazy. The Zombies “Tell Her No” sold over a million records. And they were just kids that won a contest. Everyone was like, “No. You’re just a band from America.” They weren’t drinking or smoking weed or anything.
The whole business is rigged. They always run their business just like Coca-Cola. You’ll go into a supermarket and see 1000 2-liter bottles of Coke. They don’t need those right there. They could have them in the back, you could have them delivered daily. They do that to stop you from other choices. You have limited choices so you choose Coke because its right there in your face. And the Beatles - it's the same thing. You go in an airport shop at Christmas and the Beatles are right there along a whole wall. They do it to make the people buy them. And they do that with the radio. They pay a certain percentage to get the radio to play certain music all the time. I could DJ on the radio every day for a week and play different music as good if not better, than the best Beatles song. And nobody’s ever heard these songs. It’s because of them.
Was tonight your first night at First Avenue? How’d it feel?
AN: It was my first time at First Avenue, ever. It was okay. I think, for both bands . . . there are acoustical anomalies for our type of music a little bit. There’s a lot going on.
I know, lots of layers. What do you feel is the current climate for psychedelic music like you’ve been working in for so long? Is it good, progressing . . . or do you prefer the term neo-psych?
AN: That doesn’t matter. To me, all that stuff means its mind-expanding. To others to varying degrees, they can get totally retro. I think that’s the kiss of death, when novelty, even if you’re somebody like the Hives, or something can become a gimmick. Or the White Stripes even, became a little self-suffocating as a gimmick, because it wasn’t real.
It’s very important when you’re building a crowd for yourself, to set the perimeters infinite.
So what do you look for, for your ‘a’ label?
AN: I would like to . . . first I have to find the stuff. I don’t like people bombarding me – “you have to check out this thing.” “You have to check out this thing … “ It’s annoying. You have no idea how many people I’m in contact with. But you can imagine if we’re playing 1,000 person places or bigger every day, there’s a lot of people: “You have to listen to my demo.” “you have to listen to my CD.” It's nonstop, on my email, my twitter, my YouTube, every day. There’s no way . . . I can’t do it. And I don’t want to. I don’t even want to tell people who’re like “I really like your band, check out my music.” Because they don’t understand . . . it doesn’t work like that . . .
I’ve listened to Magic Castles for about six years, and always liked them. They’re real. I like their authenticity. And they never really pushed it, put themselves out. And you have Flavor Crystals, same thing. Authentic, but they don’t put themselves out. They exist . . .
AN: People are like, I’ve got this great job, and then I also play music. It’s like Pink Floyd . . . they had to make a decision. It wasn’t like, I’m working at this firm and I might go on tour. It doesn’t work that way in real life. You have a hobby playing music, that’s fine.
Modern society is like trying to insure against nature (laughs). It’s like when you have your house insulated, and have all these backup plans, right? Safety nets. Do some other shit.
I love your new record Aufheben. Are you working on your next record?
AN: I go out and write music every day; I don’t share a lot of things. From this record I shared 20 or more songs . . . you ever see those chord organs, the plastic organs where you press a button and its with a chord, you can do that with keys in your record . . . they can be slowed down in the way your song might go between notes and it has a change . . . you can stretch that concept of how a song would be. You can actually make a song out of your record. It’s on a deeper level you’re perceiving it and it becomes a piece of music, the whole thing, with an effect from beginning to end, just like a song.
That’s heavy on a deeper level. You don’t have to understand that stuff to have it work for other people. You don’t have to know why you like something to like it. Jackson Pollock, splattering paint and it being art . . . anybody can splatter paint on a canvas, but he did it, and you didn’t and it's art – it's aesthetically pleasing. There’s actually a flow.
What keeps you going, inspires you – you’ve been doing this for so long?
AN: I enjoy playing music. I’ve been playing music for a long time. We were making bands in my bedroom since I was like, 10.
What was the first record that made you want to play music?
AN: It wasn’t really records. Until I started seeing people playing punk music, I never realized . . . I’d see Simon and Garfunkel playing music on a TV clip – they’re both exceptional. There’s nothing that leads you to believe you could be them. But especially the Beatles. They inspired so many people to play music. But they wanted the fame, the effects of that – the girls screaming, the notoriety. There’s nothing that Paul McCartney does that leads you to be Paul McCartney because you can’t. And Jimi Hendrix especially – there’s nothing he ever did that would lead you to believe you ever could become Jimi Hendrix, because you cannot, ever. But you can become your own thing.
You hear people you like, you bring them on. I know you have members of Dead Skeletons from Iceland who are on your label, in your band.
AN: Katy and I made up their name. Henrik wasn’t a singer. He was an artist. I said you have to sing, on this thing, when we were high. We worked that out, and then just for the fuck of it I had him do Icelandic curses on the stage at Glastonbury in public. But then he found out he liked that, so he kept going on from there. We still work together, but I have my own thing, and he has his. When we cross, we cross. Because there are multiple levels. There’s a mystical, spiritual side to it and an art side to it.
I read, you bring your spiritualism whether it’s Crowley or Sufism, or whatever you’re into now . . .
AN: Well, I’m into a lot of things. I can’t imagine why I would need to practice magic. I am magic. I don’t need anything to come between me and God. I’ve no necessity to study the Kabbal. I don’t need to join the Masonic Temple. I don’t need the fellowship of any of these things, and I don’t need the Catholic Church. I’m as much a Sufi as I am anything else. A lot of those things are similar to Sufism but I don’t need the dogma. I’m interested in all kinds of things.
The way that people get mixed up with dogma and everything is, its always been that way, people and their dark arts, they don’t really understand a lot of that stuff on a deep level.
I can’t even think of a practical application of the science, of understanding, or even needing a point of reference, with the symbolism that I can see anywhere, allegories or anything.]
Is that a reason why your music touches people so deeply, reaches them? It feels like part of the psyche, to me.
AN: It’s resonating on the full cycle of human emotions – it's going to touch people at different points, wherever they are at, whether it's an aesthetic feeling or a somber feeling. The feeling can be split, you touch where people are at on their cycle, whether it’s a daily thing or a lunar thing or the life cycle. It could be the whole life consciousness. If you know about chakras . . . when you get to the crown chakra, you go up and it radiates, it goes to all of them, up and down. That’s seemingly why, when people understand this, they can master things, whether it’s a relationship with plants and animals, and be a scientist at the same time. When you’re like, “I can relate to all kinds of things!” That’s what that is.
Because you’ve done this for 22 years . . . so much music has existed and passed in that time frame. How do you access an amalgam of genres and styles and make it your own in a unique way?
AN: Look at Bob Dylan’s collection. Its all something else, uniquely him. That’s folk music. That would be like trying to say, “No, I own the air, I own the rain.” It’s ridiculous. I don’t even operate that way.
We’ve got to leave, but you can email me anytime if you have more questions!
Keep up your work with the website. That stuff’s really good!
The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Magic Castles can be seen tonight and the next few nights at the following venues:
· Wed Aug 22 Washington DC @ 9.30 Club
· Thu Aug 23 Philadelphia PA @ Union Transfer
· Fri Aug 24 Boston MA @ Royale
· Sat Aug 25 New York NY @ Webster Hall