LM vs. The Brian Jonestown Massacre: 'My Longevity Speaks for Itself.'

LM vs. The Brian Jonestown Massacre: 'My Longevity Speaks for Itself.'

Alex Capper


Anton Newcombe has taken many different forms throughout his life.

An icon.

An addict.

A visionary.

A madman.

The mastermind behind seminal band The Brian Jonestown Massacre.

I'm speaking to Newcombe from his Berlin apartment about what he felt to be the reason for his changing shapes.

'As the years go by, I guess you just visualise things differently,' Newcombe explains. 'It becomes clear.'

For Newcombe, music has remained the only fixed consistency within his life.

Newcombe adamantly believes his inspiration to make music today is 'exactly the same' as when he started.

'I used to spend more time drinking and spending hours just playing guitar,' he reflects, 'but now I get up, put the kids to school, ride the U-Bahn to my studio and put in a solid day’s work every single day instead of staying up for three days at a time doing it.'

'I enjoy it; I write for the sake of writing.'

'I’m interested in actually doing more music, as much as I can fit in with having family.'

The Brian Jonestown Massacre has left an undeniable mark on psychedelic music. They have inspired artists from across the globe to push their music past normalcy and reach for something more.

They are arguably the world’s biggest cult band.

I'm curious to see why Anton thought his music resonated with so many people. In his mind, what about The Brian Jonestown Massacre was exceptional to anything else in music?

'We are a sum built of our parts,' Newcombe believes. 'In every town there’s a group like us, even bands that emulate us, and there’s a lot of them. They’re not really us and I think that’s the mark of something.'

'Our goal was never to be Nirvana. You got to push that right out of the window and you have to put things into this really healthy perspective about garage bands and the people I saw.'

'We just wanted to make records and be known,' Newcombe reflects in a humorous tone.

'It was never like, "Oh, I’m going to do a garage band and buy this house and this yacht and be spooning prince charming.” There was never that sort of mentality.'

'I mean, look at the The Dandy Warhols who spent $500,000 on that music video,' Newcombe contends. 'You know the one.' He attempts to sing the tune to me before bursting into laughter.

'You can buy a house in the suburbs in Australia, in Sydney or Melbourne, for the price of that fucking video.'

I don’t think Anton has looked at the housing market in Australia recently, but that seemed beside the point.

*

Newcombe believes he knows the answer as to why The Brian Jonestown Massacre soared to popularity.

'I find that in Madison Ave; that’s the catchphrase for advertising and culture. You know, like Mad Men or whatever. Their best idea is to take something from 20 years ago and recycle it. You always see that.'

'When I was starting my band, I remember that Sgt. Pepper's was 20 years old,' says Newcombe. 'That kicked off the late 80s-90s psychedelic era when people were into that music 'cause their parents might have been into it.'

'But I try to avoid that stuff cause it turns into a passing fad,' he admits.

With psychedelic music making a triumphant return to form now and The Brian Jonestown Massacre celebrating its 25th silver jubilee, I ask Anton whether he thinks this recycled pattern is repeating today.

'Oh, obviously,' he exclaims. 'The shoegaze stuff is popular again, and with all these young neo-psych bands there is a BIG neo-psych movement today.'

Throughout The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s 25 years, Newcombe has battled addictions to both alcohol and heroin. He has been questioned many times about this, so I ask the now clean-and-sober frontman what he believes about Western society’s issue with addiction and mental illness.

'In our culture people are addicted to many different things, and that’s nothing new; in fact, it’s probably worse.'

'Everybody is addicted to something, whether it’s the booze or some sort of antidepressant, and the lines are completely blurred,' he elaborates.

'In Germany it’s cool because the goal with mental illness is to assess the problem, get you well and get you back into the community working and having a normal healthy happy life as soon as possible. That’s a beautiful thing.'

'Personally, it was never my goal to be an alcoholic or an heroin addict; I got into drinking to quit using smack,' Newcombe reflects. 'But to get through that, the only way to stop is to stop and I think that’s very difficult for people.'

'But I have a lot of problems with society overall.'

In saying that, Anton delivers me the perfect segue into my next question as to his beliefs on the digital corporatisation of music.

Earlier this year, Newcombe delivered an impassioned Twitter tirade denouncing Apple Music for screwing over artists.

I ask Anton to delve a little deeper into his issues with Apple.

'They’re saying we have no rights and no value and that we’re going to exploit it for our own purposes and values,' Newcombe laments. 'They’re going to tell me that my music and everybody else’s music has no intrinsic value, then turn around and use the algorithms of you and your metadata downloading music and your consumer choices and they’re going to trade that as money.'

'I find it very funny that a bunch of people who can’t tell the difference between Mozart and Brahms are going to say that all of this is worth nothing because there is so much of it, and then turn around and say but the cookies we gather from you online are worth money and you don’t get any as an artist.'

But can digital services help artists at all in terms of exposure?

'It should in theory help you get your stuff out there more, but evidently it doesn’t.'

'There are infinite distractions, and there’s more people that are shit,' Newcombe admits.

'Let’s use film as an example. There are more high-def cams and more students and more channels to put films out, but there are less films than in the 1960s.'

'There are millions and millions of Macintosh laptops with iMovie installed on them. This stuff is globally available everywhere and we have less.'

'To me, SoundCloud is like the audio version,' Newcombe explains. 'When people put something out and go, "Oh, I made another record!", that’s not a record - you need it out in every format.'

However, Newcombe does relent to the potential of online services for up-and-coming musicians.

'I think you should try to do everything that occurs to you to get your name out there,' Newcombe concedes. 'Do the videos on YouTube, do the SoundCloud, send out your recordings, make your cassettes.'

'So when your mom asks you what you’re doing, you can say you’re doing lots of different things, you’re not just sitting on your ass.'

Newcombe copped flak for his remarks on Apple Music and I wondered whether this was society putting him in a box because of his trade. Just cause Anton Newcombe is a musician, why should he be criticised for talking about global issues?

'Look, my longevity speaks for itself.'

'I’m going to talk about whatever I want to talk about,' Newcombe asserts. 'Whether people understand that is the problem, because the goal of communication is to be understood at any level.'

'The goal of complexity is simplicity: you should be able to simplify anything to be understood.'

Somehow, this discussion takes us on a path to Newcombe’s thoughts on the greater problems that face society.

'You know, I’m not going to go on and on about Syria, and this whole fake Arab Spring bullshit, and the US government’s oil interest, and the local Israeli problems, and all the oil pipelines going on through Europe because I know what’s really going on out there and I don’t care what the news says.'

With Julian Assange recently in the news, I ask Newcombe his thoughts on the founder of WikiLeaks.

'With WikiLeaks, I swear... are you ready for this?' Newcombe quizzes me.

With much anticipation, I reply…

'Yeah, Anton.'

'When you go to solve a crime, you look at who has to benefit from it,' Newcombe begins. 'There is some weird kind of industrial sabotage, right? You would go, "Well, who would have benefited from this and what were the motives?"’

'To me, it almost seems like a CIA job, 'cause America actually benefited from it,' Newcombe explains.

'They knocked out all these governments immediately; Tunisia and all these countries were exposed and America was standing tall. They didn’t get harmed one bit.'

'I mean, they said that they did, but it ushered in a whole new era of new laws and rules of communications. It was really freaky, all the things that happened.'

'But if nobody else in the world cares, that’s fine, right? 'Cause nobody else seems to care. They care about Kim Kardashian or whatever we are told to care about, right?'

'But hey, I may be wrong.'

At this point, I allow myself a small fanboy moment and divulge to Anton that I discovered and became an ensuing fan of his music through Boardwalk Empire, an HBO program that featured BJM’s 'Straight Up and Down' as its title track.

'Oh, right,' Newcombe buzzes, almost pleasantly surprised.

I need to know how the forces of Martin Scorsese and Anton Newcombe came together and (indirectly) sparked my fandom.

Newcombe explains to me that since Scorsese had complete creative control over the program and HBO consistently has quality TV he was happy to be a part of it.

Or, in his words…

'It wasn’t like some fucking corporation got together and said, "Let’s make some quality TV… oh! And let's put The Brian Jonestown Massacre in there!"'

'Basically, I did that recording in 1995 and somebody asked me if they could use it as a tribute,' Newcombe explains.

'Funny thing is that the show is about the 1930s… they don’t even fit!'

Following this, I decide to talk to Anton about what he is doing right now and what about today’s music industry he likes.

'I like music from all over the world. The music scene in China is outta control.'

For their upcoming Australian tour, The Brian Jonestown Massacre will be releasing a limited edition mini-album, titled Mini Album Thingy Wingy.

On the track listing, there is one song entirely in Slovakian. Newcombe has a love of languages, previously recording songs in various languages including Icelandic and Norwegian.

Additionally, The Brian Jonestown Massacre recorded their fourteenth album, Musique de Film Imaginé, entirely in French, and envisioned the record to be the soundtrack of an imaginary French film.

Why does Anton love incorporating languages into his music so much?

'Well, there’s lots of different reasons,' Newcombe clarifies.

'I’m really interested in, number one, giving the finger to all anglophiles,' Newcombe declares. 'Internationally, people who play psych music and different types of indie rock are always trying to be anglophile because rock 'n' roll is an Anglo construct.'

'They are trying to be the next Stone Roses and that’s never going to happen.'

'So I find that it's interesting to inspire these people to sing in their own language and give back culturally, and at the same time give the finger to everybody else and say, "You can broaden your perspective."'

'Music from all over is interesting. I believe that if it's beautiful, you can relate to it.'

With that, I realise Anton Newcombe, like his band, really is a sum of all his parts. Everything that makes Newcombe a polarising figure is exactly what makes him an iconic artist.

All of a sudden, we're ten minutes over time, so I close by thanking him for his tunes and time.

In response, Anton kindly replies, in his best Australian accent:

'No worries! Cheers, mate! Bye!'

What a guy.


The Brian Jonestown Massacre will be touring Australia as a celebration of their Silver Jubilee:

Thursday, 12th November  - The Northern Hotel, Byron Bay

Friday, 13th November  - The Triffid, Brisbane

Saturday, 14th November - Odeon Theatre, Hobart

Sunday, 15th November - Melbourne Town Hall, Melbourne (SOLD OUT)

Wednesday, 18th November - Factory Theatre, Sydney

Thursday, 19th November - Metro Theatre, Sydney


Alex Capper, once affectionally called by Ross & John of 3AW as the '7 foot fucker', loves the Essendon Football Club, stalking reddit and dabbing. He thinks he can speak French, but he can't.