Brian Jonestown Massacre Interview

Blast from the PAST 2000
This interview was done in the last part of 2000. But now Anton Newcombe and BJM are as vital as ever. Even Iggy Pop and Patti Smith have become fans. Check out Anton in action. His wit is alive as ever. BJM will be touring in America starting July 15th.

Still Strung Out in Heaven
by Alexander Laurence

One of the best shows at the recent CMJ Festival in NYC was Brian Jonestown Massacre. Many people witnessed this amazing show. We agreed that we had to get an interview for the next issue.

BJM formed in San Francisco about ten years ago. I saw Anton Newcombe and his friends play a few shows at some small clubs and obscure bars. A few years later I found out that they had moved to LA and had released a bunch of records. When the breakthrough Strung Out in Heaven came out about two years ago, BJM turned the sound of the Stones circa 1968 upside down by adding a unique style of drone. Anton Newcombe has always been a mysterious figure. He is articulate and well spoken in interviews and seems to have an opinion on every subject. I met up with him in Hollywood, right after he finished a few shows with The Dandy Warhols. BJM had just completed a tour of Canada as well. They have a new CD out called ZERO.


AL: Are you still on tour?

Anton: We just finished a tour of Canada. We played some shows in America too. The last leg of the tour in Canada, right after CMJ, was really good. Extraordinarily good I think.

AL: You have a big fan base in Canada?

Anton: We have a really strong following. We did two days in Toronto. We have a solid base of loyal fans up there. It's cool. There are a lot of people there into different types of music. The laws in Canada are different than in America. They are required to play Canadian content on television and radio. At least twenty percent has to be from Canada. So that forces younger bands to do different types of music to be out there. It's really healthy. We have a record deal up there.

AL: So what is up with all the different labels? You have your own label, you have put records out yourself, and you are on Bomp Records and TVT.

Anton: I just put out an EP on my own label. It's called Zero. It's on my label through Bomp. I use them as the manufacturer. So I have all these distributors. It's not that crazy if you think about it. Madonna has her own label, but is distributed by Warner Brothers. In England, we have an office for all the things that go through Bomp. So we'll do that there. I'll do other things with other little labels. I don't have a jumbo deal in Europe although I'm working on it.

AL: But you released Strung Out on Heaven with TVT. Was that a one record deal?

Anton: I signed a four record deal with TVT in America. It's kind of up in the air whether I'm going to follow through with that, because the kind of music we play and the kind of record deal that we have. I am a risk for them. So is Guides by Voices and bands like them. We're not doing great like Sevendust. We're not going platinum. That's what that label is trying to do. It's a business just like everything else. They just signed Snoop Dogg. They didn't do it because he's cool. They did it because all the wiggers are really into it.

AL: Yeah. I'm really against all the wigger stuff. I was really into the music. I saw Run-DMC and Grandmaster Flash play back in 1984. I was into NWA and Public Enemy. But I never wore the baggy pants or smoked a ton of pot and acted black. I'm not flashing gang signs.

Anton: What's really funny is all the Vanilla Ice looking people with the FUBU. They're all "Shit, yo! Don't make me bust a cap on your ass!" I'm intrigued by it. Of course there's a history to that stuff, like whether you're a Jewish kid in the 1940s listening to Bebop. There's no problem being into stuff. I listen to Arabic music all day long. There's that lower common denominator. It's silliness. You have all these DMX dudes with their pit bulls and their gunfight videos. Sweating the bitches. All that crap. You see a couple of them fighting at the Source Awards. But those people are businessmen. It's a joke to them too.

AL: So your band started in San Francisco, about 1990. Matt Hollywood, Jeffery Davies, Joel Gion, and yourself were there from the beginning?

Anton: Yeah. Matt and Jeff both played at the first show we ever played. I guess Matt is living in Portland. He is playing Country music. He's doing his thing. Jeff Davies plays with us off and on. He played with us the other night.

Jeff has another band called Smallstone. Joel was down here when we played with The Dandy Warhols. As far as line up changes: different people have different goals in their lives. It's not everyone's goal to be stuck in a van touring. Roughing it to make records. I always chose to make records and play with my friends rather than "I want to be a rock star" sort of people. I always play with different people.

AL: But most bands come out with a record and they tour with the songs on that record and promote the current material. You come out with six records in one year and tour whenever. It doesn't seem to to follow any logic.

Anton: We play all kinds of stuff. Almost half of our set is stuff we have never even bothered to record. I like it. It's live music that goes together with the other songs. We tend to play a little bit from everything because we have released 170 songs so far. I'm not exaggerating. Even fifteen of those songs is a long set.

We're in Pink Floyd land or something. Basically we try to make up a good set. The way we sound live, if we play our songs right, is better than we can ever record it. It has its own experience. It's good that we play well. It's usually better than the recorded experience. That's a neat thing. We don't even have to play the songs on the record. It's just good live music. That wall of guitars. I like it.

AL: How many chords do you need for a proper BJM song?

Anton: Everything is in A. It's almost exactly the same. When we go on tour we always find out that we have crazy amount of dynamic range. We just played with The Dandy Warhols a few nights ago. We fucked up a lot. But the amount of range we cover is very large. While they come off as ACDC on Thorazine. It's just straight on. There's no place for it to go. But we brake into quiet parts and we have the same overload. It changes up. It's good. For how simple it is surprisingly it also goes into a couple of different places.

AL: You played on the new Dandy Warhols record. What was that like?

Anton: It was great. We were at my studio in LA and we all just worked on songs. It was funny. I have known those guys since they started. I always loved their music. It was strange because when I was working on the record, I was sure that it was cheesy, and I wouldn't like it. But when I heard the whole album, I thought it was better. There are a few songs that I don't like, but the rest of it is great. I have mixed feelings.

I don't listen to Radiohead because I don't need them. I am already writing my own music that fulfills the same headspace that you would look for in that kind of art. I'm not too interested. Then I have to compare it to everything else that is out there. Of course I dig Radiohead more than Slipknot.

AL: Would you go on tour with some mainstream act if they asked you to open up for them?

Anton: You can respect people because they create a bunch of jobs. But I don't respect people just because they make a lot of money. So do drug pushers, gun dealers, hookers, and pimps: they all make a lot of money. The Mafia makes a lot of money. People who sell kiddy porn make a lot of money. I don't have to respect them just because they have the sales. I respect people who are worthy of my respect.

Kid Rock mixes up genres and he's funny. I respect the fact that Kid Rock worked his way up from the trailer park or whatever. But I don't respect Eminem for cursing a lot about the way he says he's going to beat up fags and his wife. It doesn't mean anything to me. It's completely retarded. I just pretend that everyone is speaking Chinese.

Eminen's records are never as appealing as Dr. Dre's, even though Dre produces all his shit.

I just wipe my ass with most urban contemporary culture. I think it's elementary. It doesn't move my brain whatsoever. If someone asked me to go on tour with Korn, Outkast, and Limp Biscuit, I wouldn't go. I wouldn't have a good time. But in a situation like Reading, or a European festival, sure I would play with those bands. For me it's about the music. Less about knowing how to do Kung Fu and beating the shit out of someone on MTV. Obviously I don't make a lot of money. I don't have strippers lined up around the corner waiting to give me blowjobs because of my music. I have been doing it since 1990 because I like music despite lineup changes and bad press.

AL: What about Genesis P-Orridge? Is he an influence or did you collaborate with him?

Anton: He loaned me his studios in Oakland, and I did one of the records there. Larry Thrasher and Genesis had a recording studio and all this recording gear for Psychic TV. They liked my music and helped me record and gave me studio time. I really do like to collaborate. I am working with a guy from Australia right now. He has a band called Color Sound. I have been trying to record with a few different people. It's just logistics.

AL: What are you doing for the rest of the year?

Anton: We plan to go to Europe and to Japan again. I'm working on my ninth album. I'm going to finish that then try to license them all over in Europe. I will probably spend more time over there. People like it but it's harder to get the records. Right now I'm writing some rock stuff and psychedelic things. There's not too much acoustic stuff. Right now I'm really working on harmonies. I really into The Mamas and The Papas and The Hollies....

AL: Do you like The Beach Boys Pet Sounds? It seems to be a major influence to a lot of bands today.

Anton: Oh yeah. They had a whole orchestra playing on Pet Sounds. I went to see Brian Wilson in concert. It was amazing. Even though Brian Wilson couldn't sing so hot, it was still great. You want to cut him some slack.

It was the Hollywood Bowl and it was five bucks to get in. You can bring booze and sit and listen to your favorite records. That was one of the best concerts I've seen in a long time. That and Primal Scream in LA. It was great.

Primal Scream is really popular in Europe. I know those guys and they're really cool. It's amazing that their record was really house-y, like DJs produced it, but when they played live, they came off like every great band in their peak. One song sounded like PIL at their greatest time, the next song was like New Order, blazing with a different attitude. It was amazing. I had seen them before when they had all the black chicks onstage and I was bored out of my head. It was a soul revue. What the fuck? They were going through a bad phase.

AL: Are there any books that you are reading worth mentioning?

Anton: You know what I'm reading? It's from Cambridge Press. It's about how Islam is separated into Shiite and Sunnis. It's a mystical sect of Islam. It's an academic book and it's over fourteen hundred pages. The old man of the mountain. It's crazy stuff and it influences me. I'm not into fiction. I like history and anthropology, mind control and cults. I'm not into serial killers but I am into the origins of stuff like Scientology. I find it fascinating.

AL: Any thoughts on the presidential election?

Anton: It's suspicious. There's no doubt in my mind that there's some hanky panky going on down there. The way that they are behaving is really hypocritical. On the BBC they reported that a few ballot boxes were found in black churches. Nobody came to pick them up. It's amazing that people are not outraged over it. Even people who voted for Gore are already wanting it to be over. Even though by the law they have to count those votes. It's going to take some time. They start making fun of it. Then they watch it on the news. Everybody wants to get it over with. It's weird. It's a process. That's what happens when you have a close election. It's never happened before.

AL: Do you follow the Brian Jonestown Massacre website and the mailing list?

Anton: I answer every single email I get. I'm right in the thick of that. We have a few websites that you can find on the Bomp website. There's links to everything. I think that it's great that people have opinions. People have their opinions about what they like and what they don't like. People have reasons why they believe things. In the 1980s there were little girls who made up their own words to songs by the Cocteau Twins, every when there wasn't any. People buy Japanese versions of The Smiths records and you read the lyrics and it's not even what the guy was saying. I'll let people settle things amongst themselves. Some people say "I think this new music is weak" and other people say "I love it!" Whatever. The e-group has about ten thousand messages. The stuff at the beginning is so out of control. But when I got on there, they started to shut up. But I don't really care what they think, as long as they think.

AL: How did you get involved with Bomp Records?

Anton: The way I got hooked up with Bomp was I got a hold of a Spaceman 3 record. I thought that they must have open minds because they were a junkie band that will never tour. And I thought that they would understand my music. And they did.


USA Tour 2005

JULY 2005
US dates w/Quarter After
15 * Bottom of the Hill * San Francisco CA *
16 * Old Ironsides * Sacramento CA *
18 * Velvet Room w/ The Warlocks * Salt Lake City UT *
19 * Larimer Lounge w/ The Warlocks * Denver CO *
20 * Larimer Lounge w/ The Warlocks * Denver CO *
22 * 400 Bar * Minneapolis MN *
23 * The Patio (Midwest Music Summit) * Indianapolis IN *
24 * Lollapalooza Festival * Chicago IL *&* Official Lollapalooza After Party - The Dark Room *
25 * Little Brothers * Columbus OH *
26 * Grog Shop * Cleveland OH *
27 * THE PHOENIX * Toronto ON *
28 * El Salon * Montreal QC *
29 * TT The Bears * Cambridge MA *
30 * Bowery Ballroom * New York NY *
31 * Bowery Ballroom * New York NY *
2 * MAXWELLS * hoboken NJ *
4 * DC9 * Washington D.C. *
5 * Local 506 * Chapel Hill NC *
6 * Earl * Atlanta GA *
7 * Will's Pub * Orlando FL *
10 * TwiRoPa * New Orleans LA *
11 * Walter's On Washington * Houston TX *
12 * The Parish (formerly The Mercury) * Austin TX *
13 * TREES * Dallas TX *
15 * Launchpad * Albuquerque NM *
16 * Plush * Tucson AZ *
17 * Casbah * San Diego CA *
18 * Vanguard Theater * Los Angeles CA *


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