Anton Newcombe Interview

With Anton Newcombe

Anton Newcombe is a man of many talents. He has released 14 albums as BJM. He runs his own record label, A Records, and releases records by The KVB, Magic Castles, The Blue Angel Lounge, and Le Big Byrds. He owns his own recording studio in Berlin. He is married and has a kid in Berlin. Anton has ventured into movie soundtracks. He is already quite well known as the subject of DIG THE MOVIE, as well as providing the theme song for Boardwalk Empire. His 14th release, REVELATION, comes out on May 20th, 2014. When I spoke to him a few days after headlining Austin Psych Fest, he seemed to be in a good mood being back in Los Angeles for the first time in a while. This week he will be playing three shows in California: at the Observatory in Orange County on May 7th, at the Fox Theater in Oakland on May 8th, and a final show at the Wiltern on May 10th. The rest of the summer the band will be touring and playing festivals all across Europe. Many of the 50+ shows are already sold out. So we have much to look forward to this year and next.

By Alexander Laurence


AL: I read somewhere that you were talking about the 1960s and all age venues.

Anton: I was explaining to some people in some interviews in Europe how things changed in the 1960s. Live music was viewed as this youth revolution that could be dangerous. They changed all the laws. They stopped having shows in coffee houses. You had to be 21 years old to see bands. They had gigs in bars. That put the kibosh on kids freaking out anymore. When I was a kid growing up in Orange County we would mainly see bands in people’s backyards when their parents weren’t home. When I started being in bands you had to appear to be mature, so you could get the gig at Safari Sams, so you can open for Jane’s Addiction. It was never about youth culture. It was about hanging out with your friend’s older brother. You needed someone who had a car and a driver’s license. It wasn’t cool to be a little teenager.

AL: Yeah. All these bars wanted to sell beer. The teenagers weren’t helping things.

Anton: Me and Mike and Nicky Sjobeck used to sneak in the Cuckoo’s Nest when we were 13. It was funny. We were really good at it. When the bouncer would throw out some punker out the back door, one of us would jet through the back door. We saw all the punk bands that played there. That is how we got into every single club from the time we were 11 on. There are pictures of me singing with The Hated, Minor Threat, and The Dead Kennedys when I was 13. I would just jump up on the mike.

AL: You have been in Berlin for a while now. What is like coming back to America and looking around?

Anton: I visited last year. I saw my family. It gets stranger coming back as I get older. I get to see Kim Kardasian’s fat ass and the media. In Berlin, you see the America stuff too. This guy with a big hat is singing a song. I wish sometimes that I could have a house with a small garden in the Hollywood Hills. I get teary eyed about that. It might be nice to live up in Portland. I miss having a garden. It’s something that you never see being in the center of Berlin. It’s very urban.

AL: You have just played Austin Psych Fest. You have played in Austin, Texas on tour a few times. You have been there for SXSW.

Anton: We played SXSW and CMJ in 1996. There was a line around the block to get into our shows. That happened at all our shows. It was ridiculous. Anybody from a record label couldn’t even get in. At some point we stopped playing those festivals. We weren’t even trying to get a big deal with a label, but it was such a circus. The last time we did CMJ was in 2003. We rented a boat and played on the Hudson River. It was insane. It was us and the band Hopewell. There were all these people on mushrooms. We told people to get there at 10pm and it’s a booze cruise. They took the boat up the river to the top of Manhattan. They turned it around and went with the current. We were playing at a manic pace and the NYC skyline was there, and people were freaking out. The weather was perfect. It was a once a lifetime experience.

AL: CMJ and SXSW have lost their purpose. They used to be a place to discover bands. Now they are just places to announce that you have a tour or record coming up.

Anton: What does college radio even mean anymore? You should probably just listen to Gregg Foreman’s podcast I guess.

AL: We are older analog guys. Now you have all this digital stuff, and the culture just seems so fast and there are so many bands.

Anton: I am interested in all mediums. I like all the new formats. Someone like Julian Cope has given up. He thinks that his 13 year old daughter knows better about new music than all this stuff he’s done and provided for him. I like how Ian Astbury is. He is great. He thinks that people don’t respect him now because of the album Electric, which is more like Guns N Roses. They lost their core audience. I saw them in Berlin. They were great.

AL: But there are other people our age who haven’t bought a record in twenty years. Maybe like Jack White has gotten through to them?

Anton: That isn’t me either. When Gaslamp Killer cut that record with that Turkish player, I went out and got that record. I am not going to love everything by Flying Lotus. Some of it is not for me. But there are records that are killer, and then I am into it. As far as psych rock bands: I don’t have time for everyone’s bandcamp because I am putting other’s people records.

AL: So what do you think of Austin Psych Fest?

Anton: What Alex Maas and Christian Bland have done is highly commendable. They do long tours and put the money back into the Festival and other bands. Any person who puts out ten records, on an indie level in this day and age, by other bands, deserves some respect. In the hiphop world, these rappers sign to a label like Master P, and he makes all the money. It’s like a pyramid scheme. I just help people with their records with my distribution system. I could be on some major label. But I have eliminated that part. I don’t need their permission to do anything. I am never going to sell the rights to anything. It becomes like gold because my records are like reorders and sales for twenty years.

AL: Austin Psych Fest seems more focused than SXSW.

Anton: Yeah. It’s good what they are doing. I don’t have to like all the bands. The Zombies were really good. I have a connection to their records my whole life. It was hard to watch them. I played a song with the Dandy Warhols. I had to face the drummer because I was being the music director. I had to show them the chords and where to start and stop. They didn’t know the song. I don’t want people to look at me. If I cared about people watching me, you would google my name and there would be a million pictures of me. It’s like the opposite of the Dandy Warhols. They must have done as many photoshoots as the Beatles by now. I am not interested in that. I did a few interviews at Austin Psych Fest but I can’t talk to everyone. If I did interviews for eight hours, I wouldn’t have a voice for singing by the time we do a show.

AL: What about A Records? There are records by Blue Angel Lounge, The KVB, and Les Big Byrd…. How do you find these bands?

Anton: Dead Skeletons. We have done all kinds of stuff.

AL: The KVB is bass driven, Peter Hook-like…

Anton: Peter Hook. Peter is playing in Spain when we are. I know his son is coming to our show. When BBC says “New Order is in the studio,” I say “Where is Hooky?” All that Joy Division/New Order stuff is written by Peter Hook. None of it would exist without him. He came up with every great idea for those bands. If you take always the guitars, it still sounds like him. Hook wrote all those songs in his bedroom. It’s great that Peter Hook is going out there on his own playing those records. For New Order to carry on without him is fucked. Plus Bernard Sumner ripped off one of my songs. What are you doing?

AL: How did you find all these bands for A Records which you help put out?

Anton: The KVB. Doctor Kiko is a tour manager who lives in London. He is an Italian guy who drives around for everybody. He will be at the show with The Kills in Berlin. He will be working. I always see him in Berlin for coffee. We are friends. He played me The KVB from iTunes. I wanted to put out that record. Bands think that they are real if they are on Bandcamp and get paid 50%. A band is real in this era when it’s available in every medium. All the cassettes I made in 1990 and mailed were not real. They were just demos. A band becomes real when you do the recording in every possible format together. You have to leave town and play shows and sell recordings. That is real. Just exchanging soundclouds with new bands is not enough. You should be doing split singles and shows to push your music along. You do everything you can think of. Bandcamp is just sound that their fucking facebook profile makes. Here’s the picture and here’s the sound the picture makes. I am happy for people. There’s an abundance of stuff. I told KVB let’s put some records out. They were cool. They came to the studio and they got out of their bedrooms. Joe Dilworth from Stereolab played drums on their record.

AL: You played some shows with The KVB?

Anton: Yeah. It was a loop station and the girl playing a synth. It was fine. There are so many of those bands. Dirty Beaches can do this minimal approach on the stage and excel at it. I didn’t see Panda Bear at Austin Psych Fest, but my whole band was wondering when he was going to start. He was standing there with a light show pressing a few buttons on his computer. It was like weak ass karaoke. He was one of the headliners playing to 12,000 people. I don’t jump around too much these days unless something gets into me. I get uptight about my band not playing better.

AL: I saw pictures of Frankie Emerson with an arm sling. Did he break his collarbone?

Anton: I don’t know what to do. He wouldn't take any advice and sit this one out. I guess he needs the money. He should be at a doctor and getting his arm reset. On top of that, he wants to go on this whole summer tour. We only had one practice before Psych Fest. He told me he didn’t have to practice for ten hours because we have played the songs a thousand times. At practice he has forgotten the chords. They are sitting around drinking PBR. We do need to practice.

AL: All bands come to Los Angeles, like Leonard Cohen and The Rolling Stones, and they rehearse for two weeks, and learn all the songs, before any tour.

Anton: No shit. But these guys want all this money to rehearse the show for a week or two. I am the record company so I would have to invest thirty grand into the band before we even played one show. It’s not even doable. I would rather press some more records with that money. It would be cool if my band put in more an effort to learn the songs before we rehearsed.

AL: You can warm up this week, and then by Oakland and the Wiltern, it should be pretty good.

Anton: It might be great tomorrow night at the Observatory. But if one song sounds weird to me, then that’s enough to put me off. I told them to listen to “Devil May Care” a few times, and get those background vocals in your head. I have a tape of the song going on in my head. I am not playing off the band so much.

AL: You have the perfect form how the song should be in your head, and it’s not matching up with the live reality?

Anton: Exactly. That is the feeling I get. When I was drinking and drugging, I would remember every sound made, every nuance, every part. I was carrying everything with me in any situation. It was like I was holding out to a baby in a tornado. The minute that I stopped drinking that mentality went away. When I am at home a week after a tour, I forget the lyrics of a song that was just so good. It’s so strange. It’s not being older. It’s just being focused and letting yourself go when you are not working. I am relaxed.

AL: When I first heard your music at home was probably around the time of Strung Out In Heaven. When I first heard it, I mistakenly thought that it was “retro.” But after thinking about it for a while I figured out that you were taking the best parts of music and bringing your personality forward. Other bands just copy the previous bands and you don’t know anything about them except what their record collection looks like. They are a little faceless. You may have started out with familiar sounds but at the end you start sounding like yourself and nothing like the previous bands, because the personal touch is so strong.

Anton: If you look at Spaceman 3, they didn’t have any original ideas except the presentation of their music. They would take other great songs and minimizing it to one note. Even Spiritualized is taken from other bands and other songs. My default position was never like “Okay, I will just rip off the Jesus and Mary Chain.” I am interested in music more than style even. That is why I wear blue jeans and play music with no effects.

AL: My problem with many new bands is that they are good copyists without any of their own personality. It’s a very conservative approach to music. It's like they are saying "We are not going to alienate a crowd by being this interesting human being." They are being a little safe, like a band like Interpol.

Anton: They should make it like a life process. It got really bad a few days ago when I saw The Horrors. They went totally 1980s and sounded like Talk Talk. I kid you not. We were laughing.

AL: Would you ever do a solo acoustic tour?

Anton: It has always felt like a solo thing. Nobody would ever have me in a group. My personality? I am headstrong. It’s always been a solo thing but at the same time it was never about me, if you can imagine that. I am someone who can come up with ten great pieces of music. I could think that I have done some of the best music of my life. I can walk away and the buzz goes away. I can then wonder if I can do anything again ever. That happens to me all the time. Some bands are hot for a while because they are riding the wave of the machine, and they do what is expected. The best thing you can do is keep making music regardless of the machine. It’s like Swans, who are still doing great records after all these years. Beck puts out a new record and the machine goes “eh” and moves on.

AL: What do you think of Jack White?

Anton: He’s turning it around. He’s in the mix helping out other people. He transforming from his usual bullshit. The Dead Weather and all that stuff is bullshit. The White Stripes was interesting because of the way he applied that. The Go isn’t that interesting. I don’t like rock and roll the way he likes rock and roll. He likes weird stuff. I respect him when he helps other people. Most bands are more interested in getting a house. Perry Farrell did Lollapalooza. Flea opened a music school in Silverlake. That is cool. If every band that gets into a certain position, helps out other bands, we would have a different music world.

PART TWO click here


remdyx said...

last sentence is amazing and thats why i love anton