With Anton Newcombe

I was able to speak with Anton Newcombe, leader of the Brian Jonestown Massacre, before they play Levitation in Austin, and begin their US Tour. A Recordings have announced the June 1st release of the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s 17th album, Something Else. They promise another full length album within the year. The BJM has been very active since I last spoke to Anton Newcombe in 2014. They have toured heavily and have released several albums since Revelation in 2014. These albums include Musique de Film Imaginé (2015), Mini Album Thingy Wingy (2015), Third World Pyramid (2016) and Don't Get Lost (2017). In this interview, I focused on the present and the new album and tour. Previous history of the band has been explored in these previous interviews:


AL: It’s good to talk to you again. These interviews with you are always the most popular things on my site. Except for maybe Billy Idol….

Anton: He should change his name to Billy Fucking Idol. I have a funny story. One time we were playing in Stockholm. We are backstage with Chrissie Hynde. If you can imagine an office kitchen as part of the backstage. There is a table and a fridge. I turn around and there is Chrissie Hynde. And I am like “Oh Hi!” My drunken bass player Collin says “It’s Chrissie Hynde. What are you doing in Stockholm?” She says “I am a fucking rock star.” Pretty cool.

AL: When we all got into music in the 1970s, rock and roll music was still pretty new. Now with the internet you can listen to every obscure track from the 1930s until now.

Anton: It’s crazy now. When you are driving down the street in Liverpool. You see an old man in his 80s. If you think like I think, you go “That motherfucker could have been at the Cavern club easy.” Paul McCartney is 74, so that whole audience now is that age.

AL: The whole idea of “rock star” is fairly new. Does that have any meaning in 2018?

Anton: I don’t know. Everything is so weird. You watch the industry create those people continuously. A lot of people don’t know that Pitchfork is created by a record label. They didn’t want to pay to lubricate the system. Say that you are Warner Brothers and you want to deal with Rolling Stone Magazine. Say that you have 60 projects in one year. How many covers can you score in one year? Only so many. And then you have things like Vice Magazine and American Apparel and tandem projects. It’s a magazine that we don’t really have to pay for ads.

AL: In the last twenty years you have magazines that become record labels and have their own PR company.

Anton: It’s screwy how they tamper with things so much in the music industry. It’s started with The Beatles. They stopped them from touring America. They stopped a lot of bands having national exposure. They wanted to play the Beatles on the radio every hour. If you are one of these 500 bands you can’t be played because the radio was playing the Beatles every hour. They weeded shit out and stepped on stuff. There were so many great mod bands. There was The Who, The Small Faces, and The Eyes. You would think that there was this one thing happening, but really there were a lot of things happening. The industry has fucked itself. I get to watch that whole thing happen.

AL: You adopted the internet early on ….

Anton: I knew it was a scam anyways. That’s why I said I wanted to become a producer. I think the hiphop guys have got it right as far as dealing with the music industry. You have the rap mogul and all these other guys. With the new media, people have blogs. You put out a single and a website wants an exclusive of your video. They announce it on their twitter and their social media. The next hour they are talking about Beyonce at Coachella. So your lifespan on social media is nothing. At least with magazines, you were out for a month, and it was on someone’s table, and got passed around.

AL: What do you think of Todd Rundgren and Prince?

Anton: After Todd left The Nazz, he’s in his own world of stuff. My friend did a record with Todd Rundgren: it’s almost unlistenable. He’s a little different from Prince. When you see Sinead O’Connor covering that song, you see the purity of his idea and how powerful his ability to write was. It’s amazing what he was able to communicate in a universal way. It transcends all the stuff that I hated about him: all that laces and high heels. His sex show. They had their own scene in Minneapolis. All I have to say about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Rolling Stone Magazine: that shit isn’t for everyone anyways. Rolling Stone was relevant when they had writers like Hunter S. Thompson.

AL: In the 1980s, Rolling Stone became mainstream and started pushing safe bets like U2 and hair metal.

Anton: Yeah. The baby boomers had a lot of kids that came of age in the 1960s. There would have been a youth explosion in the 1960s if everyone, black and white, were united. There would have been a revolution. The Doors sang about “5 to 1” which meant the kids outnumbered the establishment. We could take over. It would have been great if that would have happened with Generation X, but they used MTV to fragment people. They forced people to listen to hair metal and raprock. They suppressed a lot of cool stuff like hiphop and bands who were only on 120 Minutes. There was more diversity on 120 Minutes than on MTV the rest of the week.

AL: How did you work on this new album?

Anton: I was working with this drummer. I felt like I could write a song with any of her beats. I invited her over to my studio and said “Play the beat to Hey Joe by Hendrix” and I would write a whole new song. I would make up stuff on the spot and knock out a song a day. It was cool because one day I had Anthony Bourdain over. I had a whole crew over. I cooked for fourteen people. I cooked two legs of lamb and produced a song all in one day. It was funny. It will be on CNN this summer.

AL: I saw one show with Asia Argento. I know you recorded some tracks with her. Also when I first saw BJM in 1998, playing at Bowery Ballroom with Mercury Rev, you were going out with actress Tara Subkoff. Both of them have been named in this movement against Harvey Weinstein. Since you were close to those actresses, were you aware of the situation around Weinstein and Miramax?

Anton: It’s crazier than that. I have another kid with the actress who was in Ghost Dog. I know Paz de la Huerta from Boardwalk Empire. I think that I know five people personally.

AL: Someone like Tara Subkoff. It seemed like her career was shortened. Did she make you aware of any of Weinstein’s behavior back then?

Anton: I didn’t know about him back then. Those dudes in LA will hire women to sit at a table, and they will sit at a desk. They will have a casting call over three days. They will have a thousand blonde girls between 19 and 25. They will all be 5-6. They will come in one after another. They will come in room, and some woman assistant will say “Show us your tits.” They will do that all day. I probably mentioned to Tara that I couldn’t believe that she would put up with that sort of level of humiliation. You can just look at Harvey Weinstein and his characteristics, and look at his wife. How are these two people even in the same room? What was she thinking? Was she thinking they are going to have some nice looking kids?

AL: There are many bands from the 1990s that are playing exclusively to an older aging crowd that has followed them from the earliest albums. BJM on the other hand, seems to attract mostly this youth crowd that maybe wasn’t alive when you first started.

Anton: Totally. We are fortunate. Especially in Europe. When we played Prague, there was a busload of people who came from Bratislava. Same thing happened when played Budapest. College girls came in from the trains. They said “We are going to see this band because we love them.” How do they know that we exist? How do they know about this music? When we played Budapest, we were on national television. It’s just us on a Saturday night playing 22 songs on a boat. It’s crazy.

AL: You are one of the main acts in France.

Anton: I just recorded a record with Roman Polanski’s wife. I met Roman wife in Paris. It’s me and The Limiñanas backing Emmanuelle Seigner. It will come out later this year. She’s a great singer.

AL: I was reading about Greg Shaw recently in some rock history book. What do you think of his idea about Garage Rock vs Psychedelia?

Anton: That was cool. It started out when Greg Shaw was in High School. His dad got him a ditto machine. He did a fanzine about sci-fi comics. He was interviewing people like Phllip K. Dick. He figured it out when he was a teenager. And then the Beau Brummels came out and he was into that.

AL: He was a supporter of Garage Rock and was against the expansion into psychedelic rock.

Anton: I am influenced by it all but it doesn’t have a face. They were all influenced by the blues and the echoes of that. The Standells “Dirty Water” is covering a lot of the same ground as The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds. There is an overlap with the early American garage bands. All the natural organic stuff I really like. It’s folk music. It’s music by the people and for the people. Garage rock is a suburban thing. It’s not based in rock specifically. It’s more influenced by jamming in your parent’s garage.

AL: All the guitars were produced in California. Fender and Rickenbacker.

Anton: Yes.

AL: Hank Marvin of The Shadows had the first Fender guitar that he brought to England.

Anton: That’s funny. In the Tess Parks band, Roy Meehan, his father is Tony Meehan, who was the drummer of The Shadows. That’s another connection.

AL: It seems like many musicians start out in a pure place, and then get burned out by the industry or the market place. Some of them may start out in the safety of the suburbs, or in the gospel choir. But it’s like they make a deal with the devil, and they are corrupted, and become bitter or worse. Have you any experiences like that?

Anton: There was a lot of stuff that couldn’t be shown in the movie DIG! The whole point of that movie was we had spy cameras. We filmed the whole process of the label courting me. They were sending people who were acting like scouts for Warner Brothers or Virgin. They were sending people who were in fact Swiss hookers. They would send this girl with a plastic bag of coke saying “I work for Interscope. I have a credit card. My boss is interested in signing you guys.” It was like that soon after we met the Dandy Warhols and there was a buzz around both bands. It was before Ondi Timoner came on the scene.

AL: What I like about Stiff Little Fingers is that they released a record with an independent label like Rough Trade. The punk bands before them all signed with the majors and it didn’t work. I don’t think BJM needed to be on a major label.

Anton: I was looking for a situation where I could record more stuff. I didn’t want labels dictating what I was going to do. They were telling me “We want you to be the next Kurt Cobain.” I was telling that “I didn’t want to be the next Kurt Cobain.” The problem I have with Echo and The Bunnymen when they started producing their own shit for an imaginary radio demographic in the 1980s, and all that reverb gated and that drum snare sound, is that it is a bad 1980s sound that dates everything. I like the real raw jazz thing. I like the sound of Jimi Hendrix’s first record. And then there’s question of how do you record a band like My Bloody Valentine? No record label could figure it out. There was no point of reference for a person like me to explain what I was interested in doing.

 All photos by BEV DAVIES