“Am I boring the shit out of you or what?” Fresh off the plane in London from his home in Berlin, Anton Newcombe, the man behind twenty-five years of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, leans across the table and peers over his glasses. He cracks a smile. “I don’t care if everything else is like, 12-point type. I want this in, like, 72-point type: AM I BORING THE SHIT OUT OF YOU OR WHAT?”
We’re halfway through our conversation, and Anton has just explained his side of making the infamous documentary DiG! for what must be the thousandth time. An account of the so-called rivalry between the BJM and the Dandy Warhols, the 2004 film introduced the public at large to Anton Newcombe as a volatile, sociopathic junkie, with his head somewhere between the clouds and the past. Yet, to hear Newcombe tell it, everything about the film was a series of self-engineered subterfuges, which would make Thomas Pynchon’s head ache: “In the beginning, I said, ‘We’re gonna have a revolution, and I’m gonna show you how to do it,’” he explains. “I wasn’t kidding. But all this other crap went to peoples’ heads.”
It’s a reputation that still dogs him today; when I tell one friend who I’m meeting, I get this response: “I would advise you to say something nice to everyone in your life before the interview.” Well, fuck that (sorry dude). Newcombe is affable, funny and visibly still excited by what he does, if clearly weary of doing press. Likewise, scratch even slightly below the surface presented by DiG!, and you’ll discover a plethora of incredible songs, sounds and styles.
BJM’s new album, ‘Musique de Film Imaginé’, is perfectly typical in its atypicalness: a collection of fourteen semi-ambient pieces, recorded in a post-tour itch (“I signed on to do a film soundtrack that got pushed back a whole year. I came off tour mentally wanting to be creative, and use that energy,”), inspired by French New Wave cinema, and featuring no vocals whatsoever from Newcombe himself.
It’s a curious entry in the band’s ever-pulsating catalogue, with guest turns from Gallic chanteuse Soko (“I said ‘OK, [the song’s] in French. You have to do this for your culture.’ She said she’d never sang in French before. It’s so weird… She was really gracious,”) and Asia Argento – “It turned out Asia can’t really sing,” Newcombe confides, “she’s more of a personality” – which may alienate narrower-minded fans. That said, a collaborative LP with Tess Parks is due in June, and a “more straight-ahead BJM” double EP is coming out around August.
Newcombe is a big picture guy. He enthuses about all sorts of music, be it the “Turkish jams” of Erkin Koray, or Sleaford Mods (“It’s honest. I may not need to hear a hundred songs of it, but I like the song ‘Fizzy’, y’know? It’s funny, but it’s true.”). Newcombe has his hang-ups about popular culture but still believes revolution is possible; he may have a millennial’s yen for technology, but he’s still a sixties dreamer at heart. “In my life, I wanna collaborate with people and do interesting things,” he tells me near the end of our chat. “And this whole Babylon shit, right? We’ll call it Babylon, so all the brothers know. Just leave it to Babylon.”
“I’m really interested in working in foreign languages.”
On the EP that’ll be out in August, I have a song in Slovakian. I do sing in other languages, but this record that we’re talking about will probably be the last thing I do in French, because I don’t want it to seem like it’s a gimmick for me to work at the very lucrative market that I have there. It’s actually sincere, and I think it’s interesting that I don’t speak French. [My German] is horrible, but we live in an era where none of this stuff really matters, whether it’s me reaching out to communicate with people to collaborate – I have Google Translate. It’s trying to get the other people to express themselves, instead of pretending they’re in the Stone Roses to gain acceptance in England or something, like these bands do.
“There’s a thing called Discovery…”
And that’s like, when you go to Spotify, and it says: “You might also like Led Zeppelin.” Well, think about how I’m doing this in all these different languages, to all these different cultures. And this will be for all time. See, my music’s for real. I’m the label. It’s never going to go away. So I have a record called ‘Who Killed Sgt. Pepper’ – it’s forever, because of Discovery, tied right next to ‘Sgt. Pepper…’ on iTunes.
But all these different languages, it all intersects in this cross-interconnectivity. It’s not necessarily for marketing, because it’s even more heavy to see it. I realise that no artist has really done this yet, and it’s interesting, as I mature, to do this. I realise I spent so many years doing conceptual art, just trying to write songs and battle my own insecurities or whatever, and grow and learn and perform. But the next logical thing for me is to collaborate; there’s another kind of strength in that, because I’m so strong by myself. There’s two ways I could go; I could go to Nigel Godrich and just make one good record. I could do it easily. People would go: “Holy fuck, this guy can actually write better songs than Coldplay. He just had better words.” Or I could collaborate.
“In the editing of DiG!, what all these people are trying to say is that I had all these opportunities and blew it.”
Whether it’s Nina from Elektra… she doesn’t even have a job, and Elektra doesn’t exist. She didn’t see what I saw coming. Even people that we know of and respect, like Stereolab – the big menagerie is that they never sold; they had videos everywhere, but nothing like Drake or something.
“I took over that movie.”
Originally, it was about ten bands. William Morris Agency picked me up and they said to me: “Anton, these people are making this movie, and we’d love to get you into it.” And I just told them – those bands will break up. I’ve got a better idea: my mates will get a record deal, and they’re gonna go for it, and I’m never gonna change. So there you have night and day. I’ll set up a concert and you can meet my mates, and I’ll get the band. I got Courtney [Taylor-Taylor, Dandy Warhols frontman] his deal, because they were opening up for us.
So anyway, in the movie I said, this would be interesting, they’re all out on New Year’s Eve. And I wrote this song. OK they’re gonna come back here with the movie cameras after this fabulous blow-out party, right? And they’re gonna show poor, crazy Anton sleeping in a warehouse. So I said: “Ondi [Timoner, DiG! filmmaker], sit down, I’ll write a song in front of you, you can film it!” So I just re-recorded it – see, I knew all those parts, I’d just written it. I didn’t tell her that I’d just recorded a song, so I just played it, because I knew that it would be compelling in the movie.
“…then they didn’t have an ending.”
Long story short, it was picked up by VH1 networks, it was tested, and it tested the highest. They were gonna make it a TV show, but they couldn’t show it because… y’know, the record company was sending hookers to try and get them to sign us – all this crazy stuff. Then Cary Woods, the producer who did stuff for Harmony Korine, he optioned the rights. Hollywood producer, the real deal, he was like: “We’re gonna make you the biggest star of your generation. But the thing is, we wanna own all your music.” I had my friend Tex with me, and I said: “Show ‘em what’s in your purse, Tex,” and she pulled out a handgun. And he just wigged, because I had all these girls dressed up in white. I was playing a game with the industry guys. I was trying to make it so it was too hot to handle, so they couldn’t steal it away from me.
“I would be interested, if only for a second, to have a rap with Russell Brand.”
Now that he has a documentary, because I’m curious – just between he and I – about possibly what his view on the situation is. Ondi is basically a liar. I’m not interested in talking to her, or slandering her more than that.
“I can show this to anybody else and go ‘Hey, let’s work together.’”
[Collaborating remotely via the internet] opened up a new possibility, because I wanted to work with people that… I could be in the studio, and they’re anywhere on the planet, so I could give directions and I know exactly what I want. I wouldn’t wanna work with Wayne Coyne, but somebody else would be great. Because a lot of people, for whatever reason, are like, “I’m not gonna go to the studio with that guy, he’s nuts or something.” Well this can completely defeat that. I do all this kind of stuff – I encourage people to come to Berlin, let’s make records, let’s do stuff.
“I was born in 1967…”
To me, psychedelia really wasn’t the cartoons where everyone was wearing a paisley shirt and doing that Banana Splits fuzz stuff. To me, it was really when Brian Jones was playing dulcimer, cello, marimbas, every single instrument. It just keeps changing. And the Beatles did the same thing. Just on ‘Sgt. Pepper’ – it’s not their stupid clothes on the cover – it’s the fact they had sitar, British tea party jazz music of their parents’ era, and rock music, slow ballads; all these things in a kaleidoscopic vision. That, to me, is what it means. It’s not a fashion.
“God bless Alex Maas and Austin Psych Fest.”
It is interesting, because the revolution that I talked about did happen. Do you see how many bands are like us now? Liverpool Psych Fest, Austin Psych Fest – there were no bands like that, see what I’m saying? Now there’s a whole ocean – people are making indie stuff, doing it exactly this way all over the world. They see. But still people can’t wait to get famous – they can’t wait to pull a Noel Gallagher, but they can’t.
Even on my label, I don’t try to sign too many bands who are remotely like us, because I’m not trying to be like 4AD. Because some people do it so good, like Austin Psych Fest, Reverberation – all the covers, everything is like that certain way. I don’t want to do that. I’d rather have some bands I don’t even like on the label. I’m more interested in making stuff happen organically and have it grow, and setting a folk example.
“I love Leeds.”
Outlaws Yacht Club is cool – I went and gave a talk there. He’s had Andrew Weatherall and Irvine Welsh and all kinds of people. They have these talks called Chinwag – they’re all on YouTube. You just sit on a couch and talk with this guy – he’s a psychologist, he’s really cool. And he could be, like, Ricky Gervais’s cousin, he’s got this really cool mellow, friendly vibe.
“DJ world is bullshit world. Gentrification is a motherfucker.”
I’m gonna give the example of California in the 1950s with beatnik coffee bars everywhere, and people playing music. Thirteen-year-olds could be at all the concerts, and you could have the Rolling Stones play in your school auditorium, or the equivalent. And then music became associated with revolution and rebellion and negativity, so they changed the alcohol laws, so bands could only play in bars. Your opinions are already formed by the time you were 21, because you could only drink after 21. So they stopped the revolution by saying live music can only be in these drinking establishments, so they actually stopped the revolution from happening.
It’s amazing – MTV, all these things, continuously do this shit. They stop revolutions from happening. They stopped one happening in England by giving everybody all of these fucking drugs, with acid house. Then they said that’s enough, and banned dancing! Crazy. So right now, people are going to need to form associations, which means that somebody better come up with some fucking equipment in Leeds and have that available for mates that are passing through, and that could solve the problem of touring in vans. You could hop on the pensioner bus, the one pound bus.
“That’s what we need – the anything goes.”
Also from every class, not just art school guys. For some reason, because of bling, everybody’s fronting on Facebook, but who’s gonna tell you that they only have enough money to get pints one night a week? People used to be able to drink multiple nights a week, the whole pub thing. Your granddad could go down every night for a few with his mates, and it’s just not like that for young people.
“People are afraid to admit that it’s tough all over.”
They’re just not interested enough in talking to sheep-shaggers in the next shire over, to know that it just sucks everywhere for most people. Starting on a simple level, people think it’s so fucking expensive to live in London. Well, you need to have like, student housing, get together with your mates and find the best place – if you have to split a room with your girlfriend and your mates, get six people in a house, get a rehearsal space, share the transit. Just… make it work on many different levels. Even entrepreneurs, if it’s your coffee shop or whatever. The important thing is to have some kind of dignity.
“I want to do soundtracks.”
This is all about having a desire of getting some sort of recognition from a media and a world that doesn’t exist. Now it’s just like, Batman hops into his Batmobile, and Katy Perry’s playing, he chucks out the CD, and then it’s gonna be Kanye West or whatever. Just because of these 360-degree deals that have just been lubricated all together – he’s drinking a Coke, and it’s a BMW Batmobile. I’m really interested in the era where, for a little while, people were just like: “This movie doesn’t have to be about anything other than… we’re really impressed by the way Ingmar Bergman shot The Seventh Seal, it doesn’t even need a story.”
“A person like Jarvis Cocker has a lot to offer society, regardless of his class or his aspirations.”
I went drinking with him one night a long time ago. My girlfriend at the time was best friends with Chloe Sevigny, and Jarvis and her were dating for a while. And so I ended up at his house, all of us together. And we went to his local, and some chick went right up to him and said, [adopts Sloaney accent] “Oh, Jarvis, are you slumming it at the pub?” And he just turned to her, it was so great, and just goes, “Actually, this is my local. I’ve had a house here for like, nine years.” And it turned her off, just like that. There’s a switch. It was so cool. I really like that guy.
“I think that we should play with Ride.”
It’s not just nostalgia – I would rather see Lush, because… I’ve been working with Tess, I’m gonna start a Scandinavian acid folk project with this guy Neil from Sereena Manesh, and his girlfriend, and it’ll probably be… five songs in Norwegian, three in Swedish and a couple in English, kind of like a Donovan record, but sincere, somewhere farther out than a Nick Drake record, but with heavy strings, and a drop dead gorgeous, earthy Norwegian goddess singing.
“I want to see women express themselves but not get pigeonholed.”
So it’s like ultra-feminism, almost. I think that Lush were like that, even though people would think, oh, look there’s girls in the band. They actually had an approach to the audience that had an impact, regardless of gender. More so than Sonic Youth – here’s two women in rock, and they’re doing this thing. But I think Kim [Gordon] is really important too. And I think PJ Harvey is really important. I’d love to have a chat with PJ Harvey anytime. I have a lot of respect for her. Because I thought that ‘50ft Queenie’ shit was bullshit… it was just obnoxious. But when she started jamming with Eric Feldman on ‘To Bring You My Love’ and all that shit, it was just… amazing. I think she’s an amazing individual, and we’re lucky to have people like that in our time.
Not to dwell on it like we’re John Cusack in High Fidelity or something, but just acknowledging little things like that in passing, because urban contemporary culture… a lot of that stuff is just disposable, just going for some chart or some record, and then it’s on to the next thing. Fuck all that – make beautiful records, and people will catch up. So that’s what I really want to do. It’ll all find its place in the end, right? Hopefully.