The Brian Jonestown Massacre: Creating Ideas

This can’t be the same guy who’s in ‘DiG’, can it?

Most press from years gone by involving Anton Newcombe - main man and visionary of The Brian Jonestown Massacre - seems to have started: ‘Anton Newcombe… a hard man to talk to…’, and reading and hearing this in preparation for our chat quite frankly shits me right up. All I’d seen was that he is one of the hardest musicians to interview; some say he does the interview, and you just answer…

Having arrived at the lobby of the Columbia Hotel a little early after a quick dose of Dutch courage, I head back outside to wait for the interview before mine to finish. Turning back round to face the hotel, I find Anton has followed me out of the building: ‘I thought I’d let the lady have a few minutes to prepare, she looked a little frightened.’ Pulling the butt off of his cigarette, he asks me if I know anything about this neighbourhood. ‘I don’t really come up this end of Hyde Park too often,’ I reply - ‘well let me tell you about it then!’, he says enthusiastically. It’s like he’s found an opening into letting me know his facts of general knowledge. ‘This place [the hotel] used to be where the British secret service was based in World War Two, isn’t that rad?! That’s why all these buildings around here have new architecture built onto them – like that church, it was because this place was being bombed 24/7. Also I was told it’s where Mick Jagger and David Bowie had sex.’ All my preconceptions about Newcombe are completely wiped clean; this can’t be the same guy who’s in ‘DiG’, can it?

I ask Anton where his current home is: ‘Berlin and Iceland, I hate to tell you, but I pay my taxes to the UK… so there… look’. He reaches into his back pocket and pulls out a leather wallet, complete with a UK bank card. Anton’s wife is from Wales, so he’s not in the UK for a holiday. ‘I’m a professional, I work, which means I travel. Last summer after my tour I rented a flat for three months in Plymouth to just chill out ‘cause it had been a very, very long time since I did nothing - it was basically to get my head straight.’ Indeed, the press release I received a few weeks prior to the interview opened saying: ‘After being sober for over a year, Anton has promised to be on his best behaviour…’ ‘I was drinking a litre of vodka a day. For a long time, I was hyper critical of everything, I was just like ‘this is the same as it was yesterday’… 24 hours a day drinking.’

The life Anton speaks of is shown in the documentary ‘DiG!’, made by American director Ondi Timoner. ‘It’s not gonna effect me, they [the film makers] are gonna go on with their lives, but I’m not gonna change my own personality and life style. I’m very bohemian and self-styled. We got offers from Warner Brothers at our first show in 1990; we did really, really well. In the movie it portrays that we weren’t doing well – which is absolutely ridiculous.’

I had previously been told by his press agent that Anton doesn’t particularly enjoy speaking about the documentary, and my saying I had watched it the night before is met with a long ‘aarrrgggghh’, and roll of the eyes. But he led this life a long time ago, so you can see his point. The editing is completely one-sided, favouring the other documented band Dandy Warhols. ‘They were dropped from their label and I’m doing bigger things [than them]. I’m going to play in Macau, Japan, Australia, India… they got dropped.’

Jonestown’s new LP ‘Who Killed Sgt Pepper’ is their eleventh studio album - ‘we have a lot. I thought [the title] was funny’. He then says something that more resembles the Anton I had read about in other interviews: ‘I’m twisted! I’m a sick individual. You’re always told by Mojo magazine that ‘Sgt. Pepper’ is the greatest rock record you know?”. I ask if he watched Paul McCartney perform on the X Factor final, to which Anton replies in a tiresome tone: ‘Fuck him. They’re gonna’ re-make Yellow Submarine. Why?!’ What had I started… ‘The only justification that could possibly be for doing that [film] would be if Paul were to say “I own this, I made it, I created it and I’m gonna destroy it! And then you’d go “well fuck you! John and George would be rolling in their graves, and your shitting on the art, the animation and you’re cashing in – you’re a cheese bag! What, are you paying off Heather Mills or working with Disney?”. It’s bullshit. Fuck him.’

There is an intensity running through Anton Newcombe. The man is a constant recording machine. He’s made every type of music, from your 60s throwback early Jonestown stuff to ‘…Sgt. Pepper’, which consists of Indian influenced rock n roll and your quintessential British football chanting. The third track on the album is a three-minute plus psychedelic chant called ‘Let’s Go Fucking Mental’, you can get the gist of it from the title itself. ‘You know people in the North started singing that a lot when we were playing.’ Asking if he’s a football fan, he shakes his head and politely smiles, with a smirk cracking the corner of his mouth. ‘No.’

‘I like people to be happy though, how’s that? I borrow a lot of things to mix and match. I don’t try and conceal it or claim it as my own, it’s just pastiche. I’m interested in creating ideas, I’m just entertaining myself – basically creating little audio sculptures.’ There is a constant progression throughout the body of work Jonestown have recorded. ‘If you treat the records and the way you do things kind of like a buffet. If you have multiple versions of the buffet then that would even get old huh? So I try and like reel it into like a feeling that I’m interested in.’

The band have been recording in their current guise since 1990, and from the beginning they had something special. They nearly signed with Alan McGee before he had picked up Oasis: ‘You have to understand that they [Oasis] didn’t know that it was gonna go off that big, they just thought they were being professional in a pub rocky sort of way. We played King Tut’s back then but also giant clubs too - like the ABC where Bob Dylan played in Scotland.’ And they have continued to be well-received throughout their twenty-year lifespan. ‘We’ve sold-out everything; you can go back through your whole life in NME - there ‘aint too many bands that are THAT big – not even Primal Scream or anybody. That’s Nirvana big; we’re that big, it’s like nuts…’

The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s new album, ‘Who Killed Sgt Pepper’, was released this week.
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