Interview with Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre
Still soaked in their vintage swirling psychedelic 60’s influences, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, or more aptly Anton Newcombe, have washed in through an open window, riding on a gentle breeze from those heady San Francisco nights, with a chilled out feel and a groovy attitude that’s sparkling my head around the edges, like a mild dose of acid that’s slowly weaving its way through my corpuscles, allowing me to feel rather sporty and in control.
Your 18th full-length album was recently released. It’s only seven months after your last one. How do you do it?
Was it the 18th? I lose track… I worked on quite a few albums with people the last year. Eight I think… for the last two albums, and the two before that (Something Else, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Don’t Get Lost and Third World Pyramid) I wrote two at a time… once I am in the mode (we call it a ‘purple patch’), I run with it until I say to myself “that’s enough for now”. I find it is hard for me to write words for 45 songs at once… and that shows… also, I start cutting corners and saying “fuck it” when I should really be trying harder.
It’s a tough call because I am interested in conceptual art… I press “record” and make it up as I go, very quickly. I am just looking for that something that captures my attention… however I am not looking for hits or anything like that, and I don’t want to be captive of my past efforts. I want to be free, just make something dreamy that I can get lost in like I imagine the informed but submissive listener will also be. Lastly my goal is to make it live life… that’s where I finish the words or ideas.
“I am interested in conceptual art.”
Where do you get the constant flow of inspiration?
Well it’s all I have really. Thankfully I have always had the arts to turn to, the magic machine… nobody needs to know she broke my heart, maybe I can turn that pain into something else that somebody gets joy out of and let’s face it, it’s a whole lot better than taking it out on the world…
Ultimately I am interested in the full spectrum of human emotion and some sort of deeper shamanistic thing that I channel, I mix all that stuff up and hope it resonates but it’s a hard row to hoe as most people these days are very shallow.
What’s your creative process?
When I am in work mode, I show up to my studio and write 8 hours a day, six days a week… if it clicks, and it’s time to make an album, that goes into manic mode and I put as many hours as need to be and squeeze every last drop into it.
What can you say about the recordings?
I’m interested in as is recording… like 60s jazz or you know, warm stuff… good gear with its own sonic identity. I keep it simple, like Rubber Soul and Revolver.
It was recorded and produced at your studio. What kind of equipment did you use? Would love if you could share some further words about its recording and production process.
I have a bunch of old mics… Neumans, RCA & Cole ribbon mics, Sennheiser, good stuff… old compressors and an Emi chandler and some Neve outboard preamps… I keep it simple and right into Pro Tools, no desk – I don’t use tape because in the past, I burnt so much of the stuff, this works for me… I have tons of old gear…way more than the Beatles or Stones in the 60s, so all of that has its own sonic identity. I track something and do rough mixes King Tubby style, I imagine I am stoned and try and make it sound like a band… then my engineer Andrea cleans it all up later, then we send it to London for mastering and press it.
How come you named album simply after the band?
I thought it was funny to do that after so long.
Some artists delight in making the music, while others seem to delight in playing live … do you discover new aspects of your songs developing in front of an audience?
Sure… but what I really need to discover is a really great drummer ASAP. I may have to put out ads or something in the UK and go camp out and try people out. I would like to tour next year, but I need an old school guy.
You have a rather large body of work to draw from for live settings, are you surprised when fans ask to hear older numbers?
There is no right way to do it, but I try to play stuff from all eras and then circulate new stuff in. You can only play so many songs in 2 hours… 20 or so.
You once mentioned that you like living in Berlin, because you can get by unnoticed, like a ghost. Do you sometimes miss living in US?
No, not at all. I miss Mexican food. Driving sometimes… but honestly… those people have their heads up their asses. I do not like fascism or people that ignore or put up with it.
Do you ever fear revealing too much of your inner self, or have you managed to take a third person approach?
No, I am open and honest.
I saw you playing in Vienna recently and I really enjoyed the concert. Your successful global tour ended. Do you have any new plans?
I want to do something great with my life.
Is there anything else you are working on?
I have the new L’Epée record (my french supergroup) and I produced a Holy Motors record… I want to tune up my studio and dig into writing like mad and i would like to work on soundtracks…
– Klemen Breznikar,
foreword by Jenell Kesler
All photos by Thomas Girard