Anton Newcombe needs no introductions. As founder member of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, he has a recording career spanning a decade-and-a-half, and next month sees his band release their thirteenth full-length album, My Bloody Underground. Recorded between Liverpool and Reykjavik at the back end of last year, as well as the latest incarnation of his band it also features contributions from several little-known Icelandic musicians and ex-Ride frontman Mark Gardener.
Of course, most people won’t associate Anton Newcombe with a long-standing recording career. Instead, he shot to fame – if those are the right words – for his role in the documentary Dig!, which was largely centred on the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s deteriorating relationship with The Dandy Warhols. Anyone familiar with this cinematic gem, then, will be only too aware of Newcombe’s difficult personality, something DiS is about to encounter first-hand.
Dig!, we are already forewarned, is absolutely off limits during the interview; so much so, in fact, that we are told Newcombe will simply abort the interview if we even dare to mention it, so for the purpose of today, we don’t. What we didn't realise, however, was that a simple question about his band’s long-term recording career would produce a similar effect…
It’s a cold Friday morning in the middle of February, and Anton Newcombe is holed up with his teenage Welsh bride in London’s Colombia Hotel. We’re his final appointment of the day; indeed of this whole promotional exercise. As soon afterwards he’ll be flying back to the States…
Hello, this is DrownedinSound, how are you doing?
Hey man, I’m doing fine. I’ve heard great things about that website which is probably a lot different to what you’ve heard about me…
You’ve got a big following on DiS, Anton. A lot of people are genuinely interested in both you and the band.
Right. Well that’s cool. If you just e-mail our website we can send you YouTube links to videos we made for all of the songs on our new record if you or your site wants to use them. They’re not the finished article but we thought it would be good to let people in on the recording process for the record. We shot 19 videos – art pieces mainly, I guess, as they don’t specifically relate to anything. We just did them in Iceland as our way of saying we can do whatever we fucking want.
Your new album is called My Bloody Underground and is said to be your tribute to The Velvet Underground, My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus And Mary Chain…
Get the fucking Mary Chain out of it. We already had bands before they did. I was listening to the same music that the Reid brothers were in 1984. That’s why I saw them with Bobby Gillespie; their first fucking US show. I don’t understand why you’re thinking My Bloody Valentine either…
You’re quoted as saying it.
Well, if you listen to their Ecstasy And Wine record that’s a fucking tribute to The Cramps. I don’t know what you’re thinking about My Bloody Valentine because I can provide recordings and videos that go way back before Spacemen 3 and all that shit; I just don’t think you understand Californian culture.
So what are you trying to say?
That it’s not like the Sex Pistols who invented punk rock y’know? It’s all just bullshit, youth culture run amok. It’s not like I consider myself a punk rocker; it’s more a case that I’ve been into the best music of all time forever. Since I was two years old I started buying records and now I’m 40 years old. That’s 38 years. It didn’t just happen as part of some neo-shoegaze revivalist bullshit. Before there was Oasis we got offered a deal by Alan McGee in 1992.
Yes really. Ask Joe Foster (co-founder Creation Records). You can ring him, so you’ve gotta understand we were doing this way before the likes of Mark Gardener started Ride. This is one of the reasons he’s on our new record; we’re friends, we go way back, but he was influenced by us. We’re not Johnny-come-latelys who thought they’d give this sound a go because it’s currently in fashion y’know.
I don’t think anyone has ever accused you of doing that.
They have, believe me, they have. I was detuning guitars way before Sonic Youth existed. No seriously, I was deconstructing and detuning guitars in 1978 aged 11 way before Thurston Moore had picked one up and Kevin Shields was learning how to play Cramps records, so you do the math. I was trying to create sounds for my band in my garage then. I wanted to make sounds that no-one else was doing back then. Even the neighbours complained to my mom at the time because of the noise…
So are you saying that My Bloody Valentine would never have ended up with the sound they did if it wasn’t for you?
Well, I mean, I love Kevin (Shields) and I think it’s great that he’s got his new record to go; the word on the street is that he’s finished the cover artwork so… people get mistaken between what people’s rights and privileges are, y'know? I mean, he’s not a fucking monkey at the zoo, so if he wants to take as long as he likes to make a record that’s his prerogative.
But going back to the original question…
I don’t know really. I mean, I’d be hard-pressed to create anything that would be halfway as decent as anything on his last record. Him, Bilinda and Colm are just wonderful people y’know. He’s already contributed more to music than any of the bands in fucking NME put together. Fuck the Gorillaz. Fuck Amy Winehouse. This is his reality. If he wants to fuck off for 15 years more power to him; he’s not a machine. I’m just glad that he’s felt comfortable enough to share some of his art.
You can hear a definite Loveless influence on two of your new album tracks, ‘Who Cares Why’ and ‘Just Like Kicking Jesus’.
On the demo versions on the website maybe but wait ‘til the mastered version hits the shops; it’s gonna blow that stuff out the water. You have to understand that he developed his thing with Pro Tools after me and my friends had already started doing it. We were using Sound Designer and they developed Pro Tools. He just made a much better audio sculpture than we could at that time. He did it masterfully within the audio environment and technical realm he was given, period, much better than I could ever do it. But I was doing that shit way before him; what he had were the skills, the programs, the timing. It’s like all the ducks were in a row, says the hunter. He had all those things together; I mean, I don’t feel jealous – it’s more about feeling in awe.
So the 'My Bloody' segment of the album’s title isn’t about My Bloody Valentine then?
You have to understand that the word 'Bloody' is an English slang cuss word for 'Fucking', so in actual fact this record is My Fucking Underground. I just thought it would be funny to call it that; I guess it’s my sense of humour fucking around with the English language.
Something else you have in common with Kevin Shields is the fact that you both seem to be constantly striving for some kind of unachievable perfection in sound.
Well if you listen to the new record you’ll probably realise it was all recorded in one take. We just made them up as we were going on, took a bunch of drugs, did some more on the end of a track, went out with friends, created some more of the track, y’know. I gave everyone a pep talk at the start; it was along the lines of “You’ll never have to play this live or even again if you give it your best shot”. We’d put on an LCD Soundsystem record for an hour and then I’d just say to the band “Right, let’s beat that!” Y’know, that kinda thing.
You’ve already mentioned your long-term friendship with Mark Gardener but this is the first time you’ve worked with him on a recording. How did this come about?
We were meant to be doing this festival called Truck in Oxford and there was a flood this year (last year – Ed). Mark’s house was one of the ones that completely got flooded, and the whole festival site was underwater and I got a phone call to say it had been cancelled. My response was “Oh no it hasn’t!” and we got in touch with the Oxford Technical College, because you can’t have 8,000 lunatics descending on the city raving and going mad with no show while all the local police were helping old ladies move their stuff; and so they let us have the festival in there instead and I made my band learn a couple of Ride songs and both Mark and Andy (Bell) asked if they could play on the songs with my group and I said “Yeah!”…
Andy Bell too?
Yeah, I know, it was the first time those two had played together since 1994. Andy’s just the greatest guy. I mean, I love him so much, but the main thing was all those people who’d come down for the festival had a show to go to. Anyway, as a reward for helping us out, we offered Mark a trip to Iceland to record with us and he agreed to do it…
Which two tracks does he appear on?
‘Monkey Powder’ and ‘Who Cares Why’.
What made you record a lot of the album in Iceland?
My son lives over there, and we’ve always travelled around a lot anyway so I guess it was an opportunity to broaden everyone’s horizons.
Whereabouts are you based at the moment?
Right now I’m based at the Colombia Hotel, W2, Lancaster Gate, Westminster, London… but I mean, that’s what I do, move around, so who cares, y’know.
How long are you staying in the UK?
I’m leaving pretty much straight after this conversation. I’m gonna have lunch with my wife who’s Welsh and my friend who’s come to see me then we’ll probably watch one more home improvement show on one of your UK television channels…
You’re not a fan of UK television then, I take it?
Well, it kinda blows German TV out of the water because that’s shit. I think someone like me would have a great future making good television programmes in Germany because they really suck at it. I mean, they build the best cars on the planet but they can’t put together a decent TV show!
Going back to the new album, some of the titles seem quite controversial – ‘Bring Me The Head Of Paul McCartney on Heather Mills’ Wooden Peg (Dropping Bombs On The White House)’ being the most obvious – yet there’s no real reference to the titles in the songs themselves.
Have you listened to the lyrics?
To be honest, on the recording I have they are largely indecipherable.
Well let me…“Oh God it’s dropping down from heaven and it’s bringing the word/the wicked fucking sound that you never have heard”… you’ve got to figure it out man. Y’know, “Lock up your fucking daughters for Jesus’ sake”. What is it? I mean, I’m not going to spell it out for you, and the rest of the shit that’s in Icelandic is even heavier. It’s like with the song ‘Golden-Frost’; what we’re singing is “You fucking demons, give me my money and go back to hell, I rebuke you fucking devils, give me my money and go to hell…”
So who are you referring to in that song?
Everyone. Every single fucking hole on the fucking planet.
Yes, fucking seriously. This world sucks – it’s not like you’ve won the lottery by texting in double 6-0-5-9-2-3-1-4 and they give you £1,000 by being born in this fucking world! This is shit; everybody’s a fucking asshole. Period.
But surely there must be some good in the world somewhere, right?
My wife has an interesting physique and I find it pleasing.
What about the music you’ve been making over the years? Surely you must look through your back catalogue and feel proud of what you’ve achieved?
I’m not my fucking music! It doesn’t matter whether I’m the creator or not; that’s what you don’t get. Van Gogh was not his paintings – he was a fucking freak that cut off his ear. His paintings are here but that nigger’s dead, period. Henry Ford is a fucking Nazi and you’ve got people delivering your fucking pizza in a fucking Ford! The pizza’s got nothing to do with the car, it’s just your myopic perspective! It’s like you are not the story just because you may call yourself a journalist. That’s in your head.
I don’t how see any of this relates to your music, Anton.
Well that’s a fact. I don’t care what Leonardo Da Vinci shat after having lunch. It has nothing to with looking at David or Moses or any of those sculptures. I don’t care who Medici screwed; it has no effect when you’re looking at those paintings. When you’re looking at or listening to a work of art it has no effect who the creator screwed in the ass with the bone of a chicken that he ate on Saturday night in 1300BC as to whether or not I can enjoy the Rosetta Stone or something…
How does it make you feel though when you listen back through all of your work?
Sometimes I put them all on shuffle mode on iTunes. Mostly I only listen to them all when I feel like having a good cry. I open up the memorial book of Princess Diana and I put on the whole collection of my entire works and I look at the mounds of flowers at Buckingham Palace gates and I just weep. I mean, what are you asking me? It’s absurd…
Surely there has to be at least one defining moment of your career that you are most pleased about? A definitive album even…
Who fucking cares? I mean, you’re talking to a raving fucking lunatic that just insulted the memory of Dodi Fayed so who are you to ask?
Someone who is a fan of your music.
Well I don’t care if you’re a fan. I’m your friend. I’m just saying I’m not what I do, and what I did in 1996 or January 2004 or yesterday really has no effect on what I’m going to do next. As soon as I’ve finished this phone call – my wife is beautiful, my son’s better looking than anybody else in the family – I’m probably going to fuck her brains out but I’ll probably have dinner first. I mean it’s pretty overcast here so…
It’s pretty cold this time of year too.
Oh no! Maybe you should go to China where people can’t even get off the train platform 'cause it's snowing and overcrowded. I mean, you could be in Basra now getting the shit blown out of your Rover by a roadside bomb, so let’s put it into perspective again. There’s equality problems. You could always put on another jumper!
…and I haven’t got a lot of respect for the armed services either. They are there for no fucking reason as far as I’m concerned. I couldn’t give a flying fuck about what record I liked. They’re all on the internet, it’s all for free, you can download it however many times you like… I mean, I don’t know what else I can do. It’s music, you’re supposed to listen to it, not have me talk about it. Let Amy Winehouse talk about her music, I don’t give a damn…
But back to your music and the way it has evolved over time…
You could go back to 1978 and see where I came from. I’m more interested in exploring theories of space, mankind and humanity. I’ve been completely underwhelmed with humanity for a long time and I create things because they speak against that mechanised mentality; that factory-and-farm-bred mentality that the educational process spits out, in a nationalistic football faggotry way of bullshit buggery, and the thing is, they can all go to hell.
Do you think these humanitarian issues are a worldwide problem?
Yeah, it’s definitely worldwide, but for now let’s deal with the humanity problems that concern us. I’m completely underwhelmed with Western culture; I mean, I was promised robot maids, trips to the moon, flying cars, everything you could possibly imagine! My whole fucking life, everything my country – my culture – has ever told me is a big fucking lie. I think people eventually give up and only do things because they feel they have to. Protesters only protest because they’ve nothing else to do.
So you’re basically saying that to protest against something in the 21st Century is akin to making a positive career move.
You know what, if you don’t protest against something before you’re 18 you’re basically full of shit, and if you’re still protesting by the time you’re 30 you’re wasting your time, unless you’re George Galloway or me, then you’re spot on mate!
You’re still protesting now then I take it…
Well here’s what I did: I put all my music on the internet for free, and I got over 90 million downloads, so you can’t argue with the results. I have Spyware, which means there’s a trade-off, in that I have each and every one of those people’s email addresses. What that means is I can say to them all “I did this for you…”. What that also means is I can phone up the ambassador for the Royal Albert Hall in London or Madison Square Gardens in New York - any venue anywhere in the world – and fill them in 30 minutes as I have 90 million users' e-mail addresses, something no-one else - even Dylan or U2 - could achieve. And that is the problem with this hairy-backed fucking business. Give me back my money motherfuckers, go back to hell motherfuckers…
When you put it like that, do you ever regret not signing to a major record label as 90 million sales could obviously earn you a lot of money?
Fuck You! Seriously, Fuck You. FUCK YOU! Why would I regret not signing to a major record label? I’ve outlasted every fucking label, even EMI. Fuck. Off. This conversation is over…(Slams receiver down).
The album My Bloody Underground is out through A Records on March 31.
For more information on the Brian Jonestown Massacre and to download all of their albums for free, visit the band’s website.