As founder member of Californian psych rockers The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Anton Newcombe has become an iconic figure in his own right. Having initially formed the band in 1990, The Brian Jonestown Massacre have gone on to release fourteen studio albums, their most recent being the excellent Revelation in May of this year.
Now teetotal and drug free, Newcombe is more likely to discuss fatherhood - he and wife Katy have a one-year-old son (Wolfgang) - these days than live up to the hell-raising antics DiS encountered the last time we spoke back in 2007.
With his band's two-months long European tour coming to an end, many of those dates having sold out well in advance, DiS caught up with Newcombe prior to the band's show at Nottingham's Rescue Rooms.
DiS: How's the tour going?
Anton Newcombe: It's good to be able to do what I enjoy the most. People who've been to the shows seem to be enjoying it too. It's different every day. I'm not like a person of Mick Jagger's ilk that's going to smile every day and do the same moves. But then they're legends, the Rolling Stones. Even if they're going through the motions there's nothing better than hearing them do 'Satisfaction'.
DiS: What's been the most enjoyable part of being on tour so far?
Anton Newcombe: I really enjoy being in Scandinavia so the whole experience of playing over there was cool. Yesterday in Bristol was great too. My baby son Wolfgang came and visited me and we spent the day with my Welsh in-laws which was really nice. Wolfgang's only one-and-a-half yet he was so well behaved. We took a little nap next to each other which was super cute. Topped off by a great performance and everybody's screaming happy. For me that's like a good day at work. And it was a beautiful day outside too. Something like that really stands out when you're away on tour.
DiS: The tour is coming towards its conclusion shortly. Do you see any parallels between now and when the band first started playing shows and going on tour?
Anton Newcombe: Our group's definitely ascending. We're very fortunate to be ascending. That isn't all down to some movie that came out ten years ago. It's like having all your ducks in a row, even down to having a really good publicist. It could be down to a lot of things. The way I see it is everything's come together. Having the right place to do it, having the right people to work with, the chemistry's going well, the cashflow's there, our agent's working hard for us. It feels like everybody's pulling in the same direction and I'm very thankful for all that.
DiS: I followed your tweets from Glastonbury last weekend where you were commenting on the poor hospitality, price of food and drink, and overall charade of the way the festival portrays itself as being about peace and free love. What happened?
Anton Newcombe: I just think it's slightly outrageous when you're headlining this John Peel tent and there's thousands of people... They easily cleared over £26 million... And they charged me £7 for a piece of cold pork pie. It wasn't so much that I was commenting on, it was more about the 150-200 guests who were in the backstage area that clearly weren't playing in any of the bands yet didn't have to pay for anything either. They said I couldn't have any guests backstage yet all these people were walking around with no real purpose for being there. When you see pictures in Grazia of some bimbo at Glastonbury... this access these people have. I find it really annoying that the festival demand our bus is parked up by nine in the morning yet we couldn't even have any guests. We weren't even meant to unload our equipment until five o'clock in the afternoon so we're expected to just stay there and wait. The only meal we got offered just happened to coincide with the time we were working onstage. After we came off the meal tent was closed, so it felt like a big "Fuck you!" It defies the term "hospitality" at any time. It doesn't take that much to do something right.
DiS: It's an interesting point, as it seems quite a common occurrence to hear bands - particularly ones from overseas - express their disappointment at the poor hospitality shown by many UK promoters, venues and festivals.
Anton Newcombe: Absolutely, but when you get down to brass tacks, there is no free money in the actual music business. So when you're backstage, if you want twenty crates of ale or something you're paying for it either way. Nobody's giving it away for free. They're all bargaining chips that the agent sorts out. You can have whatever you want on the rider. You can have a pony even! And a butcher. But ultimately someone has to pay for it. It's like with the fruit and cereal we have on the table. That's supposed to be for when we get here so you can focus on what you have to do before dinner time. I find it funny just to document the whole monotony of the process.
DiS: Your fourteenth studio album Revelation came out in May. It's a very diverse record in terms of musical style ranging from the traditional BJM sounds on 'What You Isn't' and 'Days, Weeks And Moths' to the more experimental likes of 'Memorymix'. What influenced such a cross-section of genres and ideas? Has living in Berlin had an impact on your approach to writing and creating music?
Anton Newcombe: I already have the building blocks inside me so I guess a lot depends on whatever mood I'm in. Sometimes I'll start off with an idea and if it's worth pursuing I will. It can be any sound. It may just be a drumbeat that I'll start playing. I can play every instrument bar the violin so a lot of the time I'll start playing some weird beat. I'm really interested in Swing Time, which is opposed to everybody else that doesn't use it. For example, if you listen to Madonna's music it doesn't exist. 'Like A Virgin' sounds just like a marching band. Whereas I'm really into these circular things that happen. Sometimes with your consciousness you can go farther beyond where someone would have been able to in 1970. Like on the 'Memorymix' song I used a 1969 organ with the old echo unit. Anybody from that time period could have just plugged in their own organ and made that song, but it wasn't in anybody's consciousness to do it. That beat is nothing experimental. Just the preset when you press bossa nova or whatever the beat is. I put that through a delay. There's nothing really futuristic about that. It's only the context it was created in that makes it seem visionary. Like in the way that Kraftwerk is. When you look back at 'Computer Love', the topic as opposed to 2009 or whenever it was Coldplay ripped that off some people went "How did they know?" They made music seem so advanced and futuristic. It pre-dates when people started using drum machines. It pre-dates the whole 1980s. There was nobody using that stuff. But going back to your question about Berlin sort of influencing me, German people are really civil. They just stay out of each other's business. As much as the government keeps tabs on people - the tax man or whatever - everybody else ignores each other. It's so cool, so I have the freedom to be invisible. There's something to be said for flicking the bird to every single person you've ever known and living so far away around the other side of the world. It shows you where your headspace is at. Just by your actions it says a lot. I've had it up to here with the western world. It's almost like we're living in a reversed form of totalitarianism. It's so obvious to me. Tied in with the financial things. The aimless war that's tied to the economic quiet war. Because I travel so much I know what's really going on. First of all, I know what the news isn't saying because I see the street. So the governments are telling everybody through the news that things are great. Everything's on the up. We only had a blip. But I know it's much worse than it's ever been. Even worse than in the 1970s when everything was really rough and run down. When you look back at newsreel films from that era when things were pretty rough, actually people were pretty good natured. Whereas now people have credit and a lot of the cheap stuff from China yet they haven't got any bread. People are skint. Because of the cheap clothes and cheap food they can just roll along. You know what I mean? It's not much more than a student's existence.
DiS: Society has become ridiculously competitive. Everyone seems to want more than the next person.
Anton Newcombe: That's why people have fake Louis Vuitton bags or whatever. They go out in their designer gear and do their thing. Go to Liverpool. It's just mental. I talk to people in clubs and they tell me how much business is down. And it's not just down to the smoking ban. People don't have the money to go to shows any more. So it goes all the way down the line to the bands themselves. Nobody's got any money for petrol. It smells a bit like a police state. Germany's probably the last place they could do that and they don't have the credit controls governments ship together so it's just a good place for me to camp out. All the countries in Europe are ultra right wing. Every one. But they have this new angle. So what happens with these super corporations when you lose your job and have nobody to work for is they're eliminating benefit. So you're shit out of luck. It's almost like a new kind of feudalism. When Henry VIII was around he owned everything, and super corporations work the same way.
DiS: Do you see yourself staying in Berlin long term?
Anton Newcombe: I can't really say. A lot of things start with daydreams. It would be nice to have a little chateau in somewhere like Switzerland. It would be nice to have a couple of places, somewhere you could maybe spend three months a year or something. It would be cool to just fluctuate between places. Sweden's more conservatively right wing than the UK in a certain way. They've got the cultural thing. The UK's split with all the tribal and class things going on, overlapping one another like alienating forces. Well Sweden's got a unified white culture so I guess it's a kind of racial thing beside that. All their old left wing hippy parents came from agricultural societies and bought up these apartments in Stockholm during the 1970s. If you just flip that around it's like dynamic economies, so the first thing they did was to let everyone be equal and pay high taxes. Then they stepped ahead when they saw immigrants were coming and were like, "Fuck that!"
DiS: With you being based in Berlin and the rest of the band in the States, is it difficult getting everyone together, particularly when rehearsing for a tour or making a new record?
Anton Newcombe: Not really. I've always done everything anyway. Some Russian guy named his band after one of our songs. He called me up and said, "I've just stolen this part from one of your songs." So I told him I'd buy him a pint if he could teach me to sing in Russian! Screw stealing from me. It's never been important to me. I remember once joking around on the inner sleeve to one of our records about how many instruments I was actually playing on that particular bunch of recordings. So then people started asking me how many instruments I could play and I'd go, "60." The next time they'd ask me I'd reply, "80." I can play anything except the violin. But it was never really important for me to project that. Here's this wonder kid, everybody look at what he's doing. That's not my thing. To me, to really illustrate it is just being self-important. It's like my old mate Courtney from the Dandy Warhols. If you google how many photos there are of them, how David LaChapelle did a video for them, all these different motions that they're going through. So you then try and quantify how bad that must hurt when you can't sell out shows. You're in the descendant when that happens. I've always been interested in the folk aspect of music. This thing that brings people together, sticks them together like glue even. The punk ethos where you saw somebody play. They're up there having fun and then some girl you knew from the hairdressers is playing bass now. Everybody's in on it. And then some new people come along with the same ideals as the punks but they just twisted it another way. Like Gang Of Four. It just keeps morphing. To me that's folk music too. It's by the people. Then some of those people went on to become writers and directors. Loosely, they all had the same kind of ideas. None of them had anything to do with Sid Vicious or whatever. That's what I'm really interested in. That kind of energy.
DiS: You recently joined The Dandy Warhols on stage at Austin Psych Fest for a version of 'Oh Lord'. Was that something you'd been planning together for a while or did it just happen spontaneously?
Anton Newcombe: Courtney (Taylor-Taylor) asked me if we wanted to do it. We did a similar thing with them at Lollapalooza too. I didn't really want to do it as I'd rather concentrate on making my own music and leave them to their thing. But we happened to be there so whatever. I think they sound so much better just doing their own thing.
DiS: The current line-up of the band is probably the most stable it's ever been?
Anton Newcombe: Yeah but it has to morph again. There are too many guitar players. It just has to.
DiS: You've worked and collaborated with a lot of other bands and musicians over the years. Which ones had the biggest impact on you?
Anton Newcombe: It's hard to say to be honest. I've just scored a movie soundtrack that I'm gonna do in August. It's been paid for by the Scottish and Welsh film board. Philip John is the director. He won a BAFTA for doing 'Downton Abbey' and some other stuff. He's great. Hopefully after I do this one someone will give me more freedom. With this one I'm fairly restrained by what I have to follow for the film. The film is about two Scottish guys. It's called 'Moon Dogs'. It's about two brothers from a humble council flat existence from what I understand. One of them leaves home, moves to another city and becomes really successful with his life. The other one's a musician. He's kinda like me. He's not really accepted as being as great as he is or whatever but he's good. So I get to create this guy's whole persona and all the incidental music in the film. They take a road trip together and go to one of these islands in the Outer Hebrides. I would like to do the next logical step up from that but it takes a fantastic amount of money to have full creative control and put together whatever I see fit. Make a really good movie even better in the sense that the suspension of disbelief brings a whole new level to the point where by the time you're leaving the theatre you're whistling 'Singing In The Rain'. Somebody actually made up that thing for a movie. And we still fast forward sixty years later and this tune is still such an iconic moment. That's what I want to have. One of those moments where people come out at the end whistling my tune. What I don't want is it to be something like Batman jumping in his car, throws a Katy Perry CD out the window then pops in some recording I made in 1995. "Now let's get 'em!" That doesn't interest me as much as the possibility that I can rise to the occasion and create something from scratch.
DiS: When's the film likely to be released?
Anton Newcombe: That's not up to me. It's really not up to me how they choose to launch it. But it will be out there. That's a done deal and it's really beautiful.
DiS: What do you make of the current psych rock resurgence? Every major city seems to have its own "Psych Fest" at the minute. Do you it's healthy for the scene or do you think it could have a detrimental effect in the long term?
Anton Newcombe: The term "psych rock" has such a broad umbrella, because people like us and The Black Angels have chosen to interpret all this stuff as mind expanding so I guess it's up to everyone else to put their own stamp on it. Whether that means buying loads of effects pedals and sounding like The Jesus & Mary Chain or doing lots of drugs is their business. What I like about all these festivals is the inclusive nature of them. Liverpool's stepping up to the plate. The Black Angels are promoting one in France. They'll always be imposters too but there's also a lot of really good people trying to get their things off the ground. Ultimately, it can only be a good thing. Bands come and go regardless. As long as people continue to make music that's organic it's cool.
DiS: I fully agree that it's an inclusive rather than elitist scene. I guess that's probably one of the reasons why it has prospered so much in recent years.
Anton Newcombe: It's also probably a reaction against that whole kind of bullshit. It's the exact opposite of the DJ scene. Some DJs are making £6 million a year! They aren't making that from the price of door admission. They're making that from corporate sponsorship. Some of these places charge ridiculous prices for a bottle of champagne in the VIP lounge or whatever. It's just a big scam. Whatever to all that stuff, basically. Whatever.
DiS: Today happens to be American Independence Day. Will you be doing anything to commemorate or celebrate it?
Anton Newcombe: I live in Berlin. I've celebrated my independence by leaving the country!
DiS: The western world rejoiced as a whole when Barack Obama was elected as the first black president but on reflection, do you think anything has changed for the better?
Anton Newcombe: I left specifically because of that kind of stuff. I knew it was bullshit to begin with. I don't care what colour somebody is or anything. I just look at how things are. I understand where the fake stimulation of economy is coming from. Raiding pension funds left, right and centre and all the other bullshit that's going on. When you read about Marky Fuckface from Facefuck being worth $80 billion and other guys like him besides. The so-called captains of industry. There isn't anything like them in the UK. There is no public record of occupied wealth over here. It's like, "Hello, everything made of quality steel on the planet I own or you bought from me. Period. Pay me now." Those guys never even made a billion of anything. So it isn't that they're making more of something, it's that the value of money has gone down so much. It's all an illusion. Eric Clapton played at a legendary venue called The Fillmore in 1967 and he made $7000 from that one show. I sell out the place and they'll maybe give me $7500 but that doesn't make me a bigger star than Eric Clapton. Even though I've written more songs than that guy. The difference is, he could have left that club, bought a house, a Ford Mustang and a motorcycle that night. Whereas me, I can't even fucking pay everyone in my band a wage. I can't go to London and put money on a flat. He can afford to go to California and buy a house in 1967 for $5000. So that's what I mean by the value of money. It's so insane.
DiS: The reviews for Revelation have been unanimously positive. Do you pay much attention to what people are writing or saying about your band?
Anton Newcombe: Every so often. Just this morning the director of that film ('Dig!') tried to say that before her movie we were playing concerts to no more than 50 people per show. That's absolute bullshit.
DiS: I touched on this with Courtney from The Dandy Warhols before their show in Nottingham earlier this week, and he said that if someone is following you around for seven years with a camera they've got an agenda. And that agenda is to try and condense those seven years into ninety minutes with a storyline that;'s going to sell.
Anton Newcombe: He walked into it though. Whereas I could see there was a contrast. I could see there was architecture. That's how I was able to convince Ondi (Timoner) to direct it, and that's how I was able to convince my friend to fund it. Because it made sense. It was my way of saying all my friends are fuck ups, but I'm not gonna give up. Here are these guys that are gonna do absolutely whatever it takes to get into the industry, whereas I'm just gonna do it my way. So these are contrasts because you're gonna see both sides of the coin. Here's what I wanna do. I wanna film all the industry with their tongues hanging out. I'm just trying to deal with publishers, trying to deal with lawyers, trying to deal with groupies, hookers, touring and all that shit because that's an interesting film. That was the whole thing, so he walked into it because he thought it was about him. Then they just wrote a script at the end when they edited it. It didn't have a logical ending. They tried to use these spy cameras on all the people from Warners, all the people from Mercury, Elektra, Seymour Stein, Clive Davis, some of the biggest names in the industry and making monkeys out of them. So none of them signed up to the film. The MTV network tried to buy the film but none of their lawyers would sign it off. So they had to come up with a new agenda for the film, which became a contrast between us who were pitched as losers but with more integrity and the Dandys who would do anything to get themselves signed. So Courtney bought into that and signed it off because he didn't realise how his band would be portrayed. So the end result was they became victims of that. It didn't show the positive things that I saw in him or his group, so from that sense the viewer gets ripped off. Overall, these assumptions are manipulated but then, in a nutshell, that's TV for you. That's the TV news every single day with every single topic and even every single commercial. They manipulate your opinions that this car is better, or this soda pop is better, you look sexier in this. It's Hollywood baby. It's nothing personal, it's just plastic.
For more information on The Brian Jonestown Massacre visit their official website.
Photo courtesy of Shaun Gordon Photography.