Anton Newcombe

Receiving a call from Anton Newcombe is probably the most intimidating thing I’ve ever had happen to me. It’s not just because of his rather undeserved reputation as a difficult interview subject, or his past history with pretentious music critics, but also because he might just well be one of the most intelligent people on the planet. I can honestly say that I learn a lot from our 45 minutes together.

I could wax lyrical here about a certain documentary, and how the trajectory of his artistic vision has been affected for better or for worse because of it. I could attempt to craft an image of the Brian Jonestown Massacre as evolutionary minstrels and far-out visionaries, but one thing I’ve realised after talking with Anton is that all of that really doesn’t matter.

We began our discussion by talking about the recent Playground Weekender festival, where the Brian Jonestown Massacre closed the main stage on Friday night. Anton tells me that due to a certain band (who came upon Internet fame through one of their self-produced video clips), most of the sound boards on the stage were removed before the BJM even started. Apparently there were issues also with local sound restrictions.

“It’s just kinda strange. You figure that you’d sort that stuff, like the community would say, ‘Yeah, this is good that we have this, it brings people here’ or something…”

There is kind of a weird culture in Australia, I think, with regard to live music. We’re not completely sold on the idea of it being a productive thing.

Well yeah. You know what though, that’s a holdover from the sixties, and drugs and what-not. Back in the day there were teenagers…it used to be that young people could go to shows and concerts, right? And then they restricted live music to only bars and pubs, so you had to be of drinking age, you know, before you got exposed to live music. It’s really kinda interesting because they associated it with rebellion, youth culture with rebellion, so that’s pretty much everywhere.

So do you guys get much of a chance to play to underage crowds?

Well…not that much [laughs]. Not that much. It’s really weird, it’s kinda strange. But then again, that’s where the Internet really helps people out I think, today more than it probably did a long time ago. You know, a lot of young people today are pretty savvy with their eclectic tastes and stuff.

You’ve been quite involved in the online realm in recent times, distributing your albums for free and producing a lot of promotional videos to accompany the launch…

As far as file trading and all that stuff, you know, I try and explain to a lot of people why it’s in their best interests. It’s like when I make up a video and I use stuff that I don’t necessarily own the copyrights to, well I’m not selling the video and once I release it peer to peer there’s not really a whole lot that anybody can do about it, because they’re gonna have to address that issue as a whole, which trust me they’re going to. They’re gonna change the nature of the way, basically what your possessions as far as digital media is gonna be, it’s gonna be related to streaming. You’re not gonna have your CDs or your mp3s anymore, basically you’re gonna have access to everything existing off of your hard drive, it’ll be out in the clouds so to speak.

Yeah, it’s that whole idea of ‘cloud networking’ and off-site hosting of files. Computers are essentially going to become more like terminals, entirely reliant on the cloud to function.

I knew that all this shit was gonna happen so I just figured I would capture market share and also be known as being a hero. Because these people are idiots. I just figure, you know, all my stuff, like my record, immediately, before it was even out, the minute they sent out promos, that stuff was all on peer to peer internationally, so you might as well just be open with it and try and use the medium. It’s so weird with exclusives these days, like what does any of that mean now? It’s just ridiculous, you know what I mean?

Totally. It’s like big business is still trying to make a grab for something people have been getting themselves, for free, for years.

I think trying to dominate that kind of stuff is really crap. I think that people should, ultimately I think, either work towards there only being one brand, like the Planet Earth of brands or that everything should be open to interact with everything. I think all these like, trying to like block everybody else out of everything, this Betamax versus VHS mentality, is kind of crap, and it’s counter productive. It doesn’t serve the consumer at all.

When people don’t take into account what people want, then we get these worlds, like the Pop Idol world, with that kind of content. Like, ‘Oh people don’t listen to music so we’ll just push anything, they’re gonna buy anything’. I don’t want to live in that kind of world, really. I think it’s fine to understand that people don’t know what they want, you need to give them something, but I think some sort of combination is better. You shouldn’t plan that everyone is stupid.

I’m reminded of that phrase ‘History is dictated by the victors’. Are you concerned, let’s say for posterity’s sake, that what you try to get across in your music and your art might be disregarded in the eyes of history?

Not at all. Look, I’ve completely outlasted…let’s put it in perspective, let’s back everything up. All of my peers have bitten the dust, you know, every single one of them. Now, if we look at it even as the twenty year continuum of the project, right, so far. if you start the clock on the Beatles at ‘62, by the time 20 years had passed, either their members were dead or should have been dead, kind of, realistically, and all of their peers have bitten the dust, basically, for all intents and purposes so in the big picture, I’ve completely passed all that stuff.

And it seems you’re always looking for new ways to kind of stretch the boundaries.

I’m really interested in doing underground art in foreign languages. Instead of like being globalistic and working on this American media model, like all the foreign bands you know, everybody’s singing in English everywhere, I think it’s quite interesting to go the other direction as well. So when I make up music now, I just go ahead and try different languages out and I try to reach out to the underground in that way because I think it’s really unique to be. You know, you could play devil’s advocate and say there’s nothing that I do that sounds unique. I think that’s not a very informed assessment of what it is I do. It just depends on your perspective again.

Without sounding too clichéd, has living in Europe prompted you to do more of that kind of stuff? Has it been somewhat of an inspiration?

Being in Berlin, to me it’s the most forward place on the planet, forward-thinking place, and it has to be because of the history. You can’t really dwell on that and embrace it; build upon it. You know, you can’t build on the World Wars or the separation with the Communists and the wall and all that. You can’t really dwell on that, that’s something that you have to move on from. It sets an example for the whole world, because it’s such an oppressive historical fact. That’s a lesson for all of us. Berlin’s known for cultivating art, there’s a big art scene there so it’s good, and I spend time in Iceland doing that stuff. It’s an interesting culture there, people don’t look strange at strange people there [laughs].

Now this Australian tour, it seems with Ricky Maymi and Matt Hollywood, and of course Joel Gion along for the ride, it seems a bit of a reunion of sorts. Would that be fair to say?

I’ve been playing with these people on and off for a long time. Having Matt back is good because people get to hear… it’s not that I couldn’t play songs that I made up with him, it’s just there’s so much stuff, so it’s good for me to let him get an audience and have some of that [laughs]. You know, it’s just an interesting project. I mean right now we have too many people I think. I just go with the flow; let’s just try and have fun.

Has it been difficult to convey some of the newer songs live? There’s a lot of layering and building up of sounds and effects on the new album.

It’s not so much that they would be hard to play live. It’s like…you know, everybody was happy to see My Bloody Valentine come back and start playing right? They’re playing to fucking tape! It’s just tape, there’s no pedal that makes Kevin Shield’s guitar sounds, it’s thirty tracks of guitar, you know what I mean? All the oohs and ahs, those are all just tapes, so it’s all just tracks.

The Ravonettes? It’s all just tracks, and Lady Gaga and Black Eyed Peas too. It’s all tapes, so I kind of like that we just play music. Even though I can do that too, and I screw around with that stuff, I just don’t think there’s any rules, and I may be wrong, but I don’t think I am.

And I know that people can judge me, you know. I’m getting some reviews from the new record and this guy was trying to say something like, ‘Anton is so misguided that he thinks that we haven’t heard the eighties before, he’s presenting some of the eighties stuff, or this kind of 1990s Primal Scream thing. He thinks that none of us have heard of this before.’ Well, that dickhead assumes that the population of the planet isn’t gonna double in the next fifteen years. He’s not really thinking about perspective.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre has the following shows left on its tour.

Sunday 28th February- Metro Theatre, Sydney

Wednesday 3rd March – The Factory Theatre, Sydney

Thursday 4th March – The Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle

Saturday 6th March- The Lost Weekend Festival, Brisbane