PressureLife drinks the Kool-Aid with The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe
Lost among the middling retrospectives detailing grunge’s stranglehold of nineties-era music is the brief but bountiful psychedelic revival throughout the West Coast. None of these acts proved more prolific or as lasting as the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Since their first album, Methadrone, released in 1995 they’ve followed with more than twenty full length albums and have gone through twice as many touring members. The constant throughout- frontman, Anton Newcombe.
“I used to write every single day. I still do.” He reflects on the formative years from his home studio in Berlin. “There was this demo tape show on the local radio in San Francisco. They would play local music, demos. I used to work so hard to try to get something new ready by every Sunday. I would run down there and just put it on the guys desk before he got in just so I could hear it over the radio.”
To say Anton is driven is a criminal understatement. There’s no shortage of articles and documentaries chronicling Anton’s oft-volatile relationship with the press, fans, and even his own band mates, whether in the recording studio live on stage. Whatever scrutiny may prove well-earned, there is even more that results from an apocryphal hodgepodge of gossip and folklore.
Concerns for marketing, popularity, trends, and self-preservation are either beneath or beyond him depending the hour of the day. Anton’s consummate artistry consumes and defines him to an atomic level, leaving little room and even less time for anything else. His concerns are more immediate and unfiltered. When asked which of the dozens of band mates he’s shared as stage with over the years has creatively challenged him the most Anton sighs, “I don’t know. I live in Europe right now. My band doesn’t live here. I’ve got my own recording studio so it’s kind of irrelevant. I’ve always just recorded with whoever I can.”
He affords himself the same anonymity when asked why there’s never been a self-titled release by Anton Newcombe. “I never particularly wanted to be like Beck and be like, ‘oh, this is me.’ but he’s played with as many different people as I have. I was just never selling myself that way.”
Anton’s approach to the craft mirrors the same unsung legends he grew up on. “The music that I love from the sixties, it’s all the Wrecking Crew playing. It’s the best musicians that the union had to offer. All those records sound perfect because they are perfect. The reason your band can’t sound like those records, the reason you can’t sound like the Beach Boys is because it’s not the Beach Boys playing the music. Of course you don’t sound like that band. That’s one of the fifteen hundred songs Jimmy Paige played guitar on.”
Putting the art ahead of the artist has seen the Brian Jonestown Massacre release three full length albums in the past sixth months alone. An output reminiscent to their halcyon days in the mid-nineties where they released three of their most popular albums in under a year. His latest two releases, Third World Pyramid and Don’t Get Lost, derive from material recorded together and later split across two albums.
“It started out I had a track and I was trying to figure out how to turn the track into a full album and I started to get on a roll just writing songs and not really worrying about what style they were. It became apparent that they were two totally different styles of records. I just wrote them all at the same time, really quickly. Several a day. My studio’s set up so I can just record anything. It all started out, I was going to tour in France and they said, ‘we’ll book your tour because you always sell out but you don’t really have a new record.’ It sort of put a fire on my ass.”
After twenty years of constant production, Don’t Get Lost serves as a compelling thesis of the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s growth from shoegazer psychedelic revival to a more reflective and global identity over the years. Tracks like “Resist Much Obey Little” and “Fact 67” continue to explore new ground while maintaining a timelessness that runs throughout Anton’s catalogue. “When I play a set I have songs all the way from 1990 to songs that are unreleased and they all go together and it doesn’t affect anybody’s enjoyment of the concert. From new fans to old fans, it’s all the same.”
Proving as dedicated to the craft as he is, it came as little surprise to find him in London this past April, serving as the UK Champion for Record Store Day. “I buy a record or two every week. You don’t have to buy a million records. One record can be a piece of art in your house. It’s a totally different experience, even going into record shops is a whole cultural experience. Just talking to people about music and hanging out and checking stuff out and being in a place where people love music; it’s good for your mind.”
His own record store day release, Pol Pot’s Pleasure Palace, was a rerelease of some of his earliest BJM. “They’re just demos. Guided By Voices probably has, like, eighty of those things, you know what I mean? They’re just like four-track recordings when I was trying to make heads or tails of stuff.” Thinking back on the time he can’t help but laugh, “When we started playing the major label bidding bullshit started from square one. It was crazy. I always told people, ‘just buy me a studio and I’ll make weird music.’ It took me years to just say ‘I’m the producer’.”
While the BJM and Anton’s own record label, The Committee to Keep Music Evil, have long since gone international his picture still hangs in the rafters of the Grog Shop where he often returns. “I like Kathy, she’s like my family around that area. Whenever we’re playing there or the Beachland, we’re always working with her. You know, it’s weird. There’s all these great post-industrial cities, places like Philadelphia and Cleveland lose like a third of their populations since World War Two. It’s just this crazy exodus. I really appreciate the Grog Shop and everybody digging in and Cleveland Heights hanging in there.”
You don’t have to talk with Anton long before realizing there is little outside his purview. The man seems to know a little bit of everything as the conversation jumps from rock ‘n’ roll trivia: “The Byrds went to go record their second record and Sonny Bono and Cher just walked into the studio at lunchtime…”, to album artwork: “….a praying mantis and the chemical breakdown for acid pretty much says it all.”, to the paranormal: “It’s amazing, we’re searching all over for alien life forms but if you go to the oceans and the jungles there are crazy ones here, just mad fungus and mad insects that are so alien to our form.”
The one thing he doesn’t mention is slowing down any time soon. “I don’t really go into depth about how much I do. It’s like something you’d have to watch when I’m working while I record.”
You can catch him contributing to a few tracks on the recently-released Charlatans latest full-length, Different Days. Later this August, Anton and the rest of the Brian Jonestown Massacre (whichever current amalgamation that will take the shape of) will also co-headline the Psycho Las Vegas fest in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Our thanks to Anton for taking the time to talk with us.