Interview: Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe
November 9th 2015
With a career that spans a quarter of a century, and 15 full length albums including the iconic Thank God For Mental Illness, the Brian Jonestown Massacre are the original kings of neo-psychedelia.
Having visited our shores many a time, the band has a solid long-term love affair with Australia. As they prepare to return for a national tour to play a back catalogue of songs, as well as material from the newest studio album Revelation, Alex Eugene spoke with the the musical prodigy behind it all, Anton Newcombe.
A.E.: 25 years ago, did you think you would still be playing shows and recording albums?
A.N.: Well, I started the band because nobody would let me join a band. There wasn’t any bands playing the music I wanted to play, or anybody I could find. So that was a good plan, I mean starting the band, at least you can’t get kicked out of it for any reason. I was very headstrong… (laughs)
Did you ever worry about money or think you might have to give music up?
I was exactly the opposite. I always thought that my insurance policy, my plan and everything will be to be successful at doing music and to never stop. So that meant sometimes, if I had to sleep in somebody’s car I would do it. I would forsake everything, sleep in the studio, do whatever I had to do, to make things happen.
How has the industry changed over the 25 years?
Well the industry sucks. I was interested in a do it yourself aesthetic, I never had writers. But the impact of a band being able to sell ten million records really changed the way that people looked at things. I wanted to make music. But when you do everything through that lens of selling ten million or more records…it became stupid. I hate rock songs, and I hate all that stuff. I hated the culture that somebody had the power to sit in front of you and go “Um well you sound like you are seventy five thousand copy units, and we’re looking for a million or ten million in a band…you can’t play music.” And that whole concept just really, really bugs me. Whether it’s automobiles or anything.
Why is it you have a talent for such dark, threatening music?
I don’t know, I don’t think all the music is depressing.
I don’t mean it’s depressing – just dark.
Yes, that’s along the lines.
Well, I believe that I touch the full spectrum of human emotion. So I guess it’s all in the eye of the beholder, I think.
Why the reference to the Jim Jones Jonestown Massacre in the band name?
Ok well there’s a couple of different levels there. When I started the group I actually decided to call it Blur. Then I looked in a magazine and found out that a new band had just been formed called Blur. So, I was sad that it was so difficult, you know, this is before Google. It was very difficult to think of something original that somebody else also hadn’t already thought of. So I decided to make up something original.
There’s a whole parallel between cult leaders and the cult of personality. Meaning maybe [Lady] Gaga and her little monsters are very similar to a Jim Jones and a congregation in a lot of ways. See what I’m saying? It’s like the whole public space is a church, and these people are the followers. So I thought that was interesting.
Brian Jones [from the Rolling Stones] really was an icon in the fifties, I just wanted to sort of repaint that. When you look back at the old magazines, he was the one who’s been interviewed non stop for his fashion, he had the most money. All these people, the magazines…they were pushing him. His haircut, his suits, you know…he was the whole nine yards. So there was a cult of personality around that.
But lastly I wanted to make something that was like, it couldn’t be commercial. Because [the Jonestown Massacre] was such an awful event to have on music. It was the punk concept. In post punk people called their bands like, living shit, you know…it’s like a swastika t-shirt. There’s like a whole history of pastiche where people made things that were socially charged, like the Sex Pistols.
Check out this mix that Anton and Ryan put together for Dusty Fingers:
The Brian Jonestown Massacre commence a national tour this week. They play the Factory Theatre, Sydney on Wednesday 18th November and the Metro Theatre, Sydney on Friday 19th November. Find ticket info and more details here.