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The Brian Jonestown Massacre

The Brian Jonestown Massacre

Interviewed by
Danielle Street
Monday 2nd November, 2015 4:51PM

Last week we digitally delved into the busy mind of Anton Newcombe, the driving force behind neo-psychedelia outfit The Brian Jonestown Massacre, to bring you some stories for a special Here's Five feature in anticipation of the group's visit to these shores. And as we mentioned, we were also lucky enough to have some time to speak with Anton over the phone about a number of things, including his new Berlin studios, his Whanganui-born neighbours and the unauthorised BJM biography...

Hi Anton, how are you doing?

Ahh, it's been sort of a hectic day, my son refused to go to his little school. He's not three yet, but he refused to go to school today, so I'm just sitting trying to take interviews in the hallway of the school. It's a nightmare.

Haha, I've got a kid. I know all about the juggle...

It's just really funny because his teacher from the little school, he goes to an American-German school, so one teacher is German and one teacher is American and the first day I walk in there the teacher goes "oh I've seen your band play before", hahaha. So it's like "oh great... 'I watched Dig I know what this is going to be like'."

How long have you been living in Berlin now, a few years right?

Yeah since 2007-2008, off and on.

How's your German coming along?

My German is horrible. I'm really shy, especially saying things. So it's really funny. I'm so quiet and it's such an aggressive language, you know what I mean. It's like "why are you mad at me?", when they are talking normally, haha.

So I saw on Twitter you are having some renovations done to your studio. Is that the same studio you recorded Revelation in?

No, no, no. That one [where Revelation was recorded] was situated in a sort of shopping centre and we built it into an auto garage with all this other stuff. It was a two-storey building and I always build a flat into the studio, so that there are bedrooms and a living space. It's a really relaxed situation for me, because I hate being in a little hole in a warehouse urban environment. It just doesn't work for me. I've tried everything. I've tried to have it in a house and live there, or have the group live with me and have a studio like The Monkees or something, and I've found when you live where you are supposed to be working, but you don't feel like working - then you feel like a shit. You know, because you have all these organs and guitars and all you want to do is lay there, or something. So I think it's really good to get up and go to work. It's just a sort of zen ritual because you love working. Berlin is cool. Everybody is asking me how it effects my writing, no it doesn't. It doesn't matter if you live in a forest or whatever, but I guess this is good for me. I was asked like 20 times if this was good for me.

Oh haha, that's good. So where is the studio that is being renovated, how far is it from where you are living?

It's not being renovated, we are building it. You know it's weird, it's in Mitte which is in the city, but it's on the edge of Mitte and I'm sort of in Prenzlauerberg, so it's basically in a No Man's Land as far as transportation goes. So if I walk there it's 30 minutes away, if I take the train it's 30 minutes away, if I take a cab it's 30 minutes away - counting the call. But I guess, if I get a bike it would be 12 minutes or something. But winter is coming and it's a little bit brutal. I have friends in Scandanavia that bike all the way through winter. I tried it and -20 degrees, and three feet, it's not fun. It's craziness.

Ha yeah, that sounds terrible. Have you got any work lined up to get started in the studio? I read awhile ago that you were going to be doing some soundtracking for a Scottish film. Is that still going ahead?

Yeah, Philip John, the director of Downton Abbey, he started some other films. He did some stuff with Irvine Welsh from Trainspotting and he's won BAFTAs for other stuff, and anyway he's doing basically a Road Trip and one of the characters is a musician, and I'm creating all his music and then the incidental music for the whole film.

Oh cool...

Yeah. So I am doing that this month. It's been pushed and pushed and pushed, and it took forever to do the contracts but I guess my wife is getting the contract today so I'm going to sign that, and that means I have to work really hard. So I'm doing that, and I'm doing a Ride remix, that the band Ride - Andy Bell from Oasis and all that, they were in the 90s but they've come back. So I'm doing a remix for them. Oh gosh, I really have a million things going on, and I have to get ready for this tour of course. Because I moved on from two people from the group, and replaced both of them with one person, Ryan from Dead Skeletons, he's just great. So I have to fly him over from Iceland and go over it, and then we come to New Zealand and rehearse as a group. Get our legs going. Because we live all over the world, so it's not like we rehearse regularly. I basically do the writing here - or wherever I am at - and we sort of choose what we are going to play.

So when you were laying down Revelation you had to get everyone over to Berlin to work on it?

Well, here's the truth. Since very early days I've sort of played or recorded with whoever was around. Sometimes I encouraged Matt to write, I taught my friends to play guitar that were in the band, and we tried to do things - but that never stopped me from writing and recording non-stop. So there was like a duality going on. But I never highlighted it. Even on records where it said a certain person was the drummer, I could be playing the drums. And often I was doing that stuff. And I never really pointed that stuff out because I never wanted it to be the focus, you know. I was more interested in some crazy cult or collective concept that was ambiguous, I guess. And also because the record companies were always trying to single me out anyways. And I knew that's how everything always worked, within a group dynamic. And at the same time I didn't ever want to allow a democracy that was going to trap me, hahaha, behind the scenes.

How does that tie in with Revelations?

Well, because I record with whoever I feel like playing with. So for example, I asked my friend Joakim to sing in Swedish. He's in a band called Les Big Byrd, and he also has a band called The Teddybears in Sweden, where they dress up like bears. They are massive in Scandanavia, it's crazy. They started out as a heavy metal group dressed as bears, and they got massive and then they went electronic. They're just tricksters, they're sort of like TISM or something but dressed as bears. So, anyway, he obviously isn't a member of this group. And on this new release for this tour [Mini Album Thingy-Wingy] I'm doing stuff in Slovakian and this guy Vlad is singing. So I've always continuously incorporated other people in doing things.

It was cool to see that Deano [from HDU] was on the last couple of releases. How did you connect with him?

Oh, I met him when Dimmer was supporting us in the United States years ago. And I was in awe of his playing. Then it turned out he moved to Berlin, so I was like "oh you have to record with me". So periodically we do that. Various tracks that I can't even play, he'll just go ahead and play 'em for me. And he is such a lovely guy. He's just great, I see him now and then. There are lots of Kiwis around.

There definitely is. I know several people who have spent time in Berlin...

Yeah, these two guys downstairs have a band called Son And The Wolf. I don't know exactly where they are from [speaks to someone, presumably his wife, in background], they're from Whanganui originally. And they moved to Berlin and started a group. Peter and Brodie. They used to have a band called The Have but then they turned into something else.

Oh interesting. Whanganui is interesting. It's provincial, but there's quite a lot of brutalist architecture in the township...

Hahaha, well I hope it's earthquake proof.

And there's a good arts scene there actually...

Well, whatever it is about the place, those guys are never coming back, hahaha. There's always something about some place that drives you far away to the other side of the earth.

Yeah... So, I was scrolling through YouTube looking at old Brian Jonestown Massacre videos and I was really interested to see that you have been quite active at commenting on some of the clips that people have posted, so there's like a little cache of videos that you have given some background to the songs. What made you interact in that way?

Well, I was thinking, that maybe I should go through everything on there. I put them all in a playlist one day on my own channel, so people could see an A to Z of all the music as I could find it. And then I just thought I should comment on these some place, and tell somebody something about each one of these things, as I remember it, just because I'm bored. Um, to give some biographical information. Because I'm the only person that really knows what was going on with every recording, because I'm the only person involved with every single thing. Regardless of what mythology anybody wants to make up about the group, that's the truth.

While on the subject of documenting Brian Jonestown history, I read that there is a book coming out in the next year or two. How involved are you with that project?

I'm not involved at all. What happened was this guy left the military with some sort of post-traumatic stress and the government encouraged him to go back to school, you know how there's programmes for that, to help people get back into the swing of life. And he was like "I'm going to take up creative writing" or whatever. And I'm like "cool, I don't care what you do", you know. Then he was sort of obsessive about this stuff and he showed up at a show and was like "here's a draft, I want to give it to you". I didn't read it, because I didn't care. Then he started contacting everybody he could possibly contact, and people started calling me - old girlfriends and different people - saying "this guy just contacted me, do you want me to talk to him about this stuff. And I said "I don't care what you do, I'm not talking to him". I don't want to stop anybody from doing anything, but I'm not involved in it. Both Courtney [Taylor-Taylor] and I are pretty much not doing any books until we are old. If we make it that long.


On that note I better let you get on with your day and the other interviews you have going on, but it's been a real pleasure talking to you, and I'm really looking forward to the show.

The concerts are going to be fantastic, that's all I want to add. They really will be.

Here's 'Pish' from the recently released Mini Album Thingy Wingy...

The Brian Jonestown Massacre
have four New Zealand shows coming up this month, kicking off this Friday 6th November at The Foundry in Christchurch before making their way up the country. Head over here for more information and to buy tickets.

This interview was edited from a longer conversation for readability.


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