Brian Jonestown Massacre’s New Revelation
Photo by Tess Parks
It’s a sweltering day at Austin Psych Fest when Brian Jonestown Massacre frontman Anton Newcombe leads me backstage to his air-conditioned trailer to escape the dusty desert heat. “I can actually think back here,” he tells me as he wipes the sweat from his brow. It’s clear that he’s not exactly dressed for the weather as he sits down at the trailer’s booth decked in a Canadian tuxedo and a pair of black sunglass that look like they might have once belonged to a member of a biker gang.
For over 20 years, The Brian Jonestown Massacre has been at the forefront of the psychedelic music scene and its revival—long before it was even considered a revival. This spring, they will release their 14th studio album, Revelation, on Anton’s own label, The Committee to Keep Music Evil. Shortly before taking the stage for BJM’s headlining set at Austin Psych Fest, Anton, in a surprisingly calm and peaceful manner, took the time to answer some questions about the new album, his label and the psych scene in 2014.
The last BJM album touched on a lot of sonic layers and elements. This one went another direction, what inspired that and what ideas did you bring to the table?
I have no ideas when I start recoding. Sometimes I can play a motif on any instrument and instantly go “this is a song”, or it can be a drum beat.
Are you more melodically focused, or rhythmically focused?
I’m focused on all of it. I’m interested in playing the studio. On the last record, I did most of the drumbeats first to get grooves, and then write music to it. This one I was just making up ideas.
More of a songwriter approach?
Yeah, just sort of sitting there with a guitar.
You’re living in Berlin now. How did that affect the band?
Yeah, since 2007-2008. Most of the band is spread out. I’ll work with whoever’s around, however the music comes together. If someone’s over there and says, “Hey, let’s record a song,”’ it can be done. It can happen different ways.
And you built a studio too over there?
Yeah. It saves money, usually I’d be in a hotel spending $4,000 a day or more. It lets me play around.
I’m a person that enjoys getting up every day and going two stops on the train to the studio and messing around with music. I aspire to do soundtracks for movies, first one’s due in August. It’s a good space for that.
When you started recording Revelation, were there any particular directions or themes you wanted to pursue?
No, it’s exactly the opposite. I really didn’t have a theme or anything. [I was] trying to discover a continuity, and in the process realized it didn’t need one. Normally there is a visible connecting thing that I can see, like a chord or a theme that ties everything together. Any certain kind of thing that ties it all together.
Even as I was writing the songs I was like, “What the fuck am I gonna do?” and one of the revelations of this record was that I could just present some ideas and present them as that idea. I’m just listening to everything as I’m making it and saying, “That’s enough.” Maybe on the last record I was coming from the perspective of someone with a head full of envy. This one, not so much.
There’s a whole bunch of people now who just make their playlists on iTunes or Spotify and take things out of album contexts anyways. So, you know people don’t care so much about the album experience. It was good for me to overcome that self doubt or overthink it. I’ve never made music for an imaginary demographic, I never have. I’ve never said people who listen to WFMU, or people who read Pitchfork and say “Definitely going to be an 11!” I don’t really care.