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Published: 2016/09/15
by Kayla Clancy

A Beautiful Mess Left to Eat with Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe

Photo Credit: Bradley Garner

An evening of Brian Jonestown Massacre nears in Phoenix. Since the band’s inception in the early nineties, BJM has delivered endless streams of dissociative groove.

Before the show, Crescent Ballroom is in full swing of gear load-ins and soundchecks. In the back of the Ballroom, a narrow hallway leads to a door. As it opens, the dark corridor is suddenly covered in light. Smoke billows across the blinding sunshine. Amidst this overwhelming brightness stands BJM frontman, Anton Newcombe. With a smile he says, “What, you don’t like this whole sunshine thing?”

Within a few hours the sky fades to moonlight in the valley. It is time for a sold out show at the Crescent Ballroom. First up are local noisemakers, Strange Lot. Fast-paced rhythmic ebbs of fuzz permeate the building as frontman Dominic Mena paints the room with distorted waves of surf guitar. The three-piece beckons the evening into stranger tones.

Brian Jonestown Massacre takes the stage next. With seven musicians up on stage, the band maintains incredible unification. Such a number of strings grants the sound a great, immersive quality. Anton holds it down stage right, while Joel rhythmically sways at the center with his tambourine. It is a perfect balance really. Soon, Anton alludes to the fact that they will play for three hours. Sure enough, song after song is like the ignition of a live-wire, tapping into some deep, energetic trip. The consistent groove is something which can be counted on at a Brian Jonestown show. Fan favorite, “Anemone,” thrills all. Everyone sings along. The vibe is incredibly psychedelic yet mellow. It is a most synergistic combination. “Days, Weeks, and Moths” unifies the crowd in a gentle sway. That dissociative quality takes ahold. Newcombe’s voice and the surrounding harmonies sooth the mind, while the riffs offer something to focus on. The feeling continues with ‘(David Bowie I Love You) Since I was Six’. If the music is the anesthesia, the lyrics explain the pain in a most fastidious dream.

Earlier in the evening, a conversation unraveled in the green room. Anton talks about the symphonic mentality towards songwriting, his perception of reality this tour, along with a myriad of other insights, and glimpses into the realms of Brian Jonestown Massacre over the years.

‘Psych-Rock’ is a common descriptor for your music. Do you feel comfortable with that?

Well, I guess as a point of reference that’s ok. It is still completely vague. It is rock in a genre, but even hip-hop is folk music in a way, or old hip-hop. It’s music of the people for the people, bringing people together. The same things goes with a lot of different art forms. It’s only things like heavy metal, and all this other shit that are not folk rock. It is trying as fast as you can to get on a platform in front of people and be a rock star and rock out, which is a totally different thing that what I’m into. I’m more interested in creating cultures that replicate themselves. Meaning, you create an environment that you need to function in. There will never be a record store that only sells your record. Even online it is kind of a stupid idea. It’s like, “Oh, here’s my web store.” There will never be a club that only is open one day a year for you to come through in Arizona. You want a whole environment everywhere…people doing things…and real folk movements where people pick up this stuff.

When you look at the punk movement, they did their own thing. They bonded together. Then it became stupid when they stopped doing something in their shell. Then it was the fashion thing. The outward thing. What I learned when I was a little kid, when the police were attacking us for our hair, or whatever, was that the opposite thing happened really quickly. I thought, “Oh, this is all about who I am on the inside, and the outside is trouble. So I am just going to look normal and be even weirder.” You know what I mean? The costume doesn’t matter. A lot of people in the subcultures get called into it, like when you see 40-year old death rock couples walking down the street and they are in some crazy get-up and it is their whole lifestyle or whatever. It is all about you anyways. What makes you feel good.

What kind of musicians do you like to listen to, either when you were a kid, or now?

Psychedelic music. I’m from 1967. I listened to Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles Rubber Soul and Revolver, Simon and Garfunkel…just everything. Real good oldies. I liked every kind of music. I liked every single thing that was good. I kind of turned my mind off in the seventies towards everything because I hated burnt out coke-heads, whoever it was, like The Eagles or Fleetwood Mac, or whatever that bullshit was.

You are headlining Desert Daze festival this year. There are a lot of other psych-rock bands on the lineup. Do you feel that Brian Jonestown played a role in charioting this genre or keeping it going?

Well that is what I kind wanted to do. I started out by teaching my friends how to play music so I’d have someone to play with. There were no bands that were playing that kind of music; It didn’t exist. So had to invent that part of it, even if there were other things going on in England that were similar. We had the same record collections, and liked the same kind of music, but there was a whole thing. Bands were moving. There was a band I am not gonna mention that moved from Albuquerque, New Mexico. They watched us play and immediately bought striped shirts and movie projectors because we used to have movie projectors on us. It was like “Uh, really?” They immediately copied us, calling up record companies. They were saying, “Here’s where it’s at.” The weirdest thing was happening. People were coming from other cities. Real together bands were copying us to be apart of this record company feigning frenzy. People were trying to sign my group and it was not happening. We had Red House Painters (band) move from Georgia so we could get a record deal, because that is where it was happening…because we had created this thing, but whatever.

Do you listen to any of these new bands?

Before I went on tour I wrote and recorded 45 songs in less than three weeks. So if you think about the amount of time it takes to record all that I don’t sit around and listen to other people. Plus I have my 3-year old. It doesn’t matter. I’m happy for other people. I hung out with Ty Segall. He’s a nice guy. He’s talented. He makes people happy. It brings people together. Thats what it is all about man! There’s way too much bullshit in the world. It’s crazy man. It’s disheartening.

How has your experience been working out of your studio in Berlin?

I have had a bunch of studios. This is my second one in Berlin. I had to move because the landlord decided to build condominiums on the property. He had all these warehouses, and different spaces, and I converted a two-story repair shop into a studio and then he decided to build something so I ended up getting a new one.

What different things going on in your life does that affect the music you create?

If you live long enough it becomes irrelevant because you have all the building blocks that you need. I do not have to be depressed to make sad songs because you have had a whole life of everything. There are so many disheartening things. You could just listen to the radio for five minutes and be in such a bad mood. You know, like reality…

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