Interview with Anton Newcombe

Read Jen Dan's exclusive interview with Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre

American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, founder of the renowned band The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and tireless and imaginative creative Anton Newcombe digs into his latest musical endeavours, including his current stint as co-leader of the Pure Phase Ensemble 6 collective at this year’s SpaceFest! held in Gdansk, Poland. The renowned artist also reveals details about his recording process, the latest BJM album Third World Pyramid, his German and French connection, his views on politics, films, and soundtracks, and what lies on the horizon…

Northern Transmissions: Hello Anton!  It’s such a thrill to touch base with you right before you head off to Poland to participate in the SpaceFest! music festival.  What are the vibes like right now?

Anton Newcombe: Hello and thank you! To be honest, I am a very busy person. I just got back from South America and the shows were incredible, but more importantly was the reaction to the spirit and intent of the music, and this culture we are all creating together.

NT: Are you packing any music-related gear to use at SpaceFest!?

AN: Absolutely! From the very first conversations I had with the SpaceFest team, I made it clear that I view myself as something more than that of a guitar player, or personality from a group. Originally it was suggested that I play the role of a Kevin Shields-type of experimental guitar player… I disagreed and said that I might view myself as 3 women playing Farfisa, meaning that I am a conceptual artist and composer… I’m not a celebrity indie rock audio impersonator… and, as it turned out, the festival director agreed with my personal vision and sincere desire to make this event special.

To that end, I decided early on that I would rent a transit van and bring as many things as I could to Gdansk… my org synths, amps, Mellotron, guitars, whatever… stereo sets of amps… but more importantly, I suggested that I be allowed to bring Emil Nikolaisen from Serena Maneesh. He is just fantastic… My concept being that we attack this by being two people as one.

NT: As you described, you have a major role in this year’s SpaceFest!, as co-leader of the musical collective Pure Phase Ensemble 6, along with Emil Nikolaisen (Serena Maneesh).  The list of previous leaders is illustrious, and includes Laetitia Sadier (Stereolab), Jaime Harding (Marion), and Mark Gardener (Ride) from last year.  What was your immediate reaction when you received the invite to do this?

AN: I am very good friends with Mark and have a great respect for Laetitia – I mean, a decades-long admiration… so naturally it was an honour, but at the same time… I made it clear in the first seconds of our dialogue that I am not interested in “jamming”. I fucking hate it… I don’t want to go to Poland to play one crazy note and step on some guitar pedals. I don’t want to do covers. I don’t want to pass my own music off as some miraculous collective productivity.

I want to facilitate an evening of interesting music; I want it to reflect a full spectrum of human emotion and be alive because I am alive and vital… and I want to create as many decent tracks in Polish as I can and make a positive contribution to culture.

NT: How have you prepared for your upcoming Pure Phase Ensemble 6 duties or will you play it by ear, so to speak?

AN: I am prepared to communicate on a deep level with our team to present something amazing… I am up to the challenge… Emil and I alone could move mountains… Combined with the rest of these wonderful people, I promise it will be amazing.

NT: Have you ever co-helmed a music project before instead of being completely in the captain’s chair? 

AN: Well, I do soundtracks and work with directors… so think about that for a second…

NT: You (well, The Brian Jonestown Massacre) just delivered Third World Pyramid at the end of October.  Do you feel relief, emptiness, ecstasy, agony, and/or the drive to create the next record since its release?

AN: I actually have another album coming out in December… I work every day for the pure joy of creating. The next album is very different.

NT: Is the album overall a statement or a reflection of the current, or past, times?  Or is it about the mind and self-enlightenment?

AN: It has many levels and can be viewed in many ways… In my mind this is another conversation and we could spend a month speaking about the mystical, spiritual, and esoteric themes, both obvious and hidden, before we even scratch below the superficial awareness.

NT: You are such a prolific and imaginative artist – musician, singer-songwriter/composer, producer.  What is a typical day like for you when you are in “creative mode” – or are you always in this state?

AN: I wake up and head to my recording studio / work space and I either start a new session or I carry on with something I’ve already started…About half the time, I fly my engineer Andrea Wright over from Liverpool to stay and work because we can work twice as fast if she deals daily with editing and technical things and I focus on jumping from instrument to instrument.

Sometimes it takes ages before I show anyone these creations and a friend will say, “Oh, Jesus, Anton – This is fantastic! You must release this!” Other times I create, like on my TV show DEADtv, and broadcast the process or I release a work in progress on YouTube.

NT: Why did you decide to settle in and build a music studio in Berlin, Germany, as opposed to the US or France or England?  Do you have a special connection to Berlin?

AN: It is my opinion that the entire Western world is tipping to the right… Germany is the last place they can actually dress and act like Nazis or the Stassi, so for me, this is a canary in the coal mine…I can watch all of this unfold. At the same time, I don’t speak German, so I am invisible to the bullshit culture that is the same everywhere… The Kim Kardashian, World Of Minecraft, Hollywood babylon, urban contemporary cookie-cutter culture.

I don’t want to live my life screaming at the newspapers; at each outrageous event or action…I want to make the best of life and be seen as doing so.

NT: I just have to ask about the BMJ album Musique de Film Imaginé from 2015, a batch of tracks for an imaginary French film that you ask the listener to envision while spinning the disc.  What specific films were unreeling before your eyes when crafting the music or were you conjuring your own scenarios during the recording process?  Why did you decide to collaborate with notable artists Asia Argento and SoKo on this project?

AN: First of all, I want to paint a picture in your mind, clearly: We have more people on earth, more film students, more digital cameras, and every laptop can edit film. We have Vimeo, VK, Facebook, YouTube, DailyMotion… There are more billionaires and more money. We have an infinite number of digital and cable channels and you can crowd source money, even use it to rent out movie theatres all over the earth… London, NYC, Tokyo, Kracow, and show a digital print that you send in the form of a film…

All of these possibilities, yet we are making fewer films a year than were made in a month in Italy in the 1960s. Why? What the fuck is wrong with everyone? I want to create cinema in Europe. I don’t want to complain. I have zero interest in making a comic book into a movie… I respect the ‘60s French New Wave… and Dogma… things like this… I want to prove to people I can create soundtracks for nothing in a number of days… Look – then Trent Reznor won two Oscars… for soundtracks… What the fuck? How many brilliant movie soundtracks did Ennio Morricone make before they threw him a bone? Jesus, 600?!

I heard a remix Asia Argento sang for Tim Burgess of the Charlatans and I asked her to come to Berlin and let me write a classic for her… I love her… SoKo, I hit up on Twitter… and we worked via sending files to my studio in Los Angeles… I love that woman… Both of them.

NT: Do you have any musical plans post-Pure Phase Ensemble 6 or is it too soon to peer into the crystal ball?

AN: I want to work with Melody’s Echo Chamber, Evan Dando, Keith Levene, Asia Argento again, and solo again and this woman Moody… I want to work non-stop… I want to work with Sonic Boom from Spacemen 3 and Paul Weller if I can… I want to be productive every day.

Interview by Jen Dan