FOREWORD: Drunken schizoid pop surrealist, Anton Newcombe, increased his cult-size audience fivefold when an honest portrayal of his fucked-up lifestyle, liquored-up asshole tendencies, and serious animosity for West Coast indie pop rivals, the Dandy Warhols, was exposed on award-winning documentary, Dig!
You’ll see by the email interview he sent me below that he could be an inebriated jerk when the mood strikes. Though seemingly quite normal in a pre-interview email, Anton’s a moody SOB who must quit drinking and drugging. Initially, I tried to interview Newcombe for ‘98s fab Strung Out In Heaven, but instead got tambourine-shaking ideas man and confidante Joel Gion on the line. Gion’s interview is at the bottom. But firstly, here’s the schizoid world of Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe unfolding in September ‘03 (to promote moody elliptical sundowner And This Is Our Music) for your cringing entertainment.
ANTON’S INITIAL PRE-INTERVIEW SEPT. ’03 EMAIL
I’m familiar with your paper (AquarianWeekly). I read it a few times at my friends’ place, the Loop Lounge, out there in Passaic. I would love to do an interview or answer any questions you may have about anything. I really like the album (And This Is Our Music) for what it is. I thought it was the right time for me to sort of stretch out in a cinematic direction – what with the White Stripes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Warlocks, Walkmen, Strokes, Pattern, Von Bondies – everyone and their mom jumping on the lo-fi garage bandwagon.
Rather than just piss and moan about how I am being left behind in this bed that I made for myself I worked on an album that sort of showed another angle of outsider art. Sad fact is, the Warlocks have sold 175 copies of their new album on Mute while Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Dandy Warhols are 16,000 each. Those are not major numbers. Ignore the hype, this business is in a slump. I can only imagine our album sinking like a stone.
No matter, I’d love to chat with you if you like. I only ask that we do it via email.
Thanks for your time
ANTON’S EMAIL INTERVIEW (from two days later)
I thought your new LP, And This Is Our Music, was terrific. Who are some formative influences when you grew up?
ANTON: I love great music. I was born and raised in Newport Beach, California.
It seems the only Rolling Stones influence directly linked to your namesake, Brian Jones, on And This Is Our Music, is the Eastern mysticism. The hard rockin’ Stones influences are now gone. Will that be permanent?
ANTON: What a fucking joke! I was influenced by Brian’s bravado, not the buffoonery. Shame on you for dragging any of this Rolling Stones bullshit into this interview.
What did you do between Strung Out In Heaven and this new LP?
ANTON: I made my son Hermann.
You seem pissed off at the recording industry for overpricing CD’s and morbidly recognizing artists’ accomplishments after death (“the only way you can really market my record is when I’m dead) Do you blame radio for sucking, too?
ANTON: Do you think anyone cares what I think?
Who is Daniella Meeker, who sings on “Here It Comes”? Is she in any band I may know?
ANTON: She is a hamburger, fries, and a shake to a fat person.
Who are the Telescopes? One of your new tracks was written after you supposed heard one of their songs.
ANTON: Ask Greg (Shaw: behind-the-scenes indie rock architect and Bomp Records owner) why we cannot figure out how to explain this and other questions. I can’t tell you anything. I don’t know these folks really. I just love their music. What do you like, really?
How’s the Bay Area scene currently? Any new bands you like?
ANTON: I’m too busy. I like my friend Phil’s band.
What’s this bullshit media blitz about a fight with the Dandy Warhols? Do you like the ‘80s new wave-styled album they just released?
ANTON: No. I do not. Keep in mind, they are not what they do. I still like most of them.
Do you still admire your considerable back catalogue? Or do you get jaded about old records?
ANTON: We work as hard as anybody. Expect the best.
I thought “Starcleaner Blues” sounded close to David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World. Are you a Bowie or glam-rock fan?
ANTON: I love DB.
I like the spiritual guidance given the ‘psycho bitch’ on the opening track. Is she an old girlfriend?
ANTON: God no. Bite your tongue. She was a friend.
How’d you hook up with Ed Harcourt and Kurt Heasley of the Lilys, who came up with those nice vocal arrangements?
ANTON: We are a great band. You figure it out.
What artists have you listened to lately?
ANTON: Steve Kilby.
What will the next Brain Jonestown Massacre album sound like?
ANTON: Money exchanging hands.
1998 INTERVIEW: JOEL GION OF BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE
Though their anarchic moniker and leader Anton Newcombe’s temperamental personality may suggest otherwise, Brian Jonestown Massacre, are simply a truly accessible, fresh-faced West Coast pop group. Since 1995, they’ve recorded an incredibly prolific seven albums – the latest profoundly titled Strung Out In Heaven.
Admittedly influenced by the Rolling Stones (their reverential third album on Bomp Records was Their Satanic Majesties Second Request) and to a lesser extent, seminal ‘60s bands the Beatles (the “Rain’-inspired “Jennifer”), the Byrds (sitar-enhanced “Going To Hell”), Small Faces (Carnaby Street toss-off “Let’s Pretend It’s Summer”), Love (harmoniously psychedelic “Nothing To Lose”), and Velvet Underground. (sublime “Wasting Away”), Brian Jonestown Massacre’s trials and tribulations nearly parallel the cultural upheaval their idols experienced firsthand in the LSD-riddled days of flower power and Viet Nam era rebellion.
Led by singer/ multi-instrumentalist Anton Newcombe, the volatile combo has received more attention for onstage fisticuffs, an ongoing quarrel with the Dandy Warhols (resulting in hooky single “Not If You Were The Last Dandy On Earth”), a record company piss-take (putting $5,000 worth of champagne on TVT Records bill), and frantic band firings – than for their music.
I hooked up with Newcombe’s bandmate/ confidant Joel Gion (tambourine/maracas/ideas man) via phone. He gave an honest assessment of Brain Jonestown Massacre’s friction-filled history.
What initially made you want to pursue a career in music?
JOEL: What did it for me was when I was a little kid was seeing the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine cartoon. They were my mom’s favorite band and she got me their red and blue greatest hits albums. What blew me away were songs like “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “I Am The Walrus,” which were like audio cartoons.
How’d you hook up with Anton Newcombe?
JOEL: I’ve been in the band for the past five years. He did Methodrone and Space Girl And Other Favorites and then went through lineup problems. So he collected some people. I had been roommates with his girlfriend at the time. it was her birthday and the band was playing this attic in the building. Anton said, ‘We’re friends. Why don’t you shake maracas onstage?’ Someone filmed it and he said that was cool. He then asked if I wanted to play with them permanently.
I’ve read how previous albums were inspired by early Rolling Stones records, but Strung Out In Heaven seems more influenced by mid-period Stones like Beggar’s Banquet.
JOEL: Take It From The Man was largely described as a December’s Children nuts and bolts Rhythm & Blues sound. We don’t purposely go out for that. We just like that music. I think there were higher standards for music during the ‘60s. You could take Top 40 music from then and check out the quality.
Redd Kross, Mr. T Experience, and Plexi all explore West Coast-based post-punk power pop. Do you find Brian Jonestown Massacre to be part of that scene?
JOEL: It’s reallyintersting. In the last couple of months an old school Buffalo Springfield/ Love/ Byrds Sunset Strip rock scene has sprouted. We’re big fans of those bands. It’s pretty exciting. There’s a band, Beachwood Sparks, going around. They’ve got the biggest buzz.
On “Wasting Away,” Anton makes reference that kids today, they got nothing to say. Do you feel teens get deprived of opportunities by corporate shit-heads?
JOEL: It’s coming from that sort of vibe. It’s an observation on this whole TV baby culture we live in where the media force feed people. What they know and how they experience things comes through other peoples’ media. No one is going out and discovering things for themselves and doing things their own way just to be different. It’s all this categorizing and labeling which is limiting growth. The individual is a dying breed in today’s world. It’s freaky.
What’s with the press making a big deal about the bands’ drug habits and onstage fighting?
JOEL: As for drugs, I don’t think anyone should do anything they don’t want to do. If you honestly enjoy something and have a good time by all means do it. But don’t do things because someone else says to do it. As for the fighting, we’ve been through a lot of stages and part of it was having to scrounge and be poor boys sleeping in cars and couch surfing. Doing all that stuff to try to accomplish what we wanted to do in life – which was this – was tough. Ultimately, the music is the message.
Does Anton write all the songs?
JOEL: Yeah, but anyone can come to the table with an idea.
Part of your bands’ moniker comes from deceased Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones. I believe he was left to drown in a drunken stupor.
JOEL: I agree completely. In the beginning, Mick and Keith answered an ad to play in Brian’s band. It was his gig. They took the band from him and didn’t give a shit. It was all about coming to America to make money. Mentally they just screwed him. It’s so weird what happened that night he died. Everyone who was there tells conflicting stories because they were probably out of their minds. The one cat that was with Brian was Keith’s bodyguard. He was working on the house and he admitted on his deathbed of killing him. I could see him being on some downers and laying in a heated swimming pool and how relaxed that would make you.
“Nothing To Lose” has a beautiful melodic flow. Do you feel there’s a revival for psychedelic lovers?
JOEL: Yes. Anton’s a big softie. We’ve had seven records and they’re all in that vein. There are trip-hoppers like Tricky and Massive Attack making intriguingly textural psychedelia. The Verve, Primal Scream, and Cornershop are really kicking it out in England. There’s definitely different angles of that floating around now.
What’s the future hold for Brian Jonestown Massacre?
JOEL: We want to keep upping the dosage.
Of LSD or music?
JOEL: (laughter) I don’t think drugs are quite as good as they once were. They can’t be.