Anton Newcombe is speaking from his Berlin studio, having risen early to accommodate our time zone difference. There’s some faint hint of his current musical project in the background as he answers the phone – possibly the makings of a follow-up to last year’s well-received Aufheben.
“I pretty much go to work every day, so I’m always working on stuff,” says Newcombe. “It’s not always necessarily about my band – soundtracks, collaborations. I should be working on the new Brian Jonestown Massacre album, but it’s going a little bit slower than it should. I think it’s because I can’t imagine what it is I’m looking for. If I had an idea, I’d find it. I made up some really good songs, but I can’t see in my mind how they would fit together as an album. Even though the album format might be extinct, I like to view the songs in bundles like that.”
More so than pretty much any other artist on the planet, Newcombe is constantly exploring and experimenting with distribution methods, being a pioneer of sorts for online file sharing.“I’m interested in all forms of media. I’m about contact. I put all my stuff on the internet in the earlier days … I was aware of what a dead-end record deals were to begin with.”
The Brian Jonestown Massacre have been in existence for 25 years, with Newcombe’s enthusiasm for performing music now as strong as ever. “When I play live, it’s equally terrifying and exhilarating. You’re vulnerable. I was thinking yesterday about how many concerts I’ve done where people haven’t locked into it when something amazing is happening. I’m not being an egomaniac, just the concerts I’ve seen of other people and everybody’s feeling it. I’m not talking about rocking out, flipping your hair, I’m talking about when it clicks. I was thinking about it yesterday, and you can never bring any of that back. There were times when Matt Hollywood [guitar], back when he played bass, that he got so sick of the long repetitious stuff and just sat down his bass. Just walked offstage; ‘Fuck this, I’m not playing this riff one more time.’ It’s so bad, considering what we were playing was radical in its minimalism. Just not getting it. It leads back to the rehearsals, where so many people have not got what they’re being a part of. Now 20 years later I’m living in Berlin, and it’s still paying my rent. It’s paying for all my shit. They never got what practice was about. I’m going off on a tangent again – all I can say is that I enjoy searching for stuff. I feel that Western culture is geared towards the fame thing. This is a better place for me than LA. I just work on my music.”
And what of the scene back in Newcombe’s home country? “You look at a phenomenon like Lollapalooza was, and just thousands of people with braided hair and dreadlocks, people in purple hair jumping around to music. Every single one of those people would have been beat to death if they were a teenager in my hometown.
“That whole thing became a commodity that was sold to you. Or whatever it is now, it’s disturbing. It reminds me of fascism. Bieber fans remind me of Hitler Youth – the hysteria, the fanaticism, it’s just over nothing. I know that it’s not impossible to be a part of beautiful things like youth culture; I experienced that, felt my kindred spirits. There’s a big tradition, even with Aussie bands, of people supporting each other. I just find that it’s the opposite when it folds into itself – ‘You’re supposed to like this because it was on TV, because Simon Cowell told you.’ It’s just that fanaticism that bothers me.”
BY LACHLAN KANONIUK