An interview with Anton Newcombe of Brian Jonestown Massacre

An interview with  Anton Newcombe of Brian Jonestown Massacre

After nearly three decades of music, psychedelic rock gods The Brian Jonestown Massacre are still going strong! Longtime veterans in the music scene, they have managed to keep their style fresh and ever evolving. Their 19th studio album, Fire Doesn’t Grow on Trees, is set for release June 24th and they are hitting the road for the first time since 2018.

Talk about a long-running legacy, with still more to come!

I recently had the opportunity to chat with frontman and creative genius Anton Newcombe about his thoughts on touring again and what he thinks of the direction music is heading. Check out the interview below!

So, how does it feel to be back out on the road? Is touring something that you’re excited about? 

  • AN: It’s a little bit of hard work, you know. No matter how much you like to play music, it’s very difficult to do. I find it hard every single day, you know? There’s a lot of work with music, even though it seems like ‘oh, he’s just playing a simple kind of music’, I’m actually always trying to challenge myself a little bit. So, it’s a little bit harder than it seems.
  • I’m always sort of pushing myself to the limit of my abilities. Technically, even though I’m not playing some Eddie Van Halen stuff, the type of rhythmic picking I do keeps me on my toes a little bit.  

Do you have any pre-show rituals or anything you do before you go out there?

  • Yeah, I do. It’s called a ‘skinny bitch’; it’s vodka with soda water and lemon and limes. Basically, my ritual is to stay in my pajamas until showtime — to try to stay in bed and relax, not talk too much. This is a very monotonous lifestyle. You know, I tell everybody [in the band] to get pajamas!
  • After a show, it’s very easy to be on a bus with 10 kinds of booze and a million beers. It’s like the only job in the world where they just throw booze at you and say go to work. Therefore, it’s really easy if you want to just be drunk the whole time. Like the party never stops, you know, all the stereotypes and everything. So, now I’m like, no, no… at a certain point you need to stop and get relaxed. So, you take off your clothes and put on pajamas and then that day is over. The day ends when the pajamas go on. 

Do you feel like it’s become an easier transition to just go from the bus to the stage? Or, do you still get nervous or anxious before you perform?

  • Yeah, it’s really strange. I do get nervous. I always feel that way. But, it’s also weird, because if I’m at the studio or something, I’ll play much better if somebody’s there to watch. Not necessarily a crowd, but if I’m just showing some wizardry or something, doing something that I’m proud of, I’ll play a million times better. I’ll really pull out all the stops. But, then, with big crowds of people, it’s kind of almost like a blur at a certain point; there’s a lot of people at the shows, so I can’t see them all. I don’t need to look at people when I’m playing — I don’t care. For me, it’s more like I’m just there to play music and that’s been going really good, you know? 

Paul McCartney has once said that his songs become such second nature, that while performing them his mind wanders and he thinks about random things when he’s singing them. Does that ever happen to you?

  • Sure! I will write whole songs in my head while I am singing other songs in front of people.  But I don’t know that it’s second nature. I find that the same thing happens if you’re working in a factory. Moving boxes or something? I think that when your body’s engaged with locomotion, if your brain has control of that, then your mind is really free to wander. Because a lot of people come up with great ideas, when they’re doing some stuff, driving or whatever it is. So that can be really normal for people. Even as exceptional as he is,that’s not special. But I mean, everybody’s different. See, because there’s people that have an organic intelligence, right? It’s like a basketball player who can’t tell you what it is exactly that makes him the best in the world. Right? He is just always in that zone. And I think the rest of us have to work really hard at something we want to do. So there’s like, born gifted drummers, right? And they’re just so good at playing drums, or something like that. Everybody else has to work their ass off. 

I recently attended SXSW, where there was a lot of talk on the future of music, NFT’s and performances in ‘the metaverse’.  Do you see music inevitably heading this way?

  • I think it’s so stupid. Thi is not that impressive. You’re like, ‘oh my god, some dude just sold a 220,000 dollar NFT and this guy just owns one of them?’ Fucking El Chapo fucking made billions selling cocaine! There are tons of Mexicans and Colombians who made over a billion selling coke; are you really impressed by NFTs? It’s sort of meaningless, right?
  • Music, for me, has some folk aspects; it’s a thing with all these ways that people create culture and come together. My friend Alex (of The Black Angels) decided to build this whole thing, Levitation Festival, and people and musicians come from all over the world. You know, we were playing it — playing for like 24,000 people — in a field and it created an organic sense of community. That’s what I’m interested in. I don’t think you can have that type of thing in a metaverse.

‘Fire Doesn’t Grow on Trees’ is about to release. What can you tell us about the creation of this album and how does it differ from your previous work? 

  • Obviously, everybody in the world was in the middle of a pandemic, so I don’t really have to emphasize that part of it. We all had extra time on our hands, you know? During lockdowns, I had a recording studio in the house, so I just kept going — mainly just doing what I do every day. The thing is, music is really important to me. The one thing I didn’t want to be is ‘here’s Anton at 53 years old or whatever, playing some bullshit.’ So, really good music — that was my focus. Just making good music.
  • Our set is almost 90% new music. We are going to be playing two records that aren’t even out yet, which is also an interesting way to go about it. Like, we’re gonna perform two and a half hours of music you don’t know about. But, the music is really good! It’s like I never wanted to be one of those people that said, ‘Here we are, we’re gonna play that record you love from 1992 or something’… I always think that that’s a fancy way of saying I need money. And, I don’t have any other ideas except for playing this kind of shit. You know? I won’t ever do that. I would rather play an entire set of new music. 

If someone gave you a box of all the things you’ve ever lost in your life, what would you look for first inside that box?

  • I had some really cool stuff. I used to have one of Greg Allman’s Hammond B 3’s that I had at my older sister’s house. She lost the house and I was like, ‘don’t let the sheriff take this house and sell this thing for a grand! It’s worth over 12!’ It’s gone now, so I’m still looking for another one. I’m in Cleveland and the closest one they got is in Youngstown: it’s a couple hours away and it’s $6,000. I am gonna keep waiting for the right deal, though. Maybe somebody’s grandma has the organ and just wants to get rid of it…
  • I collect a lot of musical instruments. Last tour I shipped 829 kilos; a kilo is two and a half pounds. So, I actually shipped 1,690 pounds of gear all the way back to Berlin! I’m going to try and break that record and get a Hammond somewhere. 

Well, good luck, man! 

  • Yeah, I’m seeing some organs here and there, but it’s a big country and I’m waiting to find that deal. That ‘Oh, this has been in our family for 35 years. We just wanted it to go to a good home’ kind of thing. I’ll be like, ‘I am the sweetest old man. I will love and cherish it. My children will play this all the time.’ Some kind of bullshit, right?!

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