Brian Jonestown Massacre Interview
Better Propaganda Editor Terbo Ted talks to Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre.
Better Propaganda: If someone had never heard of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, how would you describe it to them?
Anton Newcombe: Hypnotic, repetitious, drug-fueled-folk-rock, a very good band.
Better Propaganda: Can you briefly describe your new album We Are The Radio?
AN: I felt that after 13 odd albums it was high time to showcase the songs in a different audio-submersion-environment. It's like this: I have a low-fi aesthetic that I have pretty much stuck to and presented all of our art in the context of being conceptual art, you know pimples and all unretouched. I knew that the people who were able to look past the imperfections would see how clever everything really is. Fine, I've done that for 13 albums. For this album I am using very sterile and paranoid sounds (electronic, moogs, phaser-echoes etc) to create an urban-paranoid feel. All of the songs are anthems, I am remixing them as well. It is my desire to have them played in clubs. I believe by taking these folk-songs and using say a mini-moog instead of an acoustic, I am showing the true power of the idea, and of my skill as a producer. These are things that get lost in the hype of my mythos.
Better Propaganda: How many times now is it that you've put out an album and toured, and how has that changed for you over the years?
AN: Over and over but that's not the point. The studio process is one aspect of my expression. Live performance, touring, photoshoots... these are all different things. I enjoy traveling you know. I want people to hear our music. What has changed is the fact that we are one of the biggest underground bands, so, we play more places to more people. The other thing that has changed is people's understanding of garage music. It has hit the mainstream, so I don't get as many people yelling "hey it's The Beatles" when I'm walking into a truck stop to take a piss.
Better Propaganda: What's with this 'keep music evil' slogan you guys use, and what is 'evil' music?
AN: I think it's funny. What does Def Jam mean? Death-Row? Mute? Warner Brothers? Maverick? It says what it is. I am not Walt Disney you know.
Better Propaganda: I wouldn't characterize your group's sound as evil, some of it can be quite pleasing, yet the degree of black humor you use qualifies as 'evil' in some ways, do you see it that way?
AN: Sure, but I don't have to explain it to anyone. I believe it is a waste of an artist's time to sit there and define their work to everyone that asks. Let the music speak for itself.
Better Propaganda: After a decade of going out with the 'Jonestown Massacre' in your band name, have you become any sort of authority on Jim Jones, the People's Temple, and all that?
AN: The fact that that guy worked for the CIA is public record. Look it up on the internet. I write love songs, lots of them. I am an expert at it in fact.
Better Propaganda: Do you have any People's Temple artifacts or memorabilia?
AN: No, I don't collect things like that. I am not morbid.
Better Propaganda: Have you been to Guyana?
AN: No, but I met and talked with the coroner that had to deal with that mess.
Better Propaganda: Have you been to the site where Brian Jones drowned?
AN: Nope, they tore that pool out. I have respect for the living as well as the dead so I wouldn't do anything like that. I've been to his grave and house in England.
Better Propaganda: Have you ever been contacted by the estate of Brian Jones?
AN: No. his parents are old. I'm sure they want to remember the wonderful things about Brian.
Better Propaganda: What's the creepiest run-in you've had with a fan?
AN: People stealing my baby photos. I can deal pretty well with folks by just being myself.
Better Propaganda: Do you have stalkers?
AN: Yes, but I am very fast. Very strong, and can be very scary myself so I think most people think twice about pushing me too far.
Better Propaganda: There seems to be some controversy with the not-yet-released film DIG! which features none other the The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre; you state boldly on your website that you're not down with what's going on; can you tell us what's up?
AN: My lawyers are dealing with it so you understand why I'll have to pass on this question. You can do a search on the internet and read a lot about what I have said regarding this film.
Better Propaganda: The band seems to have gone through a lot of lineup changes; how's the current band doing?
AN: We are doing great. We are on our way to Australia. How many people were in The Beatles versus in Wings? They were different approaches. Certain aspects of my group change, some stay the same.
Better Propaganda: Somewhere in my mind, at one time or another, I was convinced you guys had 'made it,' but now, looking back on it, the band has never really popped through into the larger culture, other than some college radio cult status. Sure, there's a bio for the band at RollingStone.com; but it seems a bunch of newer bands, who seem to be following your lead with what is now called a garage revival, have been getting more media access. What is the greatest exposure you've had to date, and do you think that greater fame will catch up with you guys at some point?
AN: Look. Media access is paid for period. NME, Rolling Stone etc, are businesses. Don't be fooled by this next big thing bullshit. They play Slipknot on the radio. Do you really think their music is better than ours? I am a revolutionary. That is why the world seems to pass me by. Do some research on our project. I don't play the game like the others. There is a price to pay for holding such a belief system. So what.
Better Propaganda: Is the band earning enough money to support itselves these days? There seems to be tons of kick ass indie artists working day jobs about now.
AN: I have not had a day gig since 1990. Think about it. I have no plans of looking for one either.
Better Propaganda: What are your plans for the rest of the year?