Interview: The Brian Jonestown Massacre
Published on May 16th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Rocksucker was utterly charmed by the lush, evocative psychedelia of The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s thirteenth studio album Aufheben (click here for our review), and now we are thoroughly honoured to bring you our interview with the central hub of the operation, the irrepressible Anton Newcombe.
Commendably, Anton answered our questions just after landing in Australia, where he will play seven shows between the 17th and the 25th before embarking on a month-long European tour across June and July, followed by nine shows on the USA East Coast in the second half of August (click here for dates).
Read on for the thoughts of one of modern music’s most intriguing minds, but first do please enjoy this choice cut from Aufheben…
Congratulations on a terrific new album. Maybe it’s just my ears playing tricks on me, but one of my favourite things about Aufheben is how the different elements sound kind of ‘muddied together’ in the mix, so that if you listen closely and pick them apart it sounds quite different to when it’s just on in the background, whereupon it all washes together. Was this in any way intentional? If so, how was it achieved? And are you in any way averse to the concept of ‘background’ music, be it your own or otherwise?
When I was tracking the record, I tried to use a visual approach to the orchestration process in the sense that I took lower frequency sounds left and right, then starting at low mids mixed them farther left or right as they reached higher frequencies, French horns, oboes, flutes and piccolos etc reaching further to the edges of the mix.
Hope that hints at an answer now for the second part of your question. I create ideas on the fly for me. I look for things that interest me rather than create for imaginary people or situations.
You said in your recent interview with AV Club that you’ve thought for a long time about making a 2012 record. Does Aufheben sound like you’d always imagined that to be, or did you not really have any preconceived ideas of it?
It makes sense to me, and now that it exists I see clearly how I should approach the next project, and that is my focus.
In fact, to what extent do you go into the making of each album with a clear idea of what you want it to sound like? How much is design, how much is happy accident?
I try to be in the moment. I walk into an album session with no idea what I should do, and I leave the studio with songs. I will write about 40 ideas for songs and it becomes clear to me how an album playlist could work, then I sort of fill in the blanks, add preludes or acoustic songs, whatever I feel it needs.
You seem to have a strong work ethic – in fact you’ve spoken about your ability to work on things for twelve hours straight on occasion. Do you think that the slight mania this tends to induce can be beneficial to the whole process?
That’s the goal – I set up, cultivate a mindset and then roll with it.
Have you ever been tempted to write a sparkling clean, shamelessly poppy, chart-oriented song just to take everyone by surprise? It would certainly mess with a few people’s heads.
Pop means popular – it’s a marketing device to create popular music before its release. To buy into that sort of rhetorical nonsense would be for me to admit that I am full of shit just like everyone else playing the game. I do not create for imaginary demographics. I am not interested in receiving fake Madison Ave. validation and marketing in any way.
Do you mind me asking how long you’ve been clean-living for now? How do you feel? Did past experiences with narcotics inform the psychedelic sound of Aufheben, or was it mostly other music/feelings/artforms?
I was very creative as a child, and before I found myself addicted to opiates, a drinker and now a non-user. Change has been a constant…having said that, I feel great. All of this clean living talk has noting to do with AA or making value judgements – it was about it being time for me as a person to move on. Very easy for me to do. I don’t feel like I am missing any party or anything so there is no real temptation.
I am in a good place now, and I want people reading this to know that if they feel like maybe it’s time then one can just move on to other things. I am an example of this. No drama.
You live in Berlin now but don’t speak German, and have said that you find it liberating to be impervious to media and the like. Do you intend to start learning the language at any point, or do you intend to carry on living “like a ghost” for now?
I work on many languages because I am interested in communication. (With bad spelling, even.)
Having heard Madonna’s new album, I share your contempt for her and/or her practices. If you ever had the chance to meet her, what would you say to her?
I would like to challenge her to withdraw all of her money from her bank and see if it is actually possible. It’s not, but that would make an interesting documentary: multi-millionaire attempts to collect assets, and is shocked to discover…….
Conversely, your admiration of Cate Le Bon is also shared. Are you a fan of Super Furry Animals, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci or any other bands from that (for want of a better word) ‘scene’?
I am indeed. Love the Welsh spirit.
Talking about “I Wanna Hold Your Other Hand” from the new album, you told Smells Like Pop: “If John Lennon is petitioning to hold that one hand, then I am assuming that there is one hand that is free for me.” This isn’t a question, I just want to commend you on perhaps the greatest song title justification I’ve ever seen.
You tweeted a link to an article entitled “Top 10 Unpleasant Facts About John Lennon” along with the comment “people are so mean”. Were you referring to Lennon himself or the author of the article?
I was taking the piss. Some of that stuff needs to be said, you know.
Have you ever considered writing a book?
Yes, I would love to. I went on a meeting once with a publisher, but it turned out she just wanted to meet me. What a let down.
Are there any obscure and/or up-and-coming acts that you’d like to recommend or give a shout-out to?
Finally, if you were forced to spend the rest of your days in solitary confinement, but were allowed to bring the entire works of five different artists along to tide you over, whose would you choose?
I would decline any reminder of a world that would lock me up like that. Aufheben.
Anton Newcombe, thank you.