Cult psych-rockers The Brian Jonestown Massacre have just released a new song this week, Pish, ahead of new EP and a 25th Anniversary tour for next year. This is the perfect time to catch up with its leader, Anton Newcombe.
Like other classic "cult" bands before them, such as the Velvet Underground or pre-grunge Sonic Youth, the Brian Jonestown Massacre have never bothered the charts, but instead gathered more fans and the respect of their peers with a succession of great albums, over the years. Known as a controversial figure, unafraid to pick a fight with Apple Music for instance, Anton Newcombe is first and foremost a very creative musician, producer and guitarist, who's passionate about music. In short - we think he's a very inspiring figure, and that's why we thought he'd be the perfect subject for the next in our new series of artist interviews, following from our feature with Primal Scream's Simone Butler.
Here, Anton talks about the recording industry, his favourite studio gear, the early days of Brian Jonestown Massacre and how they almost got signed by Creation Records... plus much more, so enjoy!
Brian Jonestown Massacre have just released a new track, Pish, that sounds classic BJM, and you're doing a 25th Anniversary tour soon. Most bands don't remain as creative this long... how do you explain this longevity?
A: I love music, and I use the same basic building blocks, the parts of music that I love to work with, and for the same reasons... time is meaningless to me and a day could be a month or a thousand years. I really enjoy this majik machine where one thing goes in and can be viewed or interpreted as something else.
You've been signed to labels before, but now you release your music on your own. Most new bands still dream of getting signed... do you think it's still important, or should bands forget about labels altogether and do it on their own?
Well, I always had my own imprint because I understood the business, so records said 'Tangible Records', 'Committee to Keep Music Evil' - what I have now, and since 2008 it's very solidly stitched down (well before that even) with total distribution, so why would I go to one of my peers and split my money [which they] earned for nothing, when I have the same distribution?
Because I sell records I can get advances to make records, to print covers or whatever... I guess that's tough for an ego on their own I think... it boils down to cash... but the thought of needing validation to release music? F*ck that. This is what I declared war on, from day one... I didn't want David Geffen, or Seymour Stein, or Clive Davis, or Chris Blackwell, or Richard Branson, or Tommy Montola or any of these [Record Industry] people and I could name them all saying: "No, erm, we want to sell a million copies and this is 100,000 tops or I'll pass and you don't get to play music."
The only advice I have is to do everything you can think of, and understand contracts. There is no excuse not to understand a contract because there are examples of every single bad contract online.
In the past ten years or so, more or less after the breakthrough success of the White Stripes (especially their 'Elephant' album in 2003) it seems many musicians and producers have been fetishistic about analogue. Do you think it matters whether someone uses digital or analogue gear?
I've used Pro Tools since I was sound designer... I've mixed songs to cassette that were used as the theme tune to Boardwalk Empire ['Straight Up And Down' from Brian Jonestown Massacre's 'Take It From The Man!' album]. I use everything and anything. I'm like the Vietcong that way. I'm in it for the long run... I have to be free.
You've always seem to mix both analogue & digital, like using Pro Tools and having an Apple Mac, but also using a Mellotron and a Roland RE-201 Space Echo side by side... as a producer, can you tell us what's your favourite gear, the things you can't work without?
Well, I love the Neumann mics and the ribbon mics. I love having a pre-amp and a compressor. All of these in a chain and always doing the same thing. Like, the mic is always plugged in to a certain preamp and compressor. I don't have a board right now, I'm using 16 channels of the Chandler EMI mixer, some Vintage King stuff, URI and Anthony DeMaria Labs compressors etc, a 1937 RCA mic and some Coles and the Neumans, a bunch of them. I try to do as little as possible and let the music do its thing as I assume my hearing is so f*cked, for me it's about signal path, mix to feel, then have an engineer (Fabien Leseure) tweak it. I roll off low mids or add mids depending if I am mixing vocals or guitars, I guess. Anything else in the world I can rent. Anything, anywhere, anytime. The sky is the limit.
And as a guitarist: you seem to love that Vox Semi-Acoustic of yours. Why do you like it so much and what else is your favourite guitar gear right now?
The Vox has better tone and more sonic options than Gibsons etc., great neck and stays in tune for years. All the built-in wah wah, fuzz, repeater and this is the big plus: not only does it have volume tone - it has a bass/treble boost and you can shape the sound as you go, my twelve string versions just blow Rickenbackers our of the water, and they are more dynamic than a Gibson or Guild. Nice wide neck, because I play the lower 7 folk chords, and a 3-finger A chord. Three fingers is the width of a Rickenbacker neck, that's why those people would bar that A, and that affects your ability to do the fancy Byrds-type stuff (that they didn't actually play on the records, haha!)
Anyway, where were we? I love my tools and don't get me started on eBay... if someone were to loan me the money, we could start the best shop in the universe for gear. It would boggle the mind.
Besides Brian Jonestown Massacre material, you've recently done an album and tour with Tess Parks, and is also working on a film soundtrack. Is it important to you to branch out from BJM music? Is it quite a different experience, or maybe even more challenging?
I'm pretending that my time in this form on Earth is very limited and that I want to do as much as possible with it, to become whatever I may become as an artist... and yes, I enjoy playing with other people and being busy busy busy.
You're about to open your new recording studio in Berlin. From the pics we've seen on your twitter, it looks pretty great! How long have you been working on it, and how important is it to you, having this new studio? Does it have a name/ website yet? Please tell us a bit more about it!
It doesn't have a name other than "The Temple". It's not a commercial space... I've had it since May, but it took awhile to figure out the build and builders, and the money and the time frame, but yes, it's absolutely essential that I have a workspace.
Finally, today Brian Jonestown Massacre are a well-respected band, playing festivals around the world etc. But it wasn't always like this - how hard was it when you first started? Any good tips / advice you can give to new bands, who might still be struggling to get good gigs?
We couldn't play in San Francisco besides the one frat party... there was a payola thing with the clubs. We had to ask the Black Masonic Temple if I could throw parties... and they let me, and we had, you know, way over 600 people and it was hot sh*t, so then the doors opened up. Then,we would do our own events, that means I asked bars, clubs for the night, and I booked the bands and DJs for fun...
We were actually invited a few times to play Reading/Leeds -[but] I had people blocking any success because they had their own agendas, but that's another story, like how we almost were signed to Creation Records but my two guitar players took the tickets and split, didn't even go to the meetings. Whatever...
The Live Gear:
On stage, Anton Newcombe uses ("I Declare Nothing" tour, 2015):
- Vintage Vox Cheetah semi-acoustic with built-in wah, fuzz and repeater effects
- Boss RE-20 Space Echo
- Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man
- Z-Vex Super Duper
- Z-Vex Mastroton fuz
- Electro-Harmonix Little Big Muff
- Fender Twin-Reverb amp
- On recordings, Newcombe uses a vintage Roland Space Echo RE-201, and other instruments such a Mellotron.
Follow Anton Newcombe: @antonnewcombe on Twitter.
Brian Jonestown Massacre Tour 2016
Anton Newcombe is currently touring with the Brian Jonestown Massacre, including UK Tour dates. For info & tickets, please check the Brian Jonestown Massacre website
The new Brian Jonestown Massacre single, 'Pish', is out on 13th November and available to pre-order from Cargo Records.