SURVIVING A MASSACRE
Anton Newcombe has lived a turbulent life of creativity with his band Brian Jonestown Massacre but between bust-ups and accusations of wasted talent has prevailed with some of his finest work to date
Scrapes – Anton Newcombe has known a few. We could fill the rest of this magazine with anecdotes about his wild times and dangerous living, drinking and drug intake, not to mention the ever-changing and somewhat combustible line-up of his band Brian Jonestown Massacre.
But here’s the punch line. Anton Newcombe is still here, he doesn’t drink or get into scrapes any more and is happily settled in Berlin with his partner and their son, Wolfgang.
Oh, and last year’s Musique de Film Imagine is one of the best BJM releases ever.
Those who laughed at him in the 2004 documentary DIG!, which portrayed the band as the Spinal Tap of psych-rock, need to make a reappraisal.
Newcombe refused to partake in the record industry’s game but he’s still making music at a furious rate, and is about to tour Australia once more with the Silver Jubilee tour, celebrating the band’s 25 years. Plus, he has lived to tell the tale. So Berlin, it’s good for you? “I think so. My German is horrible,” Newcombe says.
“It’s a different style here to what they speak in other parts of the country – High German, more like BBC English, if you know what I mean. And Germans are very confident people so it makes me shy talking to them.’’
But the fact that he can’t be assaulted all day by television and every other form of communication suits him.
“I am this free ghost. I’m not sucked into advertising or Kim Kardashian’s world, and it’s not a city that’s overrun with billboards,” he says.
Which gives Newcombe time for projects like one with his friend Naut Humon called the CineChamber, which he presented at the Liverpool Festival of Psychedelia.
“Naut asked me, ‘Do you meditate?’ I say, life is meditation. Stay on course, be focused with who you are, that’s the purest form of meditation right now because it is absolute overload now.”
There you go. Life lessons from Anton Newcombe. Berlin has been good, obviously.
And those people who accused him of destroying his career in the music industry? “It ate itself,” he says. “The people in the movie who criticised me for blowing my opportunities don’t have jobs and their companies don’t exist. Their prized possessions went from a cut-rate of $7 for a CD down to .001 cents for a few plays on Spotify.”
The internet also gave Newcombe an important weapon – information.
“I was interested in the history of the music business, that Allen Klein renegotiated The Beatles contract because they were getting screwed. I knew the whole scam of the music industry but also knew about the triumph of the indie stuff,” he says.
It was the post-punk music he heard as a teenager in the ’80s that opened a path to making music.
“There is nothing Paul McCartney did that leads you to believe you could be Paul McCartney, he is a phenomenal individual. I am more into the folk thing. If your grandma can play the fiddle, if you see a kindergarten kid on TV strumming a guitar, surely you can do it too. That was the spirit.’’
And the, shall we say, rebellious spirit which drove his extended adolescence?
“That was already in me, not wanting to conform,” he says.
“As a self-preservation thing I knew subterfuge was important. I thought, ‘I’ll make something as beautiful as I can and wrap it in a spiny blanket so all the creatures in the forest know not to screw with it’.’’
In the case of the Musique de Film Imagine, there’s no need for the spiny blanket. It is a thing of haunting beauty.
“Whenever I did the press rounds I would say I wanted to get into soundtracks, putting the idea out there. But the movies is a billion-dollar business, it moves so slowly and projects would keep getting pushed back,” he says.
“I just thought, ‘I’m not waiting, I will fill in the blanks for an imaginary film’. It was done in a week.’’
Anton Newcombe is back in Australia with Brian Jonestown Massacre, as part of the band’s 25th year Silver Jubilee tour.