Brian Jonestown Massacre Interview

Written by Rachel Clegg.

It’s 11. 30pm and the Brian Jonestown Massacre are backstage at the Leeds Cockpit in Northern England.

Its dingy walls host sunken couches supporting smoke-drenched, drunken characters, hangers-on, Swedish musicians, the entire cast of a British soap opera – Emmerdale Farm and of course, the band.

I am introduced to Anton Newcombe, the famously temperamental bandleader and front man of the Brian Jonestown Massacre (note: must be pronounced in full, Jomestown, not Jones town, as Anton sharply points out). With an inebriated glaze he shakes my hand, ‘hello, I’m Anton Newcombe and you’re?‘ It is an hour before we finally start the interview and already Anton is fucked out of his mind.

RC: Did you have a good night?

AN: Yes.

RC: Why are you called the Brian Jonestown Massacre?

AN: Do you mean the Brian Jonestown Massacre? Get your facts straight.

Emphasis is obviously very important when pronouncing the name of this band.

RC: Yes.

AN: Because Led Zeppelin was taken.

RC: What is it about Brian Jones though?

AN: You don’t like it?

RC: Yes, it has a tragic ring to it.

AN: What’s tragic about it?

RC: He died in a swimming pool and the name of your band is his town massacre.

AN: So what, there’s like a fucking thousand British soldiers died in Iraq, how tragic is that?

RC: I’m not denying the deaths in Iraq are a tragedy, but we’re talking about rock n roll.

AN: They [the soldiers] never got to pursue their lives, so let’s keep things in perspective right?

RC: The melody-laden, free-spirited psychedelic pop that came to be synonymous with both Brian Jones (the Rolling Stones) and the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Is this pinnacle of popular music for you?

AN: I just like the way in the sixties they approached bringing ideas into the music.

RC: The Brian Jonestown Massacre seems to be entirely dictated by your ideas and your musical agenda, what ideas are currently circulating in your head right now? In what direction do you ant to take the band?

AN: Basically I just enjoy being creative. I just want to stay true to myself. I talk in sound. I can make some kind of heavy statement…

RC: Go on then, make a heavy statement…

AN: OK, I want to create an audio and visual environment that will bring them back to their genesis, the moment of conception.

RC: How will you go about that within your musical aesthetic?

AN: Well, I’m gong to hire Patsy Kensit. (Patsy Kensit was lurking around the dressing room just before this interview was conducted). I’ll use a kazoo too.

RC: I do a pretty good ‘Baker Street’ on kazoo.

AN: Do you like the way your lips tingle when you play it?

RC: It’s all right.

RC: Are you flattered that the entire cast of Emmerdale came to see you tonight?

AN: I am touched. Actually, I don’t like ITV that much at all.

RC: You don’t strike me as a TV person …

AN: I’m not. I like to cook for my friends; take walks with friends…enjoy sunsets. All my friends are girls and I really like them.

RC: Do you find it easy to be around women as opposed to men?

AN: I don’t hang around with any girls; I hang around with the girls I do because they are interesting people; they are all making films or are scientists. I have no problem with dating more than one person at a time.

Perhaps in his own mind statements such as these are perfectly connected their previous sentenence.

RC: After spending most of your young life in San Francisco you moved to Manhattan, how do you find it?

AN: I don’t like [Manhattan].

RC: Do you miss San Francisco?

AN: I do a little bit, yes.

RC: The band formed in Haight Ashbury, did the musical historical significance of Haight Ashbury have any influence on the music?

AN: They used to have a lot of acid – and I’m talking about in our time – in 1990.

RC: At that time the Seattle scene was taking off yet you didn’t opt for the grunge route, why?

AN: First of all, when I was growing up I didn’t listen to rock music. It’s fun when you go out and people are playing AC/DC and everyone’s dancing. It’s fun watching girls dancing away. Whatever, but I don’t like that kind of music. The same kind of patter tries to kick my fucking head in. I never even listened to Led Zeppelin. I always liked psychedelic music.

RC: What particular psychedelic music did you listen to?

AN: All kinds of stuff, let’s just assume that I know more bands than you do.

RC: What is your definition of psychedelic?

AN: My definition of psychedelic is ‘mind expanding’.

RC: Since the Brian Jonestown Massacre set up in the mid nineties your music seems to span the entire spectrum of pop music, there are moments like your music which reminded me of the Jesus and Mary Chain then other bits were much more sombre and Smiths-like. I wondered what exactly is feeding into your music…

AN: Well, I never actually set out to be like ‘we are the Smiths’. It’s amazing that all the time the NME spent slagging off the Smiths [that[ they later [hailed them].

RC: The NME can be incredibly fickle.

AN: The people that run that magazine are part of a firm that own a thousand other magazines. I don’t really talk to journalists.

RC: What exactly do you want journalists to do then? How do you want people to see you?

AN: I don’t give a damn. I just don’t care.

RC: How about band members at the moment? Are you happy with the band? Your track record suggests that you have gone through over sixty band members…

AN: That’s since 1990.

RC: I read an interview earlier which was conducted at the time when Dig was being filmed – in the interview you mentioned that you were particularly dissatisfied with the way in which you felt you were portrayed and that the film sensationalised one particular aspect of your character. What have you got to say about this?

AN: Did you see the movie?

RC: Some of it, yes.

AN: Then, why are we talking about it?

RC: I am interested in what particular part of your character you were unhappy in terms of its portrayal in the film.

AN: I know that people love talking about themselves but I’m not a movie. If you could think of something specific I would answer it.

RC: I am asking a specific question: what particular aspect of the way in which you were represented in DIG were you unhappy with?

Anton (rather aggressively) refused to answer the question.

At the same time the security staff at the Leeds Cockpit asked us all to leave in order for them to lock up the section of the building we were in.

End of interview.

Bomp Records have just re-issued the 7 albums that The Brian Jonestown Massacre released on the label plus Strung Out in Heaven on TVT Records. The label also releases records by The Stooges, Dead Boys, Soledad Brothers, The Warlocks The Black Keys are more..Get in there..