Why Anton Newcombe Never Thought He'd Make It To 25 Years Old

29 October 2015 | 4:07 pm | Hannah Story

"I want to pretend like I have a fatal disease and that I want to do as much as I can with my life as long as I have it."

The Brian Jonestown Massacre

The Brian Jonestown Massacre

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rings Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre just after he's dropped his two-and-a-half-year-old son, Wolfgang, at pre-school. "It's called Kita, he started when he was two, it's sort of like a posh little school where the kids do art and dance and learn German and English at the same time." Newcombe is based in Berlin with his wife, Katy, and Wolfgang. He can barely speak German, "I can order a cab on my phone. That's very useful."

The Brian Jonestown Massacre are coming to Australia in November for a run of Silver Jubilee shows. But Newcombe never thought he'd make it to 25 years old, let alone 25 years in a band, albeit one with a revolving cast of characters, most famously depicted as dysfunctional in 2004 music doco Dig!.

"I could never see myself being an adult and I didn't wanna be an adult, not because I wanted to be a kid but because I didn't like adults."

"I used to think about [getting older] when I was a little kid," Newcombe begins. "I could never see myself being 18 when I was six years old. I could never see myself being an adult and I didn't wanna be an adult, not because I wanted to be a kid but because I didn't like adults.

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"Sometimes I reflect on [BJM's career], and you realise a lot of your fans weren't born when you started or something, and that some people have just grown out of things, or there were people who were 20 years older than me who were going to the shows where The Beatles were playing or something, and they were kids. It's just crazy.

"And I'm really thankful that our personal fans stay the whole thing, and people bring their kids too, and people who like '60s music or whatever, that they know what's going on, what kind of show it is, so that's really cool to me that it's not based on millenials or some BS, some corporate brat-backed radio or something."

He attributes BJM's longevity to their dedication to the music — not every band makes it to 25, so you've got to be in the industry for the right reasons. "You have to really want to do something. You have to know what you're doing, basically, you have to know what you want. I got the impression some of my peers just wanted to screw supermodels and see their face in magazines, and this is before Instagram, but they were really looking forward to getting invited to the cocaine party and the A-list with some actresses or whatever. They were interested in paying for their house or whatever it was, and then they didn't care about playing, and they can't play music.

"And you see a lot of bands where they're my peers and they're go and they'll do their Jubilee or whatever it is, their 20 years, and they're just playing that record that came out way back when or whenever it was, and they'll tour that. I never wanted to be retro, I never wanted to be pegged as a '60s revivalist when I started, or a specific thing, and I certainly don't want to be painted as that now. I want to make music and I want to pretend like I have a fatal disease and that I want to do as much as I can with my life as long as I have it. And I'm gonna work with other people and I wanna grow in every direction somehow."

"I got the impression some of my peers just wanted to screw supermodels and see their face in magazines, and this is before Instagram..."

But there are some people that Newcombe wouldn't want to work with again. "There are some people where I'm like, 'Screw those people.' There were people who were just so, I have such a bad reputation but nobody knows what it's like trying to move forward with conceptual ideas, and having people hate you. I had people scream at me, 'We can all be fucking supermodels and driving Porsches, but I live in poverty because of the way you wanna live,' y'know, just because I wont sell out or whatever kind of thing. I don't need that in my life right because that's not one of my goals, even though I do love Porsches. That's not what I make music for."

But having a bad reputation, and having people hate him, has meant that Newcombe too has felt he and his music have been misunderstood, even as he admits that anything put through the musical "magic machine" could be "interpreted as anything in their own way". "If I'm misunderstood on many levels, then it raises questions of how much most people that are doing anything are misunderstood I think as well. We obviously know that with governments because they say one thing and nothing ever happens, and there's like the promise of technology, and people could say with good souls and lots and lots of motivation, technology and all this stuff, they could put everybody on the planet to creating a new world that would feed 50 billion people and we could be living on spaceships or whatever, but that's not happening, they're mining coal or whatever they're doing. You could just pick any example that you want, you know what I mean. Like people could go, 'Let's take money out of the equation, let's do something fantastic. You've seen the Pyramids, now check out this design.' It could be endless."

The plan for the Australian tour is to play some songs they've never performed live, or that have only been performed once. They'll be playing the songs that they made despite the 'potential pitfalls', and discouragement from major labels. "I never went into the studio and said, 'Let's do this like Radiohead,' to this level, do you know what I'm talking about, of audio perfection or something — that was never my goal. My goal was like, 'Ok, I'm going to make up some ideas and then live will be the medium that it lives or dies in,' and [to] record any way possible.

"Because I really hated needing validation from somebody else, whether it was Chris Blackwell or Seymour Stein or Tommy Mottola or Sylvia Rhone or — I could just go on and on with these, being evaluated by a million different record company presidents, Perry Watts-Russell, Ivo Watts-Russell from 4AD, all these different people that I had to deal with y'know, who were just like, 'Oh, I don't see it.' So like what, I can't make records? Which is a joke because if it was like, I am really good friends with Alan McGee, but let's just say Alan McGee said, 'I don't see you guys selling a million records,' and he's sold like 50,000 and I don't want to go down from 50,000, well all the bands on his label don't exist so... That would've been stupid to let that decision right there wreck my career, so I set out to destroy that potential pitfall in my own life."

Newcombe says if he were to retire the BJM moniker, he "wouldn't say anything". "It would just cease to be active in some way maybe. I wouldn't make some big drama about it. I'll be keen to make music as long as I can. I don't see why even arthritis or anything would stop me, even to the level of Stephen Hawking, I think I would do interesting things with synthesisers or something if I had his condition."

That dedication means he is rarely idle, always looking towards the next project. He says he records every day "except Sunday — there's something to that, I'm telling you". "I always just want to move forward. I'm doing a remix for this '90s band Ride of this song Seagull, and it's nuts, so I have a lot on my plate right now. I'm starting to score this movie Moon Dogs for Philip John, he's the director of Downton Abbey. It's my first full-length movie, so I'm in the deep end of the black pool so to speak.

"I can only watch five minutes of the film, because it starts with putting on condoms, smelly sheets, y'know, some uncomfortable shit for me that I'm not particularly into. It's a Scottish film; it's just like young people and their sexy habits. It's beautifully shot, like when Trainspotting gets weird, y'know, the baby crawling — there's shit in it, it's like whatever you're into. Me, I don't even watch TV, so I keep like a pretty blank slate in my head because my imagination's so amazing. So what I'm saying is I don't watch porn or watch movies or anything, I never have. I read books."