'I Hope You're Not Predestining Me To Death Or Something"

29 May 2018 | 9:25 am | Hannah Story

"I can't help it that I write hundreds of songs; I'm not gonna stop."

More The Brian Jonestown Massacre More The Brian Jonestown Massacre

Anton Newcombe picks up the phone in Tampa, Florida, jittery from coffee, in the midst of The Brian Jonestown Massacre's 23-date American tour. Next month, they're heading down to Australia for 12 shows across the country, including a set as part of Sydney's Vivid festival. It's an intense schedule, but one totally in keeping with Newcombe's frenetic pace and unrelenting creative output.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre and their oft-chaotic live shows are notorious, their erratic (mis)behaviour in the '90s and pseudo-rivalry with The Dandy Warhols immortalised in 2004 Sundance rockumentary Dig!. It's an unfortunate reputation for a band that, since their formation in San Francisco in 1990, have been prolific and ever-changing, their shoegaze-garage-psych sounds enthralling young and old audiences across the globe.

Newcombe laughs when asked about their broad and enduring appeal, particularly to people so young that they weren't even alive when the band's debut studio album, Methodrone, came out in 1995.

"[It's funny] considering that I'm 50 years old. Every single concert we play, people are like, 'I'm not 21... Is there any way you can get me in?'... In some areas people go with their dads or whoever, their guardians. I think that's a good thing."

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He says taking the whole gang down to Australia "pays for itself", and that he feels fortunate to be able to do so. He drops a hint about their plans to return Down Under in 2019: "I think next year we're going to do a crazy show outside of Melbourne, with The Dandy Warhols, in some amphitheatre vineyard thing..."

Still, taking the entire band down our way isn't inexpensive. Altogether the band and crew check in 47 pieces of luggage: "Each one of my guitars costs $1,000 to put on the plane... It's ridiculous. Because if you have several it's almost a better idea to pay for somebody's ticket to fly, and they can check them in."

Newcombe will be releasing two BJM records in 2018 on his own A Recordings label: Something Else next month and a self-titled album later in the year. The Australian shows are an opportunity for Newcombe to blend songs from those new albums with their earlier work. He's pleased that his back catalogue "fits seamlessly" with the new songs:

"I find it interesting about the music in general - some of the songs that we play are from the first practice that I ever had with my band. That they work so well from 1990 with the music we play now is kind of cool.

"To me, I never thought I had this identifiable trait in the way Bono and U2 have: that 'Hucka-hucka-hucka' thing, about his voice. You hear a U2 song and you always hear it. I never saw that in my own music, but evidently it exists too in a different way."

Newcombe describes The Brian Jonestown Massacre's last record, 2017's Don't Get Lost, as "more experimental", so for Something Else he wanted to "get back down to brass tacks and present what it is that [he does] in a really natural form". He started "writing, writing, writing" separating the songs into two bins - one heart-on-the-sleeve with an almost '50s/'60s revivalist sound and the second with more mute space, an "anything goes" experimental approach. He ultimately decided to hire a drummer so he could bounce his ideas off somebody else after failing to convince his guitarist to fly to his studio in Berlin.

"The bottom line in that part of music is that you don't get paid for stuff that you don't play and I get paid forever for my music. If you're not on the record you don't make any money from the record.

"I can't help it that I write hundreds of songs; I'm not gonna stop and wait for an imaginary democracy to come up and make up some stuff. But I was gonna try to encourage them to be part of that process - but it didn't happen."

But what of The Brian Jonestown Massacre: why is 2018 the year BJM finally release an eponymous album?

"There's so many records, if you go so long, why not? It's just another point of absurdity, it's like, 'What? Why is this now?' That's basically the reason I did it is because you just asked about it, you made it noteworthy as a concept." 

It almost sounds like a capstone note. "It could be: I hope you're not predestining me to death or something. You're like, 'It sounds like an epitaph...'"