BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE: THE ABSOLUTE TRUTH
Brian Jonestown Massacre and frontman/multi-instrumentalist Anton Newcombe have just released their newest album Aufheben, named for a German concept translating to something like ‘rebirth through destruction.’ Newcombe puts on his Peter Fonda sunglasses for a colossal interview, the first part of which we present here. They play tomorrow at the Wiltern and will be doing a laser light show listening party for Aufheben—yes, with actual lasers—on Sunday. This interview by Chris Ziegler.
A Creem writer named Robert Duncan wrote a book called The Noise arguing that the 1970s were the exact society the ‘rebels’ of the 1960s truly wanted—the drugs, the free love, the focus on the individual, and so on.
Anton Newcombe: No no no no—here’s what happened. On a corporate level, the rock ‘n’ roll thing happened and people were like, ‘These kids are going nuts!’ The entertainment thing blew up, and then the race thing—people were pushing for civil liberties across the board. So corporations were like, ‘These kids will buy anything! We’ll dress up like the rock ‘n’ roll.’ That’s—‘She said YEAH, YEAH, YEAH … it’s a BEAT HAPPENING, baby!’ So there’s that side. And record companies are going, ‘Holy crap, these kids from the valley are all doing this surf thing—get us a surf band, too!’ It was 50/50—following the street and hiring young people to keep up with the street, and also the manufactured thing. ‘We’re gonna rip these kids off. They don’t know what they want, so … here’s this guy dressed up in an ape suit!’ At the same time, there was a trick financially. They were trying to get guys to spend their money cuz we came out of the war. In America, they had the corporate thing. You get an education and every G.I. gets a house. But in the U.K., they were still on rationing when the Beatles came along. The whole concept in the marketing was—how do you get guys to buy something besides work clothes? So they started marketing fashion to men. ‘You have to be hot-looking for these girls cuz they want these hip guys.’ Then the youth culture thing hit government where it intersected with politics and it kind of broadsided them. All these people would show up politically motivated for civil liberties, and that intersected with Vietnam. In Europe, it all came to a climax—anti-war and the socialist movements, with the ’68 riots in France. It completely rocked the foundation. There were so many non-joiners. People who wanted to be bohemians. So they made music be rebellious on that level. And that’s when they instituted the drinking age with the music thing. It used to be teenagers could go to shows, right? And they were influenced by the stuff they were hearing. That became a big no-no. In America, you can only see groups play when you’re 21. You already got opinions. And then they got the rock stars, who were following this ‘I’m hanging out with Tara Browne and these rich people’ … they got a taste for the Rollers and the Bentleys, and you got Mick Jagger singing for this certain California wine, and his fanbase followed him into the consumer yuppie thing. And then deregulation happened and it became all just about the money. And the only way to make money in America was deregulation of the loans. Before, the only way you could get a house was if your boss or your parents or someone co-signed. They made it so anyone could do it—‘Let’s flip your house!’ Absolutely absurd. Without getting into … what’s his name? Ron Paul territory. You know what’s up. There’s an incredibly optimistic ‘Don’t worry! Check out the new deal!’ reality, and then there’s reality reality.
So governments hate certain kinds of music because it makes people useless as consumers and citizens?
Anton Newcombe: There’s a great Alan Watts YouTube—type ALAN WATTS NON JOINERS. His argument is a certain amount of non-joiners are necessary as a barometer for society. They’re not trying to change the whole—that’s an illusion. When people get into those thought patterns to a militant level, whether it’s EarthFirst or religious zealotism … you cannot want for other people what they do not want for themselves. You get mixed up in the head if you go out on this crusade, trying to build a future for people who don’t want it. That’s where your country and government get involved.
Is this like Burroughs and his concept of the ‘control virus’? The desire for control leads to a desire for even more control … forever?
Anton Newcombe: Of course. If you just look at who owes who money—all these countries are in debt, but who’s it to? Every country is like, ‘No, we’re running this insane debt.’ How does that work? My take on the whole thing is eventually there’s a radical rethink, by hook or by crook. It looks to me like they’re doing it by design. It’s very similar to how I seeded the Internet with my own MP3s at CalTech. My philosophy was … the government and corporations all are gonna have to deal with filetrading and copyright. They’re gonna have to decide this. And until they do, I’m gonna capture market share by making it all out there. It doesn’t matter if I’m Lily Allen or Lars from Metallica going, ‘These fuckin’ people are rippin’ me off!’ If you can’t stop it with the actual FBI MegaUpload takedown think, then it still exists. So it’s in your best interest to make sure it’s there while it can be there. The larger issue has to be settled within society, but in private, you should just put it up there yourself. Then it’s in the public eye.
Any time something new happens like that, there’s always that window—people can get in and get something for themselves before the gate closes.
Anton Newcombe: And they don’t even understand how it works. Napster—perfect example. I put all my stuff on Napster. I even named songs like, ‘This is Radiohead.’ I’d do anything I could think of to increase market share and build awareness. Even if someone comments ‘This ISN’T Radiohead,’ they’re still talking about it!
What did you like better? When they were mad it wasn’t Radiohead, or when they were happy it wasn’t Radiohead?
Anton Newcombe: Doesn’t matter to me! It wasn’t a waste of time. What I realized is there would never be this record store that carried Bomp! records or this English label I’m on or my own label or even TVT in some town in Norway. My disc was gonna be unavailable except by mailorder. I’m just allowing 5,000 people in Oslo to check out my stuff when it’s completely debatable if the store even orders two copies that they’ll be there, or if the people will even read about it in an English magazine or something. I knew the gig was up and I was absolutely right! And reality TV—I knew about that. I instigated the Dig! thing. I brought the Dandys into it and eliminated the other groups. It was like 11 L.A. bands hashing it out and it was kind of sponsored by Creative Artists and those people. They were gonna break their bands. They brought me in cuz it wasn’t that interesting. You know how guys at Guitat Center are. These guys really wanted to be famous. It’s just like if you’re doing a documentary on kids standing in line for American Idol. You know what they’re all about. Rebecca Black can break down what the motivation is. They don’t have anything to offer the world but they just want a shot! And I had this whole other thing. I’m wearing red sunglasses right now cuz I love Peter Fonda and Easy Rider, but I always have. I grew up with that. So I when I made Dig! happen, that led me to do other things in life. I signed a deal with TVT to do a comp. I knew when that movie was instantly bought, right before it won the Grand Jury Prize, that Palm Pictures was gonna put an ad in the music and film section of every weekly in the country to sell that movie, so my job of advertising my band was over right there. So I’ll just make a comp—‘Here’s the music! 80 of the songs on four records!’ That’s why I did it—this was free marketing for me. I gave them a permit to do it even though I knew it was deeply flawed, and not just for me but for the Dandys. ‘Those guys are wankers!’ That’s partially the truth, but not exactly. There’s something there they can whip out sometimes. Even MTV—the Real World thing happened when we were coming up, and MTV was filming our group in San Francisco cuz they girl Pam who was on MTV San Francisco or whatever … our guitar player lived in her house. So MTV knew they were on to hot shit, and they bought Dig! and tested it. And I brought the Dandys in with Perry Watts-Russell from Capitol, and he tried to take over and make it just about the Dandy Warhols. ‘This is my band on par with Radiohead, not this underground band that doesn’t have a chance.’ ‘Because of Anton, really.’ But that was a joke because he didn’t see the compelling story I brought to the table. Here’s a band that’ll do anything the business says they’re supposed to do because they’re trying to get to that cocktail party with Winona Ryder, see what I’m saying? And here’s these other people who just wanna be in this garage band. And if it’s about music, both of those things are valid, right? One of ‘em is the way the world is, and I’m sorry—there is NO ‘You can do it, too!’ One is decided by Simon Cowell, and the other has a pair of bolt cutters and a Xerox copy of the backstage pass. People have fucked-up attitudes with technology and media now. Every dickhead in the world—I hope you write about this—
I’m writing down all of it!
Anton Newcombe: Ok, cool. Every dickhead in the world thinks that since the Internet came along, it’s this magic machine where they put their demo on BandCamp and poof! It’s an album. Put it in a slot and it comes out an album by virtue of bandcamp.com. Such a weird concept. Even though people sold cassettes and CD burners made it a little more … it’s not the same thing. It’s more like an audio profile. ‘This is my picture on Facebook, and this is the sound it makes.’ It has much more to do with social networking.
What do people want more—a good song, a good story or something that seems real?
Anton Newcombe: Ask a hundred monkeys, get a hundred monkey answers. This is the biggest downfall—to speculate on what an imaginary demographic is looking for. The BandCamp analogy—screw that. As a young person in your group, you should be interested in anything that comes out. Even Pinterest, though it’s bullshit, right? But you should sign up and log on to all that stuff and incorporate that into your thing. Your Pinboard could be like articles about other bands mixed in with fake Blogspot articles on your own band. Mix it all in together. So instead of BandCamp—if you take that same demo and put it up because you got this community of making weird videos on YouTube and Vimeo and you’re doing that, and you’re trying to play live shows … then when your mom asks you what you’re doing, you’re like, ‘I’m doing all kinds of things, mom.’ And if an A&R goes, ‘Whoa, man—these people are trading cassettes!’ like Burger Records or something and it’s growing, even to the A&R guy you’re like, ‘Yeah, I’m doing all kinds of stuff.’ It sounds so much better than THIS IS MY ALBUM ON BANDCAMP. With everybody emailing—I get 1,000 emails a day like ‘Listen to my shitty thing!’ I get a million of them! ‘I love your band, check out my thing!’ It doesn’t work that way!
Did you ever do that?
Anton Newcombe: No—I tried to give people cassettes. Sean Cook from Spiritualized—of course I was friends with him because of Spacemen 3—I handed him a cassette of Satanic Majesties before it was pressed, and he still has that shit. Besides that, none of those bands probablt ever thought of networking the way I did in the beginning, because I had more of that realization of … ‘I’m gonna put on shows and make a scene—even if my band isn’t playing, I’m holding that space and we’re gonna spin this Creation Records stuff and have a band that fits in and we’ll call it Soundgasm.’ I’ve always done that.
Anton Newcombe: In the ’80s, we’d like send demos to like Geffen and they’d say, ‘This is great but we already have the Cure!’ Completely burn you—back when they used to write you back. Then when Brian Jonestown Massacre started, they were like—swear to God—first or second show, we had every A&R on the west coast. ‘Dude, this is way more red hot than Nirvana—in a different way.’ We were going crazy and having like 900 people at shows. A wall of sound—like My Bloody Valentine meets the ‘60s. They were like, ‘Whatever this guy wants!’ I was like, ‘Put ten thousand bucks in a paper bag right now and I’ll owe you a record, and give me a studio because I wanna do the recordings.’ They’d always be like, ‘I want 50% of your money for all time.’ 50%? You’re a mad motherfucker. Who knows what that means? I’m on Boardwalk Empire and I got 100% of that. That’s like two or three or four or five ‘90s record deals at once. For indie bands, that’s like twenty Ariel Pink deals at once. That would have never happened if I’d given away the publishing. I’m not bragging about money. We’re self-financed. I’m just talking nuts and bolts of one situation.
How did you develop your business literacy?
Anton Newcombe: Here’s advice. Any contract in the world is online. Steve Albini’s tour breakdown—you can see copies of any contract from any deal. Google ‘em! So remember when anybody hands you a contract in life, and you’re desperate—that old adage that a deal that has to be made in 24 hours isn’t worth making. Sleep on it. But then the other one … any time anybody hands you a contract, there’s no reason you can’t hand them another right back. Take that and grab a clause from someone who got a good deal, like what Michael Jackson renegotiated, and you just go, ‘Here—here’s my contract to you.’ Then their lawyer has to read that fucking thing and they have to tell you why. The other thing to understand—this is where business people are gonna fuckin’ love me! 100% of nothing is nothing. Remember that when someone wants to trade publishing. A smart business person … they don’t develop too many acts anymore, so they look for acts with all their ducks in a row. So you’re like the Dave Matthews Band and you sold 10,000 records out of your trunk and you got a whole network but you don’t have a guy to write better songs for you. And they wanna go with that. In that situation, you’re smart if you’re the artist to go, ‘If you say you really believe in the power of my work, let’s start the publishing deal right now. I’m gonna keep all of the old stuff I did the labor on and we’ll start at square one. I’ll start writing and you tell me what you’re expecting. Pay me and you’ll get first right of refusal. But I’m keeping the old stuff.’ In business, your goal is to get the best deal. It’s nothing personal. That’s why you don’t wanna be your own rep in the record industry. When someone rips me off in business and I’m a business man, I go, ‘Well, hey, that doesn’t work out that way, buddy—wanna come back to the table?’ But in cowboy land, where you rip me off for all time and you wanna throw me down the well and use me like the industry does, then I wanna kill you. That’s why I have a manager.
What’s the best scam of right now in the music industry?
Anton Newcombe: 360 deals. They own a piece of everything. The tickets, the merch, the records, recording, touring—a piece of every aspect of you. ‘We want 50% of the t-shirts.’ It’s really bad. You’re left with just a piss-poor paying job. Even the most successful entertainer of our time—Lady Gaga or some shit—tours like 300 days a year and it’s like $200 to get in and she’s still gonna say she’s five million in the hole. With all that merch! That’s as big as you could ever possibly be right now, and she’s gonna tell you she makes no money. That’s symptomatic of corporate America. I mean, I own a corporation—but I’m not like Gaga. I can’t pull off a tour with five million dollars in losses and have the IRS just go, ‘That’s interesting!’ On her level, just that level of economic activity is in our best interest.
Is it like a national security thing? Gaga is too big to fail?
Anton Newcombe: Obviously some weird shit is going on with all that! But for the media to say, ‘OK, we’re letting imaginary ten-year-olds we don’t talk to dictate what all our culture is about!’ is a lie. An absolute lie. Like when you turn on cable and everything’s reality TV? That’s just dictated by what people want? That has to be an absolute lie. Perfect example—I have my own label and a lot of fucking bands would love for me to put out vinyl records for them, but I’d never get to a level like Creation where they’d do fifty or eighty a year! There aren’t even that many weeks in a year! Even if you deal with weekly publications, you can’t get on the cover more than 52 times, and if it’s a music mag, you’re gonna have special covers like PAUL McCARTNEY’S BOWEL OPERATION or whatever, right? So you’re setting yourself up in a super-obvious way. Your own success is gonna shoot you in the foot cuz you can’t put out things for real and do them justice. Look at it like a magazine. Like Fader. Levi’s is like, ‘Dude, we have to market to young people who like these culture-lifestyle magazines, but this main-place ad every month … they’re milking us! It’s costing us like three million a year! But for $220,000, we can make our own magazine. Let’s call it Fader!’ That’s how everybody does it now. You don’t even realize—it doesn’t matter if it’s a drug company or something else. They’re not there for the journalism. It’s the exception when a guy has pull in the office to slip in something he likes. And we’re only mentioning people like Lady Gaga or Nicki Minaj as a reference. At a certain point in post-post-modern reality, it’s like … do you only have enough time to list what you dislike? Or is it quicker to talk about the things you remember you like? Otherwise everything is a point of reference. We do not have time to list all the things we don’t like! I read a review of the new album today and they’re like, ‘There’s nothing new here.’ Writing songs in French and Finnish isn’t anything different to you? Why even take the time to expose the fact you don’t know what you’re talking about?
It’s just pre-assembled language. It comes out in chunks.
Anton Newcombe: The fact that society doesn’t truly—ready for this?—they’re not programming people with critical thinking. All that time you spend in school is anti-critical thinking. Imagine working at Starbucks. Essentially you’re just serving other people and they’re gonna be dicks to you, and you get minimum wage and it costs you that much just for the transportation. Basically, you’re fucked. You can’t possess critical thinking and think that life is OK for you. You’re helping somebody and they’re giving you shit. The end goal is nowheresville. The only thing Starbucks as an employee is selling you is some kind of dignity I guess the guy at Wal-Mart doesn’t have.
And the famous Starbucks health insurance.
Anton Newcombe: OK—but if you’ve been to Scandinavia, they’ve got hot chicks, great schools and roads, free healthcare…
I think in the future, everyone will be a freelancer.
Anton Newcombe: That’s the problem with this tendency in western civilization right now. When you have a technocratic superstate with reverse totalitarianism, here’s the problem. It’s almost a weird feudalism. When everything’s a super-corporation, what happens when you lose your job? You’re fucked! Same thing as one of those guys at King Henry’s court. Who was middle class then or whatever, and had access to that shit—but the minute you’re out of favor, you’re fucked! You try making a pair of Levi’s from scratch! They want us to be competive with what? Chinese slave labor camps? Let’s be realistic. It’s a big sham with that stuff. But … whatever! We’re right back in the whole thing—you can’t want for other people what they don’t want for themselves. You wanna look at America and it’s problems with the antiquated notions of democracy and freedom? You know where we seriously ran amok? I’ll point out a big major red flag. Here’s a guy who’s a congressman, and he’s not spectacular, and then he’s ambassador to China and director of the CIA and vice president and then president, and his sons are governors and then one of them is president … I wanna go gambling with those guys! Sounds like a lucky family! But what is the director of the CIA responsible for? Without making a value judgment? You name it, right? But I’ll give you an example of the CIA idea of democracy. In Chile, they’d take your disagreeing ass up in a helicopter and kick your ass out. What the fuck is that guy doing as the president of the United States? Where does it become OK when that guy is president of a democracy, and their democracy is killing people? If you can allow that, you’re not even pating attention. This happened a long time ago. It’s all tangled up. I’m not making a value judgment on that we have the NSA and all this—
Why? Because they’re recording this?
Anton Newcombe: I don’t care. What I’m saying is the absolute truth. In the DDR, when you were against the policies of East Germany, they said you had mental illness. That topic is coming up in the west, too. Why wouldn’t you go for all these distractions. Anyway—what else is going on in your world?
Do you want to talk about the new record?
Anton Newcombe: OK.
(Part two coming soon!)
BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE WITH BLUE ANGEL LOUNGE ON SAT., MAY 12, AT THE WILTERN, 3790 WILSHIRE BLVD., LOS ANGELES. 8 PM / $19.50-$25 / ALL AGES. LIVENATION.COM> AND L.A. RECORD AND BLUNDERTOWN PRESENT THE BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE LASER LIGHT SHOW AND LISTENING PARTY ON SUN., MAY 13, AT 240 W. 4TH ST., DOWNTOWN. 7 PM / $15 ADV / $20 DAY OF / ALL AGES.