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Cover Story: Anton Newcombe & The Brian Jonestown Massacre

Written by Michael Carr on August 27, 2008

Brian Jonestown Massacre frontman and independent music icon Anton Newcombe is a complicated figure. Well known for his problems with drug addiction, onstage brawls and combative attitude toward the music industry – having literally started a fight at his own label showcase – Anton is a lot more than just the ego-centric megalomaniac he’s often portrayed as.

While the movie DiG! spent a lot of time focussing on how Anton’s stubbornness led to disaster after disaster for the band and it’s members, it ends almost on a tone of regret for talent gone to waste, instead of a salute to a man with a musical vision he was unwilling to compromise. He is a revolutionary, like Robespierre – incorruptible and dedicated to his ideal. And just like Robespierre he has suffered for it.

“Part of what I want to do is set an example for other people. We are individuals and we are doing things our own way and we have an awareness of where that fits in with tradition. I think that is revolutionary. It’s not an ignorant thing we’re doing. A lot of it is an understanding of history and all that stuff too. It’s not for me to decide whether I’m revolutionary or not. I’m still going to get up and do the things I want to do.”

“Classifying me as a revolutionary is going to be counterproductive. The value isn’t really appreciated in our society right now. Like even though you celebrate the fourth of July, which is a celebration of revolutionaries and revolution, America is very sheepish and it’s very threatening in this day and age to be sort of an Easy Rider individual.”

Anton has shown a whole generation of musicians that you don’t have to sign to a major label, or any label really. He reinforced the fact that music is about music and not fame and money. “The fuckers, the bean counters the lawyers, all these assholes at all the labels, these are the people who are ruining music. Not Napster, not some college kid downloading in his dorm room, it’s the people without vision.”*

“I have that grass roots hippie punk thing. I’m not interested in being a rock star whatsoever. It’s something that doesn’t appeal to me. I think rock stars are boring.”

“I am an artist though and I love being creative. It’s something that I think is worthwhile with what I have as far as physical resources. I think it’s a beautiful thing to do with my life and my abilities, more so than if I were in the Navy or working for Starbucks coffee or some bullshit. What I’m doing is teaching, with all sorts of things encompassed in it.”

And he has had a lot of students. Bands like The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Raveonettes, The Dilettantes and The Warlocks amongst others were all founded by former members of The BJM. Anton even managed to inspire a bunch of lazy dope smoking journos like us here at Music Feeds to pull our heads out of our arses and start a magazine.

Why does Anton have this seemingly unexplainable ability to inspire people? What is it about him that makes him so special? In the opinion of this humble fan, it is rooted in love, or as he has famously said “I’m not for sale. I’m fucking love; do you understand what I’m saying? Like, the Beatles were for sale. I give it away.”*

He is nothing more than a music fan, a fan so disgusted by what has happened to the art he loves, that he feels it’s important to offer an alternative. He is a 60s star. “I really love music and I want to put out stuff that isn’t out there. I don’t care what people think…if they think it’s derivative or invoking a certain time period or what have you. I’m just doing it because it’s the music I like. It doesn’t exist unless I animate it.”
And thank god he did, because behind all the fights and drama, there is just a great band. The name refers at once to the infamous mass cult suicide in Jonestown, Guyana (if you check the band’s MySpace their hometown is Guyana), as well as founding member and guitarist of The Rolling Stones, Brian Jones, reflecting Anton’s interest in cults and adoration of Jones.

“I thought it would be interesting to have a band that had the same approach as him within the context of a band. So that’s the connection right there, not even rhythm and blues, love of the blues. Buts it’s all psychedelic, you know what I mean?”
“I always loved psychedelic music for as long as I can remember. I was raised by hippies. Paint it Black, As Tears Go By, all that stuff is absolutely amazing. It’s like this dark sombre angle. Bittersweet is what I want to call it. I’ve always been intrigued and once I realized he was the one responsible for that, he became a bit of a hero.”

Many critics deride Anton, claiming that he failed at bringing around the revolution he always promised. However Anton disagrees. “There has been a revolution! Do you here the White Stripes on the radio, when I started it was Pearl Jam. How many people do you hear imitating Pearl Jam? Not that many. How many imitators do I have?”*

AS Anton’s old A&R rep from TVT Adam Shore explains in DiG! “Everyone Anton has ever met has gone on to make great music… And he is exactly where he was before, because Anton was never interested in a professional career, he just wants to play Rock & Roll.”*

To Anton, his work, his music and his story are enough. “Already a lot of people like our band, but an even greater number are going to go ‘fuck this is important and it’s now and it’s happening. I love it.’ I don’t care how that reflects monetarily, I just want some people to enjoy it as it goes down instead of a Velvet Underground thing where it happens in retrospect because that will always happen. We’ve done so much that it will survive. It fits in its own category.”

All quotes in this article were sourced from:

Interview with Anton Newcombe by: Ben Vendetta: Vendetta Mag June 1998, or

* DiG! Written, Directed and produced by Ondi Timoner. Released by Palm Pictures

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