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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Anton Newcombe Interview From AV Club - Denver

From AV CLUB (Denver/Boulder)

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Brian Jonestown Massacre Article

Anton Newcombe, Brian Jonestown Massacre Shoko Ishikawa

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Ever since his misbehavior became the stuff of rock legend—as chronicled in the documentary Dig!—Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe is frequently described as one of music’s reigning bad boys. Coverage for his band’s music? Not so much, but it’s not because he’s undeserving. His act’s latest, Aufheben, continues Jonestown’s tradition of mind-bending psychedelic oeuvres, despite the fact that the famously hard-living songwriter has been clean for a few years. Before his show Tuesday, May 8 at the Bluebird Theater, The A.V. Club had a magical mystery tour of a chat with the mercurial vocalist-guitarist.

The A.V. Club: Aufheben has a straightforward psychedelic feel. Was it a deliberate shift away from the rhythm- and groove-based songs on your Who Killed Sgt. Pepper? album?

Anton Newcombe:
I personally needed to reset the clock artistically for me, in a way [on Sgt. Pepper]. I haven’t been fairly treated by the lazy journalism in the history of the project, like people saying, “He just likes The Rolling Stones, he fancies himself in the ’60s.” You know what I mean? It’s never been just that. I consider it psychedelic, but it’s in the broadest sense of the term. It’s not wearing psychedelic clothes, or something like that. It has to do with anything can be a part of it, mind-expanding crap. In the way The Rolling Stones, or bands of that era, could play cello music or tea party jazz or some Indian sitar music or a ’50s-sounding song—it’s like, “Oh, he’s on marimba. He’s playing a sitar. He’s playing rhythm and blues.” That’s the part of psychedelic things that I like.
I felt like it was important for me to reset the clock, basically blast out something really random and get fucked up, then not get fucked up anymore, just to be really, truly free.

AVC: Do you think that approach on Who Killed Sgt. Pepper? changed the way people look at Brian Jonestown Massacre?

At some point it occurred to me, today people go on a talent show and they’re waiting for validation. It’s like permission to be famous or something. Nobody ever gave me permission in my life. A lot of people walk around with those little accolades, and they feel like they have permission to have attitude and everything that comes with it, right? At some point, I was like, “I’m so fucking legit. I own a LTD, which is a corporation. I have 14 employees. I go all over the world. I have my studio in my apartment.” At some point I just said, “This is who I am.”

AVC: That seems like a punk-rock attitude toward the world.

I grew up in the punk rock [scene] in California, which is totally different than the New York Dolls or the English thing. The people in the West definitely have a more freer attitude, more pioneering-leftover kind of thing. The people in New York, it’s the immigrant thing about making it in the evils of the city. In California, it was like, “Fuck you, we’re going to do what we want. We don’t want your Ronald Regan bullshit,” or whatever. The reality of the yuppie world that we live in, it was a reaction against that, with the freedom and youth culture. That’s in me as much as anything else.

AVC: You mentioned that people always call Brian Jonestown Massacre a ’60s-based band. While there are those elements in it, you never seem to have tried to be a revivalist act.

We were very, very lucky that way, because I used that as a point of reference, and also used montage and post-modern techniques; I used reference points to the ’60s. I used ’60s instrumentation. I’m influenced by the music of the ’60s. It’s a mishmash of everything. To me, psychedelic can be all the way to a DJ. House music can be very psychedelic. Flying Lotus is very psychedelic. Even though it’s urban and technological, it’s also mind-expanding, anything-can-go mishmash.

AVC: These days, you live in Berlin. Why did you choose to become an expat?

I am a bohemian person. I don’t speak German, and I live in a foreign country where all the signs are in German. I did that deliberately. I’m like a ghost.

AVC: You’re deliberately out of place living in Berlin?

Look at how much media and advertising you’re subjected to, this mindless chatter of advertising—and even people talking around you. I just block it out so effortlessly because it’s all a foreign language to me. It’s really a good thing for my head, living in Berlin.

AVC: That’s an interesting way to go about avoiding advertising in the public sphere. Banksy’s criticism of public advertising is that you have no choice but to be subjected to it.

You’re a victim of it. I love him. He likes me, too. We’re kindred spirits in a lot of ways.

AVC: Have you ever met him?

Well, who would know, right? Yeah, he just changed the oil on my car last week. [Laughs.] He touched base with me on MySpace, back in the day. I used to do this stuff called Billboard Liberation Front with these people, these characters in San Francisco. We used to jack billboards all the time, all the ads. We’d just climb up and change them. These guys, like John Law, would literally do the neon on the Camel sign, just change the words completely, with real neon tubes. He did that as a day gig. He’d just fuck up these things. You can find the evidence of it in the Survival Research [Laboratories] publications. It’s so amazing.
I’ve always been a fan of that kind of destruction of corporate property occasionally. Even graffiti. A funny example is one time I was in a riot in San Francisco, on the edge of it. Some anarchist guy with a bandanna on runs by with a spray can and sprays “Fuck shit up” on the wall. A policeman was standing right next to me; I literally walked up to it, pulled [out] my Sharpie pen, and just changed it with little lines to “Buick shut up.” The policeman just laughed. It was so cool, because the spray paint said “Fuck shit up,” and I was like, “Okay, I will!”

AVC: Speaking of unrest, the word “aufheben” has several meanings that don’t translate directly from German, and many are used in the context of protest movements. Which definition applies to the album?

If you’re an environmentalist, global warming, you’re going to learn about this word, “aufheben.” It means to abolish or destroy, or to pick up and preserve. Basically, the concept of tearing something apart to save it. If you apply it to German culture of the last century—not only the DDR with the Stasi and all that stuff, and the Communism—Germany and the culture, they had to completely destroy the culture to elevate it and to preserve it.
Hegel was using the word even before National Socialism, even a modern expression in what we saw, not just with the Holocaust, but with culture and race, across the board, whether it’s Gypsies or Russians or whatever. They completely had to destroy that. Everybody’s house? Puff.
If you look at [Aufheben’s] cover, it’s the Carl Sagan diagram from the Voyager program. They sent that plaque on the two spaceships out of our solar system with the concept of reaching out to send a signal looking for intelligent life. It says, “We’re humanity. We’re humanoids. This is binary information. Inside this ship is a record player, and this is how you work a record player.” I thought it would be funny if a German scientist put the actual word aufheben on the plaque. Yes, this is who we are and what we are. It needs to be destroyed to be preserved.

[For legal reasons this is just an excerpt. Remainder of article found at link provided above]

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