Anton Newcombe interview: My recorded work is conceptual art

The Brian Jonestown Massacre's legendary main man speaks to Jamie Bowman ahead of his band's show at the Cosmosis Festival in Manchester

Jimmy Coultas

Last updated: 3rd Mar 2016.
Originally published: 1st Mar 2016

Images: Bradley Garner

Anton Newcombe is a musician whose reputation goes before him. Despite an incredible work ethic, the man behind US psych legends the The Brian Jonestown Massacre is still defined by the wild-man image that made acclaimed 2004 documentary Dig! such an entertaining watch.

Portrayed as the loosest of loose cannons, Newcombe's self destructive behaviour is contrasted sharply with that of rival band The Dandy Warhols: while the Dandys surf the success of 'Bohemian Like You' across the world, BJM are left playing dive bars, squabbling over sitars and getting busted by the man. It's hardly any wonder that Newcombe has denounced a film which has become something of a millstone.

Far more illustrative of Newcombe are the 14 full length albums that BJM have released since their inception in San Francisco in 1990. Combining elements from The Rolling Stones' psychedelic phase through to UK shoegazing (Ride's Mark Gardener is a past collaborator), the band have come a key touchstone for many groups currently enjoying the modern taste for all things mind-expanding, not least recent Brit Award winners Tame Impala.

Newcombe's stint as artist residence at last year's Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia cemented his status as a frequent flyer to the North West and this March will see him return to the region for a BJM gig at Manchester's Cosmosis festival. Now a resident of Berlin where he lives a drugs and alcohol free life with his partner and young son, we caught up with him to discuss everything from cheese to selling out, via fellow Cosmosis cosmonauts the Jesus and Mary Chain.

2015 was a really busy year for you with the release of the I Declare Nothing album with Tess Parkes, your tribute to French film soundtracks and the mini album Thingy Wingy LP. How do you reflect on the last 12 months?

I also put out the plus minus EP and you forgot to add that I completed my first feature soundtrack for a joint Welsh-Scottish film called Moondogs that will be making its rounds soon. On reflection there simply isn't enough days in the year, or hours in the day,or days left in my life to complete all of the things I would like to do or live the way I would want to.

Your collaboration with Tess was particularly successful - will you be working again together?

Yeah, very soon. She's going to guest on a BJM track, then we'll most likely start another record this year.

What other plans do you have for 2016? 

A tour of North America, Europa and beyond. An EP, maybe more. 

You're playing a gig virtually every day throughout May. Is touring still something you look forward to and relish? 

Yes. My recorded work is conceptual art. I believe the music lives or dies in the live moment and then it's gone forever. 

You're based in Berlin now - has the city had a big affect on your music? 

I'm not sure, but I do enjoy my life in Europe. 

You're playing Manchester at the Cosmosis Festival - you seem to have a strong infinity with the North West of England and have spoken warmly about Manchester and Liverpool before? 

Yeah, I'm a northern soul. Even though I'm from California, genetically, northern Europe makes me happy.

How did you enjoy being 'artist in residence' at last year's Liverpool Psych Fest?

That was great. We're working on a more advanced virtual reality piece as we speak. The challenge is coming up with the bread and not selling out because it's pretty fantastic. 

There are some great bands on the Cosmosis line up - I imagine a band like Jesus and Mary Chain were a big influence on your sound in the early days?

It was more about their spirit and less about three chords or whatever. I grew up on surf music and this and that and then I saw that with Psychocandy they had that style. But yeah I loved them. Not like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club though where I was like "fuck, I will become them". Ha ha.

There seem to be more and more 'psych' events like Cosmosis now - it seems a very healthy scene and a great opportunity for bands and artists like yourselves?

Let's get something straight - I don't need a scene and didn't have a scene to be from. We sell out the Ritz and the Roundhouse and ABC in Glasgow with zero radio and no major label today for our bus. It's debatable if we are good for the festival or if it is good for us. However, culture is important and that's what we all need to do more of - create our own culture - that's why these things are great.

It's been 20 years now since you released classic BJM albums like Thank God For Mental Illness and Take It From The Man! Do you feel like a veteran rock star? 

Our group is even older than that. Next year I am eligible to be inducted to the rock and roll hall of fame but the truth is I hate fucking rock stars. I would rather make cheese like that cunt from Blur. A famous cheese though. 

The Brian Jonestown Massacre headline Cosmosis Festival in Manchester, check out Five acts you must see at Cosmosis Festival

Like this? Read: Throwback Thursday: Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy.   

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