The VICE Interview: Anton Newcombe
The lead singer of The Brian Jonestown Massacre talks about fearing nothing.
Anton Newcombe has been living in Berlin for nearly a decade, but his Californian accent is still thick. When I call him up he's all West Coast chill, telling me he keeps a mental list of people to send good vibes and bad vibes to. I am apparently on the good list.
Newcombe's band, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, hasn't always been sea breeze and butterflies. In the legendary music documentary Dig! Newcombe is seen unravelling, sometimes violently, in a strange feud with The Dandy Warhols. But all that was over a decade ago, and Anton has been making music non-stop ever since. He still goes to the studio every day and makes it very clear that he works for the joy of working. "Inside me I have the building blocks of a whole life, so I don't need to be sad to be motivated to write sad songs, or any of that stuff," says.
Now, ahead of launching the band's 16th album, Third World Pyramid, he talks about being a dad, the ancient Chinese military treatise The Art of War and America's culture of fear.
VICE: How many books have you actually read and finished in the past year?
Anton Newcombe: I've had a really busy year in the studio, so I'm going to say six books. I go through phases where I'll have a stack of ten books by my bed and I'll read them all simultaneously. Then I'll think, 'Man, I gotta get up and live my life more,' but when I'm out there living my life, I listen to people talking about things and think, 'I need to learn more, better get some books.'
I read mostly historical stuff – I'm really interested in cultures and history in the sense of trying to figure out why people gathered to build all these houses and what created the rituals. I'm starting to think that I should get a little more into some of the fiction stuff, though, just to gauge where we're at as a culture from the dreamer's perspective.
If you were a wrestler, what song would you enter the ring to?
"The Look of Love" by Dusty Springfield. Because there are no rules – it's got nothing to do with my ability to kick people's asses. That song would add insult to injury, freak people up.
What conspiracy theory do you believe?
First of all, the word "conspiracy" – it's such a loaded term. I consider all news sources these days propagandas in full swing. Western media will tell you to negate Chinese and Russian media because there's a propaganda war going on, but you've got to read all sides of the story and then make up your mind. There was a time where I was fascinated in just learning about alternative media and what people said, but now I could give a fuck about what Alex Jones, or any of these guys, digs up – true or false.
But then you stumble across stuff. A perfect example is 9/11. From my perspective it boils down to this: if you believe 19 guys in a cave planned and managed to take over three or four jets and do all this damage, then that's scary. If you believe that Dick Cheney and his buddies did it to justify geopolitics and bring down all these countries, that's also scary. So it doesn't really matter at that point, because it's a no-win situation, intellectually. It's best to go back to what I'm doing, which is art.
Have you ever been truly overcome with fear?
No. I operate by acknowledging fear and jumping into the fire. So here I am. I've confronted every fear that I've ever had. When I use the word "overcome", it's from an old philosophy, which is "yield to overcome". Sometimes you've got to stop to pass through – you've got to acknowledge things, instead of just jumping in a suicidal manner. That's from The Art of War. In life it's so important, when things are bigger than you, to just drop it – don't fight it.
I've got a three-year-old, and when I think about all the things that could happen... I mean, teenagers now, from whatever culture, can discover ISIS videos on the internet and think, 'This is cool, they've got a point.' There's a zillion things that could happen, from bath salts, to being kidnapped by paedos, to whatever. I can stay awake worrying about all that stuff indefinitely, but you've got to put all that into perspective, because modern life can be a constant fear if not.
Complete this sentence: The problem with young people today is...
They're up against such awful forces. The power of the media, just making consumerism a great thing, or tracking them with the algorithms or whatever. Everything is so intertwined between the media and consumerism – it's about making opinions and controlling people, as opposed to empowering them to discover who they are by themselves. It's a type of social engineering.
They don't know how to get themselves out of debt, they don't know how to build something in their lives. The only goal is to flip houses, which is to be trapped in that whole mortgage treadmill. Or being at a city job where you work 15-hour days because you want to get an Instagram shot of you on a yacht? And it's not even their yacht.
Young people need to create something lasting that touches a nerve with the culture. That doesn't mean Bandcamp or Soundcloud, it means E-VE-RY-THING. Set up parties with your mates. I don't want to hear about Fabric closing in London – there should be 200 Fabrics. Creating your own culture is the only way.
What memory from school stands out to you stronger than any other?
I remember this football coach just pitting all these guys on me. I remember coming into this junior high school and the whole school turning on me to punch my brains out, just because I was different. Seriously violent, crazy stuff.
That was before punk became an institutionalised style – it was still the kiss of death to dress up in any way. I quickly learnt that my identity is on the inside. Instead of dying my hair black, or whatever colour, I realised it was best to be this future cowboy, almost normal. But inside you know that you're totally different, just thinking, 'I'll never be like any of these people, in any way, for as long as I live, so help me God.'
How many people have been in love with you?
I don't know. The Greeks would argue that there's at least four types of love. There's the love for a baby, and then there's the love for being under leaves when it's fall, then there's romantic love, you know? There's different types of love. I wouldn't want to know everyone who's ever been in love with me, because there's this thing when you have a crush, and it's very positive and simple, and you can keep it that way. When you have a crush in school and you're too shy to say it, you love that person forever, even though you're not six years old any more and you haven't seen them in years. It's a memory, but it's real.
What have you done in your musical career that you are most proud of?
It's not a career or a lifestyle choice – I am an artist. I am proud that as a child I decided to become me and refuse to become anything else or resemble anyone else or live up to anyone else's expectations except for my own.
What's the closest you've come to having a stalker?
I have stalkers – there is a fool pretending to be me on Facebook. I'm not on Facebook and they refuse to do anything about it; there's no need to go on about it. It's a fact of life in the modern world that certain people will attract unbalanced people – it happens to women every day and it happens to artists.
What is the nicest thing you own?
What would be your last meal?
Brian Jonestown Massacre's new album 'Third World Pyramid' is out now.
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