In Does Rock 'N' Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: The Brian Jonestown Massacre maverick Anton Newcombe.
1: In 2007, which cult British TV series did ‘You Look Great When I’m High’ appear in?
“I don’t watch TV and I don’t keep track of my finances, so I can’t even say ‘Thank you, they paid me this much for it’. I hope it’s Whatever Called Saul [sic].”
WRONG. It was Skins.
“People loved that show so good on them for using it.”
How did you feel about your song ‘Straight Up And Down’ being used as the Boardwalk Empire theme tune?
“Some people said they discovered my band through it and I got paid a fantastic amount of money so I wish it would happen more. That show is set in the 1930s. In the song, I’m superimposing ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ ‘cos it’s the same chords. I’m like: ‘These people can sue each other!’. It was meant as a postmodern pastiche. I’m honoured that Martin Scorsese used it but to me it didn’t work. I’ve never seen the show. I’ve seen more two-minute clips of Brass Eye than anything else over the past 20 years.”
2: What was the original name of your band?
“It was appropriate because we did a lot of psychedelics! Then I saw in the NME: ‘New band from the UK: Blur’, and decided I needed something nobody can make up. Unfortunately I went with my abrasive side and named my band after a cult suicide that 909 people tragically died in, which got me immediately banned in America. People were like: ‘You motherfucker! I lost my family in Jonestown! This isn’t funny, you sick bastard!’. Even though it was less about the cult itself and more about the cult of rock stars. I was invited to play on the likes of Conan O’Brien and the networks stopped it. All I do is write love songs! I’ve far less of an agenda than Lady Gaga or Marilyn Manson – who are anti-religion etc in their art – yet you find their posters in supermarkets.”
What did you think of Blur when you first heard them?
“Like lots of people, I thought: ‘This is bloody Wire!’. I was into My Bloody Valentine and stuff with more substance. A lot of things Blur tapped into, The Kinks did better with ‘Village Green’. From a producer level, I’m in awe of how something like ‘Woo-hoo!’ [‘Song 2’] sounds, which was produced to the zenith of Pro Tools. I was hanging out with Damon a couple of years ago. He was nice and I told him that story.”
3: In an infamous scene from the documentary Dig!, you gift The Dandy Warhols a package. Can you name its contents?
“Totally. There was a picture of me sitting on a woodpile with a shotgun next to a naked girl wearing a coonskin cap which said: ‘Don’t worry [Dandy’s frontman] Courtney, you’ll always have a job chopping my wood.’ Then there were real shotgun shells with their individual names on them. All wrapped up in ‘Happy birthday baby, I love you’ hologram paper.”
“After the first Dandy’s record was rejected as being a second-rate Brian Jonestown Massacre record, they had to go into the studio again. I phoned up the President of Capitol and said: ‘You’ve already done the whole press round for the record, it’s dead as a doornail, so I’m going to whip up more press okay?’. I give them this box and they think I’m trying to kill them and have gone crazy. (Laughs) They get me kicked off my own CMJ festival headline show and get a restraining order against me. So I show up at their concert and pay their merch people to sell my single ‘Not If You Were The Last Dandy On Earth’. And I’m on rollerskates – ‘cos they send the bouncers to attack me – and I’ve got my lawyers right there so they can’t even beat me up. One of them tried to grab me and my lawyer hands them a business card! I was just causing a big circus.”
“Dig! was filmed using spy cameras in backpacks – the kind they now put in girls’ bathrooms – navigating how sleazy the record business was. Every label was sending prostitutes with cocaine and stuff trying to woo us. People were threatening my life in meetings. They couldn’t use that, so they were creating a narrative out of what they had.”
4: What was the title of the song you composed on the spot for Echo and the Bunnymen’s Will Sergeant, and Pete Wylie?
“Oh gosh, I’m trying to remember because I do that a lot. This is crazy! I’m not a space cadet.”
WRONG. It’s ‘Bring Me The Head Of Paul McCartney On Heather Mills Wooden Peg (Dropping Bombs On The White House)’
“Holy moly! Well…yeah, exactly (Laughs) Oh lord, that was nuts. I’d been drinking and told everyone ‘Follow Me!’ as I marched down Liverpool’s Parr Street. I had all the words ready in my head and had to get going. They sat there shuddering ‘Oh My God’. That was the night Pete being my UK manager ended. It was too much.”
Any feedback from Paul McCartney?
“When the Heather Mills court case was happening, it was everywhere in the UK. And the dirt! All this stuff dredged up like ‘Oh he beat me in the bathtub’. Then she declares: ‘I’m going to represent myself!’. It was a drunken reaction to that circus, like ‘let’s get rid of both of them’. It’s absurd. That’s why it’s parenthetically titled ‘Dropping Bombs On The White House’. I just wanted to put something as ridiculous as possible on iTunes. It’s not grounded in any reality. I wasn’t concerned with wrecking my career because I don’t have one.”
Your sister once worked in the White House…
“Yes, for Ronald Reagan. Who would have predicted the world would get worse? He was a senile actor and the CIA was running the White House – they look like the halcyon days compared to now!”
5: In the liner notes to ‘Take It From The Man!’, what do you claim the ghost of Brian Jones asked you to do?
“Um…basically kick those old guys’ asses for him but I’m over it.”
CORRECT. You say that he asked you ‘to make this record’ and ‘kick the shit out of old Mick and Keith for ripping off his band, girl and money, having him murdered, being glad he’s dead, and for not being very nice people.’ Jolly!
“It was silly and mildly amusing at the time. That’s why I don’t get invited to stars’ cocaine parties – they think I’m trouble. Although cocaine is stronger in the states – you only get cocaine stronger than five percent in the UK in the members’ bar of Parliament!”
Ever met the Rolling Stones?
“No. I talk to producer Andrew Loog Oldham online. I like him. Anita Pallenberg [Rolling Stones muse] wrote to me in 2005, telling me ‘You’re going to be dead if you don’t change your ways’. And I laid into her, but I thought it was funny.”
6: You recorded ‘Blue Order/New Monday’ as a response to Bernard Sumner’s Bad Lieutenant “ripping off” your song ‘When Jokers Attack’. What Factory number is the original ‘Blue Monday’ single?
“(Long sigh) I don’t really know man. I want to say FAC 67 but I don’t think it is. I’m failing on all this stuff!”
WRONG. It’s FAC 73.
“I love Factory. I love Peter Hook and am proud of his success playing his own songs. When people were being shitty to him about playing New Order material, I wrote to him and said ‘I play 80 instruments and know you wrote those songs. It wasn’t like Bernard was playing one note on a keyboard and you said ‘Let me make up a killer bassline around that’, because every song from that era is a fantastic bassline.’ I thought it was crappy that Bad Lieutenant heard my song and said: ‘Let’s nick this’, because it was unique – it wasn’t something you’d stumble upon. I’ve followed that guy [Bernard Sumner] since Peter Hook left the band and he’s not had a single idea to save his life – not even with Johnny Marr in Electronic or whatever the hell that was.”
7: When you lived in a shared house in LA in 1995, which actor dropped by?
“Harry Dean Stanton, and he played all these Spanish cowboy songs with us all night.”
“He was friends with Michael Been, who he’d been in The Last Temptation Of Christ with. Michael’s son Robert Levon Been wanted to form a band with Peter Hayes [which became Black Rebel Motorcycle Club] but Peter didn’t know how to play – so Michael asked if he could intern in my band for a few months so I could show him the ropes.”
8: On CNN’s Parts Unknown, you cooked for the late chef Anthony Bourdain. What do you serve him?
“Slow cooked leg of lamb”
“I was a latchkey kid. I had to fend for myself so eventually I had to learn to cook for myself. When I was six or seven living with my mother, she stopped interacting on a normal social level with eating with me. So I learned to cook quick – and have always had an interest in it.”
9: Roughly how many members of The Brian Jonestown Massacre have there been?
“I don’t have a clue – but it’s a lot. How many people have played with Beck? The only difference is I chose a band name instead of calling it ‘Anton’. The problem in the early days was finding a drummer. People would come and go because some had serious drug problems, others because of politics. Weird stuff always happened – I’d get blamed for it.”
WRONG. It’s over 40.
“That sounds about right”.
Do you think you’ll ever have a hatchet-burying big school reunion of the surviving members?
“No. I really dislike some of these people immensely. You have to understand everybody fought me in the beginning just to play music. Some people wanted a democracy but they had no ideas – I’ve always thought ideas take precedence over no ideas. Sometimes it’s sad. When I did a US run of shows with Guided By Voices, I tried to bring back Brian Glaze, the drummer from the ‘Take It From The Man!’ era. And I really liked him, but there was no way he could pull it off. He wasn’t a good drummer to begin with, but when were young he understood we’re trying to have these hip-hop rock’n’roll drums so it was fun when he’d be going crazy and fast. But he didn’t have the energy to do it anymore, and it was impossible. I had to tell him it wouldn’t work. It’s upsetting that have to say things like that constantly to people.”
10: How much did ‘Thank God For Mental Illness’ cost to record?
“True story! It was just the cost of tape to do it.”
The verdict: 6/10
“That’s sub-par. I don’t know if it’s my memory, but I don’t think I performed very well.”
The Brian Jonestown Massacre release their new, self-titled album on 15 March.