URBAN SPACEMAN – Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Newcombe To Lead Pure Phase Ensemble

“Thing is, I don’t give a fuck what you think you know about me. it’s meaningless. I don’t know you. The film didn’t show me speaking in a sentence with 23 words in it and making perfect sense, which i can obviously do quite well.”

Anton Newcombe is responding to a question about the 2004 documentary Dig! which contrasted the fortunes of his band, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, with that of friend and collaborator Courtney Taylor-Taylor’s group The Dandy Warhols.

And it’s clear that even 12 years on, he’s still pretty mad about the way he was portrayed in Ondi Timoner‘s film.

“Look, we used spy cameras and filmed the entertainment business, the actual mafia in action – it showed none of it. We also documented the death of the record business as it was – they didn’t show that. They didn’t show my supermodel actress girlfriend, or my place in Laurel Canyon. I’m not a loser,” Newcombe says, warming to his theme.

Shot over a period of eight years, the film purports to show the former friends turning into rivals as The Dandy Warhols’ career sky rockets, while BJM’s degenerates into on-stage brawls and substance abuse.

Newcombe claims the film that won the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury prize for documentary, was not the edit that went on to play in cinemas.

“I never saw myself up there on screen,” he explains. “I saw the actual film that won Sundance before it played the festival in a lawyer’s office. I gave them permission to show it.  It won, that movie won, however many of the people in the film declined to lend their image and/or recordings, because I, and/or it, made actual monkeys out of the machine. They changed the edit.”

Adamant that he and Taylor-Taylor remain friends, Newcombe says he’s never bothered to watch the film.

“To be honest this is the most I’ve talked about it, because I could[n’t] give a flying fuck. I sell out concerts all over the world and own all of my masters.”

Picture by Katy Lane
Picture by Katy Lane

Happily, though Dig! suggests a band in terminal decline, both BJM and Newcombe are in rude health and riding high on the back of a clutch of critically-acclaimed recent albums like – RevelationMusique de Film ImaginéMini Album Thingy Wingy, Third World Pyramid and I Declare Nothing with Tess Parks.

We’re talking because Newcombe has been chosen to front the Pure Phase Ensemble at this year’s Gdansk-based SpaceFest, which runs from December 2-3.

Preceded by a weeklong series of workshops, PPE is an ephemeral group of musicians put together especially for the festival.

Joining Newcombe and multi-instrumentalist Emil Nikolaisen in this year’s ensemble are members of Polish alternative bands and festival organiser Nasiono Records’ own Karol Schwarz.

The PPE collective play live at the festival on December 3, with the show recorded for release as a CD in 2017.

The latest in a line of top musicians to front PPE – ex-Ride mainman Mark Gardener among them – Newcombe seems excited by the project.

Working with Nikolaisen of Serena-Maneesh, he hopes to direct the other players “to scalp an amazing evening of entertainment and sonic exploration – something way beyond just making noise for an hour”.

But woe betide anyone who strays beyond his musical blueprint.

“I’m not into bullshit,” he says. “For instance, if a group of people think it’s fun to play one note full blast and noodle leads like Slash over the top of it, then pat themselves on the back, I’ll just split because i know for a fact i can create something amazing by myself.”

Now 49, Newcombe has kicked drink and drugs and lives in Berlin, where he’s been based since 2010.

Picture by Mary Martley
Picture by Mary Martley

Always prolific, he’s as active as ever, working on numerous projects with various musicians, while maintaining an active and open presence online and on social media.

“I want to work non-stop,” he says, reeling off a list of people he’d like to team up with. including: Bobby Gillespie and Andrew Innes from Primal ScreamThe Jesus And Mary Chain‘s Jim Reid, actress and singer Asia ArgentoMelody’s Echo Chamber and Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine.

Constantly experimenting to try and “capture what I hear in my head,” he’s always thinking about the next project.

“Right now I’m striving to figure out the harpsichord part to Two Sisters by The Kinks,” he says. “I’m covering it with The Limiñanas for a CD.”

“I work in every way,” he goes on, “I write walking down the street like Mozart – I play a drum beat and make things up, or pluck a note on a certain acoustic – it could be any way – but I write non-stop. I don’t share it all, but I write every day.”

Newcombe says he enjoys the invisibility he has in Berlin and there’s no love lost for his homeland, particularly in the wake of Donald Trump‘s election win.

Picture by Shoko Ishikawa
Picture by Shoko Ishikawa

“This is the absolute most ugly collection of Neanderthal neo-con fascist extremists cultivating serious bad energy from every direction,” he says, before going on to lambast “joke” liberals and accusing tabloids like The Sun and Daily Mail for being the true proponents of fake news.

“I can’t sit and fucking scream at the newspaper and TV [about] every outrageous thing all these global thugs do daily.

“I need to work on my spiritual core – and focus as if i’ve just escaped a Nazi death camp and my plan is to fucking live no matter what…because I take all of this shit that seriously,” he says.

So what can we expect from BJM in the near future?

“Great shit,” he replies. “I will keep up the good fight. I will never shut up, I will call bullshit on anything or anyone – and fuck war.”

It seems ridiculous to suggest, but having become a father, with a settled home life and a 26-year career behind him, has his music changed at all?

“Well it’s been quite awhile – over eight years so…I dunno, listen to The Sun Ship on youtube. – you tell me,” he says.

Happy to oblige, thanks Anton.

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About the author

Full time journalist, music lover (obvs) and truly terrible guitarist. You can find Matt on twitter @matcatch

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