The Brian Jonestown Massacre
The mega-prolific Brian Jonestown Massacre have attracted a lot of adjectives over the years – whether it be cries of musical genius or the dismissal of being too volatile to function. These days, however, the good ship Brian Jonestown Massacre is sailing on relatively calm seas, a trend which is consolidated by latest record Aufheben – one which continues a surprising run of consistent quality. Though having something of a rotating lineup over the years, uninhibited mastermind of operations Anton Newcombe has maintained a geyser-like rate of output. In the process of conducting a sociological experiment in globalisation, Newcombe lets us in on what many call the mind of a genius.
“It's the last track from the record, I was just messing around,” Newcombe states when I enquire about the sounds I hear in the background. “Yeah I was putting it to YouTube and giving it a name from a foreign language, seeing how long it will take that culture to find it on YouTube, using crazy tags in their language. When I did the song in Finnish, it took a day and a half and it had 3,000 people, then it was in four blogs in Finland and all of a sudden way more people were listening. It took something like five days for 25,000 spins. I find myself in a world with many different ways to express myself and entertain myself. Not entertain myself in a Brave New World way with some little distraction. It's more like Russian Facebook or something, where I make a song in Russian and put it out, use BitTorrent, YouTube – any of this stuff – just as another medium.”
Success, as we all know, can be painfully subjective at times. Raking in pageviews from a manner of different cultures is an equally meaningful contextualisation of success than that of sales or chart placings, Newcombe contends. “Recording in other languages – Google has made that possible. I try to go in the opposite direction of what band’s tend to do in those cultures. Like a French band who is influenced by The Stone Roses or my group are going to come out and sing in English, and not very well for the most part. Or a band like Air are going to come out and sing about nothing, like ‘Sexyyy boyyy’, and do really well,” Newcombe dismisses. “I thought it was interesting to go in the opposite direction, using social media or whatever technology is available, I can ask people to do stuff because there are no rules. A perfect example is when I was recording in Russian and I did that type of song, not only was it unique as far as independent music, it’s the only song that’s ever been like that in the history of Russian culture. In thousands of years, nobody’s ever written a track like that. It’s more interesting to me – that’s going to exist forever,” Newcombe explains.
“Artistically, it gives me a lot of opportunities to mess around and do something that I think is unique. To be more clear about it, I feel I can do anything now and it will be just as valid as anything else. Say the sales/volume/dollar thing that people find so important. The bar has been lowered so far it’s just meaningless. You hear, ‘One Direction, these five little sex robots that Simon Cowell has created, they’re bigger than The Beatles!’, or ‘Lady Gaga has released an internet single and done something The Beatles have never done!’, it’s just completely meaningless. People tend to get caught up in that. Even the numbers aren’t financially that impressive, compared to like how Mark Zuckerburg just bought fucking Instagram for a billion dollars. These two 26-year-old guys just made a billion dollars in one dialogue. The financial scope of that in terms of society is far more impressive than Paul McCartney amassing a wealth of 765 million dollars over the course of 40 years. See what I’m saying? If you reduce it to the sales/dollar/volume it’s completely meaningless.”
The engrossment in modern outlets such as social media and torrents is juxtaposed with an adherence to a more traditional musical approach. Though delightfully experimental, Newcombe sticks to using more organic instrumentation. So don’t expect to see him hunched over a Macbook onstage anytime soon. “That's all utterly disposable, like when a DJ is just into the newest fucking shit. All the music is just disposable. I'm interested in something else that isn't revolving around that. I was laughing because one of my friends, a very successful photographer in Los Angeles, she had tweeted something about this DJ 'killing it right now', with this photo of some guy with one hand on his laptop and one hand in the air. Just think, if you stole that laptop and could operate iTunes, you could be ‘killing it right now’ too,” he laughs. “I'm interested in all kinds of things, I try to touch on those minimalist bases when I'm writing too, but I'm can never be that one-dimensional. That's why I can't answer when someone asks what my favourite song is, or what my favourite movie or book is. I'm not a housefly. My favourite things are eating, fucking and shitting. That is a housefly, I can't do that.”
BY LACHLAN KANONIUK
THE BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE will be performing with support from The Raveonettes at The Forum on Saturday May 19. Aufheben is out now through Intertia.