“Bothering” Anton Newcombe is a futile notion. Our phone conversation began with a casual catch-up on Newcombe's life in Berlin, in which broad strokes were made about traveling, renting a Berlin apartment for two years and balancing recording time there and in Iceland. It was awkward civility that broke the moment, when I offered a take on his latest record Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?, claiming I heard European dance music in it. Newcombe was agitated, “Let's get down to brass tacks here. Can I be myself?” From those words on, I was held hostage.
Based on a few listens to Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?, I'm hearing European dance music. Is that a fair assessment?
Do you know who Madonna is?
Would you consider her dance music?
Yes. She's evolved into it.
Well, she's paid dance producers traditionally. Every song she's done is in 4/4. [He sings “Like a Virgin”] It's for marching. Well, I'm not exactly doing that on every single beat. What I set out to do was cinematic film music.
I'm having a go at The Beatles and pop culture in general because basically it's suffocating. That mythology machine, fools get it. It's a situation of someone is paying them 500 million to play that record, so they make 650 million – that is 120 million. That is how that works. It's not because Sgt. Pepper is the greatest rock record of all time. When you get down to brass tacks, if you're smart, it's not a rock record. There's jazz in “When I'm 64.” There's “With or Without You” that's tour orchestra. This isn't rock music, it's some b.s. professional vernacular. It's the experimental showcase. It's not John, Paul, George or Ringo on any track. It's an army of people.
So let's talk about Burial. Fucking Burial is more popular in territories than the Beatles are, basically in a funny ass way, if you count all the peer 2 peer. This guy in his bedroom is moving more copies easily, by far more than The Beatles. No push, except for I just said it.
So this is the thought process that informed the title Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?
I just think it's funnier than shit because guess what, like it or not I'm there too. Search engines. Everywhere.
On the Wikipedia page.
Of course, I have to. They're fucked now. I've got'em. I'm like Moby Dick. I'm one of the harpoons on the side of that whale.
How does it feel?
This has been a really frustrating process for me because people do not get it. I'm doing television interviews in the UK and they are holding up copies of the record and I'm like, “You haven't even listened to this record, have you?” They're like, “No, but I'm a big fan of the music.” You're just robbing everybody. To make informed decisions you've got to have information and you've got none, so fuck off.
A lot of people describe it as European sounding, which you hinted to. That's synonymous in America with a dirty word that means I'm too stupid to understand it. Really. Basically. Fuck everyone. European sounding? (Guffs) You guys are cute.
I didn't intend it as a dirty word…
Don't worry you can edit yourself out of the target. I don't care. Editing this so as to have a slant does a disservice. These talks are interesting as is. Because a lot of this shit needs to be said. I'll take the fall for it. People can call me a jerk. People can go, “Oh my god, he's just a drug freak.” People can say whatever they fuck they want to say. I don't give a shit.
Let's back track. You mention the unfortunate side of being presented negatively. Do you ever feel like the hypemachine and the mythology of Brian Jonestown Massacre, you know… [I was going to finish with “interferes with the message of the music.” But was interrupted by BJM's machine.]
What are you talking about? Look at Lady Gaga for a fucking god damned second. There is no hypemachine. We were the first to do peer 2 peer browsers publicly. We were the first to be broadcasted live audio and video streaming in San Francisco on the internet, because they were testing the Rolling Stones set up. We just happened to be there doing a show. Consistently, I was the first to put music and social networking together when there was no Myspace. Tom [from Myspace] was in a band with Dean Taylor, my old guitar player. He had less than 200 profiles on Myspace and the rest were fake.
[After a long pause] At the end of the day we're not grabbing Afghan children out of the bedroom and executing them right?
No, you don't seem to be doing that.
[Muffled laughter on the other end] I'm having a good time.
Good. You see the movies, you read the interviews and I was definitely concerned as to how this interview would go. I'm glad you're jovial today.
Well, in the movie you don't really hear me talk about shit hardly. That was a device. They call it a documentary, but it says “written by Ondi Timoner.” How do you fucking write a documentary? You don't write it. It's an expressed snapshot.
It was a hit piece and they're suckers. That's why I set that whole movie up and continued to do it. It was a movie very much about 10 other bands and I jacked it. Made it about us and the Dandy Warhols, you know. I got them their deal. I talked Capital into doing it.
How was it working with Matt Hollywood again?
Well, he wasn't on this record, but we did go on tour. I'm working on more than one record at once. It's great working with him. He's really talented. Outside of the movie, there was a lot of tension that was amplified by drugs of course. Basically, I taught him how to play guitar. I think like Mozart. I'll go, “What's that song? Oh, it's mine. I haven't made it yet and it's already done. All the parts.” That is very difficult for a person who writes music, even if you are The Strokes.
Because you've taken an independent route, is there a vehicle of communication you won't touch due to your “fuck you” stance towards the establishment?
Is there a taboo involved as far as selling out? First of all my project has been around for more than 20 years. I've outlasted all my peers. Furthermore, if you start the clock back in 1962 when The Beatles started recording and shit. Guess what they were doing 20 years down the road if they weren't dead. Judge by that standard. I think I'm in very good shape. Anybody you want to name from my peers. They've either eaten dust or are just bitter.
That does impress me. As far as not crossing that sell-out margin.
At Cargo UK, my label, there are 40,000 titles available. We're #3. We put out Burial. We put out all the English dance shit. I have two full-time employees with health insurance. I don't have health insurance. But, the machine takes care of itself when you tour around the world. It's perspective.
In touring, when was the last time you were in the States.
The last concert was Coachella. I wish I was more enthusiastic, but I had just quit drinking and I was very sick – physically, not from withdrawals. It was time for me to hang up my guns as far as drinking a liter of vodka a day.
So, did you go cold turkey or have you moved to moderation?
No, not even cold turkey. It was just I had my fun and then some. It was time, so it was effortless. I don't feel like I'm missing a party. My wife drinks. I have booze in the house.
You know, Castro was homeless before he kicked Batista's ass. The Vietcong were homeless and now they all have houses. But what I'm talking about is a struggle.
It's like one of those jokes… like Aleister Crowley was on the cover of Sgt. Pepper. You think that was just by happenstance? Out of all the notable people in the world, they decided to grab this guy? What a fucking joke.
Or how about this joke of a CGI graphic version of Sgt. Pepper or whatever they're going to do. What a joke. What a cunt.
What are you talking about?
Oh, Paul McCartney. You know what the bigger joke is Yoko calling the Beatles Rockband game the second greatest achievement in the history of art and music. The first was the Beatles of course. And this one is children playing fake guitars, not learning anything, just playing Beatles songs.
If Rockband approached you about releasing a Brian Jonestown Massacre themed video game, would you do it?
I really don't know. The way the government is now… are they going to prosecute me for not making cheesy sell out decisions? “We'll tax you at this level, if we can get you to sell out.” Is that where we're headed because I have this enormous potential?
[A tirade on the banks ensued, which somehow led to space stations that are comparable to the lifeboats on the Titanic.]
I've been very forward about telling people how I'm going to do it. It's the first fucking line of the movie, you know. It was not a joke. I don't need to take credit for all this shit. I could totally cash in. Interscope offered me to do a whammy on a song for M.I.A. I get offered that kind of shit all the time. She's done great for herself and the people she works with, all of the dub step toaster stuff.
[Anton went on to speak highly of the dub step music and DJs of the UK, then had a flash of anger]
You know who's a fucking joke. DJ AM. Fuck him. Let me just go ahead and assassinate this guy. There is a picture of him in Beverly Hills DJing at Sharon Osbourne's party and everybody is so sad he's gone. He's got one hand on the same Mac as I do. Gee, what a great DJ. We can only hope that in the future we can splice his DNA, so that somebody can figure out how to press play on iTunes again.
If this is not too imposing would you say amphetamines are still a big part of your creative process?
I've never been interested in uppers. I have tons of energy. That whole chaos of accelerating mushrooms, while walking to the studio… you put that on top of it and you're cooking. Everybody does it. It's a shamanistic approach.
Are you looking forward to playing San Francisco – the old stomping grounds?
Yeah. I've played for a lot more money, than places like the Filmore, but my manager is trying to make a point because we've been blackballed. I've been booked to do Letterman and Conan more than once and the higher ups say no way. Doesn't matter if I present a song that's better than anything. That's not the issue.
Joel still lives in the Bay Area, our drummer is in San Francisco, we've got deep roots there. It's the most European city in America and I'm more European than that, so… We're a lot bigger than the Filmore, we're a lot bigger than Third Eye Blind. It was great for Primal Scream, but we're bigger than them.