Low DownDirty Shamans
Like his band
the infamous Brian Jonestown Massacre, the even more infamous Anton
Newcombe is one deeply misunderstood phenomenon, a seriously unique, uh,
thing whose new album, Who Killed Sgt. Pepper, will only further push to more troubling
extremes. Yet the crankily opinionated (wickedly witty, in fact) Newcombe
–– best known for his role in the documentary Dig!, which focused on the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s
falling out with the Dandy Warhols –– has good reasons for proclaiming that
he’s got the most important band on the planet.
Who Killed Sgt. Pepper is a
thoroughly mind-melting mélange of the oddest juxtapositions of arcane
world musics and semi-blatant grabbings from presumably cheesy
pop-rock/R&B-funk from the past, along with the trademarked gnarly punk
rock-garage slams the band has been the mastering since their birth in
1994. But: That’s a real surface way of describing such a mysteriously
moving sound, for all this pop detritus has been frapee’d in the Farberware
of Newcombe’s complex mind, and what’s strewing out is an extraordinarily evocative
and ambiguously gorgeous mess.
That “ambiguous” part right above is important, because rock bands
just don’t deal in the in-between nebularities of sound & word,
generally preferring to konk you on the head with their populist anthems and
fist-pumping calls for action! But Newcombe’s done with all that. Now, he
says, without a trace of pretension, is the time for making Art.
“First and foremost,” says Newcombe, “it’s still psychedelic music,
and to me psychedelic doesn’t mean blotter art, it means mind-expanding, so
there was a lot going on in my sort of silliness when I was setting out to do
this. The first goal was trying to make movie music, like Giorgio Moroder
back in Midnight Express, but
something more shamanistic and dark or something, and really weird. I
wanted to see how quickly I could scare the shit out of myself.”
Who Killed Sgt. Pepper is a
beautifully baffling thing that sounds different every time you listen to
it. Newcombe was curious about what he could do with the mythology of
Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper, which
he calls “a suffocating sort of iconoclasm.” While you might hear a slight
referential thing here and there –– “Ring My Bell,” “Rock With You” and “I
Feel Love” wisp like ghosts through these tracks –– for the most part those
hat-tips are turned completely inside-out. The only place where the cues
sound obvious is in “This Is the One Thing We Did Not Want To
Have Happen,” where it’s Joy Division getting evicerated. That, says
Newcombe, was a deliberately cruel trick.
I create questions for people,” he says. “I have a beef with bands like
Interpol or the Strokes: These people approach their art –– or their
commercialism –– going, Wow, Wire!
Pink Flag! It’s a great record, I
think I’ll live it! I’m gonna
be it! And then you got the
media pushing that, to where you’ve got Interpol just whizzing as Joy
“So my joke was, [laughs]
well, who’s Joy Division? I’ll rip it off Interpol. I set up a booby trap.
Today, everybody’s best ideas become everybody else’s ideas.”
These days BJM
is a communelike circle of like-minded weirdos that finds its home split
somewhere between Iceland and Berlin, the latter city where Newcombe has
gotten clean of his old vices and basically started afresh. It’s a better
life there, apparently.
just seemed like a good time for me to sort of make the jump,” he says.
“Politically and culturally, the writing is on the wall. In Europe, you
don’t hear these people shouting each other down about socialism, whatever
they’re saying about Obama and all that crap. It’s like you know a certain segment of the population is gonna
stand up for rights, education and all that stuff, and then you’re gonna
have public debate about militarism and etc.”
gets homesick for California from time to time, however…sort of.
“But that rat race? I just can’t see it. There’s no reason for it.
It’s like a series of bubbles. You’ve got your bubble little house, your
bubble invitation to go to your bubble party to be with your bubble
friends, and you got to this club or this restaurant and you stay in your
car and you go to your job and your gym and your golf course, your street,
your area of the beach… So that’s…a living worth living? It’s a joke.”
Whereas in olden times Newcombe might’ve dealt with
his varied frustrations by getting well and truly slammed, he lives by
choice now as a clean machine tapping the magic serums of his own inspired
head. But then, he thinks whether he’s “clean” or not is his own damn
business, as it is anyone’s who might like to puff the pipe, for example.
“The government has no business dealing in that, in fact their
business is law enforcement,” he says, then snarls and laughs. “And their
business is getting that stuff on the side. It’s just nuts that someone
could get busted for dealing weed and not get busted for stealing banks!”