Barely a year has gone by since the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s fourteenth (!) long player hit the stores like cloud of dense mauve smoke. Revelation was the first BJM record to have been recorded entirely in Anton Newcombe’s Berlin studio, yet it displayed sonic characteristics already familiar to many long-serving fans: elongated, repetitive structures; layered guitar textures; eastern influences et al. Despite the relative freedom that a personal studio may provide, it was apparent that Revelation was not daring enough. In many ways, the template felt worn and for some, this present author included, the record seemed like the least invigorating work in BJM’s canon.
It only took eleven months for the group to dramatically alter their trajectory. Musique de Film Imaginé is predominantly an instrumental album; a soundtrack for a nouvelle vague film that will never see the light of day. Stéphanie Sokolinski (aka SoKo) contributes tempered vocals to the album’s lead track, Philadelphie Story, a melancholy number that speaks of tragedy and resurrection. With mood altering orchestral exploration being central to its core, Musique… is certainly a bold departure for the band and is perhaps their best work to date. At times fragile and haunting, stylistically, this record is closer to Melody Nelson-era Serge Gainsbourg or even Belle and Sebastian’s Baroque pop, than anything the Brian Jonestown Massacre have done previously. We caught up with Anton Newcombe, the group’s only constant member and notoriously prolific driving force, with the help of internet sorcery, and probed deep inside his imagination.
Backseat Mafia: The new record is influenced by French New Wave cinema. Are there any particular films, scenes or images from the movement’s output that spurred on the desire to create a new imaginary soundtrack, or that you have used as case studies/references during production?
Anton Newcombe: None. What I admire about that time period is/was people making actual films for the sake of movie making. I’m not a fan of the “entertainment” business and film, like music, in my opinion, have suffered more under capitalism than they ever did under communist regimes. I find that interesting actually: that in spite of limited budgets and censorship, you can still find films from that era, from many countries, that are far more thought-provoking and show off some skill. Unlike the vast majority of the puke we see presented these days and at budgets – Jesus – of hundreds of millions. It’s just a waste. So, I guess what I’m saying is, that this is a fuck you to people who write soundtracks with no imagination to fit films with no imagination to please investors and studios with no imagination to entertain an audience with no imagination. Lastly, this might also be another fuck you to those French people who embrace English words in their music instead of writing in French. As if they are afraid to express themselves in their mother tongue or something; to all the people who go to conservatory, study classical, but can’t write actual music and end up making discordant modern classical that seems and sounds like they hate music; the people who support all that; and also to my fake fans who may not view this album as psychedelic. My definition of psychedelic is something mind expanding and, if you have an open mind, you’ll pick up on how special this mood machine is. Well, I guess I’m saying that I hope you enjoy it!
BM: You’ve asked the listener to participate in creating this imaginary cinematic work. What do you see when you listen back to the record?
AN: I saw a story unfolding; a relationship that didn’t work out. There are elements here that are very German and it all ends on an Alpine note/tone, so I felt that Switzerland would be a natural setting, because of the French/Germanic mix. I guess the overall feel would be, like: “she killed in ecstasy”. Some kind of 70s soft core, maybe. I really want people to imagine their own film, though. I wanted to make one with (Italian actress, filmmaker and singer) Asia Argento as director, as she’s made three [feature films]. But we need a sugar daddy, so to speak.
BM: What have you been reading recently and how has it informed your research, writing and/or recording process for Musique de Film Imaginé?
AN: Right now I’m reading children’s books to Wolfgang, he’s two and that’s what dads do.
BM: The album displays a flair for orchestral instrumentation and hints at the Baroque/Old European vision of the future. Could it be argued that you are a Pilgrim, returning home to a postmodern, post-colonial heartland? If so, do you then see yourself as progressing in reverse?
AN: Absolutely! But more than that: I am a bohemian and a hermit. I’ve been writing music in the Baroque style since I was ten and taught myself piano. I truly believe that is the sound this [human] animal makes; like the specific song of a type of bird, or something. This is genetic in me, but I am also part of a global phenomenon: a certain type of person who occupies this planet more than connects with a city, for whatever reason. I could live anywhere and may choose to have several homes or dwellings in the future. For example, I could have a place in the Hollywood Hills, like Laurel Canyon; an Alpine lodge in Austria or Switzerland; a summer-house in Scandinavia etc. It’s not too far-fetched, besides the LA part. 400,000 [Euros] gets you a place in Austria, so whatever.
BM: Were the orchestral passages scored and performed, or constructed using soft instruments?
AN: I started most of them with a loop of me striking drumsticks like a metronome. It gives the whole project the feeling of time passing, like an old clock ticking in an empty house. I compose using my mellotron and all of the other goodies in my studio. We transcribed all the parts to sheet music when I finished, in the hope that, some day, I could perform with a pocket orchestra on TV or at the Barbican Centre in London.
BM: Have you acquired any new instruments that you are particularly fond of at the moment?
AN: I’m taking a break from buying anything until after I pay off a hospital debt. But dang, eBay drives me nuts, because I know about really cool shit.
BM: Musique de Film Imaginé is perhaps your most sorrowful record. Could you please detail your relationship(s) with disharmony, melancholia and the sublime?
AN: Disharmony is not my friend. I’m not attracted to it and don’t need much of it. That’s not to say I don’t own any Throbbing Gristle albums, because I view that as harmony too.
Melancholia is waiting for validation when you are a gifted teen of modest means surrounded by dullards.
The Sublime. It certainly is not viewing the poverty of ambition displayed by the elite and the mega-wealthy, as we watch the world die. Mother fuck them.
BM: The Brian Jonestown Massacre have previously recorded songs in other languages, most notably German, Icelandic and Russian. Musique de Film Imaginé is in French. What attracts you to exploring multilingual dimensions in your work?
AN: And Swedish and Slovakian etc. There are no rules. I find that I enjoy music from other cultures and I think it shows a deep respect to do this for the fuck of it, because this is for all time. I do it for discovery and trust me, I understand the nature of the internet on a deep fucking level. Don’t let my choice of artistic occupation fool you. I like forcing English speakers to follow me down the rabbit hole – there are many reasons.
BM: Were there any challenging moments when collaborating with SoKo and Asia Argento (vocals on La Sacre du Printemps)?
AN: No. Asia was like this person with whom I clicked with quick. She made me wish that I knew her back when I was 15. I get her. Her contribution, for me, was a serious gift. Meaning, at that time, I tried to do two songs in French, but this opened another door.
SoKo is such a cool person. I sent her a tweet and asked her to sing. You see, my wife is a fan of hers. I wrote and I asked and she said yes, even though she had never sung in French (see my first answer about French people singing in English, haha). It took a lot of courage and generosity. She went to my keyboard player’s house in Los Angeles with simple directions and just nailed the song. Both of these women have my deep, deep respect and I hope that this project stands strong along with anything they ever do later.
BM: Having travelled around, living and working in various locations in Europe and America, to what extent have you found Place to play a role in influencing how you work, or what you choose work on?
AN: I would love to have a chat about this when I am much older. To be honest, I have a nice studio – I can have more than four guests stay, it’s set up like a flat – but I wish I had twice as much gear, more things to tinker with. I also wish that I could wind back the clock twenty years, because, let’s be honest – Paul McCartney or Neil Young – these guys are all a little over twenty years down the road from me. I was born in ’67. I feel my clock ticking and I can see how fast these next twenty years will go, like the twenty years the Beatles had on my group when we started. Paul was working earlier than that, but I want to continue making interesting music and kick it up a notch. I don’t want to cheese out like everyone does. I get inspired by confronting my fears that I will never have another decent idea. It happens, obviously, to almost everyone. I fight that. To me, it doesn’t matter where I’m at, because I am a hermit. What I’m getting at, is that it would be great to have a garden space at the studio – some insane set up, I dunno.
BM: Lastly, what do you see on the psychedelic horizon and how did it get there?
AN: Well, I’m going to keep on keepin’ on. I hear the view is better down yonder…
Musique de Film Imaginé is scheduled for release on 27 April 2015 via Newcombe’s A Records.