Cult Leader | Miscellaneous | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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News » Miscellaneous

Cult Leader

The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe’s strongest defense is his music.



Anton Newcombe uses swarming, time-warped psychedelia as his out. His beautiful art has his back no matter which direction the nasty, disparaging words are coming from. When he’s getting referred to as a hothead heroin addict, prone to occasional psychotic episodes, he asserts that there’s been a misunderstanding in context and the place to find the real answers about his rather upstanding, civil modus operandi is in his considerably large living opus.

And while it’s hard to say whether or not his multidimensional streams of plush retro-ness have evolved considerably in the decade during which they’ve been produced with the alacrity of a manic, maybe that tells you more than enough about a 37-year-old man, who tells you to look up the Boy Scout motto for insight into his private behaviorisms. He uses words like thrifty, brave, clean, strong and reverent to help with the analysis, but does nothing to further open any windows, offering his collective recordings'a solid catalog of 10 albums in 10 years (an EP and August full-length, We Are the Rado, are forthcoming)'as the only tossed bones meant for us to gnaw on.

A decade deep into Newcombe’s career'though he will vehemently deny that’s what it is'and it’s just now getting started. He’s averaged an album a year since 1994 when he founded the combustible Brian Jonestown Massacre (named for the ’60s Rolling Stones guitarist and ’70s suicide cult led by Jim Jones) in San Francisco, played scores of widely talked-about live gigs and earned a reputation as a sound obsessive who might have a little genius in him.

But not until filmmaker Ondi Timoner finally released the documentary Dig!, the finished product of her seven-plus years following the Massacre and the Dandy Warhols, did the band have such a broad intrigue. Most of it was spurred by the erratic and volatile behavior of lead singer Newcombe, seen as a controlling drug abuser who would initiate on-stage fights with his own band members and the audience. Newcombe’s anger for the film goes well beyond reproach and that for Timoner is stronger, as he feels she purposefully cast him as a villain.

“I will use that evil bitch and take everything she will ever make from this project for lying about my drug use and other things,” Newcombe says via e-mail. And when it is suggested that, just maybe, the movie played a pivotal role in a rekindling of his career, he takes offense, “Who the f'k do you think you are talking to? I don’t have a career. I am an artist and have always been very productive. You sir, can eat my s't as well.

He refuses to speak on the phone to strangers, preferring to communicate through his computer. He’s been burnt so many times through misquotes, so he says, that it’s the only way he can control the floor. It doesn’t stop him from falsely assuming tones of certain questions and thinking that each is trying to give him a nosebleed. He’s paranoid to extreme measures and wears out the response, “What I do is secret.

Newcombe has always been productive, starting with 1995’s Methodrone and 1996’s Take It From the Man!, Thank God For Mental Illness and Their Satanic Majesties’ Second Request. That productivity hasn’t changed over the years, as Newcombe is notoriously authoritative in his vision. He has no tolerance for waver, no room for insubordination in the recording studio and no time for questions regarding his methods or his prolific talent. His inspirations are plentiful, but secretive.

“I don’t feel I need to explain the process,” he writes. “I know it works. I believe people underestimate just how hard it is to be a civic-minded individual in these times. I take deep pity on these people and feel they need more than Ultimate Turnip 3 by Sega Vission [sic] and the like as respite from this f'ked-up world. I seek to inform and to entertain. All of this comes easy to me. I think of it as a gift.

“I make my art for me and my lord … that has always been the easy part.

The hard part has been keeping those around him, helping make his records and take his street-fighting show on the road, from loathing him. Over 40 different members have rotated into and out of the Brian Jonestown Massacre since its original lineup. Newcombe, despite his supposedly decent intentions, eventually drives them away because of his obsession with his sounds, his masterpieces and having his unconditional control.

“What I do is secret,” he writes, again. “I will remind you about obsession. You, in fact, wrote me and I not you. When did you become obsessed?

A better question would be, “Why did you become obsessed?” And the answer comes easily. It lies somewhere inside the curiosities of every man, woman and child, the interested portion of themselves that hates the mess and destruction a tornado leaves behind, but still loves to see it coming.