From Iceland — On Tour With Goethe And Socrates: Q & A with Anton Newcombe

On Tour With Goethe And Socrates: Q & A with Anton Newcombe

Published March 3, 2023

Photo by
Marie Monteiro

Famed psych-rock band Brian Jonestown Massacre is currently on tour, with a gig at Gamla Bíó on March 3, part of the 25th anniversary celebration for iconic record shop 12 Tónar.

Ahead of the concert, the Grapevine sat down for a chat with frontman Anton Newcombe.

Overall, how do you think the tour is going?

Really good I would say. I mean, we’re getting along. We’re playing well. It’s a financial success. People are enjoying the concerts. Much better since we’ve gotten on the continent I think. People in England were being quite strange to us.

How so?

Well, if I don’t talk when I play a concert, everybody‘s just like, “He doesn’t talk.” And if I talk, they’re like, “You just talk.”

You can never win.

It‘s impossible.

Do you have a preference for whether you talk or keep your mouth shut during a show?

I don’t think it matters. I just don’t think people are used to that kind of thing. Only at the opera or in the symphony. Like, it’s either that or this rock star thing where it’s like, “Bang, bang, bang, here’s all our songs. We’re here. You’re down there. We’re entertaining you.” You know, but I think in more symphonic things, I think Sigur Ros doesn’t talk. Nobody’s gonna say anything, right?

On the topic of touring, do you have any methods to maintain your sanity?

Well, I try not to talk to people. Because you can’t do it, singing every day and just talking 24 hours a day. You just lose your voice. Besides that, I collect knickknacks. [Anton turns on his camera to reveal images of a pink JBL speaker and small busts.] I buy things on tour. I have this little speaker to listen to music. This is Goethe and that‘s Socrates.

What is it about touring and playing live that appeals to you?

Well, I’m a little bit different. In the sense that when I make up music, I don’t really think about it. So I sort of plug in an instrument and just start playing. And I’m like, “That’s a song. And it’s fully realized. And that’s different from other people. For me, it’s like conceptual art in that sense. To capture the idea, whatever it is, and move on to the next thing.

But live is where things really get their power. Playing live, it’s almost like folk or jazz. It’s not a rock show in that sense. We play very quietly. And I feel like the music comes to life. It’s important to me. My sister is like, “You’re just driving around the world killing yourself. Playing music, wearing yourself out. Just stay in Berlin and make records.” But I enjoy playing.

Do you have specific artists in mind that you’d like to work with for a track?

When my sister was little she used to walk down the street and take people’s dogs home and go: “Look, I found a lost dog.” I had that same kind of feeling sometimes with my heroes.

I wanted to talk to that guy Paul Weller [from The Jam] into recording like Jimi Hendrix. Because he’s really good on guitar. I just wanted to do it like a Jimi Hendrix record. Just have 15 people sitting on a carpet in front of you, play in a room, and record that. But I gotta resist those temptations. It’s not worth it. I’ve been recording some younger people too.

A couple of years ago, I was talking to Bobby Gillespie [of Primal Scream fame]. I said we should pick some kids and just give them our wisdom and our skill. We should do this for some people and just change music. Instead of you know, not do it because we’re using them as a human shield for capitalism or something.

How‘s that been going?

It’s going well. I‘ve been working with this guy, Emil Nikolaisen. He’s Norwegian. And we’ve been just making crazy recordings for these young bands. Crazy stuff. But I don’t know about recording with my heroes and all that.

Do you have any general advice for these young musicians?

Yeah, lots of advice. One thing is in the business, for most people, everybody gets the same bad deal. It’s like going to Las Vegas, right? Some people win gambling, but the whole business is based on people going there to lose money. And the casino makes money, no matter what.

So you think, “Oh, I’m gonna go in there and win a bunch of money.” And some people do win money. But it’s the same thing in the entertainment business. For every Björk, there are millions of people that even with a record deal, lose everything. They‘re worse off than they started. It’s like having all your dreams crushed in front of you.

Everybody falls for the same contract. Everybody in the whole business except for me. So when you explain to people, you have to be into playing music for yourself first. And you should read up about the business a little bit. Have no illusions about the simple math involved. These people will go, “This guy offered me a 50/50 deal.” But then they don’t tell you that if he makes 12 cents on the dollar, 50% of that is six cents.

I think young people don’t understand their business. It doesn’t matter if you want to learn Chinese, learn guitar, or how to program on your digital workstation. If you spend 15 minutes a day, you’re going to get better in a month. You’re going to notice it which might motivate you to study harder or study more advanced things. But whatever you want to do in life, if you do it 15 minutes a day, then you’ll see progress. It’s not very much to ask.

What drew you to Iceland in the first place?

This is funny. When the big record companies were trying to sign my band, I ended up working with this guy, Adam Shore. He had this label TVT and he ended up at Red Bull Music being the head of that. We were flying all over trying to sign these bands, me and him. We were going to these underground places, trying to get Sigur Rós before they broke out and some Danish bands.

So obviously, you know I’m friends with Henrik Björnsson from Singapore Sling. There were a couple of bands [in Iceland] and all they did was talk about me. Elsa Blöndal was dating Hinrik at that time, and she got sick of everybody talking about me. She’s like, “I’m just gonna write him, invite him over, and get him a plane ticket because I’m so sick of you guys talking about this guy and his music.” They got me a ticket to Iceland, and they actually brought me there.

What did you think of it back then?

I loved it. First of all, because I instantly made really good friends with some interesting people. We drove all over Iceland in the hills and mountains and Henrik‘s family has a place near a lake. So it was like really a nice experience for me, and then I just kept coming back.

See, I always wanted to go when I was a kid. Because in the early 70s when the volcano blew up, we had these Life magazine books and books about nature or geology. I was just looking at the pictures going, “I want to go there. This is a great-looking place.”

Oddly enough, my oldest son’s mother, she’s an actress and her family’s Icelandic. She went over there with my son, Herman, and then tried to look for cousins and stuff. The first one that they got in touch with was an old lady. She‘s just like, “What? Why do you want to talk to me?” She‘s so suspicious. “Is this person coming for money?” “No, I‘m just looking for my relatives!”

Can guests expect anything special in celebration of 12 Tónar’s 25th anniversary?

Well, I just really want to play a good concert. It’s been quite a while since we played at NASA. But it’s been so many years ago. And that was great. I’ll just be happy if we play well. And if I could spend time with my friends and just a couple of people. I can’t handle some big party backstage or whatever. Hopefully, we don’t get snowed in at the airport. My bass player had a layover the other day. He was on the plane for like 16 hours.

Anton and the rest of Brian Jonestown Massacre hit the Gamla Bíó stage at 19:00 on March 3. Tickets are sold out on, but those dying to go might find people willing to unload their tickets on the dark web that is Facebook.

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