OUT OF HEAVEN Since the release of 2004 documentary Dig!, Brian Jonestown Massacre's Anton Newcombe has been dogged by public perceptions.
Bring up Anton Newcombe to anyone familiar with the mid- to late-'90s Bomp! Records roster and you'll hear about the unheralded genius of one of the most talented musicians of the last two decades. Unfortunately, the majority of people didn't form an opinion about the Brian Jonestown Massacre leader until the 2004 documentary Dig!, watching as he struggled with substance abuse, became physically violent to his band members and the audience, and even sent a bullet to on-again, off-again musical cohorts the Dandy Warhols. Many have questioned the integrity and nonlinear storytelling of the film in the eight years since its release, but Newcombe, who brings his psych-rock ensemble Brian Jonestown Massacre to Royale next week, is still dogged by its not-so-flattering portrait.
"I think when you're externally looking at another person that you only know from what other people say, you're only responding to what other people are talking about, you're already pretty far removed from reality and you're commenting on comments about a person," Newcombe said last week from Berlin, his home since 2008. "People forget that human beings aren't very static, and whatever you're commenting on may have been only reflective of a moment and not the big picture. I don't dwell on it as much as other people."
One of the more bizarre examples of the Dig! fallout, according to Newcombe, is that he has been banned from Canada. "It is absolutely ridiculous," he says exasperatedly. "You would think I would've been banned from Israel or someplace weird right, like Switzerland or something, where people are uptight. 'We don't want you in Sweden; we've got our shit together — you don't,' or something like that. But it's not the case; it's fucking Canada of all places. But since I've got it all out in the open, man, I don't like their fucking government either. So, so what? It's not based on reality. I don't have a police record. It's based on the perceptions of their über-hipster fucking customs people."
Part of Newcombe's take on politics and governmental hypocrisy has been emboldened by his time overseas. He spent time in Iceland in 2007 recording the Brian Jonestown Massacre's acclaimed My Bloody Underground, and this spring dropped the brilliant Aufheben, recorded in his Berlin-based studio. "I think I'm the type of person that likes to set goals and try and do different things," Newcombe says. "I'm not really attached to any one place; I like it [in Germany]. I don't want to be distracted by my gut feeling of how society is going in the United States." He laughs before adding, "I try to just get on with my work."
The California native brings up, as an example, the recent tragedy in Milwaukee, where a gunman shot up a Sikh temple, killing six before taking his own life. "In America they should be able to talk about what it means to be able to acquire a firearm, without it being, 'Oh, it's an attack on our Second Amendment,' and try to stop the conversation," Newcombe says. "[People] never get around to the reality of having that many guns in America. You can't drive without a license, but you can acquire a weapon regardless."