Photo: Xavi Torrent/WireImage
How The Brian Jonestown Massacre's New Album Helped Anton Newcombe Summon The "Fire Inside"
Even more than 30 years into the Brian Jonestown Massacre's run, frontman Anton Newcombe asserts that their latest, 'Fire Doesn’t Grow On Trees,' "is as good or better than my best — and that is quite an accomplishment."
Anton Newcombe — a multi-instrumentalist musician, producer, and leader of the Brian Jonestown Massacre (as well as its only constant member) — has been trying to tell you what was going to happen for a long time. A musical savant, autodidact and polymath, Newcombe's spirit has never been broken despite claims that he's merely an imitator, or the theft of $50,000 worth of his equipment.
Famously unwilling to compromise and notoriously pugnacious when provoked, Newcombe's fierce independence has served him well. He owns all of the publishing for his music, Cobra Studio in his home base of Berlin, and A Recordings, the record label that releases BJM’s music and finances its tours. Because of his tenacity, Newcombe has achieved the musician’s dream of being an independent artist and producer who answers only to their artistic conscience.
As a result, the Brian Jonestown Massacre has released a truly staggering output of 18 studio albums, 14 EPs, five live albums, six compilations, and 18 singles. Newcombe has two records on the calendar: the recently released Fire Doesn’t Grow On Trees and The Future Is Your Past slated for 2023.
With the release of Fire Doesn’t Grow On Trees, Newcombe has issued a passionate and musically complex call to arms. After more than two years of death and despair, Newcombe is "trying to give comfort and support to the listener in a very matter-of-fact kind of way," he tells GRAMMY.com. "The beast can be overwhelming darkness. It's absolute madness. We are in for a tough ride — have no illusions."
On a summer break ahead of BJM's European tour, GRAMMY.com spoke to the musical firebrand about his creative process, the entertainment industry, what music means to him and why you should always read that contract.
You've been in bands since the '80s and you started the Brian Jonestown Massacre in 1990. Has your approach to your work changed over the decades?
Not really. A perfect example is when things really started to get cooking and every A&R scout and agent in the business, from every division, were trying to sign us, I kept saying, "Just buy me a studio. I’ll just make crazy records." But at a certain point, I said, "I'm the producer,” and got the same thing. You just figure out a different way to do things.
In the '90s, I bought all the band equipment, all the guitars. That was because I wanted the sound to stay the same, no matter who came or went. I'd figured out by my teenage bands that there was no way you can invent or refine some unique sound, and depend on some industry-standard person to execute it.
They’ll make it sound like what they think it should sound like.
That never really worked for me. So I always thought that it was better to take the hit fidelity-wise. But it’s also this whole thing that you're creating audio worlds. If you ask Eric Clapton, he's going to tell you that Robert Johnson is one of his favorite artists. The guy was just singing against a wall in a hotel room with a wire spool recorder. It has nothing to do with the fidelity, but it has to do everything with the world that he's creating, his songcraft, and his singing.
You’re communicating what’s really important about the music.
Some popular music now is just based around the dancers and the lights and the low end — we're just playing music. Even last night, I was singing a song that was important to me. I got a little bit into it. I was closing my eyes and started mumbling and missing the words. I stopped it and apologized and said, I actually want to sing this song better. Because I felt it was important, and everybody was happy.
What are your thoughts on the new albums, Fire Doesn’t Grow On Trees and The Future Is Your Past?
I love both the new albums, but it was very hard to mix them. Everything slowed down so much because of COVID, and being busy with all of my projects, I lose perspective and I move on to other things.
All I know is that this music sounds amazing live, I’m looking forward to touring for the next two years and sharing it. The work is as good or better than my best, and that is quite an accomplishment. Furthermore, it is timeless — and that is a feat in and of itself.
What does the title Fire Doesn’t Grow On Trees mean to you?
You know the saying "Money doesn't grow on trees?" Neither does moral character, selflessness or courage. [I'm referring to when] you are compelled to do the right thing or you live by some internal code. When you don't shy away from standing up, in the face of adversity, against the man, no matter what that might mean to your fame or prospects. It's doing the right thing.
For some, it might be taking a knee, or even a baton or bullet. That's a fire inside you, and it doesn't grow on trees.
In the song, "It’s About Being Free Really" you sing, "How free could you be, Well I wonder and I want the world to see," and in "Ineffable Mindfuck," you also talk about being "Everywhere that’s free." When you talk about freedom in these songs, does it relate to your insistence on freedom in your career? Do you feel free?<
It is also about being free from fears, the mental chains that bind and limit you. I never thought about moving to Europe mainly because it never occurred to me that I could live anywhere. I don't have a trust fund, but when I found myself with no money, and no idea what to do, it never crossed my mind to give up — you have to jump into the fire, never give up.
I noticed on your Twitter bio that you consider yourself a mixed media artist. So you work in different media?
I do all kinds of things besides graphic arts and sculpture. I've done stuff with Oculus: three-dimensional, virtual fields. Not only do I do soundtracks and compose and produce, play and perform, but I also conceptualize a bunch of stuff and bring it into being. It doesn't matter what it is: designing T-shirts, or posters. But I'm always coming up with ideas. I am creative. [Laughs]
Do you find that it kind of keeps the tap open with creative ideas to continually create?
Yeah, and a good example is with music. I play like 80 instruments; I can pretty much play anything. Not like a virtuoso, but I understand what good examples of things are. All the different ways you play these different instruments. I never really needed any kind of lesson. I understand. I intuitively know what it's about. I'm always working on a bunch of different musical projects.
When you compose for film and television, how is it different from your other work?
On "Masterpiece Theater," they're showing "Annika" now. I did the whole soundtrack with my friend Dot Allison. It was a whole season and we did all the music and the theme song and that's real composing.
In my mind, when you're actually composing, I look at the film, the segment, and I look at the speed of the cinematography, of how it's going, and then identify what the tempo is. I compose just for that length — could be 15 seconds, it could be whatever it is — that fits with the mood of it. I also do symphonic stuff that I am interested in.
Has the music business changed at all?
Absolutely. Every single thing has changed. I think [about] the collective power of AEG and Live Nation: People used to get a 30 percent advance on these shows. They just said, "no, we don't do that anymore." They've just completely eliminated anybody who doesn't have some sort of label or corporate backing [from being able to perform at their venues].
Prices are just going up like crazy. I think the last tour, our bus was like $42,000 for over a month and now it's like over $70,000. But thankfully, we can make all this stuff work, as an independent business.
How did music become an independent business for you?
That's what we call getting all your ducks in a row. You have to have all that stuff figured out. It's a shame people don't know anything about contracts. They don't look and it always boils down to the same kind of song and dance for young artists. Where somebody comes and says "I'm going to make you famous and make you rich." [And they end up] Chewed up, spit out.
They don't even own their song. You'll hear them complain that they only make enough to buy a seven-layer burrito at Taco Bell about twice a year on Spotify or nothing.
Yeah, they get under a penny per play or something?
But this is funny because all the contracts and all that stuff is right out in the open — but people never look. They never chose to read about the music business and the deals.
Some guy could say, "I want to give you a record deal and it's a 50/50 deal." You're like, wow, that sounds fair.” But that guy might be talking about splitting 50/50 and then say [to you] here's your 3 percent because I'm getting 6 percent to sign you up. All this stuff's really simple if you just take the time to learn about the history and business.
Is that what you did?
I love the history. I found it incredibly fascinating that Creedence Clearwater Revival could have so many hits and never make a penny. Then all of a sudden, Fantasy sued the singer, John Fogerty, when he went solo. Because they were so excited about getting a record deal.
When I met Rick Rubin, it was because he was producing Johnny Cash. I wrote this song [for Cash] and it was really weird. Because they were like "John, he wants 100 percent of the publishing. It’s still your song, but we own it. Oh, Anton, you want to keep 100% of your publishing?” It was such a BS story.
They were the same way when it came time to talk about producers for Dig!. I was talking to Cary Woods, and he said, "We're gonna make you bigger than Kurt Cobain, but we want to own all the music in the film." I’m like, you’re crazy, first of all. Second of all, you want to make me like Kurt Cobain? He's dead. I hope you don't try because I'll fight back because that doesn't sound like a good deal. But um, bless his socks.
But really, your job in business is to get the best deal for your team. Nothing personal. Ruthless all the way and that's how they all are. That's why you have to come to terms with the history and the facts.
What are you really concerned with on a day-to-day basis in your work? Was your work affected by the pandemic?
It's really odd. Ninety-nine percent of the stuff that I was playing on this tour is from this last sort of reflecting time that the world had superimposed on it with the pandemic. But making up a song and recording it each day was what I was interested in.
Part of that was because a lot of these events that we keep going through that seem slightly existential. But we're at the point where it's almost like a general shrug [in response].
What was the recording process like when you were recording a song a day? Where did you find inspiration?
I hear things. If I pick up a child’s recorder, and I'm playing, it kind of lends itself to something that I can imagine around it. It provides me with inspiration. The same thing works when I'm playing my 12-strings through the old amps, they just chime out. I can sort of move a cable around something and the minute I hit something, it's every note that I play off that just seems like a song to me because of the way the old instruments have the sound.
It always fascinates me that you can just sit back down at this thing that you've touched a thousand times and, all of a sudden, inspire you with the same note.
Where does the inspiration come from?
Sometimes if I'm mixing vocals, I want to get this overall composite, let’s say on a woman's voice and I’m looking for this overall bossa nova feel. Sometimes I'll just grab two words in that section of the song and just let it loop, so I can get the levels properly. Then you'll discover whole ideas out of that when you just select some area. A lot of songs are just a few notes over and over again for a while. Which is the basis of all sampling of music in popular music.
I read an interview that said that while you're playing, you are composing something else.
Even when I'm playing concerts now, I can write music. My brain can still pick up and write a whole song, something completely different. Sometimes, it's very strange, because then it's a race because you're not free. You can write all the songs you want, but if you can't remember them, it's worthless. [Laughs] That’s why I work every day because you have to document it somehow. Sometimes, if it was an emergency, I have my phone. I have little dictation apps. So I'll just hum it. I've got perfect pitch.
You do have perfect pitch. I remember what happened at the Wiltern: a tech handed you a guitar and in just a second, you knew it wasn’t tuned right.
I can be slightly annoying. We play all these old 12-strings. I try and tell people, trust me, you're gonna prefer three and a half or four minutes of something in tune with all the strings, to something out of tune. I think you're born with that. Even my son has it, you know? He sings in tune and stuff when he is making up his little songs.
At your show, at the Wiltern, you created something of another world, because I didn't notice that time was going by; I was trying to figure out the music. I was staring at the speakers listening to it like it was a physical thing, trying to hear more of it.
When we're playing with that many guitars and the different rhythms, right, with all those strings, it creates these harmonics. It creates these harmonic melodies that aren't even there. Symphonic music does that too. It's also a way of creating melodies, and then you move on. I like to do that too, hint at things or just little tricks even from the drums, from everything. It’s just patterns.
We never know what's going to happen, but what is your plan for the future?
It is my hope that I can continue to create and share music until I die, but there are no guarantees. Most people crap out because they were chewed up by the business or they get really shitty and hang on doing shit music. I want to try my best to push myself to stay real as I grow.
Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
5 Takeaways From RM's New Solo Album 'Indigo'
BTS leader RM makes his official solo debut with his first studio album, 'Indigo,' which showcases a new level of artistry from the rapper.
Like many of his BTS cohorts, RM has shown off his solo musical talents long before this year. His first mixtape RM came out in 2015, capturing the rapper's raw hip-hop roots. His second mixtape Mono was released to critical acclaim in 2018, when BTS were just scratching the surface of their worldwide domination. But this year took RM's solo efforts to the next level with his first-ever studio album, Indigo.
Across 10 tracks, RM's official solo debut documents the multilingual rapper, producer and singer/songwriter's journey through his twenties. Meshing Korean and English, his reflections about life under the public eye weave through genres and moods organically. And with diverse collaborations — from R&B legend Erykah Badu to fellow South Korean star parkjiyoon — to boot, RM uses Indigo to bring fans deeper into his expansive musical universe.
Now that the highly anticipated project has finally arrived, take a look at five key takeaways from RM's debut studio album, Indigo.
It's Connected To The Art He Loves
RM is known for being a lover of nature and fine art, and that is reflected within Indigo. Promotional photos for the album featured Yun Hyong-Keun's painting "Blue"; RM is known to be a supporter of the late South Korean artist, so the rapper's inclusion of the work shows the intentionality behind his debut — musically and beyond.
He isn't afraid to mesh artistic mediums, and the sonic and stylistic choices made reflect this. From then sampling Korean Hyong-Keun's reflection on Plato's humanity in the opening track "Yun" to even titling a song "Still Life," the inspiration is present. RM may have refined taste, but he makes it easily digestible through his music.
It's A Reflection Of His Life Up To Now
According to RM himself, Indigo serves as a diary of the last three years of his life. Even so, the album's messages can be a blueprint for anyone going through a transitional period in life, thanks to RM's honest, open-minded and unfiltered lyrics.
On "Lonely," he candidly exudes his frustrations over a tropical beat. "I'm f—king lonely/ I'm alone on this island," he raps. He later sings, "So many memories are on the floor/ And now I hate the cities I don't belong/ Just wanna go back home."
The contrast between the song's upbeat melody and longing lyrics provide a dichotomy that perfectly captures the highs and lows of fame. That's a theme that carries throughout the album, further showcasing why RM has become so admired by his fans and peers alike.
The Features Tell A Lot About His Artistry
Eight of the 10 tracks on Indigo are collaborations, all of which display RM's love of diverse genres and musical eras. They also reflect the caliber of artistry RM has reached — he got Erykah Badu! — as well as his ability to bridge the gap across borders. Along with Badu, he teamed up with two other R&B stars, Anderson .Paak and Mahalia, along with several Korean artists: Paul Blanco, Tablo, Kim Sawol, Colde, youjeen, and parkjiyoon.
There's A Song For Everyone
Many praise RM for his ability to touch people with his leadership qualities and words, and this album may just be the strongest example of that. The project is noticeably more upbeat than Mono, but RM still takes time to break his emotions down lyrically.
His first verse on the opening track "Yun" declares "F-k the trendsetter, I'ma turn back the time," setting the tone for how RM feels artistically. Then, the high-energy track "Still Life" with Anderson .Paak expresses joy and resilience, proving that one can still stand tall despite difficulty. As he says to .Paak on the track, "S— happens in life, but what happens is what happens."
Overall, Indigo shows off RM's versatility in a much more impactful way than his previous mixtapes. This album is about the art of music, not breaking records or following trends. It feels like an exploratory culmination of various emotions, moods, and experiences, which helps each track feel relatable in a different way.
There's A Lot To Look Forward To
RM displayed an immense maturity in his artistic expression through Indigo. He explores emotions both good and bad, but what remains throughout the entire project is a lingering feeling of hope for a better future.
RM has always been a symbol of hope and grace as he has served as the spokesperson for his fellow members, both musically and in the public eye. But now, RM is getting to express himself for himself — and if Indigo is any indication, this is just the beginning of his journey inspiring the masses as a soloist.
Photo: Mahaneela Choudhury-Reid
Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Juls' Must-Have Tour Item Is An African Instrument That Doubles As A Stress Reliever
The producer and DJ introduces fans to his kosh kash — a pocket-sized, egg-shaped instrument that is so versatile, he carries it with him everywhere when he's on the road.
Juls — also known as Juls Baby, and born Julian Nicco-Annan — is perhaps known best for his work as a producer, helping create hits for acts like Burna Boy, Mr. Eazi and GoldLink. But the Ghanian-British producer and DJ is also a touring act who plays sets around the world — and he makes sure he has his trusty kosh kash with him.
In this episode of Herbal Tea & White Sofas, Juls introduces viewers to the egg-shaped African percussion instrument, which is also known as a Kashaka. The pocket-sized instrument is made up of two small gourds bound together by a string, and makes a rhythmic, rattling noise when shaken. It serves a lot of purposes, Juls explains.
"It's kind of like a shaker. It's kind of like a stress reliever when I'm preparing tours. It also helps me to make music," he says. "So any time I have an idea, I just record it on my phone in Voice Memos. I carry this everywhere I go when I travel."
Another mainstay of Juls' tour rider is "one of the best drinks in the world: Supermalt," the artist continues. "It's like a malt drink, made of wheat, with other things like added sugar and starch."
The non-alcoholic and caffeine-free malt beverage first originated in the early 1970s and served as a cheap energy source for the Nigerian Army. To this day, it's still an Afro-Caribbean staple — and now, a road necessity for Juls. "Definitely need to have that on the rider," he adds.
Press play on the video above to learn more about Juls' road essentials — plus how he prepares for his shows every night — and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Herbal Tea & White Sofas.
Photo: Josh Chapmon
Positive Vibes Only: NewSpring Worship Share A Sweeping Message Of Faith With "Desde El Principio"
Led by Venezuela-born vocalist Charlee Buitrago, NewSpring Worship shares their message of hope, faith and community in this sparkling live performance of "Desde El Principio."
Since its inception more than two decades ago, NewSpring Worship has grown into a multicultural, multigenerational, musical expression of faith. Their name is a tribute to their beloved home base, the NewSpring Church, which has 14 different locations across South Carolina.
In this episode of Positive Vibes Only, NewSpring Worship deliver a soaring performance of their song, "Desde El Principio." Helmed by vocalist Charlee Buitrago — who also co-wrote the track — the bandmates take viewers through a simple, but powerful, rendition of the song.
The clip begins with Buitrago singing in front of a simple white backdrop, and as the first verse progresses, the camera pans back to reveal two more musicians — one strumming an acoustic guitar, the other on the bench of a Rhodes electric piano.
With just those three artists in the frame, NewSpring Worship deliver a moving rendition of their song, which represents the faith collective's passion for putting out worship music that represents their own cultural diversity.
According to his website, Buitrago originally hails from Venezuela, but emigrated to the U.S. at age 17 after meeting an American missionary who helped him find his faith. Since then, Buitrago has continued to pursue both music and worship, with both himself and his native Spanish language becoming mainstays in the NewSpring Worship collective.
Press play on the video above to watch this performance of "Desde El Principio," and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Positive Vibes Only.
Photo: Evening Standard / Stringer via Getty Images
Remembering Christine McVie Of Fleetwood Mac Through Her GRAMMY Triumphs, From 'Rumours' Onward
Unflashy and undramatic, McVie's contributions to Fleetwood Mac led to some of their greatest contributions to popular song — with two GRAMMY wins to boot.
In an acclaimed career that spanned more than half a century, Christine McVie staked her claim as one of the most potent singer-songwriters of her generation. A beloved original member of the seminal rock group Fleetwood Mac, with whom she sang, wrote and played keyboard, she and her bandmates catapulted to fame in the early '70s, scoring GRAMMY gold and influencing generations of musicians.
"As a GRAMMY Award winner and 2018 Person of the Year honoree, the Recording Academy has been honored to celebrate Christine McVie and her work with Fleetwood Mac throughout her legendary career," Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr. stated. In an announcement of her death, the remaining members of Fleetwood Mac mourned her passing by saying "She was truly one-of-a-kind, special, and talented beyond measure."
McVie, who passed away Nov. 30 at 79 after a brief illness, may have not been as flashy, or as dramatic, as fellow Fleetwood Mac members Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. But McVie's contributions to the band led to some of their greatest contributions to popular song, with two GRAMMY wins among seven nominations.
The tour de force that is Rumours is one of the most acclaimed and best-selling albums of all time and an inductee into GRAMMY Hall Of Fame. The masterpiece earned McVie her first GRAMMY (for Album of the Year no less) at the 20th Annual Ceremony in 1978, also earning a nomination for Best Pop Vocal Performance By A Group.
Fleetwood Mac's 11th studio album, Rumours was actually McVie's 7th album with the band after making her name in the English blues scene, rising through the ranks as part of the band Chicken Shack, and even releasing a solo album.
In 1971, McVie joined Fleetwood Mac alongside her then-husband John McVie. The potent combination of the McVies, along with Mick Fleetwood, Buckingham and Nicks, catalyzed and detonated into the stratospheric Rumours.
"It's hard to say (what it was like) because we were looking at it from the inside," McVie said about the iconic album earlier this year. "We were having a blast and it felt incredible to us that we were writing those songs. That's all I can say about it, really."
McVie's coyness may stem from the fact that prior to its production, Christine and John divorced after eight years of marriage. Meanwhile, Buckingham and Nicks were having a tumultuous relationship themselves.
McVie is credited as sole songwriter on a handful of instant-classic Rumours tracks, all written during a perilous moment. "I thought I was drying up," explained McVie. "I was practically panicking because every time I sat down at a piano, nothing came out. Then, one day, I just sat down and wrote in the studio, and the four-and-a-half songs of mine on the album are a result of that."
That includes "Don't Stop," an ironically peppy ode considering the turmoil McVie and her bandmates were grappling with at the time. With lyrics that staunchly proclaim "Yesterday's gone!," the song was reportedly written as a plea from Christine to John to move on from their relationship.
"I dare say, if I hadn't joined Fleetwood Mac, we might still be together. I just think it's impossible to work in the band with your spouse," McVie later said. John, meanwhile, was oblivious to the song's message during its production and early acclaim. He revealed in 2015: "I've been playing it for years and it wasn't until somebody told me, 'Chris wrote that about you.' Oh really?"
John was also equally ignorant to the source inspiration of "You Make Loving Fun"; McVie told him the joyful song ("Sweet wonderful you/ You make me happy with the things you do") was about her dog. In reality, it was about an affair with the band's lighting designer.
"It was a therapeutic move," McVie later mused of her lyrical penchant for hiding brutal honesty in plain sight. "The only way we could get this stuff out was to say it, and it came out in a way that was difficult. Imagine trying to sing those songs onstage with the people you're singing them about."
When McVie was asked earlier this year what song she written she was most proud of, it was an easy answer: the Rumours track "Songbird."
"For some peculiar reason, I wrote "Songbird" in half an hour; I've never been able to figure out how I did that," she told People. "I woke up in the middle of the night and the song was there in my brain, chords, lyrics, melody, everything. I played it in my bedroom and didn't have anything to tape it on. So I had to stay awake all night so I wouldn't forget it and I came in the next morning to the studio and had (producer) Ken Callait put it on a 2-track. That was how the song ended up being. I don't know where that came from."
McVie's most recent GRAMMY nominations were for her contributions to The Dance, Fleetwood Mac's 1997 live album that featured her stand-outs from Rumours along with the McVie penned-tracks "Say You Love Me" and "Everywhere."
The album earned McVie and the band GRAMMY nominations for Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal (for the Lindsay Buckingham-written "The Chain") and Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal (for "Silver Springs," penned by Stevie Nicks). It also landed a nomination for Best Pop Album. It was her final album with the band before a 15-year self-imposed retirement.
In her final years, McVie was a vital member of Fleetwood Mac, including in 2018 when they became the first band honored as MusicCare's Person of the Year.
Speaking to the Recording Academy before the ceremony, Nicks expressed that her initial goal upon joining the group was a humble one: "Christine and I made a pact. We said we will never, ever be treated as a second-class citizen amongst our peers."