Anton Newcombe and Cameron Avery Discuss Navigating the Music Industry in the Pandemic
The last time I saw live music was in 2019 at Ain’t Nothin’ but Blues Bar in London. The music was loud, everyone was dancing together and hugging each other, the venue was tiny, and we were all sitting or standing on top of one another. It was completely packed.
The way we experienced music a year ago is in such stark contrast to the way that we have to experience it now. With the pandemic causing the current end of festivals, gigs, and music venues, it makes you wonder what the post-covid future of music might look like.
We spoke to Brian Jonestown Massacre founder and lead singer, Anton Newcombe, as well as Tame Impala bassist and solo artist, Cameron Avery, about how they envision this future and their own experiences this past year:
Anna-Lea Gardner: Could you briefly tell us about your music career? How did you get into it?
Anton Newcombe: My interest in music began very early, my mother loved music and played it at great volume. She was a person of great sadness, but tough. I could tell that she found great comfort, perhaps her only comfort in the music that she loved... all of it was pretty thoughtful except for a few bits and bobs along the way, I remember an E.L.O. record at some point... but besides that she was into music. I started with her and the Babysitters, surf music, The Beatles, Beach Boys and Simon and Garfunkle, moody blues, I loved all that stuff. But she liked the A&M stuff, Sergio Mendes and Herb Albert etc... everything. Then my older sister also caught the music bug as a listener and teen, she went from Queen and all that to the new wave and punk... I skipped the 70s and stayed in the 60s & whatever new wave & punk and experimental thing that was happening.
Cameron Avery: I guess when I was younger I played music. My mum said that I always wanted to be a musician, but I was so distracted with all this other stuff. I’m kind of like ADD, I don’t know, people tell me that I’m like that. My dad’s bipolar, so they say that I might be bipolar, so I’ve always been pretty distracted. But anyway, so in saying that, my mum was an amazing singer. She used to actually sing floor shows to pay, because she was a single mum. On the weekends she would go on these boats and sing like ‘Proud Mary’ covers and shit. So she always encouraged me to sing in the car. I sang when I was really young, I grew up in a religious house, so I used to sing at church. And then I didn’t play, I mean I tried to learn piano when I was 8, and then I didn’t really like it because I can’t read music, well I never wanted to. I just thought it was boring, and then I didn’t really start playing music again until I was 15 or 16.
I was already playing music with a couple guys called Clint and a couple guys from school, Adam from school, and then it really changed when I met the Tame guys. I saw like this weird bunch of dudes who were so creative and so themselves and so comfortable with who they were, and I thought that was cool and I just wanted to be part of that and hang out with them, and then I became closest with Kevin, the lead singer. We moved in together and he taught me how to record my own music and inspired me to just do that. And same with Jay Watson and Nick Allbrook, who was living with us as well.
So then I was kind of making my own music, well, I started playing with this band called the Growl- which was my try hard Tom Waits/Nick Cave band, we had like two drummers and a double bass player. If you’re ever bored and want to waste 20 minutes, listen to that. I listened to it the other night when I was stoned out of my mind and I was like “who is this guy?” It’s super aggressive, like super yelly, blues-y stuff. And then, I was playing in that band, the Growl were opening for Tame Impala, and then on that tour or maybe a tour before that, I was on tour with Tame anyway, and Nick and Kev were like why don’t you come and do Europe with us, and I was like playing in this other band with Nick, it’s all blurred together, but then anyway Kev was like why don’t you join Tame Impala, on that tour when the Growl, my band, was opening for Tame. And that was in 2012 or 11, 2012.
AG: What have been the changes in the industry since you started in music?
AN: Well, I started as a teen... it was a thing in Orange County, California to have garage bands, to fight your way up and many parents were supportive because many dads also had bands in the sixties... it just carried on, so because it was a suburban type environment with garages, someone would end up converting theirs into a practice space. Anyway, I was very interested in the history of music, of music scenes, production, bad deals... the works... more so than fame or being a rockstar... I wanted to create a label from day one, and be a part of something so I took that route, it involved putting on shows as well as releasing records - I have loads of examples... but let's move on unless you want documentation.
AG: What were you doing right before covid?
CA: I was on tour with Tame Impala. I was living in New York, and then we went to Vegas. We did a month of pre-production. Pre-production is like we hire out a big warehouse and set up the entire fucking show. So we did that, we set up for a month, and I went there for 2 weeks. And then we played the first show, San Diego, played 2 shows in LA, and then at the second show in LA, March 11 - they were like, that was the last big show in America, indoors. And then I flew home and got covid and then yea.
AG: What changes have you noticed since Covid?
CA: Lots of looking inward I guess. You know, I was by myself, I didn’t see anyone for 7 weeks after that when I got home. And I was in my apartment and I just had my studio, my little studio, set up at home and just went over everything and was like “what is this, what is that?” And I was sober as well because I wanted to be clear-headed. And then what I started doing actually is I started scoring a lot of short films, 3 of them were fashion films and then one of them was a short that Mike Bennett directed. And yea so my work went up heaps, but sometimes it's too much, sometimes New York is a bit conducive for me because I can work my butt off during the week and then I have to release it. That 6 weeks, I felt myself going fucking nuts. I go too far down these weird little rabbit holes, and maybe you don’t get to the bottom of them you know, maybe it’s more like a therapy thing, but I felt like, you know I can only make something so good and then it just turns to like shit after a while. So, yea my work load went up a lot, I was so in my own head, and I saw my friend Ali for the first time after 7 weeks and I told her about all this shit I’d been doing and she was like “slow the fuck down.” I was like “I did this, and check this out, and listen to this” and I was like showing her stuff on my phone.. It was a good mode to be in but, yea it was good I did a lot of conceptualizing, I did a lot of like, review. I looked at a short film that I’d neglected for 3 years, so I got all that together, and I wrote a lot of music for that and I gave it to Kodi and Liselotte, this amazing couple, who are now editing that. And I wrote a script for it so they could edit it. So I gave them the ideas, and I took a lot of stills and gave it to them. I was pretty productive for the first 2 or 3 months. I’ve always had my idea about it but I really love what they do so I’m letting them just go for it. I guess I’ve opened up in covid, if you wanna say that, I’ve opened up to collaborations a lot more. Usually I'm a control freak to a default.
AG: What have been the main challenges of this year?
AN: Well, I caught covid early and it fucked my lungs... but I'm ok I guess, I think everyone is about to figure out that there was a before and an after to this pandemic, there will be no return... anyway, after I was sick, and in hospital, I tried to pick up writing music. I took a year off after the L'Épée album and the last two BJM albums and the Tess Parks and The Limiñanas and non stop touring. My french group shut down shop in December for Christmas and the shit hit the fan. Anyway, I tried to pick it up for two months, writing every day and I got nowhere and that is unusual for me, but I didn't give up then blamo. A song a day, six days a week (I posted over 50 on my youtube channel) but this isn't some house music crap. This isn't me strumming my acoustic, or doing 50 jams... this is some of my best work... I know of no other artist my age or any age to just let it rip like this at 53...
None of my heroes... perhaps J.S..Bach... I dunno.
AG: What have the impacts of not being able to tour or play live shows been? How have you navigated it?
AN: Well I miss it, and I think about things like...since when in the last 70,000 years has the music stopped? Not the flat weak as streaming files, actual vibrations that contain a full spectrum of frequencies, that we experience together, and the way our brain waves bounce off each other..
This is a truly satanic moment.
In another way, it's allowed me to write all of these songs... if I end up playing again I will absolutely slay the planet... that's for sure. - Anton Newcombe
CA: It’s killing me, fucking killing me. I’d never done Instagram live before Covid. I truly don’t like social media, I mean I don’t want to say that. Actually I do want to say that, I fucking hate social media. I just got in my head, “why am I censoring myself?” I hate social media, I think it's weird, I think it’s the death of humanity. Yea anyway, let’s not go down that rabbit hole. I guess I did a cover of Bill Withers ‘Lean on Me’ because he died during Covid. He’s like one of my favourite musicians of all time, full stop. And so I just did it and it got like 16,000 views and thousands of likes and I was just like well maybe this will give me something to do. But usually I play between 40-60 shows a year, I’ve played 3 this year. So you definitely miss that, I miss performing live, I like albums but I really love playing live. I feel myself, it sounds so egotistical, so stupid, but I feel myself- maybe it’s my narcissist in myself, I don’t know what it is but I feel most natural in some ways when I’m playing shows. I feel like I'm not thinking. The rest of my life is spent like in this, I’m really in my own head, I shoot myself in the foot. Whereas I don’t have time to think when I’m playing live, so I really miss that aspect, it’s a good little release for me.
AG: Is there a city you miss playing the most?
AN: TOKYO!!! Hello? haha, but they haven't invited me back since the 90s... Silly Japanese people. Why do I love you so much? But really, I just love playing live...
AG: Have you done anything different in order to engage your audience or had to innovate in any way?
CA: What I’ve started doing is making little, I’ve been trying to transition into film for years, so I’ve been trying to make my own little shorts. I made one of me in my apartment, it started as a joke, because there’s this song called ‘The Nearness of You’, it's one of my favourite songs, and we couldn’t be near anybody. So I covered that and just got a camera, found an old digital camera that was the guy’s who used to rent my apartment when I wasn't there, Tom - he’s one of my best friends. I found his Fuji camera and just started shooting a bunch of stuff and then I learnt how to use Premier pro and just started making little short films. Because I guess it’s like, that’s a way I can express myself without just speaking into my iPhone. I would never do that, I’d never go like ”Hi guys!” That’s not who I am. The idea of taking my own picture is absolutely fucking...I have to do it sometimes, and I do it once a year I reckon, take a picture of myself. Even when I do those instagram live things I turn the camera around so I can’t see myself, because deep down I hate the way that I look, it’s really weird. Sorry I haven’t spoken to anyone in a couple of days so maybe I’m sharing too much.
AN: Since the pandemic? I am an open person. I know that everyone is struggling, and I know that artists are struggling like never before in the history of mankind... but I didn't want to be one of these “buy my shit, I'm in lockdown, here are my 3 new albums on Bandcamp” or release these past 50 songs direct to Spotify and iTunes as singles like hip hop people do... fuck that.
I decided to write and share the process, there will be plenty of time to release them for real on vinyl and digital etc in the future, my music is making a difference to now to the people that need it... that need to know that life is going on because let's face it, every problem we face on earth boils down to how things are sold, and people not caring... one or the other or both. Let me be the one to say fuck this shit. Enough is enough. - Anton Newcombe
AG: How do you see the industry progressing from now on, if at all?
AN: Well the industry is more complex than just entertainment... The entertainment industry is making money off of metrics that go hand in hand with how they sell advertising and their cut from all of that shit, then Jeff Bezos cleans up at the checkout stand. Spotify has very little to do with streaming songs, they are sucking up data and the industry has a cut of that... to be honest, I see the industry dying just like most living things on this planet. The shocker is that governments have not been motivated to protect creators and creative industries. Why? Because they have a piece of this action that they don't fully comprehend... I do, I understand these things. I understood these things a very long time ago, however I chose not to be involved... Do you know why? I have a soul.
CA: I think there’s going to be a lot more live concerts. I think people are looking at ways/will have to figure out how to do lots of live, online gigs.
I mean in Australia it’s business as usual, I called my mum 2 months ago and asked how many cases there were in Perth and she was like “zero.” I personally, the way I’ll have to personally deal with this, will be, I’m going to release my short film, and I’m trying to build a show actually. There’s a little basement down here in the studio space where I could set up a live show. I’m trying to conceptualize like a live show I could do remotely and then grow into a live show.
AG: Are you excited or apprehensive about the future of the industry and why?
AN: I feel like I will be ok... like I made the grade. I represent what I represent and it grows and grows, and that's not true for many of my heroes, they came and went because their fortunes were tied to the industry. I am my own industry. I am industrious, and creative. The meme is on them... really, you can read the liner notes on my album take it from the man and there is a great essay on digital audio - boy, Larry Thrasher and I nailed that one.
CA: That’s a big one because when’s post-covid? Even when there’s a vaccine people aren’t going to take it and people are still going to be getting sick for years. I mean I guess people that are vaccinated won’t get sick, only people that don't take it will get sick. Post-covid, I don’t know. I don’t think things are going to get normal until 2023/2024.
I’m not excited about it, in order to be excited about it I’d have to know what I’m getting into. And I guess unknowns can be scary in a way, so you’ve just gotta be fluid and be willing to do more things, like I’m doing more stuff, like I’ve never scored a fashion film before, you’ve got to keep the lights on. So I’m doing more stuff than I ever thought I’d do. - Cameron Avery
CA: I guess this year has made me realise how archaic my life as a “public-figure” is. Doing more like brand stuff, online stuff, sort of having to entertain the machine a bit more, rather than just playing shows and just rocking off and not really worrying about it. But everybody is, I guess it’s just part of being a modern “artist.” I hate using the word artist, but whatever.
AG: What do you think will be the most important or best ways to maintain or create a career in music now?
AN: You have to make your mark, say fuck all of those dinosaurs, and bears, and wolves and all that shit outside my cave, I'm going to chew up this dirt in my mouth, and spit it over my hand against the wall and leave my mark that says "I lived, I was here."
Listen, it's no secret, you look to the industry to provide, look up the history of your favorites... You will see how they got chewed up and spit out. You think anything changed? No. The only things that don't change are this advice: if you have a buzz going, it isn't going to go away, don't fall for the pressure to sign. Every contract clause on earth can be found on google, somebody hands you a contract, hand them one. A lawyer or a manager 9 times out of ten has a cut let's say it's 10% or 20% somebody says here is a hundred grand for all your rights for all time... manager says 20 grand for me for nothing, sounds good, sign that thing.
Ain't nobody making no money off of low streaming fees when they already sold everything at the start and now they are not playing shows and the t-shirts are bootlegged faster than you can blink to order online...
Hang on to your publishing and kick ass.
CA: Online engagement is going to be the first, middle, and last thing you should be thinking about for the next little while. That’s it. I mean it’s this beast, the internet and social media is this undeniable beast now. I used to be like “fuck that man, I don’t want to fucking do that” and you know, like I think there’s so many things wrong with it but it’s either that or I go back to university and become an online school teacher. Either way, anything you do has to be online. If you want to flog your restaurant, your shoot, whatever you’re doing, you have to do online engagement. I spoke to someone last week who’s in the industry, and they were like “the next year’s going to be: gaining an audience online, maintaining that audience online is the only thing.” And not really going mad about it. I don’t take myself too seriously so I’m trying to break down the little barriers in my head that I think are stupid but I’ll figure it out. I think outdoor shows will happen but who knows, I mean Tame Impala’s booked to play Barcelona in June but who knows if that’s going to happen now that there’s a second wave. France, Spain, and Italy are in lockdown right now.
Next year, I’ve been talking to Danielli about it, the guy I’m living with- it sounds like we’re dating.. We basically are. I said “why don’t we do a show once a month in Europe?” and he goes “we can do that.” And so that’s my scheme for next year. Try do one in February when it heats up a little bit and do a show in Verona, in March do one in Rome, in April do one wherever...like Paris, May, do one somewhere else. You know? Just to like 20 cap. Just to play again, if the costs aren’t too much and it’s economically viable, just to play for someone as well. Because I think not only for me to play but I just miss performing, people will want to see it I think so that’s what I want to do.
AG: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to share?
AN: This song is pretty fucking dope the real - brian jonestown massacre
Mixer would like to say a huge thank you to both Anton Newcombe and Cameron Avery for chatting with us and giving us some insight into the current and future state of the music industry.
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