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The Brian Jonestown Massacre's masterpiece 'Take It from the Man!' turns 25

On the 25th anniversary of the release of Take It from the Man!, the third studio album by psych-rock heroes The Brian Jonestown Massacre, we reflect on the legacy spearheaded by Anton Newcombe. The record presents itself as a sonic departure from their shoegaze-laden debut album Methodrone, which was released a year earlier in 1995. Evidently, given the songwriting and album cover, the band were influenced by a host of British 1960s garage and psychedelic rock bands, resulting in a quite brilliant trippy masterpiece.

Recorded at Lifesource Studios, California, between November 1995 and February 1996, the album’s recording process adds to its classic stature. Firstly, the band had a minimal budget but still managed to get Psychic TV’s Larry Thrasher to produce it. Weirder still, allegedly, the studio was borrowed from pop-rock outfit Counting Crows.

In 2016, frontman Newcombe recalled: “Larry Thrasher from Psychic TV was interested and told us how Genesis (P-Orridge) had seen our band and somehow conversation started and Larry wanted to produce us so he borrowed this studio from Counting Crows or something for us to record in.”

The limited budget stemmed from the fact that the band had already recorded the album in its entirety with an unknown producer. However, the producer scrapped the recordings after a falling out with the group as tensions manifested. The story goes that the mysterious producer wanted to “get on board” with the band. So after the album was recorded, he “chopped it up to make it like so perfect” and then requested 3% of the royalties. This led BJM to laugh “in his face”. 

According to frontman Anton Newcombe, the producer “got so pissed” and said that “he was going to destroy the recording.” Newcombe explained: “I was like, ‘Fuck you dude. Then I’m gonna kick your ass the minute I see you on the street.’ He did end up destroying it but I let him off the hook as far as the violence.”

All’s well that ends well? In this case, yes. The recording sessions were relatively straightforward. Although the band did show up on the day of the session without one of their guitarists, Jeff Davies, because “he was a junkie.” In the spirit of the time, Newcombe’s girlfriend Dawn Thomas played the guitar in Davies’ place.

Upon arrival at Lifesource Studios, the band were shocked that Thrasher had “about sixteen microphones set up for the drums”. The band preferred a back-to-basics studio approach. In 2016, Newcombe detailed the conversation between him and Thrasher: “I asked him, ‘What the hell is this?’ and he said, ‘Well, these are for the drums…’ and I was like, ‘We don’t need sixteen mics for the drums. Take all of these away. I’m gonna use three mics for the drums and we’re gonna record it live, all at once. We’re just gonna put all the guitar amps down the hallway, the drums will be in here, and we’ll put on headphones and we’ll just play our set’.”

Newcombe continued: “We record everything the same way, so that’s what we did and then at the end he whipped out all of these effects when mixing at his studio and I just asked him, ‘What are all of these for?’ and he said, ‘You can’t have it sound the same on every song’ and I’m like ‘Bullshit, that’s the charm of this,’ we just try and get a certain sound.” 

However, in 2015, the band’s leader did acknowledge that the album’s iconic finisher ‘Straight Up and Down’ was mixed to cassette. The interesting thing about Take It from the Man! is that it can be viewed as the separate side of the same coin as follow up album Their Satanic Majesties’ Second Request (1996), as Newcombe was recording them concurrently.

However, Second Request was recorded in a separate studio with a different producer. Newcombe remembered “recording Take It from the Man! in the daytime and then recording Their Satanic Majesties’ Second Request in the nighttime. I was doing them simultaneously,” he said, adding: “I would go and stay at this one studio and then take the train out to the other one so instead of being homeless I was going between these two studios and crashing on the couches and doing two 18 song records at the same time.”

This pair of album’s from 1996 are nothing short of remarkable, particularly given Newcombe‘s circumstances. The result of the sessions with Thrasher is an eighteen-track, analogue masterpiece. It is triumphant in taking its cues from the garage and psych acts of the 1960s, and ‘(David Bowie I Love You) Since I Was Six’, ‘Who?’ and the extended version of ‘Straight Up and Down’ are just three highlights from this epic LP.

The closing stages of the long version of ‘Straight Up and Down’, indicate the influences that coloured Take It from the Man! and Second Request. The vocals slide from mimicking the “woo-woo!” from the Rolling Stones’ classic ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, and the “Na-na-na-na!” vocal line from the Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude’. 

Newcombe and the band hit some of their finest moments on Take It from the Man!, a departure from the shoegazing of Methodrone, the band cement themselves as the countercultural icons of contemporary times, and with the mutton-chopped Newcombe at the helm, the BJM have provided us with many sonic delights since. Take It from the Man! stands as a triumphant change in gear for the Massacre. 

If the tale of the album’s composition has not provided you with enough giggles, in the album’s liner notes, Newcombe states: “I, Anton A. Newcombe, do solemnly swear that the ghost of Brian Jones came to me in the studio and asked me to make this record. P.S. He also asked that I kick the shit out of old Mick and Keith for ripping off his band, girl and money, having him murdered, being glad he’s dead, and for not being very nice people.”

If this statement wasn’t in jest, indeed, Newcombe would have been walking the legal line. However, it displays the band’s true essence, which radiates from Take It from the Man! The Brian Jonestown Massacre have never taken themselves too seriously, and have always acted off their own accord. In addition to their fantastic music, this seems to be the key to success and longevity.

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