Written By: Jordannah Elizabeth
Writer to Writer is a series that allows me to talk to other authors who I’ve been able to collaborate with personally or professionally. I’ve never met Jesse Valencia in person, but I was active in the neo psychedelia and shoegaze music scene around the time he went public with his desire to write a book on the controversial, enigmatic and (many would say) brilliant rock and roll band, the Brian Jonestown Massacre. He started his journey in 2009 and interviewed me early on for my account as a blogger and a bit of an interloper within the vortex of the band’s leader, Anton Newcombe’s growing circle of fans, eccentrics, writers, musicians, artists and followers.
In 2015, I had contacted Jesse to let him know I’d attained a book deal and he excitedly announced to me that he’d gotten one as well. He interviewed me on his blog, so I thought it just as well that I interview him on Publik / Private! Without further ado, from one writer to another, check out my convo with Jesse Valencia on his book, Straight Up And Down With The Brian Jonestown Massacre.
What gave you the idea to write your book?
Anton did, actually. This was back around the time he’d finished touring in support of ‘My Bloody Underground’ and was starting to record ‘Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?’. He had this MySpace blog called ‘We Are The Radio’ where people would share all kinds of art, links to interesting things, government conspiracies and music. Sometimes he would talk openly about the BJM’s history, and how the movie, DIG!, was so inaccurate in spots, or in the way it was presented. So I told him “why don’t you write a book?” and he responded in this somewhat challenging tone, “Why don’t you write a book?” so in my mind I was like “fine, I will!” and the next year I met him in person and handed him this crappy manuscript. I wasn’t on the right track so I ended up going back to college to learn how to write. Anton hasn’t helped since, which is a good thing. It was like he’d kicked me out of the tree and it was up to me to figure out how to fly.
How long did it take from start to end?
I started it probably in the autumn of 2009, and it’s finished now but there might be a thing or two still yet to add or take away in the editing process, so like six, seven years? Which, coincidentally, is how long Ondi Timoner took making “DIG!” There have also been twenty-plus versions. Sometimes I thought I was done and then some new information would come to light and I’d change the whole thing. There’s an older version that’s five hundred pages.
What do you feel Brian Jonestown Massacre and Anton Newcombe represents in modern culture?
Not only is Anton largely responsible for a huge portion of the modern psychedelic rock scene, but indie rock as we know it from over a decade ago to now would not be what it is without him or the music of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Not just who he’s influenced, but from an industry standpoint Anton was cutting edge back when BJM first started to break into the national scene in the late 90’s. He paid for his recording time for Methodrone sampling keyboards for an early version of ProTools, and in more recent times he was one of the first artists to really get a hold of how social media works. He has his quirks and struggles, of course, but everyone looks up to him. He plays everything, produces everything, sees the final product in his mind, and then puts it out as he sees fit. When people look back on the music of the early 21st Century, they’re going to see Anton as one of the few who did it himself, and on his own terms.
How long did it take you to find a publisher?
I actually had a publisher before, but they lost interest. They read the book again and thought we (me, Anton, the band) were a bunch of self-serving hedonists, which is only partially true, and that the book wouldn’t recoup what they were to spend on it, which isn’t true at all, at least I hope it’s not true!
How I found University of Hell Press was that I was at the AWP Conference in Minneapolis this past April, and my buddy Case Duckworth encouraged me to go around to talk to different people about it, and I hate talking about my work like it’s something to brag about, but he convinced me anyways and around the conference we went.
We came upon U of Hell and I stopped at their booth because they had these awesome-looking books, and I picked up two by this guy named Calvero. One of them was called “I Want A Love So Great It Makes Nicholas Sparks Cream In His Pants” and I was reading it and laughing. They were these excellent, honest, funny poems. So Greg and Eve from U of Hell asked me what kind of writing I did and I started to freeze up, so Case moved in and explained to them about the BJM book. They wanted me to send it to them, so I did, and now here we are! All thanks to Case being the awesome human he is.
When you started the book was there a question in your mind whether it was
going to be published?
Definitely, in part because the BJM was not as well known then as they are now, and the other part was that I was very young and not very good at writing. That’s also why I went into NAU’s Creative Writing MFA program, though. I knew that I had something some people were going to want to read about, but I didn’t know how to write it, or the best way to write it, and I knew that answer was in school. Not every answer is in school, but that’s where you’re going to find the people who’s passion is to see your work blossom, who’ve made that their job. I’m a slow learner, too, so it wasn’t until some of the band members went through it and gave me the thumbs up that I went “yeah, okay. This thing can go on the shelf next to the movie and the records now.”
What is your writing process?
It’s different depending on what form I’m pursuing, whether fiction or nonfiction or poetry, but I really look at it as a bag of tricks. There’s the Kerouac stream-of-consciousness thing that I like to touch on sometimes, but I like Hemingway’s ‘Iceburg Theory’ as well – no bullshit, just get to the story. As far as how I approached this particular project, the writing process was to infiltrate a community, embed myself in it, document it, figure it out, and immerse myself in it to the point I become a part of it, and that’s exactly how it’s gone down. My own band has opened for Joel Gion, The Myrrors, and now in September we’re opening for Matt Hollywood. This has all been a part of that process.
Tell me about your research and investigative skills?
For that I would point you to Robin Hemley, who wrote a book in 2012 called “A Field Guide For Immersion Writing” that explains pretty much how I did this thing, but I didn’t find out about that book until I took Nicole Walker’s Creative Nonfiction class in 2013, and when I read it I was like “well shit, I wish I would have had this thing back in 2009!” because it basically described how to do everything I had to figure out on my own.
Did you feel you were intruding when looking for answers?
Sure, sometimes, because there’s a lot of sensitivity in this band’s history. There’s a lot of anger, a lot of pain, and a lot of hurt still, but then some of the people I’ve interviewed became my friends, like real friends, and the responsibility of telling the story as accurately as I could dwarfed any kind of feelings of intrusion or overstepping bounds. There are also a few people whom I’ve interviewed who have since died and won’t be able to read the book when it comes out, so I feel a measure of responsibility to those people, to make sure their narratives are accurately represented. The end result of all of this is I’ve just stopped prodding, you know? I found the story, and it’s good, so why rip off other people’s scabs, right? I have no doubts that people are going to see the hard work I put into it, and appreciate that work. Some people might be against it, but if so it was because they’re already biased. Either way, it will be interesting to see what everyone’s reactions are!