Photos by is Jeremy Saffer
There are few bands that evoke a genre… there aren’t many front men who sing, produce, write and play and there are more bands than not who lack the relevance and exceptionality that is the cornerstone of New Jersey’s own Monster Magnet. Driving this renegade rocket ship is front man Dave Wyndorf. Fed on UFO, Hawkwind and comic books in his early years, Wyndorf grew up to form a few bands, learned how to play guitar and eventually became the leader of the band synonymous with stoner rock.
Commercial success, battles to keep artistic identity intact and ten albums later you have a band that for 20+ years has successfully fused garage rock, progressive rock, heavy metal, punk and psychedelia in a cinematic way that begs the listener to sonically arrive at a drive-in, attach the speakers and travel to a place that is both alien and familiar…a spot where Troma films play on heavy rotation, the snacks are dubious but you’re eating them anyway.
“Last Patrol” comes at a time when fans are clamoring to hear from their toxic avenger and Wyndorf is more than happy to lead you through and then back again..
Wyndorf notes, “It’s a weird trip through the back alleys of a dark, retro-future, which not by coincidence very much resembles my own life. The lyrics aren’t fantasy really, rather a recounting of my musings on, observations of and general emotional reaction to my life and environment during a 1 week writing period in February of 2013. But I tend to use the vernacular and imagery of science fiction and surrealism to express myself and that’s where these lyrics get trippy.”
Last Patrol is Monster Magnet’s tenth studio album and a testament to everything they and Dave Wyndorf… the mesmeric, magnetic, mastermind behind Monster Magnet are about.
I recently had the chance to sit down with Dave, twice – to talk about the new cd, tour and more.
AAM: So Dave, it’s great to get a chance to talk to you – I’ve been a fan since 4 Way Diablo crossed my desk years ago. Monster Magnet has a new tour a new album. For those that need a refresher – tell our readers about the history of MM – you started in 1989..
DW: Well for me it started with a love of music… that 70’s early rock… I was in a punk band early on… formed Monster Magnet and we gigged around – we had the stereotypical journey and got signed by A&M , we bumped to hard rock and things kind of took off. Then we fell out of favor with the new metal, because we were not easily categorized. Psychedelic rock wasn’t a category – so over the years we toured America but left the states and devoted our touring to Europe when things changed. The attention span in the US is a short one – it has been a flat line and fucking un cool, it’s the worst time ever in music because it’s all a bunch of talk. But, we sensed a want from certain segments of the rock crowd-younger people who are also in to Cadaver, Graveyard and Clutch… seems like it’s a better time now – so we decided to give it a shot and we’re back to looking to the inside of America.
AAM: So let’s talk about the new album… I purposely haven’t listened to it yet, because I wanted to hear from you about what the aspiration was.
DW: Well I wanted to plan for a while… it’s more dedicated solid rock. It has a complete vibe… I was yearning to go back to the days of the “midnight record” You know where it’s a cloudy day, you’re by yourself and you tap into that mood. I also went back to the old recording style-where you do it yourself. Phil Caivano was our producer which was cool. Our old producer wasn’t getting it but Phil did… it’s squirrely and weird with bizarre references. Phil and I have the same influences… so he knew what I wanted in terms of different. It’s like the Hawkwind album of 74 is vastly different from the one of 73… and we had the best time recording it. I’m chain smoking and barking orders… and Lost Patrol is as a result more thoughtful.
AAM: So as a lyricist, guitarist, singer does it ever get difficult switching back and forth?
DW: At one point I tried to Menudo myself with my nephew and he was like , “hell no” but I see and hear the songs in my head and some may think it’s weird to do all three but I just want to get the job done.
AAM: Tell us about your song writing process?
DW: Well I like songs to be conversational… whispering in your ear… I’m writing about the same stuff, all the drama queen shit that others write about…”I broke up with my girlfriend” and such but it doesn’t have to be completely linear… growing up I was into the psychedelic stuff, Alice Cooper and punk… and I’ve wanted to merge all of that… real and fantasy.
AAM: So Dave I did listen to the new cd, and it is exactly as you described and an incredible album from start to finish. It is a bit of a departure, it definitely has the vibe of late night, mood radio and you’ve hit a unique path, having said that let’s dig a little more into your influences. You mention punk and psychedelic, Alice Cooper but after hearing the new cd, I have to ask you what else influences you as a musician and writer? What bands get you excited?
DW: Sure – influences are weird and aren’t always welcome (chuckles) “I don’t welcome this influence” (laughing)… I’m a fan of what is considered really bad music because it’s so gloriously horrible, you know? There’s that… I hope I don’t ride off the rails too much but that’s an example of how influences can be. Kind of like me walking around saying, “have you ever listened to Rick Wakeman’s, “Journey to the Center of the Earth” it’s like this overplayed album of Prog rock and excellently played but overall awful and it’s in my head and I can’t get rid of it, so I write it. But modern influences? It could be anything from Rihanna to the 13th Floor Elevators… to Tori Amos, Brian Eno. There are so many great songs, not just artists but songs. I mean that’s what makes music so great because there is this big pool for you to dive in. For your enjoyment, your personal inspiration, for lift, stealing, you can steal it (laughing)…There’s almost no control on what influences me until that record button is pushed. It’s always a matter of omission-I move this influence out so this one can come forward. In that respect it’s the most fun in the world, it seems to me to be never ending. Musically, there’s stuff that made me happy as a kid – chords – there’s a set of chords that everybody has in their brain that makes them go “ahhh huh huh”- There’s the kind of stuff that makes you horny, makes you sad, it’s amazing – music really is human magic.
AAM: It is. It’s that sonic scrapbook.
DW: So that is what I go for… Sometimes influences are so ingrained I don’t even track them. I recognize the same chords in my favorite songs. It could be from 68 or 2008… I’m like oh I know this chord!
AAM: So that leads me to my next question… You’ve (Monster Magnet) always been identified as stoner rock. I’m not saying that is incorrect… but what I hear is songs that have that gut bucket quality-soul and rock equaling great rock. So, I’m curious did the moniker of Stoner Rock help or hurt you as you have morphed over the years? People, industries, producers are always trying to label you to market you… so how do you feel about the statement Monster Magnet created stoner rock..etc
DW: I don’t think the tags ever really helped us. I always thought it confused the issue…and it would confuse the issue with any artist… It can help if you can get on a bandwagon. We got tagged as grunge at one point and that probably helped us get signed but they put us on a list… and that was passed on to a person who probably said ”oh I guess this is hot I should probably check this out” I don’t think it really helped us but it never stopped us either. I knew from the very beginning with Magnet if I was going to keep it as a true individual homage to everything I love and make it my own, that it would be confusing. I remember many times in the beginning thinking this is not gonna fly. You know? The thought that there are like four things I could do to this song to make it easier to read. Every time… that’s hard to read… but the fact that it was hard to read was interesting to me. So I was thinking maybe I can sell this as is. In terms of Marketing, marketing is marketing, it doesn’t matter what “it” is… I remember talking to execs and saying “if some guy can sell 20 billion pocket combs at a 1.00 a piece you can sell this..because of a marketing scam, you can sell THIS, you know? And they are like no, we can’t do that and I’m asking why not? I have faith in you guys, you’re marketing geniuses and you sell a lot of crap to a lot of people, why can’t you sell my stuff?
AAM: Well you obviously weren’t working with the right marketers.
AAM: Exactly. In my mind, because of the work I do and how songs impact a person, I have always thought of Monster Magnet as mainstream, because in my world you are. As a fan and as a journalist. The top 25 songs of my life include “Space Lord”… you mentioned MM is more receptacle in Europe. I look at the product, the lyrics, the videos and I view it as this is as good as any other mainstream band you could pick… but it seems that you have stuck to your roots and your artistic vibe… so are you ok with where you are today because let’s face it you could have sold out at any time in your career and just produced what other people said you should. Has it been a struggle? It has to be difficult to stay true to your goal as an artist in this industry?
DW: Yeah it really is that way. It is a struggle. As much as I can talk about adjusting things for maximum success… but to actually do it… I have to say deep down to myself “I don’t think I can do this” and hold my head up high. That’s not a matter of pride but really just not to have a nervous breakdown. It’s so much fun to do it my way. It may have even been a conscious effort to make things weird on purpose. It basically came down to what I always thought… listen to the things on the radio, listen to it. Do you like that? Does it inspire you to copy that? Because there’s nothing wrong with that at all, but if that’s so, you’re on to something more commercial. If you do it, you’re having fun, and you’re part of an evolving musical scene. But that never happened to me. Not once in the whole thing did I ever go “yeah!!!”. I was just like, oh alright so in the back of my mind I was trying to write something that could be heard on the radio but was different than what was on the radio. As soon as I gave up the whole idea of radio, about 5 or 6 yrs ago… I’ve been a lot more comfortable.
AAM: I would think so, that albatross around your neck of trying to retrofit something is now gone.
DW: It’s a survival thing too… you have to resent that as an artist… you say “really”? But I don’t need a lot of money, just enough to put food in the guys’ mouth and to travel around on a tour bus-we’re not going to get rich, but that’s all I really need. I’m just looking to survive on what I do.
AAM: When we first spoke you mentioned you were 56 and you have been in this business a long time – for someone of your stature – you haven’t blown out your voice, you’re still creating… so for the kid in Boise who is listening to Mastermind over and over again… what would you tell them to do, or not to do?
DW: Well first that is an interesting question, that’s an INSANE question. First off being an artist in the 21st century… you always have to touch base with what made you love music in the first place… the stuff that sent chills up your spine… you always have to go back to that and it gets hard after time but it has to be more considerate… so it’s like one eye firmly planted, one part of yourself in touch with what makes you love music. That’s exploring it… what you can do, how far you can go. The other eye is on how people view and perceive your evolution, how well are you communicating what you do? If it’s what you meant to do, and you are happy with what you do – look at the people around you… is it understood by the people around you? Are they understanding what you mean? If they do I think you’ll be fine. If they are confused, and they don’t get, you can think of things but if they’re not getting it you have to be realistic. The more I go on, the more I realize, those commercial considerations that seem really important- they don’t mean anything – if your material is potent. Avoid this single song phenomenon. Try to write a variety of songs not for variety’s sake but give four different angles of your best shit, whatever that would be. In the short term, it may be people telling you to hurry up on that record but if you want to be in it for the long haul you’re gonna want to build your chops as a songwriter and there is only one way to do it and that is to just do it.
AAM: I’m glad you said that… you see so many cds where on the cd there is the one good song and the rest is filler. It’s like we have one good song in our arsenal and we put a bunch of stuff around it so you may not notice.
DW: Exactly – Why don’t you just call it what it is? It’s content madness. Why not just obliterate the album format, have an album format that’s sells band’s songs one per month, but don’t call it an album. It’s like the return to the 50’s, one good song and the rest is cover tunes and shit.. The album is an art form… that only happened for a short period of time – it kind of stopped with Dylan… the Beatles… it’s more of a literary thing, it’s a collection… the sum of its parts is something bigger. It’s a worthy endeavor..but I hate the misrepresentation of it… this is an album… no, this is a song built by a bunch of disheartened other songs.
AAM: Well I think, as they say we are on the same page. Thanks for your time Dave… it has been great talking to you and I will see you at the Monster Magnet show in December.
DW: Looking forward to it.
Lost Patrol Release Dates:
18.10.2013 GAS/FIN & BENELUX
21.10.2013 UK/Rest of Europe
North American Tour info: