December , 2013
By Debbie Sellnow
Monster Magnet: A 10 Year Ride On The Monster Magnet
JAM Magazine Speaks With Dave Wyndorf
Photos Courtesy of Monster Magnet's Facebook
After a spark of mainstream success back in the late '90s, Monster Magnet all but seemed to have disappeared back into the relative obscurity of smoky dive bars in its New Jersey shore hometown. After a classic band vs. major record company, the group found itself back on an independent label during a changing musical climate, and shifted its focus on Europe, where Monster Magnet's brand of hard rock was still thriving. "I really took my emphasis off of America," says frontman/guitarist/founding member Dave Wyndorf.
After 10 years, Monster Magnet has returned to American stages with a full U.S. tour in support of its brand new studio album, Last Patrol.
"I'm totally excited to be back in the States again," Wyndorf enthuses. "I'm gonna ride through the United States of America and take the temperature and see what's going on out there in live land, because 10 years ago for Monster Magnet it was bad. People were not buying what I had to sell. The States were turning a corner, and I was turning the corner too."
Wyndorf recently spoke with Jam Magazine about Last Patrol and what goes on inside the head of Monster Magnet's mastermind.
JAM: So, you wrote the lyrics in a week?
Dave Wyndorf - Yeah, that's pushin' it. It's pushing the brink of sanity. Sometimes you need a kick in the ass, you know? I create the fire in the ass because... I don't know why. Maybe I feel that stuff is important and the words should absolutely suit the music. That's the way I do things - I write the music first and then I write the words, as opposed to people who write the words first. To me, it's most important that the words and the music complement each other. So, it's easier for me to manipulate the words after the music is done. And sometimes that kinda leaves me up against the wall because I was spending so much time getting the music right that I left it to the end. But the good thing about working that way is it kind of forces me to make everything count. There's a certain amount of good that comes out of eleventh hour decisions.
JAM: Do you think you do your best work that way?
I don't know but I hope not because I can't work like this forever. I'll kill myself. I'll have an anxiety attack. There's got to be a better way. I'll let you know. (laughs)
JAM: Well, you've been doing this a while. You haven't figured it out?
Yeah, I think have and, yes, I think I do. I just didn't want to admit it. I just thought some miracle would happen and I could change it.
JAM: Sometimes when you have too much time, you can put too much thought into it. And, like you said, when you are down to the wire, it just comes out and you have to make everything count.
Yeah, exactly. It takes too long because you've got the time and you're gonna make that careful consideration. Hopefully, if you're doing your job right year after year, that careful consideration is already counted. It's already in your brain anyway. Like all the stuff I wrote, that stuff was in my brain anyway. I didn't just, like, pick it out of air. It was fermenting, boiling up in one side of the brain or another, just waiting to come out, just waiting for the kick to make it come out. And there's nothing like a deadline.
JAM: And overthinking is not a good thing.
No, it's not very rock 'n' roll, even by my definition. The whole record is just kind of an imitation of a spontaneous event, right? You're trying to recreate a spontaneous vision, an idea. That's how they come to me, the music and the substance of the whole thing. Maybe not line for line, word for word, but the idea for the song and what it means, they come to me pretty quick - a half an hour, a day. That's it. The whole rest of it is trying to embellish it where it should be but with that idea of spontaneity in mind. I try to recreate that first vision of it.
JAM: Talk about your process of writing for this record. Would you say it's still the same?
Phil (Caivano - guitar) and I co-wrote a song on this record but the usual thing is, and has been for most of my records, that I just go off and live my normal life after touring. I'll go on these jags and it's like, "Oh, yeah, it would be great if this sounded like this." And I'll just sit there and write like a song a day. A song a day means drums, bass, rhythm guitar, lead guitar and a vocal, sketched out, the way a cartoonist would sketch something out - rough, loose, but everything there where it's supposed to be, in the right panel, complete with the whole vibe intact. (I will) have an idea for some lyrics in it but it's more important to get a melody line. I'll just pick up a mic and sing stuff like, "baby baby baby," or make a bunch of monkey noises. Anything that sounds cool and seems right. And then put it away. And do another one and another one until the jag ends. I'll put it away and forget about it and go off and do something else, like tour, then revisit it. Maybe not even revisit that stuff but start another jag. Then when it comes time to make a record, I'll get reminders from managers or people that are invested in me one way or another. (laughs) "It's time to work!" Then l go back and listen to the stuff and cross my fingers and hope that it was good. And I always pick from that stuff what I think will be good for the record. If that's not enough, I'll write more. I usually have more than enough.
JAM: Would you say these songs are complete when you go in the studio or do they get fleshed out when you start to record?
It gets fleshed out a lot because they get realized. The dream becomes real when you bring it to the guys that actually play this. I play guitar on the record but I don't play leads. All these things that I imagined have to be played by real people and they're interpreted by them too. I bring the demos to the guys and say, "Okay, this is what we're dealing with." I'll sit individually with each one of them, with each player and go, "This is what I need. Let's try this. Let's try that." I'm a musical director at that point.
JAM: At first I thought you went into the studio without finished songs, which is pretty risky.
I have done it that way before. I've had whole albums go completely from my house right into the studio, which is nuts. This one I gave it about two weeks in the practice space, but individually with the guys. We were tracking on home gear. So it was kind of like going right to the studio. Stuff wasn't changed that much. It was fleshed out pretty fast, like over the course of two weeks, bass and drums. That set up the skeleton for it, then all the leads I made up on the spot. It's okay because music kinda tells you what to do. Once you start something like that it becomes like a giant truck you push off a cliff. It starts to gain momentum. It tells you what it wants to do.
JAM: After all these years, how would you say Monster Magnet has changed?
To me, I've honed it, you know? I've honed what I do. I've branched out in a couple areas within the Monster Magnet parameter. I'm having more fun with it than I ever did. As far the band and what our expectations are, how hard I'm gonna work and where I'm gonna put the work, that's changed a lot. I don't chase mass acceptance. I'm not on a hamster wheel with a major label, trying to make a lot of people happy.
JAM: Because you've been there.
Yeah, I've been there. It's crazy. And in the end, all you really have is your music and your craft. It's way more fun to be crafty than it is to ring some sort of Mt. Everest bell somewhere. I mean, if it happens it happens. I don't think it's going to happen. What else has changed? I'm just playing with better people. The band's better and it makes it lot more fun. We play a lot more. We play more often than we ever did in the past, which is insane because I was playing so much back in the Powertrip days.
JAM: You've been through all phases of this, from small clubs in New Jersey to large tours and a touch of commercial success. But that, to me, isn't Monster Magnet anyway.
No, it never was. But I touched it, which is really, really cool. It's constantly an adventure and it still is. One day we'll play with Deep Purple and Alice Cooper and the next day we're co-headlining with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. I don't know too many bands that can pull that off.
JAM: Monster Magnet is really its own style. You fit in in so many places.
It's pretty esoteric, really. It's a combination of all of my favorite music from when I was a kid. That's my root music - '60s garage psych, early '70s hard rock, but nothing really past a certain era. All the stuff that stayed with me over the years, all my musical interests were ingrained into me there. And then to touch it up, there's always been stuff from the present, or now the past, that has hit me really hard too, like Tori Amos records. Anyway, whatever way you look at it, all the many influences were never anything that you could exactly bank on as a big money success. (laughs) "Hey, you know what you should do? Put Tori Amos in with the 13th Floor Elevators. You'll have a hit." This ain't gonna happen.
JAM: The new record is classic Monster Magnet. It's the same Monster Magnet sound but it's not at all stagnant.
Thanks. I appreciate it. I'm working with my same box of toys. I'm working with all my musical influences but what I try to do is shift the emphasis within those musical elements. It's important for me to bring myself to it. The lyrics are, as fantastic as they sound, really personal. It's the personal side that drives me the most. That may be different with a band like AC/DC. You don't see that guy sitting on a stool going, "I want to commit suicide," or something. He's always singing about some rock 'n' roll girl, that kind of thing. I don't sing about shit like that. It sounds like I do but I really don't. I'm singing about being lonely, about being happy, about being horny. These are all based in reality from my own experience, tour stories, real life stories. Everything has a basis in hardcore reality with me and I tend to dramatize that stuff with the vernacular of science fiction just because I think if I actually told my story for real, it would sound like a bad country and western record. I've got this music that I want to make, plus I've got these lyrics that I think should match it. But I'll be damned if I'm gonna write some science fiction screen play. It would have to be real. And that' how you get Monster Magnet and that may be why it sounds a little more enduring than some stuff.
JAM: So, do you ever talk to people and they say, "Wow, you're really normal?"
Oh, yeah. I've met lots of disappointments before. Girls in the back of the tour bus like, "I didn't know you were gonna be this goofy peanut butter guy. I thought you were some bad ass." And I'm like, "Really? I've got leather pants on, doesn't that count?" "Yeah. You look good, then you start laughing like a goof." I'm like, man, sometimes you can never win.
JAM: It's imagination and that's what makes an artist.
Yeah. Imagination is everything. I've discovered through bitter tears and experience that your imagination is usually better than the reality.
JAM: And that's why you use your imagination. It's escapism. Even the art that you have used through the years is very imaginative.
It's psychedelic. That's some of what goes on in my head. It's decorative and I like it, and I always wanted to be that when I was a kid. Luckily for me, through the course of the band's career, I got a chance to be that guy. A lot of the times it took me way too far. And then it's like, oh shit, you become that person. I always had to bring myself back from it and go, "You're a writer. You're observing everything and processing it. You're writing about the way things are and the way you wish they were, but you're not any of these people that you've become. You really are just this guy who's looking."