A Conversation with Dave Wyndorf of Monster Magnet

If the title weren't already (sort of) taken, "There and Back Again" would be a fitting headline for the career of both Dave Wyndorf and his erstwhile epithet Monster Magnet. It's been a wild road for the man and band, emerging from the woods of New Jersey to achieve momentary super stardom, and finally settle into a career groove. Wyndorf, as ever, is making the music he wants, and after several long tours of Europe, the musician, songwriter and comic book aficionado is gearing up to return Stateside for the time in ten years. Following the release of the appropriately contemplative and personal "Last Patrol," Dave Wyndorf sat down with us to talk all things music, the current state of rock, Monster Magnet, comic books and Roger Corman. Read on:
M. DREW: Take me through “Last Patrol.” It sounds much more personal than “Mastermind.” What’s the story behind this album?
DAVE WYNDORF: It’s really, really personal. It sounds more personal because the lyrics are very personal to me. I wanted to make the crafting of the music, as well as the lyrics, as a more personal experience for the person listening to it. It’s strange, I’m in a rock band, big, hairy, scary rock band, but the words, fantastic as they may sound, the meaning of the songs is quite normal, very normal emotions. I write from reality and I just tend to speak in the vernacular of science fiction in order to dramatize regular emotions. I really needed to craft a record so that the sound itself would be personal and close, and that’s why this one sounds more personal than “Mastermind.” I really have a do-it-yourself attitude towards production, and made sure that I got a lot of mileage out of quiet parts. Not everything on ‘ten’ all the time.
M.D: Is there a central theme to “Last Patrol?”
DW: There wasn’t anything in particular, but I did write all the lyrics around the same time when some things came up. Pretty adolescent, normal things. It’s really kind of a diary of my brain in winter time, the dark winter time of 2013, whatever I was doing at the time, reminiscing over failed romances or spending too much time on the Internet and feeling alienated. Antsy, wanted to get out of the house and blow shit up. A lot of politics in there, too, the meanings are couched in there. General human dissatisfaction with the world at large. And just some celebrations of being horny, stuff like that. Normal stuff.
M.D: This is the first album you’ve had to write in nearly twenty years without Ed Mundell. How did that change your process, or how did that change Monster Magnet?
DW: Doesn’t have an effect on me at all. I write the Monster Magnet stuff by myself, I always have. I’ve been doing this stuff for twenty years this way. I write the songs, I put together verse-chorus-verse-chorus, middle part, sketch it all out and bring it to the band. The band in interprets it with my direction, I’m basically a music director. That’s what I do. Ed is a great guitarist but by no means was he integral to the band or anything like that.
M.D: There’s been in recent years a revival of the tenets of classic rock and the original mores of heavy metal and so many bands are trying to copy that sound now, but it feels like they’re going through the motions more than assimilating the values. What’s the secret to writing a rock album that people can really engage in?
DW: Wow, boy, that’s a good question. I know what you mean. Thankfully for me, I love the original tenets of rock, I like pre-metal metal, back when it was called hard rock. It sounds so primal. It’s blues based. The way to capture that, and for one thing you’ll never capture it all because there’s so much time gone by and it’s been reinvented and presented as something new. The way to do that is to do it through the playing, the actual playing and singing of that music, you know, what was that stuff all about? Why does it strike you? The components, of which there are many, have to be paid attention to, scrutinized. There’s a lot that went into those records, ways people played back then they don’t play anymore. Ways guys same them – one of the big things about early rock, is there’s a white guy trying to sound black. That’s what they are, there’s no secret behind it, it’s not some metal style, these are guys that grew up listening to Motown records and shit. That’s where the big key to authenticity is, and a lot of new records don’t have that because I don’t think it ever occurred to [the artists] to consider that stuff. They’re in love with big volume, savage riffs. Which is fucking cool, but if you really want to go down the line, you’ll hit on vocals and shit. Some bands have and funny enough they’re from overseas. Graveyard, Abra Kadaver, they sound authentic.
M.D: I’m so glad you mentioned Graveyard. Those guys are one of the best bands working in the new millennium and I wish more people knew who they were.
DW: Oh yeah! They’re really doing it, man. Like, proof positive that just because they’re drawing their influences from hard rock sound doesn’t mean their production doesn’t pertain to the modern world. That’s a musical style, a valid musical style that’s always been, up until now, pretty much vilified in the press. Hard rock didn’t go down good in the rock press when it came out. Those years between ’69 and ’74, it never did well in the press. It did well on the charts, but the critics never liked it. It’s pretty funny to me now to see people pay more attention to that kind of music as a real style. It’s about time.
M.D: I love Nuclear Blast, but I sometimes wonder if they’re the right label for Graveyard. I’m thrilled that a label of that size has picked them up and is giving them a shot, but I don’t know if people who are looking for Nuclear Blast are looking for that style.
DW: I know, but I don’t know what record company would be the right one. I come up against that problem with Monster Magnet all the time. Is there any record label that does that kind of stuff?
M.D: Even Atlantic doesn’t do that kind of stuff anymore.
DW: Exactly. You want to talk about old school, Atlantic, Mercury, Warner Brothers, they all did it. And now nobody does it. If you look what’s happening with this hard rock stuff, it’s not mass music anymore. Used to be music for the masses, now it’s like a niche. Almost like, if it’s handled right, it’ll be treated like jazz. Like a real appreciation for a combo, a power trio, that kind of stuff. Right now, there’s no record label that’s gonna pay attention to that, or maybe even understand what it is in the first place. Hell, the bands don’t even understand it. The way I look at it, if these guys can at least get on a label that’ll put them out in front of people, they’re doing alright.
M.D: This is probably a leading question, but do you feel like there’s too much emphasis on the technology used to create the sound, and not enough emphasis on what the emotion behind the sound should be?
DW: Could be. When it comes to technology, I don’t think it’s a conscious effort, but they want to use their tools to make a record as best as they see fit and also as quickly as they see fit. I think what may be going on today is in an effort to get content, sometimes the struggles of putting together a song, the nuts and bolts, and beating it up until it’s absolutely right, that notion gets kind of sidelined. Certainly, the mass audience, the stuff that’s on the radio, the stuff on the charts, they don’t seem to have that much respect, especially in the way of true emotional content. It’s weird, because you look at the rock charts, I don’t even know what that means anymore. It’s kind of soft rock bands. A lot of weird happiness basically, sort of middle of the road emotions.
M.D: Yeah. I’m not too young to remember a time when Maroon 5 would not have been called a rock band.
DW: Yeah, you know what I mean. Definitions are completely different than what they were ten years ago and certainly thirty or fifty years ago. I have come up with a definition that I use all the time, it’s called ‘Real Rock Music.’ Real Rock Music can pertain to a metal band, a rock and roll band, an indie band, anything. You know when it sounds real. The Hives? They’re a real rock and roll band. Maroon 5? No. Absolutely not, it’s not real. It’s real something, but it ain’t real rock, there’s no way. Not on my Earth, anyway. I’m sure a lot of people would agree with me. But you know, you live in a world where numbers rule, people look at those numbers and they think it must be that. It’s gonna be up to a very small but potently talented music-loving people to try to take the definitions back. If that means putting ‘RRM’ on something, I really think it should happen. Put a sticker, RRM, Real Rock Music.
M.D: I’m going to tip the hand of my inner nerd here, but when you say ‘your Earth,’ I assume that’s Earth-616?
DW: [Laughs] Yes.

M.D: The duration of your career is hard to describe without using the word rollercoaster. As you look back at the last twenty or twenty-five years, is there anything you’d do differently that got you were you are now?
DW: Oh yeah, like a million things, sure. I’m glad I don’t have the opportunity, because I’d probably fuck it up in a different way. There are financial decisions I would have made differently. Like, maybe not spend all that record label money on a fleet of tour buses, plane rides and stuff and actually pocketed some of the cash. But in reality, you can’t change it, so why even think about it. Most of the time, I just follow my muse at that certain point, my obsession. Seems to have worked out in the long run. But yeah, definite rollercoaster.
M.D: I’ve heard you say in interviews previously that although you had your greatest success on a major label, that you’re almost glad you’re not in that structure anymore. What gives you that feeling?
DW: I never felt comfortable being represented by so many people, kind of like a club, a radio club. Everything in the old days was very, very, very determined. Like, if you got on the radio, there was huge competition over a massive amount of years. There was huge, unsaid pressure to kind of appeal to whatever was hot at the moment and furthermore to the lowest common denominator. Which is anti-art. Good for you if you feel it; I’m totally jealous of dumb-ass bands that are successful and completely happy with what they do. That’s got to be the life, right? Imagine being some cheesy metal makeup band that’s making millions of dollars? They’ve got to be completely happy! ‘Yeah, we rock!’ Well, you don’t really rock, but what the hell. I always thought too hard about it. I grew up as a rock fan, a punk rocker as well, so I come from a land of very, very high scrutiny. There’s a lot of self-awareness. So yeah, I was on a major label, but just because it was successful doesn’t mean it was particularly fun. It was brutal, the expectations are high. I’d rather have the expectations in the finished product itself, not how it performs. I’m not making race horses, you know? [Laughs] So yeah, I feel better now.
M.D: You’re heading out on a tour of the United States which you haven’t done in ten years. What made now the time?
DW: Timing, really. We been hitting Europe hard for five years, tour after tour after tour, and Australia. Really, like a whole career. It was amazing, and it’s time to bring it here. After hitting it that hard, I really, really wanted to play the States again because it’s been a long time. Perhaps, maybe, the atmosphere for a lot of music which I thought went down ten years ago, at least for Monster Magnet, maybe that attitude’s changed. I saw the kind of albums that came out in the last couple years and I was really happy and I thought maybe it’s time for us to come back. The misinterpretation of Monster Magnet was so huge in the States, by promoters. It’s a business thing. They said ‘Hey, we’ll put you in with metal’ and I thought ‘well, not necessarily.’ That’s what happens when you have a hit record, too. [I thought] maybe I should just let things cool off a little bit.
M.D: Contemporaries of yours, I think the same thing happened to Clutch.
DW: Fuck yeah! Clutch though, they’re men, man. They fought it out. Those guys continue to play the States, all the time. I have nothing but the highest appreciation for those guys. I wasn’t that tough, I was like ‘you know something? I’m going to Europe, I’m gonna drink fancy cups of coffee and hang out with these gorgeous fucking French babes. I don’t want to play in Cincinnati in some dingy metal joint with a bunch of hair farmers.’ You know what I mean? If anybody had the choice, where would you rather be?
M.D: You could wake up in Paris or you could wake up in Cleveland.
DW: It’s true! Nothing against Cleveland, it really comes down to the venue and who’s there. If the rock crowd in America wants to stay home and watch movies and stuff and leave the bands to play in these half-filled joints with a bunch of drunks and shitty production, that’s what you’re gonna get, those bands aren’t gonna play there anymore. I think it’s changing, I think people are hitting the streets again. Mobile technology has gotten a lot better, they can bring all their favorite gear and their life with them, so they’re starting to fill the seats again.
M.D: Which personally, I hate. When I leave my house, I generally don’t want to take all that crap with me. But I’m sort of a Luddite.
DW: [Sighs] That’s me, too. Everybody at one point gets mystified and somewhat obsessed with technology at some point in their life. Everyone’s going to come to that realization. You know something, there’s a reason why outside is outside. You don’t have to bring inside outside with you. But we’re America, we do all these things first, we’re like this giant psychological petri dish and we go through these things first. As Americans we’re always reaching for whatever the next thing is and we’re not even paying attention to what we have in our hand right now. You got to stick to your priorities, now more than ever. Pick your qualities. These things don’t happen automatically. Just because you have everything doesn’t mean you have anything of substance. Man, the advertising world is better than they’ve ever been at selling stuff. Now they’re selling the promise of stuff, like ‘what’s around the corner is probably better than what you have,’ and that’s bullshit.

M.D: That gets business out of the way, let’s move on – what comics are you reading now that you like?
DW: Ooh, right now my favorite comic of the moment is called “Prophet,” from Image comics. It’s an outer space story, but it’s tied in with some old Image comics superhero tropes, but you’d never know it from reading it. Really cool, homegrown comic. It’s professional by every stretch, but it’s not as slick as some of the modern ones. Spacy, psychedelic, it’s got a lot of scope, really cool. It’s hard to understand which is good, I like comics that are hard to understand. It’s a challenging read and really, really good.
What else am I reading? I’ve been reading “Infinity” from Marvel which is like a big crossover. Beautiful art, the story is kind of okay. All the BPRD stuff from Dark Horse. BPRD was created by Mike Mignola, the guy who created Hellboy. It’s about these paranormal investigators, it’s just really well done, beyond the genre, it’s a well done book. I’m not a fan of any genre anymore, I’m just a fan of good work, and it’s great. This Godzilla book from Dark Horse by James Stokoe, absolutely beautiful. Comics are the last bastion of modern illustration. Without them, there’d be no modern illustration to speak of except for stuff on DeviantART, people doing two pieces of work and giving up. I’m a huge fan of illustration, I love stories being told in sequential art. It’s a really unique art form that doesn’t get enough play. Super heroes rule of course, there’s nothing wrong with super heroes, but that’s not all that comics are.
M.D: Speaking of, all these super heroes are immensely popular, and I been reading Iron Man since I was nine, so I’m not going to complain that he’s popular, but do you feel like there’s a sense of resentment that now all this is coming to the fore after so many years of being unappreciated?
DW: Oh, hell yeah! It’s a very strange time for super heroes, you know? What do you do when you actually reach the top? I love super hero comics because I loved them when I was a kid. I don’t know if I would love them now if I hadn’t, I’m not sure. I have a little resentment for that kind of stuff, especially the way comic companies are starting to write their comics like the movies. It’s like the tail wagging the dog. Write the comics whatever way you want, you know? Please don’t fall into that trap.
I love Iron Man, too, by the way. Great arcs in the last decade, that Warren Ellis ‘Extemis’ stuff was really good. Badass man, that was really, really cool.
M.D: What’s it like knowing that Marvel named a character after one of your songs?
DW: Wow! Well, you know what that was, it was Grant Morrison. Grant Morrison, writer, really cool guy, talented guy I’m happy to say. I’m a huge fan of him. All of a sudden, just drops it, names of these X-Men characters after “Negasonic Teenage Warhead!” I completely flipped out. Best feeling in the world, one of those ‘boy, I’m glad I do this.’
M.D: Was that like your twelve year old dream come true? The first time you picked up a guitar you thought that was the pie in the sky and then it actually happened?
DW: Oh yeah, absolutely. All of a sudden, all this work that you do and all this love you put into something gets affirmed in a way that…I can’t describe how cool that is. The feeling of ‘wow, somebody thought this was cool the way I thought it was cool, this is great!’
M.D: What’s the comic book movie you want to see made that hasn’t been made yet?
DW: Doctor Strange. I can say all the comic book movies that have been made should be made again, my way [laughs]. I’m not the biggest fan of comic book movies because they tend to get off the original point of the comic book, but whatever. I’d like to see Doctor Strange and done really well in a creepy kind of way.
I liked the Watchmen movie, I thought that was cool. It didn’t have big superstars, which was good. I thought they actually went for the characters from the comic book and since they weren’t going after big, huge stars I thought it played a lot better as a comic movie.
M.D: This is an arrow in the dark by me, but I’m taking a guess…what’s your favorite Roger Corman movie?
DW: Oh, there are so many. With all the Roger Corman Productions, he didn’t really direct that many movies. He just had his name on them. I really liked the one with the sniper [“Targets”]. Really weird, fucked up movie, man. Creeped me out when I was a little kid. They wouldn’t show it on TV when I was a kid because snipers weren’t popular [laughs]. There was still Kennedy stuff going on, they would never show that on TV. Just like they never showed “Manchurian Candidate” when I was a kid. I watch all the Corman movies, and they’re all fantastic in their own way because there were so many talented people involved with them.

All Photos courtesy Jeremy Saffer

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