New Jersey native Dave Wyndorf was already a rock & roll veteran by the time he formed Monster Magnet in 1989, having cut his teeth with little-known punk band Shrapnel (also featuring future punk producer Daniel Rey on guitars) in the late ’70s before retiring from music altogether. But, after teaching himself guitar, Wyndorf began assembling Monster Magnet with a handful of fellow New Jersey natives. Fusing their metal, punk, space rock, and psychedelic influences, the band developed a sludgy, feedback-heavy hard rock sound that helped them stand out from the era’s burgeoning retro-rock movement. Once the fuse was lit on this rock ’n’ roll thrill-ride, there was no turning back. They spent much of the 1990s struggling against the prejudices imposed upon image and sound by alternative rock fashion nazis. In fact, it wasn’t until that movement’s late-’90s decline that the band’s dogged persistence finally paid off, when their fourth album, ‘Powertrip,’ catapulted to gold sales status on the strength of its massive hard rock hit, “Space Lord.” Along the way, Monster Magnet had managed to become one of the most successful and influential bands associated with the so-called underground “stoner rock” scene. And yet, their influences span much further than that scene’s foundations in ’70s hard rock and metal, delving into space rock, psychedelia, and beyond.
Flash forward to 2018, Monster Magnet has put the pedal to the metal with “MINDFUCKER”, their 11th record. In terms of power driven stoner rock these gentlemen from New Jersey belong to the measure of all things. But “MINDFUCKER” is different, a step forward and a step back at the same time to the almighty roots of beat music. Dave manipulates his guitar with rich virility and the drive of his shifty soul. Wyndorf seeks and finds: timeless songs, kindled by the unpretentious Proto-punk era. “MINDFUCKER” pumps and scratches at every turn! Dave fires off piercing calls over neck-breaking guitar work and whirlwinds of psychedelic solos. All things are in constant motion with a sound of groovy straightforwardness, always heading for the essence of “the” song. “Why you gonna fuck with my head?”, screams Wyndorf their credo in the title track. Up tempo, savage in both sound and spirit, ‘Mindfucker’ is the real deal!
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Dave Wyndorf to discuss his journey as an artist, the inspirations for ‘Mindfucker’ and the challenges he has faced in keeping Monster Magnet on the rails and thriving for nearly 3 decades!
How did music first come into your life and how did it start to take hold?
It was there pretty much from the beginning. There was a lot of music played in my house. My mom used to play classical music, so it started there. My older brother was into 60s rock, and movie soundtracks were there too. So, all of this was going through my brain for as far back as I can remember. Then I started listening to the radio. When I was a little kid, 5 or 6 years old in the mid-60s, radio was cool! It was different, and it was changing all of the time. When it came to concerts it was Strawberry Alarm Clock and stuff like that, followed by psychedelic rock. By the time I was old enough to start buying records, which was 1969 or 1970, it was Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, King Crimson and all that kind of stuff. It was a weird time in music. From 1969 to 1973, rock was growing out of pop and it was getting really, really strange and cool! That’s what really informed me in my head. I was like, “Wow, pretty much anything is possible!” Psychedelia was still around but it entered into the realm of rock as well. It was heavy psych, prog and so on. It was a really cool time to get your brain saturated and it seemed like anything was possible! It was also cool that a bunch of different bands would be right next to each other and accepted by each other at the same time. It wasn’t a stretch to have Sly and The Family Stone record, a King Crimson record, a Black Sabbath record and Roxy Music, all in the same collection. It was really cool, and it definitely put the bug in me! I was like, “This is what I want to do!”
When did you make the transition from avid music fan to musician?
Punk rock! When I was around 18 years old, punk rock hit and that was my first opportunity to get into a band. Up until that point, I had figured, being a little schmuck from New Jersey, that music was made by scientists or wizards or something. I thought, “I can do this! There’s no way I could even think about it.” Then I went to CBGB’s and saw The Ramones. A light came on for me and I said, “Well, if those fuckin’ guys can do it, I can do it!” We were all psyched up and that’s when I joined a band!
Many years have passed since you made that jump and ultimately created Monster Magnet. At what point do you feel you came into your own as a frontman?
I guess it all started feeling real, with Monster Magnet, a couple of years in; that’s when I really started to believe that I was. Up until then, I just figured I was faking it and I was trying to push this weird project of mine. I was trying to get all of my favorite sounds onto tape. I wasn’t that much of a player, but I was writing songs and kind of cheating or what I figured was cheating. It was like, “I can’t really play this, but I can get away with this vocally by tracking.” When we actually started playing live, after about a year or so, I started to believe it and think, “Okay, maybe I’m a real guy.” To tell you the truth, I’m still figuring it out! A lot of times, I still feel like I’m making it up! [laughs] It felt better though! [laughs]
How has your vision for Monster Magnet changed through the years?
Mainly the way it has changed has been the lyrics. In the beginning, I didn’t expect it to last that long! I was just writing from my memories of childhood, so the first EPs and albums were me singing about the culture and some of the experiences of my teen-hood in the early 70s. It was drug buddies, freak culture, bong culture and so on. Everything was black light back then! It was a blacklight existence — LSD and the whole thing! As I figured out we were going to be around for more than one or two records, I had to start writing from current experience. It came to the point where I was like, “Okay, this isn’t just me singing about the old days. This is about my singing about me now.” That changed a bit and I didn’t want to go into the realm of rock fantasy where I would just make up stories in my head. I never pictured myself as a screenplay writer; all I could do is write from my heart, so I did that! I started writing from there and it changed everything. It changed the way I wrote songs lyrically. Musically, I just kept bringing as much of the stuff that hit me in the heart as possible and there was a lot! From The Stooges to the Detroit sound to mid-60s garage to elements of punk rock to prog rock, although it doesn’t show up in the thing, it was about combining all of these influences that really kicked me in the ass when I was a kid! I figured I would have been out of them but they still hit me strong. I guess it’s like roots, ya know? Musically, I just keep touching on different tones of the stuff that I really enjoy. After a while, if you do that enough, it starts coming out naturally. When I sit down and write a song, I think, “What do I want to hear?” It might be certain chord progressions or certain types of guitars. I’m into fuzz guitars, squirrelly, needly guitars… And it’s also about avoiding stuff you don’t like too! I was never into metal, specifically “metal for metal’s sake.” I always tried to avoid sounding too metal. I didn’t want to go down an Iron Maiden route or anything like that. I avoid the stuff I don’t want to be but go for the spirit of the stuff that made me happy when I was a kid, write about what’s happening to me write now, hope that it’s something at least a little bit different then the last album and hope that it can sustain a little bit over the years.
Monster Magnet has a brand-new record called “Mindfucker.” Tell us a little about your mindset going into this album. From what I gathered from your manifesto, you had a few things on your mind with our current state of affairs!
Yeah! [laughs] It was one of those perfect timing scenarios! [laughs] I went into write a real, kickass, proto-punk, straight-ahead, Detroit-style rock album. I didn’t want to care about what I was writing about lyrically. I was thinking, “Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll! That’s perfectly acceptable! I haven’t done that in a long time!” The last record I had written was “Last Patrol,” which was long-form psychedelia, very melancholy, weird and introspective. So, this time, I figured, “Okay, I’ll just go out there and sing about cars and girls!” I wrote music for that but when it came time to write the lyrics, it was after the last election went down and Trump was elected. We kinda watched the information age flip! Now it’s like, “Fuck, there are a million ways to lie and people are taking advantage of it!” It’s almost like it’s okay to lie now! [laughs] “Fuck it! We’re just gonna make shit up… EVERYDAY!” [laughs] Within 6 months of the time got elected to now, the whole nature of how people pay attention to information has changed. I don’t know how many people are into the whole Trump thing, but I truly can’t believe that the whole rest of the world and the rest of America are just sitting back, sticking their fingers down their throats and saying, “Gag me! This is bullshit! This is just total horseshit! It’s a giant man-baby just bullshitting! He doesn’t know what he’s doing and there’s nobody at the wheel!” Meanwhile the news outlets are going crazy and fighting each other! It’s a total mindfuck! It really is! [laughs] It’s like, “Wow! You really can get away with anything!” That’s what I was stuck with! The week that he got elected, I was like, “Really? This is the time I was going to write my sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll record?” I just couldn’t keep it out of my head. I didn’t want to be Rage Against The Machine either. I didn’t want to go in there and be some super, super political, as if I know what I’m talking about guy. I didn’t want to get too moral about it either! These days I don’t think I should actually have to teach people how to be a good person, ya know? It’s pretty fuckin’ obvious! Be fair! [laughs] I didn’t want to be too politically incorrect either because I’m not that way. I’m too cynical. I just couldn’t keep it out of my head, so I wrote songs and tried to go along with the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll thing. I tried to write songs about girlfriends and things like that, but the creeping paranoia of 2018 was there! It crept, and it found its way into all of these lyrics. I found myself looking at lyrics that included the world brain like a million times! MY ACHING FUCKING BRAIN! [laughs] Lie was a word that was in there a lot too. It got a little weird! In the end, it is what it is. It’s an honest document of a guy sitting in his kitchen in January of 2018 going, “What the fuck?” Basically, that’s it and it’s all I can hope for. Like I said, I didn’t want to get into it with this, but I had to deal with it.
Aside from the concept, was there anything you wanted to attempt with this album that you might not have tried in the past?
Yeah! What I wanted to explore was a little bit more short form music from the last record. Faster tempos, just to be completely clinical about it. I wanted faster tempos and more sing-along choruses. It’s like an old songwriter’s thing! I want some songs that are going to be over in 3 or 4 minutes and when it gets to the chorus, you know it’s the fucking chorus! In that respect, I had to edit the stuff a lot more closely and make sure the drums and bass are in a more rock ‘n’ roll or almost pop format. By that I mean something like British Rock style stuff. You gotta pour in a little of that old rock ‘n’ roll stuff, which is something that needs to be paid attention to. It just doesn’t happen by making the song shorter. It was fun doing that and making it as spontaneous as possible but controlling it at the same time! I want the parts to be as exciting and memorable as possible. I also want them to be as melodic without being drippy. That meant guitar solos that mimicked the vocals and weren’t just shred for shred’s sake and actually has a melody to it. It was a lot of fun doing something like that! It was a whole different trip than doing long form psychedelia!
Looking back on the catalogue of music you’ve created, you are clearly not afraid to seek out new ground. Do you see a clear evolution with your work?
Yeah, I guess a little bit. A lot of times I just think I’m living in my own excess, which is not a bad thing because I like it. There are a couple of times I could have gone really, really outside the box but even if we were successful, I’d be going into almost a different form of music. I don’t think that would have made me happy or would have made anybody else happy. I realized a couple of times that my vision for Magnet has been “keep rock alive” — psychedelic rock and rock, that’s it. Very early on, probably the first two or three records, I was like, “Well, ya know something? I don’t see anyone else really doing what we’re doing. Not exactly that way. I think I should keep on going and there are enough notes, different vibes and nuances within hard rock and psychedelic rock for me to probably do it a bunch of times before I run out of stuff to do.” So far, I have not run out, in my estimation! I haven’t been bored. So, I’ve evolved in the way I’m touching on all of those elements that made me really, really happy without getting bored yet. Have I turned into Mozart? No! But then again, I don’t want to turn into Mozart. I don’t want to make the jazz album, ya know! [laughs]
What does it take to keep a band like Monster Magnet on the rails in this day in age?
It’s hard. Anybody who’s been around for at least 20 years realizes how much the industry has changed. There’s no brass ring at the end of a band’s journey anymore. They used to say, “Oh, they hit it big!” However, through the years, the definition of “hit it big” has gotten a lot smaller. There are really rock stars anymore and the whole system is different. For me to keep alive, as well as us as a band, we just have to keep liking what we do with almost total disregard of any financial reward. I always say, “If I can keep my head above water, this is what I want to do because I like music, I want to play live, and I want to make records.” The toughest part of staying together for a band for that long is that if there isn’t any money in something, people usually walk. They grow up and they walk. Even these days, there are more bands around, but they stay together for less time. I just have to keep drinking the Kool-Aid! [laughs] It’s like, “This is going to be fucking great, man!” I will just get in there and start writing songs and say, “I can’t wait to go and play!” You also have to find a place where people like you. In my case it was Europe. For a long time, I just stopped knocking at the door of people who weren’t necessarily interested. The United States, for example, was really tough. They changed their mind every two seconds and there was a different flavor every day! I just said, “Fuck this. I’m not going someplace where I have to continually knock on the door. I’ll just go be Monster Magnet somewhere where they actually dig it.” I mean, I’ll go back every once and a while and knock on some doors but I’m not going continue to beat myself up over it. That’s what I did! I would just point the ship in another direction and say, “Okay, we’re going there! I’m making my music and everyone in the world can listen to it, if they want to but if they not really buying it or digging it from the outset, I’m not even going there. Why do the song and dance?” That’s kind of how I made sense of what we do. I never really did try to conquer the world, I just tried to be cool in the places where I could be cool! [laughs] What can I say, it worked out! I’ve been doing it now for years!
Do you view rock ‘n’ roll in a different light today than you might’ve early on in your career?
Musically, it’s always remained the same. Music is awesome. My spirit of rock from the artist’s standpoint, not to get too stupid about it, was it being a place where you could possibly reinvent yourself, at least temporarily, into the person you want to be. By that I mean, if you couldn’t get it out, make people understand or you had a hard time communicating with people, maybe you could come up with something, whether it’s a band, a song or something, where you could blow it out with enough volume that people might get you in some sort of way. It allowed me to show that I was more than just some fat nerd, walking around staring at his shoes who was unable to get girls. It was like, “No, no. I actually have an imagination. I can make shit up and, plus, maybe I can get some girls!” That was really all it was about! I loved music, I could make stuff up and it allowed be to hang out with chicks. That’s what rock ‘n’ roll was to me and that remains the same, but I think the world view of that has changed. I think it’s much more of a hunt and peck situation and the crowds have changed and these genres are completely separate. The genres are very, very concentrated and narrowly focused. I don’t think there is much of spirit in rock where you can really reinvent yourself these days. It’s like, “Okay, you can play this character, or you can play that character.” What I’m saying is that you can see the game more these days. I think the people can see the game and perhaps they should, but I try not to pay attention to that stuff because, honestly, it’s disappointing. You really want to believe the dream and when you see it cut down like this it’s disappointing but that’s part of the 21st century and modern communication. The mystery is being totally chopped in half. There is at least 70% less mystery in music then there used to be. There is also 70% mystery in music and in fashion there is no mystery. Everyone is like, “That’s it! Boom! Got it! On to the next thing!” I don’t know how people are supposed to get excited about anything if they can’t build up a certain amount of anticipation.
Where do you find yourself looking for inspiration these days and what keeps you so driven against all odds?
The actual act of creating is really cool because, like I alluded to earlier, you can really reinvent the world with your creation in your head. It’s like this game you play with yourself. It’s like, “I’m going to make myself ten feet tall because I wrote a song about me being 10 feet tall.” For that time, you’re writing it, you are ten feet tall! Honestly, creating is like a drug and you’ve gotta have more! Like I said, you’ve gotta drink your own Kool-Aid! It’s good to do that to a certain extent because it keeps me alive. I can say, “I’m gonna tell people the way it is…,” even if it’s maybe only one person listening. The more I did it, the more I realized that I’m just talking to myself all the time. As a creator, I’m just trying to pat myself on the back or go to a therapy session or anything else like that. When you’re a creator, you’re your own partner. You’re your own wife or husband, like, “Okay, I’ll talk to you!” It’s psychotic but it kinda works and it keeps me alive! It’s also really exciting to do it. I can still pretend! Then again, I can still sit down with a couple of action figures and have a good time! [laughs] Ya know what I mean? I can still go out my back door with a can of lighter liquid, cover a stick, light it on fire and go, “Look! Fire! That’s really cool!” You never want to lose that! Ya know what? Speaking as an adult, my friend, it’s not worth it. Growing up and all that stuff, it’s a bunch of shit! Growing up, working in the office, doing your 30 years, talking about the refrigerator with the wife and kids… That’s not it! [laughs] It’s cool if it makes them happy but, honestly, inside of each and everyone one of us, you still want to go out, start a fire in your backyard and say, “Oh cool! FIRE!” [laughs]
I guess that segues interestingly into my next question for you. What’s the best lesson we can take from you and your journey as an artist? I think that last answer is a good place to start! [laughs]
Yeah! [laughs] I would say it’s that simple. If people can read into the simplicity of that and get the nature of that comment, yeah. You still want to be happy with looking at the color of leaves and stuff like that. People say, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” There are a lot of what-ifs that go on in life. Those what-ifs are usually really, really fun to track down!
What does the future hold for Monster Magnet, both short and long term? What do you see yourself exploring next?
Ya know, I usually make up my mind as I bring the previous record out. I tend to look at things in 3 to 4 to 6-month chunks. Right now, I’m looking at this record and I go all in on these things. I pretty much all of my mind into it to make sure it’s going to be cool and the record company is cool. There’s a lot of bullshit that goes on with this stuff business-wise. Then, my main thing is, “What am I going to be doing for the next bunch of months?” I’m going to be on a tour bus with my friends, playing in front of real people, in real-time and in the moment. I want to stay in that moment for as long as possible because, at that point, plans just interfere with being as enthusiastic as you can in the moment. There is only so much you can plan this stuff before it become over-planning and then you bum yourself out. Right now, my mindset is to tour “Mindfucker” as long as possible. That means setting up a bunch of tours and being ready for more opportunities to tour on this record if they come. As soon as it starts eking out, like right now where I have a New York City dates coming up. In March, at the end of this month, there will be Brooklyn, New Jersey and Philadelphia. In May we go out to Europe for 5 weeks on a headline tour of Europe. We have a whole US tour planned for September. In between all of that we will probably do some festivals and maybe go to Australia. Sometime on that US tour, somewhere between September and November, I’ll probably go, “Ohhhhh, what the fuck are we going to do next!” That’s when I start thinking of what’s going to happen next!
Well, I for one am excited for what the future holds and can’t wait to see you play this new material on tour. Until then, we’ll be out here waving the flag for you and spreading the word! Thanks for your time today, Dave!
Right on! Thanks brother! Have a good one and we’ll talk soon!
Monster Magnet will unleash ‘Mindfucker’ via Napalm Records on March 26th, 2018! Follow the continuing adventures of Dave Wyndorf and Monster Magnet via the band’s official website at www.zodiaclung.com. Connect with the band via social media on Facebook and Twitter.