TRUST YOUR MASTERMIND: THE MONSTER MAGNET INTERVIEW
No one thinks of Monster Magnet music as overtly inspirational, but fans know that its restorative power is formidable. Astounding, even. There’s an empowering hugeness, a tone of amused disgust, and a lovable protagonist in Dave Wyndorf, Monster Magnet’s mainman. It follows then that Wyndorf is into comic books (presumably the source of his skill at exploding proportions) and also that his ouevre’s best moments are a druggy, sweaty Iron Man-meets-Evil Dead trilogy for your ears: Fist-pumping. Ear-banging. Mind-mangling. Sack-jabbing. (My hope is that I’m never at a party where onto the stereo comes “All Friends And Kingdom Come” or “Powertrip” cuz I will dropkick somebody’s flatscreen through a wall.)
Despite his outsized persona on record and the then-pending departure of a longtime bandmate, Wyndorf sounded loose and limber when we spoke last week about his thunderous new record, Mastermind, his admirers in the press, the status of his health/weight/dancing, his favorite idiotic music, and Ozzy’s brain.
Take us into the musician’s brain: How does it feel to release a record in Fall 2010?
It always feels good to release a record, man, because that’s just what I do. Making music is the one thing I can really count on in life. People come and go, but making music is the most fun thing I can think of doing. It’s a compulsion. So when you release it, it automatically sets up the next one. That’s what I love. It’s saying goodbye to one thing and saying hello to the next.
So it’s accurate to say that you are already thinking about the next Monster Magnet record.
Yeah, right now! I wrote like eight songs in the last couple of weeks for some reason. I just kinda went berserk. In the middle of all this work setting up this record, it was like, “Alright, you gotta strike while the iron’s hot.”
Yeah. It must be something to do with me getting old. It’s like, “Well. Don’t die! You better get going!”
Is there any anxiety for you? It’s 2010 and the music industry is kinda wacky.
Yeah, it’s definitely wacky.
Have you ever thought, “This is more than I bargained for. What a hassle.”
Y’know, I did that a long time ago — the whole sit down [and think] “This is way more than I bargained for.” But i’ve gotten over it since. That was around the time we released [pauses] that album called God Says No. Around that time is when I had that moment where I was like, “This is fucking bullshit.” That’s the moment that I knew the whole record industry was going down the shitter. It was tough. These bozos in the record industry completely lost the plot to the whole thing. Instead of making the music cheaper, they made it more expensive. They pretended the whole digital thing wasn’t going down. The company that had supported me for so many years was sold to Interscope. So, Interscope was my new record company and they were basically a bunch of college grads with cell phones wearing black clothes and trying to push nu-metal. Like, “Dude, this is the thing! Nu-metal. Fuck everybody else!” I was like, “Y’know, I think I’m going to call a taxi now.” [laughs] That was my bad moment. Since then, as far as music goes, I’m pretty free and easy about the whole thing. I realize there’s nothing you can do except for getting in touch with yourself about the reasons you make music. Is it to be popular? Do you make music to like kick people’s ass? Do you make music to make yourself happy? When I come down to the reason that I make music, there’s not a lot of anxiety.
Yeah, at the risk of sounding like a hippie, that’s the only way you can go. These days, the pressure on people to be a success is overwhelming. There is no time; you either come out successful or get the fuck out of here. It’s like, just chill; let’s give these guys a chance to grow. So I have to try to not pay attention to that stuff and go “Well, I make music because I wanna make it and because there’s stuff that I haven’t done yet that I wanna do.”
Do you agree that a band like Monster Magnet really can’t go out of style? Bombastic rock ‘n roll tends to endure.
I think that there is music that doesn’t go out of style for sure. Y’know? The stuff that I liked when I was a little kid never went out of style in my head. No matter how many different ways that they wrap certain chords up and present it, and no matter how many different production styles, there are only so many chords. There’s only so much music; it’s math.
I think, for lack of a different word, classic rock — when it’s played with an edge — can never go out of style. It may go out of style with critics, but it’s going to hit somebody somewhere. It’s just too physical. It’s like saying that playing the blues went out of style. It’s like, [dismissively] “Nooo.” Hard rock, I think, is like blues. And even more now, it’s being treated like — it may not be the big cultural force it was in ’71 with Grand Funk Railroad or something — but it’s getting the kind of attention now from people that used to be reserved for jazz. You’ve got real musos looking at hard rock and all its [variations] like a curio. Like a curiosity. Like something that can exploited. That’s fuckin’ cool.
Can we talk about the new album? I feel that Mastermind is the most epic Monster Magnet album in a while.
Ah, thanks. Yeah, definitely. It’s been a while since I did an overly-aggressive record. Starting with [pauses] three records ago, I wanted to do a rock ‘n roll record; that was called Monolithic Baby. I really wanted to do an upbeat, major chord, traditional rock ‘n roll record except with really, really snarky, satirical lyrics and stuff. So I did that. That was cool. There are a couple heavy ones on it, but mainly I wanted that to be an upbeat record. Then came [4-Way Diablo, 2007] which is kinda weird, because that record almost wasn’t supposed to happen? I was drugged out; it was pieces of stuff put together. It came out, it’s not bad, but it’s not exactly what I had in mind for that time.
This record was the one that should’ve come out, like, four or five years ago — a natural reaction to the previous record. I always try to react to my previous record. If I’m going to imitate myself in one way or another, I’m definitely not going to do it on the record right after. You know? I’m going to go in a different direction. It’s the only way to keep it interesting.
All the best Album Bands do that. I’m not talking about acts with the best songs or best live show, but those that have big strings of creatively successful records. Each record is different but the same.
Yeah. Different but the same. Exactly. I try to push the concept a little bit one way or the other. Bring up some of the [different elements] of one style or the other. That’s just fun. If I was a great businessman, every record would sound like the most successful record. “Here comes Powertrip II! Powertrip III!” Whatever record sold the most. But as a musician, I gotta keep interested in this stuff. So I try things. I try shit. Sometimes it sells, sometimes it don’t.
I noticed the title of the record is phonetically similar to the band’s name. Were you close to self-titling the album?
Uh, no. But that’s not a bad idea. That’s something those old guys would’ve done. Put out eight records then finally [release] a self-titled record. That’s definitely an old classic rock trick. No, Mastermind came out because one, I love the title Mastermind. I love that word. “Mastermind!” It’s fucking evil. It sounds diabolic. Mad scientist shit. So that came up once. And I had an old song a million years ago called “Black Mastermind.” So that was there. You know, I like songs about my reality [and] stuff that happened to me.
A lot of times conversations I’ve had with people will come up. I had a conversation with a girl in Texas, I think. This was five or six years ago, but it came up in my mind how I was trying to get her to go into a hotel room with me. I was trying everything. She was like, “I don’t know. What’s gonna happen in there?” I was like, “Oh, we’re just gonna hang out, you know? Hang out.” And she goes, “What are you gonna do in there?” So I just went for it, and whispered in her ear every diabolical thing I could think of. [I decided to] just go for it and tell her every filthy thing and see what happens. She went back and goes, “Oooh! You’re some kind of, like … mastermind!” [laughs]
I just cracked up! It didn’t seem like the word that would come out of a 22-year old girl. I was like, “Yeah! That’s me: Mastermind!” And then it came up when I was singing about that girl and what happened. I was like, “This is too cool. I gotta use this.”
You definitely have a way with words. Friends of mine who listen exclusively to hip-hop music — the really nerdy, egghead MCs —
Yeah, I know the type. [chuckles] It’s an interesting phenomenon.
Right. These are guys who have the luxury to focus only on lyric writing —
[laughs] That is a luxury, isn’t it?
My friends put you on the same tier as these super-MCs. I tend to agree —
That’s quite a compliment! That’s huge.
Well, Monster Magnet lyrics are so artful and packed with imagery. There’s a real punch.
To me, lyrics are as important as music. Maybe not always in telling a coherent story — though all my songs have a beginning, middle, and end. But [lyrics] are not there to follow any rules except to accentuate the music at that point. The right word for the right chord. The right scream, the right everything. I can play with the truth; I can tell the truth without being blatant. I can hide the truth. I can talk about people I know — people who I’m personally involved with — without them knowing. I can metaphor the shit out of that stuff.
You know what I mean? Because everyone lives the same life. Take all the money or whatever perceived things about [the lives of] rockers, and everybody basically has the same problems: you ran out of money, you lost your girl, the world is weird, how do I fit in, I hate everybody, and I want to bomb the whole town! In the 21st century, it’s all people thinking about “Where do I fit in? How can I get by? How am I going to survive? Am I cool enough?” So, it’s all those situations. I just try to put all that normal stuff into a context that evokes some images.
I try to make it seem important and add some gravity to it. The kind of music I listened to when I was a kid… I was listening to, like, Black Sabbath and David Bowie. Those guys are all full of images. It was always really image-filled. Black Sabbath was talking about nuclear war, Ozzy was always talking about his brain. That guy must’ve said brain like 9,000 times on the first three albums. [laughs] “My braaaaaaain!!!!”
How can you ignore that shit? Alice Cooper, all those guys. I love those guys.
[laughs] Stop. You’re slaying me.
[shrieks] “My braaaain!” And lots of Catholic guilt and shit; it was awesome. Most of the rock guys I listen to who use evocative images… I didn’t think of them as actually making up science fiction. I always took it in my brain that they were singing about themselves, but they were [pauses] just using a different way to express it. I never looked at it like the whole Iron Maiden thing where those guys were obviously writing fiction. “We’re going to tell the story of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Which is cool, I guess, but it wasn’t personal. I was always taught in my brain from reading and stuff that you should make your writing as personal as possible. So I try to figure out how to make it both personal and interesting.
I’m glad we agree on that. Take a Bowie song like “Life on Mars?” — that’s about feeing disconnected from the world. Dissociation, not space travel.
Absolutely. There’s no question about it. It’s another way to [express] that I’m lonely, or I’m disconnected or alienated. There’s a lot to me… I notice that if you listen to music down at the 7-11 or on mainstream rock radio or whatever, there’s a lot of really literal rock songs. Almost like they’re afraid to get the least bit confusing. [sings] “I went/To the drugstore/And I got a prescription for drugs/I didn’t like it/Then I met you/Oh baby.” It’s like, [bellows] “Fuck you. You suck!!” That’s the worst shit I’ve ever heard, and that’s popular.
Y’know? [laughs] As far as the rock world goes, that stuff really blows. I’d rather listen to Lady Gaga. At least she’s got some imagery going on. Weird deal. You figure that rock guys invented this shit, but they’ve abandoned it.
I have a question about Mastermind’s first single, “Gods and Punks.” Am I mistaken or is “gods and punks” a lyric from “King of Mars” [on Dopes To Infinity, 1995]?
Good ears! Yes, absolutely.
Yes! Is there any thematic or spiritual link between those two songs?
Probably just laziness on my part. For some reason, that line in “King of Mars” always got me. I liked it. I was like, “Y’know, that should’ve been the title of that song.” That’s what happened. Most of the time I write the albums in one big chunk. And every time I sit down to write an album, my mind will automatically… Musical memory seems to bypass all drug abuse.
[laughs] I don’t know what it is about musical memory. I think in terms of music, stuff doesn’t go away. It kept coming up so I said fuck it, I’m using it.
So drugs are out of the equation now?
Yeah, y’know, with the exception of this horrible nightmare I went through — which I did to myself — drugs were out of the picture for the longest time. I hadn’t gotten high, for party purposes or anything, for years and years and years. The whole time of the Monster Magnet thing, I was straight. I didn’t even drink hardly. I went on this one boozer excursion for about three years, but it wasn’t [pauses] … it wasn’t a drug addict thing. I stopped getting high. As soon as I started making music, there was no room for me to get high. I was having more fun actually using my head. So this [issue with benzodiazepines] came as a bad blow to my creativity. So I’m off it and I’m back. Things are, to me, just back to normal.
That makes me happy. We’ve had a lot of scary stuff in metal lately.
I know. People are dying all over the place.
Moving on, I’d like to talk about some of the good press that Monster Magnet has enjoyed. This is praise from on high in tastemaker publications for hipsters. I’m curious about your reaction to that.
I wish the fancier review for the fancier paper would actually translate into sales. That would be cool. “Well, the New York Times likes ya, so that automatically means you sell more!” It doesn’t, but you know, I’ve never had a problem with a good review. You know what I mean? I don’t pay that much attention, but it’s nice to hear them. Especially when they’re on target. An on-target review, bad or good, is always much more appreciated than one that’s completely like, “Wrong! Wrong, wrong, wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.” You know. I’ve had reviews that were really good but completely wrong about everything. They might not be talking about how they feel about it; they’re talking about what they think the world will think about it. So when it comes to reviews, I like ‘em when they’re heartfelt. I like ‘em when they’re enthusiastic one way or another. But I like ‘em when they get their facts straight. That’s really cool.
So you find that major media’s understanding of Monster Magnet is accurate?
Ummmm, god. I haven’t put ’em all up in a row and read ‘em.
“See you guys later. I gotta go read my re-views.” [laughs] I can see that sometimes they are accurate and sometimes they aren’t. The smarter the people, the closer they are to the truth. But, they never really figure it out. I mean, Monster Magnet is a pretty weird deal and a very esoteric situation; there’s lots of weird layers there. Not everybody can see them. But then I have to get to the point where, guess what, it’s your job as a songwriter to either make your music as palpable as possible to people, or to keep it ambiguous. It’s really up to you. So, if they don’t get it, it’s probably my fault. So it’s okay.
You used the word “weird” a couple times there. Some people just don’t get weird. Weird people speak a different language.
They definitely do, dude. They definitely do. God bless ‘em.
The aforementioned Lady Gaga, too.
Well, Lady Gaga is Marilyn Manson. Has anyone figured that out yet? She sounds like Marilyn Manson. She uses the same kind of words. She’s got the same beats. I swear to god. I wish somebody would interview and go, “Do you like Marilyn Manson?” She’d probably say “Yeah!” It’s fucking great.
Good point. She kinda looks like him. [They’ve actually collaborated before. – Ed.]
I know. Ugly! It’s great! She’s awesome. Anybody who wears a meat dress on TV is like okay by me. Meat dress! Did you see that steak hat she was sporting? Who likes steak?
She had to hand off her meat purse to somebody. The term meat purse is vile, by the way.
[laughs] You gotta love it. I was loving it.
I read about a proposed Monster Magnet unplugged tour project.
I’m trying. Yeah, I’ve been trying to do that for three years now and nobody’s biting. The promotors aren’t biting. I couldn’t get a good enough guarantee to pull it off. If I have to go in there and literally write a record of unplugged new songs and sell that in order to bear out a tour, I’ll do it.
My thing was to take the whole Monster Magnet catalog, take a lot of mellow songs we’d never done before, and put them out there. Plus, really cool re-imagined versions of some of the psychedelic stuff with live sitars and percussion. The whole trip! The whole unplugged thing, except probably not as unplugged as some purists would like. And turned up. Vintage amps, little amps, sitars, mellotrons — the whole fuckin’ deal. I was like, “This is what I wanna do!” And [the promotors respond], “Well, we can’t get any guarantee for this. They want ‘Space Lord’.” And I’m like, “We’ll do ‘Space Lord’! If that’s all it takes!” They still didn’t bite. I think after this record, seems to be doing okay, I think they’ll go for it. [The volume] may be turned down, but it’s not gonna be without power. It’s gonna be cool.
Sounds trippy and cool. Not the standard adaptation.
Yeah. For anybody who likes vintage music and sounds, this is gonna be a feast. You like mellotron? I do, too. You like sitar? Okay! Weird tunings, high fuzz bass, bongos … We could do anything from blues to vintage psychedelia, kinda fuck it up, and make it cool. These guys who promote and book [tours] are under a lot of pressure to turn over tickets. I can see where they’re coming from. But still, I’m kinda pissed off at those guys for not believing in it. I’ll make them believe, though.
Speaking of live Monster Magnet, I secretly wish that you’d completely give up guitar playing on stage. I’m a mega-fan of Dave Wyndorf the dancer.
[laughs, coughs] That’ll be coming back. I’ve been on this medication for three years now. It’s an anti-seizure medication. I fucked up my nervous system; the benzodiazepine totally fucked me up. So they put me on this anti-seizure stuff, because [cartoonishly] I’m at seizure risk! They put me on it for an indefinite amount of time. Although now, [a definite termination has been set for] the beginning of the year. Anyway, this stuff just killed my metabolism and I blew up like a pumpkin. I’m the guy with a big belly hanging out now, like Uncle Dave. All of the sudden I went from being Dave to “Hey, it’s Uncle Dave!” So there’s no way I’m going to dance around like that. I’d look like a complete idiot. So I had to rearrange the whole thing. “Okay, you have a belly. You look like a fuckin’ pork chop — “
“ — so just stand there, play some guitar, and sing your songs. And get on a bicycle, dude. Stop eating the Ring Dings, for christ’s sake.” I try everything to lose weight. It’s not working. But I’m getting off the medication at the beginning of 2011. I’ll be back just fuckin’ cock-rockin’.
It is borderline gay of me to praise your dancing.
[laughs] Thanks, man. The whole Monster Magnet thing unleashes all this bizarre behavior for me. Everything that I liked about rock and everything that I liked about what made me happy about rock ‘n roll as a kid all came out as Monster Magnet progressed. From psychedelic guitar tones to fuckin’ bizarre dirges to leather pants, it took me over. I never had more fun in my whole life. You get that feeling where you’re like, “Aw dude, that’s where I’m supposed to be!” I used to be lost in books and never did anything; I just read about stuff and liked it. Hey, the power of rock.
Huh. That’s funny. It’s the same way for the Monster Magnet fan. I, for one, have stock Monster Magnet dance moves. I also act out the lyrics a bit. The point is that Monster Magnet music unleashes freakiness in listener as well as creator, I assure you.
[laughs] That’s great to hear. I love it.
I want to get into specifics about the seeds of Monster Magnet. You mentioned that there are bands you’ve loved since you were really young.
Really early on, the stuff that inspired me more than anything else… My whole world was a handful of things: The first couple Hawkwind albums. The first couple Stooges and Black Sabbath records. Those things just go on and on in my head forever because they’re beautiful. There’s a lot of melody in there; there’s a lot of stuff you can hook onto. It’s heavy, it’s cool. Then, besides that, almost everything that I’ve listened to has affected me in one way or another. I listened to a lot of classical music when I was a kid; my mom used to listen to it and I still do constantly. The Ramones were a huge inspiration. [That] was the first time I was actually like, “Hey man, I can probably do this!” It’s a major thing [to realize] that you can actually live by your wits and get away with it. Well, that I have plenty of. Somehow I got that confused with technical talent, like [possessing technical talent] was the difference between being musical and not musical. When I saw The Ramones, I was like, “Y’know? I think I can probably do this.” And it went awesome. So those are the biggest spiritual and musical influences, I think.
“Spiritual” is an apt term. Some music you carry in your heart.
Yeah. That’s the power of music. It’s one of the best things man has ever created. It’s like the ultimate art. It puts your head in different places at the same time. Remember we said that musical memory is different from your regular memory? Well, I know people that are so stoned-out and burnt that they can’t even remember who they were married to five years ago, but they can recite Sticky Fingers — every lyric of it. What’s going on there? There’s some power.
Are you talking about me? Cuz if you are —
It’s you, dude! [laughs] The power of music. It hits ya. When it hits your heart and you connect with it, you can’t forget it even if you want to. And believe me, there’s plenty of music I want to forget.
[laughs] I’m as big a fan of bad albums as good albums.
Well, because they’re so funny! Take a listen to Rick Wakeman’s Journey To The Center of the Earth. Have you ever heard that album?
Is it worse than Tales From Topographic Oceans?
You won’t believe what you’re listening to. [laughs] Unbelievable. It’s got a narrator that tells the story. [grandly] “And now we drill into the Earth and the giant tortoise among the dark beasts…” Then the synth starts. You gotta hear it. It’s so fuckin’ over the top. If you want to be a true punk, just go and play that at a party and say “Fuck you all.” They’ll chase you down the street. Mission accomplished.
Ah yes, party-ending music. Like that Zebra song.
Oh yeah, it’s a room-clearer. But it’s all great, because it has an effect. It’s really [about] the effect.
Sometimes when I react to a song in a strongly negative way, later it turns out that I like it but just didn’t want to like it. You can’t choose what you like.
It’s like girls you’ve met. Just like sex. You meet a person of the opposite sex or whatever you want, and you don’t get along right away. But then it creeps in like some horrible fungus. And then you’re like, [rasps] “I’ve gotta have it.” Boy, music is like that. I can remember being that way about that latest Ke$ha song.
The triumph of idiocy in all songwriting. [The first time,] I was like, “What the fuck am I listening to?” Then within a month, I had to have that thing. I had to listen to it. People were laughing at me and putting me down, but I listen to it. It’s a triumph of idiocy, one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard in my life. But it’s great in its own way!
Dude, fucking Nickelback got me.
Ooooh. I feel sorry for you.
Some songs essentially are designed by, like, nuclear scientists in a bunker somewhere. They can push buttons in your brain.
You’re not kidding around. They know what they’re doing. There’s all kinds of stuff… There are chords, chord progressions, and melody lines that have been proven to affect moods. It’s like a drug and it causes a chemical reaction in your brain. And I forget what it’s called, but there’s a something in music theory [that states] that if you interrupt a chord progression, the mind will finish it. That’s why a lot of people do half-choruses; they want your mind to finish it.
We could get really deep about this stuff. And it’s really fun and geeked-out and rock to do it. [laughs] It’s like putting together all the Floyd records like [stonerly], “Dude. Check it out.”
Monster Magnet’s newest epic Mastermind is out now on Napalm Records.