Monster Magnet’s Dave Wyndorf: “When we first started playing complete album sets I realized I finally had the crowd I had always wanted”
Monster Magnet recently brought their 2014 tour to Australia earlier this month and is preparing for a run of European tourdates this summer. If you haven’t heard the band’s latest album “Last Patrol” it is worth checking out as it is easily one of the band’s finest moments in a deep catalog of albums. I talked with lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Dave Wyndorf about the realities of stateside and overseas touring these days, the work he put into recording “Last Patrol” and much more; read on…..
Legendary Rock Interviews: Thanks for taking the time to do this Dave, I have been a fan of the band for years now but have looked forward to talking with you because your latest album “Last Patrol” kicks ass. Are you pretty satisfied with the end result as a whole after all the work leading up to it?
Dave Wyndorf: I finally listened to the record after obviously listening to it a million times while I was doing it but then putting it away. I actually listened to it the other day because I had to go over something on it, some lyrical content or something and I have to say it’s just a pretty fuckin weird record (laughs). I was like “Wow, what a weird record!”.
LRI: That was clear from the cover art and song titles. You’ve made weird albums and trippy covers before but this is pretty far out there. What was your headspace like this time out working with your painter John Sumrow?
Dave: I was really, really crazy about making the record textural and interconnected. I didn’t just want everything to be tied together, I wanted it to feel like it was sewn together by a human. I was so sick of hearing everything so processed, processed by modern production and mixing tricks and timesavers that just seem to flatline everything from the album art all the way down. The album art is always a big thing to me. I thought, “Ok, this thing has gotta be paint, it’s got to be a painting and it’s gotta look like it sound, I don’t care what it looks like but it HAS to look like it sounds”. I felt like if the record sounded hand crafted then the cover should be organic too. I went looking for painters and found a lot of great artists who just didn’t wanna work with paint anymore, it takes too long, nobody knows anyone. I was like, “There’s a certain vibe I’m looking for. What do you mean nobody knows anyone?” and they’re like “Oh, you can get the same result from digital” and I was like “No, no you can’t”. Finally, I found this guy who does that and I just went in and said “Look, here’s a bunch of cool science fiction posters from the 60s, the golden age of science fiction art with muted colors”….if you look at any of that original stuff from the 60s, it just looks really good. I had an idea and he couldn’t pull it off cause it wasn’t his style so we just ended up morphing it something like Bullgod in outer space, a lot of outer space. I kept telling him, “More space, more space” and it just came down to a lot of texture”. It was really fun to work on. Originally, the Bullgod was big, really big and I was like “No, give it some more scope, give it a sense that outer space is actually taking over”. It’s not a “fist in the air/big dumb rock anthem” kind of album, it’s definitely something else so I wanted to make the Bullgod guy look kind of intimidated by the massive scope of outer space around him. I kept throwing out insane references like “Moody Blues, Moody Blues” and of course the guy was like “What the fuck are you talking about?” and I was telling him, “Look at those great old Moody Blues album covers”. He just kept listening to all these things I said and was doing it kind of third hand which was a bit of a struggle but I also think that’s why it came out as well as it did because he nailed it.
LRI: Do you have a connection to album jacket art that goes back to being a kid?
Dave: Yeah, they are absolutely breathtaking to me. I am a fan of images, good illustrations, good photographs, who isn’t? Everybody is, but I take it to obsessive levels. It’s not just album art either, I’m the guy who bought books just for the cover and the “I have to own this” factor. Vinyl albums covers are almost a separate artform to me unto themselves, they really, really look different from anything else. They’ve got elements of book covers or movie posters but they’re totally their own separate thing and I just gloried in it when I was a kid. It was my gateway, it was my gateway to the record and the music. And you could roll joints on em! (laughs). That was also important!
LRI: 2013 saw great, great record releases from both Monster Magnet and Clutch, two bands that have been at this for quite a while and have a ton of clout among critics and serious fans. It feels good to say that after all these years of both bands making music, what do you attribute that kind of longevity to?
Dave: I don’t really know the Clutch guys too well, I met them years ago but I can tell they fucking LOVE making music. They love it and I love it and without the love and dedication to the music there isn’t much. It’s obviously much more about the love and dedication to the music than it is the dedication to the career or anything like that. Clutch, to me seems to love making music and love making records which helps you not be bitter about making music because any kind of bitterness you might hold for the industry is outweighed by the love for the music. When you add twenty years of experience to that you get a record that is a labor of love, that’s what you get and that comes from experience. It’s weird isn’t it? In the world of illustration, filmmaking, all those guys who are truly in love with it just get better as they get older. For some reason, there’s this idea in rock that you’re gonna get worse. Why would that be? Aren’t you supposed to get better with experience instead of worse? You are but I think the trick is to not let the industry fuck you or wear you out to the point where you can’t remember anything that made you love music in the first place. It starts with trying not to be too concerned with charts which works because charts don’t seem to be too important today, they don’t exist the way they used to. Everything is on a list and nobody seems to give a shit about where anything lands anymore so I would say your primary path to longevity is based on your love for music and fun. I say fun because I’ve noticed there’s a certain breed of person who actually has fun out there exhausting themselves on the road. That’s a weird thing but I think it’s also pretty important.
LRI: It feels really insignificant and boring and lame to keep track of YouTube views and Facebook likes or Retweets. I realize that those measurements are super important to bands but sometimes I feel like the bands I talk to are far TOO concerned with that dumb shit.
Dave: It’s really stupid and you know something? It’s like, Ok, sure it counts but it’s so funny for all the directness of it you don’t make any personal contact, it doesn’t feel like any realtime reverberation between you and the people. You don’t get that feeling unless you go out live all the time, at least I don’t so I couldn’t do it or be obsessed about it. Then again, I’m older now so I can’t understand sacrificing that real one on one connection with people for being consumed with all that other stuff. To me, it still comes down to actually going out and playing on the road for people. To me, it’s all like halfass TV exposure and when I was growing up, TV exposure was all fine and good provided it was backed up by that live experience of actually seeing the band. I can’t understand how some of these guys think that a YouTube hit is gonna serve them well, like even six months later when the views start going away. It still comes down to making personal connections with people.
LRI: When KISS did Midnight Special or Bandstand it was a bonus but would have meant nothing if they hadn’t built the word of mouth on the road.
Dave: Right, American Bandstand, Don Kirschner, that was an affirmation of their success out there, it was an affirmation of their live show success. That was an asterisk. It wasn’t the other way around. MTV proved it too. Remember, it was the new way to sell music. How long did it last? Really. It was like a rock solid ten years before it stopped promoting and selling music. You can sell music quickly these days but you can’t sell a band without going out and playing live in front of actual people’s eyes and ears. At least I don’t think so. That’s the way it was back in those days and that’s the way it still is.
LRI: A while back you were playing some of the classic Monster Magnet stuff in its entirety like “Dopes To Infinity”. Did that kind of reawaken you creatively or somehow help the process of moving forward in the here and now?
Dave: Yes, absolutely, it sort of put me in touch with something….I never lost touch with that style of recording or that vibe but after a while I find that I tend to lose the plot on what actual people will put up with. For a certain amount of time it was important for me to move the crowd in a straight line and that was the best way to achieve the desired reaction. I knew that if I took a set and played something like “Dopes” in its entirety there was going to be a certain amount of people who just walked away. And people did. The crowd would thin out during little songs, we have some almost lounge material on that record, it gets really musical. I don’t give a fuck what people say, “it’s more traditional metal, it’s psychedelic it’s this, it’s that” the fact is that it is a lot of different music. I was concerned about the crowds thinning out because the set wasn’t chock full of the right amount of hits or headbangers or all of this kind of shit but finally I was like, “fuck it, I’m gonna give this a shot” and the crowd came around and actually stuck with it. They sat through a set that had Sabbath type rockers and then weird little 60s garage things and lots of mellow songs. When we first started playing the complete album sets the crowd did thin out, people did walk away and not headbang and it looked like the show was disassembling but within a few shows people were completely figuring it out. They knew what was going on and I realized in my head that I finally had the crowd that I always wanted; people who were in there for music, not just for some attack on their senses or because it was some sort of big rock show, which is fun but I get tired of it. They were there for the whole trip and I was like “fuck, I’m gonna write music like this again, this is gonna be fun”. I thought, if I have enough dedicated people, doesn’t have to be a lot but enough dedicated people who are willing to stay with me for the ride and not sit in the backseat like an annoying kid saying “Are we there yet?” (laughs) because believe me, that’s what you get eventually when you give people too much variety. I just finally said “Fuck it, I’ve got nothing to lose, it’s not like we have to be on the radio or that shit anymore to survive”.
LRI: It was similarly kind of left of center for you to include a Donovan cover on the “Last Patrol” album, although it totally works out to be “Monster Magnetized”. When did you know “Three Kingfishers” was gonna be the right choice?
Dave: It’s interesting how that came up. For one, you always wanna do a cover justice of course but I was just looking through all of the songs I had for “Last Patrol” and I had like 16 songs but only a certain amount that I thought fit the record. The other songs were okay but didn’t fit the vibe of the record so I was immediately like, “Okay, those are gone, I’m not using them, I’m not developing them right now.” I’m looking at the album as a whole and thinking that it needs a real, authentic psych thing, like a nice, melodic, pretty psych thing like the way they wrote it in 66 at the dawn of psych and it needs one more giant, stomping, tyrannical, giant robot attacks the city Sabbath thing. I was like, “Alright, I gotta write two more songs and I went to sleep and woke up the next day and started singing “Three Kingfishers” and immediately I hear my subconscious going “Here’s your pysch song” and I thought “Okay, I’ll steal something from ‘Three Kingfishers” cause here’s Donovan actually doing it”. It’s beautiful, British, the way Americans can never do it you know, because it is honestly British. At first I wasn’t gonna outright steal it but kind of vibe it out but then I was just like “Fuck this, I’m not going to write something better than this, this is Donovan, this is beautiful so I started playing it and singing it and turned it up and said “Ok, I will kill two birds with one stone and turn this Donovan song into the stomping thing at the end and sort of Monster-Magnetize it like you said. It worked and it went really quick it only took me like a half an hour of sitting there and messing around with it in my head before I was like “Fuck, this is gonna be great!” so I brought it to the band and it didn’t take long at all and I was like “Ok, good call” because on top of all that it saved me a lot of time as well.
LRI: I remember reading an interview with you when you announced “Last Patrol” saying there was a bit of a time crunch as far as writing or creating, what was that about?
Dave: There was a time crunch and the reason that came about because I’m just not made of money and I couldn’t spend endless amounts of time in the studio tweaking and crafting stuff, I had to craft in my head and sort of bet that my instincts were correct this time out as far as teaching the guys the parts and all that. The crunch came about this last time because I just would not let anything go, every little tiny drum part, every little guitar flourish, every bass run, every little slide, every single lead was completely scrutinized and I was constantly like “Stop, no, it’s good enough but it’s not weird enough, it’s gotta be weirder” and I just ran out of time. What would usually take a week to work out like bass and drum parts turned into like two weeks because I was scrutinizing everything and trying everything and eventually I just kind of ran out of time trying to stay within budget. It was a madhouse by the end and I kept changing things as we went but I will say it was worth it though, it’s worth all that work. The way I look at it is, the only thing Monster Magnet has going for it is its eccentricities, all those little quirks come from that persistent work. I think some of that comes from the influences of names like Donovan and Alice Cooper and Dennis Dunaway.
LRI: Dennis Dunaway is a really good interview.
Dave: I bet he is. I would love to talk to Dennis, he was one of my favorite bass players of all time. He was so decorative in his bass playing. Dennis came from a time when bass players were STARS. In those classic Alice Cooper group songs the bass tells the story man! In modern rock, people don’t play bass like that anymore.
LRI: “Halo of Flies”, exhibit a….
Dave: Oh fuck, it’s a goddamn masterpiece. You know what’s the best about those early records is that those guys aren’t particularly great players, they were a garage band that became brilliant and there is a certain triumph in that. It was a triumph that they moved into such an elevated plateau, it was like the lunatics took over the asylum. That band and Bob Ezrin made garage rock and artform, that’s really what those early Alice Cooper records are.
LRI: One of the other things is that the lyrics were important and to me that’s one of the things missing from a lot of acts today, Monster Magnet excluded….
Dave: It’s fuckin stupid as shit. It’s a total waste of creative energy, it’s like “Why don’t you try and up your game motherfucker??!”. You’re completely missing the point and missing half the art.
LRI: That makes it frustrating as a fan, as a spectator. Does the bullshit that slides in the music biz continue to piss you off an inspire you to rise above or do you channel the bitterness and anger into music?
Dave: Oh god yeah. I have a lot of bitterness and revenge that flows out of me (laughs). That feeling you get when you’re not really checking your head or minding your words and you’re just feeling all these primal urges like “Man if I could just get a nuke” and I start thinking “Yeah sure, I will drop a nuclear bomb on you and fly to the moon”. I will fly to the moon with a ten foot blonde with giant tits and just fuck all day between dropping giant nukes on all of the assholes who didn’t believe in the rock. It’s very, very simple and it doesn’t take a lot of thought to arrive at but I stand by it 100%, I like primal urges, I think they’re good.
LRI: Are fans sometimes surprised to find out that sometimes the lyrics AREN’T inspired by deep ponderings on Marvel Comics or the Bible?
Dave: Yeah, yes there will always be people who are like “What? Huh? I thought there was a lot more mystery involved”. There are a certain segment of people who grew up on Iron Maiden and they want “The Rime Of the Ancient Mariner” and are looking for meaning that is deeper than the original urge that inspired a song. They want to think you wrote the screenplay to some amazing fantasy and don’t realize there is no fantasy, it’s all just delusion. It’s really just me, pretty much taking an ice pick to my gut and getting out all of my delusions and whatever. That’s what you’re supposed to do, at least that’s always what I thought writers were supposed to do. I grew up, not only with that great 70s psych and rock but by the time I was actually in bands it was the punk rock era and the punk bands had very different lyrics in those days so when I wound up writing it became kind of a weird combination of the punk rock ideal of keeping it real combined with all this love for the stuff that came before. I try to fit them both in and I wanna get those words, those decorative words that are gonna up the ante and emotional impact so I sort of start by keeping it real and then go out from there.
LRI: Thanks again for talking with me Dave, last question. You have been real careful to not keep the band out there on the road in the states to the point of lunacy or to the point where it doesn’t make sense. Is it a fine line?
Dave: It’s like five weeks out and then home for two months and then five weeks out and home for two months. At the same time, for the reasons we talked about before, I like touring, we all like touring. You’ve gotta represent, physically represent and it felt good adding the states to our usual European madness which usually happens at least two or three times over the course of an album cycle. We are hoping to make it a busy two or three years with shows for “Last Patrol”
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