For more almost 25 years American rock band Monster Magnet have been touring the world and released 9 studio albums that put them in rock history forever.
With Monster Magnet about to hit Australia once again for a full Australian tour, we had the chance to speak with the creative mind behind the band, frontman David Albert Wyndorf about the tour, songwriting, the new line-up, comic books and more!
SR. We’re very excited to have you back in Australia, man. Over the past decade, you’ve been mostly touring internationally, with a hiatus from touring the States. Why the break?
DW. Yeah. Well, the States is I think, for most bands who are doing something outside of straight metal or straight pop rock or something, a weird place. It’s expensive to tour. I don’t see the attention span of people being that hot for our kind of stuff, so rather than trying to bark up a tree that doesn’t want me, I’d rather go places and just try to have fun. So I go to places that want me and Europe has been big for that. I just keep going back to the places that want it, you know. I stopped trying really, really hard to bring Monster Magnet to the people. Because it’s not like the old days. It’s a different time today. It’s a lot of people not looking.
You know, it’s a weird time. A lot of people are inside their heads, looking at their computer screens and phones and shit. Life is too short for me to go knocking on doors.
SR. Totally understandable. Well, Last Patrol has been hailed as your best album to date and is a return to your psychedelic rock roots. What prompted this return to pure psych rock?
DW. You know, I’d been thinking about doing it for a while. I never really abandoned psychedelic rock, but I haven’t done like a full on psych rock record in a while. It’s just in my blood, you know. It’s in my blood and we did a couple of tours of Europe doing older albums, like Dopes to Infinity and Spine of God, and that really psyched me up to do more of that sort of stuff. So I figured, ‘okay – this record’s gonna be the one. I’ll do an all-psych record.’ I’m glad I did, too, coz people seem to like it. So, it’s very cool.
SR. What was the process of putting this record together like?
DW. I kept this like a very, very home grown type record. Like, I did it all here in New Jersey, in my home town. Except, I mixed it in L.A., but it was all written here and recorded here. And I did a lot just around the corner from my house, with my old friend Phil Caivano. And that seemed to help it. Sometimes when you’re doing this really psychedelic music, you want to keep it dark and you don’t want to go into big studios. You want to keep it kinda creepy and do it in houses and stuff. It’s fun. And that really helped with the vibe of the record and it let me do things inexpensively and try a bunch of different stuff out. So that was the way I approached it on this one, rather than going straight to L.A and trying to do a big rock record.
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SR. That was a good decision, dude. It’s been 23 years since the release of Spine of God. What keeps things fresh and interesting for you guys?
DW. Yeah, that’s a good question, coz I thought I’d get burnt out a long time ago. I went, ‘nah – I’ll do this for about 6 years and I’ll be like fuckin’ burnt.’ But the thing that keeps it alive is… There are 2 things. One is that creating music is fun. It’s just fun. It’s like when you’re a little kid and you’re playing and you’re making up stuff in your head. That feeling you get when you’re a kid and you’re playing with your action figures or whatever – reading your comic books. That’s what making music is to me; I never get tired of it. So that keeps it alive. And what keeps it alive really, the MOST, is playing in front of real people. Like – meeting people… taking that out on the road. Seeing people enjoy it… meeting people who like the same kind of music that I do. It’s really cool being in a band when you can tour because… if you’re anything like me… if you live in a town, right, and you know a couple of people who like good music – who like what you like – but there’s not that many of them? So, you figure that in every town, there’s probably about 2 or 3, maybe 5 or 6 people who know the kind of stuff that you like. I get to go to those towns and I get to talk to those 5 or 6 people in every town, you know? So I get to talk to people who really know their shit about music. And have a good time. Coz they’re just bulshittin’: ‘what about this ?’ ‘what about this comic?’ ‘what about this movie?’ And they’re new faces and it’s really fun. In a lot of ways, I really haven’t grown up at all. I’m still like a teenager, like, ‘Aw – there’s gonna be cool people there! It’s gonna be great!’
SR.(Laughs). Speaking of music itself, what comes first for you – the melody or the lyrics?
DW. The music, the melodies always comes first. There’ll be some words in there. Like a title, maybe, a working title. There’s always words rollin’ around in my head, but they’re just there anyway. So they’re gonna be there whether I was writing a song or not. The words are gonna be around in some way. So, what I have to do is get down to the nuts and bolts and just start the thing. I’ve got to start it as a song. I don’t want to start it as poetry, because it may just stay that way. So I go with melody… music… I have a little recording machine here in my house. And I’ll just play the bongos or use the drum machine for a quick track… Sit there with the guitar and write music. And mumble over the top of it ‘Bla bla, baby baby!’ Whatever.
“The music always comes first.”
Doesn’t matter what it is, just so long as it sounds cool. And if it sounds cool, I know that what I write should fit the vibe of the sound that I heard. And it seems to work. I mean, you know, I think that rock ‘n’ roll and the kind of music that I do should really feel good first, before anything. You know? It should feel good and sound cool. And then you add the words to fit the music, rather than the other way around. Coz I’ve tried it the other way around and it always sounds like country and western. It’s like, ‘no, no, man! you gotta rock this shit up!’ So, that’s the way I work.
SR. Following up on that, where do you personally find inspiration when you’re writing? Do you have any starting point?
DW. Usually, the starting point is reality. I have to start with the most real thing I can imagine, because it’s the only thing that keeps me interested for a long time. So I’ll start with how I perceive things. Like, what makes me super happy, what makes me super bummed out. Uh, relationships… all that kind of weird stuff. Everybody does it. It could be boring, but it belongs to me. It’s my life. So I write about that. But what I do is I’ll start to think about different ways to express an emotion, in dramatic terms. Cinematic terms. Like why describe myself as being bummed out or waking up in the morning and feeling bummed out and just saying that? Why don’t I just say ‘the sun rose… and there’s a deathly pall’, you know? Whatever. Just kind of up the ante. Up the reality. Hyper-reality. Use dramatic words… words from religion … pulp fiction … science fiction… comic books. Stuff that really blows it out. It sounds fuckin’ cool. It’s all based in reality, but by the time I’m done with it… the kind of words that describe the visions… that go along with the music… seem to settle in. It’s kind of the way I’ve been doing it all along and it seems to work for me.
SR. Speaking of live shows, what do you do to get pumped before a show? Do you have any special rituals, or some way you prepare for a live show?
DW. Um – usually play my favourite records, you know? I don’t usually get to the show until an hour before, right? That’s my ritual. I stay far away from the show until like an hour before. And then I’ll show up and be like, ‘Yeah! Glad to be here!’ And then in goes the iPod and Grand Funk Railroad or Hawkwind, whatever I’ve got on there. Blast it at top volume. And goof around with the guys. We’ll fuck around and sing songs and stuff and play and get all psyched up. There’s nothing like listening to your favourite records to make you want to play.
SR. Monster Magnet’s line up has changed a lot over the years. So the big question is if it’s challenging for you to work with new personnel on a regular basis?
DW. Always, yeah. It’s always challenging, but it’s good. I think it’s a good thing. For a band that’s been around for that long… I didn’t expect to be around this long… I never get tired of it, but I play with people who do. So, the most important thing is that I’m in a band with someone who wants to play. Some people just don’t dig it as much. So, it’s a challenge; but, when it’s time for a new person to come in, or a person quits or whatever, the first thing I think of – and this is a good thing – is ‘Wow – this person must really want to do it.’ You know? If they want to join, they must really want to do it. And sure enough, most of the time, it’s a really good thing. I don’t think I’ve ever made a bad decision. So far.
SR. What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
DW. Ah, man. You know, it’s weird. I’ve got a bunch of highlights so much records on major labels and stuff. But my real highlight was when I learned – from playing a lot, especially in the last 5 or 6 years — that people will come back to see records that I did ten years ago. Or they’re interested in seeing all the songs, not just the latest record. So I don’t have any physical highlight. There were a couple of physical highlights, like, ‘Hey, we went number one!’ That was cool. But the main highlight is the fact that, after all this time, people still like it.
It makes me feel good. It makes me feel more like an author. Like somebody who wrote a book or something. It’s a cool feeling.
SR. Let’s move to another topic that you really enjoy: Comic books. You have a lot of comic book references throughout your work, including nods towards Jack Kirby, Modok, and the Fantastic Four. Marvel returned the compliment, naming one of their characters Negasonic Teenage Warhead.
DW. I know! I KNOW! He’s like one of the best comic writers in the business. He completely cooled out and named an X Men character after Negasonic Teenage Warhead. And when he did that – I had no idea he was going to do it – I didn’t know him or anything. Somebody goes, ‘Hey! Check this out.’ And I was like, ‘Holy shit! Amazing! Absolutely amazing.’ I mean, that’s a highlight of my career.
SR. What was the first comic book you read?
DW. The first comic book I ever read was… Man, that was a long time ago, dude. I’m fuckin’ old. Um, it was The Amazing Spiderman #56. 1967 that thing came out. I think I was like 10 years old or 9 years old. And I read it in a barber shop. I was getting my hair cut. My father used to bring me to the barber shop and get me a skinhead. And they had comic books for kids to read. I picked it up and I thought all comic books were like Superman and stuff –kinda clean-lookin’ and stuff. This was kind of crazy, dirty look. Not dirty lookin’, but it was so fuckin’ badass and I was hooked from that first book I read. I never stopped. Those comic books are great because illustration is one of the best ways to tell a story. I think sometimes it’s better than movies.
SR. What’s your favourite comic book so far?
DW. Uh, there’s so many favourites. So many favourites. I mean, you’d have to ask me what my favourite comic book of 1995 was… ’96… ’97. Right now, I’m reading this book called Prophet by Image. It’s totally psychedelic and really, really cool. There’s another book out called ‘The Boys’…
SR. Ah yeah, we know that one.
DW. (There’s another voice at Dave’s end. They talk briefly.) Ah, yeah. Sorry, my girlfriend was just like, ‘Fear Agent!’ Yeah. There was a book that came out a couple of years ago called Fear Agent. That’s really badass.
SR. For me, it’s still Killing Joke and Arkham Asylum – my two favourite ones.
DW. Ohhhh, Killing Joke is so awesome! Did you see the recoloured version? They coloured Bolland’s original. It looks really beautiful. It’s a completely different colour scheme from the other one, but it’s beautiful.
That’s one of the best single comics I’ve ever read. It’s perfect!
SR. Well, we have to start wrapping up because sadly we’re running out of time. We always ask our guests these questions: Have you ever had any crazy fan requests ?
DW. Totally. All the time. Stuff like, ‘Could you come over and play in my back yard?’ Like NOW. And they live in like China.
Um, they don’t get it. You know? The typical stuff, like ‘Sign my tits’ and stuff like that. Which I’ll gladly do.
SR. Any funny stories while on the road with the band that you can share with us?
DW. Oh yeah, there’s a million of them, but one of my favourite stories is this. This one time we were playing this song, Spine of God, at a German festival. It’s a very psychedelic, long song. And it was a nice day. We were playing in the daytime, right around sunset. And it was one of those weird weather things where… I guess it was a thunderstorm brewing. But you couldn’t tell that there was a thunderstorm coming. Right when I raised my hands and said the words ‘Centre of the Universe’… The minute I said it, lightning came out of the sky! A big, giant bolt of lightning, almost out of the clear blue sky. And the crowd was just like, ‘Holy shit! The guy just summoned lightning from the sky!’
“…I raised my hands and said the words ‘Centre of the Universe’… The minute I said it, lightning came out of the sky!…”
It really looked like I had reached up to the sky and told lightning to come down and it did. It was great! It was awesome! It was insane! Boy, I can never top that, man.
SR. One of my team members wants me to ask you what you think of the movie adaptations based on comic books – Thor, Captain America and so on.
DW. They’re okay, but they’re not the comic books. You know? I mean, I love comic books because they tell stories with pictures and they’re drawn. I like illustration. Movies are alright, but they’re never going to beat the comic books for me.
MONSTER MAGNET TOUR DATES
Thursday 3rd April Amplifier, Perth
Friday 4th April HiFi, Sydney
Saturday 5th April HiFi, Brisbane
Sunday 6th April 170 Russell, Melbourne