Interview: Monster Magnet’s Dave Wyndorf on the Music Industry, Gear and 'Last Patrol'
Rock and roll is a funny game to be a part of in 2013.
When we’re this connected and this exposed to feedback and criticism on an instant and almost constant cycle, rock and roll’s decided lack of any sort of hip, self-aware irony makes its earnestness an easy target for the smugness that has come to dominate internet culture at large.
To that culture, maybe there’s something now outdated about standing onstage with a guitar and a mic and belting your heart out without the slightest hint of cynical detachment in your voice. It’s atavistic. Worse: It’s not cool.
Rock and roll is undeniably no longer the cultural force it once was, but it still retains its power to inspire passion on a personal level, and within a large-but-disparate community. In a sense, this puts rock music firmly in the realm of sub-mainstream obsession, alongside comic books and sci-fi novels. Or, for a band like Monster Magnet, home.
This sort of technological alienation is just what frontman Dave Wyndorf has in mind when he sings, “I find myself staring at a screen/wondering how far we’ve come since the death of cool” on “Stay Tuned,” the closing track of Monster Magnet’s latest album, Last Patrol.
Written during a creatively fueled week in February of this year, Last Patrol is an analog record for a digital age, true to Monster Magnet’s retro-futurist aesthetic. Recorded mostly in the band’s hometown of Red Bank, New Jersey, Last Patrol was recorded on almost entirely pre-1970s guitars with a meticulous attention to tonal detail driven by Wyndorf and Caivano’s holy-grail pursuit of the right guitar sound.
“Phil will not fucking stop searching for the right tone,” Wyndorf says. “He will not stop. He's completely obsessed with it. He's exactly the guy that I would want to work it. Any other person around us is thinking, ‘Why are these guys chasing around this buzzy, shitty sound?’ Because the buzzy, shitty sound is going to sound fantastic when it's combined with this other sound later!”
For all the space-lord posturing, Wyndorf still retains the gleeful enthusiasm of a young kid, the same one that spent years locked away in his room listening to Hawkwind records and writing songs for a project called Love Monster, the very project that would one day become Monster Magnet.
More than two decades into the band’s existence, Monster Magnet have retained and refined their own unique brand of rock and roll escapism. The band has become a poster child for the catch-all term “stoner rock,” but that’s never gone quite far enough to describe the lust-in-space madness, the interstellar head trips, the revenge plots heavy on the idea of cosmically inflicted karma, that so permeate the Monster Magnet oeuvre.
But in the world of Monster Magnet, space isn't a destination, only a frame of mind. Wyndorf, like Bowie and Calvert before him, is more than willing to transmute himself into alien form to take on a cosmic perspective of everyday life. “There’s a lot of commentary on just life in general,” says Wyndorf of the underlying themes of his lyrics, “just as simple as, ‘Hey, I'm lonely’ or ‘I spend too much time in front of the computer’ or ‘I think the world is fucked’ or ‘I'm horny.’ But I try to attach sort of gravitas to it, because those are important emotions, they’re important for everyone.”
With all that in mind, we recently sat down with Dave Wyndorf to get his take on releasing records in the 21st century, the virtues of vintage gear and the evils of plugins.
GUITAR WORLD: It seems like this album came together pretty quickly, with a lot of songs being written in the process. Do you have any plans for the excess material?
Right now I'm working on a Last Patrol — for lack of a better word — remix. It's actually kind of a re-imagining. There's always so many tracks that I didn't use on a record, because I'm always wondering, "What would happen if I put a Deep Purple organ on this?" That kind of shit.
And of course I have to do it, just to find out. A lot of it gets wasted, so this time I said to my record company, "Make some room in your schedule next year for this kind of a re-imagining thing." I'm going to do it on this and the last record, Mastermind.
Any chance of doing the entire back catalog, but with a Mellotron added?
Fuck yeah! That's the kind of spirit I like. That's exactly what I’m talking about.
A few years ago I remember you discussing the idea of acoustic shows, and bringing in Mellotron, bongos, sitar …
It's gonna happen someday. Maybe if this record does well enough I'll get a little leverage on getting the stuff out on the road and actually having it be worth doing, for the band and everyone else. Doing one-offs is cool, but I'd really like to be able to get some mileage out of that combination you just mentioned. Because I think it'd be worthy.
Would you maybe break out the “Venus In Furs” cover for it? [A Velvet Underground cover that served as a bonus track for 2004’s Monolithic Baby!]
Fuck yeah, it's born for it!
So I have to imagine for someone who’s been in the music industry for a while now that releasing an album in 2013 is a whole different mindset.
In a lot of ways it's the same, in that there's still the miscommunication between you and whoever is representing your record that's not making it, you know? [laughs] I think some of the old stereotypes still hold true, that, "You guys have absolutely no idea what I'm doing! Please, don't market it based on anything you've marketed it on before.” So I still have arguments like that. But otherwise it's a lot more controllable for me these days. I can slow down the pace of things. It's my own money, you know? I don't take the pressure of people wanting to get the record out at a certain time to hear like I used to. It just doesn't seem to matter.