Interview: Monster Magnet’s Dave Wyndorf on the Music Industry, Gear and 'Last Patrol'
Dave Wyndorf of Monster Magnet
And that’s really the downfall of every bad cover band you’ve ever seen. They get the notes right, but none of the little stuff.
Right! They think you can just follow the numbers and you're cool. But how can you not love sitting down and listening to a record and figuring that stuff out?
Guitar tabs are everywhere, and you just don’t see as many guitarists put in the hours as sitting down with a record and really working out every detail by ear.
You're very right. When they all say practice makes perfect, it’s really true. When I first got my four-track I would sit there and just have to play. I didn't even have a punch-in thing, so if I fucked up a part I'd have to start at the very beginning and play through it. That means I had to remember everything I did before – had to remember.
I was just by myself in my room and I was writing songs for this thing called Love Monster, which eventually turned into Monster Magnet. I was so ready to be in a band. I would say, "No, right at that part where the guitar goes [crackling sound]. And they would say, “How do you fucking remember that?”
I just brainwashed myself after four years of, "You better you remember or you going to have to track the whole thing over." There's a lot of that lost the way they do things with digital recording, where you can fix pieces and place them. Sometimes it's not even the artist doing it, it's the artist playing it and the producer or someone else in the band moves it around. But there definitely isn't that much attention paid to that kind of thing.
It’s getting easier and easier with tone as well. With some of these modeling plugins now, you can select the sound you want from a dropdown menu.
Plugins are scary, dude. They really, really terrify me. Plugins are great once, but they're not great twice. You don't want to get too many plugins going at the same time. There is a definite, horrible, commonality to the frequencies in those things. You start using more than a couple on the same thing and your mix is going to flat line. It's going to flat line.
There's a commonality of frequency that’s going to affect the mix very subtly, like you put a piece of wax paper over the mix. Just a little bit more distance. You've got to work with microphones!
And a lot of the guitar modeling plugins are just plain wrong when it comes to the sounds the claim to emulate.
Yeah, they're all wrong! They're bullshit, and I can't believe people. They must want to believe it. “Dude, it doesn't sound like that!” "Well it sounds close enough!"
Thanks to games like Rock Band, in the last few years you’ve started to see isolated guitar tracks popping up online from all of these classic tracks, and the surprising thing is how many of the guitar tones are not at all what you’d expect. The rule of thumb today is that hard rock equals distortion, but the gain was at maybe 2 or 3 on a lot of those classic records.
No! Because the more distortion you put on a guitar track the more it's going to just sit in the mix and the harder it's going to be to get it to bang out. The whole think is clean guitar, clean/dirty. Match it up with the right kick sound and that's what you're hearing. That's the heaviness you're hearing, is this combination of guitar and kick. It's not just the guitar.
And I found that out the hard way. Phil and I — Phil Caivano, who produced this record with me — we went down the line, and we never get it right. And I've gone down the line forever going "Why? Why do I love these records? What did they do? What's the fucking secret?" It's never fucking easy, and it shouldn't be.
What sort of gear did you gravitate toward for Last Patrol?
Well, we used almost exclusively all Phil's guitars, but we did use a lot of gear from Artie Smith, the famous Artie Smith from New York City, who's an absolutely awesome guy. I went up to his studio and got some stuff, rented some stuff. The record is mostly pre-Seventies Gibsons, three or four different SGs, depending on what the SG sounded like. I love that they all sound like a little different.
We used a couple different Les Pauls, a couple of Gretsches, a Tele every once in a while, for some of the skinnier, ropier single-string parts. I played most of those. We used old Fenders on all the single string stuff that you hear on the record; those minimal droners, those are all single-pickups.
So it was all pre-Seventies guitars, with a lot of attention to tone knobs. Bring it down to eight, bring it down to five, bring it down to two. The same guitar will work on a different track if you just fuck with the tone knob. I'm a big believer in tone knobs for... tone! What a concept!
What a novel idea!
Also the tuning on this record was a lot more standard, which really helps the guitars sing out more. Guitars really want to be in E. Guitars don't want to be drop tuned, they don't like it. I know there's a sludgier sound there, but I'm sick of it. I'm sick of guitars not behaving properly.
Last Patrol is getting a lot of early comparisons to one of the classic Monster Magnet records, Dopes to Infinity, but it’s a much better sounding record.
Phil will not fucking stop searching for the right tone. He will not stop. He's completely obsessed with it. He's exactly the guy that I would want to work it. I'm an obsessed person, myself. "No, this isn't it. We have to try this!" And 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.
Lyrically speaking, what sources are you drawing from? There’s a lot of psychedelia and sci-fi going on, but I’ve always kind of put your writing in a class with people like Philip K. Dick or even William Burroughs who often used wild themes to mask personal or political writing.
You're right. That's exactly right. I'm affected by politics, I'm affected by the world , I’m affected by relationships. Just life in general, like anybody else. I've got no special insight to life, any more special than anybody else. And I’m not going to pretend that I do.
But what I do have on my side is this weird kind of bizarre poetry method that I've invented over the years that started kind of as a practical joke as a way to hide my true feelings from people I knew, especially girls. I speak in metaphors. I'm singing a song to a girl and I don't want the other girl to find out. [laughs]
It all started by trying to hide, and trying to dress up the music with fancy words, but it eventually turned into more and more of a way for me to dramatize my basic emotions, basic human emotions.
And yeah, there's a lot of politics in there, and I don't like to force-feed my politics to anyone. I'd rather have it conversational in tone, use metaphors, anything I can do to make it sound like it fits the music, but also makes sense in a couple of different texts. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.
It does get opaque at some points, but it never really veers into the nonsensical.
I always know what I’m talking about. It's not like I'm jut out there writing drivel; I actually pay really, really close attention. But in the end, I'm my own judge. And if I stick to that, I'm pretty happy with the way the lyrics come out.
There's a lot of politics and there’s a lot of commentary on just life in general, 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. And if a Monster Magnet fan or aficionado can sense the vibe in that and apply it to themselves, then I've done my job. And if not, well, they've got some pretty music to listen to.
The last track on the record, “Stay Tuned,” is definitely a more overt statement.
Totally. That's just me. What I wanted to do was have... This guy, right? I'm always like, "This guy's singing about this." I know. It's never this guy, it's me. I'm trying to write a different character, but it's always me.
So this guy just sang all this crazy shit, he's going through space and he's blowing people up and he's having cosmic revenge and he's fucking women and he's praising God because he can get laid, but then at the end, this guy that was singing all these songs is just sitting on a stool, in the rain, going, "Alright, thanks for coming everybody, thanks for coming to my psychedelic party. The world's a fucked up place, it's kind of scary out there , but don't forget to huge each other and love each other, and I hope we're all here the next time we make another record."
That's all that is. It's me at the end of the TV show saying, "Goodbye. Don't forget to come back next time!"
Monster Magnet’s new record, Last Patrol, is out now on Napalm Records.
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