MONSTER MAGNET – “I’m In A Rock Band, What The Hell Else Am I Gonna Call A Record?”
March 23, 2018, a year ago
Very cool that despite the blight new technologies have caused the music industry, there’s still legends being built the commendable way, through hard work, through the grind of true recording, and in Dave Wyndorf’s case, through re-doing his paintings, a crazy thing only dedicated artists do. And so the reason we haven’t seen a new Monster Magnet album since 2013’s Last Patrol, is that Dave has gone and done something awesomely creative, and that’s re-do that record—sorta right away, right?—as Milking The Stars: A Re-Imagining Last Patrol and then the previous album, Mastermind, as Cobras And Fire (The Mastermind Redux).
Monster Magnet’s new album, Mindfucker, finds our wise and always well-meaning musicologist from New Jersey performing an additional feat of time-travel, his songs momentarily frozen by Trump a year ago, and then transformed by the same US political upchucking to the point where he couldn’t call his new collection anything but. Surely the cons of such a title might have been spelled out for him by his record label brass?
“Well, not probably any more cons than I told myself,” begins Wyndorf. “You know, it has ‘fuck’ in it, so I don’t think they’re gonna sell it in Walmart. And I think Conan O’Brien would have a hard time, you know, putting us on the show. But those are the biggest cons, I would think. Maybe a lasting legacy of it sounding stupid. But in 2018, I’m in a rock band, what the hell else am I gonna call a record?”
As to how Trump works into this, basically what happened was, Dave had one plan for the record, and then Trump happened.
“Yeah, for lack of a better term, I was planning to do a good time rock album, meaning, probably a sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll album, which I hadn’t done in a while,” explains Wyndorf. “I just wanted to perk it up from Last Patrol, because Last Patrol was rather melancholy, lyrically-wise. It’s what I wanted to do, but after you do something like that, and re-invent a couple albums in a psychedelic mode… you know, after I work in long form for a while, I just want to go rock, like make straight-ahead rock. So that was the plan. I wrote a bunch of music the way I usually do, with that in mind, going, yeah, this will rock. I’ll put my usual, whatever it is, my observations on the universe on it when I’m done with the music. That’s how long I wait, until it’s recorded. And then I can make sure the album has a proper through line, thematically. Even if it’s just mood—it seems to help me, when I have it in front of me, to write the words.”
This is all happening in the fall of 2016, after, as Dave says, he went down the rabbit hole of essentially re-doing his last two records, like some sort of mad scientist bent on making hippie clones of regular Monster Magnet records, which, of course, are already pretty far out. Then reality got even more far-out.
“Yes, so while I recorded this stuff, Trump got elected,” explains Dave. “Trump ran and got elected, and what started off as like, ‘Ha ha, look it, look it, a nut is running and a nut’s gonna lose,’ got to where a nut is running and a nut won. And that’s the first time one of these crazy kooks who always runs in an election actually won. Like a full-out like not a good person, unaccredited buffoon actually won. And it was like, okay, here’s where we are. This is where it is now, you know? The information age has just completely collapsed on itself. People believe what they hear.”
“And I just couldn’t leave it alone,” continues Wyndorf. “It was just too much for my… you can’t not write about it. You have to be a fool in 2018 not to write about it. Or blind, or in denial. But I didn’t want to preach. I’m not a big political rocker. I’m usually just like a rocker who observes life, like I’m supposed to do as a writer. I’m not, by no means Rage Against The Machine, nor do I want to be. But like I said, man, you can’t not write about this. This is ridiculous, a pivotal moment. Whether people want to believe it or not, it’s a pivotal moment in all of our lives, because it just means that the tail is officially wagging the dog.”
“So, I’m like, I’ve got this music and this music is not telling me to go deep. You know, this music is telling me to go right to gut-level rock ‘n’ roll. So, you know, already, I was like bummed out; I can’t really get gut-level rock ‘n’ roll with all this stuff in my head. I can’t really go, ‘Baby, baby, baby’ all the time with this stuff in my head. So I just tried to… you know, I walked away from it for like a week-and-a-half and I came back and just wrote the quickest rock ‘n’ roll songs that I could possibly think of. But it all became meta, you know? There’s not much I could do. It’s another one of these kinds of things… these kinds of albums, quick rock ‘n’ roll albums; they don’t do well if you overdo them. I couldn’t go back and just keep re-writing it. I was like, this is gonna be ridiculous. No one’s gonna care anyway. People just wanna hear the music first. So I just wrote it like that. I just pictured myself, I’m a guy in my kitchen trying to write a sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll album while everything is going nuts. That’s my excuse (laughs).”
I’ve seen these situations before, so I had to ask Dave about the elephant (!) in the room: were any of his band mates Trump supporters?
“Not that I know of. Because nobody would dare; you know, with my bellows at full fucking throttle, I don’t think anybody would dare speak up. And I would like breathe them down like a fire-breathing dragon. No, I think my guys are smarter than that. It’s not even a matter of… I mean, beyond ideology, it’s just a matter of common sense. This whole Trump thing is just so much bigger than him. You know, its information age, it’s trolls and bots and crazy people who can’t handle their communications. It’s everybody going completely fucking psycho. It’s a 21st-century Paddy Chayefsky epic story. People losing their shit. I mean, it’s perfect for rock ‘n’ roll, actually, when I think about it. Well, of course! The best rock ‘n’ roll I ever heard was written in the midst of madness; all that stuff in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s—that was the craziest time ever.”
And as alluded to, Mindfucker is a supercharged record of new songs done like vintage rock, from the MC5 riffs through to Dave’s always action-packed poetics, but even as far as the production goes. Taking a lesson from his recent redux heroics, Dave’s continuing his role as sonic archaeologist. The drums are mixed a bit back, and so even are the vocals, quite the magnanimous move for a singer in a band that is also its leader.
“Yeah, the vocals are a little bit lower,” agrees Dave. “Yeah, I went back and forth on this; it was kind of a weird trip with me. When I tried to push… originally I tried to push the drums really, really loud, and had a lot of guitars on there, and things got a little haywire. Meaning that it just didn’t sound right. It didn’t have the right mood. So I sacrificed a little, like, traditional fidelity for mood. So it was a weird one. It’s tracked pretty sparingly up until the end, when we piled on lots of guitars (laughs), which usually happens. I wanted it to sound like one of those kind of out-of-control, early ‘70s Detroit albums, you know? Like those weird Bowie mixes of Raw Power and stuff like that, where everything was kind of off-kilter.”
“And the vocals, for some reason, the vocals are real ragged,” continues Wyndorf. “And thin, I thought, when I delivered them. I didn’t want to do them over again too many times. I was like, I kinda want to make people listen for them a little bit, one of those trips, just to see if it works out. In this day and age, it’s funny; it’s hard to get away with purposely lo-fi records that compete in my area, which I guess I’ve been thrown into modern metal, right? I mean, that’s where I have to live. And I’m not a modern metal band at all (laughs). So those guys, most modern metal, is on a trajectory of digital compression and bigness beyond what anyone could have ever thought. I’m just not into that. I’m not into plastic guitars, I’m not into super digital compression—I don’t want my records to like sound like that; they all sound the same. So if I have to go outside and like skirt around in the ghetto a little bit just to get mood, I will. I’m willing to live with it.”
Much of Mindfucker, like Dave says, is flat-head rocking, like heavy Stooges or MC5, a bit like up-tempo Sabbath maybe. But late in the sequence, there’s a couple of quirky charmers—“Brainwashed” and “All Day Midnight”—that might evoke images of early black-and-white-period Blue Öyster Cult.
“Ooh, well, that’s a compliment,” reflects Dave. “I’m a huge fan of early BÖC. What underrated records they are. They’re some of the best that the early ‘70s had to offer. They get a bad rap because they got stupid later on, but, boy, those records are of a time when psychedelia met hard rock. Psychedelia was on its way out, but there was enough of it around to make some records really dreamy and really cool.”
In closing, Dave says that, through the making and baking of a Monster Magnet album, whether we’re talking all the way back to the Spine Of God debut in ’91 or this new similarly old-souled outlier, “that ‘60s garage sound, I mean, I can’t leave it alone. Even though I went into this thing going full-on Detroit rock, it always, at one point, takes a left or right turn into ‘60s garage, which I think is one of my favourite ways to express myself. Songs like ‘Brainwashed’ or ‘All Day Midnight,’ they’re easy to write, really, really fast. I mean, both of those songs, I don’t think they took more than like 15 minutes to write. And there’s something satisfying about going boom! you know? You know, here’s the model. I don’t even have to reference any bands or anything. It’s just like, here’s a song. And they’re perfect for talking about sad paranoid things, so I thought they were perfect for Mindfucker. When I sing a song like ‘Brainwashed,’ it’s just perfectly set up to express this kind of like, not for nothing, but here’s my story, walking down the street, and I think somebody put something in my drink, help me, my brain hurts—brainwashed. Placed in a really, really simple, musical context. I love it, man—‘60s garage psych is like the best.”