Monster Magnet: Psychedelia traveller

Monster Magnet never stopped being Monster Magnet; and Dave Wyndorf (singer) doesn’t really care whether some people think they know what it means. The New Jersey band is back with Last Patrol, a psychedelic album sounding much similar to their first opuses. After all, the act had never really left that place where Wyndorf musically fell in love for the first time, and where he always goes back to, for example on stage when the band interpreted their albums Spine Of God and Dopes to Infinity over the past few years.

So what is the only difference with this new space-rock travel? More control, and some free zones, delimited spaces left to improvise. And what about the drugs? If Wyndorf always refers to doping products in his lyrics, the singer admits that writing when he’s high is not the best he can offer. He doesn’t think psychoactive drugs can be creative catalysts and prefers telling the stories of his different adventures with a clear mind. An interesting point of view, between many others – such as his views regarding the “Opium of the People” for example, that Wyndorf shares with us in the following interview.

« I thought that if I was so outside, hopefully the people would come and go like ‘Oh, who’s the outsider?’ But that didn’t happen [laughs] « 

Radio Metal: Apparently Mastermind was written in one week and Last Patrol took only one day per song. Do you think that writing fast helps not overthinking your music and keeping it spontaneous and fresh?

Dave Wyndorf (singer): Yeah, I think it does. It’s weird the way these things go. I write them fast, but when it comes down to actually recording them, things slow down quite a bit. So, it seems, in order to keep the spontaneity of things throughout the project, it’s good to write it fast and go with your instincts. Because then you can obey your instincts; your instincts will be the right ones in order to slow down the process to record it correctly. And if I took as much time writing as I did recording, the thing would take a year! That’s ridiculous, so I like this method.

With songs like the title track and “End Of time”, this album really harks back to the more psychedelic first Monster Magnet albums. Were you missing the kind of freedom or freak out moments you had in your music back then?

On the records, yeah. I mean, in concerts, Monster Magnet does a variety of things and we always keep it very psychedelic live. So I didn’t miss it because we were doing it all the time, but as a particular record I wanted to get back to a dedicated, strange psychedelic type record. I mean I love to do it and there’ll be more like this.

The past years you have played your older albums Spine Of God and Dopes To Infinity in their entirety. Did that play a role in how Last Patrol took shape?

I think it did just because of the spirit of it, knowing that the audience loved that stuff and that they were willing to actually go to a concert that was all that different variety of psychedelic music, and quiet stuff as well, really inspired me to do Last Patrol exactly the way I wanted to. You know, sometimes I tend to lose perspective. In the big rock world, when you go out there to move people in the street you’re like “come on everybody let’s rock!” and playing those older albums made me realize that there are a lot of people out there that just love the music and they don’t necessarily have to “headbang” the whole time. You know what I mean? They’re here for the experience of music and that really inspired me to do Last Patrol.

How different is it when you’re writing these psychedelic or space rock tunes now compared to your beginnings? Is it more controlled now?

Much more controlled, yeah. Much more controlled now. I mean, I would leave spaces for stuff to get out of control. I would designate, like “OK, from minute number three to minute number four, go crazy.” In the old days, I usually just said like “Oh everybody: go crazy and I’ll try to sort it out when it’s done.” And now it’s a little more controlled, but I like it better because the finished product is more controllable. I absolutely think it’s for the best. It’s something that I can really sink my teeth into rather than wondering how things are going to be, I can kind of direct how I want them to be. And it still leaves a lot of room for improvisation and for happy actions to happen, but evolving musically as a producer and as a songwriter I think it’s the way to go.

« That’s like saying that the pilot of an airplane is twice better because he feels good when he’s drunk. You know what I mean? ‘Hey, the pilot’s drunk; he’s feeling good! We all should be happy!' »

How do you get yourself in a psychedelic mood, to write more psychedelic songs?

It just sounds good to my ear! It’s fun to play, you know? I mean I recommend it to anybody: sit on your ass with your electric guitar, plug it into an echo machine, and like… just listen. Wow, it sounds fucking awesome. I’ve been in love with psychedelia since I was six years old. When I grew up in New Jersey, listening to the radio when I was a kid, listening to Strawberry Alarm Clock, and my older brother playing Sgt. Peppers, you know? I was a little kid, I was like “I like that stuff, it’s mysterious. It sounds like sort of a movie soundtrack.” So it’s not hard for me to get inspired by this, it makes me happy.

You often had references to drugs; your first single even had the mention “Drug Rock” on it. But what kind of role have the drugs played in your music, and more precisely in the psychedelic side of it? Do you really see drugs as a creative catalyst like many people do?

No I actually don’t. I completely disagree with that thing a hundred percent. Drugs are [sigh] an adventure. They’re a psychological adventure. I just write about any adventures that I’ve ever had, whether that’d be a drug trip, or a car accident, or really good sex, or anything! They’re just one of a million different experiences. I’ve never been very good at writing while I was high. Terrible! I mean I can write but it sounds like a bad Grateful Dead record. Like “wimp wimp wimp.” I find it a lot easier to remember the experience and write about it when you’re sober. That’s just me though. I mean I know people who swear to God that they can write better when they’re high, I just don’t believe it.

They think that they are writing something that is great because they are high and already drunk and they think that it can go wherever they want but when you’re sober you realize that’s not that good actually…

It’s bullshit… Exactly! It’s like how could you?! Yeah, I totally agree man. I mean I think it’s a romantic notion, to people, that somehow getting high and getting lost, somehow you’re going to get the key to your creativity. But I think the reason that romantic notion stays alive in people’s heads is because it’s an easy fantasy to have. I could be Keith Richards or I could be one of these guys, I could be Charlie Parker… but in reality, that shit doesn’t work. It sounds like shit! That’s like saying that the pilot of an airplane is twice better because he feels good when he’s drunk. You know what I mean? “Hey, the pilot’s drunk; he’s feeling good! We all should be happy!” – No, no.

There are two songs, « Paradise » and « Hallelujah » which echo to religion. Do you see religion as another form of drug, “opium of the people”, as they say?

It seemed to be in the past but I have to admit that I’m not a very religious person at all, not at all. But I like the vision of it. I love the promise of it; I love the grandiosity of the whole thing. I like to use religion as well as science fiction in outer space as metaphors. I like to use the vernacular of all that stuff to dramatize what I would consider normal, normal emotions in my world. And that’s why I bring God into things, because just the mention of God brings up the thought of like “What, is there a God, is there not a God.” God! You know it’s more like screaming “Fate! What have you done to me?” So I like to use that, religion to me is not that important and I’m not religious at all. I love the stories though. Greatest story ever told!

« Every once in a while, maybe someone in the record company would go ‘Wow maybe this…’, you know? And I’m like: ‘Shut up! Don’t say a word. I’ll handle the music; you’ll handle the selling of the record.' »

That’s quite an original point of view, because in rock’n’roll, bands tend to reject the idea of religion and of a God actually.

Well, I mean you can’t deny that it’s a big part of people’s lives. And I just can’t help but use it because those are good words to use. You know what I mean? It seems important and it’s more or less important to people but to me it’s important what it represents. When you say “God” I guess you’re really saying “Fate.” You know: “Why?” You scream up to God, you’re looking for someone to blame for a circumstance or you’re looking for someone to thank. And it just sounds so dramatic to use this word, I love using it.

The album starts very smoothly and the second song is almost a ten minute space rock song. Any major label marketer would probably say that this is not something you should do. Have you experienced disagreements or frustrations from labels because of some similar artistic choices in the past?

Well, I think ten years ago I would have had a problem but nowadays people tend to leave me alone. I think I’ve been around long enough for people to go “Alright well, we’ve got Monster Magnet, we don’t know exactly what we’re going to get but it wouldn’t be a big surprise if they had a really long song.” Every once in a while, maybe someone in the record company would go “Wow maybe this…”, you know? And I’m like: “Shut up! Don’t say a word. I’ll handle the music; you’ll handle the selling of the record.” So it’s pretty good.

Monster Magnet’s been on big and small labels, had success with a few singles, but on the other hand you have never betrayed yourself for the business side of things. And on top of that we can hear stoner rock, psychedelic rock, grunge, classic rock, and so many other styles in your music. It sounds like you’ve never fitted in any box… Is being an outsider something that you’ve actually been striving for?

At one point I think I wanted it all. I think I thought that if I was so outside, hopefully the people would come and go like: “Oh, who’s the outsider?” But that didn’t happen [laughs] that didn’t happen either. What it all comes down to is that I have to be true to my vision of the music, and if that music can be sold, in large quantities by a record company, that’s awesome. But if it can’t be, well that’s totally understandable. So I’ve always kind of walked this kind of weird line between financial success, critical success, a lot of fans, a little fans, and there’s a lot of misinterpretation. And I think the money doesn’t bother me; not making a lot of money, not being hugely successful like Metallica is successful doesn’t bother me. What does bother me is that there’ll be a lot of people who know who Monster Magnet is, but they don’t know who Monster Magnet is. They’ll just go: “Oh I know who Monster Magnet is, blah blah blah blah” just because it was based off one success that they heard of one type of record that we made at one time. But they don’t understand that it’s a little more evolved than they think. But I’m getting over that… That used to bother me. So, being an outsider is fine, being misinterpreted on a mass scale that used to bother me! [Laughs] But then again, that’s the way the world works, so I don’t have any regrets.

« You know, everything sucks, I’m leaving. I’m going to get a ten foot blonde woman and I’m going to move to the Moon and fuck all of you. »

Some stuff on the album give a feeling of ending: obviously there’s the title of the album “Last Patrol”, the song “End Of time”, but also the last track “Stay Tuned” which keeps us holding our breath for the future. So what kind of ending, or maybe transition, are you referring to?

Really, I think what I was talking about on like “Last Patrol” and “Stay Tuned” and stuff, that’s really me just… [Sigh] I’m not really speaking of the band as much as it was just a feeling of checking out of society altogether, you know? Sometimes I’ve watched the news for the last year and I really don’t like this planet at all. I’m leaving. It’s a brief passing, not suicide or anything but just little day dreams of going “You know, everything sucks, I’m leaving. I’m going to get a ten foot blonde woman and I’m going to move to the Moon and fuck all of you.” Basic, human emotion, with a little fantasy thrown on top of it, and I feel that way a lot these days. The feeling doesn’t last, but it’s strong enough for me to write it down. And I think a lot of people share that too, like: “You know something, there’s got to be a better way; there’s got to be a better way to run things”. But it’s just temporary, just little temporary notions I get in my head. But I’m supposed to write that stuff down: I’m a writer! So I do.

On a completely different topic, can you tell us more about the recent departure of Jim Baglino, your bass player?

Yeah, I mean, I had to ask Jim to leave. I had to get rid of him. He wasn’t showing up at practices enough, he had a day job and another job, and he just wasn’t giving what I needed from a bass player in Monster Magnet. It’s just that simple. We had a lot of music to play, and he wasn’t learning it fast enough and he didn’t seem to care.

Who recorded the bass on the album?

Chris Kosnik just came in, just about three weeks ago. So, on the album, all the bass is played by Phil, Phil Caivano, who’s been a guitar player in Monster Magnet for 15-16 years now. I’ve done the bass with Phil on the last two albums. Mastermind is mainly all Phil. Phil is just one of these guys who just… he’s an amazing musician and he’s dedicated to Monster Magnet so I tend to work with people in the band that are closest to the actual music.

Monster Magnet seems to be giving more focus to Europe now than the USA, although this is your own country. How and why would Europe be a better continent for Monster Magnet?

You know it’s funny, when we started Monster Magnet, way back when – late Eighties – I always had a feeling that Europe would be our home. I had this feeling in my head and that is exactly where we went first! Our first tour with Monster Magnet was in Europe. I remember doing like thirty six shows in a row. And I think Europe has turned into our spiritual home because that’s where I always wanted it to be. I just felt something inside my head. As a child when I bought records, a teenager, I was always really impressed by the albums that came from Europe. I always bought the import albums, they were the ones that came in the plastic bags and were really cool and they were all these light colors. German prog rock and German krautrock and all this shit coming from all over the place. And I just thought it was the most bad ass shit ever. Of course I love my own country and I went to concerts here all the time but there was something really mysterious about Europe, and I think that’s what really kind of put a hook in me. When I went over there for the first time, I was probably around maybe 29 or 30, so I had lived 30 years in the States, but when I went over to Europe at that age, I saw this whole land that was so spectacularly different from where I lived. It was like love at first sight. It was like “I love this. I love it!” And that’s just the way it’s been and I think that it’s why we do better in Europe, it’s because I just dedicate more time there.

Interview conducted by phone on October, 23rd 2013 par Metal’O Phil.
Questions: Spaceman.
Transcription: Natacha.
Introduction: Animal.

Monster Magnet’s official website: www.zodiaclung.com

Album Last Patrol, out since October, 15th 2013 via Napalm Records

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