Monster Magnet Interview with Dave Wyndorf: The Beginning that Lurks at the End of Time

Any way you want to look at it, Last Patrol is a landmark in the Monster Magnet catalog. Before you even get to the music and whether or not the band accomplished the goals of their ninth album overall and second for Napalm Records — incidentally, I’ll gladly argue they did with anyone who might be interested in picking up the other side — the sheer fact of their shift from the straightforward hard rock sound of their string of albums from 2001’s God Says No to 2010’s Mastermind (review here) to a moodier, more psychedelic feel derived from earlier works like 1991’s genre-defining Spine of God debut and subsequent psych-rockers Superjudge (1993) and Dopes to Infinity (1995), makes Last Patrol a defining moment. I’m hesitant to call it a turning point, as it would be foolish to speculate on what whims might catch hold for guitarist, songwriter, vocalist and founder Dave Wyndorf between now and when he next puts together a full-length for the band, but it’s unquestionably the biggest stylistic turn they’ve made in the 15 years since their 1998 blend of classic attitude and driving hard rock, Powertrip, propelled them to international acclaim and genuine rock stardom.

So before you even press play, or maybe about 15 seconds after, as opener “I Live behind the Clouds” starts to unfold with its catch-you-off-guard brooding sensibility — all on purpose, all for effect — Last Patrol (review here) stands out from a decade-plus of Monster Magnet‘s output and signals, if nothing else, a reshuffling of sonic priorities. It also helps that it’s hands down one of the best records to come out in 2013. As seen in the gorgeous John Sumrow artwork, the Bullgod (Magnet‘s mascot since their first album) has gone galaxial, and extended pieces like the title-track and “End of Time” thrive on the apparent danger that at any moment they could fly completely off the rails, while stompers like “Hallelujah” and “Mindless Ones” find Wyndorf, bassist/guitarist Phil Caivano, guitarist Garrett Sweeny and drummer Bob Pantella locked into an irresistible push that seems all the more vibrant playing off quieter stretches in “Paradise,” the Donovan cover “Three Kingfishers, “The Duke (of Supernature)” (streamed here) and ultra-ambiguous closer “Stay Tuned.”

Between the name of the album, the palpable full-circle sonic impression it leaves and that song, I immediately speculated in hearing it that it might be the final offering from Monster Magnet, that perhaps it was a way for Wyndorf to tie loose ends stylistically and placate a section of his fanbase by “getting weird again,” which was something he also discussed three years ago in an interview for Mastermind. But no. It’s not. Wyndorf is quick to delight in the ambiguity of the title and the album’s message and musical journey, having both reconciled himself to a “no one’s gonna get it” mentality and pushed to simply enjoy the process of creating Monster Magnet songs. There can’t really be any doubt he’s working from a master plan — that is, the shift in approach with this batch of material didn’t just happen. That’s not how Monster Magnet works and even Wyndorf refers to himself in a kind of directorial role, saying he wanted to do this even as Mastermind was still coming together. But that’s not to say either that he, Caivano and the rest of the band aren’t having a good time, or that they don’t sound like it in the final outcome of these songs. Quite the opposite.

Not surprisingly, there was a lot to talk about. Monster Magnet will embark starting Nov. 14 on their first coast-to-coast US run in a decade, taking the temperature of the touring climate here after years of focusing on Europe, and extra intrigue is added with the departure of bassist Jim Baglino, who didn’t play on the album but has been a figure in Monster Magnet live shows since the turn of the century, this being their first outing since 1992 without guitarist Ed Mundell, and more. For what it’s worth, Wyndorf seemed to take a special kind of pleasure in discussing the process of recording Last Patrol with Caivano, thriving in what he describes as a chaotic writing and tracking process in taking these songs from the bare demos he created for them to their realized, complete versions, and so I wanted to focus on that. The word “fun” was used 25 times, if that tells you anything. Wyndorf‘s passion for this process came through in his voice, his quick back-and-forths with himself, and it’s my sincere hope that it comes across in this interview as well.

After the jump, please find the complete 7,400-word Q&A of my interview with Dave Wyndorf, and please enjoy.

First question: Is this it? Is this the LAST patrol?

No, no, this is not the last at all. I knew people were going to think that. Believe me, when I was titling it, I was like, “They’re gonna think it’s the last album,” and then I was, “Well, that’s actually kind of cool.” I have contractual obligations, so even if I wanted it to be the last one, it would be like, “This is the last good one!” or, “This is the last one, but then the contract obligates they put out two shitty ones.” It’s not. But I did toy with the idea. It’s a good way to write with purpose.

You do make it kind of ambiguous, with “Stay Tuned” at the end. Little cliffhanger.

Yeah. Ambiguity – that’s my thing. I like it. It makes the listener think – well, it invites the listener to think. Sometimes they just don’t bother to listen because it’s too ambiguous. I like to hint. It’s fun. It’s fun to hint. And maybe I’m hinting myself as well. I’ll write a bunch of stuff and then listen to it back and go, “Alright, this is what you’re saying to yourself, dude” (laughs). Sometimes I don’t realize what’s going on until it’s all done.

But yeah, “Stay Tuned” was really written as just an end of the album. Here’s this guy that’s been telling whatever story – it’s a collection of songs, but it kind of turned into a musical journey – and at the end, he’s just a guy, sitting on a stool, like no big loud stuff anywhere going, “Alright everybody, I hope I see you again,” kind of like the end of a tv show. “Hope I see you again, everybody. Don’t forget. Kiss your babies. Don’t forget the world sucks, don’t trust anybody, good night” (laughs).

That kind of thing. “Yes, there’s a reason for being paranoid. Yes, the world’s been shaved by a drunken barber, but… Don’t worry too much about it. Try to trust in the people that are close to you and as long as you keep it close, there’s something worth living for. Don’t go too crazy, but don’t be an idiot either.” Just a person who just sang all this cosmic shit is now just being real.

Grounded, at the end.

Semi-grounded. As grounded as I get (laughs).

What, for you, is the story? Is there a narrative to the album?

You know, there’s not a straight narrative. It wasn’t written as a straight concept album or anything like this, but because we’ve written so close, sometimes when I write stuff very, very, very close to each other – songs, lyrics – there seems to be a running theme. There’s always some sort of returning words, words that come up again, and some of those words are picked, I think, in my self, because they sound good.

It’s like, “God that’s a great word. I have to use that word, so I have to find a meaning for it,” and I’ve done this so many times that finding meaning for these words is easy for me now. They all seem to run on, and what vibe I don’t accomplish in one set of lyrics, I’ll try to accomplish in another. Then you look at the songs back to back, they’re not separated by months. I’ll start writing to counter or to add something to the previous song. I’ll go, “Okay, what do I need?” So the theme on the record really comes from whatever I was thinking at that time. Usually, that’s a look back, a reflection of whatever kind of sensory input I had for the years previous – touring. I have a kooky life. It’s crazy. You go away for months, then you come home, and you just cocoon up. I see lots of people, but I don’t hang out with a lot of people. It’s very busy.

Then I come home and I kind of hermit out. A lot of internet, and there’s a lot of the shrieking silence – “Aahhh!” You get home from tour and there’s this shrieking silence, and I watch tv and I read the news and I read books, and I read all this happening and all. I have relationships that die and begin and die, and like anybody else with the whole thing. There’s a lot of reflection, intense reflection time. Maybe that’s part of being a writer, I don’t know. And it’ll strike me as an observationalist, what’s going on. I have an opinion like anybody else in the world, and I just kind of write all that stuff down in a mostly conversational tone, as if I was speaking to someone. Girlfriend, a guy on the street. Most of the time, it seems like I just want to talk to somebody. I try not to do the decorations anymore. I’m not into writing anthems like I used to be. Because anthems are fun!

Straightforward hard rock is really, really fun, but it only works for a while. You have to go somewhere else. Now I’m just into this conversationalist routine more than ever. They’ve always been on the record. This one turned out to be just a little bit more – not twisted – but it seemed personal. It seemed more personal as the things went on. And the themes came up: Alienation. It’s like, here’s this guy, he’s living behind the clouds, and it’s like, what the hell is that? He’s there, he’s on the earth, or right above the earth. He’s there. He’s in life. He’s in the atmosphere, but he’s not on the ground. What’s he doing? He’s looking down every once in a while, and he’ll go down and play with the other kids. But it’s tough. It’s safer there. And that’s like internet shit.

That’s all spending too much time in front of the computer screen (laughs), not socializing human enough. I’m not even a social media guy either. And there’s other stuff that came up. A lot of revenge. A lot of adolescent, “Fuck you – I’m gonna blow up the world and get a 10-foot blonde woman and move to the moon! Fuck all of you! Here’s another nuke for you.” I look at this stuff and it’s just, I don’t know. It seems correct to me to have those kinds of emotions when you’re upset, when you’re an observationalist when you look at it and see the state of media, the state of rock and roll, which to me is really just a spiritual thing.

It’s like, “What’s the temperature of pop?” Pop used to be a good word, now it’s a horrible word. Now it’s, “Pop? Eugh!” It means popular. Is there a bunch of good popular stuff out? It never was cool, and the cool stuff was always stuff that didn’t sell. In my life. The cool stuff never really sold. But there was always this ground-level, higher standard of pop, where cool stuff broke through every once in a while, and did. It was like somebody opened up a weird door for a short time and cool stuff came through.

It happens with tv now. That’s where all the stuff is happening, but it doesn’t seem to be happening in music, because nobody’s opening anything up. For a bunch of reasons. It’s me looking out going, “Where’s the rock? Where’s my rock?” It’s here and there, but it’s not where it used to be. It’s a whole different thing.

It’s in Europe.

Well, yeah. Europe is just fucking awesome. You’d love it there, dude. If you like psychedelic music, if you like whatever you’re gonna call it, “genre” music, people that are dedicated to their craft with or without monetary success, Europe’s the place. They’ve been doing it for years. In America, it goes way back to Charlie Parker and before that, the jazz guys would go over there. Something in the water over there. Something to do with their particular culture. Also, the live society is huge. Their economics haven’t beaten down live culture like America has.

They never went for the whole car culture thing, so the city centers are still really alive. You go to a bus station or you go to a train station in Europe, it’s a good place, not like here, “Oh my god I gotta go to the train station,” like you’re gonna get murdered. Over there, the train station is like the place. It’s like a community center. Everything begins at the train station and everything around it, there’s clubs and café society – they’re all out on the street. It’s cool. They’re not tooling out to go to the Home Depot and all this strip-mall shit, and that makes the live music thing survive. Amazingly so. When people know they can get loaded and get on a train (laughs), and it’s affordable. That keeps the prices down.

So the whole rock and roll, the economic situation, is closer to what I knew when I was a kid. Cheaper, therefore more, and much better appreciated by people because they don’t feel like they’re getting fleeced. And then on top of that, it’s more experimental, because people don’t feel the pressure. Very cool. I hope it’ll happen here again in some sort of way.

With that in mind, how are you staring down the prospect of touring the States again? It’s been, what, 10 years?

Yeah, I know. 10 years. We play the States once a year in New York, New Jersey and stuff, but that’s not the same thing. That’s not the same as going to Detroit and all these places. I’m looking forward to it just because I haven’t done it in a long time. I’d like to take a look around the country – especially the middle of the country, because I haven’t been there in so long. I go to L.A. all the time, and the Southwest, but I haven’t seen the rest of the places.

To me, it doesn’t have to be big, it just has to make sense, and it seems to me things are making a little bit more sense music-wise, the last two or three years than they did 10 years ago. For Magnet, anyway. There’s lots of cool stuff coming out now. It’s kind of a good time for whatever you want to call it – revisionist hard rock. Are we really gonna put “revisionist psychedelia and hard rock” – which never really goes away, but there’s a lot of good records out now. It’s interesting.

I think you can see there’s kind of a wave coming. I usually go with “heavy rock” as my alternative to “stoner.”

There you go. Heavy rock. Exactly.

But there are bands that are maybe not breaking through commercially, like you say, but definitely making a go of it and getting at least some notoriety for what they’re doing.

Yeah, and possibly, maybe this is the music business finally shaking out. Maybe people are finally starting to find their foot on how to do this economically, tour bands and bands that’ll tour willing to take a hit financially because they believe in the music so much. I would love to see that happen. We may have to go back to a ‘70s commune thing.

It’s really expensive to tour. Nobody makes money, unless you sell tons and tons of t-shirts. You have to be “merch-oriented,” and “live-oriented” to sell the merch. And there’s a danger in that too, because a lot of bands, if you see some of these old nü-metal bands, and new, what I call “shit rock” – like Avenged Sevenfold and stuff that’s just the worst shit ever – and you can quote me on that – it’s just the worst shit ever (laughs). It’s totally needless, unwanted by any person with a brain. It’s like little kid music. It’s pop. Pop metal. No matter what they say, no matter how many curse words used, you know what it is.

Those guys design their career over selling t-shirts, based on live shows that sell t-shirts. So it’s like a circus. It’s a circus thing. It’s not a music thing. It’s makeup rock. That kind of thing, where the focus isn’t really on the music, it’s on the beat and the timing of the explosions and all this stuff, which I’ve got no problem with, I love big rock shows and stuff. But what are the people who are really into music to do when they’re up against these traveling circuses? The Slipknots of the world? They have to find a place, and I think they’re starting to find it.

Is that what this album is for you? Is this you finding that place?

Oh yeah. I’ve always had to find a place for Monster Magnet, because every time I go off on some obsessive whim, it’s a different angle. It’s a slightly different angle. And it’s always misunderstood, and I’ve never stayed in one place for too long – maybe I overstayed my welcome in a couple different styles – but I never stayed for too long for anybody to get an honest angle for what’s going on. And I played it so broad in the past that there’s a lot of misunderstanding. When you have a loud band and you’re signed to a major label, record stores are gonna put you in the “Heavy Metal” section. There’s just no way around it.

And like you said, I haven’t seen a “Heavy Rock” section. There’s no section in the store that says, “Real Rock.” Maybe that’s the thing we should make up: Real Rock. There’s no section in the store, so a lot of my sarcasm, innuendo, all that stuff goes out the window, if I play something like “Powertrip.” There’s a certain amount of people that buy into it, then the level of success is based on whatever record that was. But I’m not always staying the same.

So yeah, to find a place has been really difficult. So around the time where I was going off the big label, I started to find a place in Europe. And Europe’s great. “Play for these guys. Don’t play in America. America’s in a state of artistic stagnation. There’s nothing.” There’s very, very little in America for an artist. Why would you stay here? If people are more interested. They’ll nod. They’ll give nods to art. They’ll give “Likes” on Facebook, but will they go out and support it? No. They won’t. They’re too busy living their own lives and doing their own thing.

The star of the 21st Century is each and every individual. They’re the star. “I’ve got a Facebook page. This is my magazine. Fuck everything else. The things I like, they define me. I’m not looking for any poetry. I don’t have the time for poetry. I don’t have the time to listen to anybody. Fuck you. Spiritualism is a waste of time, I’m just gonna gather up my favorite shit.” It’s like having your room and somebody will come and look at your stuff in your room. “This is what represents me. Let’s get on to me.” Which is fine.

The ultimate realization of a whole, the 20th Century promise to everyone was, we trained people in the 20th Century to idolize tv stars, radio stars, music stars, and it was only a matter of time before everyone could become their own media star. At least be appreciated for who they are, with the same tools that media stars had in the past. The visual. They get a visual, audio. Audio and video. So it makes sense to me that the mass of the people would turn away from paying any attention to seriously intricate sarcasm, innuendo, inside music. They take it from movies. They take it from that kind of stuff. Music just seems to be in a state for the mass populace, something to fall back on, something to represent themselves but then move on.

It ain’t the ‘60s and ‘70s anymore, and the ‘80s and ‘90s were just the last gasp of the ‘60s and ‘70s as we moved further and further away from music as poetry, poetry as music. A lot of people will fight me on this. Maybe I’m telling a bad story, but I don’t think it is. People grew up and had time to realize that was a one-time-only deal. Doesn’t mean the music’s gonna get worse, it just means it’s gonna be a little bit more in pockets. Pockets of people who appreciate not only music and experimentation, innuendo, sarcasm, blah blah whatever you want to say, musical styles, but also history and how all this music started. The lineage of music and how far it’s gonna go. A lot of the press has done terrible, terrible damage to music by putting labels like “cutting edge” and “fusion” on stuff that doesn’t do any of that. Any of it.

America’s like the three-star country, where people give out three stars to stuff. This is the traditional press. Because they don’t want to cover anything that’s gonna lose them any ratings (laughs). They need to hang on. It’s a weird world. It’s a very strange world. On one side, we have the amazing democracy of the internet, but on the other side, the internet is so big and so broad that people can get lost in the sauce. I see a lot of people out there who make great music and nobody gives a flying fuck about them, because they’re not “edgy enough” or they didn’t make the right “move.” Who knows?

All I know is I love what I do and I’ll go anywhere to share it with people who want to do it. The States wasn’t that place for a long time, but I’ll give it a shot again.

I think with the sonic shift too on Last Patrol, it makes sense. You’re not reinventing the band, because these elements were there all along, but a refocus.

Yeah, it’s a reemphasis. It’s just a shifting of emphasis. That’s all. I’ve been writing all the songs all along anyway, so I can’t say it’s for one reason or another, except for I just wanted to emphasize parts of my writing that I haven’t really super-emphasized in a great amount in a long time. 4-Way Diablo was a weird record, because that was intended to be a total garage rock record.

That was gonna be like garage-psych. That was my intention. But it didn’t go that way because I ODed on drugs and totally dropped the ball, so I had to go with a bunch of songs that were already written that were actually outcasts from other records. And that’s why that record sounds the way it does. Plus I didn’t really produce that record. That was produced by Matt Hyde. I wasn’t there when it was really, really done. So that’s a wash. And then, Mastermind, which came after it was –


Yeah, big, giant! Because I started writing giant songs. I was like, “Alright, this is fucking fun!” I’m done with the drugs, that’s all over, and this is fun. Somewhere around the middle of the record, which was made really, really fast, I just knew, “You know, some of this stuff is great and some of this stuff is not so great. Okay. Here’s the plan: The next time we go in, we’re gonna do this, this, this and the other thing.”

And I talked to Phil Caivano, my old friend, guitarist in Monster Magnet forever now. I said, “You and I are gonna do this record. I don’t want anybody else. I don’t want Matt. I don’t want Matt anymore.” Matt was a modern guy, totally capable of making modern records, and I was like, “I don’t want a modern record. We’re not gonna do it. It’s not gonna be by modern standards.” I’m not in the music business anymore, I’m in the Monster Magnet business.

And Matt was confused when I started to explain this thing to him, “What do you mean, you want to… That sounds shitty.” No, it doesn’t sound shitty. It sounds good. It may be a little foggy, but it’ll all be done. He just didn’t have it in him to agree, I think he was confused with the whole thing. We had Matt in for a little while, but I had to let him go. Phil and I did it, and Phil and I would just sit there like two kids in a kiddie pool playing submarines, blowing stuff up. It was really fun. It was like, “Yeah!” Really, really fun.

I just made decisions to start making records the way I used to make my demos at home, which is write every single part and leave very, very little up to anyone except for me. Not to be a pig about it or anything, but just that I notice that if I write all these little parts with someone who can actually play them, if I stick close to what I’m thinking, the end result comes out odd and different. If I leave it to, say, a producer, or we go in a straight line, things tend to flatline a bit and become a little more traditional. I don’t have time for traditional anymore. I just don’t have time for it. I don’t have it in my mind.

So we had this weird little thing. I got together with Phil, and I was like, “I wrote these songs, and here’s the bassline, here’s some of the bass, I can’t play the whole thing.” I’m a terrible player. I’m awful. But I’m a good director. So I’d sit with Phil and we worked out basslines, and I sat with Bob and worked out drums. I already had a demo that had the songs, the sounds and all the effects, the vibe – these little two-minute things of the whole song – “we’re gonna extend this piece, extend that piece, write a new piece.” It’s all very orchestrated in that, and I left a lot of room in the song for freakouts. “It’s just gonna be a long section, I don’t know what’s gonna happen, everybody just freakout.” “Okay!” It’s fun.

You never know what you’re gonna get with that shit. You kind of know what you’re going to get, but it’s exciting, and the way it turned out was really, really fun. The other fun thing about making this record was there was no Ed. Ed was a big bummer on the last two records. Ed was down, not into it, so we had this guy coming in all pooped out and not into it. Now you’ve got Phil playing. Phil played most of the leads on this record.

That’s what I heard. He did the bass and most of the leads.

Yeah. Garrett played a lot too, but he was more on sitar and acoustic and stuff like this. Garrett’ll play more on the next one, but he was just so new at this point. I played a shitload of guitar on it as well. Anything that sounds like cool but doesn’t sound well played is usually me. The [squeals], that’s me. We passed the guitar around. Whoever’s right for that job. Even if it’s a 30-second job, or a three-minute job, gets it. It’s like a little laboratory, and we’re like, “Okay!” Really fun. Way more fun than making the last one. I have fun on almost every record, but this one was really, really fun.

You can hear it. Especially on “End of Time,” “Last Patrol,” it sounds like you’re having fun.

Good. I’m so glad it comes through. I would hate if people were like, “Oh, this fucking ponderous bullshit. Why are they doing these long parts? They couldn’t think of anything else?” I get that way. I get that way. Certain people are gonna think, “Why are they doing these long parts?” I think long parts are exciting if they’re orchestrated well. And it’s fun.

Monster Magnet in the studio is like, yelling and screaming, like “Fuck yeah!” “This is great!” “Hold on! Hold on!” I’ll run back, have these ideas, and then Phil will go, “Well what about this?! If that’s what you want, then you’ll love this!” That kind of thing. We have names for everything. There’s names like the “mosquito guitar,” “the crusher,” “the killer.” All this stuff.

Can you talk a little bit about that process, of building the songs in the studio? There’s so many layers, especially for those long parts. Can you give me a sense of how it all came together?

Sure. I’ll write the song, as a demo, maybe two minutes. Then I’ll specify to everybody that’s playing as we track, and then I’ll take it to Bob, the drummer, and I’ll go, “Here’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna go from here to here. Here’s the verse, here’s the chorus, and on this section, we’re gonna go long. There’s gonna be a build, so let’s work on some build parts.” All in all, I’ll keep thinking in my head what kind of guitar is gonna go, loosely, what’s gonna happen. So I’ll set out a blueprint with the drums.

And I’ll lay a scratch guitar down, with my build-ups. I’ll build it up or approximate what’s gonna happen there, whether it’s [makes motorboat noise], or some shitty lead, or hitting the guitar harder or something, somehow like a conductor would do. Then we set up with the drums, and we’ll track the drums, in this case, with a scratch guitar, but then we put on the bass right after that, to the drums. Because we don’t have like a year to sit in the studio, so I’m writing this stuff and everyone has to play to what I wrote. Then I’ll take those scratch drum tracks and go to Phil and go, “Okay, let’s write some bass parts,” and I’ll sit there with a bass and Phil will sit there with a bass, and I’ll go, “Alright, I can play this but I can’t go crazy.” I just can’t play.

So we’ll go, “Okay, let’s keep it on the root note, don’t forget to rock, and on this part, let’s just call it ‘bass fantasy!’” (laughs). And Phil’s like, “What?” and I’m like, “Bass fantasy! The bass tells the story. Just go fuckin’ hog wild.” And he does, and it sounds great. “Okay, here we go. Bass fantasy!” “Now, on this build up part, should the bass fantasy be a real fantasy, or should it lock back into the groove?” “I think it should lock back into the groove after about 30 seconds or after Bob hits the ride cymbal.” “Okay, try it again.” Boom boom boom, we get that worked out, so it’s in his head and it’s in my head, and when we go to track it for real, we’re kind of used to what’s gonna happen, where the excitement is.

The trouble with this method of course is if there isn’t any excitement on the original track, then you’re fucked. Then you’ve got a really long song that goes nowhere and just sucks, which has happened to me many times in the past. So that’s what happens. It’s sketched out pretty full before we do it, and then we kind of stick to the plan. If things get better, then the old plan is chucked out and we rebuild. But that hasn’t happened a lot with this record. Happy mistakes happen all the time, and they’re always included. Bob’ll play over what I thought he was gonna, or he’s like, “I’ve got this thing,” and I’m like, “Yeah, do the thing. Guess what? Your thing is just the best thing ever, so we’re keeping it.” So it’s fun. Very fun.

How long have you been collaborating with Phil?

Phil’s been in on every record, so let’s see. I think Phil’s first record we actually worked on was Monolithic Baby! and I worked with him really close on that, too. I wrote all the bass parts with Phil for Monolithic Baby! and Phil taught the basslines to Jim. And then Jim didn’t play all the bass on that, Phil did some bass on Monolithic Baby! as well.

Jim actually played on Monolithic Baby!, but all the bass parts were worked out with Phil and myself. Then, the next record was 4-Way Diablo, which Phil wasn’t on at all, and I basically wasn’t on it. Phil went to college or something, I forget at that point. 4-Way Diablo was – some of that stuff actually was worked out with Phil and I – I went over his house and we did bass tracks and stuff, but like I said before, a lot of that stuff on 4-Way Diablo was stuff that wasn’t to be used. I just didn’t have enough super-new stuff to fill out that garage rock thing. So that was all played by Jim, 4-Way Diablo. The bass was played by Jim.

Mastermind, Phil was back, and I went into it wholeheartedly, like, “Look, this is what’s going on. Jim is a rockin’ dude, but I like your bass playing better. It’s just better. You’re better. So I want you to play the bass.” So I worked out all the bass with him. And then we come to here. So yeah, my collaboration with Phil is awesome.

Will Phil play guitar live?

He’s playing. Yeah, that was the big thing with me. I was like, “You kind of created a monster here.” As of now, he’s gonna play guitar, but Jim is no longer in the band. So Jim’s out, and I’m auditioning bass players now. There will be somebody playing. I wouldn’t be surprised if we do it oldschool sometimes and Phil plays bass. That what the old bands used to do all the time. Phil’s like, “Fuck it, man, I know those bass parts.” It’s kind of cool.

All the guys in Magnet now, Garrett, Bob and Phil – very, very musical people, and very music-minded at all times. There’s no other parts in their life they’re interested more than music. I guess no disrespect to their women, but they are really musical. Right now, at this point, I bet you I could switch instruments in that band, and it would still be kind of cool. That feels good. We’d still come up with something.

That’s all I ever wanted in a band, where everybody’s really, really into what we were doing. So we’re in good shape, even without a bass player (laughs). And you can be damned sure that whoever comes in on bass is gonna be good.

Would you explore getting another rhythm guitarist?

Yeah, we talk about it all the time. It’s a tough decision. I’d say it’s up to Phil. I’m not gonna bust his balls. I almost said, “Look man, the minute you offer to play bass, the minute you get over on that bass, I’m never gonna let you go,” and I think I scared him. He’s like, “Oh, okay, I get it.” Because he’s just too good. He fucking rocks that record. He’s all over, it’s just so much better than any old Magnet shit – I think, anyway.

And I love bass guitar. Love it, love it, love it. It says so much about hard rock music. Modern bass guitar in modern rock? Who fucking cares? You don’t even hear it. But in hard rock it’s everything. It’s a decorative instrument. Not only does it lay everything down, it tells the story. It’s a lead instrument at points. It’s a really tough thing and a lot harder to pull off than most people would think. Somewhere around the “indie era,” post-punk rock, bass playing became this thing like, “Oh, it’s just the bass player.” That was never the fact before that.

You listen to ‘70s hard rock, the golden age of ‘70s hard rock, which is what, maybe ’69 to ’74? That stuff is all over the place! It’s really cool. That’s the kind of shit I want.

Geezer Butler, John Paul Jones.

The list goes on. Geezer Butler, John Paul Jones, Jack Bruce, Dennis Dunaway from the Alice Cooper Group. Mel Schatcher from Grand Funk – I mean, that guy is unbelievable. You take that out of the band and you’ve got nothing. Nothing. It’s like, “What happened? How come it’s not doing that thing that I can’t figure out what this thing is in these bands?” That’s it. It’s the bass. It’s not as much the spacey guitar, or the old, vintage sound. It’s the playing.

I think it’s somewhere in the second half of “End of Time” where the bass kicks in like that, and you get one of those “Ah shit” moments. “Ah shit, there it is.”

Thank you. I’m always a big fan of going to high octaves, so it doesn’t always stay down low. You gotta go up, all the way up. Go up! Go up! It crescendos and exaggerations and playing with the drum fills and trying to get all these exciting, rolling parts that are muscular but they’re fluid. It’s flexing a muscle, but it’s not hard and steady, it’s more like a bubble and then back into the rock. That’s where the orchestration of this shit comes in. How much, what kind of rock should it be at the end? It’s quite fun to do.

You have these builds, like you said, and you mentioned it before, but the lyrics are a little more… humble?

Yeah, definitely. There’s not as much chestbeating. In the past, there’s been a lot of chestbeating, and that’s just been me thinking it sounded cool. I got to the point where I’m not a young man anymore either. You tend look at life a little more as it is, as opposed to what you think it should be. You work with what you have and you build out.

That’s what I do with my lyrics. I try to represent whatever’s honest inside me, whether it’s weak or strong, and build a song on top of that, because I honestly can’t fake it. I wouldn’t be able to write a song that way. I guess if I was a tin-pan-alley guy or writing dance songs, I could do it, but I couldn’t put my own name on it. I’d be like, “It’s gonna suck.” So for better or for worse, I have to write what I feel.

In that regard, do you feel this album is more honest than Mastermind?

Oh yeah. Mastermind had its moments, but this is way more honest. And that was the point. When I started to get through the recording on Mastermind, and the team – which was Phil and I – I wanted to do the next record. If I could’ve redone Mastermind at the time, I would’ve, but there was just not enough time. I learned a lot, like, “There’s really no reason for me to posture anything.”

If it’s fun to posture, yes, posture. And it was fun for a long time. It’s fun to do it. But if you don’t feel it inside you. If you’re not getting that old nod and wink, like, “Hey!” then for the love of god, don’t do it. Do what you feel, because nobody’s gonna give a fuck. Nobody gets it, anyway. I got to that point too: “Nobody’s really gonna get this anyway, so who cares?” (Laughs) You know what I mean? You come to this realization that, “Nah, they’re not gonna get it.” If you can talk to smart people that are into music by doing this, it’s kind of its own reward. Like I get to talk to you, and I know you love psychedelic music, so it’s totally worth it for me to do that to have a serious conversation about music with someone like you, and then to play it in front of people who enjoy it. Even if it’s three people that get it, it’s enough, because the process of doing it is really its big reward. And it really is cool.

For me, making albums is like being in my room when I was eight years old, setting up action figures, going, “Look! What if Doctor Doom came over here and shot this fuckin’ plasma cannon at Spider-Man? What would happen?” With music it’s the same thing. “What if I put a giant Echoplex part next to this thing and it sounded like King Crimson for like two seconds and then went away and was replaced by the sound of a dying human-like planet, shrieking in the void?” That’s the kind of terms I use in the studio. It’s really fun.

You can do that shrieking-dying-planet thing with an Echoplex.

Fuck yes you can. One of the best things ever invented. What a great machine.

A working one is a treasure.

They’re tough to keep up, aren’t they? I have a graveyard. An Echoplex graveyard. They came back and they made a digital one and I was like, “Oh great!” and it wasn’t great, because it didn’t have the whammy bar on it, the best feature. The thing where you’re violently ripping tape, it’s like, “Wow man, what an age.” That age, like say ’54 to ’74, whew. Really good. Really good stuff.

They have yet to beat the character of those instruments and the gear. They’ve gotten better at making the gear. They’ve gotten better at replicating it. But they haven’t beat it.

The good part is you have people who still do it.

Yeah, there’s people all over the world who still do it. Some people overdo it. Some people, they’re ignoring the fantastic new shit that’s happened recording-wise, because they keep thinking they’re gonna recreate something using old gear, but they don’t realize that’s all gone. You can’t record the way you used to. Even if you have tape, it’s not the same. Your tape, eventually, is gonna go digital, and all your hard work too is gonna be lost.

The only guys I’ve seen really get away with that in a really good way has been The White Stripes. Jack White is amazing. But I really think that’s more of his tracking method. He keeps the tracks small. He records analog, but he keeps them small. He did the White Stripes stuff on eight tracks only. You hear stuff like “Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground,” and it’s like, “Yeah, that’s the guitar sound I want.” Well, you can have it, just don’t put anything else on the song. No bass! No bass. Yeah, it’s minimal.

That’s something interesting about Last Patrol too, though. It doesn’t sound retro, as psychedelic as it is.

Good. I didn’t want it to sound totally retro. A lot of that’s to do with Joe Barresi, too. Joe Barresi, who mixed it. Which is why I brought it to him. I was like, “Joe, I’m making this record with some real chuddy sounds here, dude.” Whatever you want to call it, vintage or whatever, but in recording-land, they’re all called “bad.”

A lot of people would say, “Ah, you can’t hear it!” and I was like, “Well, you can hear if it’s mixed properly.” That means it had to be mixed on a real board, with real big faders so everybody can spread all these sounds out and make sense of them. It’s not something to be mixed on a computer in the box. It can be recorded digitally, but when it’s mixed, you have to avoid the commonality of plugins, modern plugins which replicate old sounds.

They’re fantastic on their own, but when you use a lot of them, this accrued commonality, this frequency thing, they’re all kind of the same, and you get this [zzzzz], this low [zzzzz]. It happened on Mastermind, and when Mastermind came back and I mixed it with Matt, it was bugging me. I was like,  “Fucking son of a bitch, what is this?” and that’s why I went with Joe, because Joe – world class mixer – can mix anything. He mixed Kyuss, he mixed Soundgarden, he mixed whatever you want. And he’s not a stranger to the rock. He knows. When I brought him the sounds and told him the sounds, he was like, “That’s a challenge for me. I like that kind of stuff.”

There’s a lot of modern mixers who’ll go, “No, I don’t want to do this, it’s too much a pain in the ass.” Or they’ll do worse, which is to set it up in some mix template, computerized mix template that automatically compresses bass to a certain frequency so everything can pop up, but then it pops up so much it sounds like that stuff they call “modern rock,” where everything’s like [buzzsaw] right across the board. But Joe. Joe knew it. It was a joy to work with him. Awesome.

Now that you’ve done this, do you feel like maybe you can go back and revisit the garage rock thing?

Totally. I’m glad you said that. Yeah, totally. Probably the one thing that gnaws at me most over the last bunch of years is I always put a couple garage rock songs here and there, but there’re never enough of them in a row to count for anything, for people who buy Monster Magnet records. They get forgotten. We didn’t work on the craft of it enough.

That’s a real challenge, to do a real garage rock record, because those garage rock records, the ones that really sound cool are really badly mixed. You have to go in and go, “We have to mix this bad.” You really have to say it. I would love to do that again. Maybe I’ll do an EP of it, because those records were never that long anyway.

And you’re going back to Europe in February?

Yeah, we go back in February for like five weeks. A lot of work. Then we’re coming back and we’ll probably go to Australia after that. If the States is biting, I’ll come back to the States. We’ll see what’s going on. I’d love to come back and play the States. Maybe come back and do a tour of entire albums again, too. We really had a great time doing Dopes and Spine of God.

I missed that Spine of God show at the Brighton.

It was nuts. It was fucking crazy. I saw people I hadn’t seen in like 40 years. It was terrifying. But the Spine of God shows and the Dopes shows were so much fun, because to perform an album in its entirety is totally different than cherrypicking the rock, and the footstompers. You have to suck it up and go, “Okay, we’re gonna do this really mellow song that has nothing to do with the songs you know, and it’s definitely gonna make any kind of mosh people go away and not come back.”

There may be holes in the crowd. You may see holes start to appear in the crowd. But man, I was playing with the guys, and the guys were pulling it off, Phil and Bob and Garrett, and even Jim. He came to party, and it was like, “This is the thing. This is what you do. It’s called music.”

I don’t know if you’re there yet in putting a set together, but how would you blend the different eras of Monster Magnet?

In America? I think it’s gonna be pretty heavy Spine and Dopes and new album. Probably one off of Superjudge. Not much off the records in between there. I don’t see anything from… well, Powertrip, yeah. There’ll be stuff from Powertrip. So it’ll be Spine, Dopes, Superjudge, Powertrip. I don’t see anything from Monolithic Baby! There are some good songs on there, but it’s not in it for me right now. Europe maybe.

But it’s gonna be pretty old-centric. Old and brand new. Maybe “Hallucination Bomb” off of Mastermind, which really comes off great live – sounds better than the record. Some of the stuff that’s on records that may be like, “eh,” sometimes you do it live, and I reinvent this shit all the time too, sometimes it pulls off. But yeah, old, old.

Monster Magnet, “Mindless Ones” official video

Monster Magnet on Thee Facebooks

Monster Magnet’s website

Napalm Records

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4 Responses to “Monster Magnet Interview with Dave Wyndorf: The Beginning that Lurks at the End of Time”

  1. scott says:

    Awesome interview.. He is so cool and down to earth. We have had such great conversations in the past. Just the two of us hanging out in Malmö. Can’t wait til they come to Copenhagen in january.

  2. goAt says:

    Ah, good ol’ Dave…looking forward to the record, gonna take it all in at once, haven’t sampled a note yet, looking forward to the trip…BASS FANTASY!

  3. Harvey Mee says:

    Superb. You don’t get to read an interview with God everyday.

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