Monster Magnet is No Longer a “Satanic Drug Thing,” and That’s Okay
Monster Magnet brought space rock to the Lower East Side and then on massive touring junkets. When you compare how the band initially infused Hawkwinded psychedelia to the birthplace of punk and CBGBs, then interspersed those same sensibilities into arena rock during the height of grunge. It showed how versatility was one of the reasons that the band became one of the decade’s more unlikely success stories. It didn’t hurt that they could be counted on for blowing out your eardrums when they came to your town.
In many ways, the last few years are Monster Magnet’s career in microcosm. The year 2013’s Last Patrol was an acid trip of an album awash in the comedown vibes from the band’s 20th anniversary shows playing their biggest bong hit, Spine of God, in its entirety. Whereas the new album, profanely titled Mindfucker, is not as much a throwback to the years spent on MTV, rock radio playlists and giant tour busses as to the shit-kicking good time gateway rock that continues to inspire Dave Wyndorf, the one constant in nearly three decades of Monster Magnet.
Despite being a sexagenarian with a somewhat notorious past (the band was originally pegged “A Satanic drug thing… You wouldn’t understand,” and Wyndorf survived an overdose on prescription drugs in 2007), Wyndorf appears to be in great shape. He still looks like he’d be comfortable changing his Harley’s oil by day and being a rock star by night.
And he’s pissed at Donald Trump.
Before writing lyrics, Wyndorf envisioned Mindfucker as a good time rock and roll record. Monster Magnet has never been accused of being a political band, but following the inauguration, Wyndorf felt like he and the country were in the eye of a storm he couldn’t ignore, so he didn’t.
-- Brian O’Neill
The conversation was edited for length and clarity.
It was four and a half years since Last Patrol, the longest time between albums for Monster Magnet. What were you doing all that time?
Just jerking off, I’d imagine! First of all, the music was done in 2016, and then we just ran into tour commitments that I couldn't get rid of in order to finish the record. So it should've been out probably 2017; it should have been out a year early. Some of my guys were in other bands, they have tours and I had committed Monster Magnet a couple tours overseas. I wasn't trying to make it too long, and it turned out to be the longest ever.
The album is named Mindfucker. What fucks with your mind and do you like fucking with other people’s minds?
Sometimes, yeah, it’s fun to fuck with people. It’s easier than ever, too. It’s almost too easy these days. The whole world is on a short leash, you have to be careful whose mind you fuck with.
I usually like to get my mind fucked because it's a challenge, but I've got to say what went on in American politics the last year, that was beyond… I mean, are we really that stupid? At what point did the world ever think President Donald Trump might be a good idea? Either the presidency means so little or we really are that stupid that we're such a TV-based society that we would start voting for bumbling TV stars and phony billionaires. I usually don't get involved in politics at all.
I was going to say, I never heard Monster Magnet accused of being a political band.
No, I don't even want to be! I don't want to be Rage Against The Machine or anything like that. It doesn’t pay! Commercially it doesn't pay; emotionally it doesn't pay because you change your mind about things like this. When you lean too hard on politics it becomes old hat really, really quick, you know. And there are better people to speak about politics then people in rock bands, most of the time. However in this case I can't see separating the politics from the communications revolution, which is the way we all live and the way we handle our information.
Basically the preening rock star becomes president. Donald Trump is like a rock star! It’s like having David Lee Roth on coke in the fuckin’ Oval Office. You know what I mean? He doesn't know anything about actually doing it! It’s like the world’s been shaved by a drunken barber, it’s fucking nuts! I couldn't leave that out; I couldn't leave that out of my writing.
I didn't want to write about it, but it just happened to be at that point where he got inaugurated and I was starting to write this record, which was going to be nothing about politics at all. In fact, it was supposed to be just a sex, drugs, and rock and roll good time record.
Two songs in particular that stood out as being political were “I’m God” and “All Day Midnight.”
Absolutely. Those two songs are just about somebody being really bummed out. You can’t even trust that the sun will come up anymore. “I’m God” is just me trying to fucking yell at people in some way. You know, how can I actually express my feelings without being like the angry guy in his kitchen saying “All you people deserve to die,” which is the way I felt about people who voted that way. I wondered what God would think about it. I’m not a religious guy but it’s a good way to tell a story.
There is no shortage of conservative rock fans and also musicians.
Honestly, I can't get into the conservative rock star thing. I turn away from it! I walk away! Don’t you realize that these are the guys that Black Sabbath wrote “War Pigs” about? Don’t you realize that these are the guys Pink Floyd wrote Animals about? Don't they fucking get it?
While there’s definitely a lot politically here, I thought “Rocket Freak” and “Brainwashed” came from a more personal place.
I always write from a personal standpoint and then I’ll dress it up according to what the music wants. Allegory has never been a stranger to me. Most of the stuff was written to be a sex, drugs, and rock and roll album and I try to keep it that way. So my reference to girlfriends or cars or rockets or outer space or, you know, just generally rocking is all true.
The last album Lost Patrol was a throwback to the early space rock days, whereas Mindfucker is in your face, song-oriented – a rocking album. Did you just get it out of your system?
That’s exactly right. It’s a reaction to a previous action. If you work out a muscle too much you have to move onto another muscle or you’ll burn out. I did Last Patrol and those two Re-imagining albums which were decidedly psychedelic, some of them instrumental, completely off the chain, you know, really tripped out shit. In order for me just to keep my brain, I was like, all right man, I‘ve got to rock and punch this shit out.
It's (also) something that my guys -- Bob [Pantella, drums], Phil [Caivano, guitar], Garrett [Sweeny, guitar] and Chris [Kosnik , bass] -- are really, really good at. It’s in their wheelhouse, just straight ahead rock. I kind of wrote it for them, you know, as well as myself. I was like, this is something these guys are going to just bite into and it’s going to be great and it's going to be really natural.
What were your musical inspirations for the album?
My head was more in Detroit, the Detroit hard rock of the early seventies, and what would be considered proto-punk. And before that whole CBGBs punk scene there was a lot of stuff that was still rock but it was shorter and more punchy. So it was Grand Funk [Railroad], The Stooges, Alice Cooper, those are bands that were running through my head. I guess the difference with that kind of music is that it's tied to soul a little bit, you know. It all came from Michigan and Motown. That told me that these songs had to have pure choruses and they have to be shorter. It's got to have a little swing to it. It’s way different from when you do a straight ahead Sabbathy, British rock thing. I was really aware of that.
Monster Magnet is playing the Decibel Metal & Beer Fest. You’re going to stand out on that bill.
Some guy's going to walk out and go, “Who invited Cream to play? What the fuck is this?” We’re not going to have that military dun-dun-dun-dun-dun. But I ain't worried. People still remember how to rock. In Europe where we play a lot they’re not afraid to mix genres. I remember playing with Portishead -- can you imagine? That’s ridiculous! We’ve played with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds; we’ve played festivals with PJ Harvey. Real strange matches, but thankfully they weren’t a problem. In Europe they kind of give you some leeway which is probably why I prefer to play Europe most of the time anyway.
In the ‘90s, Monster Magnet was making gold records, touring in giant arenas and sheds. You have two greatest hits albums and you’re probably still getting checks in the mail from radio stations playing “Space Lord.” To quote the Dead, what a long, strange trip it’s been, right?
That’s a perfect way to put it: What a long, strange trip it’s been. Being in a band for more than four years is a real journey. At one point you’re going to peak and you're going to have to survive whatever the other side of that hill is. I don't think anything is ever going straight up and stayed there. You know, even Metallica has taken financial hits.
I just looked at it like what Monster Magnet had to offer has always been in my head, a very esoteric, cultish mixture of early seventies hard rock and psychedelia that comes from my soul. I wasn't gonna push that on anybody or try to crowbar my way in. If that meant me pointing the ship to a place that would get it, I would go there comfortably. I’d much rather play in places in the world where they get it.
When Monster Magnet began, it was a “Satanic drug thing… You wouldn’t understand.” As we approach three decades from you forming the band, what would be the band’s tagline now?
I don’t know if there's a modern mantra for it, but right now it's all about being alive and functional at whatever we choose to do, and to bring it out live as much as possible. So how about, “Long Hair: Now more than ever?” Or “The kids aren’t alright.” That would be a good thing.