Monster Magnet on the cover of Maximum Ink in September 1998
Monster Magnet may unleash the most bombastic arena rock this side of the Reagan administration, but frontman Dave Wyndorf is as misplaced today as he would have been in 1988. His music glows with flash and fire, a hard rock amalgamation of everything guitar-driven and melody-laced, and onstage he plays equal parts Paul Stanley, badass biker, and teenager enchanted by the allure of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. With a brilliant new release, Powertrip, that rivals Guns ‘N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction in sheer audacity, tenacity, and musical virtuosity, he is currently wrapping a month of amphitheater dates with Aerosmith before kicking off a blockbuster tour with Rob Zombie and Fear Factory in October. ``In 1998, there is no alternative but to just physically get out there and pound people over the fucking heads and celebrate excess,” Wyndorf said over lunch recently at a New York City tavern. “Fuck this symphonic turntable going ‘wacka wacka wacka,’ it’s time to fuck people!”
Maximum Ink: I know you had a vision heading into Powertrip. Having written it so quickly, did you know exactly the sound you wanted? I’m not talking Pink Floyd’s The Wall, but there is a concept there.
Dave Wyndorf: By necessity it’s conceptual. I came back after years of touring and was kind of burnt out and just turned on the radio for the first time in a long time… American radio. I listened to radio and watched TV and I just said, `I quit. [chuckles] This sucks. I’m in a rock band and there’s no rock, this blows.’ So I quit for like a year and then my A&R guy came in and gave me a big hassle about recording a record and I was like, `For what? There’s nobody out there listening to this stuff anyway.’ I mean, the taste of the American public is total shit. Nouveau ska? Give me a fuckin’ break! It’s either that or these really, really heavy bands that just sing to men, you know? What kind of crap is that? [In a manly voice…] `We’ll mosh.’ [laughter] So I was like, `There’s no place for me in this world. There’s no fun, it’s either total angst or total pussy music, there’s no in between.’ But I had a stack of bills, and it costs money to be in a rock ‘n roll band. We sold a lot of records on the last one, but it’s never enough because America’s completely out of control. America’s more concerned with success over content. Whoever makes the most money wins. It doesn’t matter what you do, it’s just, `Look, that guy won.’ And I was like, `This is hurting my head…’
MI: People would rather sell four million records than write an album with four good songs on it.
D: Right. And I said, `I can’t compete against this stuff.’ Instead of me just totally bowing out, I decided to just go to the one place in the world that stands for all this stuff with no shame, it’s in your face, completely for what it’s worth- Las Vegas, Nevada…
MI: Or Disneyworld…
D: Yeah, or Disneyworld. Las Vegas has more naked women, so I chose that. So I just stayed there as long as it took to write 21 songs. It was a song a day and I just looked at all the stuff that was on my mind at that point. Old tour stories, like weird war memories that were going through my head, ‘cause when you tour it’s like, you don’t know what the hell’s going on. People that I met, stuff that I was going through, stuff I saw on TV… Basically, the concept of the album came out to be power. You know, do you have it? Do I have it? I had it for a little while, it’s gone. What is power? What’s money? What’s money worth? What’s success worth? All that kind of stupid shit. And it didn’t take more than a couple hours to write a song.
MI: The full song? Lyrics, too?
D: Yeah, the lyrics, too. Then I would take it back to the band to maybe arrange it further or just put drum parts on it, bass parts and stuff.
MI:You basically write the songs yourself, though?
D: Yeah. I’ll do all the parts. I’ll write the melody line and the words and then do like a drum machine part for a bass part, then take it to the band and it changes. The band interprets it in different ways, too, but basically I come up with it. It’s personal, too. It’s hard for me to write a song about one thing, so it’s got to be about a couple of different things.
MI: Just take the first song, `Crop Circles.’ When you listen to it, power doesn’t really jump out at you.
D: I’m glad, because if it did, then it would probably be too simple and then I wouldn’t be happy with it. I don’t want to say it’s poetry because that’s typical, but to me, as many double meanings as I can fit into my songs the better. I’ll talk about people that I know that I don’t want to know, about me, I’ll sing messages to myself, and to other people, just by calling somebody something else… Elements are big-fire, water, and stuff-they stand for stuff that happened in my life or an experience that happened. It’s pretty psychedelic, actually. [laughs] But this one less so than in the past because at least three or four lines will make sense to each other on this one, as opposed to the past when not one line did. It all means something to me, but it’s hard to decipher for anybody else.
MI:It starts with the obvious origin theme, but then it seems to shift to being the center of the universe.
D: Yeah, definitely, it’s all about origin to me, basically. What happened was, I was in Europe one time and there was this girl following me around and she would camp out in front of the hotel and just stay in the lobby. She goes, `You’re a crop circle.’ That’s the only thing I could understand, `You’re a crop circle.’ `You’re the crop circle.’ So I walked away and I said, `Does that mean she thinks I’m something that was planted here by UFOs or does that mean I’m a massive hoax?’ So that’s what the song is about.
MI: How about `Baby Gotterdammerung’? That’s a mouthful.
D: `Gotterdammerung’ means twilight of the gods, it’s just like the end. It’s a depressing little song about a depressing little thing in my life where at one point I went from being a huge liar, and a very good liar, into the guy who told the truth too much. You know, like, `I don’t like you.’ If I’m gonna be that honest, `I hate you.’ You know? It’s when you try to be honest and everybody dies anyway. Everybody dies, whether you’re lying or not. Everyone’s always got a problem with that. The only reason `Gotterdammerung’ is in there is because it’s such a cool fucking word.
MI: `See You In Hell’ caught my attention immediately. There seems to be a lot going on musically that’s different from the rest of the album.
D: It’s more psychedelic, ‘60s kind of beat stuff. I love that kind of music, I write it all the time, but it hardly ever gets a chance to be on a Monster Magnet record because it’s so out there. The words were just something that I wrote on a bus one time from the Port Authority, this was right before I went to Vegas, from Port Authority to Red Bank [New Jersey, his hometown]. I sat down next to this freak who told me a story about how his wife killed their baby and had smothered it with a pillow and then he had to drive out to the Meadowlands to bury it. I was really scared, like, `God, this is horrible.’ It just stuck in my head so much I just couldn’t get it out until I actually did something with it. I just had to get it out of my head, you know?
MI: How about `Tractor’?
D: That’s pretty much the state of New Jersey the way I left it like five years ago. [Laughs] I guess I traveled with the wrong bunch of people… It’s totally glorifying drug abuse.
MI: There are ongoing references to religious beliefs.
D: Sure. I think that’s a big part of it because it’s religious power, and religion has so much power. Religion is where the unexplained stuff gets explained. Where they tell you, `Just believe. We’re beyond money now, you just believe in this, okay? Now give us your money because we’re Catholic.’ So, mysticism always fascinated me because it’s just different forms of religion. Plus, it’s just cool. It’s unexplained. No one knows if it’s real, or if it’s right or not.
MI: And there’s a lot of self-empowermentin the lyrics.
D: Definitely. It’s all self-delusion, [laughter] you know? Delusions of grandeur. Being really frustrated and saying, `Fuck it, you know, I’m gonna burn this thing down, like fuck a volcano.’ I guess it comes from reading too many comic books when I was a kid. The images tend to be kind of blown up.
MI: I think that’s what makes the music work to a certain degree. You can listen to the lyrics and the music, it’s a total package. There’s not much of that out there today.
D: That’s what it is to me. Rock ‘n roll songs really are a combination of words and music and really shouldn’t be separated at all.
MI: Are you one of those songwriters that wants everybody to read into something and get what they want out of it?
D: Yeah. The way I figure it, I put out my records, and a record is kind of like a cerebral experience, an interactive experience for people. They can interpret it the way they want to, which is my favorite way to listen to records. Live is where I’ll put a period on it, I’ll put an exclamation point on it. People come live and I’ll tell them exactly what I’m talking about. They’ll know just by my gestures what exactly I was talking about. I like to have those two things going because it keeps it interest
ing for me.
MI: You didn’t have massive commercial success with the last album, but Negasonic Teenage Warhead was really well received by radio. There’s a lot of radio potential on this album. Are you anticipating that kind of success?
D: Yeah. Well, the record company’s always looking for it. I couldn’t be partners with these people without knowing that that’s what they’re going to go for. The thing with me is, I lost perspective because I don’t have any respect for the radio. I think the radio is just horrible and I don’t think that I’m powerful enough to do anything about it because I think it’s a machine, an industry thing, and it’s the record company’s job to sell our record. It’s my job to sell my music and I can sell it by recording albums and performing in front of people. It’s their job to convince me to go out and do stupid radio shows. I wish there was a seem to grab ahold of, I wish there was something that I had something in common with, but it doesn’t seem like there’s much in the last couple of years. That’s what this whole record was written for, because there was just nothing. It’s lonely out there, you know. It would be completely different if I liked a lot of the music that’s out there, but I just don’t think it’s that hot, you know? I don’t dig the lifestyle, I don’t dig any of it. I like Nashville Pussy, that’s about it. They’re kind of like Motorhead meets Lynyrd Skynyrd, two sexy girls blowing fire and playing in their bras and stuff. I think they’re really, really cool. And Clutch, obviously, I love Clutch. All the bands that really inspired Monster Magnet at the time are gone-like Soundgarden and Mudhoney and all that. Those are the kind of bands that we were into.
MI:Did that all lead to your decision to leave the business?
D: Yeah, just because it wasn’t…there wasn’t anything exciting to do. We had already toured probably more than any other band around us because we do really well on the scene, and it’s not like there was any new ground to cover. We had literally toured all over the world many, many, times, and America is only gonna buy it as much as they’re gonna buy it. I looked around and said, `What do people want?’ They want nouveau ska and they want techno and it was like, `Check please!’ On the other side, people go, `Well, heavy music’s alive.’ And I go `What?” And they go, `This band, that band,’ and I say, `They’re playing for guys. This is guy music for a guy.’ There’s nothing wrong with them, I’m not puttin’ them down, it just doesn’t seem like anybody’s having any fun.
MI: Is this album written with a different audience in mind than your other albums?
D: Well, I usually write albums for myself, then worry about the audience afterwards. It’s the only way I know how to write. In that regard, I’m not a politician or a speech writer, I’m just a person who writes songs to let off steam and this record is no different. The only difference in this is, my head was in a different space than it has been in the past. Really, it’s pretty simple to me, I can’t do it any other way but my way. I just have to do it, enjoy it and hope for the best.
MI: Does it feel especially good to be able to sell out a certain size venue on a consistent basis and know that you’ll always have that crowd?
D: It means more to me than you could ever know. The way I look at it, success, for me, is to be able to make music and make career turns without anybody going, `Oh my God, you didn’t…’ There’s gotta be reduced expectations all around. I have to deal with as many people as I can personally reach without the assistance or the dependence on the press and the people who represent it because basically that whole system will turn against you eventually. But I wouldn’t mind doing the whole media star thing, I think it would be fun. It would be fun to make the money.
MI: If you were given that opportunity to turn around and become the big star, would you feel very comfortable with it knowing that the success would be fleeting?
D: Yeah. I mean, it’s all a fucking game, you know? At that point I think that’s where you have to start thinking about changing your name. You know, later on, starting up again at some record company. The thing is, with me, I don’t have that much respect for rock stars, so it’s hard. You look at yourself in the mirror and you don’t have that much respect for yourself, you’re like, `Okay when was the last time a rock star was really cool?’ It’s been a long time. Nobody’s cool, they either got the money or they don’t, and that’s the perception. Maybe there are a couple underdogs in there somewhere, but this is all post-Cobain. He was the guilty rock star.
MI: And he was totally reactionary to everything else.
D: And only if you’re the real deal could you pull something like that off. He was real, but everybody else… The world’s not ready for negative rock people. What are you in this business for? You’re in there to get laid, right? They’re like, `No I’m there to…’ They’re lying. I joined this band so I could get laid and that’s what Monster Magnet is for, so I can play the music that I wanted and have an angle with girls. I was pretty much a geek when I was a kid. I needed something. I still have a complex.
MI: What do you think you’d be doing now if it weren’t for Monster Magnet?
D: I’d be a writer, like fiction. Or maybe a journalist. I’m an observationalist. I like irony. I’d be that, or like a landscaper or something simple. I can always do music,it wouldn’t matter.
MI: What keeps you so happy? It can’t be that easy staying optimistic while being so pessimistic about the business side of it.
D: Yeah, that’s kind of weird. I have massive mood swings. [Snickers] I don’t know… When people get it, which does happen. It doesn’t have to be a lot of people that get it to make me happy. All my favorite stuff has always been underdogs, why should I be any different now?
CD: Powertrip Record Label: Fontana a&M
• Purchase Powertrip on Amazon