Live from Planet Wyndorf

Posted October 7, 2013 in
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Monster Magnet release their new album, Last Patrol, on Napalm Records on Oct. 15. Photo: Jeremy Saffer

You ever see one of those Frank Frazetta paintings? You know: with big breasted Amazonian warrior princesses hacking through hordes of armored space-lizards, vikings and wizards and planets and jungles and shit? Where does that all take place? When does it take place? As a tot, I’d study them in magazines looking for clues. The first time I heard Monster Magnet’s Spine of God,  I imagined they came from this place Frazetta had created … somewhere in the steaming thickets of rock n’ roll’s future-past with an undulating hunk of amp fuzz, simultaneously looking back to rock’s primordial origins, and forward to a hypersonic future. You take a record like Tab and tell me that wasn’t created on another planet!

OK, I guess it sounds hyperbolic, and I’ve no astronomical knowledge to substantiate my theories. The accepted story is that Monster Magnet come from a place called Red Bank, New Jersey. It’s also here where, as a youngster, lead singer Dave Wyndorf first heard Hawkwind, The Stooges, Dust and Grand Funk Railroad. It’s in this area where he first saw a UFO, first saw a Frank Frazetta painting and first got a job at a comic book store. It’s also where he formed a band. 
In the nearly three decades since the band’s inception, they’ve scrapped to whether the ’80s indie explosion, the mainstream boom and bust of ’90s alterna-rock and the Internet grubbing free-for-all of everything thereafter … and they’ve ridden each wave to grander heights. Now, in conjunction with the release of their 10th album, Last Patrol on Napalm Records, the band is planning their first full United States tour in a decade. SLUG got in touch with Wyndorf to discuss the new album, the rock n’ roll climate of America and the things that motivate him to keep playing this music now.
SLUG: The title of the upcoming record is Last Patrol. What’s the significance?
Wyndorf: It’s a song title that just seemed to suit the whole record. “Last patrol” is a song that’s kind of based on that old army saying, you know? I got it from an old army movie that I saw a million years ago. It’s like, “This is the last patrol! It’s time to fuckin go out and kill everybody before I die!” The song is really about getting revenge on a world that didn’t thank me. Some kinda cosmic revenge … and it just sounded cool. It doesn’t really mean anything. I know there’s people thinking, “Oh, so this is your last record?” but that’s not the case. I must admit, though, that after this many records, it’s good to hedge my bets you know? In a few years, if I wanna say, “Fuck it!” I can say, “Look, I did 10 records and the last one was called Last Patrol.” (laughs)
SLUG: Yeah, you’ve gotta come up with another variation of “Swan Song.” The Last-ER Patrol!
Wyndorf: The Laster Patrol! (laughs). I think I’m contractually obliged to do another one, so I’m going to have to make up a better title like, “Oh, shit. Did I say LAST patrol? I didn’t mean it like that, this is the REAL last patrol.”
SLUG: I heard Last Patrol was initially written in a week …
Wyndorf: Well, the lyrics were. The music was written in pieces over the course of a year. I’d stop in and write bass drums and guitar and just a grunting melody line for maybe a day for a song at my home studio … God, that sounds cheesy (laughs). I’d just put that down and say to myself, “OK, that’s gonna be a song.” Then I’d take all the pieces of music I wrote, and turn them into songs later. When it comes time to actually do the lyrics, I’m so fuckin’ lazy that I always wind up in this horrible space where I’m like, “I’ve got no lyrics! I’ve got song titles—I’ve got all the ideas but no lyrics.” I get stuck in that situation often—where you’ve done every single FUN thing associated with making a record and you’re stuck with the un-fun part of writing the lyrics. Basically, every day, I’d just get up and write a song’s worth of lyrics. Sometimes two in a day … and I got it done. It works. It’s a way to do things.
SLUG: Yeah, I mean, wasn’t Powertrip essentially written that way?
Wyndorf: Powertrip was written in exactly the same way as far as the lyrics go. I had done all this music and so, even though the songs weren’t completely done, ready to go, to be brought to the band. The melody lines were all there, and I had a bunch of titles, but I didn’t have lyrics. The only difference then was with Powertrip, I went out to Vegas to write the lyrics.
SLUG: What draws you to that writing approach? Necessity?
Wyndorf: Deadlines help, but I really think it’s just that I wanna know exactly, or at least get as close as I can, to knowing what the record is going to sound like before I put the final words to it. I mean, once all the music is done, I know generally what the lyrics are going to be because I’ve had the same thoughts bubbling around in my head since I started making it. I have all these thoughts in my head, but it’s almost like I want to wait to pen lyrics so that I can see how they’ll best be utilized in the song. I want them to suit the music. The thing is, as soon as I’m done making a record, I just think about the next one! 
SLUG: Internet buzz says Last Patrol is a “return to form.” How comfortable are you with that proclamation?
Wyndorf: You can never really do that, you know? Return to form. I mean, you’re not the same person anymore. I would say it’s a return to a recording style that I haven’t used in a while. That style of playing fast and loose with mistakes and utilizing a lot of these mistakes as song material. A lot of my original plan was to take the original, chuddy way that I play at home, and transfer that to a recording studio. I’ll say to the band, “Play it as fucked up as I did!” You know? They’re better musicians than me, so in the past, I’ve said, ‘Play it better than I showed it to you!’ but this time, I feel kinda like, “There’s something to that crappy way, so play it that way.” It’s definitely a return to a method.
SLUG: But I’ve heard it’s a little more psychedelic
Wyndorf: Yeah. It’s more psychedelic, sure … but I don’t think I could ever truly go back to the old days, even if I tried! (laughs). It’s got bits of all our older stuff—Tab and Superjudge. There’s a little bit of Dopes to Infinity in there.  I mean, on all those older records, I just used different styles and approaches to psychedelic music … It’s just the literal amount of it that’s on this record that has people talking. There’s a lot more noise on this record than we’ve had on a record in a while.  I don’t really boil it down to particulars, just my influences. When I wrote Powertrip, it was like, “I wanna write a heavy record! Stooges! Sabbath! All that kinda heavy shit all in one.” On Last Patrol, I just said, “I wanna write a weird, vibe-y, psychedelic record, and I’m gonna use sounds and space as a big part of the way these songs are presented. If that means I have to break song structure a little bit, or extend things, then fuck it.” If it feels good, do it. 
SLUG: Zodiac Lung, the Monster Magnet site, calls it Space Noir. How did you land on that?
Wyndorf: It just sort of happened that way. In songs, I tend to explain my real life and emotions through big metaphors. It’s fun and it makes it not boring to me. For example, if I’m having a breakup with my girlfriend, I don’t say, “Boo hoo, I’m breaking up with a girl.” I say “There’s a volcano exploding.” When I feel like I’m not a part of society, I write “I live behind the clouds.” That’s the way I explain. Along with all that stuff on Last Patrol, the psychedelics and surreality, there seemed to be a theme of “revenge” throughout.  Just like, “Well, the world sucks, and I’m getting betrayed by different people so I’m just gonna cash out my chips and move to the moon with a 10-foot blonde.” You know? Fuck everybody. That all sounded very “noir” to me, that whole ’50s movie noir thing where the guy is always really cynical. He knew what love was but he’s been burnt too many times, so now he’s fixing to rob a bank and take off to an island somewhere with all his money. If he had to murder a few bad guys on the way, he’d do it. … The guy in the song … always ends up being me. I try to make it about another person, but it’s always me. Anyway, he’s always lamenting the good times and the bad times. That’s where the noir thing came up. It’s the bitter, failed romantic trying to make his escape. I called it “space noir” because I couldn’t think of any other way to explain it. 
SLUG: Monster Magnet, and you, generally, have always worn your influences right out on your sleeve. Even the non-musical ones like comics and sci-fi flicks and such. We’re kind of at a point in Hollywood where we’re rehashing a lot of ideas and remaking things. What contemporary streams of pop culture are you drawing from, if any?
Wyndorf: Any kind of quality work inspires me, whether it has anything to do with me or not. We’re definitely in a little bit of a flat-line state, as far as our culture goes. We’re going back to the well a bit too much and remaking, but they’re not adding to it. I don’t see anything new being created out of this whole ‘retro’ thing. It seems like they’re just sitting there, looking at the clocks and waiting for the era to change. They’re like, “Maybe, when it’s 2020, it’ll get good again, right?” (laughs) That being said, there’s still good stuff. Comedy is always good. Comedy fucking rules. Those guys never run out of gas. TV is fuckin’ awesome. The writing is so sophisticated now. They’ve got all the pieces to make everything explode. I think as TV gets more daring and starts rattling the cage more, it’ll explode! You’ve gotta scare people. Since 9/11, people are afraid of scaring other people, so they just do more zombie movies instead. That’s getting old. Zombies? Are you fucking kidding me? How old is that? You can’t even battle zombies. You just run away from them. Slaughter ’em from a distance. HBO has good shit. AMC has good shit.
SLUG: Breaking Bad!
Wyndorf: Yeah, Breaking Bad is fucking awesome! They never had TV like that when I was a kid. 
SLUG: It’s like those America in Primetime PBS documentaries. The vibe I get is that TV is catching up to movies because it can sustain a plot line longer. It can build up more suspense and drama, and a two-hour movie can’t compete with that no matter how much money and special effects they dump into it. 
Wyndorf: Yeah, those hollywood guys deserve a big giant slap in the fucking face because they sold everybody out by letting all the salesmen in. They just make two-and-a-half-hour trailers now, you know? These are the same guys that gave us The Godfather … and it’s like, where’s The Godfather now? There’s nothing that sophisticated in Hollywood anymore. It’s all on TV! 
SLUG: You’re about to embark on your first full US tour in a decade. You’ve played consistently in Europe, though …
Wyndorf: Oh yeah, we play in Europe a ton. I think I’ve played more shows in the past five years than I did in the first 10 years of Monster Magnet … but now it’s mostly overseas. 
SLUG: What’s the difference between American audience and European audiences?
Wyndorf: With the American audiences … it’s just what’s going on right now. It’s not their fault. People are riding the crest of the “tech wave.” The “What can it all do for ME?” wave. I mean, everyone’s still interested in everything, but they’re only interested in it for a fuckin minute or two. It’s almost like the Internet is so fast, and there’s all this cool stuff readily available. We’re all like little kids, sitting after dinner, and somebody’s come out with a plate of desserts that’s a mile wide. Have you ever seen kids when you give them more than three choices? They go insane! That’s what’s happening in America! (laughs). We’re just like “Waaaaahhhh! I don’t know what to pay attention to so I’m going to pay attention to everything!” That’s not a good thing for rock n’ roll. You’ve got to lock people in a box. Make ’em uncomfortable. Make ’em sweat. Take away their phones and beat ’em over the head with volume. They have to be impressed! There’s a lot of kids who’ve grown up in the last 10 years who haven’t seen a real rock show. They’ve seen these broadway productions that come to the local PNC Bank Art Center, and it’s all controlled with decibel levels turned way down. There’s huge barricades in front of the stage. They’ve never been in the shit, so I can’t blame ’em.
SLUG: So why does it “go over” in Europe so much more?
Wyndorf: The thing about Europe that’s different from here is they’ve always been a very live society. There’s cafes and clubs and the drinking age isn’t a big deal. There’s so much live music there. They never went through the whole “Think about insurance—we’re gonna sue everybody! If I hurt my pinky at a rock show, I’m gonna sue everyone” thing that we have here. There, everything is outside. Everything is live all the time. It’s not a big car culture either. Everything is in the middle of the city. Trains go all night, right to the middle of the city. You get out of the train and you’re at the rock show, you know? In the middle of all the cool shit. Then you go home, bombed, drunk or whatever. It’s just that all those things are naked and easy for people to get to. To go out and see live bands—it keeps the costs down so you can go, cheap, and see a bunch of shows. Whereas here, they’ve got the nerve to charge people all this money to go to a rock show? I mean, that’s not cool. That’s the big difference between Europe and the States. That’s why it’s alive over there and struggling over here … and I do believe it’s struggling over here.
SLUG: On one hand we have access, tons of it because of the Internet … but it’s harder to really claw into something because there’s always new stuff vying for our attention. 
Wyndorf: It’s a matter of priority. Once we get over the bedazzlement of broadband Internet, things will change. We’re all waiting for the Internet to get faster. Convenience rules the day. It’s all about “How much can I do in as little time as possible, so I’m ready for the good shit!” I totally get that, but I think we need to get over that. To prioritize and just go, “Just because I have one thousand choices, doesn’t mean they’re all good.” When we get there, there will be a focus on the actual fraction of things that are good. It’ll allow promoters and critics and everyone to focus as well … and I know it sounds like snobbery, but look: We gave democracy a chance with the internet, and they fucked it all up! It’s like a nation of amateurs. Everyone’s got an opinion, but they’re not informed opinions—it’s just blowhards with a headline mentality. There’s no paragraphs under the story—it’s nothing—all headlines! How are kids growing up supposed to know what’s good if everyone out there is just beating their chest screaming, “I’m right! I’m right!”—? And here’s the thing: The kids can’t even get to the shows to make their own decisions, because the economics of live rock and roll keeps the kids away from it with bars and drinking ages. It’s hard for the good shit to get out there. It’ll change though. I think people will get smarter. 
SLUG: The Internet is full of garbage, but it’s also a resource to learn. I use the Internet to supplement my music fanaticism …
Wyndorf: Sure. It’s like having a library in your house. You can’t totally knock it. It’s the greatest thing since pizza. It truly is. It’s fucking awesome … but for a lot of people, it’s just like giving a giant car, a hummer to a 14 year old. He’s going to smash it. You give everyone a big, giant hummer, and a ton of people will end up driving their hummers off bridges.  
SLUG: I think a lot of the mystique of rock and roll has been blown open. My Dad tells me stories of seeing Blue Oyster Cult and just being jazzed on it for weeks after, just thinking about the show and the band playing this insane music weeks after.
Wyndorf: Oh yeah, man, it’s gone. It’s dead. Easy access to rock stars is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of! It’s a huge mistake! It’s like, “You don’t wanna know. You don’t really wanna know.”  You take mystery and legend out of something that was built on mystery and legend, [and] you’ve got nothing left over. Well, you’ve got something but you don’t have ROCK. It’s still sold as such, but it’s a false bill of goods. People aren’t arriving at rock music. They’re beaten over the head with it alongside everything else. What’s gonna happen next is some mutant breed of child is going to emerge, and their taste is gonna be, like … digital black. Like, nothing. “Did you hear that?” “Yep!” You know? (laughs)
SLUG: So what’s good with rock n’ roll? Monster Magnet plays rock music.
Wyndorf: REAL rock, as opposed to “fake rock,” which there’s a lot of, does exist. The one positive about this whole crazy “dispersion of focus” is that the people who really make it and really love it are gonna do it without the promise of money … and that’s really nice. Regardless of not getting any money, there are people out there making the art that they wanna make. It may not be picked up and run through the media machine, because those guys are too afraid to take any chances, which amazes me because there’s so much room to take ’em, but whatever. People are doing it anyway. Art is alive—if you want it, you’re just gonna have to look. 
Readers in the Salt Lake City area needn’t look far, as Wyndorf and crew will be coming to take the Urban Lounge, and all in attendance, to a distant rock n’ roll universe, just beyond the planets and into the great Frank Frazetta–esque beyond. Come see the seething beast in person, Wednesday, Nov. 20 with Royal Thunder and Zodiac.