Monster Magnet: Heavy Rock Mastermind
Words: Brendan Crabb
Latest release: Mastermind (Napalm Records)
Band site: www.monstermagnet.net
Following vocalist/guitarist Dave Wyndorf’s much-publicized battles with his personal demons, American hard rock/stoner rock outfit Monster Magnet are firmly back on track again with new record Mastermind. With the band due to return to Australia in February/March as part of the mammoth Soundwave Festival, I chatted with the immediately friendly Wyndorf (who was travelling on the band’s tour bus through Spain at the time of the interview) about the new album, the current state of the music industry, music journalism and his plans to pen an autobiography with a difference.
Q: So, how is the touring for the new album coming along?
A: It’s really good. The fans really seem to dig the record; they’re singing the songs at the shows. That’s what you want as a musician and a songwriter; it feels pretty damn good when people come out and sing the new songs. It’s a really good feeling.
Q: You’ve remarked in recent interviews that Mastermind is a more complete and less patched together album than (2007’s) 4-Way Diablo. Can you elaborate on that?
A: Yeah, I mean 4-Way Diablo was… This album was written in my usual style, which is, I sit there and I write an album, where I write the whole thing all at once. 4-Way Diablo was not that, it was pieces of this and pieces of that. It was bringing a bunch of pieces together and trying to make it into an album. It’s tough to say (if) one way is worse than the other, but this album was a lot more focused. Much more focused.
Q: In what other ways do you feel the new record is a step up from your previous releases?
A: I think sound-wise it’s a big improvement. I don’t know if the music is a big improvement, but sound-wise it’s better. Here’s some stuff I’ve been wanting to try for a while; I wanted to do an all-Gibson record, use a lot more vintage amps than I usually did. I really, really went in hard, using a lot of vintage amplifiers to make this one sound a little bit meatier than what’s in the past. I think the actual playing on it is better than it’s ever been.
Q: What does the title Mastermind mean to you?
A: Mastermind? It’s a word that I like a lot. It sounds really cool (laughs). I had a conversation with a girl in Texas about five or six years ago and it’s been just rolling around in my head ever since. I was trying to get her to go into my hotel room with me and she wouldn’t go. I was like, "please, please come into the hotel with me" and she wasn’t going for it. I wondered what I was going to do, so I figured I had nothing to lose at this point. So I just whispered all these like lurid details about what I was going to do. She pulled back, she had a smile on her face and she goes, "You’re some kind of a mastermind, aren’t you?" I just cracked up laughing; it was really funny to hear this girl say the word "mastermind". That’s been in my head ever since and it finally showed up in a song (laughs).
Q: (Laughs) The new album seems to be receiving some of the best reviews Monster Magnet has had in some time. Are you at a point in your career where you just don’t care about reading reviews at all?
A: Well, you know, they always mean something to me if they’re written intelligently. Hopefully, reviews are written by people who know music and love music. So when they’re good and they’re from smart people, I love it. Even when they’re bad and they’re from smart people, I don’t mind it. The only time I mind is when they’re bad by stupid people (laughs). There’s a lot of stupid reviews out there on the Internet… The quality of writing is in peril right now. It’s having a hard time…Reviewers who don’t know what they’re talking about. Luckily for me, I don’t really get that many bad reviews, so I’ve been very, very lucky.
Q: The Internet has given everyone a vehicle to express their opinion, no matter how ill-informed it may be. Go back a few decades and people would take reviews in music publications very seriously and would place a great deal of trust in certain writers. Do you think that’s almost completely eradicated now?
A: You know, I think in a lot of ways it’s better now. It does give people a vehicle to express their opinions. The downside of it is there’s not a lot of education behind some of the reviewers. You know what I mean? It’s obviously stupid people talking. Basically, what they like to do is pretend that they know, when they’re obviously really misinformed about a lot of the facts. But you can’t have it all. In the old days, you had a lot of pretty good writers, but then again, they kind of lorded over the public with words. That doesn’t happen any more; now the public lords over the public. There is a certain lack of finesse in a lot of the writing which goes on. But it’s very democratic now and I don’t know if I like democratic writing (laughs). I like snobs (laughs).
Q: The Internet has obviously had such a huge effect on record sales as well. Monster Magnet come from a time well before that, when bands could still sell millions of albums. How do you feel about the new generation of bands who might be as popular as say, Monster Magnet once were but won’t sell a fraction of the number of albums and will find it difficult to make a living from playing music?
A: It’s a bummer. It’s a bummer when art doesn’t pay; you know what I mean? I know that may sound like a contradiction in terms, but it’s hard in the modern age to educate young people to the fact that music doesn’t come from nowhere. Music comes from people, people make music and they really, really try hard. It’s not a shame that the Internet exists and it’s not a shame that people share and it’s not a shame that people even steal. It’s just the way it is. The shame of the fact is that there a lot of people who really don’t know what it takes to write a song. They just don’t know and they don’t care. They think there’s like a fountain of music; you just turn this fountain on and music comes out for free. I think there’s a big disconnect in what people think they deserve and what they get. Unfortunately, it’s creating more music, but more bad music (laughs). It’s creating a lot of shit. The real serious people, who are serious about their music are very, very scared to make a life in music now, because you can’t get paid. I would predict that there will be less good music around ten years from now and (even) less good music in 20 years from now. I really don’t think it’s going to get better for a long time. People would argue, they’d say, "No, no, no, an artist is going to do what they’re going to do". That’s bullshit – I know artists. Artists are not in this game just to fucking be sacrificial lambs. They want money - they want to live. I know a lot of people can’t deal with this stuff at all; they’d just rather go do something else. I think it’s showing up on the charts and I think it’s showing up below the charts and it’s coming up on kind of a transparent… where there’s a big gas bubble between the old classic rock bands and new bands. When that bubble pops, there’s going to be nothing good around for a long time.
Q: On the label front, I caught the video for ‘Spacelord’ (from the band’s 1998 album Powertrip) again recently. What really struck me is how that kind of lavish, over-the-top music video is almost non-existent within the hard rock world, simply because the record labels don’t have the money to pay for them any more.
A: I like the big, over-expensive video, I think they were a lot of fun. Its funny, at the time I thought it was a big pain in the ass, but now I miss it. I actually miss doing them (laughs). I went independent a long time ago, so I said goodbye to that kind of thing and that kind of expense. But for a while there it was really, really fun. Obviously the big video still exists, but they exist solely for hip-hop guys and stuff like that. Maybe videos themselves have kind of run their course. I would hope that they would have, because really when it comes down to rock, it’s about the music. It should be about the music first.
Q: Indeed. Changing topics, you’re coming back to Australia for the Soundwave Festival in February/March. What are your expectations for Australia this time around?
A: Oh man, I can’t wait to do the Soundwave Festival. There’s too many good bands there – I can’t believe how good it is. I won’t be able to see all the bands that I want to see; there’s not going to be enough time (laughs). I haven’t made up the set list we’ll be playing yet; it really depends on how long we have to play, how many hours and how many minutes we have to play. But I’ll figure something out. Playing in the daytime is quite a different story to playing at night; different songs… There’s a whole psychology behind it. I haven’t figured it out completely, but it’s definitely a different trip. Festivals are different; at the festivals, the people are the stars, not us.
Q: Good to hear. Given you’ve had such a successful, extensive and eventful career, have you given any consideration to writing an autobiography?
A: You know, I’ve been thinking about the autobiography. I don’t think that’s such a good idea, for a couple of reasons. One, everyone else is doing it. Two, I’d probably get like kicked out of the world if I mentioned all the stuff I want to mention; a lot of names. So what I do want to do is, I want to write something about life in rock. Make up some sort of fictional, make a fiction out of it and just let people decide who the people are and try to make it something really exciting, rather than doing the old kind of autobiography thing. That’s what I’m kind of working on there. I started writing my memoirs, and then I wasn’t sure if anyone would publish an autobiography, I didn’t think anybody would care. But the way I feel is, I think there’s a lot of rock, there’s a lot of stuff in the rock business that really has to be told. Not like revelations, but in many ways it’s about the emotional impact that it has on people that do it and just kind of the psychotic things that go on. Stuff that is funny and not that funny, things should be brought out that I haven’t seen brought out. I’d like to put that out there in a fictional form, rather than an autobiography.
Q: Any famous last words?
A: My famous last words will be telling the bus driver to slow the fuck down. He’s like flying over these mountains and scaring the shit out of us!