Monster Magnet are a band that many of us have watched rise from a local and unique perspective. From their early days of blowing up onto the international scene with “Space Lord” off of Spine Of God, to their latest full circle return to form on Mastermind, New Jersey music fans have witnessed it all. This is a band with a story associated with greatness. Humble beginnings churned the inspirational juices, moving them from transitional novices to gold record recipients and stages all over the world.
Dave Wyndorf has always been the force behind the magnetic pull of this band, and he cut his proverbial teeth on the very same stages and music scene battlegrounds that many of us did here in the Garden State.
His meteoric rise began in what would become the band Shrapnel, which consisted of Wyndorf, Phil Caivano, who also logged time in Monster Magnet, Danny Clayton, guitarist Dave Vogt (now deceased) and long-time producer Daniel Ray on guitar. This was the launching point and Shrapnel moved rock and roll mountains. Hailing from Red Bank, NJ, the band set up camp at Hilly’s CBGB’s in New York, and developed a sound that had people saying, “If the Ramone’s had younger brothers, it would be Shrapnel.”
Signed to Electra during their heyday, Shrapnel followed the passionate leanings of Wyndorf’s infatuation with all things punk rock militia. An avid historian, Wyndorf guided the group, going as far as to don military helmets and paraphernalia in their quest for original image. The band even had a comic book bestowed upon their dirty rock greatness, which is interesting considering Wyndorf later logged time working at a comic book store to pay the bills before Monster Magnet exploded. However, as most intense musical groups that burn supernova bright, Shrapnel disbanded. Wyndorf resurfaced under the moniker Crash And Burn.
Crash And Burn was heavier and may have actually been the catalyst for Monster Magnet’s formation. I had the pleasure of seeing these legends at eye level as they loaded the stage with more Marshall’s than Madison Square Garden could hold. Loud, cutting, and way ahead of their time, I knew Wyndorf would move to the next phase with his ever-expanding repertoire of compositional skills.
Monster Magnet was born around 1989, just a few years before the slaying of the Jurassic metal beast. Nirvana hit like the meteor, extinguishing all spandex-clad hairspray kings and Floyd Rose gun slingers overnight. But what monster Magnet had going for them was a doggedly steadfast allegiance to anti-commercial songwriting.
Wyndorf was moving outside of the straight and narrow hard rock scene, exploring diverse, psychedelic directions. Swirling nuances of distortion and feedback-laced orchestrations enveloped a sound more comfortable in the outer limits than on the Top 40 playlists, and they survived the changes.
That’s not to say they didn’t have their ups and downs. Members left or were replaced, label timing was off beat and trends in music became questionable. But Wyndorf managed to hang in there, cranking out several discs before causing the perfect storm with Spine Of God.
With over 11 records released on labels ranging from Glitterhouse, A&M, Caroline and SPV, Monster Magnet has kept it together with solid form. Their latest release is Mastermind, and they’ve been all over Europe to promote it. The band is back in the U.S. for a combination promotional junket/holiday vacation, and I caught up with Dave for a couple of questions about the band, the record, and the thought process that’s kept Monster Magnet a well-oiled beast for the last 23 years.
Who produced Mastermind?
It was produced by Matt Hyde [Porno For Pyros] and me. Matt is like Chief Engineer and recorder and I’m like the director of the movie. I don’t actually twiddle any knobs, I just say, “Make that sound purple!” or “Let’s do this!” So, I’m the producer, but technically he is.
I know you’re surrounded by the expectations of others. What drives you to focus on making great music?
It’s just what I do. I came to that realization a long time ago. I write songs, that’s what I do. I’m gonna put it out, I’m gonna take it on the road no matter what. If I have a problem going on the road or the lifestyle has bothered me, I’ll augment the lifestyle to fit me facilitating the delivery of the music. There’s just no choice in the matter. It being rock and roll, you can head down some wild places, but, I did all that stuff, so that’s it. I just keep doing this because it’s fun.
How did Hurricane Sandy affect you?
It didn’t hit me that bad. It put me out of power for 11 days. This was a fucking nightmare because we had to rehearse for the European tour. But I live six miles off the ocean in Red Bank, so all I got was a blown off chimney and some lost siding. But that six miles from me was like, “Hello everybody, brand new East Coast!” I was extremely lucky.
As a writer, you’ve never followed the true mainstream as far as what labels and media expect of artists. Do you feel that this way of thinking has given you longevity in a sea of mediocrity?
Oh yeah, definitely. I remember when Magnet was on this major label, I remember it being a real pain in the ass, you know, a pain in the ass not being mainstream. And I knew at the time, even though I probably could have made a right turn into that compartment of being commercial, it wouldn’t have worked, and I don’t think I could have pulled it off. I mean, I knew enough that I wasn’t commercial, but I also felt the pressure of possibly being on the radio, and I also knew ways that I could probably fix that—but it just didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel right for Monster Magnet.
Producers were a big problem, too. A lot of people were buzzing around suggesting hot producers at the time and I just stuck with my guys. And in the long run, it’s so good because they can’t really pigeonhole us, and it’s nice not to be easily categorized. It’s funny, when you’re out there and you’re in the thick of it, you almost want to be commercial, because then you get to ride a wave. But five years after that wave has crested, you’re like, “Awe fuck!” (Laughs) You know? I could be walking around there in the new metal ghetto.
What do you think has changed composition wise since Shrapnel or Crash And Burn?
Oh shit, oh my god. Well, back then I was just drinking beer and waiting for the music to be written, you know? So I could sing over the top of it. I was a kid. But now I’m responsible for everything. It’s just more of a totally immersive thing for me. Not just finish this off, or put something on top of it so we can go out and rock. It’s coming out of me, it’s coming out of what I know—what I want to happen and what I have to settle for as far as life’s concerns. The lyrics are really personal, too. People may see it as a lot of fantasy. I mean, there’s science fiction elements involved in Monster Magnet, drug references involved, but really what it all comes down to is that those are all just metaphors for my life. So, it’s more me now.
What’s your favorite recollection and song off of Mastermind?
Well, the record was written really fast, in about a week. This is pretty fast for anybody and amazingly fast for me. But I think “Hallucination Bomb” was my favorite song because I picked the tempo and wanted to get a nice druggie psych sound and a hard rock thump in the same tune, and it came out really well and really fast, which I always appreciate.
What’s your take on the music scene in the States versus Europe?
Touring Europe is like playing between, say, 1974 and 1994. That’s what the waves like over there. A lot of shows, a lot of venues. Cheaper seats… Ugh, not a big insurance problem with the clubs. The shows go off on time, the production values of the show are high. But it’s like, here we’ve lost it, it’s like they gave it away. I mean, you have to be old enough to remember when things were cooler, right?
You are returning to the Brighton Bar for two shows. That’s a wild choice for an international act to pull off in such a small room. Any fears or trepidations?
I can handle it, ya know? It’s the Brighton for Christ’s sake, played there a million times in the old days and every once in a while we still pop in there. The worst fear about playing a place like the Brighton would be meeting too many people you know. (Laughs) That’s the main fear, it’s not the show, it’s all these different people that have been ensconced in my life at some point. I mean like, how many ex-girlfriends are gonna be coming at me in the same room?
Dave Wyndorf and Monster Magnet will be dodging ex-girlfriends this weekend only at The Brighton Bar in Long Branch, NJ, on Dec. 28 and 29. For more information, go to monstermagnet.net.