For nearly 30 years, Monster Magnet has served as one of the leading stoner/hard rock bands. On standout albums like Superjudge, Dopes to Infinity andPowertrip, the group combined metal and psychedelic influences to create a brutish and swaggering sound.
U.S. fans have had few chances to see the Red Bank, NJ-based band in concert over the past decade or so, as Monster Magnet has toured mostly in Europe over that time.
But on October 1, Monster Magnet will appear at the Rock Carnival in Lakewood, a three-day festival featuring bands, amusement rides, food trucks, pig races and more. Alice Cooper, Twisted Sister, Ace Frehley, Overkill and Halestorm are among the other artists performing at the festival.
Recently, I phoned Monster Magnet frontman Dave Wyndorf at his home to discuss the Rock Carnival, the band’s remix albums and avoidance of U.S. concerts, tinkering in the studio, and future plans.
How’s it going, Dave?
I’m doing great. It’s a beautiful summer morning in Red Bank, New Jersey.
Your appearance at the Rock Carnival is coming up. Are you looking forward to performing at the festival?
Oh, hell yeah. Anything that has the word “rock” in it, I’m down for. It’s just called Rock Carnival, how that cool is that? It’s so rare to see something in the United States without a corporate sponsor name all over it.
I know that your U.S. fans are excited, as Monster Magnet tends to play fewer shows here than in Europe. You went a decade without playing concerts in the U.S. because you didn’t really enjoy what was going on with the American music business at the time. What’s your opinion of the rock scene here now?
I’m hoping it’ll come back. It depends on youth culture. As youth culture changes, so goes the [music business]. And youth culture is not really rocking. And while there are still plenty of guys my age hanging around who want to rock, we don’t count as much. (Laughs)
In Europe, the youth culture is pro-rock, so you get new people. You get the guy’s little brother, or people’s sons coming to the shows, and it’s really cool. Rock music, to me, is an art form. I think it’s going the way of jazz. It won’t go away, it’ll maybe get smaller and go more underground, but it’ll be more revered.
In the end, the hardcore fans are always going to seek it out.
Yeah, and that’s what gives me hope about it. If it can go on in Europe for so long, and actually get bigger, it certainly can happen here. I’d love to see a hard rock band get on the charts here.
I read an interview where you said that you also didn’t enjoy playing concerts in the U.S. because you thought that too many people at the shows weren’t paying attention to the band—they’re too busy fiddling with their smartphones.
No, they’re not paying attention. Unless your brother gets hit by a car, and you get a message, you shouldn’t be doing that. The rock star of the 21st century is yourself. You are your own rock star. No artist gets the full attention because you can do it yourself. You’ve got your Facebook page, you’ve got your Instagram, Snapchat, all that stuff. You’re the guy. You know what? The kids aren’t alright. (Laughs)
Nobody gets into their social media the way Americans do. They can’t stop. It’s like they think that what’s out there around the corner is better than what they’ve got. But when it gets to the point that you’re not watching the shows anymore, it’s like, what’s the point?
I think art will come back, though. I think music is a special thing that can speak poetically and describe a certain emotion that people can’t seem to get out. That’s why I like rock, because the music said things to me, felt a certain way that I felt but I couldn’t really express it in words.
It seems like your recent concerts have featured quite a few songs from the Superjudge album, which is one of my favorites. You’ve even been playing the song “Cage Around the Sun,” which you’ve rarely performed over the years. Is there any particular reason why you’re revisiting that material lately?
Really, it’s two things. We had a reissue in Europe only of all the A&M Records years, so we were doing an A&M-centric set. Previous to that, we had done album-only tours in Europe. A Dopes to Infinity tour, a Spine of God tour, and a Last Patrol tour. And I thought we were dissing Superjudge, so when we came to do the A&M tour, all of a sudden there were like five songs from Superjudge in the set. And they sounded great.
They’ll probably all be there in the Rock Carnival set. But I’m not sure exactly how long we’re going to play at the Carnival. I know we won’t get the full hour and a half; we might get 45 minutes. It’ll be a little bit abbreviated, so I don’t know if “Cage Around the Sun” will make it. I don’t know if “Cage Around the Sun”will go down well at 6:00 at night, while people are trying to eat their funnel cake. (Laughs)
I know you’ve mentioned in the past that you’d like to remix the Superjudge album. Do you still hope to do that one day?
I’d love to, yeah. It was one of the first records that I ever produced, but it was the first big studio record. And people love it, God bless ‘em, but I think I really dropped the ball on it. I feel I could have made it a heavier, more psychedelic sounding record. It was the one that got away. I might still do it one day.
It’s interesting that you feel you could have done it better, even though fans love that album.
Yeah, I feel I could have done it better. People tell me to let it go. And they’re probably right.
Monster Magnet’s last release was Cobras and Fire, which was a reimagining of material from your Mastermind record. You also reworked material from Last Patrol with the Milking the Stars album. In each case, you’ve made the records a little dirtier, more eclectic and more Sixties-sounding. When you’re making the original album, are you already plotting alternate versions of the songs?
It kind of goes down while I’m doing it. You have to choose a certain way to do the song, and I always pick what I think at the time is the best way to do the song and what kind of vibe I want. But in the back of my head, I’m like, “This one would have sounded cool with a Sixties organ on it.” And I have to be careful not to sound too dated, because my pension for Sixties stuff is crazy. I would have Monster Magnet fans say to me, “What’s up with this Sixties thing? Give us a break!” But as I’ve gotten older, I’m like, “Well, why not?”
It’s really just another exercise for me to mess around with music and different approaches to songs. It’s a learning experience for me in the studio. The way you track a song like that and the way you mix it, all the stuff that goes into getting a different vibe on the song than was on a previous record is all a learning experience for me. That’s what [the remix albums] were about, was for me to have fun and learn stuff.
It sounds like you really enjoy messing around in the studio. Is it like playtime for you?
Dude, it’s completely like playtime. You can make stuff blow up! Fuzz boxes, Echoplexes, all this vintage old gear. Being in the studio is the best. It’s like being the Wizard of Oz, behind the curtain. The possibilities are only limited by your budget.
Are you planning for a new album at this point?
I’ve just written the new album, which is a more straight-ahead rock album. It’s almost the opposite of Last Patrol, which was the last full studio record. Last Patrol was very cerebral, varied, with a lot of long-form stuff on it. This one is more like a gut punch of Detroit-style rock. I’ve been trying to figure out how to make the band sound like a muscle car revving up. (Laughs) It’s high energy. It’s fuel injected, nitro-burning muscle rock.
You’re looking at a 2017 release for that?
Yeah, and the earlier the better. I’m pushing for springtime or early summer.
After all these years, what still motivates you to keep Monster Magnet going and create music, especially in a business can actually be pretty inhospitable to artists? What makes it worthwhile?
It’s really all about the shows—when you think about people at the shows having a good time. When you’re in a rock band, and you’re doing OK, every night is Saturday night. All you do is see happy people, if you’re doing your job right. And I think, “This is the way to live.” It’s very addictive, and it doesn’t go away when you get older. I thought it would. But instead of a natural inclination to slow down, it almost empowers more. In the end, the message is simple—just rock.
Monster Magnet will perform at the Rock Carnival at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood, NJ on Saturday, October 1. For more information, go to zodiaclung.com.