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Monster Magnet | God Says No | interview | Dave Wyndorf | rock | Lollipop
God Says No (A&M)
An interview with guitarist/vocalist Dave Wyndorf
by Martin Popoff
Is Dave Wyndorf Monster Magnet? Seems like that's still the case... Is Monster Magnet a band, a bunch of records, or both combined with the bank of abnormally interesting interviews Dave will conduct for any given album? In other words, is the Monster Magnet experience one of some music and some talk, virtually all relevant bits coming from one guy? Just killing a little time downtown before this interview, I picked up three mags with huge Dave features, the man pontificating on a number of subjects from comics to photography to fame, sex, even the music.
Turns out that this swirl of stuff we stuff our heads with is what his new God Says No album is all about, a record that has gotten both good and bad reviews, an album that's been out for months in Europe but is only now seeing the light of day this side of the pond.
What's the album title refer to?
Well, I'm not talking about The God, the big guys upstairs. The God I see right now in the United States is Hollywood, advertising culture. It runs people. It literally blankets almost everyone, whether they know it or not. It's almost like a subliminal inferiority complex. I think back to the 1930s in the depths of the Great Depression when people looked at movie stars as the be-all and end-all. And now, for some reason - probably because the machine runs so well - the mass populace has more respect for power and celebrity than they do for anything else, almost as if they were afraid of not being included. Like if they don't get the right kind of make-up and clothes they're going to be hopeless and lost forever. This isn't new, it's been going on forever, but it seems to be at a peak where the media is so into it that they're actually throwing bones to the people by allowing them to be on TV. Look at shows like Survivor, the Jerry Springer Show: "Look, I'm a star!" Oh, really?! Is that important? It's not like you just came up with a cure for cancer or anything, for Christ sake! So that's what's going on with me, just a little inferiority attack... Every time I think I'm cool, and I think I'm above all this stuff, I realize it really does have an affect on me. And if that happens to me, and I'm in a semi-happening rock'n'roll band, I can just imagine what it does to a 18 year-old kid, especially a woman, you know?
You've definitely been a beneficiary of the pop culture machine. Big corporate wheels turning rather efficiently, essentially getting Platinum exposure for Powertrip's Gold sales status.
Yes, I was impressed with the effort, but I still feel like an outsider. I always have. It's misinterpreted a lot of times, the humor in a Monster Magnet record. It goes in one ear and out the other. That was the most straight-ahead record I wrote, and still, it was so cynical that a lot of people didn't really get what was going on. I don't feel as much a part of the machine yet. I think I'd have to sell Diamond, like 10 million records. Right now I feel like one of the only bands that survived this whole grunge thing with their balls intact and I'm still fighting the good fight. I always feel a little bit to the left of what's going on.
Any instances with the last record where someone at the label or in the press was just so out to lunch with respect to what you were about that you just rolled your eyes?
Oh yes (laughs), it happens all the time. They'll pick up on a certain element of the record - like on Powertrip, the element that made it so sellable to a lot of people was the burlesque element: girls, money signs, ya ta da da da ta (sings Bugs Bunny music). So people like, Bud Light, a radio programmer guy (big radio voice), "So, are you going to have some tits tonight? Would you like to see some big tits?!?" And I'm like, you don't get it - it's a joke, a commentary. I get a lot of that. The burlesque thing has been trailing me around. It's not like I have anything against burlesque, but there are so many more levels to this than just tits'n'ass. It's not like it's Kid Rock - not that I have anything against Kid Rock - but you know what I mean. There's satire and innuendo and there's a lot of bittersweet stuff in there too.
God Says No is definitely less hooky and immediate than Powertrip's jiggly open road bottle throttle. Is it darker, crustier rock from a drafty yet damp garage?
First of all, vocals were the main thing I wanted to change. I wanted to get richer, deeper vocals and a wider dimension, songs that I could sing low, songs that I could sing high. In order to do that, I did a lot of tuning changes. It's all in the details... I wanted to make a record that was really - at least in Monster Magnet-land - a little more subdued. Powertrip was really over-the-top, as far as "Rroooaaarrr," you know? So I wanted to take it down a notch. I also wanted to bring back some of the earlier
psychedelic influences that I left out of Powertrip, fuse that with the song structure.
For lyrics on a record, I draw from my life, from my observations and emotional state at the time. That's what allows you to write lyrics forever. This one turned out to be kind of a huge reflection on the whole Powertrip experience. It brought me in contact with a lot of different people, a lot of very ego-filled people who wanted to control and a lot of people with no ego at all who wanted to be controlled. Sex was a big part of it. Sleep deprivation was another (laughs). It causes delusions. The record reflects a lot of decisions I had to make about how much to exploit celebrity in order to get what I wanted. Is it worth it? How important is it for us to share with other people as opposed to taking from other people? What do you need as a human being to be a good person versus doing what you want? So there are a lot of dark lyrics on the record.
How was the celebrity response to Powertrip?
I get everything sent to me from stained-glass scorpions to angels and other statutes, little kids' paintings, and lots of drugs, which I immediately give to somebody who does drugs. All the way to the ultimate rock'n'roll stereotype; white trash trailer park in the middle of Alabama with somebody going, "Hey, you wanna fuck my girlfriend?" I'm like "Whoa! You're a great host, pal, but that's OK." It gets pretty nuts.
What about the folks who see you as a sell-out after the flash - visual and sonic - of Powertrip and the critical mass of the record's out-of-proportion fame generator?
The best interviews are with friendly people who actually like music and have a sense of humor. The worst ones are with people who are just doing their job and don't give a rat's ass about you and ask really dumb questions. The weirdest interviews I've done are the people who're not prepared and they're really embarrassed and start crying and stuff, and I'm like, "No, it's OK! We'll get through it together!" And then there are completely stoned-out maniacs in Germany with a TV camera who somehow get in. They're like, "Wot?!" The Europeans are the best because they're very frank, very droll. Especially in Germany, they'll go (low, slow German accent), "We interviewed you the last time when you were on an independent record company and you were fantastic. Now you have sold a million copies and you suck. How do you feel about this?" And I'm like "Well, gee..." and I'll either laugh or I'll go "Listen to me, you little fucking nitwit, do you realize that Monster Magnet is like the standard-bearer for rock through hell and high water?! Fuck you!" I'll say "I've busted my balls to do things my own way for ten years and if I want to sell out, I'll sell out!"
Sell-out? Definitely not. There's an opacity there, an anti-social stoner rock churn, very retro, begging the question, do you plunder your record collection for ideas?
I don't have to plunder, I just sit down and play guitar. I've been listening to music non-stop since I was four years old, and the main problem is avoiding swiping something dead-off. There're only so many chords in the universe. When you pick the ones that you love, the ones that make you happy, eventually you're going to run into something that's been done. Everything's been done. The trick is to put a melody line on, or to juxtapose your own melody line for your own attack on top of something and mix it into something that is original in intent. It may not've been original when you started, but by the end of it, maybe it's something where you'd never be able to tell the difference. So rather than going in saying "OK, I'm going to copy this," I just start playing. I'm a limited guitar player. The kind of chords I like are very limited. I noticed this all the time. All my favorite stuff is all the same chords. Like Hawkwind uses the same chords as The Stooges which are all the same chords as Black Sabbath uses.
Has your label or management ever expressed an opinion that perhaps it's time for a second personality or star (perhaps Ed Mundell, who's had some success with his side-project, Atomic Bitchwax), to be extracted and molded for presentation in the fame game?
No, never had that. But I say it all the time. I'm the guy who says, "Ed, hey, get up there and jump around!" But those guys are too cool to do that. They don't want to do that shit. They do it now because they like it more. But for forever I've been really, really pushing that angle, but nobody from the band bit. These guys are younger than I am, so they come from early '90s anti-rock where it's not cool to jump around, it's not cool to be a star. They've always felt that way and said, "No, it's not cool," and I'm like, "No, it is cool! Nobody cares that much! Go ahead and do it." So the last couple of years they've gone through a few revelations where they came around and said, "You know, maybe people don't care so much..." I'm like, "Look man, if I'm willing to be a complete fucking jackass on stage because I like to do it, I think you should give it a try." You should try and enjoy yourself when you're playing music. There's no payoff for that whole early '90s grunge "I'm a miserable rock star" thing. That's awful. Just because a few college kids say, "Oh man, you're a poser," that's going to destroy your life?