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Monster Magnet | Monolithic Baby | interview | Dave Wyndorf | rock | Lollipop
Monolithic, Baby! (SPV)
An interview with vocalist Dave Wyndorf
By Martin Popoff
photos by Pia
Dave Writes, They Rock – Any Questions?
Upholder of garage values, Dave Wyndorf has seen the rise and he's seen the fall, taking his band from ragged ragnarock obscurity to shiny A&M exposure, and slightly back down again, to major/minor label SPV. It's of no matter to Dave, for it's business as usual on the band's new album, Monolithic Baby!, Monster Magnet free to play fat and loose retro within wide parameters of loudness set in motion in the late '50s and still striving toward end-bracket in 2004. Here's the man (always) with a plan, on the new record, and on buying old records.
What're the main differences with this new album, musically, over the last couple of albums, Power Trip and God Says No?
Musically, I wanted to make this record a rock 'n' roll record; that was #1. Rock 'n' roll, meaning that the arrangements would be tighter, but that the playing would be slightly sloppier, and that I would use big – probably the biggest – stereotypes I would ever use, like, "This sounds like AC/DC!" I instructed the players, my band, our band, to play sloppy. You know, let's get trashy, let's everybody slide your guitars down, "wrreee! Wrooowww;" do that kind of shit. All the stuff that you lose in the studio because people go for excellence. I have, several times, gone for absolute pristine excellence, and I've seen it come out a little emotionally stale. On this record, I wanted it to be trashy rock 'n' roll, which is something we've never really done. We kind of hit it on Power Trip, but never actually got into the whole basic rock three-and-a-half minute swagger thing. That was one of the main rules of going in there. Lyrically, I wanted to offset that stereotype with lyrics that were based on living today, right now. It's an exciting time to live in, way more exciting than it was four years ago. But I didn't want to preach. If I wanted to preach, I would sit on a stool with a black shirt on and go, "Oh, I'm Bob Dylan." What I wanted to do was incorporate – in a rock 'n' roll way – my lifestyle, and other people's lifestyles, living in the early 21st century. And that involves things blowing up, that involves people going to war, that involves people getting lost in the Internet and never coming out, and the corporatization of mass fucking bullshit media. It involves a pop culture that's had a heart attack and not recovered. It involves sex, over-medication, and stupid, stupid people who deserve to be slapped around. All in a cheery manner. I really wanted to do this in an upbeat fashion. You know, like, it's crazy, but I'll accept it. I'm still going on tour; I'm still rocking. I'm not going to let this stuff kill me, but I'm definitely going to include it. And the way I'm going to do that is through massive sarcasm.
Can you pinpoint one or two lyrics on this album that really evolved out of attacking one of your hot buttons?
It's hard to remember. I kind of go over my lyrics and say, "Oh, that was a good one!" (in an aristocratic English accent) "Oh, there's one of my favorite spots!" I think this is your job, Martin. Aren't you supposed to come back to me and say, "What the fuck do you mean, Dave?" (laughs)
There are a lot of areas on here, actually, where one lyric to the next seems a little disjointed...
Well, yes, and that's on purpose, because guess what? Life is disjointed. You've got kids playing a video game, they're also on the computer, and they're talking to three different people at the same time. So say, if I had a really simple song like "Unbroken," which on the surface sounds like, "OK, come on down to the hotel, baby," what does that mean? Sex. But I'm also talking about incest, sucking on your daddy's cigar, I'm talking about people who are over-medicated, I'm talking about reality TV. Just in the chorus, it says "Come on down to the hotel, baby, I can be what you want me to be," meaning, I can give you pleasure for one night. "You can choke on your own medication" which means, it's an over-medicated California rich girl, "I can watch myself on TV" meaning, hopefully I can get on reality TV some day. "Shut your mouth, you big fucking baby" which basically means that it's just a bunch of whiners that watch Dr. Phil and Phil Donahue all day. That's really speaking to the bulk of the nü metal crap that came out in the last few years. You know, these guys can't seem to understand that nobody cares about their fucking whining. I don't care. I don't know anyone else who cares. Maybe a little kid cares. A teenager can perhaps empathize with their fucking bullshit whining, but I can't.
The lyrics this time do slip around a lot, and a lot of times I don't expect people to really get it, which is why I put the lyrics into a rock 'n' roll context, drop in words that can be easily understood on one level, but can be understood on several levels if people choose to.
What does age and being of a different generation offer the rock 'n' roll world, versus what youth can offer? I mean, this whole idea of rock 'n' roll being a young man's game...
It's not as much age as it is experience, knowledge, and history. I know a lot of kids who know what they're fucking doing. And I know kids who don't. It's just the priorities people put on knowledge. So my place – which has been gained through experience and love of music, music history, and history in general, combined with my age – has given me a better overview than some people. I'm sure someone could tear me down, but
I think that there's a lost generation right now. It doesn't include everyone, but there's basically a mass-marketed to, lost generation of kids who're going to look back and say, "What did mom and dad get?" "They got U2 and REM." "What did we get?" "We got Limp Bizkit and Britney Spears." "Really, that's it?!" "Well, and a cell phone."
My experience and sense of history has shown me that pop culture doesn't necessarily have to mean music. Music in the last few years has taken a backseat to technology. The star of the 21st century is the cell phone. I mean, it's a teenager's dream. It's everybody's dream. You can call anybody at any time. That supersedes every single form of entertainment. It supersedes drama, comedy, everything, because it's there. That's something that musicians and artists are going to have to fucking talk about. And I don't see anybody talking about it. It's weird. I mean, I talk about it all the time. The big media and stuff, and manipulation, is fascinating. I think it should be addressed in the future. It has to be. It's part of our life.
You've always had a pretty strange relationship with your band. What's it like right now? Is it the typical Monster Magnet master and slave mentality?
I'm the resident workaholic. And those guys count on me to be that. And I count on them to have fun. I have to work; I have to make music. If I don't do it, I'll go crazy. They'll lock me up in some lunatic asylum somewhere, and I won't have any excuse to be me anymore.
And I love it. I love to write all the time; that's what I do. These guys, they love to rock. And sometimes they don't love to rock, which is why I replaced two of them. But basically, they wanna rock, I wanna write, and that combination works out fine. And then when we go out on the road, I get the pleasure – the extreme pleasure – of watching these guys live out a fuckin' dream, a total rock 'n' roll stereotypical dream. It sounds dumb when you talk about it. "Hey man, we rock!" But, you know, when you're really doing it, it really is true. When you're out there rocking in front of people and people are digging it, and they're understanding it even just on the most superficial level, like "Duh! I like to rock!" Even that is satisfying. And the guys in my band really appreciate that. And they really play their asses off.
What lessons have you taken away from the major label experience?
I don't regret anything about going on a major label. It was a huge learning experience. It taught me about things that I've been interested in forever, and it taught me about my capability to deal with the enough is enough syndrome. Basically, modern record companies, big corporations want to sell a lot; that's their prime objective. Art is numbers two, three, four, five, down the line. Monster Magnet wants to do things the Monster Magnet way: We set up the concept, and we basically try to sell people on what we do, with very little compromise towards what is current. What I learned from the major labels is that, more and more over the last few years, they aren't prepared to deal with anything new. They aren't prepared to deal with anything that takes any kind of chance whatsoever. And I learned that, no matter how much money they throw my way, no matter how much smoke they blow up my ass, no matter how many opportunities they seem to offer us, they can't do anything about making us better musicians. They're usually the worst people to hang around with, as far as music goes. All the money? All those expense accounts? All those plane rides? All that stuff? It doesn't mean anything to the music at all.
Is there anything you'll miss now that you're on SPV?
Yeah, soaking them for a half-million dollars in a year. That was fun. Because I used to be able to borrow money and not pay it back. But that's why I got off the major. Because my time was coming. They were coming after me. They were saying, "We gave you all this money and you're not a megastar." And I would say "Well, you know, I never promised you a rose garden, dude. This is Monster Magnet. What are you doing signing us? You sign a psychedelic rock band and you expect it to sell like Korn?!" And it turns out, yeah, they're crazy and they're dumb and I split. They have more money than God, and I have just a small amount of money, so I split. And they were pissed. I had to settle with them for a greatest hits record so they could make some of the debt back.
You know, I do miss going, "Let's go first-class," and "Let's get three tour buses," and bill it to the record company, and fuck them! Because it was fun. And they deserve it, man. I'm telling you
Corporate America deserves every bit of money-sucking they get, because they waste it themselves. Aside from that, there's not much else I'll miss.
What was your modus operandi in coming up with these lyrics? I know you've had some colorful ways in the past of going away and getting inspired.
This was a total current events-driven record. An on-the-fly, intense work experience. I was writing a soundtrack for a movie during the day, and then I'd go back at night to the hotel I was staying at in Hollywood and write the words and music for Monster Magnet. There was a lot going on in the world at the time, so I just put in my own emotions and personal experiences of the people I knew and people I'd met, stuff that I had done, and observations on the social condition, which is always fun to do. Basically, I walked down the street and looked into people's windows and said "Huh, look, everybody's watching war on TV." While I was writing this record, Arnold Schwarzenegger was voted governor, California was on fire, America completely botched the United Nations, and we were heading into a war. It was pretty exciting. Plus, I was hanging out with girls who knew nothing about any of that and just wanted to watch Joe Millionaire and take Xanax until they couldn't have an orgasm anymore. I found it all pretty absurd.
Tell me a bit about the technological side of putting together this record.
It was all about tone, severe attention paid to tone. We must've been in there getting guitar tones for a good two weeks before we laid a track down. It was all about getting sounds out of basic, classic rigs, like Marshall 50 watt amps and '64 Les Pauls, like fucking Led Zeppelin shit, you know? Small amps, little tiny amps, little ol' Danelectro amps. I went through every combination of guitars I possibly could to set everything up, and then brought the band in after the sounds were made. Then I said to everybody, "Go!"
It was basically very, very old school, up until the final stages where I went total modern with some ProTools, basically editing stuff that could never be edited without a computer. But using all the basic, organic performances. And pretty much, I think that's the way it should go for everybody: Try to keep it as natural as possible until the last minute. Low-tech 90% of the way, and then full-on 10% hi-tech at the end.
What does the title of this album, Monolithic Baby!, mean to you?
I wrote a song called "Monolithic" after I had made one too many trips to the Beverley Center Hot Topic. It's like "Hey, we've got punk rock for you, right next to the candy store and the jewelry store." You go in Hot Topic, and the kids are buying their punk rock the way they'd buy Wonder Bread. It's funny and sad at the same time. It's the only place that sells the aviator shades I like, plus the girls are pretty hot
It started me off on this whole "modern people viewing commodity as cutting edge" idea. There is no cutting edge anymore. It's a joke. Cutting edge is driving a fucking 747 into the World Trade Center. That's cutting edge. All this rap shit and all those guys
go ahead, murder yourself, and guess what? You ain't bad-ass anymore. Bad-ass is fucking invading a country and blowing up giant buildings. You guys have just been dethroned. In a heartbeat. All your fucking bullshit and all this heavy metal crap means nothing anymore. You guys have just been out-bad-assed. So I go in the store and I see this stuff, and they're trying to go "Hey, look, we sell cutting-edge!" So I wrote a song "Monolithic," which is pretty much what it sounds like. It's just one big dumb thing. A monolith, besides being a symbol, is also a collection of small powers unified together to become a single power, and that would be corporatization. The "Baby!" part came, when, over the course of the last few years, I realized that you, me, and everybody else with a personal computer, have the same tools the big guys have. The only thing is, we haven't joined together to offer an alternative yet. We're too busy, like babies, playing with our computers, going on eBay and buying our favorite records. Instead of trying to change things, we're just jerking off, which is fine, because we're new, we're babies in this thing.
Tell me a little bit about your record collecting. Do you still go out and buy vinyl? Are you a gemm.com or eBay guy?
I'm not an eBay guy, just because if I go in there, I'll never come out. I'm obsessive compulsive, and if I go in there, it'll be like the world's biggest candy store. I still buy in stores. Because of the nature of my work, I travel a lot, so I can still huff it. When I get off a plane in L.A. to do a movie, I'm like, "I'm going to Amoeba Records now!" And I'll go search out some surreal stuff. So sure, I still buy vinyl. And I also always check out what's new, because that's really the ultimate, if there's new music coming out that's helping the scene. But I'm also such a mutant that I'll search out other genres of music and time periods. Like, mid-'60s garage seems to give me never-ending pleasure. (laughs) And I keep finding more stuff. I thought I had it all, but Jesus
that's the glory of record collecting. I shouldn't say record collecting, but music-loving, because there's a difference. Some people collect simply because they want to have it, and then there are people who buy because they want to hear it.
What about you? Do you want the CD reissue or do you want the original vinyl? And if you want the vinyl, why? Is it the sound, or just because it's the original?
Kind of both. First thing is, I want the music as quickly as possible, so if I can't find it on vinyl, I'll buy the CD. If I really like it, I'll buy both. I've got a room set up with a turntable, and that's the turntable room. There's nothing in there, except for a couple of psychedelic posters and the couch, the turntable, and my records. I have a CD player in my bathroom, in my kitchen, in the attic, one in the dining room, and one in the living room. All different brands, different ages. Because I'm a record producer. I want to know how the shit sounds. I come home, "What does this sound like on a modern stereo? What does it sound like on an old stereo? What is the bass response on this?" I'm real a fucking mutant when it comes to that, but it's fun. It's true, like if you take out an Iron Butterfly record and play it on a modern stereo, it ain't gonna sound so good. The bass wasn't made to be pumped so hard. You're better off listening to it on small speakers. All records should be listened to on old stereos, or flat. All that pre-EQ stuff they have on modern stereos, you should just set everything flat.
What are some of your most prized vinyl possessions?
It's hard, man. Possibly my mint, totally unopened copies of the great Hawkwind packages, like In Search of Space or Space Ritual. Best covers ever. They fold out to be like four feet long. You know what I'm talking about, right? How cool are those packages? I've got a lot of '50s 7" by Eddie Cochran, Little Richard, and stuff like that. I have a whole bunch of them, and LPs from the '50s, that are really expensive now. But nothing beats the psychedelic stuff, the original copies of Ultimate Spinach, Hawkwind, '60s and '70s stuff. Those are the records I bought when I first started getting into records, so those are my prized possessions. They may not be the most expensive ones, but emotionally, those are the ones. I mean, they don't make fucking packages like that anymore, dude. How can you not buy Space Ritual?! It's a goddamn walking billboard.
What have you paid collector's dollars for?
I don't pay a lot of money. If it costs too much money, I'm out, because it takes the fun way. I'm a garage sale guy. Every once in a while, I'll spend 30 bucks for a CD, but that's just because I'm jonesing for a Pink Fairies thing. And I'm in Germany or someplace that costs a lot of money. I did a lot of my shopping, and still do, at garage sales. The higher the price you pay, the less fun it is. That's why I don't go on eBay with all that auctioning; it takes all the fun out of it. I'm in New Jersey, which is probably one of the densest states for flea markets. We've got this place called Englishtown. It's a little beat up now, but all through the '70s, '80s, and '90s, there were more records here than any place on the East Coast, and it's in the middle of Bumfuck, New Jersey. It cost three dollars to rent space, so every family could come out and sell their whole collection. And in that collection, you can just imagine what was there. I walked away with comic books, entire collections of Life magazine from 1948 on, old products
I decorated my whole house for pennies with all vintage stuff from this one place. And that's where I got the bulk of my records. I would just walk in and go, "Dude, I want to buy like 500 records, what's the breakdown?" "Okay, a dollar a record." Do you ever get to Europe at all? They have these conventions and stuff and they are so into it! And the guys themselves, like the guy from Amon Duul II would walk up, "Hello!" It's so bizarre. "I'm in Amon Duul II." (in a German accent) And they'll talk about what it was like; he'll reminisce for an hour, talking about krautrock in 1972 in Germany, and my mouth's hanging open like, woah. At least I have enthusiasm. I love to get together with people, because this is such a solitary existence. But that's the one good thing about being in this business – I get to hear stories. I get to hear Robert Plant telling me what the PA system was like in 1969, touring America. And I'm fucking just completely out of my mind.
How many full-length vinyl albums do you think you have?
The last time I counted, it was 17,000 records. Crazy, ain't it? That's a lot of fucking records. What can I say? I know a guy who has 30,000 records. How about Ivy from The Cramps? She's got like 50,000. 50,000 pieces of vinyl!
And how many CDs do you have?
You know the Max books that hold like 200 CDs? There are about eight of them, double packs. There's no stopping. What can I say? Music is the only thing in my life that's ever given me back everything I've given to it.
Have you ever thought about your record collection and your mortality? This idea of having to divest of them someday?
I figure that someday I'll just give them to somebody. I mean, if you can't share something, it's not worth it.
In the book world, big collections often go to universities.
Yeah, that'd be something I'd be into. It'd have to be someone who really came in their pants when they saw my collection. There's nothing like meeting someone who's 21, 22, who's just discovered the value of investigation of culture, know I mean? You can see it in their eyes. They're like, "Oh my God! I'm gonna be set for the rest of my life. I'm going to be searching for more for the rest of my life." And I would say, "You just found the secret of the universe, pal!" You know, that's the secret of keeping happy. Investigating what's already there and not paying attention to what the mainstream is telling you. Discovering the fact that you can make your own self happy by the enthusiasm of hundreds and thousands of artists who've worked their balls off for love, not for money.