Interview: Monster Magnet’s Dave Wyndorf on Last Patrol and Being an Artist in the Internet Age
By Josh Hart
Rock and roll is a funny game to be a part of in 2013.
When we’re this connected and this exposed to feedback and criticism on an instant and almost constant cycle, rock and roll’s decided lack of any sort of hip, self-aware irony makes its earnestness an easy target for the smugness that has come to dominate internet culture at large.
To that culture, maybe there’s something now outdated about standing onstage with a guitar and a mic and belting your heart out without the slightest hint of cynical detachment in your voice. It’s atavistic. Worse: It’s not cool.
Rock and roll is undeniably no longer the cultural force it once was, but it still retains its power to inspire passion on a personal level, and within a large-but-disparate community. In a sense, this puts rock music firmly in the realm of sub-mainstream obsession, alongside comic books and sci-fi novels. Or, for a band like Monster Magnet, home.
This sort of technological alienation is just what frontman Dave Wyndorf has in mind when he sings, “I find myself staring at a screen/wondering how far we’ve come since the death of cool” on “Stay Tuned,” the closing track of Monster Magnet’s latest album, Last Patrol.
Written during a creatively fueled week in February of this year, Last Patrol is an analog record for a digital age, true to Monster Magnet’s retro-futurist aesthetic. Recorded mostly in the band’s hometown of Red Bank, New Jersey, Last Patrol was recorded on almost entirely pre-1970s guitars with a meticulous attention to tonal detail driven by Wyndorf and Caivano’s holy-grail pursuit of the right guitar sound.
“Phil will not fucking stop searching for the right tone,” Wyndorf says. “He will not stop. He's completely obsessed with it. He's exactly the guy that I would want to work it. Any other person around us is thinking, ‘Why are these guys chasing around this buzzy, shitty sound?’ Because the buzzy, shitty sound is going to sound fantastic when it's combined with this other sound later!”
For all the space-lord posturing, Wyndorf still retains the gleeful enthusiasm of a young kid, the same one that spent years locked away in his room listening to Hawkwind records and writing songs for a project called Love Monster, the very project that would one day become Monster Magnet.
More than two decades into the band’s existence, Monster Magnet have retained and refined their own unique brand of rock and roll escapism. The band has become a poster child for the catch-all term “stoner rock,” but that’s never gone quite far enough to describe the lust-in-space madness, the interstellar head trips, the revenge plots heavy on the idea of cosmically inflicted karma, that so permeate the Monster Magnet oeuvre.
But in the world of Monster Magnet, space isn't a destination, only a frame of mind. Wyndorf, like Bowie and Calvert before him, is more than willing to transmute himself into alien form to take on a cosmic perspective of everyday life. “There’s a lot of commentary on just life in general,” says Wyndorf of the underlying themes of his lyrics, “just as simple as, ‘Hey, I'm lonely’ or ‘I spend too much time in front of the computer’ or ‘I think the world is fucked’ or ‘I'm horny.’ But I try to attach sort of gravitas to it, because those are important emotions, they’re important for everyone.”
Guitar World recently caught up with Wyndorf to get his thoughts on releasing new music in 2013, how it’s harder to be an artist in the Internet age, and more. For the full interview, click here.
It seems like this album came together pretty quickly, with a lot of songs being written in the process. Do you have any plans for the excess material?
Right now I'm working on a Last Patrol — for lack of a better word — remix. It's actually kind of a re-imagining. There's always so many tracks that I didn't use on a record, because I'm always wondering, "What would happen if I put a Deep Purple organ on this?" That kind of shit.
And of course I have to do it, just to find out. A lot of it gets wasted, so this time I said to my record company, "Make some room in your schedule next year for this kind of a re-imagining thing." I'm going to do it on this and the last record, Mastermind.
Any chance of doing the entire back catalog, but with a Mellotron added?
Fuck yeah! That's the kind of spirit I like. That's exactly what I’m talking about.
A few years ago I remember you discussing the idea of acoustic shows, and bringing in Mellotron, bongos, sitar …
It's gonna happen someday. Maybe if this record does well enough I'll get a little leverage on getting the stuff out on the road and actually having it be worth doing, for the band and everyone else. Doing one-offs is cool, but I'd really like to be able to get some mileage out of that combination you just mentioned. Because I think it'd be worthy.
Would you maybe break out the “Venus In Furs” cover for it? [A Velvet Underground cover that served as a bonus track for 2004’s Monolithic Baby!]
Fuck yeah, it's born for it!
So I have to imagine for someone who’s been in the music industry for a while now that releasing an album in 2013 is a whole different mindset.
In a lot of ways it's the same, in that there's still the miscommunication between you and whoever is representing your record that's not making it, you know? [laughs] I think some of the old stereotypes still hold true, that, "You guys have absolutely no idea what I'm doing! Please, don't market it based on anything you've marketed it on before.” So I still have arguments like that. But otherwise it's a lot more controllable for me these days. I can slow down the pace of things. It's my own money, you know? I don't take the pressure of people wanting to get the record out at a certain time to hear like I used to. It just doesn't seem to matter.
So there’s actually some pressure off at this point?
In the old days when radio was such an important part of making or breaking a band, radio was really important, and if you didn't fit into a release window, then you're dead. It was pretty intimidating, and you kind of push your schedule around that. That kind of pressure was always there, but now that radio doesn't really figure in as much. It's just one of a million ways to get your record heard. So I think it's better now.
There’s something to be said for how the DIY spirit that started with bands like the Ramones has really taken over in the digital age. On one hand, you don’t need a major label to make a great sounding record, but on the other, there’s such a massive influx of new music at various levels of completion.
With the artist in charge, I think that there can only be more positives, of course. Along with it, there will be a lot of fuck ups, as people try to forge their way in their art and being able to represent themselves and represent their art realistically and not get caught in the trap of just being merch monster. I think that's probably a big problem. The world, right now, doesn't give any gold stars to a pure, true artist. They seem to like their idiots. There are gold stars for people who make a lot of money, so it creates a lot of mobsters.
We also seem to be in this hyper-aware state of culture that is dominated by this ironic, cynical voice that makes it daunting for an artist to want to make any sort of real, person statement that doesn’t have a protective wink of self-awareness.
You said it, pal. I agree a hundred percent. It's true. Never has there been a time in history where everybody was so fucking aware of everybody else. There's no laboratory. Every lab has a camera in it. Is there any time where anything cool happens that someone doesn't go, "Let's film it?" Where's the gestation?
And it's affecting artists and affecting their sensibilities. It's very Warholian, where everyone's aware and "art as," "their process as the art,” but it's really easy for people to miss the point. Unless the person is super-, super-talented and super-aware of what their limitations are, a lot of this stuff that's going to come out is just going to be fumbles and fuck-ups and just unfinished art, misrepresentations of their own creativity. It's just too much, too soon. I guess that's just the way it is, but I'm used to people preparing their stuff to a certain extent and then unleashing it when it's done.
Which contributes to an unspoken problem in the music industry that there’s so much new music coming out that the consumer dollar is spread so thin.
That's the name of the game. That's commerce right there. There's your internet democracy.
If you could fill up the space with stuff, fill it up. Content? Quality of content? That can always be re-assessed. [laughs] It's a three-star world we live in; everybody gets three stars. People get praised, and a certain amount of people get bashed, but to make the world go and make everyone money, everybody gets let in. So how would people even begin to define what quality is?
How do you feel about how tight the feedback loop has gotten these days? You put up a song, and you’re immediately getting commentary and opinions back on it by way of blogs, comment sections, etc.
Artists are sensitive people. If I was the doctor, I'd prescribe them not to look. Don't look. I want you to make art and be in touch with yourself and try to communicate what you feel. Be in touch yourself for a while. I know it's a pop world and sooner or later someone's going to have to go out there and put one eye on the chart, or one eye on the internet, or whatever you want to call it. But for a while, just be yourself
That's fucking hard. Especially when people laugh at you when you do it. "You hermit. Where've you been? You don't exist." If you're an artist and you're not out there all the time, you don't seem to exist. You get props from people, "Oh you're great man, you don't do Twitter. That’s really, really cool." But your sales don't show that.
Everything is about branding now. It’s not enough to just produce art and let it out into the world.
Well, we live in western civilization, dude, and more importantly we live in America. Results are king, numbers are king. Over it all. Numbers and results.
“What did you get?”
Not, "What did you do?” “Get.”
That's where it's at. And it's always been like that, but it's never been at such a fever pitch as it is now. In the old days, in the classic, real renaissance time of say, like ’65 to ‘75, there was a time where the big guys didn't really know what was going to stick, so they signed everything. The glorious time where the lunatics came in and they signed 'em. But that stuff doesn't last forever.
So we went through that time and pretty quickly it snapped back to a more controlled thing, and now we have a time where people have been so conditioned by money that it's now equated with good. If you have money, you're good, and fuck content. Not fuck content maybe, but let's reassess what content is. Let's reassess quality. Let's lower the bar.
Guess what? If we lower the bar, then a lot more people are happy. Which is crazy, because the bar should be a lot higher than it is, than it ever has been before. But it seems to be lower. People are just drinking their own fucking Kool-Aid and thinking, "Ah, I'm fucking cutting edge. I'm badass." There's nothing badass about it.
To read the rest of this marathon interview with Dave Wyndorf, visit GuitarWorld.com. Monster Magnet’s new album, Last Patrol, is out now on Napalm Records.