Revolver teamed with Monster Magnet for an exclusive vinyl variant of their new covers record A Better Dystopia, which sold out immediately. Head over to the store now to see our full selection of extremely limited vinyl offerings.
"I try to keep Monster Magnet in the fourth dimension at all times," says Dave Wyndorf. "We're just this thing — it's like we live in a pod outside the Earth, and we occasionally come in to say hello and hang out before flying back to the mothership."
Thanks to COVID-19, however, Monster Magnet's space lord has been logging far more time in the fourth dimension than he'd generally prefer to. "It's been a nightmare," says Wyndorf of the past year's pandemic-wrought gig drought. "The only thing left in rock anymore, if you want to get paid, is you got to play. But this year it's been like, 'What do you do for a living?' Oh, I try to gather as many people in a small place as possible. 'Couldn't you, like, separate everybody?' No, they have to be, like, really close. In any other normal situation, you'd feel uncomfortable, but our product actually goes down better the more people are crowded together. 'Okay, then — you're going to have to wait at the end of the line, because what you do is tantamount to a massage parlor at this point!'"
Faced with unexpected downtime after canceling the band's 2020 U.S. tour dates, Wyndorf led his bandmates Phil Caivano, Bob Pantella, Garrett Sweeney and Alec Morton into the studio to record an album of cover songs. Titled A Better Dystopia, the album (the follow-up to 2018's Mindfucker) digs deep into the dark well of bad-trip hard rock from the late 1960s and early 70s — including songs by Hawkwind, Dust and Pentagram — that has been informing Monster Magnet's sound and attitude since Wyndorf first formed the band in the late Eighties. (There's also a sprinkling of more recent mindbenders by bands like the Scientists and Table Scraps.) Taken collectively, these brain-fried dirtbag anthems serve up a most cathartic double-middle-finger salute to our current age of crisis.
Revolver reached Wyndorf at the Monster Magnet mothership ("It's on Mars, but it looks exactly like a kitchen in New Jersey, complete with a coffee machine," he laughs) for a typically expansive interview.
WHAT WAS THE WEIRDEST MOMENT OF 2020 FOR YOU?
DAVE WYNDORF Probably driving to New York at 8:30 at night during the peak death time of the pandemic, and getting there in less than an hour. Driving down the streets of Manhattan, and there was nothing — no traffic, no people. It was like, "I'm Charlton Heston in The Omega Man!"
THE PANDEMIC TOOK A PRETTY BIG PSYCHIC TOLL ON A LOT OF PEOPLE. HOW DID YOU FARE?
I mean, anyone with half a brain knew that another pandemic was going to happen at some point. They've been warning us about it for years — and after like ten, fifteen years of scientific warnings like that, something usually happens. It's like climate change; they warn us and warn us about it, nobody believes it, people pooh-pooh it or whatever, and then it happens.
But it wasn't so much the pandemic thing as the Trump thing; that's what really got to me. You just realize how thin the veneer of "civilization" really is. [Laughs] It was the first time in my life that I'd actually felt bad over American politics. In the past, no matter what was happening, you'd kind of feel like, Well, we've gotten past hairier days, and we'll work it out. But then you throw in the X-factor of, not a mustache-twirling mastermind super villain, but this cheesy, cheap crook from Queens ... I mean, I can deal with a Thanos or a Doctor Doom, but it's hard to deal with a Doctor Doofus. So, between all of that stuff, I got taken out of my world a bit. Mostly, I was just kind of waiting around like everybody else for the thing to be over, and trying to keep as busy as possible, within reason. I was like, "Okay. I made a record. I think I'll read about 10 books, order in some tacos, and just wait for them to open the world back up!"
YOU GUYS WERE ON TOUR IN EUROPE WHEN THE PANDEMIC HIT. WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?
Well, it started even before the beginning of the tour. I remember speaking with everybody in the band about this, like, "Oh, there's this thing in China and it's spreading; it looks like it's going to be like SARS." And everyone's like, "Well, they took care of SARS, they'll take care of this." And then we get to Europe, and every couple of days I'd turn on the laptop and go, "Hmm, this doesn't look good." It's like, they thought the fire in the wastebasket was out, so somebody put the wastebasket in the other room — and then they opened the door three weeks later, and all this smoke came out! We played Milan, and then two days later Italy went down, and we still had to do a week in Spain.
WAS THERE A KIND OF "LAST DAYS BEFORE THE FALL OF SAIGON" VIBE HAPPENING?
It grew into that. I kept thinking, Get me out of here as soon as possible! You know, it's so horrible — the last days of the tour were all in Spain, and I have pictures of all those people's faces, and now I'm wondering how many of those people aren't here anymore. Spain got hit hard, man …
So we get out and get home, and I'm convinced it's only a matter of time before it hits here, even though the government keeps saying it's not going to happen. And since there was no national directive on it, and they just left it up to every governor and every mayor, you've got one city opening everything up and another's closing everything down. I knew we were in trouble. Our U.S. tour was coming up in three weeks, and I didn't want to get stuck in the middle of it and wind up losing a ton of money on bus rental and stuff, so I just canceled it right there. I got a lot of heat for it from promoters for about three days; and then of course everybody started closing down. It was really depressing, because everyone in Monster Magnet loves to play live, and I'm with the best guys and best musicians that I've ever been with in my whole life. We had to get to work and do something, but I didn't have anything written. So I suggested a covers record, and we went and did it.
YOU GUYS HAVE COVERED WELL-KNOWN ACTS LIKE THE STOOGES, MC5, THE ROLLING STONES AND GRAND FUNK RAILROAD IN THE PAST, BUT THIS RECORD DIGS INTO A LOT MORE OBSCURE TERRITORY.
Yeah, that was pretty much the point. I wanted to pull off an album of covers where the songs sounded like they were all by the same band — it still sounds like a Monster Magnet record — but it also took you on a little bit of a journey like my favorite records do. And I really wanted it to be more like that aggro, paranoid, proto-metal vibe of the late Sixties and early Seventies.
It was such a strange vibe back then. I was a kid then, and I remember that, underneath the hits — the soft rock and the James Taylor — there was this no-man's land of early Seventies paranoid psych, which was really fucking cool. There was the obvious stuff like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, but there was also all this stuff that was even weirder and darker. So that's what I wanted to capture on the record.
HOW MANY OF THE SONGS ON A BETTER DYSTOPIA WERE SONGS THAT YOU WERE INTO BACK IN THE DAY?
A couple I came across later, but most of them, I was there — like, I bought the Dust record the day it came out! I used to haunt my local record store every week of my life from the time I was 11 years old to when I was 17, which was the time I joined my first band. I had my money ready to buy whatever I thought would be cool, you know? Dust, Hawkwind, Josephus, Jerusalem — those songs have practically been with me my whole life. Some of the others I discovered in the Seventies and Eighties on comps like the Pebbles and Back to the Grave series, or on later reissues. And we toured with Table Scraps; I just loved hearing their song "Motorcycle (Straight to Hell)" every night, and I thought it would work perfect with the other songs on here.
SPEAKING OF HAWKWIND — DID YOU EVER CROSS PATHS WITH LEMMY?
Oh yeah, I met Lemmy a couple of times, and he was fucking great; he was exactly what you'd expect him to be. He was a very fair person, blue collar with a heart of gold; he was a true rocker, a true music lover. And he just did it his way the whole time. You've gotta look up to that, you know?
My first experience with him was in the late Seventies. My first band, Shrapnel, was starting to make some noise inside of Manhattan, and a friend mine had suggested that Lemmy produce our first single. Motörhead was pretty new at the time — this is like '78, I think. And so this friend of mine took me, all of 19 years old, down to Max's Kansas City to meet him, and he's there hanging out with Wayne Kramer who had been in prison since the glory days of the MC5, and had just been released. So we're all sitting in the back room of Max's, where they let the cool guys hang, snorting coke, snorting speed and for some reason blowing off firecrackers in this small, enclosed room. And I'm like, Jesus Christ! [Laughs] And then we all walked back to Lemmy's place at the Chelsea Hotel; he was like, "Come on, Lad; come with us!" So I walked across a dead Manhattan at 4:30 in the morning with Wayne Kramer and Lemmy, and I sat there in the Chelsea and watched those guys talk about music until like eight o'clock in the morning. Never forgot it. We didn't end up working with him, but it's one of those things where I look back and go, "I'm so glad I did that." He was just the nicest, coolest guy.
THE PARANOID BUMMER VIBE OF THESE SONGS HAS ALWAYS BEEN AN INTEGRAL PART OF MONSTER MAGNET'S SOUND AND VISION, HASN'T IT?
Absolutely, that nega-psychedelic thing. "It's not all flower power, kids — sometimes the flower is evil!" [Laughs] I always thought that stuff was cool, and it's like the AIP [American International Pictures] biker-film version of the counterculture.
IT'S CHEESY ON ONE HAND, BUT THERE'S ALSO VERY REAL TERROR LURKING IN THE SHADOWS.
Oh, absolutely there is! And that's why I called the record A Better Dystopia. Because there have been two times in my life where I've seen newspapers and the mainstream media using the word "dystopia" — in the early Seventies, and then this past year. You know, there was the "end times" of the early Seventies, where the Vietnam War was still going on, nuclear war was still a big threat, and there was civil unrest in a way the country hadn't seen here since the Civil War. In 1970, stuff was burning every week — they were even blowing up colleges — and drug use was on the rise. Most parents in the suburbs, their nightmare was kids going to school and gobbling up hits of LSD sold to them by some evil, sun-glassed hippie. And then they'd either, like die of drug overdose or something, or get sent to Vietnam and die.
So there's that particular dystopia. And now we've got the current one, which has the new wrinkle of the pandemic, and also included in there — which is almost a bigger thing for me — is this whole thing of somebody trying to hijack our whole system of democracy and knock it down. So, looking at the two dystopias, I kept thinking, which one did I like better? And it's like, "Oh, the Seventies was way better!" It had color, it had music and art that actually reflected the paranoia in the times. These days, culture is more reflected by people's words; people just go online and get it all out of their system by blabbing. There's plenty of art around and stuff, but nothing that pushes the boundaries. There doesn't seem to be a lot of pressure create anything great.
PLUS, THE SEVENTIES SHIT WAS FUN.
That's a really good point. Nobody ever gave up on fun back then. We're all so cynical now; cynicism is part of everyday life for everyone now, but back then it was still quote-unquote un-American to be cynical all the time. Cynicism had its place, satire had its place, we loved MAD magazine and all that; but there wasn't the all-encompassing sense of "everything sucks," or the "I've got mine, fuck you!" attitude that pervades modern America. We had our good guys and bad guys, but at the end of the day we left it and went out and had fun. Now it seems like it's this 24-7 battle on social media. "There's no weekend — just keep fighting!" [Laughs]
DO YOU THINK WE'LL ACTUALLY SEE THE APOCALYPSE IN OUR LIFETIME? OR IS OUR CIVILIZATION REALLY JUST AT THE BEGINNING OF A LONG, SLOW DECLINE?
Oh, we should be happy to have a fuckin' finale. [Laughs] No, we're all just destined to suffer [through] years and years of mediocrity. That's our punishment. I'm not worried about being hurt; I'm worried about being bored to death. It's just going to be like, more mediocre culture, more content with less actual substance, more fantasy thinking, more misinformation and conspiracy theories, more weird political agendas taking the fun out of things, more identity politics, more "good guys vs. bad guys" in the media, and more climate change craziness — by the time today's kids grow up, they'll be swatting off mosquitos the size of fucking 8-balls. It's going to be mediocre and uncomfortable. The people like you and me who get the cosmic joke will be all right; the people who take it seriously will be driven mad.