"It's all been this crazy journey for me," says Monster Magnet leader Dave Wyndorf. And indeed it has. Since forming the band more than three decades ago (and, for that matter, for many years prior), Wyndorf has experienced more than his fair share of the good, the bad, and the ugly — not to mention the downright fucking weird — that rock & roll has to offer.
Somehow, he's survived it all to keep rocking well into his 60s. True to form, Monster Magnet's new and eleventh studio album, Mindfucker, is a hopped-up, turned-on and pissed-off adrenaline shot of hip-shaking high-energy biker-boogie-punk-psych rock—essentially, it's the sound Wyndorf has been chasing, and perfecting, since his childhood days in New Jersey.
"When I was a kid, I saw Hawkwind. I saw the Stooges. I saw these bands for real," Wyndorf says. "And I was like, 'Wow, those guys must really live it up. I wanna be one of those guys!' But I never thought of myself as one of those guys. But I did get into a position where I could act like it and investigate it." On the eve of the release of Mindfucker, Wyndorf sat down with Revolver to talk about the new album and impart some of the wisdom he's gleaned through this lifelong investigation.
YOU'VE TALKED ABOUT HOW, WITH MINDFUCKER, YOUR ORIGINAL INTENTION WAS TO WRITE A GOOD TIME ROCK & ROLL RECORD. IT DIDN'T EXACTLY END UP THAT WAY.
No, no, it didn't. But it sounds pretty positive. So that's good. How much do people really listen to the words anyway, man? But I'm just one of those writers that sings about what he knows. I don't write screenplays or fantasy metal or glory rock or stuff like that. With me it's usually a cross section of delusions of grandeur, like, "I have the biggest dick in the universe," and a lot of introspection that's usually wrapped in metaphors of science fiction, religion and psychedelia. It keeps it interesting for me.
But this time when I was writing lyrics I just happened to come smack dab against basically what I consider a crisis. Meaning the whole collapse of the information age. It's a fascinating time to live in. But it hit me dead on so I couldn't really give it any kind of spin except to have a freak-out, you know?
PART OF THE PROBLEM FOR YOU WAS THAT YOU STARTED WRITING LYRICS AFTER THE PRESIDENTIAL INAUGURATION, RIGHT?
Yeah. I wrote 'em and they looked like the Op-Ed page of the New York Times. It was horrible. It was like Rage Against the Machine. And I was like, "I don't wanna be that. That's no fun." Direct-action political-rock never works. It didn't work back in the day and it doesn't work now. It only works when there's a Vietnam and you're sending people off to war. Only when people have skin in the game do they pay attention like that. And now it's a different world.
YOU MENTIONED USING PSYCHEDELIC METAPHORS AND IMAGERY IN MONSTER MAGNET. BECAUSE OF THAT ASPECT OF YOUR SOUND A LOT OF PEOPLE THINK OF THE BAND AS MUSIC FOR STONERS. BUT YOU'RE A SOBER PERSON.
Yeah. I've been sober for a long time, except for a real bad thing with prescription drugs about eight or ten years ago. Aside from that I wasn't even doing drugs in the beginning of Monster Magnet. I'd been over that stuff. I stopped doing drugs and even drinking by the time I was 25.
WHAT LED YOU TO GIVE IT UP?
I think I'd learned all I could learn from it. It's pretty limited. Unfortunately the promise of drugs far outweighs their actual use. And especially the kind of drugs I was doing, which was psychedelics. It promised so much and delivered so little.
SO ONCE YOU BECAME A BIG OL' ROCK STAR, WHAT DID YOU DO FOR FUN?
Girls. You know, you either go to, like, religion or something baser. So yeah, it was just chasing after women really.
YOU'VE SAID IN THE PAST THAT TOURING WITH MARILYN MANSON IN 1999 WAS A REALLY HEDONISTIC PERIOD FOR YOU.
Total hedonism. Hedonism for hedonism's sake! But I could make a good case for hedonism at that point. For the most part it was equal opportunity. It wasn't abuse — it was real. There are these times where these things happen where everybody does have a good time. No one's getting abused, everybody's kind of in it. They're very momentary blips. It was quite liberating. But then in the end it's not sustainable.
WHAT WOULD GO ON?
Oh, man, it was like everything you ever wanted. We're playing a sports arena and I walk into some, like, medical examination room or something and there's three girls in rubber nun's habits. I mean, rubber nun's habits. They must have weighed fucking 200 pounds! And they're just doing this insanely erotic show. Openly having sex, and for just the sheer joy of showing people that. And then there's just lots of horny people getting what they want in this kind of orgiastic fever. And I'm in it, you know? I'm running around with leather pants, like, "Am I part of this?" It was really weird. But it was great.
AT THAT POINT YOU'RE DEFINITELY NOT CONCERNED ABOUT DRUGS.
Nah. Drugs were the last thing I was worried about. Reality was way too stimulating. Drugs would have muted it for me.
CAN YOU EVEN ACT LIKE THAT IN ROCK & ROLL ANYMORE?
You'd have to do it off the radar. And the problem is the whole world's on the radar now. We're at a stage where, very conceivably, nobody can have a good time for as long as you and I are alive, you know? Right now, the way it looks, especially if you're a halfway intelligent person and you're socially hooked up with modern communications, everybody's gonna have to be on their best behavior or be a complete fucking fiend. There's no in between. That's the unfortunate part of this whole communication revolution—it doesn't take into account that people are human. It's like, you either have to be a saint or a sinner. It's heroes and villains time, big-time.
THE OTHER PIECE OF THE PUZZLE WOULD BE THAT THERE'S NO LONGER THE TYPE OF MONEY IN ROCK & ROLL REQUIRED TO LIVE OUT THESE SORTS OF TWISTED FANTASIES ON SUCH A LARGE SCALE.
Oh yeah. It's shot, dude. It is shot. Sometimes I think I'm like George Burns walking around in the last days of vaudeville, you know what I mean? You can't pull off that stuff on a grand scale. I mean, some people can, but they're very, very few. And it's funny, the people that could do that, the rockers that we know, they would be deathly afraid to do it, or too old to do it.
AS A GUY THAT CAME UP IN AN ERA WHERE THERE WAS A LOT OF MONEY FLYING AROUND, ARE YOU ABLE TO REST ON YOUR LAURELS A BIT NOW?
The coast is never clear. It's a shrinking market. I've been talking about this for years, and I think people didn't wanna talk about it because it bums people out. They didn't want to ever believe that the lifestyle that they so look up to in other people was dying. Nobody wants their dream to die.
BUT IN BETWEEN ALBUM AND TOUR CYCLES YOU DON'T HAVE TO GO OUT AND PAINT HOUSES OR ANYTHING.
Not yet. But the clock's tickin'. [Laughs] I spent most of that "Space Lord" money, you know what I mean?
BACK IN THE HIGH-FLYING NINETIES, WHAT WAS THE MOST RIDICULOUS, EXTRAVAGANT THING YOU EXPERIENCED?
One thing was the video for "Negasonic Teenage Warhead." I ripped out a page of an old Jack Kirby Fantastic Four comic book that had the Fantastic Four going into the negative zone, each on their own separate asteroids. And I was like, "This is so badass! You know, we're rock stars…we're space rock stars!" That was the idea. We'll all go into the negative zone…and we have to have a giant woman in there. Half naked. Or maybe totally naked—if we can afford it. And I thought we could do it all with CGI, green screen and all that stuff. I faxed it to the record company and I picked out the director, a guy named Gore Verbinski.
HE WENT ON TO DO A FEW THINGS.
Yeah, he went on to be this huge guy! But at that point he was doing TV commercials. I liked him because his CGI was so good. And he took the job, and in the great spirit of the day no one asked him how much it would cost. So we flew out to L.A., got on the set, and it was on a soundstage at Universal Studios. Which is, like, a real movie studio. And there were these life-sized asteroids on hydraulic lifts, a hundred feet up in the air. A whole movie crew. Multiple cranes. A real car that we were gonna fly in outer space. I was like, "What the fuck?" And the record company was just like, "Well, the thing will cost like $250,000…" I could make 20 albums on that! It was insane.
BUT ALSO FUN.
Oh, it was great! I loved it! It's that point in your dumb life where you're like, "Wow, the record company got us a plane!" "They paid for this video!" It was so much fun until I actually found out that I was really the one paying for it. But I always thought the lifestyle was important. For me to live out the dream at that point, it seemed like, "Why skimp?" You know, in the middle of a tour, where everything's going really well and the crowds are great and you're getting girls, at one point I just wanted to walk up to the top floor of a hotel and draw back the curtains and look out over Berlin and go, "Yeeaaah!" Like James Bond, you know?
DID YOU DO THAT?
I did. It was fun. Now I wish I had that money!
YOU HAVE THE MEMORY.
Yeah. But at the same time, I was so self-aware. I also felt a little guilty about it, like, "Is this a douche move?" Because we came up through grunge. We came up through that time when it was popular to be a loser. If you were successful you should be really miserable and kill yourself. That was the message. And I was older—a good ten years older than most of that crew. And I was like, "No. This is adventure." Let's go back to that early Seventies Led Zeppelin model where you get everything—artistic success and the hedonistic lifestyle and people cheering you on for leading that lifestyle. It didn't happen that way with us. People didn't cheer us on for that. But I lived in that fantasy as long as I could.
YOU MENTION BEING OLDER. YOU WERE ALREADY IN YOUR 30S WHEN YOU STARTED MONSTER MAGNET. DID THAT COLOR YOUR PERSPECTIVE ON WHAT IT MEANT TO BE IN A ROCK BAND
Absolutely. Every step of the way. I had already been in a punk band [Shrapnel], and it turned into a power pop band, and I'd played CBGB regularly from 1978 to 1980 and toured the Midwest many, many times. So I had already had an idea of what it was like. And then when it came time for me to really write my own songs, when I was like 25, 26, of course the punk-rock attitude stayed in me. But the music that was coming out was the stuff that hit me between the eyes when I was 12 or 13, like Black Sabbath, Hawkwind, the Stooges.
BACK IN THE SHRAPNEL DAYS YOU ONCE PLAYED A PARTY AT NORMAL MAILER'S BROWNSTONE IN BROOKLYN. WHAT WAS MAILER LIKE?
Unbelievable. Like a big fucking giant ass, you know? But he was Norman Mailer! You kinda expect him to be an ass. I'll never forget it. We played the party, and it was this giant party. And the guest list was just insane. Kurt Vonnegut, Woody Allen, Jose Torres, the famous boxer. And at the end of the night we're still there because we have to wait to pack up everything. So it's just us…and Mailer. And our friend, Glen Buxton, lead guitarist for the Alice Cooper group. He was like a total fucking drug guy. And he'd been out of the Alice Cooper group for a while, probably about four years. Since Billion Dollar Babies and all that stuff. But he was still a rocker, you know? He was there in his snakeskin pants, with his hair down to his waist. High-heeled boots. Looking every inch like the perfect Seventies rock star, but in a punk rock environment.
Anyway Glen's hanging out with us, and Mailer comes over and gives him a dirty look and turns to us and says, "All right, forget this guy. I'll tell ya one thing: You kids, there's a couple things you gotta learn in your life. One of 'em is know how to pick and eat good cheesecake. Really important." And he comes out and he slices this piece of cheesecake. And he says, "You see the way I eat this cheesecake?" And he's eating it really slow. He says, "This is the way you fuck. That's the other thing. You guys gotta learn how to fuck. It's cheesecake…and fucking."
And we're like, "Okay, Mr. Mailer." Like, whatever. And then Glen Buxton looks up on the wall and there's a picture of this really hot redhead, who happens to be Norman Mailer's wife. And he goes, "Yeah that girl's hot. I'd fuck her with some cheesecake!" And Mailer turns around and just looks at him. And he had these crazy blue eyes. And he's old, you know? He's all white and stuff. And he just walks over, puts his hands on Glen's ears, holds his head…and headbutts him like a billy goat. We found out later that this was the famous Mailer headbutt. And Buxton went down like a sack of potatoes. And Mailer just wiped the cheesecake off his hand and goes, "That's that!" And he called for somebody to have him removed.
Yeah. I remember walking out, and I was only 19 or 20. But even then I knew, "This is great! Norman Mailer just headbutted Glen Buxton!" I knew the glory of it right then, even at a young age. Never gonna happen again.
YOU'VE HAD A PRETTY WILD LIFE. IS THERE ANYTHING YOU HAVEN'T DONE YET THAT YOU STILL WANT TO EXPERIENCE?
Well, I got fat, that was good. I always wanted to do that. But no. The only thing I really haven't done yet is totally go down the singer-songwriter route, and make it really quiet and small and squirrely and weird. And I think that's probably something I'll do as I get older. It seems more suited. When I get tired of fucking screaming and hollering — which, surprisingly, I have not — that's what I'll do.
AS THE YEARS GO BY DOES IT GET HARDER TO CONNECT TO THAT SCREAMING AND HOLLERING, PRIMAL SIDE OF ROCK?
No. That's the thing. If you would've asked me 30 years ago I would have said "Hope I die before I get old," the whole bit. But it hasn't gone away. In fact, it gets stronger. It's weird. I never could figure out that being an adult would feel like this, you know? I was never really properly prepared to be an adult…it's just not what you would expect. You've got a lot more gas than you think you do. And a lot of these perceived norms tend to go out the window. You're like, "Well, I don't feel like this…"
YOU STILL FEEL THE SAME AS YOU ALWAYS HAVE.
Yeah. The only thing is if I look at a video of myself and I thought I was rockin', now in the video it looks like I'm just an angry guy in the Foodtown parking lot. Like, you just look like a guy that's having a fit because somebody backed into his car! So I have to remember to smile more now. Because as you get older, if you don't smile you really look like you're just having a fit. It doesn't look like, "Wow, he really means it!" It's like, "What's wrong with that guy?" So that's what I would say about getting older. Start smiling more.