When New Jersey's Monster Magnet improbably crashed the airwaves in 1998 with "Space Lord," it put the band in simultaneously familiar and foreign territory for the band's core audience; it had a big rock chorus like their 1992 cut "Spine of God," the sci-fi imagery of 1993's Superjudge album, and a mainstream accessibility hinted at on 1995's Dopes to Infinity, but was getting radio play alongside spiritually dissimilar bands like the Foo Fighters and Korn. But that's the story of Monster Magnet, a band that never did any one thing for very long, but got caught up in the momentum and branding that comes with having a smash hit. They were revered by the stoner crowd in the early days, briefly embraced by the masses, and then ventured out into parts unknown when that brief, fluke-y moment that saw the Venn diagram of Monster Magnet and popular music overlapping came to an end .
As the band's success waned in America, frontman Dave Wyndorf kept Monster Magnet going in Europe and Australia, and has been testing the waters again in the States recently on the backs of 2010's Mastermind and 2013's Last Patrol, which is revisited on Monster Magnet's latest release, Milking the Stars: A Re-Imagining of Last Patrol, consisting of alternate, psychedelically-enhanced versions of many of the original album's songs, plus a few new tracks and live cuts.
We called up Wyndorf and asked him to walk us through the band's discography, from Milking the Stars to the band's first album. We focused on a track from each, and Wyndorf offered a snapshot of where the band was at the time, the climate of the music industry, and his personal relationship with the music he was creating. From Stooges-inspired heavy riff-rockers to easygoing, blissful psychedelia, we ran the gamut of Monster Magnet's diverse catalog.
Milking the Stars: A Re-Imagining of Last Patrol (2014) and Last Patrol (2013) - "End of Time"
Dave Wyndorf: I started off the Re-Imagining thing with just a couple of songs, just an experiment for me to do. I wasn't ever planning to release it or anything. I really liked a lot of the melodies on Last Patrol and was like, "These should have been longer." When I made the decision to actually do the whole thing, when I got to "End of Time," I was like, "I don't think this is one I should redo, there's nothing I can add to this." Then I just kept hearing an organ on it and thought, "If you put an organ on this and rearrange some of the chords, it will sound like a Deep Purple song." So by taking out the Arabic scales and putting in some minor and major organ scales, I thought I was going to make it sound more like Deep Purple, but then it didn't sound like Deep Purple, it actually sounded like some kind of weird gospel thing. I was like, "Cool, it's amazing what a couple of notes and chord changes will do to a song." I'm endlessly amused by tinkering with things.
Spine of God (1992) - "Ozium"
Wyndorf: That one's fun, that's one of my favorites. That's one that originally I did by myself with a drum machine with a really simple pattern, it didn't add much to the song at all. It was written mainly like a ballad, and then I put a tribal drum thing on it. The whole thing was to be hypnotic and syrupy psychedelic as possible: it's a syrupy, psychedelic ballad.
AllMusic: It's the gentlest song on a record with a lot of guttural vocals.
Wyndorf: You've got to sing it pretty and not show off. It was really, really fun, but really hard to play live back then in the old Magnet because nobody could stay in time, so we never played it back then, because nobody could really play it, they'd fuck it up every time. That was one of my favorite ones to write, too. I wanted to play that kind of stuff more, but it never worked out. Juxtapose that with the heavy stuff we became popular for, it became a harder thing to imagine fitting in a set and satisfying the crowd. Years later, people seem to be opening their heads. We brought it back and people loved it, it was amazing. In the old days they'd be like, "What is this corny shit, why aren't you screaming at me?"
AllMusic: Is there an alternate universe Monster Magnet that sounds more like "Ozium"?
Wyndorf: Absolutely. When I first did Magnet, it was called Love Monster, and it was all like that, there are four-tracks of all these songs from when I first got a four-track in my mid-twenties and got a guitar and drum machine, it was "Ozium" on there, maybe "Murder," and the song "Spine of God," and I ended up bringing them in when we started Monster Magnet. Originally it was supposed to be all that "Ozium"-type stuff, and a little heavier here and there, but mainly very sing-y stuff. I love singing like that and love playing like that, it's very measured and hypnotic, seducing people through melody rather than grabbing them by the balls. It's a different kind of heavy.
Superjudge (1993) - "Dinosaur Vacuum"
Wyndorf: That was me trying to write my best Hawkwind song. I use Dave Brock's guitar style all the time, it's like a space rock Johnny Ramone, perfect for a limited player such as myself. I thought it could be this aggro, pummeling space rock thing with a guy screaming about a dinosaur vacuum and going into the sun and dying and being reborn, like a total science fiction, punk space rock thing. It seemed perfectly logical at the time, I thought the title was enough. "Let's have a song called 'Dinosaur Vacuum,' it should sound like it!" and it did. So I was happy.
AllMusic: A lot of people heard this song for the first time in the video game Road Rash.
Wyndorf: I still hear it from people from time to time, they'll talk about Road Rash and I'm like, "Wow, you remember that?" Especially kids. That kind of stuff gets placed at a time where the band is done with the album and is now out on tour, and so you don't know what's going on, you're traveling every day. We got a fax that said, "You've been added to the Road Rash game," and I was like, "I don't know what that is, I'm in Germany." I didn't realize what it meant until a year or two later when people were like ,"Yeah, Road Rash!" and I'm like, "What's that?" I like when stuff happens without me knowing about it, it's fun.
Dopes to Infinity (1995) - "I Control, I Fly"
Wyndorf: It's kind of a Stooges thing. That's [then-Monster Magnet drummer] Jon Kleiman's music, most of it. It was cool, he had this riff, and I was like, "Let's do that a la Stooges, do it offbeat." It's a real Detroit old style syncopation. I wrote the chorus over the top of it, and I thought it was perfect for the record, because it needed to go a couple of different places, that one needed to get out. It's a pretty varied record. It didn't take long to do, it was very simple and direct. It could have been a real nothing song if it wasn't treated right, but it worked out fine.
Powertrip (1998) - "Baby Götterdämmerung"
Wyndorf: That means "twilight of the gods," Wagner wrote an opera called that. It's real comic book shit, opera stuff. That was another song that I did by myself with an old Rickenbacker vibrato amp, there were no drums and no click track, it was just me playing one take with that vibrato and singing and adding stuff around it. I just wanted a real bummer song. I like bummer songs. It really helps me in my life if I feel a certain way to get into the mood of a song, especially a short song. It was really creepy.
AllMusic: Many Monster Magnet songs have a lot going on, but are you also a fan of minimalism?
Wyndorf: I've always been inspired by minimal music. It really comes down to when I'm playing everything myself, that's the way I write, I'm trying to tell a simple story, trying to write a ballad or a dirge. If that's the way I feel, it doesn't need anything else. It almost has to become something else, why do you need five people for this song, you just don't, you need one. I was like, "I got this, it's totally me, I don't need anyone else to do this, I'll do it myself." It was maybe inspired by smaller Hawkwind songs, like "The Watcher," or old Pretty Things records from the sixties, they did some pretty minimal stuff. It was the sound of the amp, the syncopation, I just plugged it in and it started doing that, and I said, "I think there's a song there."
AllMusic: It had to be satisfying to have a song like this on your big record that was so different from the hit.
Wyndorf: I was totally happy that that record got anywhere. I'll read stuff about that album, and they say, "Monster Magnet is this, they're 'Space Lord' and dressed up in hip-hop clothes and dancing," and I'm like, "I listened to the record and it doesn't sound like what they're describing at all." The record's all over the place, it has some really weird shit on it, and none of it sounds that commercial to me at all. But that's the way these people look back on it. The fact that it was a hit with all that weird stuff and variety makes me totally happy, although I have the feeling that it didn't sell because of that variety, I think it sold because of the one song. I don't think many of the people who bought that album would go, "Baby Götterdämmerung!" I suppose it's my own fault for mixing and matching all these styles onto one record and wondering why people don't understand it completely.
God Says No (2001) - "Queen of You" and "Cry"
AllMusic: These were two songs that stood out because you dropped a lot of the imagery you were known for, they seemed more direct.
Wyndorf: I did try to get that way, and it's funny, during those years when I was making those records, and still now, I have a hard time keeping relationships with women, because I'd be so all over the place, but I always remembered them and would send these messages through songs to them, just because I could. I thought it was a cool thing. "Then I'll put this on the record, and this person will know it's exactly about them." I thought it was a good way to continue writing, to be a bit varied. They're both totally personal songs about people I'd met, girls I'd met on tour and didn't get a chance to expand the relationship because I was so busy, and you wind up in this weird psychotic existence where the only time you really talk to people is when you write about them in a song that's part of your work because you're too busy working to talk to them, and at the same time, it feeds the beast.
AllMusic: When the album didn't do what Powertrip did, that must have caused some problems with the label.
Wyndorf: The thing about God Says No was I knew it was going to happen. A&M was sold after Powertrip. They fired all the old crew and eventually it was sold to Interscope, and they were not about it, they were about Limp Bizkit and that was it. They said, "The future is nu-metal." [Marilyn] Manson went through the same thing, that's what happened to Manson. I said, "Why don't you just drop us?" It wasn't Powertrip 2, it was an example of me not covering my ass commercially.
Monolithic Baby! (2004) - "Master of Light"
Wyndorf: I was messing around with drum loops and electronic stuff. I wrote that for a movie first, and it wound up on the record. I was dealing with what was going on, who likes Monster Magnet, who doesn't, how many people bought Powertrip because of one song. God Says No didn't do bad, it just didn't get a lot of notice. In Europe, I think it sold as much as Powertrip, it just took longer. At this point I'm saying, "Let's just go see what happens," and we toured the States and it just sucked, all these tattooed jerkoffs running around saying, "Nu-metal!" and playing eight-string basses, it was so not cool. I said, "I'm never coming back here." That's when I started steering the ship towards Europe.
We had signed an independent deal, and I knew the major exposure of Monster Magnet was probably gone forever. The reasons the songs on this one are rock and roll is that I'd never written a straight ahead rock and roll record. I said, "What can I do with three-minute rock and roll songs with really satirical, topical lyrics that are opposed to what the music sounds like?" There was a lot of innuendo, playing with stereotypes. I ran out of rock and roll songs pretty quick, so I had to throw some space rock in there. It wasn't to sell records, that's for sure. If I really wanted to sell records I would have folded Monster Magnet and started a nu-metal band. That was the only thing that would sell.
4-Way Diablo (2007) - "Little Bag of Gloom"
Wyndorf: I pushed myself to work harder than I ever had before, now that I didn't have the bank to borrow from with the major label. I was basically a business owner, and I hate being a business owner. I just want to be a singer and a writer. The only way I could deal with it was to tour more, all over the world. I was flying back and forth from Europe to Australia to the States, repeat, until meltdown. The only way I could deal with that was to get a good sleep. I'm famously a bad sleeper, so I got some chemical help, and it nearly killed me.
AllMusic: The band had a reputation as being drug-friendly, so the perception was that your overdose came from partying.
Wyndorf: I wish it was party time problems, mine was an embarrassing drug problem. I have a really lame drug story. I got massive amounts of anti-anxiety drugs, and I only took them when I was going to go to sleep, but there were lots. I built up a tolerance over time. My average dosage could put a cow down. But other than that, I was healthy, running around onstage, not partying. When I got taken off those drugs is when the problems came.
AllMusic: Yet many people refer to drugs when discussing the band. The liner notes for Spine of God said, "It's a Satanic drug thing, you wouldn't understand."
Wyndorf: That's my fault, I sold it as a drug band. There's not one thing on any Monster Magnet record that I ever wrote when I was high. I've tried to write stuff high before and it sounds like the Grateful Dead. The thing about psychedelia and stoner culture of the past is that I feel it belongs to me since I grew up in it and I was getting high before I was a player, and I love it so much, not the drugs itself, but the whole thing, and when I started doing Monster Magnet, it seemed like the right thing to do, to write on the cover, "Drug rock!" At that point nobody was doing that shit, and it got a lot of notice. When people asked me in interviews I would just play it dumb and look like a maniac. They loved it. It really has to do with your imagination. If you have to kick-start your imagination with a foreign substance, I feel sorry for you.
AllMusic: So 4-Way Diablo came out after your overdose, and you never really supported it.
Wyndorf: I didn't support it, I was out of the game. The record company thought I was never coming back, so they just put it out and it went "plop," which is pretty correct, because it wasn't done the way it should have been done. I've never played one of those songs live. I don't think I even have access to the files of that record. There are a couple of those songs I really like, like "Little Bag of Gloom," and the title track. The psych stuff, the garage psych stuff is cool. The straight-ahead rock, I don't like as much. I should go back and listen to it and see what happens. I wasn't there to produce that, I just arranged it with the band and wrote it from pieces of songs I had laying around, it wasn't like, "Here's a new record," I was fucked up, I was completely out of my mind, but I put together songs I'd thrown away off of other records. Except for "Little Bag of Gloom," which came after. We went to record it and I said, "I can't do it, my brain's gone. You record it, I'll see you on the other end." That's what happened. I'm really distanced from the whole thing.
Mastermind (2010) - "Time Machine"
Wyndorf: There were two songs on that record I just did by myself, and I didn't have anybody else play on it. There was "Time Machine" and "The Titan Who Cried Like a Baby." I tracked that myself to a click track and started layering guitars. I had the tune in my head, and so to keep it weird, I thought, "Don't add drums, orchestrate it as a vibe." I can do that by myself. I can't flourish the stuff, but that was OK because I could set up the vibe very quickly. I've done that in the past with some stuff, like "Black Balloon" and other mellow songs, and it's really nice, because I know where I'm going with it. Those kinds of things are important for me to put in between heavy songs, so people can get a break.
That's the way I'm going, the older I get, the squirrel-ier and weirder it's going to get. I can't see myself just screaming at people. Singing and being weird, but hard rockin', "Come on, let's rock!," that's for younger people. Nobody wants to see an older man doing that, that's disturbing. I want to get weird, that's the way for me to go. If I need rock, heaviness, I'll bring it out of the vibe of the material, it doesn't have to be me. I'll save my screams for when they count, when they're really scary.
AllMusic: Thanks for taking us through your past two decades. What's your life like now in 2014?
Wyndorf: I'm totally solitary these days. I'll see my family and I've been through a couple of girlfriends, but that's it. I usually wake up around nine, ride my bicycle, read a fuck-ton of books. After the 10 months I was working, including recording and releasing Last Patrol and touring it, I only took one month off and went right back into it again. So I've been in the studio for a month re-doing Mastermind, it's almost done. No matter what I do, it never gets too far away from messing around that way, and we have a European tour coming up in January.
AllMusic: Do you think 1991 Dave and 2014 Dave would recognize each other?
Wyndorf: They would, absolutely. They'd recognize each other and the younger me would say, "What should I look out for?" and I'd say, "Everything." You have to get that Captain Kirk syndrome under control, he's the captain of the ship and everything's cool except he keeps chasing after blue ladies while people die on the ship. It ain't all fun and games, pal.
Milking the Stars: A Re-Imagining of Last Patrol is out now on Napalm Records