Monster Magnet’s Dave Wyndorf talks about the legendary Red Bank-based band’s 11th album, “Mindfucker,” a look at how the world has gone insane in the age of social media. To support the MC5- and Stooges-influenced record, Monster Magnet will play Sayreville, Philly and Brooklyn before jetting to Europe to perform for enthusiastic crowds for whom rock still rules.
Monster Magnet mastermind Dave Wyndorf has some advice for rock bands: Go to Europe! Rock fans there still seek new music and venture out to shows.
That is partly why in support of their 11th album, Mindfucker, the band only are doing three dates – March 29 at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, March 30 at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, and March 31 at The Fillmore in Philadelphia – before jetting overseas from early May to early June.
A covert statement about the spoils of social media disguised as a good-time party record, the 10-track collection finds Wyndorf, drummer Bob Pantella, bassist Chris Kosnik and guitarists Garrett Sweeny and Phil Caivano having a blast blasting out rock for rock’s sake.
But don’t fret, U.S. Monster Magnet fans. There will be a massive domestic tour in support of the MC5/Stooges/Kiss/Hawkwind-influenced Mindfucker, the band’s third outing on the Austrian indie Napalm Records, as well as treks to South America and Australia.
In the following chat — our sixth in 30 years — Wyndorf also shared why Mindfucker and his band bring him joy, but the mad, mad world doesn’t. Yet at 61, Wyndorf is in the best shape of his life, opting to ride his bicycle to unwind rather than to use the prescription drugs that nearly killed him 12 years ago.
Q: What do you love most about Mindfucker, and how do you think it stacks up to your previous albums?
A: I love it because it’s Mindfucker. It brings me joy, simple joy. Why wouldn’t I call a record Mindfucker? It’s 2018! Of course, I’d call a record Mindfucker. I get the most joy out of that.
I think it stacks up really well. I tend to move ahead rather do a lot of stacking. If you look back all the time to compare, you stop doing them. The best way is to move ahead. It feels like me, like us, so no problem.
Q: Mindfucker is very influenced by MC5 and The Stooges. MC5, however, made a lot of overt statements about the political climate and social unrest of their day. In what way are you commenting on our political and social climate with Mindfucker without being as overt as MC5 were?
A: MC5 really were anarchists. They were all about John Sinclair, dope and guns in the fucking streets, burn everything down. Why not? They were 18, 19 years old. Why not think burning everything down?
But I’m not like that. I’m commenting on the world around me. That’s all I’ve done with Monster Magnet records for years now. It seems cosmic on the outside, but it’s me commenting on what’s going on around me. In this case, it’s more direct politics involved, but it’s not completely a political thing. It’s more a commentary on how this year in particular affected me as regular person. Now that conventional norms are destroyed, it’s pretty nuts. It’s a mindfucker. All I’m doing here is I am sitting in my kitchen in 2018, thinking, “What the fuck is going to happen now that truth is being disputed?” And it seems like most of the country is out of its mind, arguing over stuff that we argued about 40 years ago. It’s ridiculous.
Really, it’s nuts, Bob, but it makes perfect sense. What would happen when you give people the opportunity to completely stay inside their own thing and not really go out on the street and talk to people? Give everyone the opportunity to represent themselves behind closed doors through social media? So, of course, it’s going to get confusing. We can’t look anybody in the eye anymore. It’s a big clusterfuck. There’s no easy way to do the right thing. A lot of good people since the information age sit in their house and say, “Okay, be cool,” and everybody’s okay by agreeing with each other. Meanwhile, the bad guys stole the circus.
But it’s typical America because we’re lazy. Only half the people voted. Trump is what this country deserves, and if we don’t learn our lesson, we’ll get worse. There are a lot of things worse than Trump because he’s such a buffoon, the bad guys can’t do anything with him. God forbid some Slick Dick moustache-twisting villain got in there, we’d see things change more than they are now. I hope we learned our lesson.
They’ve been allowing us to dick off, but every once in a while, you have to get up and say, “Wait a second. Maybe I’m going to have to read.” Read a couple of books on how TV operates, how the media operates, how news gets printed. Read behind the lines and maybe actually do a little work. It’s crazy.
But we’ve been through this before in the early ’70s. We won’t get fooled again? Well, we did get fooled again.
Q: How is the title Mindfucker related to the country’s addiction to social media and YouTube and obsession with celebrities and celebrity status?
A: The title represents all that stuff to me. It is a mindfuck that people be that stupid, be that lazy, think they have to live this way, get so caught up in the game of social media. And it’s just a game that people play with each other, like “I’m okay, you’re okay,” like a weird high-five. It’s like, “You’re good, I’m good. I support all the good things. Gay rights, transgender. I’m cool. You’re cool. We’re all cool, right? Let’s go get a coffee.”
But no one’s looking through the looking glass to see what’s going on. The fact that people are communicating like this and pulling back from real community is disturbing. In 2018, the story isn’t Trump, it’s that the world would allow a Donald Trump. If not him, it would have been anybody. Here we are, the greatest country in the world, and we act like the most stupid people in the world because we’re lazy and because we don’t know how to read.
Just read a couple of books or watch “All the President’s Men” a couple of times. Start understanding how the information moves and how people are affected by that. Know that the whole thing is fucked up, and it’s not the way to go. It’s not a matter of politics. It’s just how to deal with information. There are no priorities.
It’s amazing how the whole country has jumped into the social media thing to play the game, and it seemed like fun and took care of a lot of problems. But it’s going to take another 10 to 20 years to get to the point where we can handle it. We will get to that point, but it’ll take a couple of generations before we figure that out.
I remember in the late 20th century, they were gearing up for the millennium, the computer companies, like Apple, seeing the future: “The big thing is coming. Did you get a computer yet?” It was the biggest sales push. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.
Now you’ve got Internet coming 25 hours a day, communication that’s lightning fast. But did anybody figure out that that’s a million ways to lie? Of course not! Nobody said, “Be careful crossing the street,” not even the powers that be. The government gave the keys to the car to the tech companies and said, “We believe in you guys. Do what you want to make us a lot of money.” It didn’t matter what the political party was because I believe it was the Democrats in power at the time.
But here we are in this crazy new industrial revolution, technological revolution, and all us poor slobs are alive on the planet, and we have to sit through this crap. I was kind of hoping that at my age, I’d be sailing into a brighter future, but there’s giant monkey wrench in the middle of it.
Q: In the age of streams, do Monster Magnet survive by touring or was that always the case?
A: Yeah, we survive by touring, but that was not always the case. Streaming really cuts down on the money. It’s a different ball game. In the old days, I could get a publishing company to bet on me and give me money upfront, and then they’d go try to sell some songs wherever they’d sell them. Now there’s not that much confidence in songs because they’re not making a lot of money. The tail is now wagging the dog. Bands are making albums to have an excuse to tour rather than tour behind a great album they wrote, which is why I think there are not as many great albums out there anymore. The focus of the bands isn’t on the music, but it’s not their fault.
Art is great and art is fine and artists are going to create art regardless, but rock ‘n’ roll has always been an uneasy blend of commerce and creativity. If you take the commerce out of it, it’s not going to get the same kind of punch from bands. They’re not going to fight as hard. They form a band, but it turns out to be more of a project that winds up on Bandcamp, and the next thing you know, you see millions of bands with one fan each instead of 100 bands with million fans each. Where’s that going to go? It’s going to get flat. It’s cool as a little art project, but it doesn’t have much cultural impact.
The introduction of pop is like nothing I’ve seen before. I mean, when we were kids, we had the Bay City Rollers, but that was nothing like this hardcore TV money, big ad money from Coca-Cola, Chevrolet. Money and pop, that’s just the way the world is, but I’ve not seen a mass push back against it. That’s what would have happened in the old days. Kids would put their middle finger up in the air if you tried to sell them this, but now kids gladly wear brands and designer stuff. They spend so much money on it. The rock ‘n’ roll spirit used to be “fuck you” to old people and the man, but kids love the man because he gives them exactly what they want all the time.
There is a segment of kids who are off the grid and not playing that game, and I hope they come and teach the world how to rock. But it may not be to rock music but something that no one else can recognize except them.
Right now, surviving is to trying to find pockets of like-minded people out there and not on the Internet. You have to physically go out there, travel hill and dale the old-school way. It’s very cool. Playing live is the best, Bob. It’s real people in the moment. How novel. Live rock ‘n’ roll is more novel than ever before. But there’s no denying people in the room. I love it more than ever.
Q: Is it genetic or do you stay in shape to do all the high-energy things you do, like make intense music and perform it all over the world? If you stay in shape, how?
A: I fucked up about 10 years ago. I got addicted to benzodiazepine prescribed by a doctor to help me sleep when I was wound up from touring. I tried every way, so I figured I get to sleep artificially. That’ll save me.
So that didn’t work. I fucked up and came back off that. I got on my bicycle and started riding it. That’s what I do. I ride my bike, and I keep rockin’.
Q: I love the line in the Hawkwind cover, “Ejection”: “I’m too fast to die.” Do you ever think about your mortality or at least how long you’re going to be able to keep rockin’.
A: I never had a retirement age. It’s fun. It’s cool. The live thing is like being in the circus. It’s all I ever wanted to do as a kid. There’s no reason for me to stop it, besides it becomes too uncomfortable to do it. It’s not like I can’t wait to sit under that tree and read a book. I love that idea. I tried to do that before 15 years ago … but my patience for sitting around was so low that I just keep doing it. I’m just going to continue to write as much as I can and play until something gets in my way.
Q: Are you still friends with Monster Magnet co-founder Tim Cronin?
A: Oh yeah, he’s my brother-in-law. He married my sister, the bastard. He lives next door to me. We’ve got the Red Bank Crew over here.
Q: You are the only original member of the band. What does the current lineup bring to the band that wasn’t there before?
A: They’re really nice guys. They’re nice and funny … and they’re into being rock musicians, building a show, going on tour, into the music. In the past, people would rather be somewhere else. It was like pulling teeth to get any excitement out of it. There was this schtick in the ’90s to be this reluctant Nirvana-style rock-band guy, but I never held with that because I was really excited, so I’d jump around before a show like Mickey Rooney in an old movie: “Hey kids, let’s put on a show!” I didn’t know any other way but to do it totally psyched. But we went through that time period where some guys were too cool for school. But at the same time, I don’t hold that against them.
But these guys have the same type of energy and love of the music. They share my love of psychedelic rock, kick-ass Detroit rock, British rock, and that mid-‘60s to mid-‘70s thing that’s never been understood. But I’m lucky to have people to play with who get it and love it themselves. They’re old-school musicians who don’t have a problem with the some of the more Spinal Tap kinds of things that go on. They think it’s kind of funny that 80 percent of being in rock band is like Spinal Tap. Even Radiohead have those Spinal Tap moments that drive them crazy. My guys think it’s funny.
Really, it’s a team. It’s a band, as opposed to a bunch of guys waiting for the time to get paid.
Q: I know the answer to this next question because I probably would give the same answer about Makin Waves, but after 30 years, why has it been important for you to keep Monster Magnet going?
A: Ego, I imagine. I’m a pretty simple guy. This is what I do. I think I’m getting better at it. It allows me to do a lot of creativity. I get to write the songs, sing the songs, arrange the songs, produce the record. I’m involved in videos. I get to play it live. That’s a lot of different stuff. But it’s exciting, and I get real gung-ho. I don’t think I’d sit well in a cubicle somewhere or pumping gas. I’d blow my brains out. I’m too used to this.
Plus, Monster Magnet has become a thing to people who enjoy it. If I didn’t think they did, I probably would have broken it up a long time ago and formed something else, but it seems to represent a certain style of music, a certain attitude — straight-ahead rock, psychedelic rock — that you don’t see many other bands doing. There’s not another band like Monster Magnet. If there was one better, I’d move aside. But I don’t see anybody doing psychedelic rock, straightahead rock, Detroit rock, and garage rock from the ’60s, so why stop? If I saw a young band doing us better, okay, I’d leave. But I feel like we have a responsibility. Somebody has to represent that spirit, carry Hawkwind songs into the future. It has to be done. Somebody has to represent in some way that crazy spirit of the early ’70s. Our roots need to be represented. That’s what Monster Magnet always has been about.
Q: In your opinion, what is stoner rock and are Monster Magnet the epitome of it?
A: I remember stoner rock first started out as a British thing. We were half into grunge and psychedelic stuff. There were the Butthole Surfers, Screaming Trees and Mudhoney, who were doing a little ’70s Blue Cheer thing. Melody Maker put out single picture of a hippy with a gun from Life magazine, and they put it in their own letters, “Drug rock.” We got a hit in the British press, which is always hungry for anything new. Six months later, they were calling us stoner rock. That’s where it came from. And so it was Kyuss and Fu Manchu and us.
Now stoner rock is mostly European because Euros caught on more than Americans. I don’t think America every really got it, but the Euros do. You go to Central Europe, and there are new bands being discovered every day.
Europe is a place where rock didn’t stop, like here. It’s grinding to a halt because it’s all about money and insurance, and it just became an oldies act here overnight. It’s fucking over, case closed. It’s just a giant bar scene from sea to shining sea with a couple of really brilliant moments of hard-working people trying to get some spirit going like it ought to be. It’s a wasteland of shitty DJs, remnants of old metal, bad hip-hop, and wannabe blues. There’s no real focus on live culture. It’s really spotty here. It’s expensive and not respected, but in Europe, it is respected, the venues are good, and they treat bands well.
Why that happened is ourselves. We are the star of the 21st century, each and every one of us, drinking our own Kool-Aid and pissing it out. “This is me! Check me out! I’m an artist! I’m in a band too! I can do it all!” There’s no dedication to one thing.
So the focus is off new music as being the next big thing. We just want the same thing: to pay our 300 bucks to go see Paul McCartney, but that 300 bucks is a lot of money, so they don’t have money left over to go see these new bands. …
The record companies dropped the ball on how to handle Napster. They’re pretty much giving the whole thing away over to thieves. And the prices of CDs left a bad taste, so you see America moving from rock to hip-hop as a mainstay of popular entertainment. Hip-hop is the stuff that most kids as a mass audience go to first. They identify with the clothes, the beats and everything. … Hip-hop became really strong, but now it’s embarrassing, like a TV commercial, which is the least dangerous thing: “Look at hip-hop,” big fuckin’ deal.
But there are new angles all the time. America has a tradition of changing music. There was a musical renaissance in the ’60s into the ’70s that dictated that pop music must evolve all the time. There’s no looking back, no greatest hits record.
I don’t think there’s room enough for any one next big thing. In the 21st century, everything is the next big thing, so nothing is the next big thing. Everything is sold as the next big thing, but it can’t be because it doesn’t allow for a gestation period, and the public doesn’t want to envision a form of pop art the way it did in the ’60s and ’70s. There’s not much currency in music anymore.
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And like Makin Waves at facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.
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