“When you’re a kid you really don’t know what the hell you’re doing,” explains Monster Magnet mastermind and chief songwriter, Dave Wyndorf recalling the days of his late 70s punk rock band, Shrapnel.
“Shrapnel wasn’t really done by me. It was done by a producer and people helping with the songs because I wasn’t much of a songwriter back then. I was the singer in Shrapnel who was a happy young drunken guy and we were just going through the motions and I hadn’t really found my voice as far as writing and that is concerned. We had a couple singles that we put out on our own label and then we got signed by Elektra Records and that’s when they told us we’d be doing our ‘real album’. Of course this ‘real album’ was produced by some English guy who was hot at the time and used to be in some big English band. The record’s cool, it’s just I wasn’t involved in it, I just sang it. When I heard the Shrapnel record back I remember thinking ‘wow, this doesn’t sound anything like what I thought it would’ and I wasn’t that happy with it.” Alongside Wyndorf on stage was current Monster Magnet guitar slinger, Phil Caivano, and part time Ramone Daniel Rey.
Not happy with this lack of control, it’s no wonder that anyone who has followed the career of Monster Magnet would notice that each album has been under the watchful eye of Wyndorf. “Shrapnel was a big wake up call for me. It’s like this guy comes in there and does this thing on the record and now all of a sudden it sounds different. I remember practicing it and it sounded better and that’s what really started me as far as getting my own thing going and that maybe I should understand a little bit better and be more involved in the stuff that I am going to sing on. Before that I had already been in love with the production of albums just because it seemed like the work of wizards. Like who is this guy Rodger Bain who they say produced the first Black Sabbath album? Or who is Tony Visconti? Their names would be on these records but their pictures wouldn’t be. You look at Chief Engineer and names like that and you realise it was a team effort. That’s what put the hook in me to find out what makes what and then when I got my own 4-track after Shrapnel, then it was just fun.”
It wasn’t long before Monster Magnet were dishing out jams that fell into the self-proclaimed “drug rock” genre. A genre filled with psychedelic jams and hypnotic battle hymns of downtuned goodness. At times quite technical and calculated yet still loose enough to keep it rough around the edges and give it a feeling of 70s space rock. “I’m a little bit better at playing now and I’m really good at knowing what needs to be there and whether or not I can play it or not. I’m a musical director and a writer as well so I write and I specify in my mind how this part’s going to be played, who is the best man for the job, what’s the easiest way to get the message across whatever that message may be, will it be scary, spooky, or trippy or all of the above. I’ll just note it in my head ‘Ok, this is a job for this guy.’ I can sketch out like a cartoonist would sketch out a comic strip. I would sketch it out and then have the guys come in and actually do the real work and put their stamp on it. I mean, my stamp is just bizarre and sounds like it’s played by a four year old. The sounds are all there but I play it like really simple like a punk rock style. Then I’ll play it to the guys and say ‘you hear this? Put some old shit on it’ and I speak in terms of players that we know or bands that we know. It’s like this is an Alice Cooper thing or this is a Black Sabbath thing, this is a Lemmy thing, this is a post-Hawkwind Lemmy thing, etc. talking in terms that we would understand, not in notes or anything. It’s a wonder that anything comes out at all, really. Now that I am explaining it to you it’s like what a stupid way to make music but it works.”
Last year Monster Magnet’s latest magnum opus, Last Patrol, was released with much praise and not a dud sound in sight. A much welcomed step back towards their earlier psych years from both their diehard fans and newcomers to the MM fold which kind of surprises Wyndorf due to the current state of the music industry that has been broken down by the way of illegal downloads. “The industry keeps changing and has changed three or four big times since I got into this. The way you record albums keeps changing and I never felt ahead in the game. It changed drastically when it went from the old model to digital music and basically downloading changed everything; the way bands are promoted and the way they make money. The internet is a chaos now like a giant snowstorm. There are so many bands and so many less people care about it every year. You give everybody what they want and they’re not going to like it as much, I hate to say it. You can get a lot of stuff for free today. That goes from music to movies and the one thing I have noticed my whole life is that people love free stuff but they don’t respect free stuff so there’s not a lot of respect for that. There’s a couple generations of people who are just like ‘where’s my shit? Give it to me!’ you know? I don’t think the audience is as big as it once was for interesting music. There’s an audience for music but the mass audience doesn’t seem to give a shit what they listen to, to tell you the truth.”
Wyndorf is in no way bitter, in fact he’s is quite the opposite and he wants to defend rock music from becoming a stale homogenised form of radio safe boring music and have the newer generation of music fans look a little deeper into music before writing it off so quickly. “I know kids that watch things before they listen to it. What does it look like? These days they’ll go to YouTube and watch something rather than just use their ears. That’s different. You can get in there with a combination of music and visual right off the bat and it being mixed with 99 other things released that month, kids tend to not hold on to stuff and give it a chance like they used to. They’ll just keep going until they find something that looks good to them and not really go in and listen that hard. When they grow up they may re-assess but the market place doesn’t demand the kind of quality that it once did. It’s weird because in the period where we should be getting more art than ever before, we’re actually getting less. It’s like the internet has turned into one big advertising machine. 80% of the attention that goes into the internet is advertising and then 20% is just people social networking and talking about each other.”
So what is the future going to hold with these lost generations? We already know it’s harder to sell records although there is one musician who is in complete control of what is happening and what he is doing about it and Wyndorf has more than enough respect for the man. “When a songwriter or guitarist like Jack White has to come up with these new ideas to sell stuff rather than a record company, things are definitely backwards. Songwriters and guitarists are usually terrible businessmen, you don’t want them selling stuff, you want them writing all the time. Most artists are just not that good at the business side of things. If everybody had Jack White’s thing then music would be doing a lot better. He’s fantastic, a real rocker. He’s a true musician guy. No poser. Nothing. Just cool music and a good player with a lot of respect for guitars and history and not only that, he’s got the coolest studio in the world. It’s unbelievable down there. I hope it lasts forever because he’s got quite a fight on his hands. He’s smart though. He’s got something and he’s a super talented guy.”
Last Patrol is out now through Napalm Records.
Monster Magnet’s tour starts tonight in Perth and continues around the country at the following venues:
Thursday, 3rd April
Friday, 4th April
Saturday, 5th April
Sunday, 6th April
170 Russell, Melbourne
Tix: 170 Russell