Music is Fucking Magic: Monster Magnet Interview
With a history spanning across the decades, Monster Magnet shouldn’t be an unknown name to rock or metal fans. Mick Birchall talks with the Vocalist Dave Wyndorf about the writing/production of the band’s music, influences and modern day music and genre labelling.
So, your album, Milking the Stars, that came out last year was a re-imagining of your 2013 album Last Patrol. What inspired you to do that instead of just a whole new record?
To me, it’s getting more out something you’ve already done, with a different vibe. Really, what inspired it was the fact that I just can’t leave shit alone, it’s too much fun. There was just so much material I had written for Last Patrol that never got released. There were so many options and so many different routes I could take with the record, as I went from song to song. Such as different instrumentations and different mixing styles. You know music is like that, you can add minor chords or different instruments and change the whole vibe of it. However, since I’m making records closer to home these days, I can now afford to go in and fiddle about a bit more. I can do it in between tours too, not to the extent of making a new album, but I was able to do that in between all the touring I did last year, and that’s how it happened. Sometimes I just gotta hear what it would sound like, if I did it differently.
Cool. So speaking of that, when you eventually do go into making a new record, will there be a set process or is it just a case of throwing stuff against a wall and seeing what sticks?
Yeh, maybe I’ll have an idea of what the songs should be and just throw them out there, and see what happens. You know, music is like that, you can start it, but, as the process goes on, you really don’t finish it. It’s like this beast you let out of a cage and you follow it’s direction, so the song will tell me what to do, and then a collection of songs will tell me how to sequence them. So I can’t have that much of a plan, except for have a wishlist of sounds, and some lyrics but it’s always music first.
So, have your influences for writing music changed at all over the years, or are they still more or less the same?
Not in a radical sense. I mean, I have my blues, my root music. That would be stuff like The Stooges & Black Sabbath, you know the stuff that hit me as a kid and I thought “Man, this is like the best shit ever” and it still is. The early Black Sabbath stuff is still sounds amazing to this day. This could be just because I’m old, but all that old stuff still sounds so badass to me. However over the years, there have been other influences like the stuff I hear on the radio with the more modern bands. When we first got together there were bands like Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Spaceman 3, Butthole Surfers, Loop and Zodiac Mindwarp. All that stuff just really kicked my ass. Also music from the likes of The Cult. I mean those first few Cult records really just killed me. Then over the years there’s just been weird stuff too.
So after that, what would be your favourite modern bands?
Hmm, I’m trying to think… I like Kadavar from Germany, they just lay it down, it’s sounds real. I like the stuff that Jack White does, well, I like The White Stripes, I mean I know they have haven’t been together in a while but they were cool. Also, a band from Sweden called The Soundtrack of Our Lives who are broken up now, that was something that lasted 13 years, but it was just really cool shit.
To be honest, I don’t like any of this big mainstream rock, just none of it. I mean, I’m not a metal guy. I’m not one of those people who goes “I gonna listen to some metal” [He says in an overly aggressive voice]. You know, there’s too much of that. I did like some of the new Queens of the Stone Age songs. There were a couple of songs off of the last record that were great, I didn’t like the whole record but it was OK. Saying that though, I like the new Clutch record that was cool, really big sounding record.
Well speaking of being a “metal guy”, let’s talk about genres and labeling music as a whole. How do you feel about giving music labels?
Oh, it’s way out of control, there’s too many sub-genres. I feel it just confuses everybody. Well it was a little bit confusing before the internet, but now the internet is here, everything has just become so branched out. There is so much club mentality, so you have people who are like “Hey look, I’m the metal club”, “But I’m in the psychedelic club” “And, I’m in the hipster metal club, and hipster metal can’t be seen with real metal” [parodying the way people talk online]. It’s just really confusing. However, that’s just probably the nature of the beast. A little bit is OK, but when people start putting like eight “sub-genres” to one type of music, I just don’t believe it. I mean, there isn’t that much original music around. To me, it just seems like something that’s easier for people who make lists, you know, to make their music collection seem more interesting than it really is.
Don’t get me wrong it looks fascinating, there’s this kinda rock and that kind of rock, but really when I listen to the bands, I don’t hear the fucking difference. It’s a great way to put lists together, and people love lists, and they love album covers, as if it has any significance to the genre at all. What I mean by all this is, that it’s hard for quality to come through. I wish there was a niche called “quality”, I wouldn’t care what kind of music it was. I just wish someone would say “Hey, some really smart people have gotten together and decided that this is quality” not within a certain niche, but in the broader sense of music. With all these different “sub-genres” there’s just a bunch rules that people make up, just so the music they don’t like doesn’t fit into their niche.
When it comes to metal it’s just a bunch of dudes having a cock fight, saying that just because something’s louder or heavier, it’s better. That’s bullshit!
I have to agree, to me this always seems to occur with festival lineups. With people going “Wait you’re not metal, why are they playing”
Exactly! I just want to say enough! I mean who defines metal anyway? When was this done? And show me in the dictionary where this defines anything. It just get silly after a while.
Anyway, moving on... [both laugh]. Where did your passion for music begin? What kept you in music over the years? And what’s keeping you in it now?
Music is fucking magic, and like I’ve said, it has a life of it’s own. You can start something and it tells you what to do and it kinda follows you around, it’s the best way I can think of entertaining myself ever. I fell in love with it as a little kid, growing up in to being a teenager. In the seventies, there was a lot of it around and a lot of different kinds of music too. I just knew right away this is for me, even if I only listen to it for the rest of my life this is what I have to do. Then, I started making music, and what particularly sparked my interest in it was it was something that I could use to help myself. You can use your brain in writing it and putting it together and then you can physically deliver it. It’s something you’ve made and you can go out there and yell it at people physically. To me it’s the coolest art form. Say for instance, if you’re a painter you just make the painting, you put it out there and you wait for people to talk and that’s their last shot at getting people interested in their work. When it comes to music though, you can make the songs and then literally stand in front of people and scream in their faces, it’s just really cool. It’s kept me going and still does to this day.
Yeah, I know the feeling as music is the biggest part of my life too. Well, given Monster Magnet's extensive discography and considering you are the only original member left. Do you feel like you have to bring more to the band than the other guys?
Nah, I’m bringing the same amount to the band as I’ve always done. It was always pretty much my thing. I just worked faster and harder than everyone else in the band, even when we got started. Back in the day, we’d finish practise and the guys would go out and I would just stay home and write more. So it became pretty evident that I was more in love with this craziness than anyone else, not that they weren’t into it, but I was obsessed. So, I’m still doing the same thing as I always was, which is write the songs, put it all together and produce the records and say let’s go and do a tour.
So, how long would you say the process is between the idea and the song everyone gets to hear?
Sometimes it takes a short amount of time and others it’ll sit around for a long time. What I do is set aside some time for writing, say a week. It’s like “OK this week I’m gonna write something every day”. So I’ll set everything up and try to get something done everyday. Even if it’s just a guitar lick or a couple of chords. I’ll also try to out an intro, a verse and a chorus together, all of this, for maybe two or three minutes worth of music. Then sing something over the top or even just make noises anything that sounds cool [chuckles to himself, and starts making noises].
Then, I’ll put it away immediately and get on to something else, and repeat the process all week. After all that stuff is away somewhere, I’ll take another week and do the same thing again, I think to myself “it’s a brand new week and I’m not going to listen to anything I did, so let’s start over”. So it could be another hour or two, again spent just for the same couple of minutes of music. So, after another week has gone by, I put all of week two’s music away and don’t listen to that either. Then eventually I’ll come back to it and either go “This sucks!” or “That sounds cool, I’ll do something with that”. I think the trick is with me, or with anyone for that matter is that they may get too far into one song and find out it may suck and may not be worth doing, but they’re stuck with it, otherwise they have no song. You can play a song live and you think it sounds great, when really it just sucks.
So for me it’s good to have some distance, so I can say, song X, Y and Z need some work. Then after all that it probably take four hours or so to write it out completely and when that’s done I’ll bring it to the band and we’ll work it out and add more to it. Trust me, those guys will bring it out because they know how to really play. My thing is, I can’t play that well, I can do chords and garage leads but I really need real musicians.
So have you ever gone through that process but then years later you find a demo you haven’t done anything with, that you think you should have?
Yeh every once in a while I’ll be running out of stuff. I had a stockpile but we’ve been burning through it lately. I remember, we ran out at album three (Powertrip) or four (God Says No). We were really running on fumes, I see now why all those band in the seventies ran out of gas, you know? When people are criticising the seventh album from a band I’m saying “Give the band a break!” I mean you can’t write Master of Reality (Black Sabbath’s third album) every time. A band can’t keep being perfect all the time. So when I ran out of stuff I got really nervous, and we started doing cover songs and shit, but we eventually got it back, it was cool.
So, is there any song/album that you’re really proud of in your career?
There was a couple of times when we got it right. The song Spine of God I really like that one. Also, the song Dopes to Infinity we got that one right for sure. Although it sounds a lot better live. Lately the newer stuff is really good like Last Patrol and Three King Fishers although that’s not my song. I think Last Patrolsounds like what I want Monster Magnet to sound like. So every once in a while I think to myself “this is pretty fucking good”. To be honest, if I’m 60% happy with a song I’ll put it out, and usually I’m not more than 60% happy with anything.
So when it comes to translating that to playing live, do you treat the songs any differently?
Yep, treat it different because it’s a completely different thing. There’s stuff you can do in a studio, you can draw people’s attention, you can control the mix and you can make things a lot subtler on a record than you can live. When you play live, you can just beef them up and in some cases you have to. So I’ll throw away a few of the intricacies for the bigger bombastic sound. If the subtleties don’t work then we’ll just bash them over the head with sound. Sometimes things get rewritten and become sloppier but at the same time cooler. I’m a big fan of playing live stuff before you go into record. I wish I could do it more often because that’s the way they did it back in the day. So yeah things will change live.
Words & Interview: Mick Birchall