monster magnet

 

 

 

 

As a 'long-time' fan of Red Bank, New Jersey-born Psychedelic/Stoner Rock icons Monster Magnet, my interest was initially piqued via the group's chart-topping behemoth Powertrip (1998). Propelled by an array of eclectic material (the maddeningly infectious “Space Lord” and a deftly-executed cover of the MC5 Punk classic “Kick Out The Jams”), my thirst for their arguably unorthodox approach soon reached a near fever pitch. Although I'll be the first to admit that much of their post-Monolithic Baby! (2004) werks initially left me less than enthralled, the release--and, as a result, my subsequent obsessions with--the curiously-overlooked classics 4-Way Diablo (2007) and Mastermind (2010) rekindled my interest in the group's Hawkwind-infused tonalities. Now, nearly fifteen years later, I again find myself utterly intrigued with the release of their newest tour de force Mindfucker.


Todd: What separates Mindfucker (2018) from the previous efforts? How does it differ from Last Patrol (2013)?


Dave: “It's in shorter form and that makes a huge difference. The songs are much shorter and because of that, it's definitely more in the realm of straight-forward songwriting. It's like 'verse, verse, chorus, verse, chorus', so it's action-packed. It's more action-oriented. ...It's more constructive, less long-form stuff and right to the point. And it's plain old Rock. I would say it's more Detroit style Rock and less British style experimental Hard Rock.”


Todd: Am I correct in understanding there is less of a Hawkwind influence on Mindfucker or am I imagining it?


Dave: “I don't think the influence is ever escapable. It's on all of them, but it really depends, man. Everything I'm doing is the same. I'm hauling out the same old horse every single time. I just ride it on a different side. Yes, I really am doing the same chords because it's all my favorite stuff. I just put an emphasis on a different angle, edit it as such and change the style of how it's played. Maybe I'll change the drumming style to more of machine gun approach if I want to make it a little bit more '60's or a little bit more early '70's. But that's what everybody is doing. Every single band does that. Whenever I listen to music from anybody else, I don't really hear that much difference. Every author writes the same book, too. There's only so many chords. I could write something completely different, but that wouldn't make anybody happy at all. They'd all be like 'What the hell is this shit'?”


Todd: If you were to 'push' it that far, I think the group itself would begin to lose its identity. Nobody wants that.


Dave: “Exactly. We'd get into this whole thing about the definition of identity in music. And you're like 'What do people think'? The way I look at it, I've always heard my favorite band's voice done more or less in their own style and it's made me happy if they take a different angle on it. Later in life, as I got into Punk Rock and as I got into a band myself, I looked back at all the albums I listened to when I was a kid, which is kind of like the music I do in Monster Magnet. I kept saying to myself 'I've never noticed it before, but everybody writes the same record.' But it doesn't bother me. I was a cynical Punk Rocker, so I was like 'Yeah, of course they do.' And then when I started writing, it didn't bother me at all. I was like 'Hell yeah. Let's hope nobody notices any of it.'”


Todd: Is there a comfort level associated with writing in such a manner? They are, after all, your own tonalities.


Dave: “It's not on purpose. Often, when I think I'm doing something new, I'll be like 'We have never done this before. We've never done it quite like this, so we can definitely pull this off'. I'll figure it was different because it was harder for me to pull off. ...It's all about decorating and re-decorating the house with the same furniture. Let's move the couch over here, let's change the wallpaper and let's get a different lighting, but it's all the same house. I've always thought I was always changing things dramatically because I was in there metaphorically changing the wallpaper and installing track lighting when really I was just re-decorating the same house. At the time, I thought I was doing something different. With Rock musicians, because we're not Jazz or Classically trained, it's a slog for us to just change window dressing or change the interior decorating. Within the standards of Rock, that really is change. ...How much change that is becomes clear as the years go by and I listen to it all.”


Todd: What inspired the title Mindfucker? It's obviously very blunt and to the point, but it does evoke a certain emotion. Am I correct in understanding you had intended it to be commentary on the state of American politics?


Dave: “Mindfucker was one of my favorite words when I was a kid. For this record, I was like 'Well, it's 2018 and I'm in a Rock band. Why wouldn't somebody call a record Mindfucker?' It's perfect for me because I've been mindfucked since the (Presidential) election, ya know? But that's the state of the twenty-first century right now. It's pretty much a mindfuck to me. It's both fascinating and scary and it sounds so cool. It's Beavis And Butt-head-ish and it's really, really simple, but I wanted to have something butt-ass simple to say, so I just said to myself 'If I don't do it now, I'll never do it'. It's stupid and it's juvenile, but it's also really cool. If somebody doesn't play it because they can't reference the title... It's the title of the album, but there's no reason why they couldn't play other songs. It didn't scare me to take the risk of not being let in a couple of other doors, so I was like 'Wow, man. You have to call it Mindfucker'. I don't think we're doing anything in particular except living through one of the biggest mindfucks you could possibly live through. It's totally jaw-dropping. It's like 'Really? Are people really that stupid? Are they really as stupid as we thought they were? ...As it turns out, yes they are.”

 

Todd: What prompted the group to re-visit Last Patrol (2013) and Mastermind (2010) (i.e Cobras And Fire The Mastermind Redux and Milking The Stars: A Re-Imagining Of Last Patrol)? Had you been 'unhappy' with them?


Dave: “I wanted to keep busy and I didn't feel like writing any new songs, ya know? I had this bug up my ass about Last Patrol meaning that I went on a journey to make it. I needed to get everybody on the same page so they'd stay in an experimental mode because I wanted to record the jams and and reconstruct these Space Rock things. We had a deadline to finish the record, of course, and I wasn't quite really done with it. We toured for it and did all that stuff... When you get back from a tour, usually the last thing you want to do is sit down to write a new record, so we were waiting in between tours and I started messing around with things in my head. I was like 'Hey, it's not done. It's just not done.' So I sent some of the stuff to people I know and they said 'You should release that' and I was like 'Hell yeah, I should. It'll get me off the hook from writing new stuff.' Basically, I could put out new stuff, make the record company happy with the content and have it be much more interesting than a re-Mix record. This stuff was really worked on. It's not just some hacked-out thing. And it turned out to be really, really fun. It's something that I've always wanted to do because it's a different way of dressing it up and a different ways to approach the songs. Besides, most of our listeners still actually listen to the whole album as opposed to the most of the rest of the world, which just puts stuff on playlists and moves on to something else. If they actually like it, they appreciate it. It's like 'Give me another take. I'll watch the Director's Cut'. ...It's that kind of mentality. So it kept me busy. And it kept me busier than I thought because it made this record late.”


Todd: At this point in the group's career, how difficult is it for you to assemble--or, for that matter, attempt to assemble--a set list that accurately represents the discography? That must be incredibly difficult to even attempt.


Dave: “It's fucking brutal, man. I'm always thinking 'What's going to make people happy?' And I don't mean that theoretically, but actually physically happy when they get into the room. It took me a long time to figure that out. In my head, I'll take all these different chances. 'This will be great and that will be great'. I put together some really, really interesting set lists based entirely from my love of the music. I've always paid very close attention to what stuff we haven't played live so that we can consciously work it in. Usually, the night itself determines what the best songs are to play and since we're not good enough to learn one hundred and fifty songs, I've got to pick what I think is going to go for the gut the most. A lot of the same songs show up because either they're good songs or they're good songs that work live. A lot of it's according to tempo. It's weird because the whole science of live is a different science than anything else. That may not apply to really, really old timers like Pink Floyd because people will go 'We'll appreciate whatever it is' and be willing to sit through it. Some nights, we'll talk about doing a completely Psych set and the fans will be on board with it on the Internet, but when we get there, they usually like to get rocked. It's like they don't really come on fire until you go 'boom-boom-boom', ya know? That's the power of Rock and I've learned from all that. And that's one of the reasons why I did this record, too. I was like 'I just did three long-form Psych pieces.' We toured those records as they were, which was very Psychedelic and very melancholy, so I figured it was time to get back to the Rock. Right after that, we did a tour of the A&M (Records) years, which featured a lot of our early stuff. I'd sequenced one set that was all in your face Rock and of course everyone went insane, so I was like 'Okay, this I can trust.'.”


Todd: Are there any individual albums, or perhaps a particular stage, that the group doesn't draw anything from?


Dave: “I try to touch on every one. If there's a record that I don't touch, it's 4-Way Diablo. I don't think we've ever done a song off that. ...It was such a mess to me. I was on drugs. I was on prescription medication and I still made the record even though I was kind of out of it. I just didn't have a handle on it. It was a collection of songs that were leftover from other records, so it didn't cohere. And I also think I remember picking out all these tunings for a certain effect and then had trouble singing it. Either it was too low for more to sing or too high for me to sing. But those are the kind of mistakes you make when you're addicted to prescription drugs (laughs). It's like 'Duh. The car still runs, but you forgot to put the hood on.' It's that type of thing. It's so stupid.”


Todd: Based on your personal difficulties surrounding the release of 4-Way Diablo, was there a genuine concern that the group would cease to exist? It all seems unfathomable now, but I remember there being a lot of rumors.


Dave: “Oh, yeah. I thought I wasn't ever going to leave my house there for a while. I was like 'It's all over.' Then again, I was starting to say it was all over by record number three because that was always the rule in Rock. As much as I knew, it didn't apply in real life. With every record after number three, you're taking a chance because no matter how good it is, you've already got enough stuff out there for people to compare you to their best time ever. Remember, the biggest band you're in competition with is yourself from your first three albums. That's your biggest competition. It's not the guy from across the street and it's not the new band in town, it's you. Because somebody, somewhere, had the best time in their life when they were a young person. And they'll always have that moment on your record. Then, as they grew older, they always said 'It's not as good as the old one', ya know? It's not about the music, it's about their glory days. And that process goes on every single day, so it's really tough. I had to fight through that. I make them because it's so much fun to do and I'm always trying to prove to people that 'No, that's not the case. I can do it. I can really do it. I can do it without repeating the same record.'”...But then I was like 'Well, you're just going to lose by doing it', which meant I had to look at what my definition of losing was. My definition of losing is more about not doing music at all, so I threw away any kind of critical perspective I would have had. I was thinking like an Indie Rock critic (laughs). It was like 'It's not good to be an artist and think like an Indie Rock critic and say 'Every band is over after the first three albums'. I started looking at myself going 'Hey, wait a minute. What does it feel like? Does it feel good to make it? Do people like it live? Yeah? Then, don't worry about what people are going to write. Just do whatever you feel and try to bring it to the people who will actually listen to it'. ...Once I got that into perspective, I just kept on going. Now I'm on record eleven. Eleven full-on records. It's just insane. It's lasted way longer than I thought it could.”


Todd: Were you initially surprised A&M Records expressed an interest in signing the group? Was there a blind confidence in regards to the group succeeding on a larger scale? You certainly didn't look or sound 'mainstream'.


Dave: “That was my goal at that time because that was a really cool time for music and, as it turned out, it was also the last mass signing of freaky bands by majors. They still had money. ...We came up very quickly in what we'll call the underground. The real underground back in the days of fanzines. There was some support from the underground press and from (Indie behemoth) Sub Pop Records. It was an entrepreneurial underground that was way better than it had been during the past bunch of years. And then they started signing big bands. They signed Soundgarden and then of course (DGC Records released) Nirvana (Nevermind, 1991). But before Nirvana happened, I was like 'This is one of the times with the big guys where they put out these nets and offer bands a lot of money. They don't really know what they're doing. They're just signing everybody. It's a feeding frenzy. It happens.' I had read enough books about Rock 'n' Roll when I was a kid to go 'We should go for that and then just ride it for everything it's worth. Maybe we'll have a battle with the record company over sound or something, but... You can't get blood from a stone, ya know? Monster Magnet is not going to sound any different than Monster Magnet is going to sound. There's no Producer in the world that's going to be able to change it. I'm pretty limited in my focus. There's no way I would have been turned one way or the other except with my own inhibitions. I kind of expected it would happen if it happened, not on our merit, but just how big that feeding frenzy was. And it turned out to be big enough because the majors did come around. It was perfect timing. If we would have been three years earlier or three years later, I don't think they would have been like 'Hey, let's try it on this band'. Given then what we had... Our stuff was all really noisy screaming about satanic drugs. ...It's pretty funny, but it's not the kind of thing a major would touch, especially not today, that's for sure.”


Todd: How much pressure did A&M put on the group to replicate the success of Powertrip? I would imagine they would have been extremely interested in you trying to recreate the success of “Space Lord” or “Powertrip”.


Dave: “It's funny because our record label was dissolved during the middle of Powertrip. Right after “Space Lord” was released, A&M was sold and folded up, so I never got the chance to get that far with those guys. I'm sure they would have loved it. They were nice people. A&M were cool. They were one of the cool majors. They signed us and then didn't ask us to do anything different. They may have had feelings one way or another and they were kind of corny in their own way, but they were more of a 'mom and pop' thing. I was never faced with the cigar-chomping guy being like 'You know what you kids should do?'. There was never any of that. ...They were just cool. We had the other problem, which was all of a sudden our record company was gone and we got thrown into the lap of Interscope Records, which had acquired A&M. They acquired the acts and then kicked most of them off. There was a handful left and we were one of them. They kept us and then my main problem became the fact that they didn't really want to have that much to do with us or any of other A&M acts. At that point, they were really big proponents of Nü Metal. ...That's really the thing that got in the way for most bands.”


Todd: With the Nü Metal sub-genre dominating the charts and airwaves during that era, did you feel as if the group got 'lost in the shuffle'? You were obviously so different from Crazy Town, Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park.


Dave: “Nü Metal was a construct from the day it came out. I suppose it was born naturally of Rock guys fusing Rock and Hip-Hop and Metal and Hip-Hop, but the way it entered the industry was a big league 'We're going to take over. We're going to be the next big thing'. There were a lot of big people within the record companies that were betting on it, too. It was all marketed by guys straight out of marketing school. ...Over at Interscope, it was guys in black suits with cell phones. It was a whole different thing and Nü Metal was perfect. It was what should happen. It was almost like Bubble Gum music was twenty years before. It was tailor-made for youth. It was like 'What are youths buying? Alt-Rock is on the skids, but it's not totally out. What's on the rise? Hip-Hop?. Let's put the two together. We can't lose'. ...The ride was good for a while and then it was like 'Kaboom'. So in our case, we were really a fish out of water. I was like 'Can't we live somewhere else?', but we were stuck. We were stuck on that label for a while. I had to literally pretend I was incommunicado or out of my mind to get out of that contract because I wanted nothing more than to get the hell out. ...I would have gone anywhere else.”


Todd: How dig of an impact did the departure of (guitarist) Ed Mundell (Atomic Bitchwax, The Ultra Electric Mega Galactic) have on everything? Were you concerned with being able to maintain the group's overall sound?


Dave: “It wasn't big because Ed had really checked out years before, ya know? He was kind of going through the motions in Monster Magnet. He wasn't happy for a good five years and three or four records with us. He was just showing up, doing his thing. He's an excellent player, but he hated touring. He just hated the whole thing. ...He had gotten married and his wife had a lot to say about what was going on. And that happens to people. It happens within bands all the time. I don't begrudge him for it, but he wasn't into it. He always had something to say. All I wanted to do was Rock out and get the best records possible, so I was always ready. It was a lot easier after he left. It's been so much easier since we just cut the cord for that. ...But it's really tough, man, and it bums me out. All I wanted is laughs, really interesting music and hard work in the studio. It's all about the work. You've got to work so you can fuck off later. That's the whole thing about Rock 'n' Roll. You can do anything you want when you're in a Rock band, but there also has to be a bunch of months there where you really, really knuckle down and just go 'All right. What is it? What do we got to do?'. I think Ed had a different idea. I know Ed was really into jamming. His musical choices at that point were much more free-form and Bluesy. And of course, I'm in there screaming like the Stooges and MC5, trying to get to the good parts of a lead really, really quick. I think he just wasn't in his happy element. I always thought of Ed as being a guy that would be happy as a (ex-The Allman Brothers Band and Government Mule guitarist) Warren Haynes type of guy and I came from a 'Let's shock 'em and let's get 'em with that lead in the first second'. You can't expect people to pay attention for more than a couple licks, so that lead has to go over really, really well. The guys I'm with now totally understand it. ...I'm a big fan of '60s Garage Rock as well as Classic Rock, so I like decidedly crappy tones, fuzz boxes and general weirdness. Stuff that's not classy on purpose. That's right on the menu for me and I don't think that was naturally in Ed's wheelhouse. Ed's a really fine player that I've always seen as being the leader of The Allman Brothers Band. Of course, he will probably hate me for saying that, but what can you do?”


Select Discography

Mindfucker (2018)

Cobras And Fire (The Mastermind Redux) (2015)

Milking The Stars: A Re-Imagining Of Last Patrol (2014)

Last Patrol (2013)

Mastermind (2010)

4-Way Diablo (2007)

Monolithic Baby! (2004)

Love Monster (EP) (2001)

God Says No (2001)

Powertrip (1998)

Dopes To Infinity (1995)

Superjudge (1993)

Spine Of God (1991)

Tab (EP) (1991)

Monster Magnet (EP) (1990)


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