Monster Magnet’s Dave Wyndorf Thinks Bands Who Change Too Much Should Consider a Name Change
Monster Magnet leader Dave Wyndorf was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. The vocalist/guitarist discussed A Better Dystopia, the new covers record by the psych-rock veterans, which places a special focus on some of his biggest, albeit obscure, influences.
In the interview below, he talks about what made this period of music special when he was a kid and draws parallels to the endurance of the themes and how they are still relevant amid the chaos of today's world.
For these covers, he was keen on remaining mostly faithful to the original recordings and, when considering more exaggerated interpretations, touched on the willingness of any band to evolve and toy around with their sound. He cautioned that if you go too far, however, you may want to consider changing the name of the band.
A Better Dystopia highlights a very specific period in music history. Why was it important for that timeframe to be a primary context of this album?
Releasing a covers record is usually pretty rough on a band. It's not something I usually do because people would give me some flak for it — 'You can't write a new album but you're releasing the covers album?'
I always had this thing in my back pocket to release what I thought was the coolest covers record ever — really obscure stuff from a certain time of rock that just happened to coincide with a certain time of history that rhymes with today's history.
I've had two times in my life where I saw the media go absolutely crazy and pretty much call it for everyone — 'This is a dystopia! We're living in a dystopia!'
One of them when I was a kid in the late '60s and early '70s and the other one was Trump time plus COVID time where everyone just kind of lost it and everybody was fighting.
I've been through this before, when I was a kid where it was like this and I remember that the music of that time and pop culture reflected that time in a certain way and it was really interesting. It's kind of paranoid and nuts, but a little bit of it was feel-good music. Most of it was proto-metal and psychedelic rock, so that's why I put these songs together to show that just having a little example of what pop culture could do with a crazy bunch of years.
Monster Magnet, "Mr. Destroyer" (Poobah Cover)
The bands covered on these new records such as Hawkwind, Poobah and Dust are mostly ranging from marginal to obscure. When songs are already unfamiliar, how much more artistic latitude does that give you to interpret them?
That's a good question. The latitude would be all mine, regardless of how popular they were. Maybe people would give me more crap if I did "Communication Breakdown" as a reggae song or something, but with these songs I don't really want to go too far with them, except for to put my own stamp on them because I thought they were perfect.
These songs were so weird and so they should be kept like an archaeological dig. Like digging up King Tut's tomb, they should be preserved and shown in their glowing, primal glory. So, most of the stuff I didn't mess with too much, except for to get some sonics up there and to put my own voice on it. You can't really recreate this stuff without putting your own stamp on your own voice. In the case of how much artistic change I put on it, [there is] very little except for putting my own voice in it.
To what lengths do you still seek out obscure music from the early '70s that you haven't already heard?
It's easy now. I'm always looking for stuff I've never heard and that goes for modern stuff too. It's a lot easier now to search. There's all kinds of elements of music that I look for to cross over to make it interesting. I'll look for old music I haven't heard of, which I'm running out of because I've been listening to stuff for a long time, and then new music that has elements of stuff I've heard before and just stuff that makes me go crazy. I'm searching all the time. I want to be excited and surprised by stuff.
At the beginning of a career, a band style is predominantly shaped by their influences. Once musical parameters are fully established, in what new ways do those formative influences continue to affect your music?
How far do you go in a rock band before you're not the same band? Or should you change the name? I used to always think about this — I could do a Miles Davis jazz album — a Monster Magnet jazz album — and then I kind of reel it back and remember what it was like when I was a kid. If you're going to go one step over the line or two steps over the line and changing the style of the band, maybe you should change the name of the project.
With Monster Magnet, what I always liked about creating Monster Magnet and what my main directive was, was to put everything that I ever loved when I was a kid and a young adult (as far as lyric content to from every movie, experience and every kind of music I ever loved when I was 14 to 21) and to try to stick that all in one box.
I knew that would be enough to carry me for a bunch of albums. I look at Monster Magnet as a hard rock/psychedelic band, so, I can go hard and just plain rock or I can go psychedelic. I can use any one of those things and it will last me for a long time while keeping it still in the wheelhouse that's acceptable for Monster Magnet fans. I try to keep it close to it but stretch nuance and stretch application (the vibe) and try to have a different vibe on every record but dealing with the same stuff in inspired me when I was a kid.
Monster Magnet, "Learning to Die" (Dust Cover)
The title, A Better Dystopia contrasts the unrest of a different era with the turmoil of today. Socially, in what ways is the music you're covering on this album meant to coincide with the world today?
It's not a bullet point presentation of what's wrong with the world.
What I like about this stuff the most what I always like wacky music are crazy proto-metal and stuff is that it was very visually oriented and it had kind of a frantic, doomy angle to it so it could apply itself to any crazy situation.
There's songs on this record where I don't even know what the guy's talking about. It's so great! It's just ranting psychedelic doomsday stuff. There's one thing that sounds like a crazy preacher preaching psychedelia.
Then there's another song where it sounds like, from what I understand, is that he's being followed by a UFO and the UFO has a crosshair over him. [There is] nothing in particular that would say, 'All right, this is song about this modern problem,' just an overwhelming kind of frantic urgency that something's wrong. A lot of the songs, the singer mentions his brain, which I think it's really funny. I mention my brain all the time. I think its perfect music to play during crazy times.
Thanks to Dave Wyndorf for the interview. Get your copy of 'A Better Dystopia' here and follow Monster Magnet on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Spotify. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.