Dave Wyndorf wants to invite you into his bedroom

To look at his record collection, that is...

It’s July, and Monster Magnet’s Australian tour has just been announced. Frontman Dave Wyndorf explains he is ‘on the interview train’, telling me ‘I’ve got this phone kind of shoved into my head’.

Does he get sick of answering the same questions?

‘Sometimes,’ he confides. ‘But it’s OK.’

I’m curious as to what lineup Monster Magnet will be bringing on tour this time.

Dave: ‘Lineup?’

Kay: ‘Well, sometimes you bring a second guitarist and sometimes you don’t...’

Dave: ‘Oh yeah, depending on whether he’s teaching college or not.’

Kay: ‘Really? That’s the reason?’

Dave: ‘No, I’m just joking. Those guys, it would be lucky if they even got out of high school.’

Joking aside, it turns out second guitarist Phil Cavaino is back in the lineup and coming to Australia, meaning the band has no less than three guitars as well as a bass player and drummer. Or as Dave puts it, ‘a whole lotta rock!’.

Monster Magnet were last in Australia ten years ago. Back then, the band had a reputation for partying. Given Wyndorf’s much-publicised drug problems – he overdosed on prescription drugs in 2006 – I wonder if this image has changed. Dave assures me it hasn’t.

‘You know it really hasn’t. My reputation has probably changed because I like, lost my mind on drugs and stuff and it took me a while to get back into the swing of things. But as far as the band goes, no, it’s full on.’

I read some reports of the Melbourne Monster Magnet show, ten years ago, and it has a kind of legendary status. People talk in hushed tones of the on-stage strippers and flaming guitars. Dave is amused to be reminded of this.

‘Oh yeah, that’s right! Well we don’t do the flaming guitars anymore because this stupid band called Great White murdered like a hundred people with their pyro. And ever since then... ‘ He trails off and pauses before continuing.

‘The kind of pyro I did was really kind of illegal... it was really just a guitar wrapped in t-shirts soaked in gasoline – real gasoline – that put off all these noxious fumes and toxic waste. And it was really cool! But now, wherever we go if I try the guitar thing people are just like “get the hell out of here”. So the pyro thing is over. They ruined it. Great White ruined it. They’re stupid idiots. That’s what you get for being a hair band and playing with fire.’

Every touring artist likes to say that Australia is their favourite place to tour, but somehow the way Dave describes it, I can believe him. He makes the whole country sound like a Monster Magnet song. 

‘Australia is like a place... it’s one of my favourite places to tour.  Everything about it gets me. It’s like, people speak English, but it’s not British... it’s Australian. The vegetation, the animals, just the way the cities are, the differences between the cities and the similarities between the cities... the fact that you guys live on the coast and there’s this big giant black hole desert in the middle of it...  it’s so cool. I love it. It’s very exotic to me.’

I apologise for not greeting him with “g’day”, and he laughingly attempts a long drawled out “g’day” of his own.

‘I love it, and I made a lot of friends down there. We had a good time. And Australia has a history of good rock. They’ve got a history of people loving guitar music. You gotta understand where I’m coming from. I live in a country that... their idea of rock here now is The Fray [Christian piano rock band].  You know what I mean? Their idea of rock here is just not even rock. I mean, underground, yeah, but we’re not a country that celebrates the rock anymore.’

‘Ten years ago... I know guys, I know chicks... they knew their guitar music. I was a fan of The Scientists when I was a kid. I’ve got all the comps of Aussie psychedelic music from the ‘60s... all the way up to Wolfmother... great shit.’

I mention that Monster Magnet has some obvious influences, and ask what else fans can check out if they would like to know more about how Monster Magnet came to sound like it does. It’s a topic that Dave is happy to elaborate on.

‘There’s obvious ones, like you say, there’s Black Sabbath, there’s The Stooges... Hawkwind. Sabbath, The Stooges, Hawkind. Probably the most obvious ones. Pick up any Stooges record or any Sabbath or any Hawkwind record and you’re probably gonna hear Monster Magnet stuff.’

From there it gets tougher.

‘The rest of the influences are a little harder... because I tend to mash... the stuff that I love, as much of the stuff I love as I possibly can into the songs. Some of that is musical, some of that is spiritual, the spirit of The Ramones, the stuff that got me playing music in the beginning, you may not be able to pick it out in the music, so it’s kind of hard. I would say musically, it’s easy to figure out. Spiritually and just the way songs are edited, it’s more probably on the lean side of early punk rock.’

Dave pauses for a moment and then realises he’s got more to say.

‘And then lyrically... it’s all over the map. It’s from science fiction, comic books, Hunter S. Thompson, ‘70s kitsch, all of this kind of stuff. It’s kind of hard to point people in the right direction. I would like to invite people into my bedroom. To look at the posters on the wall and read the magazines that are sitting around in my room. And then they would get it.’

Monster Magnet is one hard-working outfit – with the exception of the extended “recovery” break before last release 4-Way Diablo, the band has been pretty much solidly slogging it out since 1989. Dave explains the process.

‘Usually the way it goes, for the most part, there was a slight exception for the last one – but most of the time it’s make a record, say ok, we’re starting with a record, the record is out. We tour it for at least two years. You know, we tour it for a long time, for two years. So that’s two years out of the way. And then there’s another six months or another couple of months to get your brain together, and another eight or nine months to write and record a new one.’

So Dave doesn’t write on the road.

‘Nah, you know I can’t. I can’t really write on the road. There’s too much going on. I ‘spose if I locked myself up like a monk. Into hotel rooms and into the bus and just did nothing else but write...  I ‘spose i could go it, but there’s too much socialising. And stuff to see.’

Monster Magnet has recently been on an extended tour of Europe. I ask what the highlight of that tour has been.

‘Yeah, we did a couple of them actually. Right before Christmas we did about nine weeks in Western and Eastern Europe and then we went back, just last month and did about four weeks of festivals.’

‘The highlight of the headline tour in Europe before Christmas was just the fact that we got into places we never got into before. As well as big cities we went into small towns, and realised just how completely out of their minds people are out there. It was just great to be singing again. I hadn’t sang in a long time so I was happy with that.’

‘The festivals are great because you get to play with bizarre combinations of bands. Stuff that wouldn’t make sense anywhere else. So there’s Monster Magnet and then Chris Cornell is on the other stage and then like, who would it be... like Slipknot.. and then there would be a folk singer.  All on the big stage, it’s pretty hysterical. But the highlight is actually just doing it. It’s a circus... you hit the road and whatever happens, happens.’

With seven full-length albums and three EPs to their name, I wonder if there is much early material in the set list. Fans will no doubt be happy that there is.

‘Lots, actually, yeah. This tour isn’t to promote 4-Way Diablo as much as it is just to present the best Magnet set that I can think of doing. So yeah there’s lots of early stuff, stuff from Superjudge, everything.  Pretty much everything. But heavier on the earlier material. It just seemed to work out that way. ‘

I note that 2009 is the band’s 20 year anniversary. Surprisingly though, Dave hadn’t really noticed.

‘You know, I didn’t even know it was gonna be 20 years until someone told me. If I have anything special I have yet to plan it. I think I’d better get to work on that.’

Still, 20 years is a long time, especially as they haven’t broken up and reformed or taken an extended break even once during that time, as is often the case with bands with that kind of long history. Dave has some ideas on the reasons for the band’s longevity.

‘I would hope to think it’s by having music that you can listen to more than once, rather than just throw away. I would hope that. I don’t think we overstayed our welcome. You know, hopefully. I never pushed anything to the point where it got completely ridiculous. Rather than going for everybody and going for the widest audience possible with the music, I kept it kind of strange.’

Strange indeed. I mention that Monster Magnet’s music has never really been flavour of the month.

‘Yah. I wouldn’t be very good at – maybe I would be good at being flavour of the month in 1972! I got into Monster Magnet when I was like 28, so I was already beyond being like a kid. So I knew what I like and I knew, from the beginning, that not everybody would get it. And, I never felt part of any wave of music. Apart from maybe grunge, when Soundgarden and Mudhoney and stuff were around, but I never felt part of it so I never felt the need to chase after anything. Which is good and bad, I mean we probably could have made a lot more money if we’d chased after something, but at the same time I don’t think we’d still be playing.’

Something he said has my mental math gears turning. Did Dave really say he started Monster Magnet when he was 28? Turns out yes. That means that he is quite a bit older than I had assumed – and certainly older than he looks or sounds. I ask, not particularly tactfully, if he ever feels old on the road.

‘Oh yeah, definitely, I’m always the oldest guy on the road. I’m also always the most retarded, unfortunately, so it kinda balances itself out.’

Sadly, our allotted interview time is up, so I ask if Dave has any last words for Australian fans.

‘Um, just err... I love the final message questions. Don’t take any wooden nickels. Keep your knees loose. Stay in school. Don’t take drugs. Have your ID ready.’

‘Don’t get into trouble like I did the last time.’

All excellent advice.