Monster Magnet frontman Dave Wyndorf is a talkative guy. What was supposed to be a 30-minute interview to preview his band’s performance of the 1995 album Dopes To Infinity at Music Hall of Williamsburg this Friday stretched into 90, as he took off and ran with subjects like how his band has been pinned down as “stoner rock,” his experience with the heyday of big-budget music video excess, and the time he took the stage with his old pal Marilyn Manson. It would be journalistically negligent to leave out any story involving “BB machine guns,” so here’s a compilation of some of the interview’s best outtakes.
How have the songs on Dopes To Infinity aged for you over the years?
I’m happy to say that they’re better. The way they’re played live is with a bit more muscle, because you don’t have the subtleties that you have when you’re making a record, nor do you want that kind of subtlety. The kind of subtleties you’d need for something like that would be pre-recorded shit, and I’m not about that, weird keyboards and stuff. When you bring them out live, it just washes out, so I tried to make this an all-guitar affair. The mellow stuff is as mellow as it ever was, but I think it’s better, it’s got more life in it. Some of the stuff has been rearranged, some has been lengthened for maximum psychedelic impact. If I had to do it over, I’d do these versions on the record.
You’ve been performing the album out of order. It seems like the album’s opening track would be the most obvious place to start, but you’ve bumped it back a few spots.
I have arguments with the guys about that. “We have this fucking heavyweight here, what are you going to do with the heavy hitters?” The reason it went so far down the line is because of the tuning and the vibe at the beginning of the set didn’t lend itself to going into that one just yet. Nobody seemed to complain, though.
“Negasonic Teenage Warhead” was the album’s one stab at a radio hit and has remained one of the band’s most popular, yet you’ve admitted to having a difficult relationship with that song.
The less I play it, the more I like it. We haven’t played it in a long time, because I was sick of it, and we’re playing it now and it sounds great to me. I think the reason I didn’t like it is the record company tried to push it as a single, it was brought into that whole world where you have them pushing it as a single, so you hear it a lot. I hear all the Monster Magnet songs 1,000 times before it comes out, and this one I had to hear 2,000 times. Now that I’ve left it alone for a while, it’s fucking full-on rock, and that sounds really good.
The music video for that song is pretty wild; it even made it onto one of the Beavis and Butt-head DVDs.
Making that video was such a fucking riot, it was an absolute perfect Spinal Tap thing. I was without a manager at the time, and I was managing the band, which is always a big mistake, you don’t want the guy in the band being the manager. I’m talking to the record company guy, and he’s like, “Who do you want to direct the video?” It ended up being Gore Verbinski, the guy who did the [first three] Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Back then, he was doing Mazda commercials. I said, “We’re going to be singing on asteroids, everyone has his own asteroid, floating around in space, we’ll go through the legs of a giant woman, it’s going to be really fucking cool.” I did it in comic book form, and I didn’t know what the budget was, didn’t ask what the budget was. I was sure they would never give me a lot of money. I assumed and I think I specified at one point that we’d be digitally put on these digital asteroids. We didn’t talk about it for a month, then we flew to Los Angeles, went on the Universal soundstage and the guy had built life-size asteroids. They were up on hydraulic lifts, big as life, and I was like, “Oh boy, if this doesn’t sell, they’re going to kick us out of the world.” But it did, so that’s good.
Monster Magnet gets lumped in with the stoner rock and grunge scenes a lot, but it seems like the band always was somewhere in between.
We’ve been outside everything the whole time, I never felt like somebody was like, “Come on in!” The Monster Magnet thing has always been a really weird trip for us. We got signed to A&M in the days when the grunge thing had happened, and they were more free in signing people. We got signed by a really cool guy who told me, “I don’t know what the hell you’re doing, but I like it, so why don’t you come do it over here?” As far as the stoner rock thing is concerned, that’s a phrase that was made up by the British press. At the time we were first playing around, we were a couple of years before Kyuss, and I put “drug rock” in big letters on the first single, just because I thought it was funny. My whole thing was that I was totally fascinated with the promise of the 1960s and the actual delivery of the ’70s, which were two completely different things. In my heart, I really felt it, because I grew up in the ’70s, but at the same time, in retrospect, I thought it was really funny, ironic, the images were cool, the music was mine, I owned that shit, I grew up on it, it was my favorite stuff ever. It was the ’60s and ’70s stuff that really killed me, so I put “drug rock” on the single, and “Satanic drug thing,” all that stuff, because I thought it was fucking cool. I think the British press picked up on that pretty early. They loved it. Nobody else fit the bill until a couple of years later, and then finally somebody was like, “stoner rock.” The British press are lazy people, but it probably helped us in the long run.
A fun phrase I’ve read from multiple people trying to explain the band’s lack of fitting in with any particular scene was that Monster Magnet was always “highly unfashionable.”
I agree with “highly unfashionable.” I always listened to new music, but I was old enough at that point to realize what I didn’t want to do. It wasn’t like I was 18 years old, I was 29 or 30, and I was going to be damned if I was going to make a right turn just to park in the same parking lot. I knew all the producers that made the records then, I knew the sound, the whole Dave Jerden thing, Bob Rock, all the guys that made Pearl Jam sound like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden sound like Soundgarden, Metallica sound like Metallica, and I didn’t want to sound like that, I just wanted to sound like Monster Magnet, so I did the records myself. I was compelled to do it, even though the financial side of me said, “Maybe it would be better if we just caved.” But it was too far gone by then, I’m too old, I’m too set in my ways, and they couldn’t send people in there to talk me out of it. They could have placed me with one of those guys and maybe there would have been more financial success. “Highly unfashionable” is probably my fault, or virtue, depending on how you look at it.
So how did the label react when you walked in with an album like Dopes, where the opening track doesn’t get to the chorus for almost three minutes? And how did their reaction inform the next record, Powertrip, the band’s biggest seller?
They were horrified. The difference between the guy who signed us and the people that had to sell it was big. The guy who signed us got his start in entertainment editing the original Star Trek series, he was the coolest guy in the world. The guys who sold it were like, “What the hell are we going to do with this?” They stuck with it because we had a contract. I remember after that record, that was the last record I made that I truly thought—and I was so naïve—that everyone would appreciate all that variety. I had these guys going, “Maybe just get to the point,” really meekly. “It didn’t sell the way we thought it would,” and I could smell the disappointment. I’d have appreciated a big fat guy with a cigar going, “You blew it!” So I got mad, and in the way that only an impatient New Jersey man can get, said, “What do I have to do, put tits and money on this record to sell it? That’s it!” I went back right after the tour, and was like, “I’m going to Vegas,” and wrote Powertrip as a reaction to those guys giving me shit. It wasn’t designed to make a lot of money, it was designed to be a reaction to that. I was like, “I’m putting on leather pants and saying ‘fuck you!'” If all of rock and roll has fallen into rap, which it had, the rap guys were the only guys acting like rock stars. After Kurt Cobain killed himself, what are you going to do? The biggest rock star in the world said, “It’s not worth it,” boom! It’s a horrible example for people. I was like, “Fuck this shit, give me the leather pants,” and did Powertrip, which turned out to be the biggest record, go figure.
One of the more amusing oddities on YouTube is you performing your song “Spine of God” with Marilyn Manson and his band. It’s impressive that the guy would give 10 minutes of his set in his heyday to a weird trippy song that a lot his audience probably didn’t know.
That is an oddity, isn’t it? It blows me away—it did then, it does now. Manson is a real rock fan. I don’t know anybody who loves rock more than him. He’s the kid that listened to The Wall like nine times in a row when it came out, he sat there in his room with his headphones on. The Wall, and Kiss, Destroyer, the whole majesty and ridiculousness of the rock thing, he’s felt it for real, he grew up and recognized it for being as adolescent as it is, but it still doesn’t take any of the majesty away from the people who enjoy it. He thought that Spine of God was one of those records. I couldn’t believe it. Him and Twiggy were really, really nice, and real rock stars, too, way more than I could ever be: blowing tons of money, doing all this shit, destroying dressing rooms, massive and massive amounts of cocaine, the real thing, the only true guy that I’ve ever seen in my lifetime that lived up to books like Hammer of the Gods. He did us a serious solid by doing that, and I’ll never forget it. I was like, “Are you sure you want to do this?” and he was like, “Yeah!” The most fun I ever had opening for a band was Marilyn Manson, because they walked it like they talked it, no bullshit, complete rock and roll madness, spending tons of money, blowing stuff up, raiding people’s dressing rooms and shooting people with BB machine guns, smashing 10,000 dollars worth of stuff a night, pissing in hotel rooms, fucking people out the window—what you want to see. It’s rare.