It’s Now Or Never: A Conversation with Dave Wyndorf of Monster Magnet

Monster Magnet frontman/founder/psychedelic kingpin Dave Wyndorf needed the long-awaited follow-up to the band’s 2013 “Last Patrol” album to be a raging platter of rock goodness with a razor-sharp, Detroit-driven edge to it.

The delivery had to be a good old-fashioned rock record — Monster Magnet-style, of course — but at the same time move a step beyond that particular universe and into the “The Record That Will Never Be Forgotten” stratosphere.

On March 23, an unsuspecting music-listening public was given that and then some in the form of the band’s 11th album, the eternally unforgettably-named “Mindfucker.”

Game, set and match to Wyndorf.

“Mindfucker,” is a full-fledged rock ‘n roll kick to the groin that serves as both a wakeup call and a reminder that there is life beyond corporate radio rock.

Wyndorf wastes no time in setting the tone on “Mindfucker,” as the opening chords of “Rocket Freak” segue into a four-beat count-off by long-time drummer Bob Pantella that ends with the frontman screaming, “Let’s go!” From there, it’s off to stoner rock Valhalla. Tracks such as “Soul,” “When the Hammer Comes Down,” and the driving “I’m God” are proof in the pudding that Wyndorf and his Monster Magnet compatriots Pantella, Phil Caivano (guitar), Garrett Sweeny (guitar) and Chris Kosnik (bass) are not only back, they’re as potent as ever.

Wyndorf spoke with ListenIowa prior to heading to rehearsals one evening, touching on what the term “mindfucker” means to him, his recovery from a drug overdose more than a decade ago, and the bleak-looking future of rock ‘n roll.

“Mindfucker.” What does that mean?
That’s been a word since I was old enough to curse. When I was a kid in the early 70s, “mindfucker” was a word used to describe everything from Nixon lying to people, to the end of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” to what your girlfriend did to you when she lied to you. It’s definitely “Beavis and Butthead” territory, but I’ve used that word forever, and it just came up as a song title that sounded good. It’s 2018. Now is the time. If I’m gonna call a record “Mindfucker,” now is the time. The cursing doesn’t bother me. I think that kind of thing has been passed by by most rock people.

You’re probably right. In 1986 if you put this album out, you’re going straight onto the PMRC hitlist. Now? Not so much.
(Sarcastically) Hey, it’s only the mind that’s getting abused. It’s OK if you abuse minds in this country. God forbid I said anything else was getting abused, because then it would be a big problem. It just shows you how much people pay attention to rock. It’s a different landscape than what it used to be. Rock isn’t really on radio anymore. It kind of lives off to the side in its own world.

Do you mind that?
Yeah, I miss when rock was a cultural force and not a niche market or an old guy’s market like it is in the States. Not in Europe, though. They’ve still got the kids. Over here, it’s niched to death and falling into these weird kinds of wormholes that do OK by themselves, but don’t operate very nicely with the outside world at all. It’s not the people’s music.

How did we get to this point?
Dude, that’s a really good question. Maybe it’s just natural. Maybe rock ‘n roll is like vaudeville, and I’m George Burns. (laughs) They had a nice run, and then something else took over. But you hope the thing that took over wasn’t just mass, corporate pop. That was a rocker’s worst nightmare. But that’s certainly what’s happened. Pop is on a scale we haven’t seen before. Massive, American Idol-style pop, introduced to kids at a young age by TV shows and commercials. That could have something to do with it. Also, I think the reason it’s gone down in the States is just economic. They outpriced themselves. They charged too much for shows, the venues got a little shittier. Insurance rates went up. All these things, I kind of watched because I’ve been here for 25-30 years. I’ve watched it price itself out. It didn’t do that in Europe. They remained very conscious that tickets shouldn’t be over $15, and festivals should be cheap. The drinking age in Europe is always a soft 18, which lets the kids come out and discover the shows. Plus, all the venues are all-ages if you get a stamp. They don’t have 21-and-older shows over there. It fascinates me to think that the country that invented rock and roll is now kind of prohibitive.

Will there ever be a point when we’ll be able to “vomit the corporate music out of our system,” or are we past the point of no return?
There’s always a chance. It depends on what the kids want. It’s not like the kids don’t have a choice in music. They could certainly listen to it if they want. Another thing that could be in the way is that the focus today is on a lot of different things. You don’t just have a couple of choices. When I was a kid, you had just a couple of choices. There was rock ‘n roll culture, there was sports culture, and then you just worked. That was it. You might go to a movie or ballgame, and that was it. Today, there is just so much to buy and to see. The biggest, most important part of the 21st century is people advertising themselves an “extra normal human.” Like, “I have the power to become somewhat of a celebrity. I’ve got my Facebook page, my Instagram, come check me out. It’s not just the people I see in front of my face, but the whole world can check me out. That kind of takes people away from looking for art in culture. Now, it’s themselves. Once they get used to that, it’s a big novelty. Can you imagine taking a picture of yourself, like, 50 times in front of other kids? They’d have thrown me out of the car. (laughs) But now, it’s fine.

Sounds rather bleak.
As long as the kids want to fuck around, I doubt the rock will ever come back around. If they decide they’re going to throw themselves behind a certain culture that’s at least somewhat defined by art, then you’ll see something come up again. I thought it was going to be electronica, but it wasn’t that; it wasn’t anything. I didn’t figure they’d just give it up totally. They were like, “Well, you know, the songs are cool. I’ll put them in a playlist.”

So you keep Monster Magnet alive as a reminder to them and saying, “C’mon, man. Come over here, and I’ll punch you in the face and show you how it’s supposed to be.”
(laughs) Hell yeah! It’s a matter of principle to me. I kind of saw it coming, and kind of bobbed and weaved like a boxer. I’m like, “I don’t know if I’m going to win the whole tournament, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to be knocked to the floor at all.” (laughs) There are plenty of cool people here in the States still, but not enough to sustain the money that it takes. When rock was a vital part of the culture, it used to have a lot of fat on it. We used to make fun of it, but there were a lot of people who lived off that fat — underground bands and whatnot. I just kind of got out of that tsunami that happened here with money and went to other parts of the world where they were digging it. I kind of exist in the fourth dimension, in Monster Magnet land, where I’m not going to waste a couple of years knocking on doors. I’ll just go where people are digging it, then come back every once in awhile to see what’s going on.

That’s only common sense. If you’re trying to earn a living in music, you have to go where it’s hot.
Yeah, not only do you have to do that, but touring doesn’t even do the thing that it used to do. You used to be able to tour in the States and get a buzz on you from touring. If your records weren’t selling, you could go out there and play in front of decent amounts of people and go, “Hey, don’t forget to buy our record.” Now, just the amount of people who are out there watching live shows isn’t nearly as much. Because the shows are so expensive, they save their money to go to packaged tours and stuff like that. There’s a disconnect in the people who see you and how much they are buying, if they even decide to buy at all. When they lease it on Spotify or whatever, you hardly see any money from that. Talk about a fucked up situation. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t, so I go to places I can get a good guarantee. It’s a jungle out there, man! (laughs)

Let’s talk about the album. The song drowning “Drowning” is an interesting one for the band. Trippy, with a twinge of blues, and is more that seven minutes long, which is lengthy for Monster Magnet.
That one started out as just a regular old blues song. Of course, like everything else 21st century, after we exaggerated things and were done bludgeoning, it didn’t sound like any blues to me. (laughs) It’s a song about disappointment of a relationship going bad. The guy in the song, who is me, pretty much winds up blaming everybody for everything. He’s blaming God, he’s blaming country, he’s blaming everything. Blaming is like a national sport on television every night. But it feels good to sing.

Anything else you are particularly proud of?
I kind of write these things as one piece and try to make everything work together. I really like “Sold,” which was kind of written for the crowd, so I can’t wait to play that live. That means a lot to me. “When the Hammer Comes Down” also feels really good.

Where do you stand physically these days? You ODed a number of years ago. Fully recovered?
Yeah, I totally fucked myself up then, but I’m back to normal now. It took me while. I ODed on prescription drugs. Benzodiazepine is a horrible drug. Did the whole thing of going to a respected doctor, got hooked on pills, toured all over the world. I fucked up very bad. It’s goes to show you, though, that it’s never too late. “Don’t worry kids, you can still get addicted to drugs when your 50. Don’t worry.” (laughs) I got though it, but then, physically, I was a mess after that because they stuck me on all these anti-depressants and stuff. I swell up like a pumpkin. It was horrible. But, all it took was a bunch of years and I’m fine.

It’s like any lesson: Now you know what you can and can’t do.
Yeah, I’m 61, and you cannot do those things at this age and be in any kind of good shape to tour. It would be possible, but pretty soon they’re going to be putting you in a bag and taking you home.

You’re starting the tour overseas. Any U.S. dates?
Yes, sir. We plan some headline dates in September, and into Mid-October and maybe into November.

Once that happens, what’s Monster Magnet circa 2018 going to present to U.S. audiences?
It’ll be upbeat. A lot of “Mindfucker.” I’m not sure how much, but it works really good live. And then there will be a nice selection of some high-energy psyche stuff with a couple of doses of totally tripped-out space rock. You’ve got to get the mixture just right, kind of like a cocktail. And because we don’t play the States all the time, I’ve got to be really careful about what songs I play because I don’t want to disappoint anybody who would be cool enough to come out and grace us with their presence.

“Mindfucker” track listing:
01. Rocket Freak
02. Soul
03. Mindfucker
04. I’m God
05. Drowning
06. Ejection
07. Want Some
08. Brainwashed
09. All Day Midnight
10. When The Hammer Comes Down