Sober and psyched

Monster Magnet’s Dave Wyndorf says he can create psychedelic music without the aid of drugs

Since coming on the scene with the 1992 album Spine Of God, Monster Magnet has gained the reputation as the leader of the psychedelic-tinged heavy rock style that’s affectionately called “stoner rock.”

Bandleader Dave Wyndorf acknowledged the label with good humor.

“I asked for it a long time ago. You know, when we first started out, we were all about drug rock,” he said, owning up to the fact that, for a time, the group lived the kind of life associated with the musical style.

What’s ironic about the stoner label now is that Wyndorf’s life no longer has anything to do with drinking or drugs. He’s been clean and sober for the past six years. It’s a change Wyndorf thinks has not only helped his lifestyle, but his music.

“I’ve never been a big one on the glory of the drunken writer,” Wyndorf said. “Because I know that half the geniuses that did get drunk and write, or high and write, probably would have written much more if they just got over their damn drug problem.

“To me, I write more. I write better. I never wrote an album or produced an album on drugs in my life. I mean all those early records, they were all written completely straight. I might have gotten high afterwards, but never while I was doing it.

“So it’s better,” Wyndorf said, turning his thoughts to how getting away from drinking and drugs improved his life overall. “I like it. It doesn’t inhibit me socially, which is really the thing I was most afraid of. I thought I was just going to be a wallflower.

“But I’ll tell you the truth: Once you’re straight, once you’re clean and you’re in your mind, the other demons take over. You can’t hide anything. So I have my vices. They just don’t happen to be drugs.”

Another irony about Wyndorf’s state of health is that Monster Magnet may hear the stoner label used even more often to describe the band’s new CD, God Says No.

That’s because where the 1998 CD Powertrip featured more of a straight-ahead heavy rock sound, God Says No brings back more of the psychedelic rock edge that defined the band’s first three CDs—Spine Of God, Superjudge (1993) and Dopes To Infinity (1995).

The shift in musical settings was completely planned, Wyndorf said.

“It was a definite decision on my part to bring psychedelic back,” Wyndorf said. “Powertrip was a record I wanted to make, because we had never been really truly represented in a rock way [on album], only live. Live it’s a very, very rocking affair, as well as psychedelic, but we never really got that on a record. So Powertrip, for me, was to make a record that was easy to play live and was representative of the spirit of us on stage, a lot of screaming and a lot of hollering.

“Once that was out of my system, I was, like, back on track. It’s like, I love psychedelic music, and I love rock music, and I love to mix the two. I love all that stuff, from mid-'60s garage, psychedelic, all the way through ‘70s rock stuff. Yeah, it was a conscious decision.”

But getting to the point where Wyndorf could put his blend of 1960s/1970s-rooted hard rock and psychedelia on tape was anything but a smooth adventure. Monster Magnet—which includes Wyndorf (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Ed Mundell (guitar), Phil Caivano (guitar), Joe Calandra (bass) and Jon Kleiman (drums)—had scored something of a breakthrough when Powertrip topped the 500,000 in sales needed for it to be certified a gold album.

But to amass those sales, the band needed not only the popularity of the radio single “Space Lord,” but a round of heavy duty touring that eventually lasted 15 months. Worn down by the grind, the band dispersed for a five-month break that was to precede the recording of God Says No.

Wyndorf, who during his time off likes to get away from his bandmates and the distractions of home, decided to spend his break in New Mexico. There he visited his 9-year-old daughter, relaxed and did most everything except begin writing new songs—until he realized he had just one month before already-booked studio time would arrive and recording was supposed to begin.

“It’s like every day is not the right day [to write],” Wyndorf said. “I’d rather ride my bicycle around. I’d rather read my comic book. I’d rather kick a can down the road. So what’s going on with me is I pretty much almost know what I can do and how long it takes to do it, and I just leave it to the last minute. Then the deadline itself just forces me to finish.”

So with the deadline looming, Wyndorf dove into the songwriting, and in one week finished nine full songs and rough versions of six more tunes. He hopped in his car and headed for Red Bank, N.J., confident he had the makings of the next Monster Magnet record.

Then disaster struck. At a rest stop along the way, Wyndorf’s car was broken into and the bag containing tapes of his songs and notebooks full of lyrics were stolen.

“I totally panicked, are you kidding?” Wyndorf said. “It scared the shit out of me. I drove home, set up a four-track in the kitchen, and I just started writing. I didn’t know what was going to happen.

“I’m not easy to get along with at times, and my roommate just had to, like, back off, and I took control of the kitchen. It was just me going ‘God damn it!’ screaming and going like, ‘It’s not coming, it’s not coming!’

“So I would just write pieces of a song, leave it alone and write another piece of a song, leave that alone, come back to it the next day, write the verse, write more verses or something.”

After a couple of difficult days, the creative floodgates opened, and within two weeks, Wyndorf had written the 13 songs that would make the final cut for God Says No.

The CD, which was recorded over a two-month period in Vancouver, British Columbia, doesn’t sound like something that was created under pressure and by a band that was essentially flying by the seat of its collective pants.

God Says No features several first-rate tunes that bring the band’s psychedelic rock influence to the forefront ("Heads Explode,” “Queen Of You” and “Kiss Of The Scorpion"). These songs are balanced by thick, yet melodic, heavy rock tracks like “Melt” and “Doomsday.”

Overall, Wyndorf suspects God Says No lost a little of the psychedelic edge it might have possessed had the first batch of songs not been stolen.

“I’ll never know what the style would have been, because I planned on editing it down and forming it into things,” Wyndorf said. “But I went in and tried to write a lot of psychedelic music, and I did. Basically when you do that, what it means is there’s a lot of riffing going on, a lot of jamming. So it wasn’t very structured.

“It was, like, all of this stream-of-consciousness lyric stuff that I had written, that’s the stuff I lost,” he added.

He felt his first batch of lyrics gave the initial songs a trippy edge.

“That actually [was] worse. It made me mad because that stuff, I thought, was pretty cool. I can’t remember what it was because it was written so fast. … So that’s the thing I miss. I think the music, I probably remembered. Not most of it, but a lot of it. Enough. The lyrics I missed."