The Space Lord’s Cosmic Beginning…or Last Patrol
Our exclusive interview with MM founder Dave Wyndorf
Words: TK Smith
Reconnecting with their psychedelic roots, original stoner rock pioneers Monster Magnet release their 10th studio album in the form of Last Patrol. After three years, main man Dave Wyndorf regroups his band of electric astronauts for another ride through the cosmos. Flanked by guitarists Garrett Sweeny and long time sidekick Phil Caivano with the reliable rhythm section of bassist Jim Baglino and drummer Bob Pantella, the talent-pool brings a heavy dose of weird, cosmic psych-energy back from the beginning. Last Patrol uses a simple structure to build songs around a space-rock beat with classic solo jams and acoustic grooves. Masters of bonehead rock, they fan out into ‘60’s garage, Hawkwind-like psych and extended instrumentals that fray into a whirlwind of solar dust. A tip of the hat to one of the original pioneers of psychedelic rock is found in the Donovan cover, “Three King Fishers”. Part folk, part sitar driven classic, the tune applies traditional psych elements with heavy-handed boldness that’s a perfect combination of Vanilla Fudge and Jethro Tull.
Monster Magnet stand alongside Clutch and Corrosion of Conformity as one of the most creative, diverse, and hard-rocking of contemporary American bands. They’re noted for their uniqueness of sound, their authenticity as a band, their ability to grow musically, and the intelligence and wit of their songs. “There will always be psychedelic and hard rock revisionist,” says 57-year old Wyndorf from his Red Band, New Jersey home. “Like anything, the further away you move from the actual music the time period it was made, the more credibility it gets. When I started Monster Magnet, it was the worst timing possible. Punk was still big and the record people were like, ‘Why does this guy still have long hair?’ It was horrible!” Having played in a punk band himself Wyndorf knew the best way to get attention was to piss off the norm. “That’s one of the happy things about forming this band I wanted to create something that was going to piss off the punk rockers, something that was going to make them mad! It was fun.”
Wyndorf admits to being stuck in his own time warp. “As far as writing, playing and singing music, psychedelic is my first love,” he says. “When I got my first guitar which was late in life, all I did was play garage punk and Hawkwind riffs. I’m not that good of a player, but it was perfect for me ‘cause that’s the stuff I really love. It was like my blues. I could really feel it. I got my start in punk rock as a band, but my roots go way back to the ‘60’s psychedelic stuff. What happens when you’ve been around as a band for as long as we have…you try different things and eventually you work your way back to where you started. You find what works for you. It’s fun to stomp around in the field of rock and for me this just felt right.” Last Patrol may just be the most prolific and comprehensive record Wyndorf has put his hands on in years. It was self-produced, passionately written, and overtly reflective of the band’s past, specifically Spine of God and Superjudge.
“Those early records helped us develop as a band, but they were also full of our first ideas of what we wanted to be how we wanted to play and sound,” says the singer. “There’s a dark innocence to that. When ‘Space Lord’ hit I felt it was our time. I was trying to make Powertrip as big as possible. I thought there was no reason our record company couldn’t sell as many Monster Magnet records as Metallica records. It was just a matter of marketing. I was like, ‘You put tits and money on a record and it will sell. So I did. And I took the band in a more hard rock direction but it was still very ‘70s and pretty esoteric. Although it had no place in the “90s. It had no place on the radio and just didn’t belong to the time. It was a fluke! It was because of the tits and money. I was really cynical back then. It wasn’t until years later that I realized I shouldn’t have been kidding around so much.”
Along with fame, tits and money came a nervous breakdown. On 27 February 2006, Dave Wyndorf overdosed on prescription drugs. 4-Way Diablo released a year later was Wyndorf crawling out of his own prison. None of the songs off the album ever made it to a ‘live’ set; they were too delicate. “When I started writing for this record ‘Paradise’, ‘I Live behind the Clouds’ and ‘Milking the Stars’ came along in that order,” says Wyndorf. “I tried to keep away from chords a much as possible. I thought I could get a weirder vibe that way - and it would sound different. The title track, ‘Last Patrol’ was my concept of what it would sound like if a garage band did Hawkwind. My favorite is the end. A song like that doesn’t just end - it has to have a freak out! It’s got to have a massive jam at the end. Bob (Pantella) the drummer offered up something that the bass could hold on to and Phil (Caivano) made it palatable with a dive here, a roll there to keep it loose. ‘Paradise’ was intended to sound like a guy who just finished ‘Last Patrol’ and he’s completely wore out.”
“I knew I was going to take this record in a psychedelic direction,” Dave continues. “I don’t mean an amazing recreation of the ‘60s, I just wanted it to have a weird vibe. I wanted to experiment with different time signatures, not a lot of chords but a lot of single strings that would be orchestrated in such a way that they would sound big but small at the same time. A Jethro Tull kinda thing. That’s where ‘Paradise’ and ‘I Live behind the Clouds’ came from. ‘Milking the Stars’ didn’t make the record, but it was something I had to get out of my system.” We asked why the inclusion of Donavan’s ‘Three King Fishers’? “I had a bunch of songs written for the record, 15 or 16, and I’m throwing them out. What I wanted, what I needed was a true psych-sounding tune, sitars and everything, like the real guys did back in the day. I wanted Carmine Appice-like drums, as heavy as you can get. I’m driving in my car after practice trying to work out drum parts and I hear Donavan on the radio and it dawned on me I could have both psych and heavy drums in the same song.”
Wyndorf usually takes wild exotic vacations to write lyrics, however this time he stayed at home and went on a mental vacation. “We were touring a lot in Europe and I didn’t have much time so I locked myself away in my home studio for a week straight. Just got up every morning, had my cup of coffee and started writing. I boiled up all the stuff that’s been stewing around in my head for the last two or three years. It was definitely a pressure situation. It was immediate and that’s the way I like to write.” The sessions yielded ‘70’s riff rocker ‘Mindless Ones’, social freak out ‘Stay Tuned’ and the hammering ‘End of Time’. A bit of Sabbath also creeped in with ‘The Duke (Of Supernature)’. “There were some riffs and slide guitar that Phil had written as a big rock piece. At first I didn’t like it much, but after I listened to it for a while it occurred to me to strip it down. It went from this big rock thing to this slow swampy vibe. We cut it with a kick drum and did an acoustic guitar over the top. We added all the drums and bongos afterward kind of built it in reverse. It got really organic when we put everything on it because it had such an easy lag to it. Now, it’s one of my favorite songs.”
For us, the big standout track is the blues ritual ‘Hallelujah’. “I wanted an old voodoo vibe like scary gospel, True Blood shit,” says Wyndorf. “Originally it was just a blues riff with me stomping my foot on a wooden floor like those old blues guys. They didn’t have any drums and just stomped their feet. I started barking out these froggy vocals, no words at first, just trying to capture the vibe. It all happened on an acoustic guitar, very Black Keys kinda thing. I couldn’t leave it alone, so it got huge. There’s no real drumming just handclaps - and no fills until the end of the song. From there we just let it get bigger. When I wrote the lyrics it had nothing to do with church it was, ‘Hallelujah’, were driving into Berlin and everybody can get laid. A real perverted song but really fun to write.”
Monster Magnet has toured almost exclusively in Europe the last ten years. “I stay away from the States because, for us, there’s not that much happening here,” says Wyndorf. “It’s a pop world. Europe knows what’s happening. I thank my lucky star places like Germany, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe exist. Their music is so rich and diverse. At least someone’s holding up the multicultural flag.” With that in mind Last Patrol was designed for the vinyl format, still thriving in Europe. “The artist is John Sumrow from Albuquerque, New Mexico,” continues Wyndorf. “I was looking for someone that could do a painting that would vibe off of ‘60’s Science fiction paperback - created in a darker pallet. In the end John killed it. It looks beautiful! I wanted to create something you could stare at while listening to the record.”
Monster Magnet plan to tour North American behind Last Patrol, on their first full scale US tour in ten years. Don’t miss it!
Website: Monster Magnet, Napalm Records