David Wyndorf Interview

Rock may be struggling on the radio and dying on the charts, but it’ll never die if Dave Wyndorf has his way. As frontman for New Jersey’s finest psychedelic metal band Monster Magnet, Wyndorf creates some of the most brazenly outrageous, eardrum-splitting music around. Yet he also knows how keep it smart with wisecracking lyrics. Though often reminiscent of Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper and Led Zep (Monster Magnet will soon tour Europe with Page/Plant), Monster Magnet tackles the old-school style with a slant towards brash Americana. The band’s new CD Powertrip (A&M) is crash ‘n’ burn rock ‘n’ roll emblazoned with the trashy spirit of Las Vegas, where Wyndorf wrote the songs for the record. Why did he go straight to the belly of the consumerist beast to mock the greedy system that sells sex, soul and rock music? I rang Wyndorf at his home in Red Bank, NJ, for the answer. The 36-year-old was resting after canceling a gig due to laryngitis.

I met you years ago when you were in the thrash-punk band Shrapnel. You were quite the party guy. How’s your lifestyle changed?

I don’t live with my parents anymore. I’m more responsible now. Everything’s become more severe. When I was in Shrapnel, it was a goofy beer-drinking pot-smoking time—kid stuff. When I quit that to eventually form Monster Magnet I began writing based on lessons I had learned from being a slacker. I was a slacker. [To be able to be a slacker] is America’s gift to the young. But I got over it.

Powertrip seems less fantastical than Monster Magnet’s other albums.

All my records are diaries of where my head is at that moment. I was feeling less psychedelic and more angry and impatient. Coming home [after touring] and listening to the radio made me hate the music business. Look, I buy a lot of records. I don’t live in the past. But when it comes to rock music—ugh. I wanted to make a real rock and roll CD. I wanted to do something unashamedly rock-with-yer-cock out. I need it and rock radio sure as hell needs it.

You’re not the first person to be disgusted by the present state of rock. What’s missing? What happened?

I’m no expert but I think the rock ‘n’ roll sprit is alive ‘n’ well but it rolls with the rap guys. They live the lifestyle. It’s no mystery why kids love rap. The hip-hop guys live large. They get laid. They got money and they show it. The college rock mentality totally circumcised white rock. They outsmarted themselves.

Anybody ever say you sound too smart for heavy metal?

Hey man, I do heavy metal so I don’t go to jail. I love to fucking smash and burn stuff. I love to rock out but on my off hours I listen to Björk, Debussy and anything else small and fuzzy.

Why do you still live in Red Bank? Were you ever a part of the Philly/South Jersey metal scene?

I’m not here much, but I stay because my family lives here. I love ’em. I come from a family of eight kids. The time I can spend with them is precious. Of the nine years Monster Magnet’s been around I’ve only spent two consecutive years here. I live in hotel rooms, so I love to come home. And I was never part of the metal scene. In the mid-’80s when Shrapnel was around, metal meant high hair and Poison. My brother had those records. That shit was dumb; too Spandexy. I was into old-school stuff like Grand Funk and Black Sabbath, goth shit and Echo & The Bunnymen. But when Mudhoney and Soundgarden came around in the late ’80s that to me was rock. There was hope.

Let’s talk Vegas. You’ve hung in Atlantic City. Why’d you go to the desert to write about capitalism and not the shore?

The two towns are different animals. Vegas is pseudo-luxury. AC is gambling. AC’s not the excessive paradise Vegas is. I’m into the spectacle of American Salesmanship and Vegas is the capital of all that. Fuck, they’re even trying to sell family values. That greed fuels everything, me included. If jealous rage is your paintbrush, Vegas is the perfect palette. Vegas is a place where there is no guilt. There’s always a scumbag sitting next to you worse than you. So there I could unload every horrible wonderful experience—from all of the weird sexual stuff that happens on tour to my label telling me to sell more records to watching E! and wanting a nose job. If you watch TV long enough you’ll want a Jeep Cherokee. And I’m part of all this because I work for a major conglomerate. I’m a salesman. I’m not a craftsman who can sell to a market but I can work quickly, intuitively and spontaneously to get out all of the shit. Though I’d written all of the songs for Powertrip in 21 days I didn’t realize what its theme was until we recorded them in L.A.

Which songs best represent your state of mind at that time?

These aren’t manifestos. The whole record works as one. “Bummer” is about the experience of having Vegas be like The Jerry Springer Show and the girls who want you to be Satan the night before and’re disappointed your not a nice guy the morning after. And that situation isn’t about sex. I think these women—people—are more interested in being recognized. [The song] “Powertrip” is about those pot-smoking clowns who go around saying “It’s all good.” Guess what? If you think this is good you’re fucked up. I was trying to make it my retirement song knowing full well I’m a workaholic.

Since Seagram’s/Universal bought A&M, do you get the same $250 alcohol allowance Seagram employees do each year?

I didn’t know that. Not as yet. But it is duly noted. I want my booze money. I just hope Seagram’s is ready to rock.

    • Josh Kruger is an award-winning writer and editor-in-chief of Philadelphia Weekly. His past work includes years as a journalist with Philadelphia Weekly, his PW column “The Uncomfortable Whole” winning multiple awards, including the Society of Professional Journalists’ First Place award for newspaper commentary in both 2014 and 2015. Josh has written for a variety of local and national publications, and his work often includes his perspective as someone with lived experience with HIV, homelessness, poverty, trauma, and addiction along with expert analysis from years of experience in journalism and public service following a five year stint in local government communications. He is a member of Philly’s local LGBTQ community, a parishioner at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, a militant bicyclist, and resident of the Point Breeze section of the city with his cat, a senior tom named Mason.

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