Monster Magnet

Dave Wyndorf, Ed Mundell, and Phil
Dave Wyndorf, Ed Mundell, and Phil

Just when you were losing faith in hard rock; just when the charts are choking on post-grunge whiners, along comes a band not afraid to rock.

Enter Monster Magnet – a punk-o-delic space metal supernova belching out a fuzzdrenched sound equal parts 1972 and 2001. Hop in your Hemi ‘Cuda, kick the pedal to the floor, pop Sabbath’s Master of Reality into the 8-track, and blast off to Pluto.

After years of success in Europe and the American underground, Monster Magnet struck paydirt in 1998 when “Space Lord,” the lead track from the band’s Powertrip album, ruled the AOR charts for months. The tune’s video, an over-the-top affair filmed in Las Vegas, aired regularly on MTV.

Formed in the late ’80s in Red Bank, New Jersey, the band – brainchild of guitarist/vocalist Dave Wyndorf – released two demo tapes (“Forget About Life, I’m High on Dope” and “I’m Stoned, What Are You Gonna Do About It”) before signing with Germany’s Glitterhouse label. U.S. indie Caroline Records released the band’s ’91 CD, Spine of God, a flamethrower of acid-drenched rawk eruptions fueled by Wyndorf’s teenage wasteland/sci-fi/apocalyptic lyrical mine fields. The band then signed with A&M Records for ’93’s Superjudge and ’95’s Dopes to Infinity, a masterwork of heavy psychedelia that revealed Wyndorf’s love for Hendrix and Hawkwind. The album spawned a rock radio hit with “Negasonic Teenage Warhead.”

Wyndorf traveled to Las Vegas in ’97 for a month-long writing/riffing session that became the blueprint for Powertrip. The CD represents a slight turn away from the band’s trippy/psyche side, with greater emphasis on a more raw Motor City vibe.

The past eight months have found the band hitting the road hard, appearing on tours with Megadeth, Van Halen, and Aerosmith. Last summer saw them in Europe doing festivals, including Germany’s Bizarre Festival, where they appeared with Page and Plant. This summer, they’re slated to open for Marilyn Manson.

VG spoke to Wyndorf, lead guitarist Ed Mundell, and third guitarist Phil Caivano. The band, which also includes drummer Jon Kleiman and bassist Joe Calandra, was about to wrap up dates with Aerosmith before moving on to tour with Rob Zombie.

Dave Wyndorf
Vintage Guitar: First off, congrats on the success of Powertrip. It just went Gold!

Dave Wyndorf: I can’t believe it. The world is a warped place. It’s very gratifying, for whatever it’s worth. I always do stuff because I want to do stuff, first and foremost. Being really successful was never really the goal. It was more the record company’s goal than mine. But sometimes our goals fuse together (laughs).

In light of that, and the recent success of other heavy acts, it’d seem safe to say the public is not afraid to rock again.
Hell, yeah! It never really went away, man. This stuff doesn’t go away. It may go in and out of style, but it will always be around.

To write material for Powertrip, you split New Jersey for a month-long cram session in Vegas. Did being away from home make it easier?
It was easier, because I was having a fit where I was, and needed a break from distractions. Vegas seemed like the perfect place. It was a kind of exile situation, and that is always gonna make it easy to write. And I was hellbent on writing a fast rock and roll album. I knew I wanted to write a physical album. And that meant spontaneity. I wasn’t so much worried about writing a lot of good songs as I was writing a lot, in hopes that a certain percentage would turn out the way I wanted.

What are your main guitars now?
I’ve been using a lot of SGs, just because they’re so honkin’ – you can really get that rock sound without a lot of stuff in between. You get an old SG and plug it into a 50-watt Marshall, and it’s gonna rock. And I still use Strats because they feel good.

Phil Caivano is now your third guitarist on tour. How did that come about?
Phil is awesome. I grew up with Phil in Red Bank. We were in our first rock band together in high school – Shrapnel. He’s a good friend, he knows how to rock, he understands the music, he understands the people. I’d always wanted to bring him out with us, but [before] we hadn’t been able to afford to. It was the most right thing I’ve done in a long time.

How has adding a third guitar into the mix affected your personal performance?
It frees me to sing a lot more. In the studio I’m in there for eight hours working on guitar parts, and when I get out I want to sing. The best part of having Phil, though, is it allows me to concentrate on “effected” guitar, which l love. I’m a minimal guitar player. My idols are Dave Brock from Hawkwind and Ron Ashton from the Stooges. That’s where my playing begins and ends. So l like to do a lot of crazy stuff on the guitar. Live, my role is to add color. I’ll be there for the power chords, I’ll be there for the meat, and I’ll be there for the craziness.

Still using a Space Echo?
I’m using a Space Echo and an Echo-Plex. While playing the Bizarre Festival I went into Page and Plant’s dressing room, they were nice enough to let me come in and hang out for a few minutes, and Page was there with a Theremin and two Space Echoes. I was like, “All right! This is #!*@ing cool!” That’s exactly what you want to see when you walk into Jimmy Page’s dressing room.

I’ve also got an old Ibanez analog delay. It looks like an alarm clock. It’s evil. And an old ADA Flanger. The mix ratio is so incredibly overdone on that, you can turn this thing to where it doesn’t even sound like a guitar, it sounds like dripping liquid. I really like the effects that go over the top. There’s a reason they call them “effects.” Phil brought all his stuff to the studio when we were recording the last record. It was a platter of stuff. It was like a buffet of vintage fuzz.

I’m using Marshalls, Boogie Dual Rectifiers. Some old Orange amps. I’m gonna start moving into Laney and Hiwatt-land soon. I pulled some of those old ones out in a guitar shop and they sounded incredible. I think the trick with us is, more and more, to use the amp’s distortion rather than a stompbox. And that means you have to really pay attention to your tubes. And then use fuzz boxes to send it into overkill for leads and stuff.

Ed Mundell
Vintage Guitar: I’ve always thought of Monster Magnet as a Fender band, but lately I’ve seen you guys sporting Gibsons more often.

Ed Mundell: We’ve always been a Gibson band to a certain extent. I’ve always used a Les Paul and a Strat. Now it’s mostly a Les Paul and an SG. It’s mostly Gibsons these days. We just got a couple ’61 SG reissues and they just sound great. They work out really well. We tune down to C for a lot of stuff and use thicker, heavier strings and that’s just the right kind of guitar for those sounds.

Fill us in on your current rig.
Touring, I use an Orange amp and a Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier and two Boogie cabinets, a couple of SGs, a black Les Paul, and a Strat. I’ve got a Vox wah and an old Big Muff. In the studio we use just about everything (laughs). Anything that was around, anything we could borrow. I usually played an SG through a Marshall and a Hi-Watt. But there are so many guitars on the new album, just racks and racks of guitars.

Any favorite new pedals or cool scores from the road recently?
You know what we got that’s really good the Matt Wells 5 O’ Clock Shadow. It’s a distortion pedal. He lives in New York and works on our amps. He made a couple of ’em and told us to check them out, and they’re great.

Let’s switch gears. Would you agree the playing on Powertrip is more flat-out and rocking and less spacey than on the past two albums.
Yeah, that’s it. You nailed it right there. The last album was definitely more spacey with different things going on. But this one is no bullshit. It rocks.

So playing-wise, did you approach Powertrip in a more aggressive state of mind?
That was the vibe that came out. And that’s how Dave came in with the songs. Turn it up and go – that’s what the songs dictated. Turn the amp up, step on the wah, and go crazy.

Analog Mike, who runs Analog Man, had some pictures of you, Phil, and Jon (Kleiman) on his web page checking out some stuff at his place.
Yeah, Phil got hold of him and when we were on tour we played his town and stopped by to check some stuff out. I got a couple of modified TS-9 Tube Screamers, and they sound great. I’ve never used a Tube Screamer before and Phil was like, “You gotta check these out!”

What’s it been like having an additional guitarist in the band?
Oh, he’s a living nightmare…

He’s obviously there in your hotel room…
Yeah. Naw, he’s great. He’s got much cooler gear than I do. We’ve always used his gear for records. I think it’s been great. We can do more wall-of-sound kind of stuff now. And I think we have complementary guitar styles. It’s been going really well. And we’ve been working on songs we haven’t played in a while. Once in a while now we whip out “Spine of God.” We’re working on “Cyclops Revolution,” and some Stooges songs.

You guys have really been racking up the miles this year. Do you like gigging that much?
Yeah. We took two years off and it was pure hell, just playing around New Jersey whenever we could. I like getting on the bus and going and playing every night to different crowds, in different cities, with different girls. With the Aerosmith tour, four out of five of our days off were booked with club shows. And it’s really cool to play to 19,000 people one night and 400 the next in a small club, where everyone’s packed in and sweating.

Phil Caivano
Vintage Guitar: You’re on the road with Monster Magnet, but apparently your equipment began making appearances with the band long ago…

Phil Caivano: Yeah, when they were recording the past few albums I’d bop by and bring some stuff. All my good stuff, my Strat, my Les Paul, all kinds of amps. I like seeing my stuff put to use. When you have a good guitar and good equipment, the worst thing you can do is let ’em sit around and not get used. I’m a vintage freak. I’m a gearhead. I’m the geek in the band who always searches things out. There’s one in every crowd.

Any cool recent pedal scores since you’ve been out on the road with the band, and what will we find in your rig?
Marshall amps – a ’74 and a ’76. As far as amps go, I count the knobs. If there are too many, forget it. I use the modified Tube Screamer from Analog Man, a Teese wah, and Mike just turned me on to this really cool wah – it’s a real nice, wide-sounding wah with a different feel than a lot of the other reissues. It isn’t gonna blow like the old stuff and you can tweak ’em out. And I use the 5 O’ Clock Shadow and an Ernie Ball volume pedal. Guitar-wise, I’m using the ’61 reissue Gibson SG. And my main vintage guitar is a ’65 SG Jr. in Pelham Blue. I lucked out on that.

And wasn’t that a Danelectro you used on the “Conan O’ Brien” show appearance?
Yeah, an original Dano Convertible. It’s probably from the early ’60s, but I’ve never dated it. I love that guitar. When I came back East to play with these guys, they were working up “Space Lord” and I was trying a lot of things. I finally got that out and it really worked for that song.

You’ve been connected with Monster Mag for a while, but now you’re onstage. Talk about the transition.
I’ve been such a huge fan of these guys and I didn’t want to take anything away from that. But Dave explained to me why he wanted me to come in and what I could do. I really wasn’t looking to play in a band, and to be asked to join Monster Magnet – well, I was really kind of freaked out. And Dave’s song approach on this new record just really turned me on. The timing was right, I guess.

Monster Mag is busy arming itself for a spring tour with Hole and Marilyn Manson (see sidebar). Wherever it goes, rest assured good, old-fashioned rock and roll rubble will be left in the band’s wake.

1990 Monster Magnet EP (Glitterhouse – Europe)
1991 25…Tab EP (Glitterhouse – Europe; issued in the U.S. by Caroline in 1993)
1991 Spine of God (Caroline)
1993 Superjudge (A&M)
1995 Dopesto Infinity (A&M)
1998 Powertrip (A&M)

Select Compilation Appearances:
1994 S.F.W. (Original Soundtrack) (A&M) CD. Includes MM’s “Negasonic Teenage Warhead.”
1995 Kerrang Rare CD. Compilation from Kerrang magazine. Includes MM’s “Dead Christmas.”
1997 We Will Fall: The Iggy Pop Tribute (Royalty/Lifebeat/Caroline) CD. MM covers “Gimme Danger.”
1998 ECW Extreme Music (Slab/CMC International) CD. MM covers “Kick Out the Jams.”

Offering a whole lot more than a stare-at-your-shoes stage presence, the boys of Monster Magnet load both barrells for their gigs. Photo: Gene Ambo.

This article originally appeared in VG‘s April. ’99 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.