INTERVIEW: Monster Magnet’s Dave Wyndorf

Monster Magnet have been absent from the live scene for quite a while. After a highly publicised battle with prescription drugs, main magnet Dave Wyndorf took some time out from the live circuit to get himself together again. Now Wyndorf and Monster Magnet are back to reclaim the throne they so rightly hold (and to lay mighty blows down upon the usurpers who have pilfered the band’s sound for their own ends in recent years). In fact, in researching this interview and delving into some Monster Magnet stuff I haven’t listened to in a few years, it really struck me that there should be a Grammy category called Band You Didn’t Realise Beat Everyone To It By 15 Years.

It’s been a long time since you’ve toured Australia, and a while since you’ve put out an album. What prompted the forthcoming Oz tour?

It’s been 10 years. What prompted it was me trying to make up for lost time. I lost us some time in the last 10 years. We usually tour for two years off a record but for Monolithic Baby we only did one, so we didn’t make it down to Australia again, for reasons that were totally my fault. I got horribly addicted to this terrible drug called Benzodiazepine, which I took for sleep. It’s pretty embarrassing that after years of being very good with drugs and stuff, I get addicted to a prescription drug. Unbelievable. But long story short, it put me down. Like, really put me down – life threatening and the whole bit.

So was it the pressure of touring and the lack of sleep?

Sleep. Totally. I mean, there’s nothing pressured about touring, except for the fact that you never get enough sleep. At least, I didn’t. And I never realised just how wacky you go when you don’t get sleep. You really go crazy. It wasn’t as easy as ‘I need to sleep so let me lay down.’ I would lay down and not go to sleep. So as a result I would just get up and continue on with my life. And it drove me nuts. So then I got the pills and everything was cool until it wasn’t cool any more. There are certain things in life, natural functions that if you rely upon an artificial remedy, you’re gonna pay for it. And I did. And now that that’s under control I’m like, ‘Let’s go!’ I had to be careful about what I promised I was going to do until I got my feet wet again, so that’s what I did.

So what are your memories of previous visits to Australia?

It’s awesome to be there man. I love Australia. It’s one of my favourite places in the world. I remember so many great things. Obviously touring is not a sightseeing exercise – what you see is dressing rooms and hotels and stuff like that. But I had the greatest time with people I met, and I did get to walk through Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Sydney, and I got out as much as I could. I just liked the whole vibe. It’s like someone dropped England into the tropics. To me, a guy from New Jersey, Australia’s a very exotic place. It just seems that the idea of rock is very much alive in Australia. And looking back over Australian music, there’s a lot of guitar. Even pop music. Crowded House? Guitar-based. INXS? Guitar based. Y’know what I mean? It’s fucken’ awesome. I buy psychedelic compilations, and there’s so much psyche rock from Australia from the 60s and early 70s. It’s awesome. So I’m totally sold, from the Scientists all the way up to Wolfmother. I love it.

Talk us through your songwriting process. I worry about asking this question because it can seem so generic but everyone has a different answer.

No man, I love listening to answers and I love to hear how people write songs. I write ‘em with a drum machine or some sort of drum pattern. If it’s a really hard rock song with a 70s feel, a hard rock combo feel, I won’t go crazy on the drum machine. I’ll just use the thing for a tempo. Then the ideas I have about drums are all in my head anyway, so I don’t need to program the drum machine that hard. What I’ll use it for is sometimes accents and tempo, and that’s mainly so I can play it for the band so they’ll get an idea of where I’m coming from, rather than have me start totally from scratch and explain it. They enjoy it that way. Now, if it’s something more poppy or like a standard rock and roll song then I’ll program the drums because there’s not a lot of fills in the songs and I can actually program the drums to nail exactly what I wanted. So depending on what type of song it is, more or less of the drum machine, and always something to keep tempo. For recording I have one of those real amateur-hour things, a little Korg D 1600 MK2, and it’s good enough. It’s great. You can put 16 tracks down but on my demos I don’t usually go over 8 or 9 tracks, and it’s fine.

Do you ever bring in a completely orchestrated demo?

I used to, all the time, completely, in the early days. The band would be like, “Why are we even playing it? It’s all done!” But I loosened up in the later years. And I’ve become better at explaining what I want, what I’d like to hear. And also there’s a danger of, when you finish something a little bit too close at home you wind up chasing after that, never getting it, and you wind up disappointed. It’s a bitch. So this is something I’ll do with the small songs: If you’re going in to record with a band and you’ve got like 12 songs to do or something, leave a bit of time in the studio for three of those songs, to do them the way you would do it on a demo, but just do it on the big gear. I think you’d be really happy. It’s a little pressurised because, like, [adopts gruff studio engineer voice] “What, you’re gonna do it all yourself?”] but as long as the sounds are there, how bad could it be? You know what you’re doing, you’re playing against each other. I do this all the time with the smaller songs, the ballads and stuff. They’re played by me alone because it actually saves time and I know they’re going to be somewhat together because I know what I played on the previous track. Listen to White Stripes. I think everybody knows by now that Jack White played the drums on those records. He played the drums, he played the bass, he played everything. And Elephant, Get Behind Me Satan are really fucken’ great records. I’ve gotten to the point of, anything that works.

Let’s talk about gear for a moment. Are you a big gearhead?

I used to be a huge gearhead. Fuzzboxes and stuff. I still love it. I just think there’s nothing like buying something that will enhance – or you believe will enhance – your sound. I learned a long time ago that most fuzz boxes pretty much do the same thing. There’s not that much difference, but when you have that cool-lookin’ box in your hand, it’s fucken’ badass, y’know? I want a Foxx fuzztone as opposed to the Vox. I want the Fender Blender. I want the original Big Muff, I want the Russian Big Muff, I want the Mini Muff. I love it. And I love vintage tape echo machines, although they’re making some really great digital ones now. The digital Echoplex, and Roland has a digital Space Echo, which sounds like it would be ridiculous, but they did it. They actually made it sound really, really awesome.

You need as many options as possible, so you can go through and use every one, or decide that they all sound like shit and just go back to an amp and a guitar, which is something I often do with recording. I’ll just say “I tried every box in the world and none of them is doing it for me, so let’s just plug an SG into an old Marshall.”

So what was your first guitar?

My first guitar was a Washburn. I can’t remember the model of it. It was an ulgy red thing that looked kind of like a horse shoe, just a plain butt-ugly guitar. To me it looked kinda like an SG body, but it really didn’t. It had 2 big humbuckers in it. At the time I thought that was the coolest thing in the world.

When was this?

I started playing when I was about 28, 29. I was too lazy to play. I was a singer before that. It’s interesting, before I even bought a guitar I bought a fuzz box. I bought a fuzz box, a microphone and a four-track. And the guitar was actually the last thing I got. So I was sitting at home with a four-track machine, screaming through a fuzz box and making guitar parts with my mouth. Because I was desperate to write songs, and I didn’t have people to play with any more because my first band had broken up. But it actually works when you’re writing songs. So I bought that Washburn, and every day I would try to learn chords. I started just recording stuff with one string, or two strings with one played open for psychedelic parts. Eventually I learned a couple of cheats on some chords, and then I was off. That’s why the guitar’s the best instrument in the world.

CLICK HERE to buy the Boss RE-20 Space Echo delay/reverb pedal from Musician’s Friend for $249.

Monster Magnet Australian tour dates

September 5 Brisbane, Australia – The Hi-fi
September 6 Sydney, Australia – Metro
September 8 Melbourne, Australia – Billboard
September 10 Perth, Australia – Metropolis Fremantle

Buy Monster Magnet CDs at RiotAct.com.au

This interview is also in the current edition of Mixdown Magazine.

GUEST POST: Tom Bukovac interview by Nick Brown

Open a CD recorded in Nashville from the last few years and it’s a pretty good bet that Tom Bukovac has played guitar on it – Keith Urban, Kenny Rogers, Sheryl Crow, Leann Rimes, Faith Hill, Carrie Underwood, Dolly Parton and the list goes on…

There’s a reason he appears on so many albums…the guy can play! Great tone, feel and a bang up guy to boot – Quite literally he is one of the top of ‘go to’ players if you need some guitar and a hook for your track!

I’ve read about you playing in bars as a kid and doing the old ‘learn to play on the gig’ type deal. Did you have formal lessons also growing up?

No formal lessons, my older brother plays and he showed me some stuff to get me started. I just kinda took it from there, spent a lot of time learning parts off records by ear…. lots of old Beatles and Yes stuff.

How important is a knowledge of theory and sight reading in your job?

In Nashville where I live it’s not very important at all…I can’t read a single note of music and it hasn’t slowed me down one bit. If I lived in LA or NYC it would be much more important to read, because of all the jingle and soundtrack session work there.

Obviously as a studio player you have to be able to cover a lot of ground tone wise. I’ve seen pics of various rigs with you using pedals, rack gear, multiple heads (bogner, matchless, marshall etc). Does that change regularly? Do you take everything to a session and work from there or?


I am constantly changing things around…it’s an illness really! I get bored with sounds easily…I never want to do the same thing too long. For a long time I was doing the big 100 watt amp and 4×12″ cab thing…. but in the last year or so I’ve really made a shift to smaller amps. I’ve got a bunch of old tweed deluxes and princeton reverbs now and I’m getting back to the more snarly, mid rangey, honest guitar tones of the early 70’s. Stuff like you hear on the early ZZ Top or Badfinger records, I’m very excited by raw, less effected sounds these days. Those sounds never go out of style, a good old Gibson straight into a tweed deluxe – that’s about as good as it gets in my book.

You’re a fan of vintage guitars?

Absolutely. I’ve been buying, selling and playing old guitars since I was about 19. I’ve managed to hold on to some really fantastic guitars over the years that I’m very lucky to own. The top of the heap no doubt being a blonde 1960 ES-335 – one of only 209 blonde dot necks ever made! It’s a truly magic instrument on all levels.

In regards to session playing –

What’s the breakdown of reading sessions or notated/set parts as opposed to being asked to just play something that suits the track? And do you always know in advance what will be required?

In Nashville you rarely ever get to hear anything in advance. Like I said before there is no sight reading to deal with we just use “number charts”. These spell out the chord changes by relative intervals, it’s very handy because you can change keys without having to rewrite your chart.
No one ever writes out specific parts for you to play – your job as a session guitar player in Nashville is to come up with hooky guitar parts on the fly, in an attempt to make something interesting out of songs that usually have very little harmonic content or unique chord progressions written into them and it can be very difficult at times.

Is there any full band live tracking or just overdubs?

We usually track with a full band and then I usually go in later and spend a couple days on each record doing guitar overdubs after the fact. I really enjoy that part (ESPECIALLY when I have a great engineer to work with), most of the producers that hire me give me a lot creative freedom in the overdubbing process. The engineer, in my opinion is without a doubt THE most important guy on the whole session – he can make or break any musical situation. There simply is no group of top notch musicians in the world that can overcome a terrible engineer and I’ve been on so many sessions that have been destroyed by incompetent engineers, it’s truly heartbreaking. Adversely, when you get a great engineer everything is just SO easy – it’s like going to a nice resort spa or something.

Do you have a home studio? Ever work from home and ftp sessions?

I do have a studio but I’m usually too busy working in other places to ever use it and I’ve never done an ftp session.

You obviously do your majority of work in Nashville. Do you ever work in other areas – LA, New York etc? Any differences between the recording scenes?

I have been working a bit in LA this past year with a fabulous producer named Matt Serletic. He used me on the new Rob Thomas record that will be coming out shortly and it was a real blast working with him – wall to wall guitars on that record!! Also I got to work with a bunch of sessions side by side with Tim Pierce – it was really great to see how he did things, he’s a very cool guy.

Having worked with a huge list of great artists, a lot of guitar players get drawn to you work with Keith Urban and Dann Huff. With them being great players in their own right it must be interesting to work in those situations and hear what they’ve played and then lay down your own stuff?

For some reason other guitar players seem comfortable around me. They know I’m not a competitive type of person and I clearly understand my role as a supporting musician when I’m working with guys like Keith or Vince Gill or whoever. I’m there to come up with some cool hooks and textures that work well along with what THEY are playing – always leaving plenty of room and listening carefully to what they’ve got going on. Be the yin to the yang at all times!

Lastly, when will your Myspace blog ‘Session Man’ be transformed into a big budget Hollywood style Blockbuster with fast cars, sassy girls and the general frivolity and hijinks that the session world is no doubt associated with?

Ha!! I’m gonna get back on the session man bit soon…..I’ve had a terrible accident recently and I’m gonna be out of work for at least two months. I nearly cut my middle finger of my left hand off in a stupid attempt to carry a very heavy piece of gear. I broke the fingertip bone and had to get 10 stiches, it was just horrendous.

I’m praying that all will heal and I’ll be able to get back to my normal sloppy self eventually.

About Nick Brown

I’m a guitarist currently residing in Melbourne, Australia although I grew up in the small but awesome town of Yinnar (go on Google it!!!). I do a number of different gigs as well as teaching and writing for magazines such as Mixdown and Australian Guitar. I’m a huge music fan (rock/pop/jazz/fusion/latin/country/blues etc) and love (trying) to keep up to date with new gear (pedals/amps/guitars/players). Feel free to email me or checkout my MySpace!

Save Up to 90% on Almost Everything at MusiciansFriend.com (exp: 8/31)

COOL GEAR ALERT: Boss RE-20 Space Echo

Today I interviewed Dave Wyndorf from Monster Magnet for Mixdown magazine. The interview will be in the next issue, out in the first week of August, and there’ll be an extended version on I Heart Guitar a few weeks later. The conversation turned to pedals, and Wyndorf was particularly enthusiastic about the Boss RE-20 Space Echo, and how faithfully it reproduced the sound of the old Roland RE-201 Space Echo. Sounded cool to me so I thought I’d do some digging around. First of all, check out this cool demo video by Boss (especially the wild self-oscillating sounds at the end).

The Roland website says:

One of the most beloved echo effects ever made, the Roland RE-201 Space Echo, has been reborn as the BOSS RE-20 Twin Pedal! Roland and BOSS have recreated every sonic detail and nuance of the original. Experience the legendary tape-echo sound of the RE-201, and get “lost in space” with this retro-modern marvel.
Amazing simulation of the famous Roland RE-201, with the spacious, analog tone of the original Space Echo
Faithful modeling of the RE-201’s tape flutter and magnetic head sound saturation
Tap input pedal allows delay time to be set by foot
Longer delay time than the original RE-201
Control parameters such as REPEAT RATE, INTENSITY, and more via Expression pedal.
MODE SELECTOR knob with 12 placements just likes the original Space Echo

CLICK HERE to buy the Boss RE-20 Space Echo delay/reverb pedal from Musician’s Friend for $249.

WONDERHOWTO: Build an SRV Strat

I’d like to welcome new sponsor WonderHowTo, a very cool site which collates ‘how to’ videos from all over the place. As writer of a whole bunch of ‘how to’ articles for Mixdown (some of which I’ve re-posted on I Heart Guitar), this kind of site is right up my alley and I like the idea of having a resource like this all in one place.

There’s a great video series on the front page at the moment about how to build a Stevie Ray Vaughan-style Stratocaster using recycled parts. CLICK HERE to view the video. 
If your business or band is interested in advertising on I Heart Guitar, email me at iheartguitarblog@gmail.com