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November 16, 2018

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The Third Degree with Monster Magnet

This article first appeared on Nov. 25, 1998.

Don't call Monster Magnet's Dave Wyndorf a quitter. Not that it hasn't crossed his mind. When the frontman for the space-metal mining quintet dragged his posterior home following the quintet's tour for 95's Dopes to Infinity, he took five to check out rock radio.

"It sounds like the whole country's on Prozac," said Wyndorf. "Screw it!"

But if idle hands produce the devil's work, Wyndorf's in line for sainthood. Monster Magnet is a band that tours constantly; Wyndorf's been home only four days this year by his estimation, making him a self-proclaimed "road dog." In order to write an album that would blow the wimpy crap off the airwaves, he needed to get some real work done.

Sensibly, he booked a flight to Las Vegas. For 21 days Wyndorf secluded himself in a hotel south of the Strip. When he was done, he left with 21 Vegas-inspired songs, 13 of which ended up on this year's Powertrip.

A virtual send-up of the seven deadly sins, Powertrip is a crash course in otherworldly sounds and metal through the ages. Suffering from embattled vocal chords, Wyndorf graciously called lasvegasweekly to be subjected to the Third Degree.

1. Tell me about when you came out here to write the album.

WYNDORF: I decided to come out there after being saddled with a couple of big problems. One was to sell more records, which is a common problem with most bands; you can't sell enough in America.

Las Vegas, to me, has always been a very romantic place for a bunch of different reasons, positive and negative. It's a place that really forces people--if you'll pardon the pun--to ante up. It's an immediate place, it demands reaction. It's like an island in the middle of the desert that's all about entertainment and people fulfilling their wishes, their hopes, their dreams. They're all up there. And things happen very quickly. Their hopes go way up, their disappointment comes full on, and then they're out of town. It really is like no other place in the world. Very addictive. And I'm not even a gambler; I just go there and watch people.

2. You stayed just outside of town?

WYNDORF: I would stand out on my balcony out in the desert there and see this magnificent sunset, and the only thing that could kill a sunset like that is Las Vegas turning on all its lights at night. It's the only town that can rival nature with pure fire power. That would get me going, "I have to finish a song and go into Las Vegas," and I would literally go in and hit the town all night, and not come home until nine o'clock in the morning, crash, wake up, write a song.

3. How did you focus on writing a song after a tough night?

WYNDORF: I'm a workaholic anyway, and I wanted to get this thing done. I was really into spontaneity on this record, meaning that if I can't write a good rock 'n' roll song in a couple of hours, then I'm not worth anything. I worked as quickly as possible and Vegas helped me that way because it's so immediate itself. I would pick up the vibe of the town and watch people moving fast and going at it, and trying to get what they can out of it, and being dazzled by all the lights, and the sensory overload that has become Las Vegas. That would filter into the way I approached writing the songs.

4. Tell me a little bit about making the video for "Space Lord" (in which Wyndorf can be seen rocking out on the Fremont Street Experience and tooling down the Strip with Marilyn Manson-ite Twiggy Ramirez in a black Trans Am).

WYNDORF: It was great. It brought it all home. I was down there on the corner watching rap guys shoot their videos, and I was like, "I want to do this. This record was written here, and I gotta make a video here." So we came back full strength and did the full on, downtown in front of The Plaza.

It's "Viva, Las Vegas." I love it. You can't imagine just how happy I was to stand on a cherry picker, in front of the Golden Nugget, I'm like there. It's this perspective that no one gets to see, directly in front of the sign, singing with an Elvis suit on. I'm happy as a pig in shit. Recently we did a tune on the Penn and Teller show, and I got to play on the Elvis stage at the (Las Vegas) Hilton. It just keeps coming back to Vegas. I stood there in a blue lami suit, the Elvis stage.

5. What's up with the lyric from "Space Lord": "When I don't get my bath, I take it out on the slaves"? Where are you going with that?

WYNDORF: In Europe I had a huge entourage of people helping me, and I got into this pretty self-indulgent lifestyle of women and personal assistants and stuff; we do really well over there. And I got out of hand. It was so stupid; it was just so stupid (laughs), that I had to write about it. I was yelling at people; I had--literally--people drawing baths for me. I took it too far.

6. What about the song "Baby Gvtterddmmerung"?

WYNDORF: Gvtterdammerung means twilight of the gods, and it comes from a Wagner opera, The Ring. It's a big word to describe a very, very small thing that happened in my life that had huge ramifications. I found out through life experiences that you can hurt people as much with the truth as you can with lies. And that reality really sucks. I did a long time trying to snow my girlfriends and people into thinking I was a certain kind of person, and they all wanted to know the truth. They said they would forgive me, and when I told them the truth, they hated me even more. They were like, "Oh my God, you're a pig."

So I sat down and wrote this song. It was a big deal to me, but not a big deal to everyone else. That's why I juxtaposed the grand Gvtterddmmerung against something that's very simple and probably happens in almost everybody's life at one time or another. They discover you can run but you can't hide.

7. On "19 Witches" there's a countrified feel on that song that's different from the rest of the tunes.

WYNDORF: In music I always like to go in as many different directions as I possibly can without going completely off the map on a record. When you write 21 songs in 21 days, you're going to have to make a left turn every once in awhile. Lyrically it's about an adventure I had in the deep South. I hooked up with these goth girls who wanted to "so-called-party." They were like, "Come to our house and we'll party." I said, "Okay, but I've got to be back to the bus in an hour."

Seven hours later I'm in the bayou somewhere with these girls who think they're vampires, who watched Vampire Lestat 24 hours a day, and that's where the twang (on the song) comes from. These girls were completely out of hand. I missed two shows because of it, and they held me like captive there for two days. They were completely nuts.

8. You wrote 21 songs. How'd you cut it down to 13?

WYNDORF: Just because the balance of the songs sucked (laughs). I figured I would write as many songs as possible as fast possible, knowing that there's a certain amount of songs that aren't going to be that good.

9. What do you think of Vegas now?

WYNDORF: Las Vegas, to me, is a place where America's conscience is left at the door. And I think that's not a bad thing. I would love to see Vegas go back more towards the decadent. I think the family thing isn't working out that well.

Vegas has always stood for me as a place where people could free up their guilt and have a good time and not be judged for it. It's very important that in America people are allowed to do that because we all know what really drives people. A lot of times there's a big confusion in how people should act, morally, and really people should be able to have a good time. Vegas always stood for that.