Roadburn Interview #2

John McBain on Stonerrock
by Keith Ingersoll

Stoner rock is dead – long live stoner rock. That’s the sentiment of Monster Magnet co-founder John McBain, and he means it. There’s no mistaking the dismayed tone in his voice, that of a man troubled by his inability to terminate a musical vampire he wished would just go away. The irony, of course, is that he helped to create the same beast he would like to see destroyed.

McBain, lead guitarist for the seminal heavy psych rock act of this decade, Monster Magnet, gave form to an abstractism that, up to that time, was little more than the stuff of urban, cultural mythology. “Stoner rock,” as a musical ideal to be pursued in earnest, is a product of the ’90s. Dominated by the physical iconography of which it evolved from in the late ’60s and early ’70s — long hair, big amps, thick riffs, thundering rhythms – it’s become an undefinable tradition with definition. The stoner rock soldier is now someone who’s readily identified.

McBain and his Big Muff-toting cohorts along the Jersey Shore aren’t solely responsible for the resurgent interest in the hulking, shifting animal of classic ’70s heavy rock. Other epicenters of activity – most notably the West Coast of the U.S. and England, what some might call the birthplace of heavy metal – rumbled in similar fashion this past decade, producing equally cosmic crusaders in the form of Kyuss, Sleep, Fu Manchu and Cathedral, as well as many others. The stoner rock phenom – in this, its second resurgence this decade – is one which does not hold McBain’s interest. Imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery, he says, especially for a genre which seems to pride itself on musical innovation and the discovery of new avenues of expression. “It’s like, ‘Come on guys ‘If you want to keep this stoner rock thing going, whatever it is, you gotta be a little more original,” he says. “There’s a lot more. Now, it has a title. That’s all it takes. You’ve got to able to file it under something in a record store.

“I just think it’s all really forced. I don’ t think there’s any genuine love for that kind of music that Dave (Wyndorf) and I were working from, and bands like Kyuss were working from. To me, stoner rock is recycled grunge. It’s just grunge with a different look and I just don’t see any longevity in it. I really don’t. There will be no mass appeal and these people just need to understand that. It’s not gonna be there so they should just stop.”