Motherf*cker: The Making of Powertrip

Travel back to 1997 for a look into the world of an “A&R man who happened to be a chick.”

The guys in Monster Magnet reminded me of the South Hackensack Lizard Boys I grew up with. High school dropouts who sat around picnic tables in Fochini Park getting stoned and drinking Jack Daniels, when the cops drove by they scattered under rocks. Lizard Boys were guys a real Jersey Girl dated. The boys a father would hate. The chicks were quarantined to a separate bench. I knew more than they did about music and I was a “girlfriend” so I got to sit at the boys’ bench. This way Brian and I could easily make-out; push each other up against trees where we thought no one could see him put his hands down my bell-bottoms.

Lizard Boys blasted “Iron Man” and Zeppelin, but their lives were The River. I wonder who got Mary pregnant? Who got laid off from their construction jobs? Who died in a car accident or of an over dose? I think Brian who ran off with my virginity did. In 1973 his mother sat in a car while the garage filled with carbon monoxide. His father never forgave him. Here in 1997 my Red Bank Lizard Boys weren’t sitting around park benches. They sat around L.A. recording studios. I wonder what a South Hackensack Lizard Boy would give to do that.

I had a rule. No sex with my artists. No sex with an artist signed by the record company who employed me. Along came Dave Wyndorf.  On paper it didn’t make sense. Dave had a long face surrounded by dark stringy hair. He had one of those goatee/mustache things that looked stamped on his face. All of which sat on a short, pale body encased in colossal muscles. Piercing blue eyes that were too close together. Inbred eyes. He was awkward, yet strong like he might explode into a million pieces of a planet from a comic book. Dave’s voice separated him from normal people. The voice, the pale muscles, and that odd face all mixed together…Rule? What rule? I have a rule?  Almost everything about making that record broke rules. But without all of the insanity and hysteria I don’t think Powertip would have been a hit. I don’t think it would have been created at all.

The guy originally assigned to oversee this record locked himself up in a Hollywood Hills mansion with a pile of crack and a cache of guns. It was 1997 and rock was strong. The KROQs, MTVs, VHSs were consuming dirty boys who played guitars. David Anderle, (who I hope is up there hanging out in a groovy lounge filled with reel to reels), my guru and head of the A&R Department, gave me marching orders, “This band has to have a hit record now.” I lived on the East Coast and I was a Jersey Girl. Somewhere along the line I told him that seeing a Monster Magnet show “makes me want to get fucked on a pool table.” I guess I fit all the qualifications.

When producer Matt Hyde first saw the band he didn’t want to get fucked on a pool table. He had the male equivalent of whatever that is. He tracked down Dave Wyndorf, like a 14-year old girl trying to find Justin Beiber.  Generally, producers don’t do that. This project landed in my hands with Matt Hyde, his studio, and most importantly Dave’s songs written and recorded on a little 4-track. He handed us a vision encased in a cassette. Before any of us had even met we’d exchanged conversations, music, handwritten notes all of which created a concept for a record that felt cinematic.

By the time Monster Magnet arrived in L.A. at Northvine Studio, which was leased by Matt, and home to a 48-track custom Crystal Console we knew what our rolls were. Everything was dictated by this enormous vision. Sometimes Dave made sense, and when he didn’t I translated. Our weirdly dynamic Scorpio/Virgo mix served us well. Powertrip was no The Godfather because nothing is The Godfather. However using that film as a template is the easiest way to describe our roles. Matt and Dave together were  Francis Ford Coppola, Dave was Maria Puzo, I was Albert S. Ruddy and A&M Records was Paramount Pictures. Once again, let me make myself clear, I am in no way comparing Powertrip to The Godfather. If I were I should shut myself in a room I never leave.

The skimpy $220,000.00 budget seemed impossible to work with. It had my assistant Ellen walking the trapeze more than once. In the late 90s bands at Monster Magnet’s status had recording budgets double that amount. Our measly $200k budget had to cover Matt’s fee, studio time, engineers, gear, cartage, flights, hotels, car rentals, per diems, union payments (haha), tape, mixing, editing, mastering and surprises. Years ago Dave submitted a demo to major labels as a joke. Accidently he got himself signed to a major label. Thus resulting in a shitty deal. On top of which that man never saw Powertrip coming.

The 90s were sexy. There was a blue dress, socks on cocks, Madonna got erotic(a). Hollywood released Basic Instinct and Showgirls. Television gave us “Sex and the City.” In keeping with the times, one fated evening Dave and I were eating turkey burgers and sharing French fries on the landing of his hotel. By the time those burgers ended up in a crinkled bag I was being led into a room at the La Cienega Park Motel stripped of my denim overalls and cotton panties with Paul Stanley’s face stamped all over them. Our chemistry became part of that record. “I haven’t fallen asleep next to someone for years!” “I never share cigarettes with anyone.” Later it made sense, but I’d never had a sex addict fall in love with me.

From that first night in an L.A. motel until the final edit Dave, sex and the record was all I could think about, and the world according to Dave was, “The only things in my life that matter are this record and you Deb.” We started a succession of watching each other sleep, sharing cigarettes, breaking each others’ hearts, mending them, leaning on each other, exchanging germs, sitting in silence, spending hundreds of hours in studios, being placed side by side in business meeting after meeting after meeting completely in synch with each other.  We were working around the clock. “She keeps me going,” he would say. “This record is going to kill me,” I would say. My closest friend Amy said, “You act like two kids who are grounded.”

 

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Me and Dave Wyndorf circa 1998-definitely should have been grounded.

 

Matt Hyde had recently gotten sober. Dave and I were both abstinent. We were all addicts and addicts always find a substance to enslave them. The record became our drug. It satisfied most of our addictions except a few we couldn’t get a handle on; sex, gambling, cigarettes, voyeurism, eating, exercise, drama.  Even though the record couldn’t possibly satiate all of our combined addictions Powertrip was our primary monkey. Northvine Studio was hidden away somewhere behind Melrose Ave. It was a dark and dingy utopia. I drove onto a gravel parking area surrounded by an old chain link fence with an enormous load-in dock that hid the studio’s entrance. Matt’s wife and I would hang out on that dock, legs dangling over the side, sitting in the sun while the guys sat in a dark room rolling tape.

The first day my motorcycle boots stepped into that studio there was porn scattered everywhere. Not regular porn. Disgusting porn. Packaged in little magazines that can almost pass for comic books, but don’t. The magazines and videos could have been tucked away but weren’t. Dave was a master manipulator, and although this might have been a test. I didn’t flinch. I was there to listen. As long as they were working they could tango with anything else they wanted to. Matt decided I was “An A&R man who happened to be a chick.”  That was ironic.

Matt’s job was to keep the record moving forward and mine was to keep Dave from self-destruction combined we were a blitzkrieg. When our struggles included band members who couldn’t do their jobs, and who had attitudes on top of ineptitude, studio musicians were called in. When the budget bared its teeth I went in to A&M and fought for every crucial dollar. If we had to use a different studio we packed up and moved from Northvine to NRG. Matt’s configurations satisfied the subtleties and the largesse of a cinematic recording. Later on his duality in phasing; specifically microphone placements on the drums and guitars confused the mix engineers, but that was later on. We had moments when we were feeling rotten, complaining, wearing down, tearing at each other, but in the end we believed and that was everything.

Amy, Dana, Cid, Julie and Liz, my closest friends although tired of watching me cry, dealing with my ecstatic ups and downs, helping me through chronic bronchitis, experiencing my burn-out; stood by me and took care of me. Thank god they were spread between both coasts because so was I. Undeniably there was a group of people who were set to breathe a sigh of relief once this record was finished and I could walk away. The day came when David Anderle cut to the chase, “I know how hard you’ve worked to develop a purely professional relationship with Dave.” Because eventually the day came when I had.

Anderle had been notorious for his sexual escapades and since his reputation wasn’t pearly white he didn’t give a shit about mine. It was the 90s, and as Courtney sang, “We even fucked the same.” The industry was an arena where everyone overlapped everywhere. If you were going to stand and judge you were wasting your time. Once a record was completed, music through packaging, the entire visionary process completed, my job was to move out-of-the-way, and Anderle trusted me to. Record companies were diverse groups of departments made up of people with specific talents and responsibilities. A&R people stood in the background watching our babies, but ultimately that day always came when we had to let our records go out into the world and grow up.

Back in the real world the business was flipping. In the 90s the general formula became ‘follow the money.’ A&R people with super empowered creativity were no longer a component of the new formula. If bands were gazing at their shoes, everyone looked for shoe-gazers. If a couple of rock bands crossed into rap territory than that’s what got chased. The artists were going to lawyers for representation. The A&R executives were going to lawyers instead of clubs. Producer managers got into the game too, sad because producers were the originators of A&R not their managers. Over expensive lunches at Trattoria Dell’Arte acts and gossip were being discussed. “Just between the two of us did you know?” Across the room we’d wave at each other while whispered tones exchanged the exact same information. Those lunch tabs were in the $80.00 plus range. We were flying around the country in business class. It all added up, and later it all caught up.

An artist and an act are two different things. We lost sight of artistry. That was more pathetic than the gossip or the overindulgence. I loved an $80.00 lunch, but real artistry is easier to swallow. I made mistakes and signed acts. Which sucked, and through some painful lessons I learned how to stay true to myself. I worked my way into this business at 21. By 1997 a little more than a decade had passed and as I matured clarity followed; I would never be compensated nearly as much as a male peer, and I would never have access to the same type of power men had. I didn’t want to ordain Wyndorf wisdom, “People like us like to dance and we like to fuck so we’ll never acquire power because people who have real power don’t have time to dance and fuck.” I  would have appreciated some power and some money, even if dancing and fucking did nurture my soul. It was unfortunate that he was probably onto something there.

I went scuba diving for a week. Immediately after I came up for air, set my feet back down on New York concrete the Powertrip mixing drama began. In New York Roli Mossimann was mixing. While I was processing giant stingrays and nocturnal octopus Dave was either talking dirty, or complaining. “I miss you Deb,” while kisses, kisses, kisses were sent over the Gulf of Mexico. I came home and fired Roli. I fired people. Joe Barissi one of my favorite engineers was let go after one song. Terry Date was next in line. I don’t know what went on in that studio, but it went something along the lines of, “He’s scaring me with the wine.” Terry was “chasing the low-end,” and no one had seen it running around.

Dave was becoming unhinged and I was beginning to feel like Anais Nin running to save Henry Miller, “He loved her for what she could give him not who she was.” What I could give him was every reason not to have a nervous breakdown and ruin a couch. Larrabee Studios had history. A long and beautiful history involving Carole King, Gorgio Morodor, Michael Jackson recorded Dangerous there! I really hated being Anais Nin to his Henry Miller because it was a line out of a friggin’ Jewel song. Still I was not going to let Dave Wyndorf tear up the lounge. So I ran to him, and hired John Travis.

With every engineer fired Dave and I leaned on each other more. “I want to drive from L.A. to Las Vegas lock myself in a hotel room with you and just fuck for three days.” “I love your mind it’s sweet and devious, and the combination is driving me crazy.” “You are so sexy. If you just sat quietly and looked at people you would drive them crazy. But then you open your mouth and Hackensack comes out,” Fifty percent of that one worked. And of course, “I love you. I love you. I love you.” In the wee hours my fingers were being sucked on while naked and lying on his side I swore Dave looked like Jesus. He just didn’t act like him.

Most of John’s mixes got canned. They weren’t bad, they just weren’t right, and of all the engineers John was the guy I hated letting go of most. He brought an element of joy back to the project, and this group of junkies needed to laugh. Dave could describe the plot of a movie better than if you actually saw the movie. John was quick. Matt was smart and loved banter. I spoke Hackensack. There was non-stop energy and entertainment. Until the realization came that once again we’d failed.

Next stop, Dave Jerden. He was the final solution. He was the Jane’s Addiction guy! Problem #1 Jerden refused us entrance to Paramount Studios. Problem #2 he doubled booked us. Problem #3 when we finally got into the studio we found his assistant mixing our record. Fired. I was kicking myself and A&M were kicking harder. By this time Matt had already recorded two other records, and I had attempted three other signings. Nine months and Powertrip kept wandering around looking for its Oz. We’d spent over three hundred thousand dollars searching.

Every time a Roli Mossiman, Joe Barissi, Terry Date, John Travis, Dave Jerden got hired we were paying their rates, studio time, additional gear rentals, travel and surprises. Combined the guys we hired had discographies that included Jane’s Addiction, Soundgarden, White Zombie, Incubus, Pearl Jam and Deftones. Collectively these bands were saving rock & roll. I believe the most significant achievement of the 90s was the resurrection of rock and roll. I desperately wanted Monster Magnet to be part of that club. Pump your fist and scream “Space Lord Mother Fucker!” The listener is never going to think about the acoustic 90 seconds that open the door to their first fist pump. But we had to.

I was running off frustration with Metallica’s Loud in my headphones. I jumped off the treadmill. Dripping with sweat I flipped open my phone, “Dave!!! I’m Fed Exing Loud. Listen to the drum sound!!!” Randy Staub had a Lars’ library. He replaced every Powertrip drum sound with a Lars’ trigger. Fifteen years later while Lars was sitting on Michael Alago’s lap I fessed up. He was not only honored he loves Powertrip. While working at The Armory a small part of me feared a lawsuit. The one I’d convinced my boss not to a give a second thought to.

Dave and I headed to Vancouver. He strung his room, just one floor above mine, with Christmas lights where late at night, ambient music in the background he could suck on my fingers, the rest of me, and we could finally get this record finished. Honestly by that point I’m not sure which excited us most. It was a tedious process, but Randy Staub studiously fixed the drums, dealt with the phasing, and got this motherfucker of a record mixed. Music, like cinema, is an illusion it can be a room lit by Christmas lights, or Lars’ drum sounds.   You don’t need to know what’s behind the curtain as long as you end up pumping your fist screaming, “Space Lord Mother Fucker!”

We were like the Russian astronauts who were safely yet precariously delivered to earth August of 1997.   One of their less publicized problems was the lost ability to get rid of their waste. Same problem Dave and I had. The Russian government, the press and the poor astronauts were all throwing around blame like a basketball during a playoff game. We did that too. He lied and manipulated and I was guilty for believing him. He refused to acknowledge our relationship. The one that everyone knew about anyway which made me feel worthless.  Yet I stayed and believed it was more than this.  I was in a relationship with a sex addict, and for over a year I reinterpreted the lies with what I wanted to hear. The only thing Dave and I ever had together was a record, and astounding sex. By our second trip to Vancouver we hit bottom, “Is there something awful I can do to make you hate me so much we can just have sex?”

During the entire saga of making Powertrip I couldn’t come up with anything worse than he’d already done; kissing the fire blowing bassist from Nashville Pussy directly after he’d left my apartment for a New Year’s Eve show my roommate booked. Fucking his roommate on the nights he didn’t stay on the phone with me until 5 a.m. “Deb, it’s just sex.” During a period of torrential fighting, aka one of our “break-ups,” they showed up to the album photo shoot wearing matching cat suits. I had to leave until that situation got fixed. The love handles were going to make me light myself on fire. Taking me to the circus with his entire family including ex-wife and four-year old daughter, and still refusing to acknowledge that I was his girlfriend (his family including his ex hopeful I’d end up as wife #2, it would have been very scary to tell people I was once married to Dave Wyndorf). Trotting around with dancers from video, photo and television shoots that I’d helped coordinate. He mentally tortured me, but he never physically hurt me.

Dave was forthcoming about his addiction to sex which is a much more complex fixation than it sounds. Sex is a supersonic concept to begin with. I suppose that’s why we spend a whole lotta time thinking about it. At the outset ignorant of, but once well-informed, I still signed on. My curves fit his muscles like a puzzle. Desire can be excruciatingly rapturous, and I became addicted to my appetites. Our lives mirrored this record, our refusal to give-up, and the sacrifices we made to keep going. Just like junkies.

We had been inseparable since that visionary 4-track tape was brought to life: the tracking, the mixing, the mixing, the mixing, the mixing, the mixing, Northvine Studio, NRG Studios, Electric Lady Land Studio, Bay7 Studio, Larrabee Studios, The Armory Studios, the sequencing, the editing (“Mother Mother” yikes!), the mastering, the styling, the artwork, the packaging, the video shoot, the new management company. Powertrip entered the Billboard charts in the top 50, a coup for a heavy rock record. Monster Magnet had a video in heavy rotation at MTV, “Space Lord” was heard every hour on the hour on every rock station across the country. My work was done. It was time to kiss my $460,000.00 record goodbye.

Monster Magnet’s tour bus was getting ready to depart. The leather clad Bullgod well equipped to take on the unwashed masses. There’d be lots of one night stands, and stories that would make Jerry Springer’s head spin. One afternoon I received a phone call from MTV News asking for verification that a lesbian act had been performed onstage.  I wasn’t clear on who I should ask about that. Standing on the bus Dave put his arm around me. I reached around and scratched his back. We let go of each other as people began to board. I walked down the stairs and back into my world. He had his work to do and I had new artists who needed me. Powertrip had arrived.

A little over twenty years later I was on the phone with Matt Hyde. As we were about to say goodbye, I confessed to him, “The gift Dave gave to me, left me with, is he made me feel beautiful. He made me feel like the most beautiful girl in the world. No one had ever made me feel like that.” Long pause, and Matt said, “He could do that. He made me feel beautiful too.”

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He still makes me feel like the most beautiful woman in the room.

Dedicated to Dave and Matt, my partners in the trenches.

 

 

 

 

 

Author: debbiessong

I hate emojis. I love music. I am a facilitator, a muse, a stylish girl, and a worker among workers. I am a recovering everything. A living testament that, “more will be revealed.” I am a record executive, a teacher, and music lover. I devour books, and put on outfits to read them. I put on outfits to do most anything. I am a zeitgeist, a muse, supreme organizer of other’s insanity, while I try to hide my own. I do a mean headstand. I am a friend to rock stars, artists, academics, entrepreneurs, the have been, the have-nots, and housewives. I am a devoted dog mommy. I am obsessed with tragic women, and in love with powerful women. Being a woman makes me indescribable, although I am sitting here quite comically trying. Past professions include; A&R executive for 20 years (Queens of the Stone Age, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Monster Magnet, Uncle Tupelo, DGeneration, Blessid Union of Souls were some of the artists I signed and would like to shout that from a summit), a high school English teacher for eight years-Jersey City inner city/i.e-ghetto for most of those years, an occasional yoga instructor, a talent buyer/promotor for a NYC lower east side nightclub for one year. I currently work with an iconic music artist, and have been given the green light and support to write a book. Amidst these current goals and dreams I try to put my head where my feet are and move forward. That practice works only when I employ the program I embrace, and the exceptional human beings (including dogs and mom) I keep close. I remind myself of this daily. I tragically lost someone. Relationships are never accidental. I have stories. He urged me to write them. Gary, I lost the words (and the car). You said, “I forgive you everything,” as well as, “Are you writing?” “Are you writing?” “Are you writing?” ‘Debbie’s Song’ was first heard on InsidePlaya. I can’t find the car, but I promise I will find my voice.

4 thoughts on “Motherf*cker: The Making of Powertrip”

    1. Wow! Such a compliment coming from a man who can explain the baroque period up through graffiti as an art form and include much of the music that complimented each period. A true Renaissance Man who can be found in a New York rock & roll club every night of the week! Thanks Alan.

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  1. That was one wild ride. I had to take a breath a few times, as there were points I forgot to breathe myself. Powertrip was not a folie au deux, it was a CULT. Thank you for being reprogrammed enough to share with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I know you remember how stupid the music biz got in the 90s. And I know you remember that I was always in L.A. running to save Wyndorf. And I know you know that a lot of the horrible crap people (ahem meanest boy) thought he did (like hit me) was a bunch of bullshit (not Bullgod). Although there was that one food fight, but I came a fingernail close to nailing him with an orange. The “SPLAT” surprised us all. Diane Gentile ran away! hahaha!!! So, I know you were there, and that when they came to Coney Island High you raised your fist and screamed, “Space Lord Mother Fucker!” Actually you did that again just a few months ago. CULT. Yup. Always motherfuckers. (we gotta remember to send this to Miriam-who took that last photo)

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