Phil Caivano is one of rock ‘n’ roll’s iron men, a steady and celebrated multi-instrumentalist and behind the scenes wizard who’s ridden the Monster Magnet roller-coaster for 25 years.
Now he’s stepping into the spotlight in a big way, launching his debut self-titled solo effort which he’s had more than a heavy hand in.
“Well you know, I was playing with it for a little while and it was bubbling for a little while,” Caivano shared in a sit-down with Metal Injection. ” I was working with a couple of people and some songs came up and the guys in Monster Magnet were doing their thing. Bob [Pantella] and Garrett [Sweeny] do the [The Atomic Bitchwax] thing, Dave [Wyndorf] and I are always in communication about what we do. And I’ve always been clear that I’ve always been really satisfied with working in Magnet. Being the Magnet the guitar player, behind the scenes guy making a lot of things. You know, working with Dave has always been enough. It’s just something I’ve always done.”
The genesis for much of the project began years ago with Capricorn, a collaboration between Caivano and the late Todd Youth, with Caivano explaining, “unfortunately Todd had passed, so the Capricorn thing didn’t happen again and I didn’t have guys to do it with. I resurrected these songs. I listed down some things. It was during the pandemic, of course, all the free time on that. And I was like, Wow, there might be a little nucleus of something here.
“Magnet wasn’t doing anything. We did the cover record, Better Dystopia. So that kind of got me going again, and I opened up my computer and listened to some things. I started writing a little bit more. Some time went by and I wasn’t really planning on doing it. And then one night I was hanging out with Bob. I was like, ‘I got like the nucleus of this record, I’m gonna see what you think.’ You know, maybe we’ll get together and finish it. Maybe we’ll just do a couple of songs and put it online or whatever. And it just started snowballing really fast. And Bob and I have worked so much together. He’s got a studio. I have a studio, it’s right up the road. He was like, ‘Yeah man, let’s bang this out!’ All right, we’re in. So that was that.”
Aside from Pantella‘s drum-work, Caivano holds all major duties on the 10-track collection of pure, unfiltered fuzzed-out rock, including a rare turn as lead vocalist.
“Once I started working with Bob, I was like, Well, the only thing I really can’t do is play drums. I’m terrible. I was like, I can do this. You know, it started out with some riffs and started out with guitar stuff … I mean, I grew up a bass player. A lot of people don’t know that, but that’s my first instrument. I love, love, love playing bass. I became a guitar player by default and it just started going, like okay, here’s a guitar part. And I tried to keep it as simple as I could,” he shared, joking that he wasn’t overly comfortable stepping in-front of the mic initially.
“I was honestly not that comfortable doing that. I haven’t been in front of a microphone. I’ve done some backgrounds on some Magnet stuff. I do background on all the live stuff, but I haven’t been a lead vocalist or lyricist in a really long time. And I’ve always written and I love that stuff. Initially I was like, Oh my God, the sound of my voice, what am I doing? And I hear that from a lot of singers and I wouldn’t consider myself a singer or more of a vocalist, but I was just like, ‘Man, turn the brain off and let it rip, you know?’ Like, what the fuck? I’m not going to think too much about this stuff. I had to get my head out of that.”
Reflecting on the 25th anniversary of joining his longtime friend and collaborator Wyndorf in Monster Magnet as rhythm guitarist (a year that also marked the release of the band’s opus Powertrip), Caivano explains that the invitation came out of left field.
“At the time Dave asked me to join Magnet, I was really content and happy being a behind the scenes guy because I was around a couple of the other records and us being friends and talking about things. The things I was doing he was supportive of and things he was doing I was supportive of. But like when he asked me to join the band, I was kind of blown away. I did not expect that at all,” Caivano admits, walking back to the moment his career in music changed forever.
“I happened to be back east for the holidays or something, and we were going to go to the diner and shoot the shit and we just sat down with him and Tim Cronin, and Tim was like, ‘Okay Dave, spit it out.’ He says ‘Okay. Phil, will you join Monster Magnet?’ I was like what?! And it was right into it. I always try to play cool and be like, ‘Well, you know, I need a minute. I’m living in L.A, I got all this going on and I gotta figure it out, but I’ll let you know.’ In the meantime, I drove home and I was like, yes! And I was in a ten minute period going, how do I get back to L.A.? How do I move back to Jersey? How do I tell everybody I’m not available for their shit in L.A. anymore and get back to Jersey?”
The rest, as they say, was history. Caivano joined the band just as they were to break into hard rock mainstream with the release of their best-selling record Powertrip. Anchored by the chart-topper “Space Lord”, the album and subsequent tour would see Monster Magnet trek across the globe, rubbing shoulders with some of the rock world’s biggest names.
“And then, of course, going out with Powertrip, and that’s a special record and that’s a special time in music. You know, we were really fortunate to play with some great people at the time, going out and doing shows and doing all the festivals and Europe and touring with some bands over here, really getting out there. Honestly, I was never on a tour bus in my life before that. I’ve always been in vans and cars and sleeping on floors.”
Pre-order Caivano on vinyl here!