It was 1995. Grunge was wearing woefully thin and nu-metal was lurking just around the corner. Someone needed to blast a hole through this wall of mumbling self-pity and sexless whining, preferably using a giant raygun full of drugs, naked women and mind-bending space rock anthems. So, who you gonna call?
“I’ll never forget it,” he recalls today. “It was like, ‘Alright, I wanna do everything on Dopes… that I didn’t do on Superjudge.’ Superjudge was a really annoying- sounding record with a lot of mid-range stuff. On Dopes… I wanted to make a kind of smooth, ethereal kind of rock record. I wanted the whole thing to have that really consistent sound. I want to be able to put on this record and be instantly transported to the land of Dopes To Infinity and I’ll never wanna leave that land! I didn’t want it to sound like a random collection of songs. I really wanted to make something that was completely different from everything else out there.”
“The record became a total mission for me,” he admits. “It didn’t take that long but it seemed like it took forever because I was always making shit up as it went along. I’d go back to the hotel room and draw diagrams and crazy stuff. It was right at the dawn of digital sampling and all the samples sounded like shit and I wanted real instruments, so I was renting real Mellotrons, and they’re a huge pain in the ass. They’re huge instruments and they have to be tuned constantly. Everything was a tuning nightmare. I was tuning the drums with a guitar tuner! Ha ha ha ha! It was nuts. It was a real weird experience for the guys I was working with too. They’d never done anything like that before. We were working from four o’clock in the afternoon until eight in the morning and the poor engineers had just about had it, like, ‘What do you want now, Dave?’”
Listening back to Dopes To Infinity now, it’s remarkable how densely textured these comparatively straight-forward rock songs ended up sounding. Everything from the lurching, Sabbath- inspired riff-up of the title track through to the claustrophobic squall of Ego The Living Planet and on to the pulsing comedown mantra of Vertigo is fit to burst with ideas and sonic quirks, all of which contribute to an overall sense that this is the sound of an imagination running riot. Dave was doing whatever it took to fully realise his sonic masterplan.
Of course, even though the record company were happy to let Dave have a free rein in the studio, they were still primarily in the business of selling records. With that in mind, the news that Dopes To Infinity was destined to sound like something beamed in from another planet set alarm bells ringing in the A&M offices.
“I remember the record company saying, ‘Would you please try and make it sound at least like something people might recognise?’” says Dave. “I think the guy was just trying to tell me in his own way that I could do myself a lot of favours if I could just buckle down and write at least one song for the masses. I kinda did it with Negasonic Teenage Warhead. I guess that was my answer to him. It’s not hard, you know? Nirvana songs just sounded like Boston to me, like More Than A Feeling. So I took one of those riffs and wrote the whole thing in half an hour.”
Arguably the song that broke Monster Magnet into the rock mainstream, Negasonic Teenage Warhead made its first appearance in demo form on the soundtrack of a critically lauded but largely ignored independent movie called S.F.W. that came and went in 1994. By the time the song was re-recorded for Dopes To Infinity, it was clear that it was the only song on the album that had meaningful commercial potential, and so it was chosen as the album’s first single and plans were drawn up to film a video. In keeping with the album’s general air of creative excess, the end result is one of the more insane videos you’ll find on YouTube. In fact, it was even more bonkers than Dave Wyndorf had originally intended.
Despite some minor success with Negasonic Teenage Warhead, the Dopes To Infinity project manifestly didn’t bring Monster Magnet the kind of world-bothering fame and fortune that record company executives had been hoping for. Nonetheless, it cemented the band’s reputation as the undisputed masters of psychedelic hard rock and frontrunners in the burgeoning space and stoner rock boom that was having a particularly large impact in Europe.
“It was shit! A total disaster! Fucking horrible! Ha ha!” he roars. “But seriously, it was somewhat close to what I wanted, but when it was over I kinda thought I’d gone a bit too far. It’s such a world of its own that it doesn’t have much dynamics inside of it. It’s not emotional enough. That’s where Powertrip came from. It had to be more emotional and I had to separate myself from being a producer and a singer. That’s the one problem I have with Dopes…, that I was a producer first and a singer second. Live and learn, man. It’s still a fuckin’ cool record.”
This feature was originally published in Classic Rock issue 94, in May 2006.