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Monster Magnet has never been cool. Frontman Dave Wyndorf has taken his band through heavy psychedelia, down-tuned riff-fests, and balls-out cock rock, but his trips through those styles never managed to coincide with them being in vogue. Even when "Space Lord" became a rock-radio hit in 1998, the song served as a heavy but tuneful oddity in the heyday of nu-metal.
But the band's third album, 1995's Dopes to Infinity, is hailed as Monster Magnet's crowning achievement. The release of that spaced-out, Sabbath-on-Mars record collided head-on with the last gasp of grunge; Dopes flirted with metal and wholly disregarded the idea of subtlety, while its sci-fi whimsy and winking exuberance made it stand out from the downcast rock dominating the airwaves. Its reputation has grown over the years, and Wyndorf has decided to play Dopes in full at two U.S. shows this weekend.
"Big, big, you can't be big enough; drop a fucking A-bomb," Wyndorf says from his home in Red Bank. "Rock is something that's funny and cool and serious and all that shit at the same time. You can either do it the Radiohead way and be miserable, or you can fucking make the giant chorus and blow it up."
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History has re-branded Monster Magnet as pioneers of stoner rock; the band's early output typically gets lumped in with the likes of desert rock legends Kyuss and the attention-span-testing Sleep. But the band's appreciation for joyous bombast and huge rock and roll choruses means that there's less potential for glassy-eyed reverie. It's certainly easy to picture longhairs vibing on Dopes' title track, which opens with a syncopated chromatic lurch that doesn't give way to the song's hook until nearly the three-minute mark. But the wordless shrieks of "Ego, the Living Planet" are the stuff of night terrors—very much the mellow harsher.
Cool or not, stoner or not, Wyndorf is thrilled to have an album that has the legs for a live rebirth; ever since he saw Arthur Lee and Love play Forever Changes front to back in the '90s, he has been sold on the idea of playing a full-album show. But he had some trepidation about building one around Dopes.
"I was nervous about it. We were going to do a record that's almost 20 years old, for one; not our biggest record, for two; and three, it's quite varied," he says. "There's all different kinds of beats on it, bossa nova beats, early- to mid-'60 garage psych. There's hardly any beats that find themselves in big rock halls. That's a big thing when you're playing live—the meatheads in the back need something to stomp to.
Wyndorf is lucky to still be able to get onstage. After surviving an overdose of sleeping pills in 2006, he was put on an anti-seizure medication, which, as a side effect, caused dramatic weight gain in a man who once went on Politically Incorrect in a leather vest and leather pants. "To me, it's like a little victory lap," he says of the show. "'Well, we won this one. Everybody's happy.' You get the feeling everybody is happy before they walk in the door." Wyndorf might not move around onstage as much as he continues to shave off the pounds, but his full-throated bellows haven't lost their power.
"I don't work because of my looks; I work despite of my looks," Wyndorf says, acknowledging that he "blew up like a fucking pumpkin. I did almost everything you can do in a rock and roll band: I OD'd on drugs, I got fat, and now it's the Elvis years. If I didn't look at it for the humor that's involved in there, I'd probably shoot myself. If I didn't believe in the music, I wouldn't be doing it at all."
Monster Magnet play Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday.