by Black Bubblegum

Sleep in Germany, 1993 (permission from Al Cisneros)

Sleep departed from this Earth 'round 1996, and not with a bang, but a whimper. In 1995, the future members of Om and High On Fire began work on their third LP, the follow-up to their highly-acclaimed Holy Mountain. Upon completion, Sleep delvered their new album, entitled Dopesmoker to their label, London Records, who deemed it "unmarketable". Undeterred, the band headed back to the studio and reemerged with Jerusalem, a leaner version of Dopesmoker with re-written lyrics. Again, London Records refused and as a result, Sleep disbanded.
Jerusalem AND Dopesmoker have since seen the light of day, and in that time the legend of Sleep has grown by leaps and bounds.

Nowadays Sleep is cited by most (if not all) doom metal enthusiasts as a seminal band, and usually in the same breath as such heavyweights as Saint Vitus (who are also reuniting) & Pentagram.

Since it was announced that Sleep would reunite for the ATP's The Fans Strike Back Festival, fans have been clamoring to hear more details about the reunion, as well as the reasons behind it and whether they would play any additional shows. Luckily, we were able to corner Al Cisneros of shortly after his tour of Europe with Om to discuss some of these issues as well as shed some more light on Om, Shrinebuilder, and High On Fire's new album!


When I interviewed you in September, were the plans already in the works, or did the ATP folks corner you at the festival and start to nail it down then?

Al Cisneros: These plans have always been kind of tentative when the right time arose... We've always been in contact. We've never been estranged for a long period of time since the band broke up in '96. It's really difficult to have all three of us in the same room at the same time... touring schedules, recording schedules, all sorts of different factors. The first time we were all together after the dissolution of Sleep was at a party at my house in San Francisco about six years ago, and we talked then and it was more of a "someday, get around to it" type thing. At my wedding last August, both Matt [Pike of High On Fire, Kalas] and Chris [Hakius, ex-Om] were there and it was another rare opportunity to discuss it in person, rather than convey phone messages through third parties. It was then that we were like "lets do this now."

When you decided to reunite, was it because of the fans or more because of the way Sleep ended?

Promoters have constantly tried to get that band back together, so that was never an impetus. It was really more about when we were ready as people. The main reason, the only reason really... The three of us as friends had gone through an indescribable disappointment with Sleep... it never blossomed in the way that we focused our youthful energies, and then it broke... When it ended at the last practice, we were all devastated... heartbroken and really just shattered. It was debilitating, in this catatonic state for all of us. Anyway, we've always reserved an option as to how it would be really healing to play those songs again on our terms, and not Earache's or London's or certain I-don't-even-want-mention terms... but for us, the friends that met in school. Since Sleep ended, those songs have remained as trapped energy in all of us for essentially 12 years. These shows offer a way to heal, and to close it with peace and a smile inside. It's an opportunity to have catharsis and put those songs in the sky where they belong... to move forward and let it purge.

Matt & Al of Sleep in High School!

The ATP site isn't super clear, but you guys are performing [the album] Holy Mountain one day and portions of the rest of the catalog the next?

Actually, we are going to be doing all of Holy Mountain both nights, different portions of "Dopesmoker" on both nights, and there's some music that we had written that intended to be on "Jerusalem" that never saw light of day. One song in particular that we've always loved, but nobody's ever heard...

Wow, and that song isn't "Sonic Titan"?

No, people have never heard this before. Actually, portions of "Sonic Titan" became "Jerusalem"... In alot of ways, "Sonic Titan" was just an early little sprout that turned into something else.

So to clear the air, is this pretty much the only show you are doing?

Thats the intention, I mean. Om is doing our new album in March, High On Fire is recording their new album in April, Shrinebuilder is recording our new album in January and that's where everybody's mind and heart is today... and that's always the priority. So yeah, I can't really say anymore about Sleep's future things... we're doing these and that's it.

So we know what's going on with you and Matt [Pike of Sleep and High on Fire]... so what's going on with Chris [Hakius of Sleep and Om's ex-drummer]? Are these shows kind of his last hurrah?

I guess you could say that... he's doing the two shows. He and Matt have been in correspondence, he and I have been in correspondence we're all talking about it and things are good.

So you said in January you're laying down Shrinebuilder stuff...

Yeah, it's all been written.

And Neurot's going to drop that?

Yep, the debut LP will be out on Neurot.

Om, Emil spots a bird, I think.... more by Zach Dilgard

So I know that you will be at Roadburn with Om, Scott Kelly is there with Neurosis (and solo), and Wino will be there with Saint Vitus... are you guys setting us up for a Shrinebuilder show at Roadburn 2009?

Dale Crover [Melvins] won't be at Roadburn this year, but maybe in 2010. We will however be doing some dates when the LP is released.

Definitely let us know when those dates start to materialize... So, as far as Om is concerned, what about live dates... are you guys doing any other touring besides Roadburn?

We're looking at a some possibilities in the Pacific Northwest for February, but right now all energies are focused on the new studio album with Steve Albini.

Well, thanks so much for your time Al.


For more Al, check our interview from earlier this year (if you haven't already).

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