After 15 Years, Sleep Come Out Slugging For 48 Hours Only
Photo by Ben Rayner
Earlier this year I was talking with a pal about dream musical reformations. The more we talked about the turds who’d recently reformed for cash, the more we realised how little we cared about any of them.
That all changed when ATP announced that Sleep would reform for two shows at the Fans Strike Back gigs in May.
Sleep was a really heavy stoner band from San Jose in the 90s. Al Cisneros, Matt Pike and Chris Hakius grew up together listening to punk and formed a band called Asbestos Death, which later went on to become Sleep. When they released Sleep’s Holy Mountain, in 1992, everybody even slightly interested in underground rock went nuts about it, including Harmony Korine, who used the song “Dragonaut” in the opening sequence of Gummo.
After that, a big record company gave the band six figures to spend on making a more commercial record but instead they spent all the money on weed and made a 75-minute dirge called Jerusalem.
But the experience with mild fame and all the bullshit that brings led to the band breaking up really, really badly.
While the spirit of their music lived on in the bands Om and High On Fire, anybody who knew Sleep, and knew the inside story of the split, was pretty much convinced they would never ever play live again.
It took the mysterious power of love (the trio met at Al’s wedding last year) and some coaxing and help from the people at ATP, and then all of a sudden one of the most unexpected reunions in the history of heavy music was ON!
After playing two nights of devastatingly perfect sets, including most of Sleep’s Holy Mountain and all the best bits from Dopesmoker, they agreed to talk to us for ten minutes backstage. This is what we managed to coax out of them.
Vice: How did it feel playing those songs after almost a decade and a half?
Matt Pike (guitar): It was really emotional, and really got out a bunch of stuff. It’s been a really long time since we’ve done that together. It was good and I think that was the experience for all three of us and probably our fans and anyone who heard it tonight too. But whatever, it was pretty deep for me anyway.
Did you play the songs informed by what you’ve all been doing since you broke up or did you just go back and play them as they were when you left them?
Al Cisneros (bass): When I had my first rehearsal with these guys after such a long time, I wanted to do things in the old Sleep songs that I would do now if we wrote them, but they didn’t belong there. So I just went back to the complete mindset of 1992, and really spent time going into that space.
Chris Hakius (drums): The body has a way of remembering what it has done before. The muscles and memory cells remember the methods.
Al: And everything else just happened.
In terms of equipment, did you go back to what you were using then?
Matt: I was using the nine-string guitar I use in High On Fire but we had the Orange Matamp out there tonight, so compared to High On Fire you are talking apples and oranges.
Al: And Tony Iommi’s key, which really made a difference tonight but it was actually pretty close.
You’ve said this is it but is it something that you would possibly do again?
Matt: Whatever the universe tells us to do, we will listen.
Al: We had talked about it in August at my wedding, when all three of us were together for the first time in a long time, and we decided that all three of us were interested and once we’d decided to do it a call came through the next week so it was suddenly like, “Wow, we’re doing this.” The whole thing has been blessed from the start.
Chris: It felt like the time was right, and as he says, the universe spoke to us so we listened.