Photos by Tina Gordon
Driving cross-country with a bunch of mates can be a total prick. Roadhouse, cancer-baiting food, deep vein thrombosis, drunken shenanigans in the back seat and crazed, coffee-fuelled sprints through seas of semi-trailers are all part of the deal. The worst part by far though, are the fights over who should play what on the CD player. Your best friend suddenly becomes your worst enemy the split second he decides it would be a really great idea to throw on one of his early 90s techno mixes. The only medicine strong enough to calm the shit-storm is a nicely tailored number while you try to hold out ‘til it’s your turn and you can slip in Variations On A Theme, the inaugural slab of quicksand jams from Om. Born from the bong mist of stoner wizards, Sleep, Al Cisneros and Chris Haikus have firmly laid the gauntlet down and staked a claim as the Godzilla and King Kong of monster riffs. It’s like they’ve dragged Pentagram out of their tour van and drowned them in a murky bucket of Hawkwind, before hurtling them into the unknown territories of the spaceways.
VICE: When I listen to you guys, why do I feel like I’m on my way somewhere, when I haven’t moved at all?
Al: That’s just the way Chris and I play together and for us there is no getting away from it. Repetition of the currents, rhythms, and syllables loosen the mooring on the physical organism—induce an altered state. When we lock into a riff, it starts to breathe and temporarily shifts regular sensory perception for as long as it durates.
Ok. How does that work?
Most of our job is not to interfere with the flow. We don’t look for riffs, they are already there, at all times. The musicians and instruments act as a sort of audio-lens which exist so that others may become aware of the songs. The songs are infinite and always there, it just takes the players to call them out into the open.
No shit? It all seems very scientific or spiritual or something.
Many of the verses contain themes alluding to liberation, or freedom. They come from the sum total integration of where we are in our lives at this point. All from the past to this very second; all factors, from every level the existence. The structure of the universes. The nature of reality. Is there a beyond to the states of happiness and sadness? The problem of life. The question of meaning. Departure from the body, matter, energy, interacting forces. What is the purpose of embodiment? The lines are just extensions of issues contemplated from daily life—they are a sort of catharsis.
Ok then. What is Om?
We chose a word/symbol which encompasses that which is open and irreducible. The sound/symbol of a current throughout all of atomic space. Not an audible, aural current or frequency, but a sensed energy. It is the word symbol of the essence of that vibratory current which is throughout the matter-field of creation.
With your previous band, Sleep, you made an album called Dopesmoker. It seems as though weed is still a big part of the equation?
It’s not as spelled out in Om—weed in and of itself is only one method of dilation to reach the ground of altered states, where reflection ensues. Respect to it and its proper respected use. Each knows what is best for themselves. A valuable tool, as well as a botanical shrine. We need to make music because if we don’t, it will burn up our insides. If the resultant output is something people can get into if they are on drugs, that’s good. But just the same, if people who absorb the music in a totally sober mind-state are equally transported by the music—that is also positive.
What do you listen to when you’re getting stoned?
There will always be the tutelage of early Sabbath. In Butler and Ward, one can take refuge in stoner proper. Often, when stoned, I just like to listen to the sounds around me, not always to music itself. That gives me an open space for the internal riffs to start percolating. Then when I know something is revealing itself, I’ll go grab my bass and capture it.
Papers, pipe or bong?
No exclusive delivery device. In Sleep, we put together some very interesting smoking apparatus—there were many times where we had to come up with something with whatever was available in the immediate environment. Apple pipe, plastic water bottles, tin foil chillums, you know? If given the choice, I guess we prefer bong, or vaporizer, as it is better on the organism.
Om’s Variations on a Theme is available now on Holy Mountain.