The wellspring of doom/stoner metal can always be traced back to the original source of Black Sabbath, but there’s little debate that Sleep constituted a major tributary of that particular waterway. When Sleep woke from a Van Winkle-esque slumber to pummel a live audience for the first time in over a decade, the buzz from the metal community was palpable. The energy soon morphed to shades of anger and disappointment, as it appeared that a single trans-Atlantic date was to be the only performance from this much-revered band. That changed with the news of select U.S. dates, the kickoff occurring at this year’s All Tomorrow’s Parties held at Kutcher’s Country Club in New York.
Although the group’s most infamous record is entitled Dopesmoker, a few hours before a headlining set at the first night of ATP, Al Cisneros, bassist in Sleep, was sucking down coffees in the empty artist catering area. Cisneros was soft spoken and quite obviously focused on the task at hand. Drummer Jason Roeder of Neurosis — a replacement for original drummer Chris Hakius, who left the group following Sleep’s only previous reunion show, at a U.K. edition of ATP last year — appeared from the golf pro shop next door. Sleep weren’t really doing press at ATP, but Roeder and Cisneros did agree to answer a few questions. Below are their thoughts on rehearsing for the reunion shows, preparing for ATP and what’s next for their various projects.
Jason, when you were doing rehearsals, did you try to play in Chris’s style or your own style, of playing in Neurosis?
Jason Roeder: I guess in my style. I was telling Al about this. After the first practice — I’ve known Sleep for so long; we used to tour with Sleep — and the songs are ingrained in my memory. Each part of each song was a no-brainer, knowing the songs. But it was sort of a reverse thing in that I had no muscle memory of the songs, and that’s one of the more important things being a musician, especially a drummer, is the physical memory of playing the songs. It was the struggle between having my body follow what my brain had memorized, adapting and learning where all my limbs had to be in space. I guess there’s certain parts of certain songs where certain beats and accents really have to be there, that makes that riff. Then there’s other things that are more left to interpretation, like fills. It’s actually kind of the same way Chris would do some things in a live setting: He’d play it a little differently.
How extensive was the rehearsing for this incarnation versus the rehearsal you did for the first reunion show with Chris on drums?
AC: We just practiced, and it’s just been a lot of fun. The past few months, we’ve been rehearsing whenever we could with our schedules.
When Chris rejoined for the U.K. ATP, that was just a one-off, closing the chapter?
JR: I think he had already made his decision about how he wanted to continue with music, but he had already committed [to ATP], so it was like, “I’ll do that and that’ll be it.”
How did this second round of touring come about after the ATP one-off?
AC: We just really wanted to play, especially for U.S. fans. Having done the reunion last year in England, we said when were talking about it initially that if we’re gonna put the effort into rehearsing and working on material, let’s make a few more shows out of it rather than just one show.
JR: I can recall even before Al called me up and asked me to do this that people, especially on the West Coast after like the whole ATP U.K. thing got announced, were like, “What the hell? Why do they get it?”
Al, you have three different projects right now: Om, Sleep and Shrinebuilder.
AC: Shrinebuilder’s getting ready to go to Europe in November. Full European tour, which was supposed to be last April.
Oh, the volcano. That was good for me because I got to see you guys at Europa in Brooklyn.
AC: That was a fun show.
Was that a bummer, though, when that fell apart logistically?
AC: In the end it worked out really well. We were all still together as a band for the entire week and a half following the volcano, so we went back and started working on songs. So we got a good head start on material.
Al, when you play with those bands, there’s a lot of space in the songs. Do you approach that sort of playing based on the outfit, or is it just that your natural playing style melds in with the other ingredients in the band?
Al Cisneros: Mostly it’s just my playing style, and through each specific band it’s detailed more in that way, those songs. But it was interesting going back and learning how to play — when we did the first reunion show last year, how I played in ’94 or ’95 versus now, and going back into that mindset.
I did an interview with Dale Crover, of Melvins and Shrinebuilder, a couple months ago, and he mentioned there’s another record in the works.
AC: Neurosis is working on another one too, right?
JR: Yeah, we’re recording and writing and we’re doing ATP in December [curated by Godspeed! You Black Emperor].
Are you going to play new material at that show?
JR: We might bust out some new stuff, and if it works out we might be digging way back in the catalog for something too. After that we start woodshedding because when we did Given to the Rising we actually wrote quite a bit of material that didn’t make it onto that record. We had almost two full albums, the skeletons of two full albums. So we decided to concentrate on doing an album’s worth, getting it done. So we have to flesh out the rest of those songs.
Al, whose idea was it in Shrinebuilder to do the Joy Division cover “24 Hours”?
AC: Scott (Kelly, of Neurosis) and Wino are giant fans.
Now, Neurosis covered “Day of the Lords.”
JR: Yeah, “Day of the Lords.” I think that was the first cover we ever did. We wanted to do a little something. That was very early Neurosis.
I guess you guys aren’t really going to see any bands besides the ones that play today, but for the ATP you did last year, did any bands stick out?
AC: No, we just really focused on the Sleep set. Especially since that was the first one since the last one, in San Francisco in ’94.
The back story of Dopesmoker is one of the crazier in music, do you have any thoughts on how that went down? In terms of putting it out, getting dropped and waiting forever for it to come out in full.
AC: Not positive ones, no. [Laughs]
I remember Jason telling an anecdote where he saw Sleep and you came on stage and said, “Hi, we’re Sleep and this is our last song.” And then you played the entirety of Dopesmoker.
AC: Yeah, I think we did that on the Hawkwind tour.
You toured with Hawkwind?
AC: Well, one tour with Nik Turner’s Hawkwind. Nik and Del from the original band.
You were talking about what you’re going to do with Neurosis at ATP in November, and, Al, you mentioned how focused you were on the Sleep set last year at ATP. You guys are slotted in for a two-hour closing set tonight, and it’s another ATP event. When you’re approaching something special like ATP, do you work harder — whether it’s Sleep or Neurosis or Om — on doing something special? Does that enter into your planning at all?
AC: Any show, any time, is the same preparation, same concentration for me.
JR: For me, too, for Neurosis. Especially when we were pulling together this set, we started the rehearsals, got through all the songs, got them all down, got everything where we want it, and fleshed it out from there. And when I last added it up in my head we were right at about two hours’ worth of material with no breaks.
Pretty long set for a festival.
JR: It’s really dynamic music, though, and so it’s not quite as tiring as I feared it would be.
Last year Kid Millions from Oneida played drums for 8 hours and played with the Boredoms. I think for drummers especially, marathon sets seem to be an issue. Is that something you think about, you’re conscious of stamina issues?
JR: Yeah, definitely pacing myself. You have to approach it — I don’t wanna call it an athletic point of view, but don’t blow out your limbs in the first few songs. You save a little bit and have room.
And you guys have a crazy tour schedule. Going to L.A. tomorrow, back to New York, and then back to the West Coast. Does that also involve figuring out your stamina or is it just going for the ride?
JR: It’s kind of just going for the ride. You sleep you when you can. This is actually really not that far out of normal. Neurosis will do these one-off tours or one-off dates all over Europe within a week or two. So I’m used to that mode of touring, where you’re just on a plane or on a bus or on a boat or on a ferry or whatever and you go go go.
You guys have the somewhat unenviable task of following The Stooges tonight. How did that come out? I figured they would play last.
JR: I think they didn’t wanna play so late in the evening. They wanted to kind of hit the crowd at prime time. I mean, that’s The Stooges. That’s their prerogative.