After 20 or so odd years of lying dormant, Sleep rose from the ashes with a new drummer and has released their fourth studio album, The Sciences—to the surprise of many—this past 4/20, thus signifying that the mighty behemoths of stoner metal had indeed returned to form. Released on Jack White’s Third Man Records, The Sciences features four brand-new songs and proper studio recordings of “Sonic Titan” and “Antarcticans Thawed” that were originally written during the Dopesmoker time period. After teasing us with 2014’s Adult Swim single “The Clarity,” Sleep sent signals to the world that they were still in existence. The band’s second single on Adult Swim called “Leagues Beneath” has just recently been released and it’s a must-listen. I caught up with Sleep’s bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros, guitarist Matt Pike, and new drummer Jason Roeder during their LA show at The Wiltern Theater this past June. —Aaron Schmidt
Have you guys ever been in Thrasher before?
Al: I remember you guys did an article on us back in, like, 1994.
Wow, that was almost 25 years ago. You guys are definitely due. When did Sleep officially form?
A: We formed the band in San Jose in 1990. We started a new band out of the ashes of our old one, Asbestosdeath.
What made you guys decide you were gonna play songs about weed?
Matt: I think it was the weed.
A: When you smoke a lot and listen to heavy metal music or any kind of metal music—to this day the first four Sabbath records have a magical property to them. It’s unsurpassed. Classical music goes back several hundred years, and electric music only goes back maybe 60 years, so were we able to live long enough, we’d probably see in a few hundred years that those first four Sabbath records are comparable to Beethoven or Mozart. We’re not gonna be alive but I’m pretty sure they’ll be received like that way down the road. And Pink Floyd, for sure. Pink Floyd already is Mozart. David Gilmour is basically like if Jesus Christ played guitar.
What’s your favorite strain?
A: Indica—Skywalker OG. I think it’s like 29-percent and it’s pure Indica. It’s quite effective. It’s also good for bass and it’s good for rhythm.
M: I don’t really smoke pot anymore—I eat it.
What really went down when you guys signed with London Records back in the day? Legend has it you guys spent all your record advance money on recording equipment and weed.
M: You kinda nailed it. We went out to the woods and recorded Dopesmoker. That was in this studio up there—Record Two Studio in Comptche, California—and we spent all our money on weed, amps and guitars. Then we took a break and then came back, finished it and turned it in. We were trying to make it work so there was a radio edit, but we couldn’t do it so they shelved us. That’s it. It was before the Internet, so everything relied on the radio back then. It was kind of a big ol’ mess for a while, but we got it straightened out.
So what year was it when you guys split up?
A: Probably in ’97, I think.
Then you guys obviously went your separate ways. Al, you started Om and Matt started High On Fire, both of which are amazing bands in their own right. And then in 2009, you guys decided to reform during the All Tomorrow’s Parties show in Britain. How did that go down?
M: It was a real good time for us. We played with Chris Hakius, the original Sleep drummer and drummer for Om. It ended up being a cool show and probably the most money the three of us ever got paid to do a show. We had a pretty good time doing it.
Did you guys ever hang out and jam during the time leading up to that show?
M: Not until that show came about.
A: I think all of us wanted to play again, though. Despite what Om and High On Fire have for their expression, there was still something that Matt and I really missed. We hoped we’d be able to someday revisit it because Sleep was straight up our entire lives. Everything about our lives was in the sound of the songs. For it to have ended the way it did, we knew that it needed to continue. So, equally, there was also a healing aspect to be able to get on stage again and play those songs. And then from there it was, like, What the fuck; let’s do this! So here we are, ten years later.
M: We needed a new drummer because Chris wasn’t into the touring thing and hotels, and then we’ve known Jay since we were children. He was kinda like an older brother we grew up playing with.
A: Yeah, he was our first choice in a perfect world of who could play drums. Matt and I grew up going to Gilman Street in Berkeley and seeing him play with Neurosis and there no was no fucking question about his style, his awareness of timing, his dynamics and, most importantly, his heart and our friendship. So when all those things came together for us to play, we were, like, Holy shit. This is an amazing second chance.
So when did you guys start jamming with Jason?
A: In early 2010, I think.
Jason: Al called me up right after the ATP festival and he was just, like, “We want to keep this going. Do you want to do it?” And I was, like, “Duh. Of course I do!” Yeah, it was a total no-brainer. We did a bunch of rehearsals and we did a short tour at the end of 2010. We did another ATP show in New York—that was my first show with these guys. That was in September of 2010. We did a super quick all-the-way-across-the-country tour for about a week and a half. It gelled pretty much instantly right there.
Did you guys ever skate growing up?
M: I wasn’t very good, but I used to skateboard a lot.
A: I tried a lot, but I couldn’t ollie. When I was with my friends, I’d always have to pick up my board at the curb and then throw it down and get back on it. It just got to be a fucking bummer, man.
J: I tried skating for a good two or three years in my early teens. I grew up in the East Bay and there were a lot of punk-rock skate kids. I tried and tried but I just got injured way too much. I just sucked at skating and at some point I just had to give it up.
M: I still put together boards every so often because Santa Cruz used to give us High On Fire decks. We’d trade merch for them, so I still have leftovers from that, but I haven’t done that in a while. I don’t really skate ’em but I still like putting them together.
A: When I used to skate, I used to have a Jeff Grosso deck. It was in a coffin shape and it had a hooded phantom on the bottom of it. One thing I remember from when we were in San Jose in ’91 or ’92, we used to have band practice at this warehouse on 12th street and they had a giant halfpipe.
M: It was Steve Caballero’s place.
A: Yeah, it’s where he would practice his skating. So we’d take breaks from playing songs and then just go over there and watch him skate.
J: His band The Faction would play there, too.
Did you guys have fun making the new record?
J: We’re all in different bands and Sleep is our refuge—it’s sort of our fun thing we do. We try to take it as light as possible. I mean, we take the music very seriously but everything else about it, we try to keep it light and keep it chill. So we all kind of went into the studio with our own ways of recording stuff and it was a new thing with us learning how we’re going to work together in a long-term studio experience. It went really well. It’s a cool thing to be playing music for this long in my lifetime and then have this completely new and different learning experience, which is awesome.
So what’s next for the band?
A: We’ve got a lot of tours coming up.
M: I think we’re done recording music for a minute.
A: Although, Matt’s coming out to where I live in New Mexico in the next few months, and we’re going to start working on writing new riffs—just to keep it going.
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