Seminal stoner doom outfit Sleep will be appearing in Perth for the first time next week. Guitarist Matt Pike tells JESSICA WILLOUGHBY some exciting news about the future of the band ahead of their show at the Rosemount Hotel on Monday, October 28, with The Devil Rides Out and Bayou.
So it looks like Sleep might be releasing a new album this year. For anyone that has their finger remotely on the pulse of stoner rock, this is a huge deal.
Albeit, it’s not totally unexpected. Since reforming in 2009 for what was meant to be a one-off show, the trio has gone from strength to strength. Hitting the festival tour trails hard throughout Europe and the US over the last two years, the response from fans and critics alike has been nothing short of full-scale hysteria – as the outfit garnered quite the cult following during their semi-permanent hiatus. Touted now as perhaps one of the defining acts of the stoner doom genre, the influence of the Sleep sound can be heard in many subsequent releases by bands from all over the world.
But it wasn’t always this way. When guitarist Matt Pike, bassist Al Cisneros and then-drummer Chris Hakius first got together under their current moniker in the ‘90s, their vision was completely against the grain – even for lovers of the underground American punk rock and hardcore movement. Pike admits those early days were an uphill battle.
“We’ve had some hard times in the past,” he tells X-Press. “We made some really youthful albums, with probably the most well-known being Holy Mountain (1993). It was really full of piss and vinegar. We really became good at playing right around that time. It had a big impact, but not until a little later. What we were doing at the time, which was in the early ‘90s, was really not that popular.
“Not like the death metal thing at the time. Like Napalm Death and Carcass; they were doing the popular thing. We were this weird Sabbath band out of the punk scene. We went from Asbestosdeath to Sleep and transitioned musically. It made an impact on people but it seemed like it took a long time to sink in. Almost to the point where at the end, just before we first broke up, people started catching on to it. We just started getting some fans then.
“There was all this time in between when we were apart and Sleep had a lot of time to grow. Now it’s become absolutely huge. I never thought that would happen. It’s really cool that we could come back and do these shows and have a lot of people really excited about it.”
The first to recognise the sharp rise in popularity of stoner outfits in the past few years, Pike believes the trend is due to people being more “switched-on” about music. “A lot of kids these days are smarter thinkers,” he says. “If something is really underground, outspoken or different – they all want to have an identity that’s not so MTV. I know what used to be underground hip hop in my day has now turned into a big corporate smear.
“I’m happy there’s kids out there that aren’t so attached to the corporate spew and know about something that’s a bit better, in the musical context. Something that’s a little bit more real and has more self-expression. We believe there’s a lot of soul and humanity in our music. I don’t want to become some computer chip person. Or a cyber dork. It’s not my deal. I think there’s kids out there that want a taste of the real thing.”
Although earning them respect, striving to live by their own ethos and not conforming to the desires of the record companies led to Sleep disbanding in 2003. Though not before they hinted at their masterpiece, the intoxicating 63-minute opus, Dopesmoker. Initially rejected by their label at the time, the single song album was shelved after the weed-loving outfit tried to edit down the track to 52 minutes – the cut now known as Jerusalem (1999).
But last year, they finally released the original recording on vinyl – the way it should have been done all those years ago – through Southern Lord Records. A coup for the band, Pike agrees he is finally happy with how the LP turned out.
“We wanted to give the album to fans in an organic way; on vinyl,” he says. “We outsold our CDs with actual analogue vinyl by tenfold almost. We sold the most ridiculous amount of LPs. It’s absurd. We’ve gotta have some of the highest number of actual vinyl records sold in the United States by one band; it’s incredible. It was a lot. It’s the opposite of what’s happening today, in terms of trends with MP3s. It’s cool to be part of the anomaly.”
Now with Jason Roeder (Neurosis) on drums, Sleep is finally coming to Australia. With Pike and Cisneros both playing over here with their other projects – High On Fire and Om – in recent years, being down under is not a new thing for these musicians. But we may hear something different from their namesake outfit, if we’re lucky.
“We have recorded some stuff we’ve been messing around with in rehearsals and some live shows,” Pike says. “We’re also pretty close to playing Dopesmoker live now. I don’t know if Australian audiences will see it when we come over. I guess it depends on what we feel like playing at the time. Sleep has the way of being a bit of a cosmic jam. We may even have a new album of unreleased tracks before the end of the year for fans. We’ll see how we go.”
Sleep play the Rosemount Hotel on Monday, October 28, with The Devil Rides Out and Bayou.
Get your tickets here.