Saturday, December 26, 2009

Because Dusted Magazine Will Probably Never Publish It: An Interview with Al Cisneros

Shifting Paradigms of the Godhead: An Interview with Al Cisneros of Om

    Obelisk forms, dissolving moons, and hollowed names; these and many other arcane meditations encompass the perpetual motions of Al Cisneros' mantric two-piece, Om. Like any good story, Om's has a beginning that many are likely familiar with.

    After the three-year-long development hell of what would become their last record entitled Jerusalem (posthumously released as a bootleg in 1998 and in its intended form as Dopesmoker in 2003 ), Sleep dissolved into the ether, marking the end of what is consistently referred to as one of the most influential bands of the stoner/doom metal sub-genre. While guitarist Matt Pike went on to form the riffing monolith that is High On Fire soon after the break  up, bassist Al Cisneros and drummer Chris Haiku remained under the radar until 2005 with the full-length release of Variations on a Theme as the newly formed - and vastly different - Om. With the departure of Haiku in early 2008 in mid-tour, Om quickly found a fitting replacement with Grails and Holy Sons drummer Emil Amos and continued on their quest of sonic vigilance.

    Having wrapped up their North American tour and gearing up for a a brief run through England to promote their new record, God Is Good, Al found some spare time in his busy schedule to answer a few questions about the new record and the band's direction, his views on the music he creates and the process behind it, and his fondness for dub.

JB: While God Is Good in its entirety is definitely a sign of new developing ideas, Cremation Ghat I & II specifically seem to be the most telling of Om's direction. Should we expect more along these lines? And what has caused this new shift beyond having a new drummer?
Al Cisneros: The music is moving, we are occupied in discovering the parts and melodies where they exist (heart, mind, and space) and from there gradually bringing them into the exterior auditory plane. Working with Emil we are able to readily and quickly lay foundation so that emphasis can be placed upon structure and – if the song calls for it – augmentations. The core is always the rhythm and its cycles, its seat and cadence, its drive. From there the song proper is taken into consideration - its expansions and retractions – its essentially one song that continues in a spiral ascent, like life.

JB: Watching Robert Lowe (Lichens) and Emil Amos perform with you on stage and witnessing the new record literally materialize right in front of me was quite an experience. Do you think Robert would ever become a permanent member of Om or will it always remain a two-piece?
AC: Its been an organic coalescence, and in view of that we shall see as we continue mining the themes, songs and verses. There is a chemistry and kinship we all hold and a sacred communication.

JB: Pilgrimage was an amazing record, and at the time it was my favorite to date. With God Is Good, I noticed you're continuing the cyclical theme that was found in Pilgrimage - a sort of prayer that has a beginning and end that merely flow into one another. Will this aspect of your full lengths remain as integral as it is now?
AC: The full-lengths are no different in that respect from the individual songs, on an LP the songs have a space between them; it’s the same with the releases, albeit in the latter it can be months or sometimes a year or more before that gap of silence is broken by the next piece, the next note.  Regardless they are all variants on the central theme, the one subject – expressions and salutes to The Reality, The Light, God, The Great Void, It, That, He, She, The Absolute, so many word-symbols point toward this remainder/background it is essential to not be divided by terminology and to remain fixed in the experience of that which is behind the ineffable hollowed name.

JB: The presence of distinct Judeo-Christian iconography seems to be prevalent in your last two records without fully supporting any specific ideology or religion in your music. Are there specific meanings behind this choice of visual supplements and what do you believe you're communicating in your music that ties in with these visuals?
AC: To me, album covers are theoretically supposed to have a visual correlation to the sounds therein  – additional elements for the perceiver in their motion of absorbing the feeling - and understanding the core of the work. In Om we’ve always gone with album art that looks how the records sound. The iconography, like the lyrics/verses are vehicles to help get one to that state.

JB: Lyrically, what are your largest influences?
AC: I really don’t have any outside lyrical influences – life and an integration – report on where I am in the journey/process. I know when a line is finished by its vibrations and how effective it is in its ability to channel to the other plane.

JB: When writing or performing your music, do you believe this is one of many ways you attempt to gain the "Unitive Knowledge of the Godhead," and how close are you to attaining it?
AC: I don’t feel one is really practicing if they are also watching and waiting to see if its working – kind of like the observer effect in physics. It would take you out of the concentration – out of the very process where the grace may visit/descend if IT wills. Not up to you, me or us. We just have to do the work and the rest will take care of itself.

JB: You had mentioned before at some point certain synesthetic qualities of past Om. records. How would you describe god is good on these terms?
AC: This record evokes for me an amber oscillating with a silver-purple; it has warmth and is rich, fluctuating into a cooler atmosphere in certain areas – and throughout it is supported by a floor-beam of dark red/maroon.

JB: I remember reading somewhere that you and Emil shared an interest in dub. Any personal favorite records?
AC: Israel Vibration’s “Unconquered People” and “Same Song” have been on rotation since being home from tour. There’s so much I connect with - Augustus Pablo’s first album, Abyssinians, Burning Spear.

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