Matt Pike is many things. But arguably his biggest achievement to date is one, non-stop 63 minute riff that forms the backbone of Sleep’s seminal album, Dopesmoker…
SLEEP formed in the late-1980s. Fuelled by a love of Black Sabbath and weed, the San Jose doom trio, in a relatively short space of time, had a huge impact on the underground music scene during the early 1990s.
This was an era when Nirvana were dominating MTV, when the Melvins were touring their seminal Houdini album. A time when Soundgarden were recording, touring and working on new material.
It was a good time for music, and an even better time for underground metal.
But unlike many of its peers, SLEEP was all about building progressive – while still crushingly heavy – soundscapes, soundscapes that built up and then come crashing down.
Pike uses feedback, distortion, blues riffs, the pentatonic scale, and low-tunings to achieve his distinctive guitar tone. He’s also a big Gibson Les Paul advocate and he always plays shirtless.
And while not your typical gear-head, Pike’s rig for DOPESMOKER is the stuff of legend nowadays (more on this in a bit).
How LSD & Weed Inspired DOPESMOKER
Prior to the release of DOPESMOKER, SLEEP has just signed to a major record label, no small feat for a band of its ilk, and execs and label marketing types, according to Pike, wanted short, radio-friendly songs.
Al and Matt Pike, in his own words, were “smoking a lot of weed” and dropping acid on a pretty regular basis. It was during this period, a period of being pissed off at their label’s demands, that Pike and co started thinking about a concept album that would eventually become DOPESMOKER.
According to Pike, in a range of interviews, DOPESMOKER came to be as part of an idea about creating something unique, something that would stand the test of time, and something quintessentially SLEEP.
The labels weren’t happy, however: no one wanted to put out an album that featured just one, long song. Even if that band was SLEEP, a band riding high on the success of its first album, Holy Mountain.
From a label-perspective – meaning money – it did not make sense. You couldn’t play it on the radio. MTV was a no-no. And the internet didn’t really exist then, so DOPESMOKER faced plenty of resistance.
Jerusalem and Dopesmoker | One Album, Multiple Releases…
Such was the resistance to the concept that would eventually become DOPESMOKER, Sleep struggled to release the album. London Records financed the album, but unhappy with the concept and refused to release it*.
Pike has confirmed that it took almost four years to work out, arrange, and write DOPESMOKER.
And when you think about it, it kind of makes sense: taking a singular concept, building a structure, and making it actually listenable is no mean feat.
Especially when you’re smoking weed all day long. And boshing LSD like it’s going out of fashion.
Initially, the album was called DOPESMOKER. This is how the band referred to it when they played it live.
But during this period – prior to signing to London Records – Al Cisneros, vocals and bass, had gotten heavily into Middle Eastern esotericism and this is where the alternate name for the album came, Jerusalem.
Matt Pike: “The Hardest Thing I’ve Done In My Life”
After a battle with Earache Records, SLEEP were eventually free to sign with London Records, a label that during this period did not have any metal bands on its books. London promised SLEEP complete artistic freedom for the album that would eventually become DOPESMOKER/Jerusalem.
The actual recording process of DOPESMOKER/Jerusalem, according to Pike, was one of the hardest things he has ever undertaken. The music began to evolve as they attempted to record it; it got slower, according to Pike, and then it got weird.
“There was so much to memorize for that album, and we had to do it in like three different sections because a reel-to-reel only holds 22 minutes. It was really cool, but it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life”Matt Pike1
Memorising all of the parts was the hardest part, according to Pike. And then came the actual recording process. It the time, you could only capture 22 minutes of music to tape, so DOPESMOKER/Jerusalem required three tapes (and three separate performances) to capture everything.
In total, it took over three months to commit DOPESMOKER/Jerusalem to tape. SLEEP spent one month in the studio, then, another month away practicing, and then another month recording. Interestingly, SLEEP has three different versions of the album.
In order to make DOPESMOKER/Jerusalem sound as loud and huge as possible, SLEEP had some custom amps made. According to Pike, the amps were so loud that you could not stand in the same room as them. In order to capture this mountain of sound, SLEEP and its engineers used 12 room-microphones to capture the complete dynamic profile of the amp and the acoustics of the room.
This is why the guitars sound so immensely huge on DOPESMOKER/Jerusalem – it’s all hardware and power. No effects. Just tubes, wire, watts, and the recording studio’s natural acoustics. Given modern metal’s reliance on plugins and VSTs, it’d be next to impossible to recreate this sound.
In fact, even live, SLEEP would never be able to capture the exact tone of the guitars because it was built using specific, custom amps and took on the acoustic signature of the room in which it was recorded. This is exactly what a custom guitar tone should be like – uniquely forged using natural forces and raw hardware.
You can listen to the FULL DOPESMOKER/Jerusalem album below. Plug some headphones in and listen to the guitar tone, how it moves and evolves, how the sound develops and undulates throughout the song and the mix. It is otherworldly.
DOPESMOKER Releases & Reissues
- Released: 1999
- Tracks: I. “Jerusalem” – 9:26; II. “Jerusalem” – 8:26; III. “Jerusalem” – 9:01; IV. “Jerusalem” – 10:28; V. “Jerusalem” – 5:45; VI. “Jerusalem” – 9:03”
DOPESMOKER (Tee Pee issue)
- Released: 2003
- Tracks: “Dopesmoker” 63:31 & ”Sonic Titan” (live)
- Released: 2012 (Southern Lord Reissue)
- Tracks: “Dopesmoker” 63:34 & ”Holy Mountain” (live)
Which Version of DOPESMOKER is Best?
With multiple reissues, there are countless debates about which is the best and/or proper version of DOPESMOKER. Personally, I like the 2012 reissue by Dopesmoker; it has the best artwork and it includes a wicked-good live version of Holy Mountain.
But that’s just me. According to Al, his favourite version is the 2003 Tee Pee reissue:
I don’t think the Dopesmoker thing is the exact version that we submitted, but that’s the closest one that’s come out of the four. If I had to pick a favorite, that would be it.Al Cisneros1
SLEEP’s DOPESMOKER FAQs
When Was DOPESMOKER Released?
DOPESMOKER by SLEEP was initially released in 1999, following on from the band’s seminal record, Holy Mountain (1993). DOPESMOKER was then reissued in 2003 by Tee Pee Records and 2012 by Southern Lord .
Who Produced SLEEP’s DOPESMOKER Album?
DOPESMOKER by SLEEP was produced and engineered by Billy Anderson. The album was recorded at Record Two Studio in Comptche, California.
What Guitar Does Matt Pike Use?
Matt Pike uses a Gibson Les Paul Custom. However, Pike uses his own custom pickups. And those pickups are as follows: Dragonauts in bridge and neck, and a Dirty Hesher in middle.
Who Was In The Band SLEEP?
SLEEP is comprised of three band members:
Al Cisneros – vocals, bass
Matt Pike – guitar
Chris Hakius – drums