February 23rd, 2007 | Interviews

Al Cisneros and Chris Hakius were the rhythm section of Sleep and reunited as Om after a seven-year interval between bands. Om will be working on a new album this summer. Al Cisneros speaks early in the morning after watching the sun rise through the fog.

You teach chess—how did you first learn to play?
I played a lot competitively as a little kid, prior to my twelvth birthday—before my big sister gave me Rush’s Moving Pictures and Iron Maiden’s Piece of Mind. Then it was bass playing. But I loved when I was a child—I really gravitated toward it.
Does the ability to keep a whole chess game in mind help you make the kind of music Om makes?
The combinations on the chessboard and the riffs on the fretboard are very synonymous approaches to that inner place. There’s a lot of beauty, or there can be if it’s conducted in a certain way—it can deliver into a person’s mind that glimpse of something else. There’s a connection between the two parts. I see chess not just as a game and music not just as sound. They’re both art forms with a scientific core to them—both are parallel studies to one’s heart or the universe.
You described music as a ‘sacred world science.’ What did you mean by that?
Everything is based in frequencies from an atomic level—the construction of matter in the physical world—and these commonalities go through all material creation. It’s the universal key to language—it can lead to transcendence and commonality and awareness.
Have you ever experienced anything you would call communication on a purely musical level?
There are countless times where that happened—when I opened myself to music, I always had the intention that would take place in some way. And throughout my life, it’s happened numerous times. It’s validating. I wasn’t seeking it so much as I was stopped by it in early life. When I was a kid and I first heard certain string music, it just communicated to me in a unique way that served several levels. Emotional and mental and in my heart, all simultaneously. That to me is another reason why genre is irrelevant. The formula has been tapped and will continue to be tapped by all parts of the world—cultures and points in history and points in the future. It’s there—it’s like gravity. It can’t be revoked. The cosmos is there.
How do you prepare to write Om songs?
I could be doing anything—the themes, the sounds and the rhythms, they sort of just reveal themselves at any time. At work or reading or sleeping or in a dream—any of these. I don’t ever really try to force it apart to come into being—it seems somewhat unnatural to intentionally try and force the issue. I feel if you try to create—to sit down and try and make something—then it isn’t a necessity. Those internal songs which are always playing get called out in the open when the recurring visits reach such frequency that you’ve got to deal with what wants to be unearthed. But I generally don’t mess with them until they reach that point. I sort of feel these forces and feelings are best left alone unless they really indicate themselves over time.
Do you have some going right now?
Constantly. I’m more editor than author—they’re always there. I’m always going, ‘Hmm…’ or ‘Ok, wait a minute, come here…’ All any of us are are wires—the current of the universe. The wires should never be mistaken for the current. The current is beyond. If you ask questions and are open to answers, you end up in this place—it’s huge! It’s all-encompassing. There’s so much to learn. It’s beautiful!
Do you have any idea how Om leaves an audience feeling?
No, I’ve never been able to stand there. I have to carry the bass off the side. I’ve always been curious.
How do you feel?
I have to sit for a while. It takes us to a place that takes some time afterwards to come back.
What’s the bond between you and Chris?
We’re best friends since we met in school in junior high—all of the life we shared and talked about, and the way we supported each other during those years. We definitely understand where the other person is going—we definitely in a musical sense are able to finish one another’s sentences.
What was the first band?
Asbestos Death—we put out a couple of 7”s and played at the high school talent show! Our friend John had the keys to the auditorium and was running the lights for the talent show, and he locked himself in and gave us the key through the chain link. Even then we had way too many amps. The vice principal was trying to tell him to shut it down and he couldn’t get out to do it.
Sunn 0))) said they wanted to play on a live volcano. Where would Om like to play?
There definitely is a place but I have to wait until we release it as a live album. We joke about it, but we’re like ‘could we actually pull it off?’
Can you tell me the second best one?
No, there is no second best.