TuneDig is an in-depth and informed conversation between two lifelong friends about the power of music — one album at a time.

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Episode 004

Dopesmoker

Sleep

Transcript

Note: our transcripts are mostly AI-generated for now. 

Episode 004: Sleep's "Dopesmoker": Audio automatically transcribed by Sonix

Episode 004: Sleep's "Dopesmoker": this mp3 audio file was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the best speech-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors.

You're listening to TuneDig, a podcast for music lovers. The premise is simple: in each episode, we dig deep into an album we love and then we give away a copy to you of that album on vinyl. Go to TuneDig.com To see what's up for grabs and learn more about us.

We're talking about Sleep's "Dopesmoker", but if you're listening to it with your parents, it's called "Jerusalem".

The New York Times said it best, the origin story of dope smoker sounds like a light bulb joke co-written by Nancy Reagan and Sisyphus through California's stoners, decided to write a song about how much they love marijuana. But they're so high it takes them for years. But try the veal.

I don't know if any one of The New York Times has written a song that lasts for an hour. Sixty three minutes. It takes a little bit of time to get it right. So just kind of writing this off as being too high to finish something within four years is a little rough. Also, I feel uniquely qualified to discuss this because I was part of a band who did in fact write a forty five minute song and perform it and record it. Oh, you did. It's harder than it seems because you're not just putting together a lot of distinct songs and trying to remember it or figure out how they flow into one another. When you get into that span of time and you're trying to write something and record it, you have to remember where you are in the song differently than you do when you're just writing shorter songs, right? I think they spent two month long sessions in the studio trying to record this. Every time is going to sound different, right? You end up improvising a little bit. You end up trying to figure out how to take it in a different direction. Sometimes you forget where you are and then something we can talk about. Yeah, they probably were pretty high most of the time, too. And that's part of the mythology of the record. And I think that's interesting.

But these guys, in addition to being sort of spaced, whether they are or not, they're trying to play an hour straight of music without stopping and which is super physical. And then to not lose where you are, it's like that alone lends sort of an intensity to the record.

Yeah, I'm certain Matt Pike did not write sheet music for his solos, so I'm sure they weren't reciting it that way. These guys don't al- maybe, but these guys don't strike me as sheet music type of dudes at all. I think they have other uses for the paper verse. Dad joke. Yeah, I'll write two month long sessions. Yes. But it's important to note kind of the themes that went along to recording this and why there's so much mythology built up around it at the time. The label who was getting them to record this record was London Records, which was not a record label that would normally be attempting to release some sort of underground cult smash hit of the stoner rock movement.

This is a weird peak 90s type of thing, you know, like kids getting signed to a major label. And this was a distinctly post grunge thing. I think they were thinking, all right, we can probably make this work.

Right. And this stuff was recorded in 96. So they're recording all this. And I think it's important to note as well to understand the kind of narrative arc of how this came to be to they were assigned to London Records and promised the artistic freedom that they wanted to be able to do something like this. And it turns out that the rep who signed them and helped get them into London records to promise them all this left like weeks after they were signed tight and they got a huge advance from this right.

Like some like 75 grand or something like that. Just the kind of thing that doesn't happen ever anymore. Right.

Part of the mythology, too, was that they spent the whole thing on weed, which we can use and amps. That's the truth of it. Right. We'll just take the actual quote from him about this. Right. We didn't spend the entire thing. We bought green amps and weed and we paid for recording. So no matter how much weed they bought, there still had to be a fair amount of room for paying, for recording. And then the amps they're talking about are not cheap. Right? His amplifiers are amazing.

Well, and also I just learned this about the recording and I wasn't surprised, but it was still kind of like I wish I could have been a fly on the wall. A red guitar tracks were recorded three separate times that thicken the sound using custom-built amps, the green amps so powerful that it wasn't possible to stand in the same room as them. Yeah, and then you do when you go see them on tour and they're absolutely and they're loud, but they're not loud. Like Nine Inch Nails is, they're loud, similar to how sun is but not in as delivered away. So you're not like emotionally prepared for it.

It is a lot like sun though, right. Seeing them is a lot like sun or how I would have imagined seeing Earth was like back in the day when they were like, heavier, crunchier. Yeah. Which I think Earth is a good triangulation point to to understand where this record could have come from at the time.

Sleep to me was like you're talking about triangulation. Seemed to me it was like if you took Tiresias cool factor and Melvin's weirdness and you put them together and there I don't know, they're just kind of like the Motorhead of that scene or something. I don't know. So they're on London records, you said? Yeah.

So they're on London records. They're promised artistic freedom to record this. This is what they want to do. And so they spend two month long sessions trying to record it and trying to get a lay down. Turned out, at least according to the stories we get the record back and London Records is basically like, no, no possible way. Can we release this? Yeah, it's going to be a no for me, Doug. And you've got artists on on London like Rolling Stones, right? Ray Charles, Moody Blues. And then one of my personal favorites is a bass.

And they would have been contemporaries, right? Right. It's a very sort of been on the label like at that time, right.

So this was so London was was doing the thing that majors do when they try to pick up something that seems to be gaining a lot of steam. Sleep had gotten a lot of notoriety from Sleep's holy mountain, which was also great, but it wasn't as far down the rabbit hole as they wanted to do with this. Right. This is like let's take it to its logical endpoint. Right. So they recorded in California with these two month long sessions and turn it in. We're not going to release this. And basically nothing happens with it because that's a common story with big record labels anyway. Sure. Try to pick something up like that. Turns out it's not going to work and we're just not we're just going to drop it.

I can't put this in a sneaker commercial. Maybe they should have. Honestly, that would make me buy shoes. I'd be like, that's dope.

Oh, all right. We're throwing this upset in the trash can.

So the only thing that came out of that from London Records was apparently like a really rare promotional disc that they put out before they decided not to do anything about this at all. How do you what what's on that? How do you do that? I mean, I'm guessing it was just a straight cut of whatever came out West Jerusalem style. You just chunk it. Yeah. So that was there after that was apparently a lot of bootlegging going on. So as the years went on from 96, you spent time recording it in 96. You have enough time to process through the label and have them say no, you maybe get a promotional disc out there that a few people see and by this time, maybe not exactly right then. Right. But in the coming years, we start to figure out how to share files. We start to figure out how to pass files around one way or another. So this becomes a bit of a bootleg legend. So London Records, who paid for the recording of this or paid for the advance and all that never releases anything from it.

It gets released as Jerusalem in ninety nine, which is not that was not a label thing to be clear, like the Eastern themes I think I read kind of emerge during the recording of that. And so it was Dope Smoker was like the working title and then it was kind of Jerusalem. So in that I think is important to know when you're talking about the confusion between what's the real record and all that.

And there's a lot of that in terms of confusion of what is the real record, because there were multiple recorded versions of this album. Right? So you have that then you have multiple versions at different record labels. The Jerusalem release in ninety nine was from rise above. Oh, I didn't know that. That's cool. I didn't either. The quote an unauthorized edited version of this. So I don't know exactly what that means. I don't know if that means that we didn't know about it at all or whether they were just basically not allowed to approve this because they didn't have the rights to it at a certain point. But it was split up into four, four different tracks. Was it for six? I think it was six. So it split up into six tracks with a mix that the band apparently wasn't really happy with, per say. But it's good that it got released one way or another. I think it benefited everybody in the long run, but I don't know that anyone had the foresight to know what it would have done in retrospect. But being able to release something that had gained some level of notoriety in the underground, so to speak, put that out there even in a weird form, but enough to get it out in front of other people, gave it some of that momentum that it would end up having now.

And you said that first version of Jerusalem came out in ninety nine. Yeah. So like cultural context, that was a weird time for it to come out. The heavy music was moving in the new metal and some other places. And like the new wave of American heavy metal, hattan wouldn't start for another couple of years. Right. So have you got pushed back down to the underground? So but that would have been very out of fashion for it to come out at that point. Grunge had already become very unpopular by that time.

So then fast forward four more years gets released in two thousand three as dope smoker for the first time on TPE. TPE. Yeah, that's a rad label. Right. So we've remastered it again and now some new artwork comes out with it, which would be done by the same guy who would eventually make the artwork that everyone kind of knows and loves now. Proper one, Eric Rober. Yeah, and at the time this was at least the closest thing to what the band wanted, according to them.

And I think I read at one point they were kind of just thinking they didn't even one wanted to come out at all. But it was like that was like, do it. We did all this work, just put it out there and forget about it.

He's definitely still passionate about what they were trying to do. So then in twenty twelve we finally get the Southern Lorde reissue that we kind of know and love now. And they do everything right. They do everything right. And the band had gotten the rights back to this in twenty eleven, which is what pave the way to being able to do something righter, more good or more correct. Yeah. So but they were able to use a cut of this album that they wanted to do. So it kind of implies that maybe other releases used a cut to run this song right. To Speak that they didn't like as much. So being able to take the right take, being able to remaster it the way that they want to, and then it's hard not to talk about the illustration on the front of this thing because it became such a cultural phenomenon as it relates to this record. So you finally get that kind of packaging back out into the world and the whole of the gatefold and everything is really like it's like it's really beautiful. And so for that also to come back out at a time where high on fire had gained enough notoriety at this point, pikes a legend by twenty twelve by the time this comes out.

Right. So we're all stoked about it at that point. The Internet definitely helped in the maturation of web music culture. And like the blogs, the vices and all of those types of places really helped give this thing the juice.

So that's how this one came to be. So the record that we're talking about now, the record that we're giving away is the twenty twelve remastered version from southern Lorde. That was the closest, according to the band, to what they actually wanted to envision, which I think at this point means they don't want to try to reissue it again. Right.

So we're as close as we can get there, which this dope smoker, the twenty twelve version, you can definitely hear it sounding better than Jerusalem. Yeah, I think this one is pretty far and away the clear winner in terms of sounding like it should sound, especially after seeing them live and hearing what they're trying to sound like in that scenario. This is the one that sounds the most like it because it feels really close to kind of breaking your speakers.

Right. But there's no distortion. It's super clean. And I mean, it's just it is the guitar tone record to me. And I mean, like the thing with Pike for me has always been guitar.

Like, he writes really cool riffs. I maintain that that fire song, Romulus and Remus is still one of the greatest riffs ever with. But every picture is sort of the best riff ever, but this is like just through and through, dude, just showing you how good he is at making a sound from a guitar. So let's talk about the actual music, because we haven't really done that very much yet. It's sixty three minutes and there's no vocals for like the first eight and it's basically just a build for the first five or six. Right. Like it's not even a full band thing for a long time. How actively can you listen to this record.

The first time I think you can make it through. Yeah. Subsequent active listening sessions are a little rough. Multiple. Listen to this. Help you understand the sensation of if this is a concept of journeying, you start to hear that concept more and more as you listen to it.

I think the artwork is actually really spot on for this because it's like sand and that when you try really hard to concentrate on it and follow it, it kind of comes out from underneath your feet. And part of that is just because it's so intense, the noise is just so hard to focus on.

But then I hadn't even really picked up on this not being a musician, but somebody wrote about the time signature shifts and how they just kind of shift in and out of it, out, out of it without really thinking. And they said that's a neat analog to the complications of walking on loose sand. And I thought that was a really, really interesting and I'm sure they didn't do that on purpose. But it's just one of those cool things about creativity, like when you're trying to evoke something and you stop thinking too hard about it, like that kind of stuff just comes out naturally. And that's one of my favorite things about this record. And then they said playing slow music at a deafening volume while keeping accurate time as mentally and physically draining, much like a journey through the desert, like the guys on the cover are trying to do so.

I think that's one of those things that's so cool and that's like one of those just below the surface insights about it where you're like, I've been listening to this record for ten years and I've been trying to articulate something like that in my mind and like, yeah, that's it. I think a lot of it people always talk about the guitar tone and the heaviness of the low end. But the real MVP on this record is the drumming. And multiple people have made mention of that over the years how like Al and Pike go way off from the center right. But the drumming is what keeps that walking pace throughout. And it's just really weird, interesting drumming like there, like you said, a lot of accent notes and you never really can tell exactly what it's doing. But it's always in time. You know, it's not a rhyme or reason. It's not thought out drumming. It's very feel oriented when it starts to spread out around the thirty five, 40 minute mark and get way sort of Jerone and meditative almost. You almost can hear him hitting on the drums like, hey guys, over here, back here we're doing the thing, remember.

Which is awesome, right, like I think without that element, this record would be a really failed experiment and would lose the thread and be just completely unlistenable. The fact that the three of them were in sync enough to find a way to write this whole piece of music is the thing that makes it interesting. I think.

Yeah, I think that I've always really been intrigued by the Andy Kaufman principle of really committing to the bit, you know, because it's one thing to have a crazy idea and it's another thing entirely to like.

That gap between theory and practice is so massive. And when you get into it, that's where a lot of the frustration comes in trying to create, but then not only to pull it off, but to pull it off successfully and have it be interesting and listenable and have other people be on a wavelength with it. It's like such a feat and most people never are able to achieve something like that. So that's my favorite thing about this record, is like, you know, it came up as kind of a joke almost. And then they pulled it off and then it was awesome on its face, which is so hard to do.

It's so hard to do and would probably never happen again now. Absolutely. Now that music in terms of how we consume it, has changed permanently. This would be almost less likely to be released by a label at any point than ever before. Right. Because Spotify is going to pay you one one billionth of a cent for your stream of this 60 minute song, as opposed to breaking it up into lots of tiny ones.

Ok, so I had some thoughts around. If you give somebody this record and a stack of like five records, what are the other records? The first thing that I thought of when I was thinking about that question, knowing how my mind works, I'm so exhausted by the time I finish listening to this record that I need something, that the idea is similar, but the execution is totally different. So the first thing that I thought of in comparison to this was my new orchestra Burns A Fire, one of those early records with John McLaughlin.

It's very active and it always makes me feel like the way, like just jazz broadly made me feel when I was young, we were just like, oh, my God, what are they doing? You know, how are they staying in sync at all? So I'm one of those records and then can probably imago where can taught me patience.

Cannes is probably the band that taught me to meditate honestly, because they just lock in on a groove for such an astoundingly long time. And can, I think, actually helped me be able to get all the way through this record because I just don't have the patience most of the time to stick with it. But the reward is there and it is very much like meditation. This record is so meditative in that you really, really love it right at first. And then you're like, OK, I get it and then you hate it about 20 minutes in because you're just like, I just need to stop this, but I don't want to want to check the box and be able to say, I got through this. And then the second you forget that you're listening to the record, then it becomes the best record ever, which is that's meditation. You sort of focus on the one thing and then you lose the focus and you're attuned to everything. And then the Mars Volta, probably Frances the Mute.

He's gonna meet me again, like all the records that I've mentioned are more fast and certainly lighter in tone and thickness, but all sort of the same idea where they take you through a thing in their own way and encourage you to stick with it. And sort of a very spiritual component to all three of those records, a tone of vibration worship thing, if you will.

That's a fascinating way to look at it. I think the point you made about it being tough to sit through this and learning to sit through it is an important thing to bring up since we're literally here talking about how you should listen to this record. Right. Because, well, it was hard the first couple of times, but now we know how to listen to this, right. We enjoy it. And there are payoffs, 40 and 50 minutes in your first moment of it. If you can make it eight and a half minutes in just hearing the vocals come in for the first time is a little jarring.

It's like another base almost it's real weird, it's it's it's a monk chant, it's it's very Druidry and Druid fun fact.

They actually had a band member leave after their first record in the early 90s to become an Orthodox monk. Seriously? Yeah. You can't make this stuff up. No. So.

So, yeah, they are on record saying they each had 30 ounces of weed at all points during this record. And yet also. Wow, they were truly dedicated to what they were trying to do. That's where a lot of the parallels for me from listening to Sun or for anyone not familiar with that stylized sun. Oh just like the amp with the logo, parentheses, parenthesis, parentheses, they were robes, but they take Steven O'Malley, the guitarist of that, or one of the guitarists, I guess, from that band, you know, talks a lot about their approach being specifically to create meditative music, not entertainment, not even art, but meditation as music.

And so the use of vibrations to a tune to the spirit of the universe or whatever to get real esoteric for a minute, which it works.

One of the reasons I love seeing them that is still the best live experience that I've ever had in my life. And it's the exact same thing we were just talking about like 20 minutes in. It's so foggy in the room, you can't see the hand in front of your face and it's so loud you physically feel it in your sternum like you don't even really hear it with your ears. And there's no way you should ever see them without earplugs because it is insane. But then the second you're like, all right, well, I'm here and I can't leave because I paid for the ticket and I'm standing here. And this was probably a terrible decision. And then you just focus on your breathing for a few minutes just to try to forget that anything is happening. And then ten minutes later, you're like having an out of body experience that don't happen to Taylor Swift shows yet.

Maybe we haven't tried hard enough yet.

The only out of body experience I'm ever going to have at a Taylor Swift show is if I kill myself.

Know what you need to watch me do what you need me to look forward to.

But, yeah, seeing seeing sleep gives you the benefit of being able to hear something in the higher register, which, interestingly enough, makes it harder for you to wear earplugs because you want to hear more of it, right? Yeah. You want to hear it cut through. Right. What Matt Pike is doing is always interesting. He's just a great guitar player to this day. So hearing him do this stuff now, even playing sleep songs like they did when we saw them, there's something new and fresh to it every time and it's worth seeing. But this record in and of itself is just worth hearing this collection of three human beings who were able to commit themselves to something that very few of us can commit ourselves to in life, actually completing kind of an artistic project that's very difficult to do. That takes a really long time to complete being paid by people who don't really want you to do it, having the persistence to wait fifteen years really before you're able to even release the version of it that you want to release.

And then still at that time being excited enough to talk about it, encourage it, go on tour and play some of it. I mean, we can make jokes about the mythology of these people all day, but there's a level of appreciation you can have just by having a little bit of context for this record. And I think we both think that that's a good enough reason to give it a spin or give it five spins or start putting it on in the background when you're doing something else, maybe after you've given it, at least, you know, one one listen through.

And you've tried at that point you just made is really interesting. It's three dudes finding freedom, right? I mean, same reason people go to church or join a community group or do whatever, like these guys are just chasing after the same thing. But they were very, very committed to it and very like spiritual enlightenment type of way.

Just three guys running toward enlightenment and just behaving themselves in vibration to get there, which your journey towards enlightenment and bathing and vibrations may be assisted by what we learned is called a coconut chalice, which I just I would really like to read this quote, because this is one of my favorites from from Matt talking about this particular time.

I love how much you love the story and how often you tell people this story just that casually in public. It's very fun.

It's nice trivia. But he did this whole interview and he ended up dispelling a lot of the rumors when asked about basically all the marijuana that they had around at that time. He said, I don't know if you've ever smoked out of a coconut chalice with a hose, which literally everyone at that point is like. You do know that I have not done well before more. Right. He said, I don't know if you've ever done this before, but dude, it's the highest you can possibly get. You forget your name, your address, you talk to the dog and the dog talks back. So that to say not to encourage you to necessarily go out and try to buy a chalice, which I found that you can on Etsy. The home of everything that can be made, you need to send your mom that ceiling to a coconut chalice. Merry Christmas to me, Mom. Just let it out like a tchotchke, you know? Have you seen this thing look over its Doritos and.

I put Baja blast in here from Taco Bell.

I think you just inhale through this this flexible straw that it comes with.

Now, I'm just thinking there's probably a YouTube video of some kid in a dorm room put by a blast on a bong, got blasted through Friday night.

Did you know in two thousand for Taco Bell and Pepsi created a custom soda made specially to go with your favorite Taco Bell menu items for their super magical beverage. Wizards develop various recipes and finally concocted the perfect drink made with Mountain Dew soda and a blast of tropical lime flavor.

They knew this drink would pair perfectly with Taco Bell's bold, Mexican inspired flavors, putting three adults who want to smoke a lot of weed, who also have the dedication of doing one song that lasts for an hour with one theme, with an actual narrative, with an actual story behind it, trying to write music to it. It's important for people to be able to contextualize the stories as they contribute to the album that's being made. Music isn't just the end result of what's there. Just like any book or any other type of story, you can really never find a beginning or end of anything like this. Right. And so we know that don't smoke. The album continues to impact the modern scene. Now we continue to see bands who are influenced by not only Sabbath, but bands like Sleep and really re appreciating what's gone on their new generations of musicians experiencing it.

For the first time, I would argue that the whole of writing easy records and all those bands would not exist without this one album.

So it's it's good to have a little bit of history and be able to contextualize, again, mythology around a record so that you can really appreciate what's going on. I think anyone, no matter what their opinion is on drug use of this level, which I think almost anyone's opinion would be, this is a bit extreme.

Hey, maybe dial it back a little bit unless you're going to make something of this caliber, right.

Like if I asked you if you could get signed to London Records, what would be the next thing on your mind? You probably wouldn't say make sure that I have 30 ounces of weed on me at all times in a coconut to smoke it out of.

Definitely. You could give me a thousand chances and that would be not even in the top two thousand.

Exactly. But just because that's not what we would do or how we would handle it doesn't mean we should write off musicians who are able to accomplish something like this gives us a chance to appreciate someone else's approach to executing on a thing that's important to them. And this was definitely important to them at the time. They spent years recording it. They spent over a decade waiting on it to be perfected. And they love sharing it and talking about it with people. And I love listening to it. I think someone else should to cheers to that.

Go to TuneDig.com to sign up for our emails and click the link in the email when you want to win. That's it.

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Original "Bitches Brew" Art

To celebrate the endless creativity of Bitches Brew—and especially its famous album artwork—TuneDig partnered with two incredible Atlanta-based artists to create one-of-a-kind, handpainted gatefolds.

With the spirit of the original art in mind, each artist brought their own vision to life. These pieces will spark conversation for any jazz fan.

Each piece includes a new vinyl copy of Bitches Brew. 100% of the purchase price goes directly to the artist, so take this opportunity to support the arts in the raddest possible way.

Seriously. There’s literally only one of each. Make it yours. 😎

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We got a bunch of interesting listener feedback in our off-season, and it encouraged us to shed some light on why we do things the way we do ‘em. Also, we reflect on our first writeup, which was ... interesting.

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ABOUT US

We're Cliff (left) and Kyle (right). We’re two dudes born and raised in ATL with day jobs in tech and entertainment, respectively.

We met in middle school, and in one way or another, music’s been the thing that’s kept us close for the two decades since — whether it’s sharing and talking about new music (like this podcast, except in our texts or over beers), going to shows, or working with our favorite record stores to help them survive and thrive.

We started TuneDig as a little art project that connects us more deeply ourselves and to the world through the infinite gift of music. We hope you’ll join us for the conversations, let us know what you think, and share discoveries of your own.

More About TuneDig

TuneDig began as a little something called MusicGrid.me, which we created after realizing there was no place online to directly exchange music recommendations with your friends. Our aim was simple: to make rating albums simple, useful, and social. We got some love from places like MashableWiredEvolver.fm, and Hypebot. We managed to foster conversation between music lovers, get thousands of reviews, and meet great people.

Along the way, we realized that record stores were an essential part of the music lovers’ community. After many a conversation about how we could helpfully connect them to the people who loved them, we began helping them leverage technology to create new revenue streams and embrace streaming services without giving up what’s unique to them: expertise and curation. (Long live the counter clerk who knows exactly which record will be the right introduction to jazz fusion!)

TuneDig is our vision to connect music lovers with the music they love, because no matter how much has changed in the way we discover and enjoy music, recommendations from people you trust and respect will always be the best way to find new music you’ll dig. With this podcast, we’re channeling the spirit of trusted curation pioneered by record stores, and bringing you something to take you deeper into music you can love.