John Zewizz: Sex addict Satanist. If that's the image you have in your head, you definitely need to read through this interview for a dose of Reality 101. After 12 years and countless CDs, records, cassettes, and video tapes, Boston's Sleep Chamber is still going as strongly and prolifically (as in numerous releases per year) as ever, or even moreso. Fronted by static member John Zewizz, they combine esoteric ritual music, sensual beat tunes, and erotic performance for a powerful combination that has developed quite a dedicated following over the years. The discography would take up half the space here, I strongly recommend sending off for a catalogue from Inner-X Musick (Box 1060 Allston, MA 02134) to satisfy your audio and visual curiosities. But first take the time to read this (rather long) interview with John Zewizz. The topics range from music and performance to sexism and the trends of body modification, from the power of religious icons to our current shady state of politics. It would be very difficult to maintain a single project for over a decade without a philosophy, and you'll see here that Sleep Chamber definitely never needed to try. Sleep Chamber will be touring Europe as of February 27th. They'll start in England, go to Amsterdam, Paris, and do about 7 shows in Germany. Be on the lookout for them if you live in any of those cities.
What inspired the switch from ambience to beat-oriented music?
John: Well, it's not really a switch. We actually do both types still; more of the esoteric type ritual music (or whatever title people are comfortable with), and there is also the beat-oriented music. The reason is that I like all different types of music so I don't feel it necessary to confine myself to one particular style, especially if I like something and can do it. We're actually working on 3 CDs right now. One is beat-oriented, one is ambient, and one will be even a newer style; sort of lounge music, like Frank Sinatra.
Knowing how elitist people can be, did the beat-oriented music lose very much of your original following, or did people feel that the music still had the same overall gist?
John: You're always going to have the people who want the ambient or ritual type of music and once you do something with a beat, or vocals, or any kind of arrangement, they think you are "selling out" or whatever. To be honest, the music with a beat and vocals is a lot harder to do, it sells probably 3 times as much as what an ambient CD would sell. I'm not doing it just for the financial part, I like doing that kind of music as much as I like the ambience, but people just develop their own insecurities about you and they want you to be a certain way once they've developed an image of you or an attitude about you. They want you to be dark and mystical, to do sex ritual music, and as soon as you do something different... they don't want you to. I had some problems with the band, people who didn't want to make the switch and walked, but that hasn't really happened too much. Most people are happy to be involved with Sleep Chamber projects. So, as far as people in the band, it hasn't really had that much of an effect.
What does generally cause the frequent line-up changes?
John: I find it very stressful, not only for myself, but for other people, to maintain their roles in Sleep Chamber. It's a very demanding role for somebody, they have to progress along with the music and change. Sometimes people come in as collaborators and leave. There's all different kinds of reasons why people come and go. I think the worst would be conflict, if you're not getting along. If you go on the road with a few guys for 2 or 3 weeks, it does get very stressful to do that many shows in a row, doing the same songs over even though we switch the sets, it's just living with somebody. Being on someone else's back or them being on your back. Not being paid properly by a club, they pay you $1,000 instead of $1,500 and then it is taken out on you. What can I do in California, where I don't have a lawyer? I'm very limited to what I can do. Sometimes it's an investment on their behalf if we fly out to the West Coast or Texas, they've invested money into the tour too so they get upset when we start losing money. We've decided not to go by any more fly by night operations, we're strictly going through booking agents now. For example, somebody will call up and say "I can put 2 or 3 shows together if you want to fly to TX", we'll fly down to TX and find out that this guy who booked us has his band opening for us and there's no guarantees. I ask him about the posters or flyers, the few times we've done it it's been minimal advertising, "We announced it at the Ministry concert", or something like that. So I tend not to do shows booked through individuals now, and just go through booking agents. It saves a lot of aggravation and conflict in the band.
Do you experiment very much with audio and visual subliminals?
John: I did for a while, but I got bored with it. It was just something that was interesting to do at the time. Once you've done it, it's no longer really a novelty. I try to concentrate now on making the character of the music more important or established. It's actually just games, I think. Everyone thinks it's kind of cool, but you get bored with it.
Was it the same with using subsonics or ultrasonics for physical effect?
John: We did the whole thing with subsonics and sub-bass at live shows, but it's another power play thing you do with the audience. I would prefer to entertain at this point than to simply be playing games with the audience. Sometimes we will do things with the sub-bass to make it better, but we've had different repercussive things that have happened from playing with too many sonics. People get sick or it causes blow-outs for PAs. If you're half-way through your set and blow out a PA, not only could you be responsible to pay for it, they won't pay you. I've done that a few times in clubs and they do not take it lightly. It's easy to have an affect on people, musically or visually, or subliminally, but I prefer to be straight-forward. It's taken some time to eliminate the fear that the audience has perceived from us over the years. When we used to do ritual or ambient stuff they'd think it was a black mass; people would assume it was some sort of devil worship. If they saw a powerful performance-as far as incense, projections, bells, and exotic instruments-they instinctively, for some reason, became overwhelmed by it. People accused us of being Satanists or devil-worshippers... and those terms are as misused as industrial music, or trance, or house. They would even make up stories about how we beat people up at shows and they found blood all over the place. The stories that would come back to me were mind-boggling, I couldn't even conceive of how they could come up with them. And it wouldn't be one person, I would meet 7 people in a year who had heard the same story. After a few years it developed into a struggling point for us. We couldn't get gigs because people were afraid we were going to hurt people at the clubs. We didn't really gain anything by having a lot of people fear us. Some people are attracted to things that are subversive and I think that's where some of our audience came from when we were doing ritual music. They were under the assumption that we were some sort of subversive movement and when we went on tour in TX we met a lot of strange people who had bad ideas about us and life in general. I totally disassociated from those people, I have no interest in being subversive just for the sake of being sick. If you do what you do well, you owe a responsibility to it and you should have some sort of philosophy, or some sort of brain to talk about what you're doing instead of "Yeah, man, somebody had a seizure and we were just jamming". To me, if you've got a gift or you are doing something really well, you should take it very seriously rather than taking it for granted with a false sense of power.