January 2002 - THE SABIANS
Out of the ashes of the now legendary Sleep rises after High On Fire the next band named THE SABIANS formed by the two ex-members Justin and Chris Hakius. But their musical approach is totally different from their old band. THE SABIANS are heavy, of course, but not like you maybe expect. Justin answered my questions and he gave an insight in his former life as a monk, the reasons for this desicion and about his new band. Watch out for the band's debut, that will be released this year!
Hello, Justin. I think, that most of the Cosmic Lava readers aren't familiar with the history and the line-up of THE SABIANS. Please, give us an insight into the short history of the band. Who is part of the line-up etc.?
THE SABIANS began to come together in the summer of 1999 when I returned to conventional life after seven years of seclusion in a monastery living as a monk. Not long after leaving the monastery I called Chris Hakius (drummer), who I used to play in a band called SLEEP with back in the 90's. Working with some material I wrote while in the monastery, Chris and I started writing music, trying to find our sound. Then in December 1999, we hooked up with Patrick Huerta, a long-standing guitarist in the East Bay who helped shape the sound by adding a dark and ambient edge to the music. After playing with several bassists, we found Rachel Fisher who added a finishing touch of heaviness to the sound.
In June 2000 you've released your demo "Empty The Heart", which is sold out now. Where have you recorded it, how many songs does it contain and have you ever thought about a re-release?
We recorded Empty Heart at a small studio in Berkeley California called Polymorph. We cranked the songs out in just one day. We probably won't ever release the demo again as it represents us at an early stage in the development of our songs.
I've heard only one track from "Empty The Heart" and I must admit, that it sounds quite interesting. Not the typical Doom or stoner stuff. How was the response, that you have received for the demo and have you send it to different labels and/or magazines?
When Chris and I started writing music we knew that we didn't want to write stoner rock. We wanted to do something altogether different, but still have heavy sound. At first I think people were expecting us to sound like SLEEP just because two of us had been in the band, but now that we've toured and played out alot people know that we are different and frankly, people are surprisingly refreshed by what we are doing. After recording the demo we didn't use it for promotion at all. We used it only for booking.
One year later THE SABIANS signed with The Music Cartel for the first full length album "Beauty For Ashes" that will be released in Spring 2002. Are you still working on the songs and where have you recorded the album ? How many songs contains the album?
We recorded the album at the best studio in San Francisco called Tiny Telephone with engineer/producer Alex Newport who's worked with the Melvins, At the Drive Inn, Mars Volta , Sepultura etc. . . . After deciding on the best tracks for the album and dropping some the album now has 8 tracks, most songs appx. 6 minutes.
Why have you chosen the New York-based label TMC and where there any other offerings from other indie-label ? Is your contract with TMC only about one album
When we first started playing out we had planned on releasing our first album entirely on our own because of some bad record label experiences in the past. Then we got an offer from an indie label here in San Francisco that perked out interest. Then at about the same time we received an email from Eric Lemasters at THE MUSIC CARTEL and eventually we decided to sign a two record contract with TMC. Eric has an integrity that we had never seen before in the industry, a genuine love for music, and treats his bands with respect and honesty.
Have you done a lot of touring in the USA during this year and if so, with which bands have you shared the stage and are there any interesting or amazing stories about it?
We've only done a west coast tour with a great local band called TOTIMOSHI. The tour was a sucsess and drummed up a lot of interest in us. You ask for amazing stories? Well, when were in Seattle we happened to change upon the Soldano Amp factory and Mike Soldano himself. We ended up hanging out with Mike that night, listening to him tell stories of working with Lou Reed, Eric Clapton, Heart and all the hair bands from the LA scene band in the 80`s. Later on we sat in on his band practice and performed for him and his warehouse. It was pretty amazing for us. After playing a couple songs Mike told us that Patrick was playing through the very stack that Eric Clapton played when he was inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.
What are the lyrics about and who is responsible for them?
I write all the lyrics and melodies for the band. All the songs are about different things and experiences, both personal and stories about others, but the general theme in all the songs is suffering and redemption. "Bleed", for example is a song about being tortured and killed simply for standing for what one believe is. . .Martin Luther King, the martyrs throughout the centuries etc. . . "Via Dolorosa" is a song that tries to capture what a mother must feel when her child has been abducted. This one is based on the story of a little girl here in the Bay Area that was kidnapped and murdered. And "Restoration" is a song about a friend of mine who's sister was paralyzed in a car accident.
You, Justin and the drummer Chris were part of the now legendary Sleep. Are you still in contact with Matt Pike (High On Fire) and Tom Choi (ex-Asbestos Death, the Sleep forerunner /ex-It Is I now Operator:Generator)and what do you think about their new bands and do you still like the albums, you have recorded with Sleep ? I think, it was only "Volume 1" and a single with Asbestos Death
Yes, I'm still in contact with all the guys from SLEEP. For a while we shared studio space with HIGH ON FIRE. Those guys are great and we give them props for helping us out when we were first starting out as THE SABIANS. I still love "Volume 1". It was a pivotal album for me in my life as well as musically.
Do you see any musical or philosophical connection between Sleep and THE SABIANS or are both bands absolutley different? What's your point of view?
Both bands are totally different. Different sound, different spirit, different goals, different philosophy. SLEEP is more a part of our history than it is a current influence.
What's the meaning of the name THE SABIANS. Please,explain it for the readers ?
The word sabian (also spelled sabean) is an ancient Mandaean word that implies personal transformation or change . It is also said to mean to army. The people in the ancient country of Sheba were called sabians (the queen of sheba etc...) it is believed that one of the three wise mentioned in the holy scriptures was a Sabian and followed a star from his homeland of sheba to the place where the incarnation took place. You know the story.
One thing, that's not very typical for a Rock band is the fact, that you Justin has been living as a monk in a monastery for seven years. What was the reason for this personal desicion and tell us something about this time? Why did you return to conventional life and are you still practising ?
I quit SLEEP and went to Russian Orthodox monastery back in 1991. At the time I was in a dark place. The album "Volume 1" captured this darkness I was experiencing. Anyway I was very suicidal and extremely angry at the world. A night I would cut my body up with razor blades and punish myself for living. Then one night, after a dark session of tears and cutting I prayed for help. Soon after that night I found out about this monastery and went for a visit. I stayed for seven years and became a monk. The ways of the monastic life are very, very difficult and challenging, and just what I needed. I learned so much about myself and what I believe spiritually. That seven years was a combination of shear spiritual enlightenment and spiritual suffering. The perfect combination. After seven years I decided that I wanted to apply all that I had learned in the monastery to a life out in this world.
Didn't you miss your guitar in the monastery and have you written songs during this period?
I didn't miss my guitar because I had one there. I wrote about 20 songs while in the monastery. I translated a couple of them into heavy rock and we now play them in our set.
Due to the above mentioned fact, do you try to combine your religion with heavy rock and is there any kind of message you want to give to the listener ?
I've integrated a lot of chant into our song. The beginning of "Via Dolorosa" (the song I sent you on the CDR) is an ancient Greek chant we used to sing in the monastery. The message is, as I've said before, suffering and redemption.
On your website there are a lot of ethics and philosophies about life and death. Which human values are important for the different members of the band ?
We all have different values. For me it's all about the fear of God and preparing ones soul for the inevitable--Death!
Aside of the release of your first album in 2002, what are your other plans for the future. Is it possible for you to come over here to Europe?
This summer we plan on doing a West Coast tour, we also might be playing some shows with FU MANCHU. At present we don't have any plans on touring Europe but I'm sure we'll get over there someday.
At least, any messages for the readers or something that you want to say?
You must die, before you die, so that when you die, you won't die.