This interview was first published on www.emofag.net
It’s 1997 – to the outside world the future couldn’t seem brighter for Sleepchamber… completing a successful German Tour, CD’s were now being distributed overseas and in the US by the Italian label Musica Maxima Magnetica and the German label FünfUndVierzig. And, perhaps more promising, Cleopatra Records out of L.A had signed the band with the promise of even wider distribution.
However, things are not always what they seem…
The gods had begun to frown on John’s life a year earlier. On June 21st of 1996 Swedish nanny Karina Holmer was found sawed in two in a dumpster down the street from John’s home. Her torso was left in two separate bags… Her lower portion has never been discovered. Although no charges were ever brought against John, he was brought in as a suspect and questioned. The fragile world of Sleep Chamber quickly began to splinter.
Also smoldering under the surface, out of public view, John was suffering from a 9 years hardcore addiction to Heroin. The fabric of the band had already begun to disintegrate. Friends of John even held a benefit concert to help him with his drug addiction in the early summer of 1997. It would be the second to last show of Sleep Chamber.
Effectively Sleepchamber ceased recording in 95 just before the Nanny Murder. A huge catalog of unreleased tracks managed to keep the band in existence by name till 2000. A final Sleep Chamber show went down December 31, 2000. It featured John, one musician and a dancer.
The final blow came on November 2 of 2001, when Zewizz girlfriend, and former band-mate, Laura Graff died from a heroin overdose. Heartbroken and addicted John went further into seclusion.
If this is where the story stopped then we would be left with the memories of a large number of outrageous live gigs, many compelling releases, and a virtual who’s who of former band mates sprinkled all over the “underground” musick landscape. But November 2 was not the end of the world for John or Sleepchamber (as of 2000 Sleep Chamber became Sleepchamber).
In 2004 John beat heroin addiction, reformed Sleepchamber and began producing musick. The first foray came quick, with the ultra limited release of “Sirkle Circus” – a collection of remixes. Work on other projects quickly began to fill John’s time. As of 2008 John has a number of projects nearing completion, and the hunt for a distributor has begun. All of this is good news to fans who have been hungry for new material for nearly 9 years.
In early 2008 “The John Zewizz Appreciation Society” was created by me out of frustration at the lack of Internet representation of a true American musick pioneer. As an archivist, completest, and all around obsessive compulsive pack rat, I knew going in that this was going to be a time consuming effort. During the Spring of 2008 I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with John. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t intimidated. But truth be told, John is a very friendly, articulate, and up front person. And fortunately for us, he agreed to this interview.
The following took place through the mail in October and November of 2008.
Thee Brad Miller: What has Sleepchamber been up to since 2000?
John Zewiz: Well, we’ve been doing musick constantly since then, we just had many obstacles. After the 1997 tour of Germany we got ripped off… There waz the accidental death ov a very close girlfriend, I waz recovering from heroin & cocaine addiction, and we were broke. Inner-X went thru a company break-up. Our Italian label just disappeared. Our German label also went broke so we were dropped… Which makes no sense since we had just done a German tour.
We weren’t doing musick on our regular scale. I mean we were releasing CD’s about every 4 months for awhile. I mean you do get burned out. Sleepchamber iz a extremely demanding concept to maintain. With the rap & dance musick dominating the market it wazn’t eazy getting a decent paying gig – if you could get one at all. Even with the 97 German tour, regular venues that had booked bands had switched over to DJ’s and showcase DJ celebrities. They are far less work to set up, soundcheck, and cater too. Again we were doing musick, it just wasn’t set up for a compiled release. There iz roughly 5 CD’s worth ov musick recorded within the past 8 years. Bottom line… I mostly needed a long break from playing live. I discontinued The Barbitchuettes in their prime. It waz time to strip down Sleepchamber for a new change. Playing live just got to be a very big deal and wazn’t worth it.
TBM: Why did you disband The Barbitchuettes? They seemed to be a large part ov the live show.
JZ: I wanted to discontinue them while they were still in their prime. I really felt we had gone az far az we could with them. I didn’t want them to be the big draw to the live shows and that’s what waz evolving. There were security problems starting and its pretty hard running a band – never mind an additional 8-10 girls.
The last show we did on New Years ov 2000 waz a disaster. A nightmare live performers fear…. My guitarist vanished that night. Barbitchuettes were canceling that night like flies… it waz unbelievable! We ended up with 3 people doing the show. Half the show waz fine, then we started getting all sorts ov sound problems. Worst ov all, all this brought on anxiety and destroyed me and my focus ov the show. I could eazly say it waz the worst Sleepchamber show ever!!!
TBM: Do you think this time off has damaged your popularity?
JZ: We don’t do musick for acceptance or approval. Sleepchamber iz a concept. We stay az far away az possible from fitting into a format. Sleepchamber musick evolves from us not delivered for demand. I know that sounds crazy – but it’s true. I really work az I want and feel. There iz no time format.
TBM: Ok then, while we are on this topic… all the rumors. There are rumors of heavy drug use. There are rumors that Sleepchamber was dissolved because of the deaths of people involved with the band.
JZ: Yes, I know. And parts are true. We had about 4 deaths due to all different reasons. But we never dissolved Sleepchamber. I mean I live the Sleepchamber lifestyle. The musick iz a reflection ov my life and personality.
TBM: The rumors of your drug problems are nearly legendary.
JZ: Yes I started drugs at an early age (14) and they have had been getting stronger az time went by. I never had a drinking problem, I liked drinking – but never had a problem at all. Thru the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s I used mostly pills. All kinds – ups, downs, and narcotics.
I started using heroin in the late 80’s. For almost 20 years. Cocaine waz something I had always used. It just changed from sniffing to injecting and eventually smoking.
I always favored the exotic drugs – like amphetamine/barbiturate combination’s and coke & heroin mixtures. I also favored barbiturates like qualudes, Seconal, amytal and carbatol. I had to use magick to break the bonds that drugs had on me. It waz part ov my being. Drugs became my world and everything in it. Only magick waz strong enough to focus my will and to direct my will into power.
TBM: Seems to be a theme… Drugs and Magick?
JZ: I feel both are elements ov danger. Most think they know about drugs… they don’t!!!! Same with magick. Most don’t even know about “Equivalent Exchange” or “Will”. Drugs will kill you eventually…. Blind magick experiments will also change your life forever. Az when I began with magick I have always know that it can not be organized or predicted. Sigils, spells, trixsens are all talismans perceptions to the subconscious. Magick iz a beilef system. It’s what you live by – like a code ov perception and desires you direct thru your true Will. The Will iz the strongest ability you live by. If you can control or focus your will to what you desire – that iz magick.
TBM: What about Magick? You once said magick was as dangerous as drug use.
JZ: I am extremely careful with my magick. I started with “Sexmagick” but eventually moved on to a form of “Kaos Magick”.
TBM: Why is that?
JZ: Because my concept of use ov “Kaos Magick” iz not exactly the type that iz written about – it also contains many ov my secret intentions and abilities used to overkum my difficult situations. Magick, when evoked, presents its results unpredictably. That’s why knowing how to design a talisman iz so important. Az I had learned or experienced in my earlier daze ov experiments. Drugs kill and I belive magick haz an ability to kill. Especially if misdirected by an amateur. Once you understand how your personal concept ov magick works you instantly have an instinct ov respect and understanding. A perceptional ability to control a powerful direction ov your true will.
TBM: How would you explain your “Kaos Magick”?
JZ: Now you must know… that if I explained my formula it’s “magick shared – magick lost”. I can only go here – over the past 10 years my ability ov scenes have bekum almost triple ov what they had been. Some believe – those who know, know it does not matter – Now, I can’t go into talismans, sigils, spells, trixsens or charms – right now. But maybe sometime in the future.
TBM: What about drugs? Are they a problem in the current line up?
JZ: Truly not. I’m not claiming that we are all completely straight, but there iz no “hard stuff”. We learned about what took us down once and I drew a line in the sand. None of us ever had a drinking problem and the new line up sees the mistakes we made in the late 90’s.
TBM: Back To magick… Who inspires you?
JZ: Well, for a short time I waz involved with the Temple Ov Psychic Youth. I waz reading a little Crowley (I like books about him, more than books he writes, even though some ov hiz books are pure genius)… Austin Spare iz another favorite. But finding anything on him iz almost impossible. Hiz sigils are magnificently powerful and strong.
TBM: Iz magick part ov your everyday life?
JZ: Az I mentioned before I use only magick when totally necessary. It’s dangerous, unpredictable and costly.
An equivalent exchange could turn out to be just about anything… you have to give to get… I live magickly everyday in some sort ov way. But when it kums to full moons, blood and sorcery formulas I plan extensively and cover all my angles. Magick iz deadly when people play games with the power ov energy and spiritual dimensions. No one person iz an expert on any form ov magick. No matter what kind it iz.
TBM: What have you found you can rely upon through the last 10 years?
JZ: I am an alpha. I rely on no one. I do all I need myself. I’m the originator ov Sleepchamber and after 25 years am still the only original one putting out musick. I’ve always been older than everyone else and they use to kid me (about this). But now most Barbitchuettes are out ov shape or married (no difference), I’m not putting them down – it’s just I’m in the best shape ov my life – emotionally and physically. And when you hear the new Sleepchamber releases you will see I’ve gone no where – nothing haz changed and it’s a new era for Sleepchamber. I will continue Sleepchamber till I pass on…
TBM: I understand that there is a order to Sleepchamber and those who are involved in Sleepchamber.
JZ: I look at Sleepchamber az a lion pride. I’m obviously the alpha male and have a good size pride ov members. Be they band members or Sleep Rooks (Sleepchamber assistants).
TBM: So in theory, it’s more ov a hierarchy?
JZ: That’s a perfect analogy.
TBM: Looking back over the last 30 years, would you do anything different?
JZ: Most definitely, I would have started Sleepchamber in 1975 instead ov 79-80. I would have done more material with Women Of The SS. This project conflicted with Sleepchamber many times. It wazn’t an eazy project but waz a concept that I really admired working on.
TBM: You have fans from all over the world. “The John Zewizz Appreciation Society” receives email from Sweden, Russia, China, Japan, Peru, Portugal, Poland…. every where. Why do you think that despite Sleepchamber absence to the public eye… you seem to be attracting new fans?
JZ: I don’t know where the new resurgence came from. It’s almost like some have just discovered us. Some maybe younger, some admire our persistence… After I seen a live Killing Joke DVD I truly felt like I had much longer to go with Sleepchamber. The singer Jaz Coleman seems to have more energy and creativeness than ever. It inspired me to beef up Sleepchamber to its max.
After 20 odd years ov sticking to something that iz original and individual. I think that there are many more mystics in the world than people know. But that’s good. We want to keep our secrets secret.
TBM: The interest has spawned quite a crop of bootlegs…
JZ: I will admit since I saw the interests and then the bootlegging ov Sleepchamber I was furious! We were doing musick – but not releasing it. We don’t follow the rock n’ roll mentality. I waz working doing a couple ov independent film soundtrax. I had an offer to do video game musick. I was even in a film – I played a priest.
TBM: Describe your experience of releasing Sleepchamber material through other labels.
JZ: Most labels want you because you are the most popular artist on their label. This helps sell more ov their project ov mostly unknowns – including many times their own bands. This waz popular with compilations and live shows. Not that I mind, but at a certain time they shift all the promotion and energy to themselves instead ov Sleepchamber – which iz or haz been always the headliner.
Musica Maxima Magnetica in Italy always favored the Gothic magick style ov material. Always. FünfUndVierzig was always open, they released mostly all the Sleepchamber projects on CD. They dropped us right after the 97 German tour. I am wondering if he waz involved with Ralph (the tour manager) and helped rip us off ov close to $25,000. A trixsen on the way.
I would have to be honest on this one. With most all labels – I have been greatly disappointed. They never deliver what they contract to. FünfUndVierzig waz the best. But after falling off the face ov the world we went out ov print. FünfUndVierzig had plans for a 7″ vinyl single on green vinyl that contained “Sweet Dreams Sweet”. Edited with Pope John the 23rd singing along. See the “Siamese Succubi” VHS or DVD releases. The flip waz going to be “Psychosexual”. But this novelty single never waz released. There waz also a Live In Germany 97 – “Best Of The Livetrax”. It waz quite good – especially for live material. It waz titled “Species Innteruptus”. Future plans to release it in the works. I am not sure if it would be on an independent label ov 500 or something from Inner-X.
TBM: How successful was the last tour (Germany 97)?
JZ: It waz an adventure, that’s for sure. Other than our tour manager ripping us off $25,000. I lost a camera with 6 shows & backstage footage… That sucks! But overall we had a great time enjoying Germany.
TBM: Do you miss the stage?
JZ: A bit, not too much. It just takes so much… Besides the 4 band members, there’s 8-10 girls, a soundman, 4 roadies, 2 lightmen, and a 3 man video crew! That’s not mentioning a retail crew to sell T-Shirts and CD’s. Its too much ov a production after awhile. So az much az I’ve grown to dislike it… I miss it a bit.
TBM: About the future…. What is the future of XXX releases?
JZ: Yes, I have plans for a Women OF The SS CD/Video pack, and a Inner-X CD release with trax from Hidious In Strength, Women Of The SS, Daze Ov Trance, Dokument, and others… more on that later. It looks like spring ov 2009. Right now, I’m sure most Sleepchamber products are out ov print.
TBM: Do you plan on releasing anything anytime soon?
JZ: Yes we are finally got some backing and that actually brought Sleepchamber back to its regular place. There are plans to release 3 CD’s with in the next 3 months. “Soundtrax”, “Second Initiation”, and “Socerey. Secrets, & Secret Charms”.
I decided to start off where we left off. “Soundtrax” waz always in the planning but never got to see the light ov day. I figured this time period waz perfect for a release that covered a time period mixture. This release starts at 1989 and ranges up to about 2006. The material iz all Soundtrack style music. Some iz from independent video and film scores. We have also been working on a song styled release.
TBM: Iz that one planned az one ov the 3 being released by the spring?
JZ: Yes, it’s called “Second Initiation”. The concept iz a bit more darker and psychedelic compared to past releases. It’s moodier and really different for us.
TBM: Can you tell me more about the release?
JZ: We did close to 70 trax over this period for this release. There iz a jazz track, a lounge track, a more electronic and cabaret type ov style to it. I know it will surprise just about everyone.
TBM: How long do you think Sleepchamber will last?
JZ: I’d say az long az I’m alive…
TBM: Not to be morbid, but what if you are bed ridden?
JZ: Makes no difference…. I’ll do what I can from the bed. So az many assume my age haz something to do with it. That’s bullshit. I have bekum Sleepchamber. Truly… I live the life. I write the lyrics (words to my life) etc…
THE JOHN ZEWIZZ APPRECIATION SOCIETY WEBSITE:
SLEEP CHAMBER MYSPACE FANPAGE: