AS THE LOW END STEWARD FOR stoner metal pioneers Sleep, supergroup Shrinebuilder (featuring members of the Melvins, Neurosis, and Saint Vitus), and heavy duo Om, Al Cisneros’ body of work is an ongoing clinic on the philosophies, subtleties, and percussive elements of heavy bass playing.
What’s the difference in your writing approach for Om and Shrinebuilder?
In Om, I hear the entire song through the bass line; within the bass groove are the rhythms, percussion, melody, and vocals, and the lines are extensional rhythmic melodies that run parallel with the drums. With Shrinebuilder, it’s more of a defined area; the bass lines are extensions of—and compliments to—the riffs.
How do those approaches differ from the way you wrote in Sleep?
With Sleep, the lines and technique had to bring the guitar and drums together while reinforcing the rhythm. My bass playing on Sleep’s Holy Mountain [Earache, 1993] was largely inspired by Geezer Butler. Around that time, the first four Black Sabbath albums were my constant guides. Later, my style started to reflect more of what the songs needed, playing to a song’s atmosphere and mood.
Why do you choose to play Rickenbacker basses? Do you modify them at all?
I’ve always played them; they have superior midrange and sustain. I’ve found that when people do things like replace the pickups or otherwise alter their Rickenbackers it ends up ruining the voice of the bass.
It appears as though your right hand is just bashing the strings, but a close listen reveals a lot of subtle nuance.
For me, the bass is essentially part of the drums; it’s a melodic percussion instrument. To some degree, you have to be able to play drums if you are going to play bass; you should know snare drum rudiments to play bass in the pocket. Otherwise your role is reduced to that of a down-tuned guitar. Breathing and phrasing in flowing time are totally essential—you’re not just playing a riff, you’re bridging the drums to the riff. For this you have to find the space between beats and melodies, and know how to push them or hold them back, depending on what the song is saying.
HEAR HIM ON...
Om, God Is Good [Drag City, 2009];
Shrinebuilder, Shrinebuilder [Neurot Recordings, 2009]
Basses: Rickenbacker 4003 with flatwound strings
Rig: Electric Amp Company Vivekananda Master Volume head (120 watts); Electric Amp Company Vivekananda Power Unit (200 watts); Green Matamp Slave Unit (200 watts); Electric Amp Company cabinets: two 4x15s, one 2x15, and two 4x12s plus two Ampeg 8x10 cabinets (That’s over 27 square feet of speaker!)
Effects: Modified DOD distortion pedal, Morley wah