Brad Miller's biography of Sleep Chamber
(with permission from Brad Miller)
John Zewizz (real name John McSweeney) is the founding and sole permanent member of the Industrial/Techno/Tribal band Sleep Chamber as well as a video producer, record label owner, and magazine publisher. John's endeavors focused often around the imagery of S&M, Bondage and Magick.
John McSweeney was born in Essex, England on August 15th, 1955. His family moved to the United States when John was an infant. John's love and knowledge of music grew through his high school years. Friends remember him as "the definitive rock and roll Impresario. If John didn't have the record, you didn't need to hear it." During the 1970's John was the president of a Rolling Stone fan club called "Smooth". It was in the late 1970's John began listening to bands like Throbbing Gristle. This was a huge influence on John's musical direction.
John began his musical career in the late 1970's performing as "John Cage" in various bands. Beginning 1978, under the alias "Green Sex" John began his recoding career. The output was limited and by 1981 "Green Sex" ceased to exist. During this time John began going by the name John Zewizz (or John Ze'Wizz), and even briefly fronted a band called Ze Wizz Kidz in 1979 with friends Aero Cixal and Robert Catalono.
Sometime between 1981 and 1982 Sleep Chamber came into existence featuring John Zewizz, Eugene Difrancisco and Phil Brosseau. Zewizz, Difancisco and Brosseau were friends from High School. Both Difancisco and Brosseau fronted a band called The Product and John had worked as a producer on their one and only single. When The Product folded Difrancisco and Brosseau began a band called Daze Of Trance., John occasionally helped out with Daze Of Trance, even playing on a cassette release as part of the band. Eventually the three recorded with John as the front man in a band they called Sleep Chamber. Very early works were experimental and electronic/industrial in nature. Live Sleep Chamber was often described as resembling a "Black Mass", with smoke (containing a special blend of incense) billowing out of machines, and the band donning black bondage masks while performing on stage. Their concerts scared some local club owners prompting them to ban Sleep Chamber from playing. Local reviewers often accused the band of being Satanic. Zewizz, over the years, has denied this accusation. These early concerts featured Zewizz in different combination's with Difrancisco, Brosseau, and also Malcolm Smith (whom Zewizz collaborated with in the bands Dokument and Hidious In Strength), Darlene Victor, and Richard Gellar.
Between 1982 and 1985 Sleep Chamber released dozens of recordings culminating in their first LP, the self titled release "SLEEP CHAMBER" and the highly controversial release "SUBMIT TO DESIRE". " SUBMIT TO DESIRE " was recorded with the line-up of Richard Gellar, Darlene Victor, Chris Means and Michael Moynihan. Featured on the cover was the negative film image of two women in an embrace. But the overt sexuality did not end there. Songs such as "Oral Maze" and "Fetish" put hidden sexual practices in the limelight. Record stores refused to carry " SUBMIT TO DESIRE " because of it's cover and content, but the publicity only helped Sleep Chamber.
The early 1980's also saw Zewizz recording under the names Cult Ov The Womb, Mahcanik, Hideous In Strength, Noizeclot and Women Of The SS. All these various groups released their music under the ever growing cassette culture through John's label XXX Productions (also called Triple X). XXX (later became Inner-X-Musick) even published a magazine during this time called "The Other Sound" which ran stories about bands under the XXX flag, but also artists as diverse as Hunting Lodge, Brian Eno, Human Flesh, Nurse With Wound, Psychic TV and Cosey Fanni Tutti.
The 80's were a time of hyper-productivity for John and Sleep Chamber. Rapidly other members began to join in what was to become a revolving door for musicians. During this time band members included (previously mentioned) Difrancisco, Brosseau, Smith, Victor, Gellar, Moynihan, as well as Thomas Thorn, Jonathan Briley, Lawerence Van Horn, and Tione. As the 1980's drew to a close, Sleep Chamber became John's sole musical focus. Classic Sleep Chamber releases such as "SEX MAGICK RITUAL" and "SPELLBONDAGE" continued to push the envelope and expand Sleep Chambers horizons. During this time John also became interested in making videos. It became common practice for new Sleep Chamber releases to be accompanied with the release of an Inner-X-Video release as well. From the mid 1980's through the mid 1990's John produced dozens of videos for Sleep Chamber, as well as a few soft porn style videos.
It was during the 1990's John incorporated bondage/fetish dancers called the Barbitchuettes in to Sleep Chamber live performances. With this addition Sleep Chambers popularity exploded. During live shows the Barbitchuette dancers would perform S & M acts on the stage as well as caressing and dancing with other Barbitchuette dancers. During the Barbitchuettes hay-day with Sleep Chamber it was not uncommon for the band to travel with up to 11 Barbitchuette dancers.
The 1990's also started off with John's biggest hit to date with the Sleep Chamber release "SLEEP, OR FOREVER HOLD YOUR PIECE". This new popularity also resulted in wider distribution for John's musick. Sleep Chamber saw their material expand from the Inner-X-Musick to distribution overseas and in the US by the Italian label Musica Maxima Magnetica and the German label FnfUndVierzig and Cleopatra Records out of L.A.. Along with bigger sales came bigger opportunities. Sleep Chambers local gigs required bigger and bigger venues. The increased popularity also allowed Sleep Chamber to do two quick tours of Texas in the late 80's and early 1990's. These tours featured Zewizz along with Briley, Tione, Difrancisco, Arthur PW. At the end of the Texas tour John found himself looking for a new collaborator with the departure of Arthur PW and Briley.
Elaine Walker entered the picture in 1991/92 to fill that void. Walker's band DDT had frequently played with Sleep Chamber at local venues around the Boston area. Walker's was a Berkley School of Music graduate and impressed John with her abilities. Zewizz and Walker, together with the help of Ashley Swanson, began working on the CD "SIAMESE SUCCUBI". Sales of " SIAMESE SUCCUBI " were even better than "SLEEP, OR FOREVER HOLD YOUR PIECE ". A successful tour of California resulted featuring Zewizz, Walker, Swanson and long time friend and collaborator Difrancisco. John was pleased with the line up, but from early on John knew that Elaine commitment was to her other projects and did not plan to stay with Sleep Chamber. Plus by the end of the tour friction arose between Zewizz and Difrancisco. Upon returning to Boston Difrancisco left the band.
Once again John introduced a new Sleep Chamber line up of Swanson, and the musical writing duo of Andrew Woolf and Craig Wien, as well as Jay Keegan. This line up was the last recording version of Sleep Chamber. Their recordings ended up on several releases, predominantly "SOME GODZ DIE YOUNG" and "SONOROUS INVOKATIONS OV BRIAN JONES" - the latter being solely Zeiwzz & Woolf. However, drug addiction, personal problems, and constant touring had all but ceased John's steady flow "new" musick by the end of 1995.
The first problems began in earnest in 1995 when John was questioned for the murder of Karina Holmer a Swedish au pair living in Boston. Karina's body was found in a dumpster not far from John's home. The police considered John a suspect, but no charges were ever brought. The accusation, coupled with a growing heroin addiction, quickly began to destroy the band and drive John away from band mates and friends.
All the problems aside, 1996 saw Sleep Chamber take on it's most ambitious project to date. A tour of Germany. Unable to get commitments from the current line-up of Sleep Chamber, John took on two new member (Scott Walker and Tyler Newman) as band mates for the German tour. Along with these new members, John took Barbitchuette dancer "Lulu" as well. "Lulu's" job during the tour covered; dancing during the shows, and recruiting dancers from local strip clubs. From the home front Andrew Woolf manned the booking of the German tour.
There are many stories of John's escalating drug addiction during the tour, and although the band was ripped of by the promoters, the shows were well received and the seeds for a large European fan base were set because of the tour. Seeing John's life beginning to spiral out of control friends tried to help John after returning from the German tour with a benefit concert, but the downward spiral was to far along.
Despite the problems, releases continued to flow out of Musica Maxima Magnetica and FnfUndVierzig. Between 1995 and 1997 three more Sleep Chamber CD's were released. SOPOR, SACROANCT, and SIRKUS all raided the massive vaults of Sleep Chamber and kept up the appearance of productivity, without any new material being recorded.
After the German Tour, Sleep Chamber only performed two more times. The first was the 1997 benefit concert (with Zewizz, Newman, and Walker no Barbitchuettes). 2000 saw the last Sleep Chamber show on December 31st. This last show featured John and new collaborator B. Avikon as well as Barbitchuette dancer Semiramis.
The final blow to John came in 2001 when Barbitchuette dancer and then girlfriend of Zewizz, Laura Graff died of an apparent overdose. Zewizz was questioned by police in the suspicious death before it was ruled an accidental heroin overdose.
All though out of the public eye, John never stopped recording. In 2004 John was able to overcome his heroin addiction through the use of Magick and began remixing and recording Sleep Chamber material with a new enthusiasm. In 2004 he released a limited edition CD titled "SLEEPSIRKLE".
2007 saw The John Zewizz Appreciation Society go live on the Internet. That same year, a new SLEEPCHAMBER line up was announced. Gimmie Sparks and long time collaborator B. Avikon joined John Zewizz to form the new centuries version of the band.
In 2008 John Zewizz did his first Interview with me (TheeBradMiller) that was featured at EMOFAG.NET as well as Alterati.com/G-Spot #48 (with a cool podcast of tracks picked by John Zewizz, TheeBradMiller, and P. Emerson Williams).
Things really kicked into gear in 2009. To say that Zewizz hit the ground running would be an understatement. Starting in late 2008 Zewizz was busy compiling a release titled "SOUNDTRAX" - a collection of material left off earlier recordings, or recorded between 2000 and 2008. February 2009 saw the first edition of"SOUNDTRAX" available as a CDR signed and stamped by John Zewizz, but ultimately a CD version was also made available. Also a remixed/reworked/re-recorded version of the 1989 recording " SORCERY, MAGICK AND CHARMS " was released by Klanggallerie called "SORCERY, SPELL & SERPENT CHARMS" . "SORCERY, SPELL & SERPENT CHARMS" marked SLEEPCHAMBER'S first major label release in 10 Years! In June of 2009 the first CD of all new material featuring Gimmie Sparks and B. Avakian titled "STOLEN SLEEP" , followed by SPECIES INTERUPPTUS in August of 09. Also, SLEEPCHAMBER, through Inner-X-Musick, participated in a brand new compilation release titled XXX 69.
In 2010 SLEEPCHAMBER gained another member with addition of Tick on percussion. To start the year off SLEEPCHAMBER performed live on January 1st on Boston College Radio Station WBRS/FM 1 . This show was release as a CDR called "STRATOCAST" and featured the SLEEPCHAMBER line up of John Zewizz, Gimmie Sparks, Bob Avakian, Tick, & Zora. In the spring of 2010 John Zewizz released "2012" on Old Europa Cafe - John Zewizz's first solo recording since 1987's "PASSION OV PAIN". "2012" featured Zewizz with the help of Bob Avakian and P. Emerson Williams. In the spring of 2010 Inner-X-Muscik released it's second Various Artist release titled "MUSICK OV MAGICK". The summer of 2010 saw Klanggallerie releasing the classic SLEEP CHAMBER recording "SATANIC SANCTION".
Through out 2010, SLEEPCHAMBER and Vinyl On Demand were busily preparing what will end up being a 4LP plus a bonus 7" single box set titled SIXSIXSIX. This will document SLEEP CHAMBER from 1979 to 1988. Musick from ZEWIZZ KIDZ and SLEEP CHAMBER from the early cassette releases as well as a complete unreleased album. Release date...10/10/10!
Uno dei primi, misconosciuti pionieri della musica industriale negli Stati
Uniti fu John "ZeWizz" McSweeney, che si cela fin dal 1982 sotto la sigla Sleep Chamber.
E' da quell'anno infatti che da Boston giungono segnali (sotto forma di venti
cassette, decine di 45 giri, video e album) di una musica-shock, permeata di
elettronica e tribalismi da giudizio universale, celebre per le liriche piu`
provocatorie e provocanti del genere.
L'album omonimo del 1984 (per la Inner-X) che funge da ponte fra la produzione
iniziale (prevalentemente su nastro) e quella successiva e` piu` che altro
un esempio di auto-indulgenza, da far invidia a Cazazza e Boyd, e delude un
po' le aspettative che l'EP Speak In Tongues, con A Synthetic Woman,
Il successivo Submit To Desire e` invece un monumento all'erotismo, immerso nei rituali perversi di
Fetish e Oral Maze. Spellbondage specula sul successo (perlomeno di
scandalo) del precedente con Kiss The Whip e Odoratus Sexualis, altre
fantasie senza fondo di lascivia.
Questi lavori sono intervallati da sinfonie sataniche, solamente strumentali,
come Sexmagick Ritual (Trinity) del 1987 e Satanic Sanction
(Musica Maxima Magnetica) del 1988. La discografia del personaggio si dilata
freneticamente in due continenti.
Durante uno iato riempito soltanto da antologie e live ZeWizz prende un attimo
di respiro e soltanto nel 1990 ritorna con un nuovo disco,
Sleep Or Forever Hold Your Piece (Inner-X). La musica ha subito una
metamorfosi totale, allineandosi alle tendenze commerciali (e all'esibizionismo
magico) in voga. Brani come El Topo e A Synthetic Woman si reggono su
ritmi sintetici e testi colloquiali bisbigliati in maniera piu` o meno
La pretenziosita` dell'uomo non ha limiti su Sircle Zero (Musica Maxima
Magnetica) e Secrets Ov 23 (Musica Maxima Magnetica), rasentando
la parodia di Current 93, mentre Siamese Succubi
e` un altro pornoshow senza capo ne' coda.
Sacrosant (1996) e` in compenso un concept gotico ed esoterico.
Sirkus (Daft, 1997) e` il disco piu` accessibile della loro carriera.
Seduction Sleep (1997) remixa alcune delle loro "canzoni".
Questo Bill Nelson della musica industriale non ha mai composto un album
che valga la pena di essere ascoltato per intero, ma e` all'opera di strenui
pionieri come lui che si deve la conquista di nuovi territori armonici.