Bristol is a cold and fairly windy day on the 6th February, and to make matters worse, High On Fire’s lead man and the legendary Sleep’s guitarist Matt Pike has come down with a cold and isn’t feeling his greatest. However, the sludge/doom metal icon powers through and gives us some time to talk about Sleep, Joe Preston and influences…
Matt Pike. Photo courtesy of Laina Dawes
Rich: This is Rich of MetalRecusants and I’m here with Matt Pike of High On Fire. How are you feeling?
Matt Pike: A little under the weather but I’ll be alright, I’ll live.
Rich: How’s the UK tour going so far then? This is the fifth gig, I think?
Matt Pike: Yeah, it’s been going pretty well from what I expected y’know, haven’t been here in a long time, so gotta gather some steam. Let people know the tour is here. Only way you do that is by playing well, y’know, and really giving people a show, so…
Rich: When was the last time you played here with High On Fire then?
Matt Pike: Bristol? It’s been years, it’s been a couple of years, I can’t even remember the last time.
Rich: Too much booze maybe?
Matt Pike: Maybe, I just can’t remember the last time. It’s been a long time – long enough to forget. I remember the show, but I don’t remember where or when. It was a long time ago.
Rich: Ah ok, fair enough. Have you ever played on a boat before? Have you played in the Thekla or…
Matt Pike: In where?
Rich: The Thekla.
Matt Pike: No, I haven’t played this but I did play in Paris before on a boat, which was a similar venue, yeah.
Rich: Was it nice to play?
Matt Pike: Well it was about as nice as a boat could be, y’know? [Laughs] I like boats, y’know, it’s fun.
Rich: Well, I want to start with your influences, I was wondering what your influences are on guitar with High On Fire.
Matt Pike: Well definitely my favourite guitar players are Tony Iommi [Black Sabbath], John McLaughlin of Mahavishnu Orchestra… I always definitely liked K.K. Downing and Glen Tipton of Judas Priest. I definitely like Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Van Halen – the run of the mill stuff you grew up on as a kid that your dad had albums, y’know… what babysitters had albums of and stuff when I was a dinky little kid… and then I got into thrash metal, y’know. When I was growing up there was Mötley Crüe and that was a big thing. Shortly after that, Metallica and Slayer, Anthrax, Megadeth… y’know, Celtic Frost was a big one of mine… I got into hardcore with like the Circle Jerks and D.R.I. and Black Flag… there’s lots of influences, y’know, and I got to the Bay Area with High On Fire; this was before High On Fire and around the time I had joined Asbestos Death, which is pre-Sleep, and I was really spoilt from the Melvins, Neurosis… there’s a lot of bands going on… Christ On Parade; I was just really spoiled once I moved to the Bay Area. A lotta people I grew up with got to see all the good shit, y’know [laughs].
Rich: Some great bands there.
Matt Pike: Yeah, and like Corrupted Morals – there’s just so many that were just awesome.
Rich: Especially Melvins.
Matt Pike: Oh yeah, totally.
Rich: What about vocally, do you have any specific influences on vocals?
Matt Pike: Definitely Tom G Warrior [Hellhammer/Celtic Frost/Triptykon], Araya [Slayer], I always liked Ozzy [Osbourne], you know what I mean. Bon Scott [AC/DC], erm… there’s so fucking many – I like Johnny Cash, I like a lot of country guys. Jimi Hendrix. I thought Bob Marley had a really great voice, erm… I dunno, that’s a hard one, I just kinda sing the way I sing. Lemmy’s [Motorhead] definitely an influence; I also sound like him to a degree, I have that rough whiskey voice. I was kinda cursed into sounding like him whether I liked it or not, y’know? So…
Rich: I don’t think it’s much of a curse.
Matt Pike: Yeah, well, you know what I mean. I’m painted in a corner, y’know [laughs].
Rich: Probably the next question is – ‘cause it’ll be about a year in April since your last album [De Vermis Mysteriis] came out – and I’m still trying to get my head around the theme for it. I dunno whether you want to explain that or?
Matt Pike: It’s like reading you a book. I mean it’s basically about time-travel and about every religion that I study and I put them all into one weird Christ/Christ’s brother, stillborn as a time-traveller, science-fiction… I shoulda just put it into a novel so I don’t have to say it over again – it’s too long to explain. If you read the album, it’s about that, and his twin brother, all this time-travelling shit he has to go through to get back to warn his brother about what Christianity’s coming killing does. So he finds his way through time by drinking this serum created by an ancient Chinese alchemist named Liao, and then through that “Fertile Green”, which is about having to sacrifice a male to this oracle made out of weed; which is a female but actually out of mythology, I took that out from the Green Man which is an ancient kind of Pagan mythology. It’s all intertwined with religion and parallel myths and parallel, y’know… there’s a lot to it, and to try to explain it to you specifically is retarded. I can’t do it in under five hundred words or more, y’know.
Rich: Have you thought about making it into a story, like a…
Matt Pike: No, no, no, no. I just had to complete a record, y’know.
Rich: Ok, yeah, that brings up a question I wanted to ask because I saw an interview that you mentioned you were writing a journal, a journal/book. I was wondering how that’s coming along and will that ever be published?
Matt Pike: Yeah, I’m sure it will, I don’t know… I’ve been writing short stories. I’ve been writing a lot of shit lately, here and there. I just have shit written down in my book. I don’t know if it will, some of it might never get published, some of it might, I don’t know yet. I don’t know the answer to that question. I have a lot of music to work on before I start thinking about that, y’know?
Rich: That’s fine, that’s fair enough. What about the whole thing with Sleep, ‘cause to start a new band after Sleep must’ve been a big thing, well, with fan expectations I guess…
Matt Pike: It would but I kinda was able to get away from the pace of Sleep and I was able to get away from a lot of the things that were getting dull to me in Sleep, not that I don’t like Sleep’s music, it’s just all the tempos and playing slow and playing this and… sticking in this pattern: I was growing tired of it a little bit and to get out. Y’know, I thought the music was great but after Jerusalem, or Dopesmoker, we hadn’t really created a whole lot more and we didn’t get the chance to step it into a different level, and I wanted to do stuff that was a little faster but in the same vein and that’s basically what High On Fire is, it’s like a new rhythm section, y’know? It’s still my guitar playing, but it’s what I can do in a different… say playing field, y’know. So…
Rich: I always thought of High On Fire like a sludge Motörhead.
Matt Pike: Yeah! I try not to make it that sludgey but the first album was sludgey, it was for the first couple… It got a little more progressive and a little more tight, y’know? So that’s what we’re trying to make this monster that was like, yeah, a cross between that but super thick – not your typical thrash band – but having like a thrashy edge but with a doomy… a doomy sound, chord-wise, y’know… It is what it is, it made itself that way [chuckles].
Rich: That’s cool. Well, it must mean you’re pretty busy and stuff, I was wondering if there’s any up-and-coming bands that you’re digging at the moment?
Matt Pike: Ah, I really haven’t thought about it, I’ll decline the question [chuckles].
Rich: It’s alright, no worries, I know you’re a busy guy. I was also wondering as well, I noticed that Joe Preston [Thrones/Melvins/Harvey Milk/Earth/Sunn O)))] was a member of High On Fire for a while and you’ve worked with Steve Albini [Big Black/Shellac], he produced an album… I was just wondering, even though you’re a pretty big figure in metal yourself, what was it like working with those two with such a reputation before them?
Matt Pike: It was really cool! I think we bounced shit off each other really well. Joe Preston unfortunately didn’t really have a whole lot of time to write his basslines but he did a more than stellar job on Blessed Black Wings. It was a lotta fun to tour with the guy, I think he’s really great and he’s a really good friend of mine and I love him to death. I think we were just touring too much for him and he seems to get along, y’know, kinda on his own a little more than he does with other people, he likes to be alone, he likes his alone time and I can dig that, I fucking totally got him when he was like… we was like, “You wanna do one more tour? Wanna do one more tour?” and he was like, “Ok, enough’s enough”, y’know? And I don’t blame him ‘cause we made him tour for like two straight years, like non-stop, and was never home, y’know… So it finally got to that … he was like, “Dude, you gotta find a regular bass player”. “Yeah, alright dude, alright man, sad to see you go”, and we made a great album with him, so y’know, it’s good.
Rich: What about Steve Albini then, what was that like?
Matt Pike: He was great to work with… yeah, I thought I made a killer album with him, and yeah, he was great to work with. He had his own style, didn’t really er… we played a lot of Poker and shooting free coaching [?], he has a really good drum sound, but it’s just like… regular making a record. I mean, someone’s name doesn’t make him any more exciting or less exciting, y’know… I guess it can when you meet him but when you get in there and start working, you’re just working, you’re pressing play [chuckles] y’know? I mean, he’s not the biggest producer guy, he’s an engineer, he just kinda… It’s amazing he still splits tape though, still cuts tape and be very accurate, it’s a lost- it’s kinda becoming a lost trade and, y’know… yeah, Steve’s great man. I had a good time making an album with him.
Rich: Ah, ok, yeah, I was just interested in that. 2013 will be High On Fire’s fifteenth year together. Have you got anything special planned or is it just another year?
Matt Pike: Just a bunch of touring man, like going out with Anthrax after this tour… Yeah, that’s about it. I have a couple of Sleep shows during this year, one’s in Maryland Death Fest, and I’m sure High On Fire’s hopefully shooting for some festivals over here during the summer.
Rich: Any ideas for which ones?
Matt Pike: I don’t know; I have no idea yet.
Rich: It’s up in the air at the moment then?
Matt Pike: Yeah… that’s just a wishlist, y’know.
Rich: Fair enough! Is there anything like further into the future planned? Like anymore albums, at the moment, or…
Matt Pike: Right now? No, not as of yet – I’m sure things will surface and come to light but I haven’t really started – we haven’t started working on the writing department so much, a few things here and there but nothing that’s turning into anything serious very quickly. It will take its time… we gotta finish touring on this record before I think about a next one, y’know.
Rich: Is that how you prefer to do it, when you’re left on your own for a bit to work on new riffs or do jams come up on tour?
Matt Pike: Erm, usually a few might on tour but usually it’s a thing where you gotta go home and work and think about it, get together a lot and take time off the touring shit and that kinda good stuff. So that comes up every now and then and you gotta be prepared for it so you can eat, y’know.
Rich: That’s fair enough, I think that about wraps it up. Is there anything you’d like to say to fans, like the UK fans?
Matt Pike: Oh, just thank you for listening and I’ll see you at the shows.
Rich: Alright, nice to meet you.
Matt Pike: Nice to meet you too.
High on Fire are:
Matt Pike – Guitars, Vocals
Des Kensel – Drums
Jeff Matz – Bass