High on Fire are one of the most influential bands in stoner/sludge circles. Since their fiery birth in 1998, there have been two constants: their amazing music and members Matt Pike (guitars/vocals) and Des Kensel (drums). Before their set at Desertfest, I had the chance to sit down with Des and chat about the band’s music and career.
Jack: So Des, how has the tour been going so far?
Des Kensel (Drums): So far so good, it’s a short one and only two and a half weeks. I think we’re about a week in but good shows so far.
Jack: Have there been any stand out shows so far?
Des: Harlem in the Netherlands was good, that was with us, Eyehategod and Church of Misery. A good little package there, there are a lot of good bands coming to Desertfest so we’re fortunate to play with them.
Jack: Have you been touring with Eyehategod and Church of Misery?
Des: No it was just two days. One in Saabrucken in Germany and in Harlem.
Jack: Are you excited for Desertfest?
Des: Yeah, been hearing about it for the last few years. I know Sleep did it, Matt said it was good for them so I’m looking forward to it.
Jack: Did you know about Desertfest before Sleep played?
Des: No I know about it before because we’ve done Roadburn, playing in Tilburn and knowing that it is similar across multiple venues. So I knew about it before Sleep played.
Jack: Desertfest is across multiple venues in Camden such as the Roundhouse and Underworld, do you think this is the future?
Des: It is happening more and more, I know there are cities across the States that are doing it over a three day period across multiple venues, maybe not like Desertfest but more like an eclectic groups of bands, different styles of stuff. But I think it could be more just the one big outdoor festival where people go camping and all that.
Jack: High on Fire are one of the most requested bands for Desertfest, does this add to the pressure?
Des: [Laughs] No… I mean, that’s good and that’s cool, but we’ll just do our own thing.
Jack: You’ve been a band for twenty years and have released numerous bands and EPs, does this make it harder to make a setlist given your extensive career?
Des: It does now, we actually had problems for this tour agreeing on a setlist. It has changed a couple of times but I think we got a good one, a variation of old and new. It seems to be going over so well, I hope Desertfest fans enjoy it.
Jack: As a band with lots of songs, do you have any favourites to play at all?
Des: On the current setlist we have I like playing Slave the Hive, just because for drumming it is one of the faster ones and it is fun and more challenging, so I’ve been enjoying that one.
Jack: As a band that formed in 1998, is it hard to believe you’ve been around this long?
Des: It is, when we first started I did not think that 20 years later we’d be traveling around the world and playing shows.
Jack: This line-up hasn’t changed since 2005, what makes this line-up so strong and that makes you gel so well?
Des: Jeff has been great to have in the band with his personality and his vibe. As of recently he’s been really been adding a lot even to the writing process for the record that just got written; it’s mixed and needs to get mastered. He actually stepped up and wrote a lot of parts on guitar; he’s been playing a lot more guitar recently, especially with Matt being more busy doing Sleep stuff. With that time with him doing that, me and Jeff had got together a lot to arrange parts and stuff. He’s a great additional to the band, he’s fully comitted to it and into it and it’s been great.
Jack: You and Matt are the two original members from when you formed the band. What is working with Matt like?
Des: It sucks. [Laughs] No I’m just kidding. It’s good, to be in a band is like any working relationship; he’s not just a friend he’s like a business partner and almost like a second wife. [Laughs] You just have to learn how to work together with what works and what doesn’t and be able to let things slide sometimes, know when to discuss this or say “no more fucking around.” You know it’s been good, the initial draw for us to each other was music and we had similar tastes and liked each others style and it just drew from there.
Jack: Do you play in any other bands apart from High on Fire?
Des: Not really. I’ve jammed with some friends here and there. Actually after High on Fire started I jammed with Chris Spencer of Unsane, we started the Cutthroats 9 thing but I saw too busy with High on Fire so someone else drummed with it. I live in New Orleans now and I’ve jammed with Jimmy Bower once or twice but nothing… that was just for fun and to see what would happen but he’s got other shit to do.
Jack: You did mention you married and you have a family, do you have any other day jobs outside the band?
Des: No and I haven’t for a while, but I guess I’m lucky in that sense. I’m able to support my family and keep going with this and hopefully it’ll be forever but we’ll see.
Jack: Luminiferous came out three years ago, how do you feel about that album looking back on it?
Des: I feel pretty strongly about that one still, with every album for me anyway, there is a handful of songs and I’m like “oh those are good songs,” and some where I’m like “oh I wish I would have this differently,” maybe a little faster or slow and now that I’ve had the time to play it live some of the drum fills I’m doing better. Then there are some to me that are a decent song but I never want to play live. Luminferous though from beginning to end is pretty strong, I still like it for sure.
Jack: How did the recording process compare to Vermin?
Des: Here’s how it goes now, we start writing the record and we get a lot of material but it’s difficult to piece the material together; but when we get about half or 2/3s of it written, the time that has lasped between releases has gotten bigger, meaning we have to book the studio time or it will go five years. We book the studio time when the record hasn’t completely written, we get in the studio and usually the first week is finishing writing and getting tonned so really the tracking doesn’t begin until 4-6 days in the studio.
Jack: It’s rumoured you’re releasing a new album soon, do you have any new music on the horizon?
Des: The next record is going to come out in September. It has been recorded and mixed but it needs to get mastered and to get the artwork, but it should be out mid September.
Jack: Given the political climate in America, has it been influenced by that at all?
Des: You mean theme wise or lyrics?
Jack: Yeah, has anything been taken from the current situation in America?
Des: Maybe a little bit. To be honest one thing that needs to get done is that we’re still waiting on all the lyrics. [Laughs] Matt has them and it is recorded with lyrics, but they’re not all written out yet. Some were written on the fly in the studio.
Jack: What’s happening after this tour?
Des: Going to go home and have most of the summer off. We’re actually coming back to Europe in the August for some festivals and a couple of other shows. Then we’re going to do Psycho Las Vegas and we’re looking forward to that. A couple of other festivals, one in Teneessee and then the record comes out and major touring after that.
Jack: Lots of bands are saying that there are major differences between Europe and Amrica, would you agree?
Des: I think there are some countries where we could still use a little work. Like say we just played a couple show in Germany, a lot of people are like “I bet you guys do really well in Germany” and some places not so much. Then we go to Sweden and the shows are great and then we go to London and the shows are always great. But maybe some of the smaller towns in the UK are not so great. We still have a little work to do in some of the B markets in Europe but other than that it’s doing good.
Jack: Sleep dropped their new album by surprise last month, is this something you’d consider doing?
Des: No, I think we’ll just go for the normal route. [Laughs] Sleep is kind of its own little beast, they can definitely do stuff like that and it works in their favour, where as with us we have to probably go through the proper channels with the label and all that, do some marketing and get some PR behind it.
Jack: Do you enjoy the PR process at all?
Des: Yeah, at first before the album comes out we get a shit ton of press dumped on us and first you’re thinking “oh god we got to do press.” But we’re in a band, it’s what we chose to do. People want to know about us and the band and I don’t see what’s so band about, there’s other bands that wish they could do a ton of press so it’s cool.
Jack: Finally, where do you see High on Fire in the next few years?
Des: Oh man. Hopefully still doing what we’re doing but maybe one level up. The older we get the harder it gets, so we need to have things like….[Laughs] We need to be able afford carts at the airport to bring our suitcases around and shit like that.
Jack: Thank you so much for your time.
At the end of the interview Dez thanked me and agreed for a photo, shortly after it was taken I combusted with joy. Thanks Dez!