an interview with Matt Pike (High on Fire, Sleep)
by Black Bubblegum
Matt Pike with High on Fire @ Scion Rock Fest (more by Steven Brown)
It’s the whole chicken or the egg syndrome. Does Matt Pike’s mischievious snarling smile come from High On Fire‘s on-stage persona, or is it those riffs that coax the demons out of him?
The best people to ask may be Matt Pike’s high school friends and bandmates in Sleep, the 90s stoner/doom favorites who eventually splintered into Om (bassist Al Cisneros & Chris Hakius). Though largely (and unfortunately) unknown throughout their tenure, Sleep managed to crank out three LPs including their post-humous swan song, Dopesmoker, now considered a landmark recording of Stoner Rock. The band recently agreed to reunite for two nights of performances at ATP’s Fans Strike Back (May 8-10, 2009) (we interviewed Al Cisneros about that here).
After the untimely demise of Sleep, Matt Pike took his buzzsaw guitar tone and applied it to a hundred mile an hour freight train that was more virtuosic Motorhead than Black Sabbath, christening the new project High On Fire. Over the course of four LPs, a relentless touring cycle, three record labels and as many bassists (including Joe Preston and their current bassist Jeff Matz of Zeke), High on Fire has established themselves as heavyweights, most recently completing a touring cycle on Megadeth’s Gigantour.
During Scion Rock Fest at the end of Feburary, we sat down with Matt Pike to discuss what’s next for High On Fire, as well as the impending and short-lived (he promises!) reunion with Sleep happening this weekend in the UK!
So you recently signed with Koch Records… what’s going on with the follow-up to Death Is This Communion… when can we expect it?
I dunno, I’m running a little behind deadline but it’s for a good reason, dude. It’s gonna be badass. You know you can’t force things. It should be out by the end of summer, I’m hoping Halloween-ish or some shit. But I cant really tell until I’ve recorded/mastered it.
Yeah we have tons of material. It’s just making it perfect… you know there are like 3 ½ hours of riffs that you have to sort through… figure out what’s good what’s bad… Gets crazy!
I know that Jeff wrote some of the eastern stuff that appears on Death Is This Communion. Will that sort of sound appear on the follow-up?
He listens to a lot of weird middle eastern music… I think it’s because of the tempos and the beats and the fact that they play in scales that you cant even play on normal guitars. Jeff’s been a big part of the writing process on this record as well.. I think he was the missing link for us for a long time…
Do you have any idea who you would want to get produce? Jack Endino again?
Endino is one. Joe Baressi [ed: recently produced the latest Isis]. That guy from Converge
He’s badass… I like what that guy does. We’re thinking about a bunch of different engineers. Well, when it started it was all Billy Anderson until I was like 27 or 28… then we figured maybe we should try something different… thats how we got to Steve Albini and Endino. And nothing against Billy Anderson or anything, he’s awesome, but it definitely helped to have a different kind of take…
Sometimes a fresh perspective helps to reevaluate you own shit…
High On Fire, 2007 to present (L to R- Des Kensel, Matt Pike, Jeff Matz)
As far as High On Fire… Are you guys just kinda focused on banging out the new stuff? Any touring or anything in between?
I just want to get this album done, and then right after that do a few support tours and finally a headliner… see how many fans we actually attract. It’s growing a lot… just that Megadeth tour exposed us a lot of kids.
So you are writing new stuff currently, where does the inspiration come from?
Lately, I have just been trying to keep my mind occupied….My girlfriend of 3 ½ years dumped me… that’s an inspiration right there. My life’s changing again… it’s kinda like I have a fresh perspective… I feel like a teenager again. I’ve had more fun in the last month or two just writing and doing this shit than I have in a really long time. So I think it was a healthy thing….
Yeah. It hurt like a motherfucker to have your girl dump you. I haven’t seen my dog in a while… Just like personal things that make me focus for some weird reason.
Do you ever sit down with the guitar and write something that you say to yourself “this isn’t High On Fire”?
I do that all the time. I write something and I’m like, I gotta go back to the drawing board…. That happens a lot. You always second guess yourself, and you get jaded… I mean if you are really good at something. I am totally jaded to heavy music. I am surrounded by it so much sometimes I don’t what heavy is anymore. You know I’ve been beating my eardrums in for 20 years now… things don’t sound the same sometimes.
Do you think that anything that you have written that maybe has been scrapped will emerge as Matt Pike or something outside of High On Fire?
Maybe. I’m definitely capable of it. I gotta focus on what’s at hand. I got this High On Fire album, Ive been practicing with Sleep for these shows, so I gotta stay focused… I give myself like one day off every week usually… that’s it.
High On Fire LIVE (photo by Heather Bugayong)
Speaking of Sleep, how are the practices going between you and the guys?
Yeah it sounds awesome. Its going great… we wrote a new, well, I should say we rewrote a song that we never recorded. So we are going to play those shows and a make a DVD and there will be an extra track that Sleep fans can have, because really, those shows will be the last. I don’t think Chris Hakius will pick up a drumstick after that.
Sounds exciting! So the new DVD, will it be strictly of the ATP shows? Any retrospective material?
A DVD of just the Sleep stuff at the ATP. And probably just some interviews and stuff like that.
Will you guys record both nights?
Yeah definitely. We’re doing different material on both nights. First night is mostly Holy Mountain, some of Jerusalem and the second night some Holy Mountain, more of Jerusalem, and “Antarctican’s Thought” which is the new track. It’s like two sets that are about an hour and 5 or 10 minutes. It’s a lot of material… we’ve practiced like two full eight hour days just reciting it all of it. It should be alright. Plus Sleep is a little looser than High On Fire, there’s more room for improv, it’s harder to fuck up really…
Where as High On Fire is more laser pointed and exacting.
Yeah, it’s real intricate but yet we focus on being tight.
Sleep in Germany, 1993
How did you guys arrive at ATP as opposed to SF or NYC?
It just came up.
You guys are definitely done then after that?
Oh yeah, Al wants to focus on Om, and I want to focus on High On Fire. We haven’t done that in 13 years and it will be cool just to conclude everything… with the last blow out show and all that kind of stuff. I just got a phone call and I was like “yeah I’ll do it”… I still remember most of everything.
So last question about Sleep. A lot of your US fans are wondering why you guys aren’t doing a US tour or even a show in San Francisco and NYC. Whats the reasoning? Is that mostly due to Chris?
I think the dude just wants to retire…. He lives up in the hills and he’s got a lot going on… I don’t think the rock lifestyle is really for him. Chris is really a “to himself” kind of guy… he’s an awesome guy and an awesome drummer. But yeah, I don’t think that’s the lifestyle he wants… and me and Al… both of us are obviously lifers. But he still wanted to do this genuinely to wrap up what we started so long ago… and for our fans. I mean we played Jerusalem as Dopesmoker for a long time on tour, but people didn’t even get into it until we broke up.
Al Cisneros (of Sleep) and his current band Om at ATP in NY (more by Zach Dilgard)
So I know a lot of your fans are really into rigs. I know that you play First Act Guitars and Emperor Cabs and I have seen you with a lot of different rigs… what are you playing now?
I have a pretty trippy rig, but it’s brilliant sounding… This weekend I have a Kerry King Marshall, and a Laney… I know how to use ’em right and they sound really good.
I think the last time I saw High On Fire you were switching between a Laney and Soldano…
Yeah that was a good rig… I think that once I got that Kerry King head, it kinda changed the way I was running everything.
Special thanks to Matt Pike, High On Fire, and Chris Herche!