Interview with MATT PIKE [HIGH ON FIRE, SLEEP] 04/14/2018
Written by Marc C. Pietrek 2018
DISCLAIMER: I DO NOT OWN, NOR DO I CLAIM TO OWN, ANY OF THE PHOTOGRAPHS AND/OR VIDEOS USED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS INTERVIEW/ ARTICLE.
[Marc C. Pietrek filed the following report for VITRIOL, INC / A DARK UNITED FRONT (www.vitriolinc.com) on 05/23/2018 04:26AM EST] One of the musicians that I had made a personal goal of mine (back when I decided that I would go out and try to interview musicians for this site back in the Summer of 2016) to interview was Matt Pike of both HIGH ON FIRE (guitar and vocals) and SLEEP (guitar). His tectonic plate-shifting guitar-lines have been synonymous with the doom/stoner metal scene since SLEEP’s legendary opus, ‘Sleep’s Holy Mountain’ [1993 EARACHE RECORDS]. Whether it is his metropolis-sized sinkhole-causing sludge riffing in SLEEP or his BLACK SABBATH-meets-SLAYER-meets-MOTÖRHEAD nuclear warhead assault riffing and vocals in HIGH ON FIRE, his legacy is permanently anchored in the worldwide doom/stoner metal scene. If character Professor Marcus Brody from the timeless ‘RAIDERS of the LOST ARK’ films were to have been referring to Matt Pike instead of the Ark of the Covenant, he would have most assuredly said, “An army which marches to the riffs of Matt Pike is invincible”. He is undoubtedly, hands down, the “Lord of sonic-doom”.
Here are just two examples of his influence on other musicians:
Andy Beresky [guitar/vocals] of Massachusetts-based BLACK PYRAMID (from an interview I conducted with him in May, 2017 for VITRIOL, INC / A DARK UNITED FRONT https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bduqRgGgUZ4&t=3369s): “As far as SLEEP and HIGH ON FIRE and Matt Pike, yeah, that’s pretty accurate, too. I liked how he actually played the notes, how he would kinda shake the chords and how he played the power-chords. He used a lot of open strings and stuff and I was like, ‘That sounded heavy to me!’. So yeah, as soon as I heard his playing, I was like, ‘Oh, damn! That’s cool!’. And yeah, his leads, too. I think we have slightly different styles in terms of leads. I think I’m a little bit more melodic, but I definitely like how he goes off the rails”.
Kent Stump [guitar/vocals] of Texas-based WO FAT (from an interview I conducted with him in February, 2017 for VITRIOL,INC / A DARK UNITED FRONT https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRC2AqSvh-Q&t=1158s): “I would say HIGH ON FIRE has a pretty big influence on my thought process as far as writing songs and heaviness and things like that, too. We don’t sound like them at all, but I definitely take a lot of influence from what Matt Pike does”.
I was able to meet Matt previously on two different occasions. The first time was at a show at a small bar in San Jose, California in May, 1995. He was accompanied by a cute female, so naturally (with absolutely no attitude from him and no offense taken by me) the conversation was relatively short. The second time was in November, 2006 at the bar of a club that HIGH ON FIRE were playing in Concord, California just before they went on stage. We talked for approximately ten minutes about a few different things pertaining to his music. What I took away from both conversations was how nice, laidback and non-egotistical he was with me, Mr. Fanboy. He even apologized for not remembering meeting me almost ten years prior. Who does that?
Fast-forward to June, 2017. With getting nowhere in being able to contact him via social media or either of his two band’s managements, I called in a favor to a very cool, old friend of his who happens to be a cousin of one of my brothers-from-another-mother. A text was sent to him the next day and to my surprise a few hours later, I was informed that he would do the interview and that he needed my contact information so he could forward it to Matt. Like a complete and utter dumbass, I did not check my land-line messages for a few weeks due to me only using it for internet connection purposes. Once I finally did check my messages, I heard Matt’s message letting me know that he was calling me during a tropical storm down in New Orleans to setup a time to do the interview. Just imagine the worlds loudest Homer Simpson impression after I listened to that message. “DOH!!!”.
After ten months of playing text and phone-tag due to schedules (and a short lull in communication due to a death in my family and a personal thing he was dealing with), we finally sat down and did the interview via the phone. It took place six days before SLEEP released their latest album, ‘The Sciences” [2018 THIRD MAN RECORDS] on April 20, 2018. There is some minimal paraphrasing when it was needed, but it is almost completely word for word. Here ya go, ya rivet-heads!!
M.C.P.: Matt, how are you doing today, sir?
M.P.: I’m doing very well, thanks.
M.C.P.: Good! I want to thank you a lot for taking the time to do this for VITRIOL, INC / A DARK UNITED FRONT. Thank you for taking the time out and being so accommodating!
M.P.: Sure, not a problem. Sorry about the time frame.
M.C.P.: Hey, we’re all really busy, so I appreciate you keeping your word on it. It really means a lot to me!
M.P.: Yeah, well, when you say busy, that’s an understatement for me.
M.C.P.: [Laughs] Well, like I told you before, I’ve met you a few times and you’ve always been really nice and accommodating. Thanks for continuing to be that way!
M.P.: Yeah, thank you, man.
01.) M.C.P.: What made you decide that you wanted to pursue a career in music? We’re there any particular bands/artists, albums or songs that made it an easy decision for you?
M.P.: Oh, sure thing! I mean just all the greats. Like since I was a kid, I started playing guitar when I was real young, ’cause it’s kind of like one of those things that runs in my family. My uncle and my grandfather would sit me down when I was a baby and by the time my hands were big enough, I already knew my chords and was kind of a natural at it. So, I just stuck with that and then MTV cane out in the eighties and I was an impressionable young kid. Before, I had been turned onto the British Invasion and metal scene and all that bunch. I was an eight to ten-year old kid watching VAN HALEN, BLACK SABBATH and all the old bands they had on there. I always pictured in my mind, like they’d have those videos of AC/DC with this huge crowd. I always pictured, in my mind, me in front of these huge crowds. I guess I willed it into the law of attraction thing and willed that to my own destiny somehow. That’s what I am now. That’s my identity. Kind of a head-trip. There’s times in the day when I want to meet the fans and I want to take pictures. I love my fans!! They’re all killer! I just get so swamped and overwhelmed that I have to be a dick sometimes. Like, “It’s not photo time. I need to take a nap” or, “I need to fucking wash my foot because there’s a hole in it, you know?” [laughs].
02.) M.C.P.: Who are your guitar influences? Who is your favorite guitarist, metal or otherwise?
M.P.: Very much Tony Iommi and John Mclaughlin. Jimi Hendrix is a big influence on me. Definitely David Gilmour. Jimmy Page. Randy Rhoads massively! Greg Ginn from BLACK FLAG. I kind of play like if Greg Ginn and Randy Rhoads were a hybrid [laughs].
M.C.P.: Yeah, I can see that.
M.P.: I don’t know. I have so many influences. I grew up in the punk scene and there’s the thrash metal so I was like a cross-over kid. I always loved Tom G. Warrior, SLAYER and a bunch of the first black metal stuff I was really in tune with. I always liked BOLT THROWER. MOTORHEAD is obviously a big influence. That’s kind of my roots. EXODUS and VENOM and all those darker-edged bands.
M.C.P.: Since you mentioned early black metal, what about MERCYFUL FATE?
M.P.: Oh, absolutely! I was always influenced by that kind of stuff. I liked the first GUNS ‘N ROSES album, so I was into Slash. Not that I was a big worshipper, but I liked Yngwie Malmsteen as a kid. He’s “douchie” , but he’s fucking amazing!
M.C.P.: Absolutely! Personality has nothing to do with how the guy plays.
M.P.: Oh, he’s fucking ridiculous!
M.P.: I learned a lot of shit from Dave Mustaine and I got to tour with them. We kind of became buddies and he showed me some shit. I went on tour with the OPETH guys and MASTADON. Those guys are guitar demons! I pick stuff up here and there even though I try not to be too set in my style. We [HIGH ON FIRE] just did this new album and finished our tracks. (Bassist) Jeff (Matz) actually wrote the whole thing with me on guitar. He has better bass-lines because he knows all of the guitar-lines.
M.C.P.: That’s bad-ass!
M.P.: It make sense when it comes to the music theory because he can take my chord work and blueprint and carve a bass schedule out of it. So, on this one, Jeff actually plays a little of guitar on it and bass on it. I was like, “You already do the rhythm guitar thing on bass, too. You might as well group a guitar in there with your bass and make the rhythm section a little wider. So, this is going to be real interesting HIGH ON FIRE stuff. We’re doing some different shit. It’s like next-level … [slight pause] It’s still got its soul like the HIGH ON FIRE “oomph” and “punch you in the face” and it’s heavy, but it’s kind of “proggy” for us a little bit, but it’s fucking amazing prog. It’s not what you’d expect when you say, “prog”. It’s very technical. It’s still got a lot of soul. We raised the bar on ourselves quite a bit.
M.C.P.: That’s one of the things that I love about every HIGH ON FIRE album. It’s just a natural progression.
M.P.: Oh, yeah! I don’t know how we’re going to outdo this one, dude. Instead of outdoing it, we change, we outwork ourselves. I can’t wait to start playing these tunes! They’re absolutely retarded!
03.) M.C.P.: What is the status of SLEEP’s latest album (‘The Sciences’) and are there any details that would care to give about it?
M.P.: It’s dropping silently on four-twenty. There are no ads. We’re just dropping it digitally silently and there’s a limited edition that’s going to be out in record stores. By the time you read this, everybody will have fuckin’ known about this. The month after that, the actual vinyl itself and regular album, but we’re dropping it digitally on four-twenty.
M.C.P.: Nice!! I can’t wait to hear it!
M.P.: It’s a fucking amazing album! It was a lot of fun to make. Yeah, I just can’t say enough how blessed I am. The two different rhythm sections I have are the best guys in the world! It’s like, “Holy fuck, dude!”. I’m really lucky to be able to detail what all those dudes do.
04.) M.C.P.: As you mentioned before, Tony Iommi of BLACK SABBATH is obviously a huge influence on your guitar playing. Describe in your own words what he means to you and what he will be remembered for in the world of music when he is gone.
M.P.: I think there are bands that got labeled it before, but he is sort of the inventor of traditional heavy metal. He is pretty much the Pope of metal. He’s “THE GUY”. No one can pick apart the guys work. He had years where he didn’t have the “full” BLACK SABBATH, but his work in BLACK SABBATH and his work on his own is just flawless, you know? He’s my favorite fucking guitar player. He’s incredible!
M.C.P.: I have to ask you, I know HIGH ON FIRE and SLEEP are both heavily influenced by the first formation of BLACK SABBATH. What are your thoughts on the era with Ronnie James Dio?
M.P.: Oh, it’s the fucking best, dude! I loved it! I loved it when it was out. I think I remember instead of calling it BLACK SABBATH, calling it WOODBURNER [laughs]. It’s the Dio-era of SABBATH. I don’t know why I used to say that. I used to drop acid a lot, so…..
M.C.P.: Two completely different bands, but both are equally as good in my mind.
M.P.: They’re apples and oranges, you know? You can compare them, but Dio’s one of a kind and so is Ozzy. I even like the Ian Gillian shit.
M.C.P.: Oh, yeah! The ‘Born Again’ album!
M.P.: That thing fucking rules!
M.C.P.: That album is extremely heavy, even for that time. I think a lot of doom metal these days can draw a lot from that album, you know?
M.P.: Yeah, for sure.
05.) M.C.P.: When we initially talked about doing this interview, Malcom Young of AC/DC had just passed away around that same time. He is widely regarded as the best rock rhythm guitarist ever. Any thoughts on Malcom Young, his music and his place in rock/metal history?
M.P.: Well, those brothers got the shtick, man, and they stuck to it. I always liked AC/DC ’cause they didn’t change their format. It’s just simple fucking epic chord work. Epic rock ‘n roll. They did it right and they didn’t make it too complicated. They made it so the working man understands it. They made it genius in the simplest way. Sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do. It’s like be patient enough to allow the chords to ring out instead of fucking noodling too much. Yeah, they’re one of the best bands to ever exist! They’re straight up rock ‘n roll. You can’t even call them metal. Even though every metalhead loves AC/DC, it’s straight-up rock ‘ roll.
M.C.P.: Big time!
06.) M.C.P.: Growing up in the South Bay area, which is fairly close in proximity to San Francisco, during the early to mid-1980s, were you at all influenced by the Bay Area thrash scene? If so, do you have any memories relating to it that you would care to talk about?
M.P.: Absolutely! I mean just the thrash era where they started getting rid of all the hair bands. I can’t say that I didn’t like MOTLEY CRUE or RATT. I was a little kid and of course every little kid likes RATT or whatever…
M.P.: Yeah. We were little kids and that’s the only way we got turned on to heavy metal. Then, all of a sudden, there’s METALLICA coming out of the woodwork. CELTIC FROST and EXODUS and …
M.P.: HELLHAMMER! Fuck yeah! And there was TROUBLE and all these bands coming out on METAL BLADE and… [slight pause] What was the one the first METALLICA came out on?
M.C.P.: Oh! MEGAFORCE!
M.P.: Yeah, MEGAFORCE! Thank you! I was going to say ULTRAFORCE. That’s how old I am. I have to go through the mental Rolodex like, “Oh! I got metal Alzheimer’s!”.
M.C.P.: Believe me, I am only a few years older than you, so I can I completely relate to that [laughs].
M.P.: It’s like I know everything and then when somebody asks me about something, I can’t think of it because I am being put on the spot, you know [laughs]?
M.P.: And I didn’t mean that I know “everything”. I’ll know something about everything and then somebody will ask me a question and I’ll forget everything I know.
M.C.P.: Exactly! And then you remember it two weeks and you’re like, “Where is that guy? I need to let him know that I actually do know the answer [laughs].
M.P.: Yeah, that or I’ll spin and be like, “It’s fucking killing me! What’s the name of that?” [laughs].
07.) M.C.P.: Well, now I am going to go back really deep into your past. Tell me about hooking up with Tommy Choi and playing in your first band, ASBESTOSDEATH. Did ASBESTOSDEATH directly lead to the formation of SLEEP?
M.P.: Yes, it did, and how it ended was fucking ugly. I was at least a good friend about it. We were in ASBESTOSDEATH and I loved being in that band! I was roommates with Tom Choi. I’m best friends with Tom, you know? We’re not in contact as much anymore, but still, I love that guy! He was my first friend in California that was actually fun to hang around.
M.C.P.: Yeah, he’s a good guy!
M.P.: We’d go out, shoot pool, get stoned, drink underage. I skateboarded, He never skateboarded but … [laughs]. We were buds and it came to a point though in the band where him and (SLEEP bassist) Al (Cisneros) weren’t getting along so well and he was having his own problems and I had to tell Tom, “Hey, Tom. I don’t think the band is really working out for you” basically. It sucked I had to tell my best friend this, but it was for the better I suppose. SLEEP did come out of it, but SLEEP went through this metamorphosis where we got another guitar player, Justin (Marler). We were doing a couple of the ASBESTOSDEATH songs on the first SLEEP record. I always felt really bad about that, but shit happens. We were kids and I went about I the right way when that went down. I just talked to my friend like a friend. It was like, ” Well, you and the other bandmates aren’t getting along so well, so where do we go from here?”.
M.C.P.: Was there ever any consideration for you to join ITISEYE?
M.P: Uh, I was never asked because I was still doing the SLEEP thing and that was Choi’s band. It was ITISEYE and then they became OPERATOR: GENERATROR, which was fucking phenomenal! I still love that record [‘Polar Fleet’; 2001 MANS RUIN RECORDS] if I could find it. Dude, they were killing it…Killing it! I fucking love that band and what they were doing with Mitch French and Tony Lopez and Joe Tucci. They were all super amazing musicians. They had their own thing going on. It was really good. I wish they would have continued but … [slight pause] I don’t think they started out touring the right way [laughs]. I think that, like all bands, they started out and they were just getting wasted and more wasted and more wasted and not worrying about getting to the next gig. It’s like you gotta buckle-down sometime. You can’t just live in that reality and not get anything done. So, I think it was short-lived and it’s a shame because that band was killer. ITISEYE was killer. We were doing our own things and I was still friends with all of them. It wasn’t like a bad breakup between me and Tom. We’re still buddies. We always have been.
08.) M.C.P.: If you can elaborate on it, what is the story behind SLEEP signing with LONDON RECORDS and then the four–year delay getting ‘Dopesmoker’ released?
M.P.: I can elaborate on that. We spent our album budget on weed and amps. We spent two months up in the middle of nowhere in California. It was really nice. There’s a studio way up on this pond ridge. So, we record this seventy-two-minute song and the record company is trying to edit it for the radio. One riff in that song is a long as a fucking entire radio song. So, they’re trying to do radio edits out of an impossibility. They ended up just shelving us and then that record label went under. It just got absorbed by UNIVERSAL or whatever. So, we went and got the rights back after a while and someone released a bootleg and had that going and he got in trouble for it. We went about it the right way of getting the rights to that record back so we could put it out with SOUTHERN LORD [RECORDINGS] and it worked-out very lucratively and good for us. It was really kinda kick-ass.
09.) M.C.P.: If you can and don’t mind talking about it, what caused SLEEP to disband? When it happened, did you ever believe that the band would ever reform or did you think that the band was done for good?
M.P.: Uh, I thought the band was kind of done for good, just because there’s a lot of personal issues. I don’t think half of us understood. Like I didn’t understand my mental health. I was having substance abuse, but I am very determined and motivated person whether or not and when I was an “alcoholic” alcoholic, I was a very functional alcoholic. Day drinking and getting hella shit done. It never hindered me that way, but what had hindered me was I have a temper, you know, and… [slight pause] Yeah. If I have an emotional thing and I drink, I tend to lose my temper and let everybody have it and then regret it the next day, because I let things boil up inside me. I don’t let ’em out unless I am playing music or have to drink and yell at someone. That’s what you kind of get off the HIGH ON FIRE music though. Those demons and uh… [slight pause] Yeah.
M.C.P.: Everybody’s got ’em.
10.) M.C.P.: When did you first start envisioning the formation of HIGH ON FIRE? Was it during the time that the three of you in SLEEP realized that the band was no longer going to continue to be active?
M.P.: Yeah. Everyone quit on me. I’m like, “Well I got all these fucking riffs, dude!” So, I just played around in my garage for a long time and was digging ditches. I’d just go into my garage and smoke some weed and drink some Budweiser’s and I started having all these riffs. And then I started singing. I was like, “God, I never knew I could sing and play”. Apparently, I’m a natural at that, too. I met this dude named Carl that I’ve known for a long time. I started jamming with my friend, Carl, who’s a great guitar player, and wrote the first song, “Blood from Zion”. And then I met [HIGH ON FIRE drummer] Des (Kensel) shortly after that and me and Des were attached at the hip right when we met each other. I mean just like total chemistry. And we had George Rice come down and try-out for singing and then he ended up stealing the bass when our bass-player was out. Des kind of game me an ultimatum, ’cause he just wanted to work with me and Carl was kind of SOUNDGARDENy and that wasn’t really Des’ style. So, me and Dez just started. I was still making the transition from the slow, sludgy SLEEP stuff to what we’ve become now. There’s speed to it and there’s way more aggression. More of a MOTORHEAD pace then a syrupy pace. We still do some of the doom, but we’re just better at the east-coast hard-core beats with, you know, super-metal. It’s like a thrash band with BLACK SABBATH tone.
M.C.P.: Yeah. When I am talking to somebody that I’m meeting for the first time and I try to get a gauge of what non-mainstream metal they’re into, I always ask them if they’ve heard HIGH ON FIRE. If they say, “I do not know of HIGH ON FIRE. How would you describe them?”, I tell them, “Picture BLACK SABBATH meets SLAYER meets MOTORHEAD with all the subtlety of a nuclear warhead”.
M.P.: [laughs and spits] That’s a good description.
M.C.P.: Feel free to use it!
11.) M.C.P.: HIGH ON FIRE formed in 1998. Des has been with the band since its inception. Jeff Matz joined in 2006, really solidifying the band. As good as the first three albums are (‘The art of Self Defense’ [2000 MAN’S RUIN RECORDS], ‘Surrounded by Thieves’ [2002 RELAPSE RECORDS], “Blessed Black Wings’ [2005 RELAPSE RECORDS]) are, the band was taken to a new level when Jeff joined. ‘Death Is This Communion’ [2005 RELAPSE RECORDS], ‘Snakes for the Divine’ [2010 E1 MUSIC], ‘De Vermis Mysteriis‘ [2012 E1 MUSIC] and ‘Luminiferous’ [2015 E1 MUSIC] have all shown the band steadily progressing but still staying true to the original idea from one album to the next. One of the things that really make the albums stand out are the different layers that that get added into songs that you do not hear a lot of metal bands doing this days. Describe what goes into the HIGH ON FIRE writing process. Who comes up with what? How much of it is mapped-out and how much of it comes from just plugging-in and jamming?
M.P.: I mean over time we’ve developed. We record every time we practice and when we’re writing, we record every fucking last thing. We’ll just record the whole session, whether it was dicking-off or not. Me and Jeff have a fucking vault of riffs. I mean we just rehash riffs and we’re always coming up with new riffs. We never run out of that. And then we present it to Des and sometimes Jeff will have sessions with Des and it’s just Jeff and Des. You can work out your idea with a drummer without me jumping in and being all, “Well, why don’t you change like this?”. We just kind of have like alone-time with Des. And we get together and we all change shit together. As far as my responsibilities, I mean Jeff learns all of the guitar shit. He can play guitar almost exactly like me. It’s kind of crazy because he’s been playing with me for so long. So, rhythmically he understands everything I do in HIGH ON FIRE. He understands its’ style which makes him reflect what he puts in his tool box that’s new. He’ll throw it out there to me and I learn from him. So, we’re constantly evolving between the two of us as being stringed-instrument players. And then Des, he’s just a fucking maniac having a mid-life tempo-crisis [laughs]. So, he fucking kills on this album, dude! It’s fucking insane! He’s that guy that doesn’t have to practice. He could not practice for a year and he’d sit down and murder everybody the minute he touched the drumsticks.
12.) M.C.P.: Des, in my opinion, is one of the best drummers in metal, hands down. He is a true power-meets-technique drummer. Jeff is insanely good as a bass player as well. Do you ever stop and think while watching and listening to them how lucky you are to have such an incredible drummer and bassist playing in your band?
M.P.: Oh, ABSOLUTELY! They’re the love of my life. I’m married to those dudes in a strange way [laughs]. And we know everything about each other. As far as touring goes, we get along really well. Our worse problem is communication sometimes, ’cause we’re in far off lands from each other, but me and Jeff have always been close to each other. We go down to New Orleans. Des is a family man, so he’s not all the time capable of being present on every little last fucking thing that we talk about. We gotta get Des at a good moment, barrage him with everything that’s been on your mind for a while. Other than that, we never fight. If there’s a problem, we discuss it. We’re all adults. We know each other like the back of our hands. Everybody in the band has fucked up in front of everybody and had a shit day. It’s just at the end of the day, it’s all about how much you love playing with your brothers and I love playing with those guys! It’s magic, you know?
M.C.P.: Yeah, absolutely! When there’s a chemistry, it’s a hard thing to replace.
M.P.: Yeah, I don’t even care about the money. It’s not like HIGH ON FIRE is making ground-breaking income but we keep ourselves afloat and we keep ourselves busy.
13.) M.C.P.: Where do you get your ideas for your lyrics? Do you prefer to write songs based on personal experiences, observances you have about the world in general or just get away from reality and delve completely into fiction?
M.P.: All of those. I like really… [slight pause] I have an interest, and some people are like, [in mocking voice], “Oh! Ancient aliens”, or something like that, and I do like that, but I’ve delved into way deeper things. Like esoteric things about cults, the Illuminati, just how you can watch politics and see two different groups warring with each other. If you don’t think that’s fucking one side and the other side of the elite banker’s club, you’re fucking fooling yourself. We’ve been lied to since we’ve been put in school. Since you were born and had a birth certificate, you’ve been lied to every single fucking day of your life. To believe that the norm in reality is true and it’s not. The world is not what most people think it is. It’s by design. It’s meant to keep us enslaved. It’s been going on for a long time and I think they’re scared and… [slight pause] Certain entities are very scared of us and what our potential is if everybody vibrated on a higher frequency by nurturing your vibrations, meditating. Some people, it’s payer. There’s a certain thing about mankind that we’re very creative. It’s hard to explain. You gotta take some truth to what I believe and then something esoteric and science-fiction and how just I feel about everyday life. I mix that all up and try to create the coolest sounding story with little whims of truth, little whims of spirituality. Little whims of everything I believe. It doesn’t mean that I believe everything that I say. I just try to make things sound fucking cool and metal.
M.P.: I do have a message: “Wake up!”. I wish everybody would wake up and take a look around and do research into what things really are and stop watching television and do some real research on things like chemtrails that everybody calls conspiracy theories. They’re not! Most of them are fact if you go out and research it. Some of them are completely diluted and out of control and fucking dumb. Some of them aren’t. I find those things interesting because I like to know about the world I live in. I don’t believe everything that CNN tells me, but a lot of people do and it’s bullshit.
14.) M.C.P.: I have read in various interviews that when you were younger and living in Colorado that you were surrounded by a lot of guys who exposed you to outdoor survival techniques, particularly out in the wild. Have those experiences influenced your writing of HIGH ON FIRE’s lyrics?
M.P.: Um, I don’t know if they influenced the lyrics that much. I suppose some things that I just have knowledge of would come out as just common knowledge in my lyrics. Things like killing and butchering an animal or the dog-man, werewolves. Things you can’t really explain in the deep forest or, you know, that are hidden away from man that like you can’t prove or disprove at this point. But, there’s more and more evidence as we live
M.C.P.: After I read about your experiences out in the wild and hunting and everything that goes along with that, I was like there’s an audio thread that runs through the music. It’s very primal but massively powerful at the same time.
M.P.: Oh, yeah! Some of that is just Des’ really tribal… [slight pause] That comes from Des’ rhythms. He’s very good at the tribal drum thing. Hitting his toms. I think that it is one of the main drives of HIGH ON FIRE. I’m going to think in sixes or threes or if it’s four/four, I know that I have a steady… [slight pause] Instead of just miking like just a kick and a snare, I make sure I mic ALL of his drums. I need to hear everything or I won’t be able to play the songs thoroughly. Some things are based on his way tribal style of drumming. He does a lot of stuff you gotta hear all of or you’re going to miss something, you know?
M.C.P: Yeah, definitely! Two of my favorite HIGH ON FIRE songs are “Hung, Drawn and Quartered” and “Rumors of War”. A huge part of the reason why is because of that massive, tribal, “kick your ass and kick in your teeth” drum beat that Des has come up with. It’s just absolutely flooring!
M.P.: Oh, you think that’s good, just wait for this next record!
M.P. Fuck yeah, man!
M.P.: He writes himself in a corner so bad. It’s like, “Dude! Are you going to die on tour (?), because I think you are. You try to pull this stuff on tour, you better be on the fucking Bruce Lee diet. I don’t know what to tell you, but this is fucking hard!”.
M.C.P.: I don’t know why as far as metal drummers go, for the life of me, he is not more highly regarded than he is.
M.P.: I don’t know why HIGH ON FIRE isn’t bigger than it is. For the fans that love it understand that it’s fucking next-level shit.
15.) M.C.P.: Some of the producers that HIGH ON FIRE has worked with are Billy Anderson, Steve Albini, Jack Endino and Kurt Ballou. All of them have very credible reputations as metal/hardcore/ indie album producers. What specific things related to their production styles/methods do you like? Do you have a favorite when it comes to those four producers?
M.P.: No, I think it’s just a different, like as the band evolves, we’ve wanted to evolve with new and different producers for different eras of the band. Billy Anderson brought us through our sludge, our fucking doom kinda years. And when we started peppin’ up and stuff like that, we wanted to go with a little bit of a cleaner recording. Jack Endino was an old friend of Jeffs’ and I like what he did with NIRVANA. He’s a really great engineer. So, we tried the newer style HIGH ON FIRE when Jeff first joined the band and we had all these ideas and they were a bit more on the “metal” metal side. I think he really captured a great album. I love that record. We really got to experiment with jamming and having separation. Billy’s recordings, there’s not a lot of separation. There a lot of subs and a lot of low-end boom and a lot of “stick”. He was never really a specialist at separating the music. It was all kind of squashed together a little bit, which is great for a certain style and a slower-paced style. The one we with Steve Albini [‘Blessed Black Wings’] was amazing ’cause he actually cuts tape. He doesn’t do anything digital. So, you need to be on your fucking game and know the music and poor Joe Preston [ex-The MELVINS, ex- EARTH] jumped in and wrote his bass-lines in four days and just played through it with us. Joe’s incredible, so we got the album done by the skin of our teeth. It got to the point where I was going to pay bass on it.
M.P.: I asked Shelton, Hank III. I had my roommate trying out. I don’t know who it was. So, we got Joe for a couple of years and then when Jeff actually had a falling-out with ZEKE, I was like, “I’m nabbing that fucking guy!”, because Joe was sick of touring with us because we tried to kill him touring and he never went home. So, Jeff joined and drove down in little fucking Mazda with an SVT (bass amp) in it. I had an apartment ready to go for him. He moved in and then he met my good friend, Dom, and they’re married now. So, I got to play Cupid on that one a little bit.
M.C.P.: Oh, bad-ass!!
M.P.: They’re happily married now, It’s great!
M.C.P.: That’s fucking awesome!!
16.) M.C.P.: How did SLEEP re-forming come about? Has it been what you expected it would be when the band did reform?
M.P.: Oh, ten times what I expected. We reformed with Chris [Hakius] to do a couple of shows in England. That’s all it was going to be. A reunion show, you know? It was with JESUS LIZZARD and we were like, “Oh, dude! Gotta do that!”. So, me and Al got together and started talking. Got Chris to do it. Practiced a couple of times. Played a pretty good set. I mean, I forgot what we even played at that fucking thing, but we did a pretty good set. Then we kept getting more offers and Chris really didn’t want to jump back into the touring thing. We got some crazy offers and Al called me was like, “What about…”, and me and Al have known NEUROSIS since we were fucking teenagers, so they’re like, “What about Jason?”. I’m like, “Oh my God! Jason wants to play with SLEEP?!. FUCK!”. And actually, that turned out to be the fucking best thing ever. He’s fucking amazing, dude! I love that guy! I love his dry sense of humor. I love his drumming. He’s a total animal. That guy’s such a powerhouse. He’s such a great experimental drummer. It’s good for SLEEP. As methodical as it is, there’s not one show that is the same. We improv the fucking timing of it. It’s kind of weird, but somehow, we pull that off. It creates a really good show, but it’s hit or miss with it, too. I mean to us, we have good nights and bad nights. To the crowd, they’re like, “Holy fucking shit! What was that?”. It’s like we’re improving half the night. We don’t know if it’s going to be slow or a little faster or normal or (usually we call it) “BLACK FLAGging it”. To ‘BLACK FLAG” something, you go from one BPM to like way slower BPMs. And then you pull it back out and it’s like we’re changing the BPMs instead of the timing, you know what I mean?
M.P.: Which gets fucking crazy! It’s like a crazy jazz band what pace we’re on.
16.) M.C.P.: HIGH ON FIRE has toured with four out of the BIG 5 of American thrash metal bands (METALLICA, ANTHRAX, MEGADETH and EXODUS). Any thoughts, opinions and/or memories from those experiences that you would care to discuss?
M.P.: Oh, it’s just awesome knowing the old thrash dudes! Even the first time I met the SLAYER guys, I was good buddies with Kerry King’s guitar tech, Armand (Crump). He unfortunately died and that was tragic because he was such a fucking great human being. I got to know the TESTAMENT guys and the EXODUS guys just because we practiced in the same place in Oakland.
M.C.P.: Was that JACKSON STREET STUDIOS?
M.P.: Yeah, JACKSON STREET and then there was SOUNDWAVES and there’s OAKLAND MUSIC COMPLEX that was SOUNDWAVES. There was some dark shit that went on with the transfer of buildings with that.
M.P.: Yeah, I had met Gary Holt who is a big hero of mine. I think that guy is best guitar-player on the fucking planet.
M.P.: Yeah, he’s bad-ass!
M.P.: And he’s such a cool dude to talk to! We start talking about old thrash and he’s like all into it. So, HIGH ON FIRE, I don’t know, kinda got accepted by all the Bay Area thrasher bands back from old which is cool ’cause we’re like everybody’s little brothers.
M.C.P.: What about the guys from DEATH ANGEL and MACHINE HEAD?
M.P.: Oh, I know all of them! They’re dudes that I’ve gone out and went to the bar with and we’ve played shows with. It’s like when you live in the “Bay”. I don’t live in the “Bay” any more, but I miss it quite a bit and I’m down there quite a bit, but all those bands kinda have a rapport with each other. We just all know each other, you know? You get thrown on their show and you give each other hugs and go, “Fuck yeah, dude!”. I always see a bunch of them dudes at festivals, or you know, I’ll run into like…[slight pause] A big influence on me was DARK ANGEL when I was a kid and running into (drummer) Gene Hoglan here and there and just being able to go on tour with him. I went on tour with FEAR FACTORY. I went on tour with DEATHCLOCK. I went on tour when he was in STRAPPING YOUNG LAD on that ‘Sounds of the Underground’ [tour]. The old thrasher dudes from back then just, dude, they’ve got their fucking shit together! I mean even if they’re fucking wasted, they can play circles around everyone! I just admire that era of music and that style ’cause, you know, it was the only thing that was being creative at that time in music really.
M.C.P.: Really quick, have you heard of the band, UNCIVIL WAR?
M.C.P.: It’s actually guitarist Scott Owen (original HIRAX), drummer Joe Cangelosi (ex- WHIPLASH, ex- KREATOR), bassist Rich Day (ex- PRIMAL SCREAM, ex- WHIPLASH) and vocalist Patrick Lind (ex- MORBID SAINT). They actually got a thing going now where they’re getting their demo together. It seems like it’s coming along pretty well, man. Old-school thrashers that have something new going, so you may want to keep an ear open for it.
M.P.: Oh, I will! You know who did something was Max Cavalera with his side thing. I forget what it’s called.
M.C.P.: Are you talking about SOULFLY or CAVALERA CONSPIRACY?
M.P.: [CAVALERA] CONSPIRACY! Yes! That shit’s fucking bad-ass, dude! That’s like the old SEPULTURA. SOULFLY I could never jive on, but I’m a big SEPULTURA fan and that [CAVALERA] CONSPIRACY? That shit’s fucking bad-ass! My young girlfriend would force me to listen to it. I was like, “Jesus Christ!”. This is what he should have been doing all along in my opinion. Max Cavalera is Max Cavalera. He does what he wants. I’m saying that’s the direction, that’s the music I like that dude busting out. It’s pretty impressive.
17.) M.C.P.: What song will HIGH ON FIRE be convering on the upcoming THIN LIZZY tribute album? What do think THIN LIZZY’s place is in the world of hard rock and heavy metal?
M.P. THIN LIZZY’s one of my favorite bands! They’re one of my favorite bands that when driving on tour, I’ll have THIN LIZZY just playing over and over. Yeah, they’re fucking awesome! We really haven’t gotten down to that song. I had forgotten about that. I’m sure that HIGH ON FIRE can bust a THIN LIZZY song in one day. Kirk Hammett had his horror-fest [Fear FestEVIL] and we were kinda the house band for it. So, I got to play [THIN LIZZY] ” The Emerald” with Kirk Hammett and HIGH ON FIRE and then John 5 jumped in and Corey from SLIPKNOT. We did some MOTORHEAD…
M.C.P.: And some RIOT!!
M.P.: “Swords and Tequila”. Yeah. We did a whole bunch of old metal shit and got it together in like one day. Just came up with a list of songs and a little practice and had a great set. Yeah, I got to play with Kirk Hammett. He’s a big influence on me. I fucking love that guy! His playing is fucking amazing! You know, I’m biased to the old stuff because the first three METALLICA records were a big part of my life, dude. They opened-up the fucking floodgates. I gotta give ’em credit for that. You know, they’re hit or miss on their albums. I know they try but…
M.C.P.: Yeah, you like what you like.
M.P.: It’s a weird thing like a boxer. It’s just are you hungry any more or are you not? And it’s hard to be hungry when you’re that successful. I totally get it. But if that was me, I’d be in like ten side-projects. Then I’d get together with METALLICA and make money and have fun touring, but at the same time I’d have some other shit going on somehow or something.
18.) M.C.P.: What do you think the status of Doom metal/Stoner metal is currently? Are you a fan of any bands such as [ex- TROUBLE vocalist] Eric Wagner’s band, The SKULL, WO FAT, BLACK PYRAMID and/or SPACESLUG?
M.P.: Um, you know, I’ve frequented shows. I’ve seen some of their shows and stuff like that. I’m pretty fucking jaded as far as like going out of my way to go to a show because I am at a fucking show every day of my life. When I get home, I really just want to take my four-wheel drive and AR and go up to the hills and shoot and blow shit up, you know?
M.P.: I’m getting set to do this tomorrow so I’m glad that you got me on the phone today.
M.C.P.: No doubt! I didn’t know that you are a firearms enthusiast. What different calibers do you like? Do you like handguns as well?
M.P.: Yeah. Oh, I have an amazing handgun! I have a couple of amazing handguns. I just got this .475 LINEBAUGH and it is literally a hand-held elephant gun.
M.P.: [laughs] You know, it’s .475. It’s not far from a .50 cal. Dude, look up people shooting it on YouTube. It’s fucking ridiculous!
M.C.P.: I’ll do that!
M.P.: And dude, I don’t go out and shoot-up schools and shit like that. I do believe there needs to be regulations on machine guns. And this is the weird part of it. Dude, all of that shit is staged for fucking gun control. They want to take all of our guns and they’ll never do that in the U.S. There’s way too many guns and gun owners. And if you take all of the guns away from the people, the criminals are going to have guns. Maybe the kids on anti-depressants won’t get the guns, so maybe we should keep them out of the hands eighteen-year old’s and make it a twenty-one-year old law, you know what I mean?
M.P.: Who Knows? This all has to do with C.I.A. and fucking MK ULTRA and political agendas. And I fucking feel for the people who lose those people and lose lives and that shit should not happen. And I don’t think arming the fucking teachers is smart either. Maybe there needs to be more armed guards at schools. I mean, how the fuck does one walk up to a school with an AR and no one notices? It’s like, “Dude! What?!”. There should be somebody there, disarming him, a little kid, fucking within two seconds flat and ending that threat. It’s ridiculous.
M.C.P.: Yeah, man! Very valid point!
M.P.: I believe there should be sanctions on what certain people are allowed… [slight pause] You need a psyche evaluation or something. Mine’s semi-automatic. I’m happy with that. I only shoot one round at a time. Once in a while, I’ll blow-off a whole clip, but it just makes me have to clean my gun more. You know, it’s something I grew up with. My Mom was partial to mountain men. That’s who she dated, so that’s what I was surrounded by when I was growing up. I was at the mountains every weekend.
M.C.P.: I live out here in Arizona and you can have a background check done in five-minutes. I love the fact that I can do that, but if it makes things safer, I’m willing to give up that five-minute background check go with a two-week background check. I don’t care. I have nothing to worry about.
M.P.: Exactly. I have nothing to hide, and unless you’re threatening me or coming into my house, I’m probably not going to shoot you. And this is the weird thing. The disaster happened in Houston. The disaster happened in New Orleans. The people who were armed were the people who fucking survived that shit, ’cause the criminals are running around looting everything. Robbing. Raping. What are you going to do? There’s a bunch of dudes running around with MAC-10s on fucking jet-skis. It’s like, “Dude, how are you going to defend yourself?”. [In mocking voice] “Well that doesn’t happen every day”. Well, it can happen, you know, so…
19.) M.C.P.: I interviewed BLACK PYRAMID guitarist/vocalist, Andy Beresky, last year. I asked him why he had left the band for a brief time. He basically said that it came about because of a re-evaluation he made regarding his life’s priorities. He said that one of the things that helped him make his decision is when he had a conversation with you while he was bartending at an establishment in Massachusetts where you discussed the particulars of playing the type of music that you both play and the toll that it takes on you being in an industry that is not extremely accepting of that music in many ways. Do you happen to remember that conversation and if so, can you please elaborate on it?
M.P.: Um, I don’t know. I seem to have that conversation with a lot of people [laughs]. God, I’m trying to go back into the Rolodex. What was it that I said?
M.C.P.: He basically said that he was thinking about leaving BLACK PYRAMID. He was actually working at a job as a bartender. He was also bouncing and doing other odd-jobs. HIGH ON FIRE were on tour at that time and you came into the bar that he was working at and you guys just sat down and he said that he was on the fence about leaving the band or not. You basically said, “Take it from me, this is about as good as it going to get. You gotta really be into it and in it for the long-haul and have a strong love for it, because it’s not really going to get much better than this”. He also said that he knew you were getting burned-out on things at the time, so your situations were similar. That conversation helped make his decision. He said that he took a little bit of time off and now they are not making it their “day jobs” anymore and are doing it as something for fun and it’s really turned-out better that way.
M.P.: Oh, I do recall talking to that guy. I had an interview at that same place he was working at. So, I did this cool interview and then I was shooting the shit with that guy. Yeah, it is like that. I mean, if you’re going to do music, don’t expect to, you know… [slight pause] It’s taken a long time for me to even be on a bus comfortably. And you get into a routine and you just gotta accept that that’s part of your life and you gotta try to make time for yourself at home, but I get very little time to myself.
M.P.: It takes a very special person to do this as a lifer, you know, for the long haul. It takes a special kind person because you have to put up with a lot of shit and being uncomfortable a lot and having embarrassing moments on-stage and everything that goes with the psyche. As a human being, you can only deal with so much shit. I don’t know. I’ve just become total Zen guy. I just try to not let things get to me, ’cause things will come up and it will seem like the end of the world and it’s really not. As long as you get to the next day, you’re cool. As long as I don’t go off the rails and start trying to drink myself to death or being stupid and careless with my personal life and keeping it together like, “Hey! It’s a normal job. It’s just you gotta live on a bus”. If you’re that type of person, put the time into it. If you don’t want to do that the rest of your life, stop where you’re at and yeah, make it a hobby.
20.) M.C.P.: What is Matt Pike’s philosophy on life?
M.P.: Oh, dude. I don’t know. Same as Conan’s: “Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. And to hear the lamentations of their women”.
M.C.P.: [laughs] I gotcha!
21.) M.P.: What is your rig rundown, both in the studio and live?
M.P.: There’s two different ones. The SLEEP one is absolutely insane! I’m sponsored by ORANGE MATAMP. Yeah, I pretty much run, live, four and a half stacks. I usually run five to six heads and nine cabinets usually. And then for HIGH ON FIRE, I usually run two full-stacks. They’re SOLDANOs, though. I do have an [ORANGE] Dual Dark I can use in that. I record with my old LANEY. I have an old LANEY Supergroup that my guy, Bryan Sours, “modded” and it’s just UNGODLY! It is ridiculously loud and ridiculously awesome sounding and I mix that with an SLO (made by SOLDANO). I have a SOLDANO Hotrod. I usually only run two stacks in HIGH ON FIRE and Jeff runs an AMPEG and a half-stack and we get away with that. Sometimes he’ll go to full-stack and we’ll cross-stage. We don’t need as many monitor things going on ’cause I’m very busy in that band. I don’t move a lot ‘casue I have to sing, play and play lead-guitar. So, I let Jeff jump around a little more than me [laughs].
M.C.P.: I gotcha. Are you still using EMPEROR cabinets?
M.P.: Yeah, I have some of ’em. I haven’t upgraded my cabinet deal in while aside from Jeff Matz made me a six-twelve. Jeff Matz makes some bad-ass cabinets! It’s not like a normal thing for him to do, but he’s put a few out there. We have endorsements with EMINENCE and I forget who else we have endorsements with. Everybody basically. So, we get different kinds of speakers, road cabs with different sounding things.
M.C.P.: Hey, did that tobacco burst Les Paul ever end up getting recovered?
[Editor’s note: This guitar was stolen around August, 2012. It is a 1992 Les Paul Standard, tobacco burst finish. Serial number 92462499. For additional info on this stolen guitar, including who to contact if found, please visit this link: http://www.ztmag.com/blog/news/matt-pikes-guitar-stolen/ ]
M.P.: …but SLEEP bought me a new one.
M.C.P.: And that’s the white one, right?
M.P.: No, it’s a tobacco one. I haven’t played it live a whole lot. It’s a standard, but it was kinda the replacement. The guitar that got ripped-off was kinda irreplaceable and one of those Les Paul’s that doesn’t sound like anything else. It was a crazy guitar and I was really bummed on that one, but SLEEP bought me a new one and then I’ve just been collecting Les Paul’s ever since. Like every time I go to fucking CHICAGO MUSIC EXCHANGE, I buy a new Les Paul. It’s guitar porn in there. I go in there and go, “I want that one and that one and all of those”, and then I have too many guitars to deal with. I constantly have one in the shop all of the time.
M.C.P.: Is one of the reasons why you love Les Paul’s is because of Randy Rhoads?
M.P.: Yeah. Yeah, I suppose so. Eh, I just have always been a Les Paul player. You know there’s Strat players and there’s shredder players. There’s Les Paul players and I’m a Les Paul player. That’s my fucking deal.
22.) M.C.P.: Last question: Matt Pike is a metal festival promoter for one day/night and one day/night only. You have to pick one classic heavy metal band, one thrash metal band, one death metal band, one doom/stoner metal band, one black metal band and one cross-over band. You can pick any lineup for any band and you can include HIGH ON FIRE or SLEEP if you’d like. You have to choose the headliner and the order of the bill. GO!!
M.P.: Oh, God damn it [laughs]! Uh well, I definitely want BLACK SABBATH, MOTORHEAD, LED ZEPPELIN, PINK FLOYD, SLAYER, METALLICA (the early days with Cliff Burton), CANDLEMASS, CARCASS, old VENOM, CIRCLE JERKS, BLACK FLAG… [slight pause] Uh, I don’t know [laughs].
M.C.P.: [laughs] That’s a good answer, man! I like it!
M.P.: That’s as quick as I can think of it. If I sucked in this interview or offended anyone, I don’t fucking care [laughs].
M.C.P.: [laughs] No, I think it was a great interview, man. I thank you so much for taking the time to do it. I was telling somebody the other day that when I started doing this whole thing, getting you to do this is kind of the Holy Grail for me, you know what I mean?
M.P.: Yeah. Well thank you for your time, man. I appreciate it, Marc.
I want to personally thank Thomas Choi of Las Vegas, Nevada, for being such an incredibly bad-ass dude and reaching out to Matt on my behalf. I owe you a mammoth shit-ton of drinks, brother!!
Be sure to stop by the official webs-sites for both HIGH ON FIRE (http://highonfire.net/) and Sleep (https://weedian.com/). Be sure to also visit the HIGH ON FIRE official Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/highonfire/) and the SLEEP official Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/officialsleep/).
Last but not least, be sure to check out the links listed directly below. Cheers, ya rivet-heads!!
SLEEP Las Vegas, NV. 8-18-2017
Sleep (live concert) – January 23rd, 1994, Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro, NC
Sleep – Holy Mountain live 1993 in Germany
Sleep – Volume Two
Sleep – “The Clarity”
Sleep – Snowblind (Black Sabbath cover) [HD Audio]
Sleep – Into The Void (Black Sabbath cover)
Sleep – The Dopesmoker Story (“Such Hawks, Such Hounds” Segment)
Sleep “Over The Mountain” Live 9/5/10
HIGH ON FIRE live at Saint Vitus Bar, Jan. 9, 2015 (EARLY SHOW FULL SET)
HIGH ON FIRE – 2/10/08 @ Europa, New York City, NY – FULL SET
HIGH ON FIRE live at Amoeba Records 2007
HIGH ON FIRE – 1/16/00 @ Phantasmagoria, Wheaton, MD – FULL SET
High On Fire – 3 Song EP (pre-AOSD/1999)
Metallica’s Kirk Hammett & High On Fire jamming Thin Lizzy 4/10/15
High on Fire – Speak in Tongues (HQ)
High on Fire – Rapid Fire (Judas Preist cover)
AsbestosDeath – Dejection, Unclean [Full EP]
Abbath and Matt Pike (High On Fire): weed, speed and conquering the world | Aggressive Tendencies
Sleep’s Matt Pike and Orange Amplifiers.