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High On Fire    
High On Fire
Sleep, Slayer, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Celtic Frost, Tom G. Warrior's book, The Osbournes, The Melvins, Neurosis, whether or not Black Sabbath is a punk band, Circle Jerks, Black Flag, playing clubs with Green Day, D.R.I., C.O.C., rap metal, South By Southwest, how writing High on Fire lyrics is like hitting a punching bag, the balance between god and evolution, Relapse Records and MTV Cribs: that's a lot to cover in one interview. Then again, Sleep founder and current High on Fire guitarist / vocalist Matt Pike is no ordinary subject. Promotion for High On Fire's new album 'Surrounded By Thieves' gave the Metal Update an opportunity to talk metal with the animated frontman.

METAL UPDATE: What got you started playing music?

MATT PIKE: My grandfather and one of my uncles both used to play guitar for me when I was a little kid. So after that, I lied to myself and thought I could play guitar without ever even touching one. I kept telling my mom I played guitar, so she finally bought me a guitar and I started playing it. It was something I basically talked myself into. I was a really, really little kid. It was kinda weird, I guess. After that, I fucking dropped out of school to play guitar but I never really had a band or anything. I had one in Denver that didn't really do anything - I think we played one show. Then I got in all of this trouble, went to military school and juvenile hall. I eventually got sent out to my dad in California and I joined a band called Asbestos Death out there, and Asbestos Death eventually turned into Sleep, and I've been playing ever since. After Sleep, I started this whole High on Fire thing.

MU: When was Sleep an active band?

MP: Sleep was an active band in 1989. We recorded an album that came out in 1990. That's the first album we did. Over the next eight or ten years after that. . . I guess 1998 was the last album I did with that band.

MU: How would you describe "the Sleep sound"?

MP: Drone. It has a real pentatonic yet Indian / Middle Eastern feel. We put that into metal a little bit. But in a different way. The percussion did most of the work in that band.

High On Fire

MU: How does the sound of High on Fire relate to what you are doing with Sleep?

MP: Fuck. It's definitely different. Me and George do a lot of - not that my drummer doesn't do a lot of the work, but it's busier. It's a little faster. It's definitely still heavy, along the same lines as Science Fiction / Theology / Comic Book kinda lyrics. That's kinda the way I like things. It's just the way that the style is.

MU: Let's talk musical influences. Obviously Black Sabbath has to come into play somewhere in there.

MP: Absolutely. Tony Iommi is my mentor. I learned how to play from him. Some of the first stuff I ever learned how to play is Black Sabbath. I can probably play every song by Black Sabbath. If I don't remember one, I could probably go back and figure it out.

MU: Are you talking riffs, leads or both?

MP: Everything. All the music. I probably couldn't sing and play all of it, but . . . you know. I learned playing to Sabbath and a lot of old metal bands too. Slayer for instance. And Iron Maiden. Des [Kensel, drums] is all into Judas Priest. I know a lot of Priest. It just teaches you how to play, playing to records that you like as a kid.

MU: Do you like playing covers?

MP: Covers? As High on Fire, we really haven't done a Black Sabbath one. We just did that Celtic Frost one ["The Usurper" from 2001's 'Art of Self Defense']. That's probably the first cover I tried with them.

MU: Why did you choose to play a Celtic Frost cover?

MP: Because they're bad. And I've never done one. They're one of my favorite bands. And the other guys were into it too. Anything Tom G. Warrior is all right with me.

MU: Did you read his book?

MP: Yes, actually I'm half way through it right now.

MU: He comes off kinda bitter, don't you think?

MP: Yeah, a little bit. But with good reason, man. You gotta think about the dude's life, you know? I mean, fuck. I love Celtic Frost. I think it's some of the best music ever made. And that guy knew what he should have had and then kinda what that band went to. He should have been Slayer or he should have been in the Maiden boots. But he never got there. So I can understand why he's kinda bitter.

MU: Do you think Celtic Frost should do a new record?

MP: Yeah. Well, I don't know if they have the same mentality. I mean, how old is the dude? What's he doing now? I think they could possibly do something good, but the whole "Cherry Orchards" thing - what the hell was that? Dude. Brutal. And that was at a time when glam rock was at its peak I mean, Poison came out and they do "Cherry Orchards". What were they trying to get at there? Man, if you're so desperate to make it big - fuck, I don't know what to say.

MU: How crazy is it that Ozzy Osbourne had a big hit MTV sitcom this year?

MP: I think it's great. I think that's the funniest fucking show. I fucking love it. I think it's awesome. He's so fucked, dude. And he plays the fucking drug-addict rock star dad part so well.

MU: Do you think it's an act?

MP: I think it's 50% an act. It's gotta be. I mean, c'mon. I understand the dude has been through a lot of shit, but I think it's halfway an act and halfway honest. He's putting himself out there as who he really is, but at the same time I think for certain things he's acting. He's a pretty good actor, actually. The show is hilarious as fuck. It makes me laugh.

MU: Let me ask you about a couple bands, and you tell me how they relate to the High on Fire sound. Neurosis.

MP: Well, let me explain. I've known Neurosis since I was a little kid, dude. They were one of my favorite punk rock bands. When I was growing up, them and Christ on Parade - actually Noah is in Neurosis now too - anyway, when I was growing up they were a big influence. Them and the Melvins. The year around when I first moved to the Bay Area I got to see all of those cool shows with those two bands. They were punk rock but they were good punk rock. I mean they were coming up with riffs, you know? And it was loud. Actually Neurosis was one of the first bands to take Sleep out on tour with them and help us out in getting somewhere. Actually, I owe those guys and also for the rest of my life when I see one of those guys I'll love them to death. They're my friends.

MU: You called Neurosis a punk band.

MP: They're definitely a punk band.

MU: Is High on Fire a metal band?

MP: High on Fire definitely is a metal band. But it does have punk rock roots. I started in the punk rock scene and a lot of my playing comes from punk rock.

High On Fire

MU: It's funny that you say that, 'cause earlier we were talking about your metal roots playing Black Sabbath, Slayer, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden.

MP: But isn't Black Sabbath punk rock?

MU: You tell me.

MP: They are definitely punk rock.

MU: Why do you say that?

MP: Dude-listen to the riffs!

MU: Why, 'cause it's dirty and sloppy and. . .

MP: Yes. Exactly. That's exactly what old punk rock used to be about. New punk rock - I can understand the animal rights thing and the vegetarian and the being PC and stuff. But that's not punk rock, dude. That's not the punk rock I grew up on. The punk rock I grew up on was the Circle Jerks and Black Flag and fuckin' DK, you know? Which was only half-way to the politically correct thing. And then there were the bands that we were playing with at the time like Nausea and Subvert. And even Green Day, which is funny as hell. We used to play with Green Day! Punk rock at the time was killer, but it seems to have turned into something that it is not.

MU: Was Green Day a good band back then?

MP: No, not necessarily. But at least they hung out and they were cool. They weren't rich, that's for sure.

MU: What's the difference between punk and metal?

MP: It has to do with the drummers and the singers and the guitar players - the styles are all different. And it also has to do with attitude. But I don't really know. Metal and punk have always been in the same braintrack but were never in the same league until stuff like D.R.I. and the thrash stuff started coming out.

MU: What did you think of D.R.I. crossing over, and early C.O.C., etc.?

MP: I love all that stuff. I think it's great. I think it's awesome.

MU: What about new era bands?

MP: I'm not into the rap metal thing. The whole outfit and you have to be all masculine and tough.

MU: What about metalcore bands like Diecast and others of that style?

MP: That's cool. I have respect for it. You gotta do what you gotta do.

MU: But that's a different scene than High on Fire.

MP: Absolutely. But that's not to say someone who liked one wouldn't like the other. Or that someone who liked one wouldn't hate the other. That's the thing. Humans are strange. There's a lot of drama involved in just being human. Kind of chaotic.

MU: Does it make sense for High on Fire to play shows with Relapse artists like Dillinger Escape Plan?

MP: Oh sure. I'll do a show with anyone. Not to be a dick or anything, but I'll do shows with anyone to steal their crowd! (laughs) I'm teasing about that.

MU: What other bands fit in the same style as High on Fire?

MP: I don't know. I don't like to fit my band in with any category. I like to do what I do where and withever whom I do it. It doesn't really matter to me all that much.

MU: So you don't think about other bands and say, "I'd like to tour with them"?

MP: Actually, I have a hard time with that. I don't think about doing this with this band and that with that band. I don't give a fuck. It's all about me playing, and I get my little fucking hour of time. And I do the best that I can to give the best show that I can when I do. Everybody else, it doesn't matter to me. I like what I like to listen to, but it doesn't matter who I tour with.

MU: Did you enjoy playing at South by Southwest?

MP: It was like Spring Break for a bunch of industry people who want to take drugs and get drunk. (laughs) That's kind of what South by Southwest is, isn't it? Spring Break for industry people. I have a good time though, 'cause I fit right in. 'Cause I just start doing drugs with the rest of them. So it doesn't fucking matter.

MU: What is the philosophy behind the lyrics?

MP: It's a lot of things, really. But I would say it's the darker side of the three of our lives. It's like all of the things that bug you that aren't out in the open, trying to come out in the lyrics and get out in the open. It's all of the things that we have problems with in our lives. And it always correlates to some sort of battle, some sort of struggle some sort of uphill thing. Some sort of religious thing or something like that. I don't know. It's a whole release. It's like hitting a punching bag.

MU: Do you believe in god?

MP: Me personally? Or should I answer on behalf of my bandmates too? We all have different philosophies. I don't know, I keep that kinda personal. Me personally, I do believe that there's a creator, and a very scientific one, a very mathematical one.

MU: Evolution over theology?

MP: Both. I believe in evolution and theology. I believe the two correlate hand in hand. If there is a god to make something, and he took his sweet time. But it might not be his own sweet time. To him, 1,000 years might be just a minute. That's how he creates things. It's scientific.

MU: Like nature and evolution is god.

MP: It has nothing to do with what people in the bible call god, it has everything to do with both of them. I think this whole thing is an amazing experiment.

MU: What are your plans for High on Fire?

MP: I want to tour my ass off and I want to kick ass at every show that I can. I want to have more good shows than bad shows. I want to keep it going. I'm already looking forward, and I've already started writing a new High on Fire record 'cause I get off on it. It makes me happy to do.

MU: Why Relapse Records?

MP: They push their bands, unlike my last record label. They just seem like cool people. I just wanna give everything a shot, you know?

MU: Could you ever imagine your type of music coming out from the underground?

High On Fire

MP: Absolutely. If there's ever a time to get sick of music. . . the shit people throw at you right now. I mean, what do you have? You have rap metal and you have rap. I mean, dude-where do you go? There is no Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd. There is no good bands that are pop.

MU: What about Tool?

MP: They're good. They're doing OK. I have a tremendous respect for that band. I have no problem with them. I think they're excellent. I don't care if they're commercial or not. I think they're doing a really good job of exactly what they want to do. And that's. . . dude, it's all about. . . those people are heartfelt. They know exactly what they are doing. Man, they're not selling out for shit. They're doing exactly what they want to do. And I think there's admirability in that.

MU: You'd love to sell lots of records, but for you it is just about playing what's in your heart.

MP: That's right. Sure, I'd love to go and make a million bucks and drive a Ferrari, but it's not going to happen. I already asked for my MTV Crib, but Carl [Schultz, Relapse Records Media Promotions] doesn't have enough money! (laughs) And I didn't think I could promote the record right without it! (laughs) I've been trying to get the crib out of them for a while, so why should this be any different? (laughs) Who has that much credit on their credit card?

MU: Can you believe Neurosis actually played the Ozzfest once?

MP: I know.

MU: Could you ever see High on Fire doing a show like that?

MP: I totally would. I'd get off on it. I think it would be fucking awesome.

MU: I was expecting you to say that you wouldn't want to hang out on a corporate tour like that.

MP: I'd be perfectly at home. You cease to understand that my whole band is about practical jokes and ripping on other bands. It's so much fun being on tour with other bands. 'Cause all we do is do horrible things like put Red Sox suck New York Yankees rule and let 'em drive through Boston and get run down or vice-versa when you change cities. Things like that make it so much more fun. Like putting socks in a kick drum. All of these dirty socks and underwear from another band in the kick drum. They're all hitting it towards the front of the stage and they don't know why everybody's running away. And it totally reeks!

MU: High on Fire is on tour in the U.S. through June and July with Mastodon. Any plans for a European tour?

MP: I was supposed to go to Europe. But we can't seem to find anyone capable of booking a European tour. I definitely need to go to Europe. The one crowd we don't have won over is Europe. We need to go there. We just need to go there with the right people. And we also need to somehow make enough money to travel there. It's not about money, it's about finishing a tour and having backline and crap. 'Cause no one will guarantee crap. It's like, "Oh boy, I'm going over there for $50 and I'm gonna play on a Fender Twin!" (laughs)


review of High on Fire 'Surrounded by Thieves'





Interview: Eric German [ ]
Photography: Dan Beland [ ]
Editor: Brant Wintersteen [ ]
Webmaster: WAR [ ]

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