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Interview: Matt Pike (Sleep, High On Fire)

Interview: Matt Pike (Sleep, High On Fire)

By Danielle Street / Tuesday 16th February, 2016 5:10PM

Earth shattering three-piece High On Fire will be bringing their formidable live performance to Auckland next week on the heels of a five-date Australian tour. The Oakland-based group, which was formed in 1998 by guitarist Matt Pike following the (temporary) disbandment of legendary stoner-doom trio Sleep, are returning to New Zealand for the first time since 2011 with a new album under their belts - the highly acclaimed Luminiferous.

The nine-song record, the group's seventh, saw Pike and the powerful rhythm section of bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensel, working under the production helm of Converge's Kurt Ballou. And together they conjured up an album that sees the band raised to a new level musically. Meanwhile, Pike commented that "Lyrically, I think this is the album that's going to basically get secret people to shoot me", a reference, no doubt, to the conspiracy theories he based a lot of the themes around. In anticipation of their upcoming show, UnderTheRadar took the opportunity to talk to Pike about these theories, among other things...

UTR: Hi Matt, how are you? Where are you at the moment?

Hi! I'm good, I'm actually at Al from Sleep's house, practising for some Sleep shows.

Oh cool! So where at the Sleep shows happening?

Um, Montreal, Toronto and two shows in Chicago.

Oh awesome! Of course I rang to talk to you about High On Fire, but I'd be remiss if I didn't ask about Sleep. You've got bucketloads of fans down here...

Oh of course, I know. Fully cool.

Have you got anything in the works in terms of Sleep, because you put out 'The Clarity' single nearly two years ago, and that was really well received but we haven't heard anything since...

Yeah, well we just jam every now and then, and play some shows every now and then. A couple time of times a year we all get together and have a bunch of fun and jam a bunch.

I really liked the photo that came out with 'The Clarity' where you are all dressed up like old nerds...

Oh, like Carl Sagan yeah, hahaha.

So, High On Fire put out Luminiferous last June, how have things been going since then?

I think it's been well received and we've been touring on-and-off, like I think this is the first break I've had for quite awhile. I've actually got a whole month or more off, which is crazy for me. Usually I'm on the road all the time. At least nine or ten months out of the year I'm doing something, you know. Or I'm writing or something. So yeah, we've just being touring and trying to back the album. We're all really proud of it, I think it's one of our best pieces of work. It was really hard to think how we could top the last one, I don't think we topped it, but I think we just took ourselves and made it a little different, and wrote some really good songs.

When you talk about it being different, from your point of view what's the main difference from your earlier work?

Um, I think the vocals are a little more melodic, you know, the way the writing style is. And we got a good combination of not just all fast, and not just all show, but mid-tempo stuff. Luminiferous is obviously our punk rock roots coming together with our writing skill now. There's a lot of variation on there, that's what I like about it.

What does the word 'luminiferous' specifically mean to you?

Oh, it means a lot of things. But it's the material between stars that supposed to hold the galaxy together. If you broke it down, according to some people it's ether. But there is a lot of different theories on luminiferous, but yeah, it's the stuff that makes the whole universe stick together. I was taking as the way it has to do with light and darkness and the separation of dark matter versus light matter. I'm also referencing it as a state of mind, and seeing the light so to speak.

You spoke to Rolling Stone in an interview about some of the conspiracy theories that influenced your lyrical themes. What kind of reaction did you get to the publication of that interview?

Well, I don't consider them theories. Lots of people don't want to come to grips that this whole world has been socially engineered by bankers, and by other being that were here long ago and are responsible for us having laws, and are totally responsible for our society. But it's the reason we know how to grow our own food and do certain things as we've evolved. That stuff didn't just fall out of the sky, someone manipulated us and gave it to us, so that our civilisation would flourish and basically we are slaves, is the way I look at it. Because we make the world go around for them. Maybe it is a conspiracy but for me it's a reality, and lots of people don't like to think about that. But what they've taught you in school all along has been a big fat fucking lie, I don't know how else to put it.

So, in talking about this and building these themes in to your music, what kind of reactions have you had from fans?

Well, some dude at Metal Sucks put a tinfoil hat on my head and made some article about me and poking fun at me. But then my fans showed up with tinfoil hats on and started moshing so, you know, they were telling me they were on my side I suppose. I thought it was hilarious at the same time. I don't really fucking care who thinks what of me, like as long as I play good and the songs are enjoyable - you don't have to agree with what I believe.

Did that piss you off though, when you saw the Metal Sucks piece?

At first and then I got how funny it was. You know, I have a lot of humility so I can take it. I'm not that fragile and I'm pretty confident about myself.

Right, right. So was there truth to the statement in the Metal Sucks piece that claimed you said you never wear a shirt because "that’s how they track you", or was that fabricated?

That's such a fucking farce, haha. I've never heard that one before. I don't wear a shirt on stage because I like to save my laundry and I feel more comfortable without a shirt on, and I always have.

Fair enough. So, going back to talking about writing - what gets you in the right frame of mind for writing High On Fire material? Do you have some kind of routine?

Well it seems like I go through a break up every time I write a new album, hahaha. Right about the time I write a new record and I'm about to record it, I get dumped.

Awh. That sucks.

Hahaha, it's cool though. I get it. My line of work isn't conducive to having a great relationship unless someone is very understanding, and even when they are very understanding it can still be a little too much to deal with - not seeing me when they love me, you know.

Yeah I guess it's like you said before, when you are on the road so much it must be hard...

Yeah it is hard, because it's not like there is an argument, or some lack of love. There is just a lack of... maybe presence.

Can you tell me a little bit about the recording of the album? I believe it was produced by Kurt [Ballou] from Converge, what was he like to work with?

Yeah, yeah, yeah... it was a lot of fun making this one. We really messed around, for me, the guitars which is always a lot of fun because I can hook hook up like 25 amps and 20 billion different sounds and really sculpt what I'm doing, and try to achieve that perfect tone.

So I'll make this my last question and then I'll let you get back to practice, what's your favourite song from Luminiferous?

You know what, I'm really partial to 'The Sunless Years'. It's probably my favourite song on the album, it's about me and my childhood and taking too much acid and talking to aliens, and um, but it's one of my favourite songs. I just like the melody and I like the way it put itself together while I was just sitting there writing. Jeff (Matz, bass guitar) had a riff I really liked, and he had a song worked out, but I kinda took his riff and put it in the song and it just fit together really well so that Jeff was like "I don't care dude, let's just use it like that". So there was a good co-op on the whole thing.

Cool! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me. I know there is a lot of people in New Zealand hyped to see you, so it should be a lot of fun. I hope you have a good time.

Yeah I hope so, Last time I was there there was an earthquake, and then two weeks later there was Fukushima which I was in. So I'm hoping I can avoid all the activity like that!

High On Fire 
are playing Tuesday 23rd February at Kings Arms Tavern in Auckland, head over here for more information and to buy tickets.


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