High On Fire: Interview With Matt Pike

Surrounded By Thieves Tour

Live at The Casbah, San Diego, California

March 21, 2002

Words by Aaron Schmidt

The iron workhorse known as High On Fire recently slayed San Diego’s infamous rock outlet, The Casbah. The band had just returned from the South By Southwest concert—SXSW is a music festival held every year in Austin, Texas where hundreds of different bands from mainstream to indie rock perform. When I asked High On Fire’s lead guitarist and vocalist Matt Pike (ex-member of the legendary group Sleep) how Texas was—his simple reply, “It was Texas,” pretty much summed everything up for me.

High On Fire’s current nonstop touring madness is in support of the band’s newest release, Surrounded By Thieves, which is on Relapse Records. S.B.T. should be on independent-music-shop shelves as you read this.

Speaking of reading, check out the interview below with Matt to learn more about the musical battering ram known to the world as High On Fire.

How’s touring going right now, man?

Well, I’m gettin’ ready to do some more shows. I’m gonna be touring nonstop for a while, man. I want to kick some serious ass. That’s the deal. I need to tour my ass off.

Where’s your favorite place to play in the U.S.?

You want me to say San Diego, right? Are you leading my questions (laughs)?

Totally. That does lead me into the next question actually. How do you like playing at The Casbah in San Diego?

Oh, I like it a lot. I have fun there. I’ve always wondered if San Diego has any other valid clubs, though.

How’s life on the road all the time? Is it tough for you guys?

(Coughing) It’s brutal, dude—I’m dying. I age two years for every year. But it’s okay—I have a lot of fun, and the dudes I tour with are nothing but fun.

You guys still touring in a van?

Oh yeah, we’re still van dudes. I haven’t worked my way up to the MTV pad and the limo or anything like that, but I’m sure it’s gonna happen soon. Especially since Relapse just gave me their credit card—man, I’ve really been taking advantage (laughs). I’ve been trying to buy a bus all weekend, but I just can’t get Matt (Jacobson, owner of Relapse Records) to go for it.

What do you guys listen to while you’re on the road?

My favorites are Extreme Noise Terror, The Misfits, and then we’ll listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd while George (Rice, High On Fire’s bassist) is asleep ’cause he hates them. Then there’s Black Sabbath and Slayer—you know, the normal hessian kinds of things. It’s pretty much all metal and punk-rock stuff, with a little bit of Southern rock or psychedelic acid-trip rock—you gotta have some Pink Floyd metal. You know who’s really killer? Rush. I like driving to them—total Farewell To Kings. That era of Rush is really killer to drive to.

What’s one of the craziest things that’s happened to you on the road?

Oh f—k. Should I name it? One time I gave someone a tattoo. There’re so many stories, dude. You’re in New Orleans, you’re in New York—it’s always a constant whirlpool of nonstop Bathory (laughs). It’s like a foreboding incident, you know?

Do you guys skate on tour at all?

Dude, I can’t even do an ollie anymore. I mean, I’ve tried and I have a bunch of skateboards, but man, I just suck now. I gave it up to be in a band and stuff. I used to kind of shred—I got to a point where I could do little railslides and some kickflips.

Did you ever skate pools?

Nah, I used to skate ramps and stuff. I grew up in Golden, Colorado, and my friend had a ramp. I used to be okay, not good like at a pro level. Nowadays, I just skate down the street—I mean, if I had to go somewhere close, I’d ride my skateboard. These days I couldn’t do a trick to save my life—I drink way too much now, man (laughs). I wish I could skate, though, ’cause I still keep up with it.

Do you think you’d free up some time to start skating again once High On Fire becomes mmega-huge superstars?

I f—kin’ totally would do it if I had money to pay for my injuries (laughs). It’d be no problem, man.

What’s your favorite new song(s) on the album?

“Hung, Drawn, And Quartered,” and “Razorhoof,” are my two favorites.

If your house got to be on MTV’s Cribs, what would it be like?

It’d have a kitchen with a large barbecue in the middle of it with a huge fridge that had keg dispensers.

Who were some of your early musical influences?

Oh, man—there’re so many. I just listened to Dark Angel’s Darkness Descends today and got all stoked. Let’s see, the first Corrosion Of Conformity album, Misfits’ Plan 9, Exodus’ Bonded By Blood, any Slayer album up to Seasons In The Abyss, and of course, Sabbath and Zeppelin.

Do you still keep in contact with the old guys from Sleep (Al Cisneros and Chris Haikus)?

Yeah, I sure do. I talk to them now and then. We’re all still good friends.

Are they still making music?

Al’s not and Chris is. Chris and Justin Marler actually. Justin was the other guitarist on the first Sleep album, Volume One. They’re doin’ this band now called The Sabians. Al really doesn’t do anything anymore—he just wants nothing to do with it. What can I say? The dude’s definitely a very talented individual who wants nothing to do with his talent. It’s kind of a bummer, but at the same time you gotta respect how he feels. I don’t get down on him for it.

Would you guys ever play with The Sabians?

Oh yeah, sure. I wouldn’t have a problem with it—even though they’re kinda pop punk. It’s not heavy stuff—it’s a little different than that.

If you could record with anyone from any time period, who would you jam with?

Oh f—k, I’d want to be in Slayer. I can play all the songs, dude. I could be a replacement for either guitar player. I swear to god I’d know how to play all of it (laughs). I used to do that as a kid. All I did was play Hell Awaits, Show No Mercy, and all that.

You’ve been playing guitar for how long?

Twenty-one years. Since I was eight, and I’m 29 now.

How’s the new album compared to your first one, The Art Of Self-Defense?

Well, I think they have differences. I mean, we’re evolving as a band, and we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing as opposed to trying to figure out what the hell we’re doing. We’re starting to get a clue as to what we, as a band, really are.

I really love the new album—I love my guitar playing and singing on it. I also love the rhythm section on it—my bass player and drummer did things I didn’t expect. It really makes me happy to put out an album that I’m proud of and not ashamed of, you know?

High On Fire blasted its way through its blitzkrieg-style set to a obviously psyched and inebriated crowd. Everyone who wasn’t wearing earplugs (like myself) was surely deafened—the band doesn’t play unless its amps are on full volume. Plus, the drummer, Des Kensel, had the biggest f—kin’ drum kit I’ve ever seen in my life! It looked like he was surrounded by white marching band drums while pounding out thunder the whole show.

George Rice, the evil Jedi bassist, stood in the same stance banging his head the entire show while his fingers hammered his bass strings into oblivion. And Pike—The Master Of All Riffs—took his ax and grinded it ’til the blade was sharp enough to split hairs.

New tracks of positive note included “Hung, Drawn, And Quartered,” “Nemesis,”"Razorhoof,” “Eyes & Teeth,” “The Yeti,” “Surrounded By Thieves,” “Thraft Of Caanan,” and “Speedwolf”—basically, every f—kin’ song. The whole album shreds, period.