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Interview: High On Fire's Matt Pike Talks Guitars, Gods And Sobriety

By Casey Moffitt in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 21, 2013 7:00PM

Photo credit T. Couture

High on Fire is blazing a trail of heavy metal waste across the U.S. and brings its tight thunder to Metro Friday night. We caught up with founder and frontman Matt Pike on a day off in New York City, where he said he was going to look for a chiropractor to keep his "old body in shape for jumping around on stage." While on tour, the band is selling limited edition copies of its new 7-inch record featuring the song "Slave the Hive." Pike talked about guitar gods and heroes, his journey into sobriety and plans for making a new album.

""I don't think you have be a really good guitar player with Pro Tools"
Since High on Fire's inception in 1998, Pike has marveled audiences with his ferocious playing and blood-curdling volume. Back in 2007, Rolling Stone named him as one of the new guitar gods. "It was guitar god, not guitar hero," he clarified. "A hero is someone who saves people. A god lays down the rules... I like making the rules.

"Actually, I think it's kind of ridiculous," he continued, talking about the magazine's distinction, "but I'm flattered at the same time."

In a time when rock and roll seems to have very few guitar heroes, especially in mainstream rock, it isn't a wonder Pike has been recognized for his unrelenting style and unusual technique. Even Pike himself had a difficult time rattling off modern day guitar heroes.

"Wow, I guess a lot of them are getting pretty old," he said. "Bobby Landgraf is going to be playing with Down, I guess. That should be interesting because he was killer with Honky. There are a lot of good guitarists out there, it's just a matter of thinking about it."

Pike had no definitive answers as to why he thinks there is a dearth of highly-skilled, well-recognized guitar players in rock today. Although he did have a pretty good theory.

"I don't think you have be a really good guitar player with Pro Tools and everything," he speculated. "It was hard when you just hit 'record' and had to play to tape. It's a weird way to develop your style. If you're going to do the whole flashy, showboating thing live, you really have to have personality and style and be technically sound. "

"Plus I don't think a lot of people are really chasing their tones anymore," he concluded.

Pike said he had to relearn some of his guitar techniques and parts to High on Fire songs since he has been sober for the last 18 months. "I wrote a lot of that stuff in a near blackout state," he said. "I was a really good guitar player and I've been going back to some of those older songs to work on them, it's incredible stuff. It's really hard and difficult to play."

Pike also said he's seeing things differently on stage since he's been sober and it's presenting new challenges. "I had an awkward stage thing going," he explained. "It was a difficult thing being on stage and having people stare at you. I was like 'Why are these people staring at me? Oh yeah. That's kind of my job.' I've been more conscious and seeing things with more clarity. There was something about getting a healthy stage buzz to give me some balls. The performances are getting better and better. I like where it's all going."

Pike said he entered rehab after touring Europe with Sleep. He was in Spain when he woke up and was numb on one side of his body and couldn't see out of one eye. He said he was taken to a hospital where everyone was speaking Spanish and he was rather disoriented by the whole ordeal. After he returned to the States, he saw a doctor who said he was going to have to be medically weened off alcohol. Jeff Matz, High on Fire's bass player, has been sober for a year longer, Pike said, which has been helpful in his recovery.

"It's been wonderful. I can't say enough about how it is to have a buddy while going through it," he said. "It's been a big part of my support, because he's a year ahead of me into it. He's always got good advice or will help me with breathing exercises when things get real tough."

"There was something about getting a healthy stage buzz to give me some balls. The performances are getting better and better. I like where it's all going.""
However, Pike's recovery hasn't slowed down High on Fire as the band released a new single, "Slave the Hive" last month. It's a thrashy rocker with Pike's signature sludgy guitar, violent riffs and huge drums. All pretty typical for a High on Fire track.

"I'm really pleased with the way it turned out," Pike said. "It was cool doing a one-hit single like that to give the band a little kick in the ass. Not that we were losing it or anything, but you sit around long enough you can get kind of lazy." It's the band's first release since 2012's De Vermis Mysteriis. Pike said the band plans to work on a new album soon after the new year.

"We'll get off this tour and through the holidays, then we'll get together in New Orleans and start writing again," he said. "My drummer (Des Kensel) lives there, plus it's a cool town to hang out it in. It's a place that's inspired so many people."

High on Fire performs at Metro 3730 N. Clark St. at 7:30 p.m., Friday Nov. 22. All ages, $18 advance, $20 door. For other tour dates across the country, click here.