Interview: High On Fire

I think it's a cool spectrum of different influences throughout the record and different flavours, but it all sounds like they belong on the same record.

The mighty High On Fire have just brought out Cometh The Storm, the bands ninth album and their latest masterpiece is a collection of molten riffs and cast iron grooves creating that classic High On Fire sound with a whole host of mystic elements in there as well. To celebrate the release of the record, Gavin Brown caught up with all three members of High On Fire in vocalist/guitarist Matt Pike, bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Coady Willis (who replaced drummer Des Kensell and is making his debut with the band on the album) to talk about Cometh The Storm and the return of High On Fire as well as what their multiple other bands have got coming up.

E&D: The new High On Fire album Cometh The Storm has just been released. How does it feel to be back with this album?

Matt: It feels great. There’s a lot of work to do, but I know it’s gonna be a lot of fun. I can’t wait to get on the road again. I just got off a little run this weekend with my solo stuff, so it’s warming me up for live performances.

E&D: How did those shows go?

Matt: Oh, very well It’s fun to gig in the clubs and remind yourself of where you came from and all that. You run into a lot of the old people, a lot of other bands. It’s just a lot of fun. I got to talk to a lot of fans and tell them about what High On Fire is getting to. They went pretty good, but it was just three dates, Portland, Seattle, and Bremerton, which is a sleepy little port town, which was really good. It’s an old movie theatre that they turned into a club at nighttime. Fun.

E&D: With Cometh The Storm, how did the recording the creation of the album go?

Matt: Oh, very well. I think it sounds great.

Jeff: It was a long process. Since the last album, it’s been six years of…

Matt: Drummers leaving!

Jeff: Yeah! A We definitely lived through some interesting times in the interim. I think we’re all really happy with where things are at and how it came together.

E&D: How was it recording the album with all three of you, this being a new lineup with Coady on drums and did you record it all together?

Matt: Some of it. It’s weird, because me and Jeff use amps, which just go into the board and basically come through your headphones, so it’s not like we have a huge wall of amps while recording those tracks. We just try to get the drum track down first and then move on from there, so it depends on which process of the recording and what part of the timeline of the recording you’re on.

Coady: We do. Like Matt was saying, those guys are plugged in, we’re still playing together when we’re recording the drum tracks, so it feels like we would be playing it live and then they would go back in later and go over with the super fancy, crazy amp sounds that they have dialled in. For the raw tracking, it’s just so everybody can hear themselves, but we’re still playing together in the same room. It wasn’t like we waited. The songs have that energy of the three of us and then they come back in and fix guitars or put some more stuff over the top of it, so the guitar sounds a little more dialled in.

Matt: That sick guitar tone bro!

E&D: Coady, How does it feel coming into the band and was it a fresh experience for you?

Coady: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I’ve known these guys for a long time, and we’ve toured in different bands together. I’ve known Jeff for a very long time, so it feels familiar but  it’s always different. There is such a vast back catalogue of songs that I’m still, working my way through. I’m still learning older songs, bringing those online as much as I can read it, it’s really interesting. Des was such a distinctive drummer, he has such a distinctive style, so I think it was good for me to get out of my own comfort zone a little bit and learn some new ways of coming out at things and still sound like yourself, no matter how hard you try. I tried to pay the legacy the due as far as putting the songs across and learning the parts that Des worked really hard on and doing my best to put those across in the best way. I know how to do it while still making the songs what they are. I want people to when they go to see High On Fire and they have their favourite songs from the first album or from Surrounded Bu Thieves or Death Is This Communion, I want them to, when we play the songs, I want them to feel that song and know it’s what they remember. To put it across the best way, I’m still kind of figuring out how to do that and put the songs across with emotion and still paying the respect that the legacy deserves into the songs.

Matt: Metaphorically, Coady isn’t trying to fill Des’ shoes, there’s just room for his shoes when you come in the door and Coady put his shoes there!

Coady: I like that!

 

E&D: Is the title of the album prophetic for the return of High On Fire?

Matt: It’s weird. We all agreed on that album title pretty instantly. I had been thinking it and Jeff had been thinking it. Coady was just like, yeah, it just made sense.

Coady: As soon as it was said, I was like, Yeah, that’s good.

Matt: Keep it simple!

E&D: You explore Turkish instrument sounds on the album too, can you tell us about that and did the sound of the album come together quickly?

Jeff: It was just a lot of jamming, a lot of throwing ideas around. It’s hard to know what an album is going to sound like, or what the vibe is going to be like, until the songs start presenting themselves, because I’ll let you know a lot of our songs come together through just bouncing ideas off of one another practice room. A lot of back and forth, a lot of just jamming and trying different things out.

Matt: Throwing meat at the wall and seeing what sticks, you know!

Coady: These guys had a bunch of riffs already in this in this file, in this vault that we went through. We had a couple of different writing sessions where I live, in LA, these guys live in Portland. Matt came down and it was just he and I are doing some writing and recording. Then Jeff came down a couple of times, and he and I would use the recording and then we had some other sessions where we would all be in the same room together. I think it was cool to work that way because we had, the writing and arranging department, at different points in different songs, different people were in the driver’s seat, and so we had a wider flavour profile coming in with with songs and stuff. Not every song sounded exactly the same. Jeff’s Turkish music influence came through on on a few songs and Matts signature style of different riffs and his flow came through on a couple other songs and then a couple of them, we all figured out together and the songs just kind of presented themselves. I think it’s a cool spectrum of different influences throughout the record and different flavours, but it all sounds like they belong on the same record.

E&D: Is that Turkish musical influence something that the band would like to explore more in the future?

Matt: I think it’s just part of the toolbox now, it’s kind of always has been but Jeff has gotten better at it. I tried to keep along and it has interesting timings, I noticed that as some of those riffs and some of the music presented itself. We’ve been messing around with very interesting, intricate timings and I think a lot of that comes from that Turkish influence or that Middle Eastern influence which is good for Coady, because he’s the timekeeper.

Jeff: Yeah, I mean, at this point, I think that stuff is so just fused in my musical DNA, it’d be hard for me to separate myself from it. I just been spending so much time studying, studying that folk music and yeah, it just meshes really well with the sound of the band, that heavy riffage that High On Fire does.

Coady: I got that feeling too. I feel like Jeff is so steeped in that stuff now that it’s woven into the songs. It’s not like it’s coming out of left field or something like that. I think it works really well with the feel of where the band is coming from, and it’s a cool evolution of the lineage of the band’s music.

E&D: What subjects do the songs on the album deal with?

Matt: It’s my typical, mythology/ theology/ esoteric information, mixed metaphorically with life. A lot of it’s about rebuilding our band up again and after COVID. A lot of it is about billionaires and talk of nuclear war like it’s a normal thing. The World Economic Forum and the political bullshit going on. I mix it metaphorically, with a lot of my old style of writing, there’s some Egyptian mythologies and ancient Atlantis into Greek mythology. It’s tracing stuff I’m interested in.

E&D: Are you looking forward to getting back on the road in support of the album and getting back over to the UK in Europe in June?

Matt: Yeah. It’s been a while.

Jeff: It’s been a couple of years at this point, it’ll be great.

Coady: We’re excited to get back over there and play some new songs for you guys.

Matt: Last time, we were back there, we had so much fun. It was cool doing all the festivals. You run into your friends that you’ve known for the past 30 years, all in the same day.

E&D: Will the songs from Cometh The Storm form the basis of the new setlist?

Jeff: I think the set will have a good representation of all of the bands, albums at this point. It’s such a large catalogue. I mean, unless we’re going to do a three hour set, you have to you have to be really selective. But yeah, we’ll definitely be playing a good selection of new material.

E&D: What have been some of the most memorable shows that the High On Fire  have played over the years?

Matt: Wow. They’re all kind of memorable. Definitely when we went out with Metallica, and we did a couple big tours, like Megadeth, just the crowds and how we dealt with huge stages and stuff. Those were all very trippy. There’s so many, It’s hard to remember all of it, you know.

Jeff: The Metallica shows are definitely the craziest. from my perspective. That was touring on a level that I had not experienced before, the venues and the stages that we were playing. It was kind of hilarious, because everybody else on those bills was on wireless systems, and we were still using cables for our guitars, multiple 50 foot cables jumpered together haha! .

Matt: Half of their crowd was enough to play too, though!

Jeff: Yeah, because, it was set up in the round, and we were only addressing half of the venue. It was pretty funny, but those were a lot of fun and it was a really cool experience. But you know, I love playing small clubs. The smallest,sweaty shows are some of the most fun.

Matt: Yeah, definitely. You get back to your roots in that moment. It feels like you jumped in a swimming pool full of sweat after the set, but that’s a good feeling! You’re getting your cardiovascular!

Jeff: A total rock sauna!

E&D: Have you had any thoughts about any new material at all, or is it too soon to think about that?

Matt: We can always consult the vault but we should get down the songs that we have now. Make them playable, we’ve got our work cut out, but that will be a lot of fun, I think, working on that stuff.

Jeff: Yeah, the main focus will be getting these new tunes road ready. Things pop up all the time for new material, ideas will happen when you’re not even expecting them and we just try to have some type of recording device on hand to capture them when they pop up. Things will happen at soundcheck or just in the practice room and we’re always collecting and documenting this.

Matt: This is true.

E&D: Are you going to be on the road for the rest of the year going into to next year?

Matt: At least this summer so far. It looks like a little bit of May then June. We have a festival in August. There’s some in September and we’re still trying to book out Autumn. Coadys got a schedule, that man’s working hard and so does Jeff and I get a little bit but not as bad. My loads lightened but I did that, I was the one for all where I didn’t go home for like a year and a half. That costs you your girlfriend almost every time.

Jeff: I’m sure the next couple of years will be pretty active for us. Which is great. It’s been kind of inconsistent for a while now, and so it’ll be great to get back out there and hit  it hard!

E&D: Is it a challenge to balance all your different musical projects?

Matt: It can be, I attached mine because I did this with Sleep before and it turned into the worst thing ever, having two different booking agents and management and all that stuff. Now I just have anything I’m doing attached to our current booking agent and he doesn’t double book and if he did double book, that would mean that I would have two shows in one day and do double duty, so it makes it easy on me.

Jeff: Yeah, it’s always challenging managing everybody’s schedules and keeping everybody on the same page. It just requires a little more effort these days than back in the day when I didn’t have that much going on, it was just, tell me when to get in the van and I’ll go, now, there’s a lot more responsibilities so that requires more careful planning.

E&D: Have any of you ever done double duty and played with two bands on the same night?

Jeff: Yeah, I’ve done it, it’s a workout!

Matt: It’s a tiring day!

E&D: Can you tell us a bit about what else  your other bands have got planned for the near future?

Coady: I’m in a band called Murder City Devils and we just made a new recording. I recorded a single that’s coming out pretty soon. We have a couple of East Coast shows coming up but that band mostly does one off shows. We don’t really tour at length anymore, so it makes it easier for scheduling other bands and stuff like that. Then I also have a band called Big Business, we just did a West Coast tour, but it’s kind of the same thing. We don’t tour as steady and as hard as we used to, so it makes a little bit easier to take little bite sized chunks and do a West Coast tour here or play a couple shows there. I’m glad that this band still tours hard and yeah, it makes it easier to not double book things and have to move things around. It’s worked out so far. So far, so good.

Matt: Seems like if you want to be in the music business you have to moonlight a little bit.

Jeff: Yeah, it’s good to have other irons in the fire as well. I just finished a little bit of touring with Mutoid Man last month. We don’t have anything on the books right now, but we put out an album last year and did some touring in Europe and the UK. We’ve been doing a couple of little US runs. That’s another band where everybody else is in multiple projects, so it adds to the confusion! I’ve got a couple other projects that I’m working on as well. I’m doing some recording for a friend of mine in Turkey, who’s an amazing musician. He plays a number of Turkish traditional instruments, that’s kind of like heavy music and Turkish Balkan hybrid thing. I’ve actually been working on a couple of projects in that vein, both vocal therapy, and then another buddy of mine in New York, Gabriel Moran, who’s an amazing guitarist and a multi instrumentalist. We’re doing some working on some kind of heavy versions of traditional folk tunes from around the world. That should hopefully be out within the next next year or so, it’s gonna be cool.

E&D: Matt, have you got any plans for another solo album with Pike vs Automaton?

Matt: I’ve been writing a few tunes with Chief and Jon. We’ve been having pretty steady Monday/Tuesday, practice. So yeah, there’s some new material that’s really cool. I’m trying doing something on the side like that. You’re always gonna sound like you or whatnot, but I try to make that band a little more. I don’t know, I’m experimenting with some stuff. We’ll see. I’ll put it out one day. There’s no deadline right now. We just have a few new tunes that are kind of cool. We’re doing a Scorpions cover of ‘In Trance’ but we’re gonna have to take a hiatus for a lot of the summer.

E&D: Will Sleep ever do anything again?

Matt: There’s something kind of cool coming, but it’s more of a product than it is a tour or an album. We’re not doing a normal album cycle. If that band does anything, it will only be like one offs. Thats where we’re at, at the moment.

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