High on Fire’s Matt Pike + Jeff Matz Reveal Their Most Rewarding Tour Cycle
High on Fire's Matt Pike and Jeff Matz were the guests on Full Metal Jackie's radio show this weekend. The band is celebrating the 25th anniversary of their debut album, The Art of Self Defense, by serving up a new reissue and revisiting music from their catalog on tour.
In this chat, the guys reflect on what 25 years as a band means, especially given their brand of music. what revisiting the music has meant with the arrival of a new band member in the fold and they share a little on where the music is going for their next album, which is expected in 2024. Plus, they take us down memory lane sharing their most rewarding touring cycle.
Check out the chat in full below:
It's Full Metal Jackie. With us this week, we've got Matt Pike and Jeff Matz from High on Fire. Thanks so much for for joining me today. If you can believe it, the band is getting ready to celebrate their 25th anniversary. Congratulations guys. It's amazing.
Matt Pike: Thank you. Thank you! Very long period of time (laughs).
Twenty-five years is a long time. Matt, in a recent teaser video, you talked about the band having a very specific audience that is a little more rough for the average rock radio listener. Given that the appeal may be harder earned and more selective, what does it mean to you to be a band that has reached the 25 year mark?
Matt Pike: Well, I don't know. I guess I feel pretty fortunate that we were able to make a career out of something that we love for a long time. It's been such a journey. Haven't had a really normal life from it (laugh), it's been kind of exciting all the time easily, unless you're on the airplane or in a hotel room bored. But (laughs), you get to travel a lot? I don't know. It means a lot and, it's been a long voyage.
Jeff, how about you? How do you feel about getting to this point?
Jeff Matz: Yeah, it's a trip. I've been with the band for 17 years now and it's just gone by in the blink of an eye, honestly. And as far as being a band that doesn't maybe necessarily cater to like broader audiences, it's more of a specialized thing, a little rough around the edges, it seems like most of my favorite music is more specialized and maybe not designed for mass consumption, if you will.
One of the great things to come from this 25th anniversary celebration is a reissue of the out of print debut album, The Art of Self Defense. What are your recollections of those initial recording sessions and finding your sound and how do you feel about how the album holds up two decades later?
Matt Pike: At first when I first got with Desi [Kensel], we knew what we liked, but we didn't know where we were going. It just kind of started developing and we were getting faster and putting double bass on stuff. And, about the time Jeff came into the picture, we really started getting more progressive.
I think Jeff was a good addition to it, to round out the whole thing because he was a little more progressively minded than the people we had had in the past and he had shared the same feel and vision thing. So, Jeff's addition to it really put us to where we knew what we were doing and we made a sound. Kind of before that, I kind of had a good idea of where I wanted to go, but it's just a journey. It's the evolution of it.
By the time Jeff joined, it was when Death Is This Communion came out, which is probably one of my favorites. And from there we just kept sculpting it and learning new things together on the road from other people. Touring with like Opeth and Mastodon and people like that tends to make you better at your instrument 'cause you have to go on after 'em. And you know, if you're warming up every day and people like that are around you, it gives you some different ideas about where you’re playing should go, you know?
Jeff Matz: Yeah, definitely. That first album though, that's the one that really roped me in and made me aware of the band. And I was on tour with my previous band Zeke and we'd been hearing about High on Fire and I picked up the CD at Reptilian Records in Baltimore. Pretty much from the moment we put it in the CD player, it stayed there for the entire tour. We were just like, "Oh my God, this band is just so crushing . It's so good. ."
Matt Pike: Well, thank you. Now, you're in it, . I'm glad. I am glad that Jeff still likes to play the songs off that first one. Those are definitely fun killers and you always gotta play one of those off the first one for sure.
Jeff Matz: Yeah. It's got such good grooves, good feel. Yeah, those are fun songs to play.
High on Fire, "10,000 Years" (Live in 2012)
At 25 years and with a wealth of material over that time, some moments likely stand out more than others. For both of you, what did you feel was the most rewarding album or tour cycles of your career on both a personal and professional level and why did your choices stand out to you?
Matt Pike: Jeff?
Jeff Matz: Well, geez, , there, there are so many, it's really hard to select just one. The European tour we did with Metallica on a professional level and on a personal level, that was pretty mind blowing and pretty exciting. Got to travel to some places we'd never been before. Played to some pretty insane audiences, definitely the biggest stages I've ever played on. And just to hang out with those guys was pretty surreal. Fifteen year old me pinching myself just now, but they were just great guys and just getting to be witness to how things operate at that level was very exciting and educational. That tour was a blast.
Matt Pike: Yeah, turning around and seeing James Hetfield playing your guitar is pretty .... It's like, what the hell? Yeah, those crowds were so big, You can literally like shit your pants . It was like, oh wow, . Now I'm nervous that that's the next level of nervous.
This press release that came out announcing this anniversary sort of teases that future touring will celebrate different eras of High on Fire's recordings. Are there certain albums you can't wait to revisit? And in revisiting older material live, do you find you ever still add things or are you more trying to stay as true and faithful as possible?
Matt Pike: I feel with the addition of Coady [Willis], we've added some newer sounds. Just all of us having that much time off and Covid, we've definitely added something to the band that - this next album. I mean, people are gonna have to hear it and stuff, but there's something different but it’s good different, you know what I mean? I don't know how to explain it. I guess the album will explain itself.
Jeff Matz: Yeah, definitely. And, and you know playing the old material, I feel that stuff keeps evolving to a degree, like whether it's just throwing in little improvisational bits here and there, I'm sure Matt with your solos, you're always exploring and throwing new little things in. But having Coady in the, the mix now too, he has his own take on the material as well. So, the songs that we've been playing for years, they kind of have a new life breathed into him by having him in the mix.
Matt Pike: Yeah, definitely. It took a while to get used to his style. I was so used to it being one certain thing, you know what I mean? And then there's like different drum patterns and stuff that you have to get used to playing the old stuff. So it makes it interesting playing our older tunes for sure.
While the 25th anniversary offers you a chance to look back, it's also a chance to move forward. Having some well deserved time away and not recording a new album since 2018's Electric Messiah, how has that impacted your next album? Do you like having that extra time and what can you share about what's been inspiring you musically as we get ready for a new studio album in 2024?
Matt Pike: Well, it's definitely noticeable that Jeff's been playing a lot of Turkish music, which I was kind of enthralled with, but I never took up a study of it like Jeff has. But I can play along to it 'cause I understand it to a degree. And so that there's a lot of that thrown in there, which leads to, like I was saying, just some different types of drumming styles, which Coady's like a master at being creative.
It's been real good just, kind of figuring out that and having that move us along and still keeping some of the same Black Sabbath mid-tempo blues riffs alongside of that I think compliment each other well.
Jeff Matz: Yeah, I, I think the way that the new material came together, as Matt mentioned, I've been studying Turkish folk music pretty intensely for the past few years and that's definitely sort of contributed to the stuff that I've brought to the table for the new album. But there's definitely a lot of classic High on Fire type material in there. You know, some stuff hearkening back to the first album as well, getting back to the slow heavy kind of bluesy roots which is super cool. You know, since the last couple albums have been a little bit on the faster side overall. So yeah, I think fans of the older material will will enjoy this new album.
Thanks to High on Fire's Matt Pike and Jeff Matz for the interview. The band's 'The Art of Self Defense' reissue is available now. You can keep up with the band through their webstore, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Spotify. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.