Sleep + High on Fire’s Matt Pike: I’m Not ‘America’s Lemmy’ or an ‘Ass Clown Picture Guy’
Riff god Matt Pike was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. He's already enjoyed a big year as stoner legends Sleep surprise released The Sciences, their first new album since 1998's Jerusalem. The band has toured sporadically throughout the year and Pike will remain busy as he splits his time between Sleep and High on Fire, who will release Electric Messiah on October 5.
In the interview below, Pike discussed both groups, how he sometimes needs a vacation just so he can write more material and that staying busy with music keeps him out of trouble. He also elaborates on how a dream about Motorhead icon Lemmy Kilmister influenced his new music and why sometimes it's better to leave him be instead of asking for a picture.
The last album, Luminiferous, was a benchmark for High On Fire. What characteristics of that album did you want to continue to explore and what did you want to do differently with Electric Messiah?
On Luminiferous we were writing a lot of stuff on like, it was just like singer/songwriter acoustic shit that we transferred into High on Fire — the metal tone zone or whatever you wanna call it and [Electric Messiah] is a little more proggy. [Bassist] Jeff Matz really stepped up to the plate and was writing quite a bit of material before I even got to [it]... we just had a lot of different ideas on this.
It's a little heavier. There is less of the epic dramatic stuff. There is one that is kind of like that — my Sumerian / Anunnaki rock opera. [On another] one we went for the drag strip; it's just high-octane gas — it's just pure metal and it's pretty fucking great. It's my favorite [album] so far, probably because it's new and I'm sick of playing the old stuff. It's challenging and I kind of like new challenges in my life, or I get bored, twiddle my thumbs and self-destruct and that kind of shit.
There's a lot of great riffs on this record. When you're writing and coming up with ideas, what makes you perk up and say "that riff is a keeper?"
We will demo a bunch of stuff and then a lot of the time we have ideas and throw it together. Sometimes it clicks. [For] the changes we measure all the BPMs and we know what is in 3/3 [timing] we know what is in 4/4 [timing] or 5/4 [timing] or whatever. The puzzle fits, you know? It’s like if you found a piece of the puzzle and it fit in the right spot. You just kind of know. It’s kind of that simple. It’s what is pleasing to me, what sounds right and what feels right.
Matt, sometimes songwriters build songs in a very methodical way. Sometimes they're struck by what seems like divine inspiration. How much of your music constructed and how much of it is stream of consciousness?
It comes to me with the lyric writing as I write down words and stuff that’s my stream of consciousness. What I find interesting [is] just esoteric information, historical things, and then usually I metaphorically put it together with my own feelings about how dark the world is or how bright the world is at the moment and the sound of the riff [can influence] my train of thought.
We all kind of write in this band. All of us have ideas so we try to put them together and usually we meld pretty well — we just know each other styles so well. We know what is going to work with whose idea, you know and at first, it’s like a big page of ideas and then as the ideas develop we can separate them and that’s how you get different songs.
"Electric Messiah" is actually about... after Lemmy died I had this weird dream about Lemmy and his throne being usurped and a bunch of people calling me "America's Lemmy" or something like that.
I was like, "Dude, don't ever fucking say that. I'm not Lemmy Kilmister." But I love the man and I got the pleasure of interviewing him and touring with him and stuff, so that's kind of a song that I just threw together with Des [Kensel, drums] and it kind of paid homage to Lemmy Kilmister and his legacy. "Electric Messiah" seemed like the perfect title. It was "Insect Workout with Lemmy" [laughs] and it changed to "Electric Messiah."
That was one of the first ones and it turned out exactly how I pictured it. That's one of those things, I think that was a little divine intervention too. I was emulating Lemmy Kilmister a little bit, I was like, "What would he say right there? What would he do if he was still alive, how would he take this? Would it be cheesy? Or would it be honorable?" I tried to make it as much of a blatantly heavy awesome, cool, catchy phrase song that I could.
Matt, after nearly 20 years, Sleep released a new album. What makes The Sciences memorable and special for you?
It was really cool to be able to make a whole album with Sleep and it was a lot of pressure and it was really hard for us to decide on if something was done yet. There is a lot of expectations when we are in the studio. We wanted it to be as good as if not topple the last one we did which was the legacy Dopesmoker album.
We had to think about how we were going to go about that and how we were going to release it, who we were going to release it with. I think we chose all the smart things. I think the release was pretty incredible. It was in the store on "4-20" (April 20) which was Record Store Day and national pot day and all that kind of stuff. It all made sense to drop the bomb then. It is a great album, all of us were up to par with our playing and creativity.
Basically, my job in the band is to shine up and detail the rhythm section and that is what I did. I think Al really came through with how he sings on the whole thing. Jason's incredible. You know bass playing is tight and incredible with Jason. I had a lot to work with.
The Sciences came out just a few months ago and Electric Messiah is going to come out this year as well. Why is being so active creatively a healthy and beneficial thing for a musician?
A lot of us tend to really enjoy our drugs and alcohol and all the bad things for you and gambling, for me too. It keeps me away from the things I know tend to go to when I am bored. I am kind of a hyper person. I get up early and I don’t sleep much. I am constantly doing something and I need to be doing something with my hands. So, it's beneficial to me because I am working and I behave when I work because I want to give that top-notch performance when I am doing what I do.
I have to stay busy. If I am not in Sleep, I'm in High On Fire. If I am not doing that I am taking a small vacation and then I am coming right back to it. Sometimes I have to take a vacation so I can write more stuff. You have to start shit years ahead of time so you have ideas when that comes around.
Once the High On Fire album is released and your plans are finalized, how do you prepare yourself from the transition from home life to being back out on the road?
It's a thing I constantly do so I'm pretty used to it. The hardest thing is shifting gears from High On Fire being proggy and fast and - I sing and play - so technically it's a little harder for me. Sleep, technically, I have a lot of the sound and the amount of amps I run and making the controllability - it's not an easy task either. Thank heavens I don’t have to sing and play in Sleep too, [laughs]. It'd be a little bit of a whirlwind. I'm pretty used to just always traveling. I was born that way. My specialty is, I don't go deaf and I travel a lot.
I had the best celebrity sighting at one of your shows. I went to Sleep at The Troubadour and Keanu Reeves was there.
Oh yeah, right in front of me too. I was like, "Wow, dude." And he looked like he was right out of The Matrix. He was wearing black sunglasses and he had a baseball cap on - I understand the disguise thing now, though. I can deal with - well everyone in the music industry calls them "punishers," but they're just fans and they just want a moment. You have to take a half hour or hour of my time to be with the people and say hi and be friendly and there's other times where people are like, "Can I get a picture?" and I'm like "No, I need my alone time." I have to introvert to be able to extrovert for you - so if I ever yell at someone or something like that because I'm in a pissy mood, don't ever take it personally. It's hard to manage your time, to be able to do this and say hi to everyone. It'd be literally thousands of people a day - so... [laughs].
I think it's reasonable.
Oh totally. I go out of my way to be super nice but there's just sometimes, if you take a picture with one person, 80 other people behind them want a picture and the last thing you want to do is be an ass clown picture guy. [laughs] Then that shit comes up on Instagram and then whatever girlfriend or someone is mad at you. It becomes unmanageable at a certain point.
Pre-order your copy of High on Fire's 'Electric Messiah' at this location. Follow High on Fire and Sleep on Facebook to stay up to date with everything both groups are doing and find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie’s weekend show here.
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