Bearing one of the most recognizable voices and names in all of heavy metal has to either be incredibly daunting or overwhelmingly humbling. Matt Pike is the latter, for sure. In a brief amount of time I surmised, just as with so many of these artists, that the person behind the music is simply another fan of the heavy. High on Fire and Sleep have influenced countless artists and musicians - so much so that the reverence for Matt Pike and his brothers-in-arms is damn near legendary. In my brief conversation with Matt, I immediately found a guy who did not in fact breathe fire from his nostrils as the story goes or shoot lightning bolts of out his eyes. Instead, I found a guy who, simply put, fucking loves music.
Hey, Matt. How’s it going, man?
Good, good. Where are you?
I’m in Birmingham, Alabama, so I’ll go ahead and apologize for the accent.
Birmingham…[laughs]. Yeah, that’s about as Southern as it gets. Brent Hinds is from there. He’s one of my better friends in the world, for sure.
I’ll go ahead and start us off here, Matt. As far as your journey as a musician, Matt, what’s led you to the point where you are now? High on Fire, Sleep, and even going back to when you were a teenager listening to music and drawing inspiration. What’s the journey been like for you as a musician and as an artist?
Well, it’s been a long one. It’s been like a fucking quest [laughs]. There’s always been that end goal where I just wanted to be the best in the world at something that…not the best in the world – I wanted to be a great person that had something to offer since music did so much for me. It’s been a long journey learning how to play and connect myself with my instrument, and who I’ve gotten to play with – I’m really fortunate. I don’t know.
I suppose who and what I am has gone through waves and different time periods. It’s all just life, you know. [Laughs] It’s been a crazy ride so far, man, and I’m going. Actually, it turned out to be a situation where I could express myself spiritually, and it’s my job. I can either make people happy or sad or angry or whatever, but at least I get to do something that relates to the soul. It’s a pretty interesting job.
Speaking to that point, Matt, the metal genre seems to have, for years, been given a sideways glance when it comes to spirituality. I’m sure you’ve seen the resurgence in popularity for the heavy metal genre over the last five to six years, and I’d like to think it’s due in part to the writing becoming better and, perhaps, more cerebral. What’s your take on that?
Well, there’s…I don’t know. There’s a handful of us left that we’re on the tail end of the old schoolers. Maybe not quite as old as…I mean, we grow up on the whole hardcore scene: Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, Corrosion of Conformity, and then on the thrash scene, we had Slayer, Exodus, Metallica – we had all that stuff come out when it was fresh after the British invasion. We grew up on those things when they were still organic. You know, a lot of the kids and bands coming out nowadays never got to make an album organically. It’s like they just record straight to pro tools.
All of us were recording when you still had to go through the song and do a pass and mix it yourself with all the buttons. Do it manually. You’d have to do it analog-style. There’s a big difference when you get to pass at something 150 times as to where you’re under a timeframe, and you only get to make a couple of passes at it, so you have to be better at playing. You have to be more on your toes, you know [laughs]. There’s also…there’s jus something about being from the old school. I don’t believe that…I think you can try to teach some of the younger guys, but they didn’t grow up on it. It’s not in their blood.
What do you see as the spiritual side of metal? What’s the difference there in someone who doesn’t have it in their blood and someone who’s ingrained with the metal consciousness?
Well, at least for me in my writing and in my lyrics and the way I play – I just connect. My feet are on the ground, and it connects to my guitar which connect to my cord which plugs into an electric amp, and it’s amplified – and when you make those signals…that echoes into space forever. You know there’s no sound in space. There’s only vibration, so it just goes on. So what we’re doing right now is forever. It’s kind of like the human soul. It’s what it is even though it may change.
Being connected with what you’re feeling and how the world around you feels and what you truly think about it – the truth – not just putting up and being reactionary. I don’t believe the human condition is capable of understanding everything. That’s just my one way of releasing all those weird tension that build up. All those times – good times and bad times. Things about life that you ponder. I don’t know if I ponder it more than most people. I’m sure there’s a lot of other people who are like that. I’m a really analytical and philosophical person. I constantly question everything [laughs]. My whole life I’ve just learned how to put that into music.
I’m sure you’ve gotten tired of people talking about how influential High on Fire and Sleep are. The amount of bands and artists who just emulate what you guys do is incredible. What was the draw of heavy music for you when you first started out?
I guess it’s because I was really a dark kid, and I had a lot of pain. I did a lot of acid and smoke a lot of pot. It just appealed to me. I don’t know what it was. I guess it was kind of the rebellious nature and the aggressiveness to it that was appealing. I think that’s why anybody likes metal [laughs]. Heavy means deep. It means “Fuck…what the fuck was that?” [Laughs]
When you think about Sleep and High on Fire and when those bands first came out, the level of exposure just wasn’t there, and now you’ve got an endless number of artists citing you as a main influence. Do you feel there’s a kind of irony there?
Yeah. If you think about other music it’s still not in the spotlight as much as hip hop or techno or country music. I believe some of the most talented people are in metal. It’s just that some people who don’t understand the key factor of it. Metal can be really cheesy, and metal can be some of the most awesome music ever, but I believe all the musicians in metal are the most talented musicians there are. You don’t have to be a classical Juilliard student, you know [laughs]. People who have been in the metal scene and the heavy/doom scene and the hardcore scene live, eat, breathe, and sleep music, you know? They’re dorky because they love music that much. They feel passionate about what they do.
If you could give advice to a startup band who’s obviously got a hard road ahead of them in breaking new ground and doing things different, what would you say to them?
Be real and truthful and be clever [laughs]. That and stick to your guns through thick and thin if you really want to do it. Don’t ever give up.
Do you personally feel like the genre has gotten better, or has social media just caused a bigger scope of exposure?
There’s exposure to the genre, and I do believe some people are taking what was there to a next level. There’s some people who are tarnishing it. They’re not putting any soul into it. It’s all technical. If you’re expressing yourself technically, I don’t think you’re expressing yourself. I think you’re just playing to play. There’s a certain mix of it – being technically good and being good at soul and expressing your inner feelings and expressing yourself on the guitar or the bass or the drums. I think metal comes from a lot of rage and despair, and I think that’s why it’s been linked up as Satanic or occultist is because the things that a lot of people don’t understand the occultist gets seared.
It’s kind of a hard thing to explain. I understand what I’m saying, but explaining it to someone else and having them make sense out of it…you kind of talk in circles. [Laughs] It’s getting bigger, definitely, because of media exposure. Stuff like Facebook, Twitter – you know, people know everything about everybody’s life. I’m kind of a technophobe a little bit, because I can’t go out in public anywhere without someone fucking Tweeting me or something. Oh my god. Everybody knows I was at this bar, or everybody knows I was at a restaurant or something like that in a matter of seconds. The whole world knows what I’m doing. I don’t really like that. [Laughs]
It’s obvious you know your shit from a literary perspective, Matt. What books do you enjoy reading?
I read a lot on comparative myths on religions, the occult. I read H.P. Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick and Robert Bloch…Edgar Allan Poe and Shakespeare. I read a lot of dark literary things. I’ve studied comparative religions and parallel myths and things like that. And lore, so to speak [laughs]. It’s kind of geeky but, at the same time, I’ve always found history fascinating. I always felt like in regular school and stuff they never actually taught the truth about what’s happened on this earth.
I’m a conspiracy theorist too. I believe that aliens were here and definitely had something to do with us being here. I don’t believe any book has all the answers. I read a lot, and I’ve been writing in a small notebook for years. I’m still working on my writing skills, and I’m going through and editing stuff and rewriting stuff all the time. Hopefully one day I’ll complete a book. I’m working on it. A little at a time.
When you talk about mythology and things of that nature, of course my mind immediately goes to De Vermis Mysteriis. What worked as a catalyst for you in writing that record?
We just had riffs, and then we wrote more riffs, and I started putting lyrics and developing a storyline. I found that with the time traveling thing it was a cool perspective to have Jesus Christ travel back and live through all these lives to get back to that point. It made it cool to kind of go with in that direction, because I could make up characters and stuff. There was enough to work with to make a record.
When you’re not doing stuff with High on Fire or Sleep, what do you typically like to do in your spare time, Matt?
I like going to the gym and taking my dog for walks. You know, just kicking it with my fiancée. I watch TV a lot. I really enjoy eating [laughs]. I eat at a lot of fancy restaurants and shit now that…I couldn’t afford that ever before in my life. I was really poor for a really long time, and now that I’ve made a little bit of a career out of it – and I’m not rich by any means – but, I can definitely afford good food now, so I don’t take that for granted, and I eat out as much as I can. I love hanging around my buddies. I’ve got a lot of tattoo artists friends, so I let getting tattooed. Just having fun and thinking of other weird shit to do.
Many thanks to Matt for his time.
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