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Matt Pike & Des Kensel (High On Fire)

Interview with Matt Pike & Des Kensel from High On Fire
by Katrina Cannon at 25 February 2005, 10:47 AM

After hours of High On Fire driving and almost not making it to the venue in time due to traffic and van trouble, they finally arrived after a grueling trip, unloaded, ordered a beer, sat down, and relaxed. I met with Matt Pike (vocalist/guitarist) and Des Kensel (drums). After a moment of relaxation, we were ready to do the interview. Be sure to check for updated tour info at the band's official website. High On Fire's video for Devilution off their Blessed Black Wings album can be viewed by clicking here; be sure to check that out. On with the interview…

You guys recently came off tour with Clutch and now you’re on another tour promoting your new album Blessed Black Wings, how are you handling the heavy workload?

Matt: \[Laughs] By the skin of our teeth, barley, we’re about ready to hang ourselves.

Des: We’re just going with it, the new records out, we’re getting a lot of good press, so we just have to push it.

Matt: We knew that we were gonna get totally punished, once we put this out and it started, we knew that we’d have a lot of work.

Des: We knew that we were gonna be on the road for like 8 or 9 months.

For those out there who aren’t familiar with your history, how did you come to form High On Fire?

Matt: Well, Des came out from the East Coast… \[to Des]… Connecticut? Where were you living, New York or something?

Des: New Haven.

Matt: New Haven, yeah, he came out, he was in a band that I guess that fell apart, and my band Sleep fell apart, and I was just looking for some people to jam with cause I wasn’t finished. I just needed to keep jamming, and a mutual friend of ours kind of hooked Des and I up. I had already hooked up with this other bass player, Vern, but he wasn’t really working out. But me and Des clicked right away and George Rice (friend) came down to sing actually and he took up Vern’s bass and started playing, and it was killer.

Des:Vern’s aunt was in the hospital so he went to the hospital with his grandmother to go visit her, we kind of new he wasn’t working out on the bass, so George started jamming on the bass, and we felt awful when he came back cause his aunt had passed away and he saw George with his bass on. His cousin with him and said Man I just want to let you guys to know that if it weren’t for you guys,Vern would really be bummed right now cause this band is the only thing he’s got going for him. But he was a cool guy, and we just had to let him know that George was gonna play bass.

It’s been said that High On Fire became an overnight success, that before you even played your first show you had labels giving you offers, were you surprised at how fast you were picked up?

\[Matt and Des both laugh]
Des: Our whole approach is that if you let off the façade like we’re huge then people will think that. But when we first started jamming, we just wanted to put out a demo. We booked our own first tour, and basically the only offer we had was Man’s Ruin and it was just a one record thing. But after that, the demo came out on the first tour and we had a few more offers like Century Media and Relapse.

Matt: And a bunch of independent label basically, which are cool to work with at first especially when your just trying to get your band to like be a unit, and do what it does, it takes awhile to put that together.

Yeah, I heard that the demo was so well sought after that all the labels were trying to get it but it was so underground they couldn’t get a hold of it.

Des: Well when we started there was a little bit of hype with Matt being in sleep, it was a good stepping stone for us.

Matt: It moved things along a lot quicker.

Des: We had an advantage because of that, like our first show in L.A. was at the Troubador, which a lot of bands came out and it was a good show. I don’t know that we were an overnight success, but we definitely started ahead of the game, so were kind of lucky for that.

 Why after 6 years did George Rice leave the band?

Matt: He just got tired of touring, it kills you.

Des: He just got burnt out with the touring thing he just wasn’t have fun anymore. We’d get home with barely enough money to pay rent or buy food. He was just done with that and wanted to choose a different path in life. But we’re still all good friends.

Matt: Yeah, we just saw him a couple of days before we left, and we hung out. He’s a great guy, he’s been one of my best friends for like 15 or 16 years, like forever.

 How did you meet Joe Preston?

Matt: I had known him as an aquaintance for a long time, since he was in the Melvins, a long time ago I used to go to all the Melvins shows and I would talk to him sometimes. Then he started coming to our shows when we toured Seattle.

Des: We met him first at a festival in Columbus, it was kind of funny cause we had a hotel next to his and we hung out with him that night, then we woke up the next morning to leave and he had left 2 six packs out in front of our door for us.

But we knew George was going to quit and we had a tour booked and studio time booked we weren’t going to stop and Matt was going to play bass if he had to in the studio and we would just cancel the tour. But one day, we were working together at our construction job, and we were talking over different ideas for bass players and Joe’s name came up. So that night I called up Greg Anderson from Southern Lord, and he said he would get the word out to Joe. And the next morning Joe called and said he was into doing it. So, it worked out good for the studio and worked out good for the tour, plus he’s sober, so he can drive every night and that’s more beer for us \[all laughs].

Matt: He’s a great musician too and fun to work with.

On this recent album Blessed Black Wings you worked with engineer Steve Albini, famous for working with Nirvana, Neurosis, and John Spencer Blues Explosion. What was it like to be able to work with him?

Matt: It wasn’t so much as a name factor as it was his abilities. He’s truly a master engineer, he’s really, really good, and he’s very professional about the job he has to get done, but he’s kind of cynical and has a really good sense of humor, we get along with him really well, he would joke around a lot and make stupid jokes.

Des: Yeah, he would make fart jokes and rip farts, you know, he’s a goofball just like us and we had a lot of fun with it, but he’s like the mad scientist of sounds especially with his funny overall things he wears \[all laughs].

In my opinion, I would describe your music as Crowbar meets Neurosis with very strong tribal-like drums and heavy guitar solos. How would you describe your music?

Matt: I don’t know, I just think of it as High On Fire.

Des: It’s loud raw and aggressive, it’s kind of hard to explain your own music, we just do it.

Janel (videographer): Do you get that feeling of excitement still when you play shows?

Des: Yeah, totally. You know, the more we get into it, the more the crowd gets into it and the more the crowd gets into it, the more we get into it. So we kind of just feed off each other.

 What music did you listen to growing up that inspired you to become a musician?

Matt: Wow, lots of stuff, like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Ac/Dc, Slayer, Exodus, Venom, just tons of stuff.

Janel: Never anything else? Now come on, what is that one band that you’re embarrassed to say that you like, cause everyone has that one band maybe out of their genre or whatever but they’re embarrassed to admit that they like them. Cause I like Juice Newton and I’m ashamed to admit it \[all laughs].

Des: As you should be \[Laughs]. I liked The Monkeys, I went to a Monkeys show. My sister was into them and she got some tickets, but at the time my girlfriend, well she wasn’t really my girlfriend she was just some girl I was making out with in high school \[Laughs], her mom worked at Ticketron and so she got 2 floor seat tickets, so my sister and her friend used the floor seats and the girl’s her mom was like Ok, I have 3 tickets and you have to go and you’re bringing a friend. So I went to the Monkeys’ show with a Motley Crue shirt on \[all laughs]. But they were good they had some good songs. So I guess that’s kind of embarrassing \[Laughs].

 Any plans for a DVD?

Matt: Well there’s one on the new CD, but its not very good though, I don’t like it.

Des: Yeah, it’s was just like really put together real quick at the last minute, just some live footage.

Matt: The vocals are really overbearing and loud, which I’m already self conscious of my vocals and it made it even worse.

Des: Yeah, if we ever have the money to do it, then what the hell? Maybe we can make it like the Zeppelin movie where we all live out our fantasies, ya know.

Are there any plans for a European tour?

Matt: Yeah, we’re going out in end March, its not very long though, but we’re having a hard time getting booked over there. Yeah, Europe for us, we’ve done good England, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain, we’ve only been there twice.

Matt: We need to go over there a lot more, but its hard to get us over there for some reason, it’s a pain in the ass to get us booked.

What are High On Fire’s plans for after this tour?

Matt: \[Laughs] Another tour.

Dews: And hopefully writing new music so we don’t have to wait another 2 years for the next record to come out.

\[To Des] This next question is basically for you, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to talk with you or not. But I’m a huge fan of drums, and I have to comment on the drum style. In my opinion, Its very tom geared, not many drummers I know use a lot of tom work like that. And to me, actually you are one of my top 5 favorite drummers now, because you do the tribal type work and that’s my personal favorite style and you don’t see a lot of that anymore. Can you give me a brief history of yourself?

Des: Wow, cool, that’s awesome, thank you for the compliment, it’s much appreciated. I started playing when I was 10, just on a snare drum in the high school band, the first song we learned was Beat It by Michael Jackson. Every 6 months I’d get a new piece for my kit. I have a birthday in the summer and I’d get one drum, then for Christmas I’d get one drum, until I was 12 when I had a 5 piece kit. I would just jam with friends from High School. I was in this hardcore band on the East Coast. We’d play places like CB’s in Connecticut and Boston. We went to Germany a few of times cause we were on a German label. They put out a record, which that really gave me the tour itch just from our tour out there. But like all the tom stuff and tribal stuff, I used to play a lot of double bass, but with this band I didn’t feel that I needed it. So instead of doing a lot of double bass, I compensated it with a lot of tom work.

Matt: I’m kind of stuck to it, I’ve actually tried to get him to play double bass a few of times.

Des: I’ve messed around with it, I’ve put the double pedal on a couple times at practice.

Matt:There’s really nothing he cant do already with the toms that he can with his double kick.

Des: It’s just I have the deep toms and I think it sounds better using more toms, it’s just a thicker sound and a little more dynamic. It’s like a lot of Metal bands out there these days are all double bass.

What kind of kit is that?

Des: It’s a Pro maple shell and I bought it used in a used drum shop in San Francisco. It’s not like a pro certain line or export, it jays says maple shell. And once in awhile it’s like Wow those are good drums or whatever. Until we went to some drum shop, I think it was in Columbus Ohio, and some dude was like Yeah, we saw your show last night, you know, those drums you got man, they only made them one year, they’re probably worth like 3 or 4 thousand dollars. And I was like oh shit, I’d better start taking way better care of them. But, yeah, Pro Maple Shells, and if they’re tuned right they sound ok I guess.

Are you using triggers?

Des: Nope, no triggers, I don’t have the money to buy them, but I wouldn’t anyway.

 Any last words?

Matt: Well, we’re just gonna continue to work hard and do what we do best. And thanks for all the support our fans and friends give us.

Des: Yeah, we’re just gonna keep growing with our music hopefully everyone will continue to like it. And, yeah, thanks a lot for all of your support. See you all on the next tour!

High On Fire Official WebSite


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