He is the mad wizard of heavy metal, the overlord of the stoner riff, the master of psychedelic sludge. Matt Pike simply is the fucking man.
From Sleep to High on Fire, Pike has carved out a blistering reputation in the past three decades. His latest collection of lyrics put to batshit crazy illustrations, Head On A Pike: The Illustrated Lyrics of Matt Pike, is a retrospective of musical poetry that spans twenty years of Pike's career, beginning in 1998 with the album The Art of Self Defense up to the latest 2019 release, the Grammy Award-winning record Electric Messiah.
Each chapter features brand-new artistic interpretations from the minds and hearts of an incredible cast of illustrators, tattooers, printmakers, and painters. Artists Arik Roper, David V. D'Andrea, Santos, Brian Mercer, Skinner, Jondix, Stash, Tim Lehi, Jordan Barlow, and Derrick Snodgrass created brand new, never-before-seen works specifically inspired by each album, including one large illustration to define the chapter ahead and two additional vignettes that are directly inspired by the songs.
In a one-on-one with Metal Injection, Pike dove deep into the reflective collection, peeling back the layers on his career, revealing details on his upcoming solo album, 30 years of Sleep's debut album Volume One, the status on a new High on Fire record and new drummer Coady Willis, the bands' cover of a Motörhead classic and much more!
I've found in speaking with a lot of artists over the past year and a half, that folks are of two minds. On one hand, the pandemic has allowed time for creativity, to work on projects and decompress after lengthy tours. On the other, you've been largely without the option of live performance. Have you found yourself being able to take on projects that you wouldn't have otherwise if you were touring with High on Fire or Sleep? This book, for example.
Yeah, it has. I mean, it's kind of like wrecked me financially because I used to just tour constantly. My bills are stacked up to like how I used to tour. So now that I hadn't been, I've had to be creative about hustling and making money other ways. I got like a Patreon thing going on, which is cool. I just give lessons and put stupid shit up. I did that for a while. But now that it's heating up again, I had to change some of the tiers and stuff because, you know, sometimes you can't call everybody on their birthday. You're just not around … I go to the woods a lot.
I have a book coming out, which is all the lyrics I've written from the first day of High on Fire beyond, which was really cool because I got to help out a bunch of my artist friends who were going through a similar thing. So I got to pay them to do like illustrations and all this really cool shit for me. And I got to put out pretty much 23 years of me writing lyrics. It's going to be a real cool project.
With the downtime I got a lot of music recorded. I have a solo thing going on. You know, when I couldn't get together with the High On Fire guys; one because we were in between drummers and stuff and two, because Jeff lived with a compromised kind of elderly person. So I go over there and wear a mask, but it's not the easiest way to get a bunch of shit done when you can't even see each other talk, you know? I had this friend of mine, John, who plays drums and then I just have a bunch of guest stars on it. That's a secret until it comes out. But I think a lot of people are really going to like it because it's very different and very the same. It's like what you would picture I would listen to as opposed to write. I picture it with David Lee Roth singing and like Michael Schenker solos and shit like that.
I don't want to dive too much into the solo record, because obviously, you want to keep a lot of that close to the vest. But do you see that being something akin to what you'd be doing with High on Fire? Or is it more of your influences and things you probably wouldn't put into your other bands?
It's just more like it was having a lot of fun. I think since we were working really hard on it, the label took some mercy and was like we'll put it out if that's all you can do right now. So they dump some money into it because I had been maxing my credit cards out trying to get it done just with my own money. And yeah, they threw some money at it. So I was able to get some more recording time and do it right and spend a bunch of time. Billy Anderson and me and this drummer kind of put the whole thing together, but like my wife helped out a bunch of stuff. You know, she's good with social media and music and she's a great artist. That's what I've been doing for COVID, that and figuring out other ways of money too, working on my El Camino, which is a money trap. I mean, I should probably fucking sell it. It's so fast though that I can't help it.
Talking about Head on a Pike and that entire project, it must have been pretty reflective. Going back through nearly 25 years worth of music. You mentioned the fact of getting a lot of your artist friends to contribute really kind of put a face or different context to a lot of these lyrics. How reflective a process was it to go back through all these albums and pick out which songs would work best for the book?
It was interesting because I was like, damn dude, I'm like pretty good at writing. You know, once I have it memorized and I'm playing it, I never think about what I wrote it about. Usually, I'm sitting down writing and I'm researching something esoteric or metaphorical that relates to my life about different subjects. You know, there's one song that's about Sir Francis Drake and the Virgin Queen and John Dee 007 and how they created the pirates and took over the world and blamed it on pirates. It's like an ancient conspiracy, you know? But it really was a conspiracy because there's three or more people doing something illegal or doing something dastardly, you know, just shit like that. That interests me because if you're going to be a metal lyricist you got to be up on your history, up on current events. But then you should be up on hermetics and some of the occultier sciences or activities of other people throughout history.
So it was kind of surprising to go back and see what I had come up with. I don't know if everybody when they get a High on Fire record or anybody's record for that matter, we don't always have the gatefold album like I grew up on. I used to love reading along to the lyrics when I was a kid and while you hear the songs for the first time and you go through the lyrics and go, wow, that's so cool that they go together like that, you know? So yeah, it was interesting. So I tried to have that approach to it.
It kind of tripped me out when I went back and I was like fuck, we have a lot of songs. I mean, 180 something pages worth or something, you know? It's like Jesus man. And I didn't even realize or even give it that much thought because each album is like, what, nine to 12 songs or some of them were like six or seven. You don't realize it adds up if you've been in it this long. I can't believe I survived it.
In terms of the illustrations and the artists you recruited for the book, did you have a lot of input back and forth with the different artists or was it more so here's a song. Show me your vision.
Well, some of them had already done album covers and posters and all sorts of shit. Arik Roper, who's done multiple albums for Sleep and High On Fire, I had to have him on there too. I've known him since I was like 18 years old, 19 years old or something. Since like Buzzoven was recording the city and I went down to his house and got drunk with him. We've been buddies ever since and David V. D'Andrea, he was like my first merch guy. He's really come up a level. And then I just know all these other tattoo artists, poster artists, commercial artists that all are very, very talented.
You know, it was COVID and I'm like, what if I just took all the lyrics, which I don't even have to write anymore and I have to like go back and edit and check for spelling. But we put it out and my wife and I were bouncing this off each other and she's like, that's such a fucking great idea. Oh my God, I can do the layouts. And she's talented at all sorts of shit. But yeah, she started putting it together for me and we started calling a lot of people that have done stuff for us in the past so it worked out. I've never published a book though. I just got done this morning, it's taken me like a week and a half to sign all the inserts and my fucking signature just got so fucked up after a while. I started at 10:30 one night and I went till fucking five in the morning and didn't even notice because it's like watching tv, not even looking. It was literally stacks of paper. There has to be a few Webster's Dictionary worth of signatures.
Is there a part of you where one song or album takes up a special place in your heart, looking back on two decades of albums and songs?
There's moments on all of them. I do like the fact that, in my opinion, I've never put out bullshit filler. There isn't any. And that's what I'm happy with. Every one, though, has always been like, oh shit, how do we top that last one we did? We're jamming with Coady from Big Business now. That's starting to take shape. We're getting used to each other.
You know, it takes a little while for a rhythm section to change and alter itself and evolve into what it's going to become. Jeff and I have been really excited about working with him. He's definitely got style, you know, and that's what I kind of look for. I like style more than I like oh, it's going to be perfect technique. Style, it's good when someone can hear you play a note and they know that it's you, or hit a drum and they know it's you.
Speaking of Coady, do you consider him a full-on High on Fire member now?
I know this. I know that we're making a record with him. You know, it seems to be going pretty well so far. And yeah, I'm pretty dead set on making a record and seeing where it goes from there, because I did that with Joe Preston. Me and Dez toured Joe Preston to death to the point where he's like, I can't tour this much dude. I'd never go home. I was like huh, that's the biz dude.
For sure. He definitely has the pedigree. It's hard to fill Dez's shoes, but if there's a guy who can take those reins, Coady is it.
Yeah, and that's not what we're trying to do. Like, you can't fill Dez's shoes. What we're doing is we're creating with a different person because, you know, life changes sometimes. And you got to just roll with the punches and try to be as positive as you can with what you have to work with. And we got a lot to work with. So there's no complaints there.
What do you look for in terms of the look of a new High on Fire record? Do you see that being something we can see in the next year or two? Or is it still trying to get that comfort level with the three of you before you commit to laying something down?
Yeah, I have a theory about deadlines. They were kind of meant to be broken. But at the same time, I like putting deadlines on us when we're ready. That way we finish it, because if we don't finish it we'll lollygag until it's not finished. Then things get later and later, but I never try to have the financial thing be a big motivator. But if you're not on tour for a really long time you're kind of struggling, it lights a fire under your ass to go we've got to get this out so we can go and cruise around in a van and be pirates.
The last time we talked and I think it was late 2018, you described a fever dream you had of Lemmy ahead of the Electric Messiah record. Obviously he's such a massive inspiration. And then I saw that you guys had worked on a cover of "Iron Fist" for the Love Me Forever compilation. How cool was it to be a part of that collaboration? Especially with you being a massive Motörhead fan.
That was a good way of breaking Coady in too. We did that at some of the first practices we had in L.A. And he's got a really good recording set up, so we recorded a demo of it and then, you know, went from there. We got the other tracks recorded a little more professionally. And we handed them over for, I guess they're going to mix it and master it. Not without approval though. I don't always trust people mixing shit without us getting to hear it or critique something, because then you'll hear something on it like five years later and be like dude I fucking hate that song.
What's your take on the idea of cover albums? On one hand you're paying homage to an influential band or artist, but with a group like a Motörhead they're so beloved and they have such a level of fandom and respect, there's definitely a pressure there to do the songs justice.
Well, I definitely think that people would put a little of that on me. Like it was really weird when Lemmy died and I had that dream. I had this punk rock song that me and Dez had, it's a Motörhead beat … it's like a crossover of metal and punk, which makes it speed metal I guess, whatever you want to call it.
But people have put that on me like you're the next Lemmy or you're gonna save it. I'm like yeah? Do you guys remember Motörhead, they're the best band on that stage but they're always opening up for whoever the popular act is? But they never complied. They didn't give a fuck and they still won a Grammy. He was like the same way as I was. I was like, oh I guess I get an award for this. He's like I don't need a fooking award, it's just fooking whatever. Thank you. It's like it's excellent to be admired by your peers and whatnot, but at the same means you don't give a fuck. And maybe that's why you earned the Grammys or whatever. It's just a piece of metal. What comes out of your instrument is a piece of your soul. There's a difference there in philosophy.
Thinking back to the whole Grammy win for you guys. On one hand the Grammys are so watered down, and the closest thing to metal on the physical show is the fucking statue. But at the same time, does that recognition mean something?
Well yeah, it does. I mean, it is and it isn't. It's just a weird thing to have happen to you. And you don't expect it. Because I figured if you were going to win they'd let you know so you're like, there. We were sitting in the back row and I had like a hole in my foot, so I had to limp up there … but no, it was a head trip.
And really, for Dez and Jeff and I, it was like a great honor. But at the same time, that's not why I got into music. That's not why I play music. It's not motivated exactly by money or awards or anything like that. It's motivated out of like, I don't know, that's been our therapy for the last 23 years or something or pretty much my whole life. Music's the only thing that ever makes me feel better. Playing it makes me feel good about myself because that's what I'm good at.
I have to talk about Sleep for a minute. I believe 2021 is the 30 year anniversary of Volume One. It kind of made me have a little bit of a head trip, especially with you guys on a hiatus. Has the whole pandemic thing kind of given you time to think about Sleep and what you guys would like to do going forward?
At the moment, no. It's not ambitious like when we're going to do The Sciences, you know what I mean? When we were doing that we were like we got to buckle down and really, really learn how to play this stuff, you know? And then that's the thing about the deadline. Once like Al and I and Jason made a deadline we started getting shit done as quickly as possible because we're like, well, we can't fuck around anymore. Let's get this out. And that was a very successful record very quickly. But there's no plans on the table like that.
I mean we have a few little projects that Sleep is putting out, because Sleep is collectible. Sleep fans like their vinyl and their weird releases. And so we think of clever little things to release, put them together accordingly. And we have a couple shows next year and we'll go from there though, and actually Jason moved up here by me. So I now have access to playing with him a lot more.
Looking back at Volume One with the benefit of three decades of hindsight, what's your take on the record? Do you think it stands up against the rest of the Sleep discography?
I mean, we were coming from the Bay Area like punk scene and we had another guitar player … I don't know, that was like the first lead I ever put on. They let me put one lead on that album, you know what I mean? And I thought it was the biggest deal in the world. I'm like 18, 19 years old, all dude, I'm stoked. I finally got recorded and put on a record and shit. That's a big deal to a little kid who has never done something like that. I've been doing it ever since because of it, and I think that album's pretty good. It's weird. It's interesting. Not bad for some high school like wizard guys.
You've had a couple of live dates with High on Fire. Do you kind of have that fire to get back on stage again and get down to business with touring? On one hand I'm sure the rest was appreciated, but I'm sure you're itching to get back to kicking folks in the head every night.
Yeah, I love doing that (laughs). Although out of some of the tours that I've done that are really, really, long, I tend to want to do shorter runs, but with more intense shows. I'd rather do two weeks of shows and play for like an hour and a half to two hours a night, then have a 10 week run of a bunch of 40 minute to one hour shows. You know what I mean? I don't like to overplay places now. If you play a place too much then your attendance goes down usually. So you've got to be careful and picky about what and when you do it.
But it was kind of a good combo because I could come through with Sleep and then I could jump through the same city with High on Fire and still have the two different audiences and the same audience that attend both. So I had it pretty good like that. I'm really excited. I mean, we played these last three shows. We did San Diego and then we did Psycho and then we did L.A. And that was really good to get our blood flowing again and convince us that we still can play live. Because you get kind of nervous if you haven't played in that long. You're like, why am I fucking nervous? I spent like 30 years doing this and now I've got like butterflies. It's just human. It's natural behavior for sure.
*Head On A Pike: The Illustrated Lyrics of Matt Pike is scheduled for worldwide release in hardcover and e-book on November 9, 2021 and the trade edition will retail for $20. Signed hardcovers and signed limited edition bundles are available through Rare Bird at rarebirdlit.com.