“It’s a very important album for us,” says Matt Pike about Luminiferous, the seventh and latest full-length offering from his sludgy thrash trio High on Fire. “Before, I’d be all like, ‘How do we top the last one?’ But this ain’t about topping; this is about, ‘How do we express ourselves in a way that’s formidable, and can rival what we’ve done in the past?’ It’s not better – it’s just a different version of myself that I’ve been trying to express all along.”
Though Pike is too modest to say so himself, one could definitely make the case that Luminerous – which drops June 16th – is High on Fire’s finest album yet. Produced by Kurt Ballou of Converge, who also helmed 2012’s De Vermis Mysteriis, the record is a dark and dense affair powered by primal riffage and steeped in Pike’s obsession with the complex ancient (and possibly extraterrestrial) forces that he believes are putting the human race in great peril.
Pike has been through some heavy changes since De Vermis Mysteriis was released, including breaking up with the love of his life and getting sober after decades of hard partying. He recently spoke to Rolling Stone about how these challenges have affected his music, as well as the unsung contributions of High on Fire drummer Des Kensel and bassist Jeff Matz, the current state of Sleep – the legendary Nineties stoner-metal band that he still tours with – and, of course, the aliens in our midst.
Let’s talk about your new album, Luminiferous. . .
Do you like that thing?
The whole record is incredible. Are you happy with it?
Oh dude, I’m so not bummed. I am not bummed on that record at all. Because it doesn’t suck! [Laughs] As many times as I’ve tried to make it suck in my head, it doesn’t suck! At first, I felt like I didn’t get proper time with the guitar solos, but that’s a typical complaint from any musician who cares about what they do. Then I went back and gave the record a listen, and I was like, “Jesus Christ, dude – I’m shredding it!” [Laughs]
It’s also pretty intense, lyrically – there’s a lot of really dark stuff in there about the human race being controlled and manipulated by extraterrestrial forces. Do you believe that this is actually happening?
Yeah. Lyrically, I think this is the album that’s going to basically get secret people to shoot me. Dude, I say a lot of fucked-up shit! [Laughs] It’s not even like, wake up and smell the coffee; it’s like, dude, wake up and realize that it’s not a theory anymore – it’s a fucking conspiracy fact. We’re being manipulated on a daily basis. And yes, 9/11 was an inside job, but that’s like the least of my fucking worries. That was so that everybody could piss on the Constitution. Everybody’s gonna see when they have fucking FEMA camps and the military takes over the general populace. It’s gonna be fucked up. And it’s gonna be NATO; it’s not going to be American military. Because the minute a bunch of marines realize that they’re violating the constitution that they swore to defend, there’s going to be a problem – so NATO will come in and make that not a problem.
But that’s all human-on-human insanity. Do you feel that there is an alien component behind all of this?
Yeah. They’ve lived amongst us since Ancient Sumer. It’s documented, and they knew about all the planets on their way in from the outer solar system. Dude, it’s documented that they lived alongside us! The Epic of Gilgamesh, for instance.
How did you start getting interested in this stuff?
I read a David Icke book, and it kind of woke me up a little bit. It doesn’t mean that I believe everything David Icke has to say, but I definitely don’t disagree with the guy when it comes to certain esoteric aspects of how I perceive the world. There’s too many credible people who have been abducted by aliens. There’s too many things that have been written in ancient scrolls and ancient tablets, things that Zecharia Sitchin brought to light. I’ve been to Peru, I’ve been to Egypt. . . a civilization builds ziggurats and pyramids that we couldn’t build today, and you’re going to tell me that they used stone-age building materials? It doesn’t make any sense. There’s a lost history of mankind; I find it fascinating, and I tend to sing about it.
“The Sunless Year” is one of the standout tracks on the record. What’s that song about
When I was in high school, I used to ditch school a lot, and I took a lot of acid. I learned about music, and I learned to play guitar, and I started having a lot of thoughts about the world not making a lot of sense. That song is about me making sense out of the world, taking a lot of hallucinogens, learning how to play and learning where I fit in into this chasm that I call Matt Pike. It’s definitely about my personal spiritual and cosmic awakening and education. It’s very personal. I love that song.
What about “The Cave”? Lyrically, that one seems like a bit of a departure for you.
Dude, that’s the first love song I think I ever wrote. That’s about Katie Tague, my ex, the one gave me the title of the album. I was supposed to marry her; she’s the best girl in the entire world. I love her so fucking much, and our breaking up has to do with me touring and her being a lawyer, and us not having time to be together. It sucks not to be able to be with a person that you love that much. So I kind of wrote a love song out of something Jeff wrote; I put lyric to it and put in a riff or two, and helped him develop it. Des and Jeff are just fucking outstanding, by the way. They allow me to do things that I couldn’t do on my own; I am so fortunate to have musicians that I can play with like that. People have a tendency to focus on me in the band, and I feel really empty when those guys don’t get the credit they deserve. Everybody’s like, “Oh, Matt Pike’s a genius!” And I’m like, “Dude, I am no genius without those guys!” They’re just essential to my whole being, you know?
Regarding “The Cave,” there’s something really poignant about putting a heartfelt love song in the midst of all these songs about the alien enslavement of the human race.
Well, I suppose that’s the beauty of being human, you know – that you can feel, and that you can express that. I think it’s really important that you, as an artist or musician, get to express all the range of human feelings. If I was in Slayer, I think the only thing that I could express was hate or aggression; and with High on Fire, I don’t necessarily want to put myself in a box like that. We’re really good at the aggressive, high-powered metal stuff, but at the end of the day, all three of us are beings that have a lot of feelings and emotional content. So no matter how I feel or my bandmates feel, to be able to put that into some sort of creation or art, that’s the most important thing. To be able to express some sort of emotion – whether it’s hate, love, the expression of emotion or whatever you want to say, that’s what makes the art the art. It’s not your technicality, or you just reciting scales all day. At the end of the day, when you turn your amps on, it’s about what goes through your heart and comes out of the speakers into someone’s ears. I’m just trying to be good at doing that.
Has getting sober changed your approach to making music?
Yeah, the sober thing is a head-trip. It’s hard to pick up a guitar and play to two thousand people, and not have anything to alter your mind.
Especially when you learned to play guitar in the first place while you were dropping acid.
I’d gotten to a point where all of that was necessary, as far as my process, as far as me being who I am, and being able to express myself. It was really important for me to have those moments in my life where I went off the deep end. It was a very important part of my education. Having a clear conscience and a clear head now, I’m making better music than ever. But it was not an easy thing to set all that down and just start playing.
You formed High on Fire in 1998, after Sleep broke up. Now that Sleep has reformed, does toggling back and forth between the two bands give you a new perspective on your music?
Every time I think I have a perspective on what’s going on, I get fucking shut down. [Laughs] One day I’ll be playing a crappy bar, and the next day I’ll be playing the Coliseum. I try to make it so that none of it goes to my head. I’m happy that I have some sort of success, but I am not important; the important part of my own existence is that other people can feel what I feel. I hope that doesn’t sound weird. . . I don’t have a big ego; I’m actually a very humble human being. A little bit of humility goes a long way.
Do you think there will ever be another Sleep album?
I wish I could talk on this, but I can’t. As far as Sleep goes, we just enjoy each other’s company, and we jam a lot, and its success has just been overwhelming. I can’t explain it, how big the band has gotten since we broke up. I’m fortunate enough to have my name tagged with an anomaly, and I love every moment of it. It’s pretty fucking stellar, actually!