After releasing the album of their career, the runaway train of success that was Oakland trio HIGH ON FIRE abruptly stopped when frontman MATT PIKE checked himself into rehab. Now sober, Pike talks to TOM HERSEY about getting healthy and heading back out on the road.
It seemed like the doom metal power trio were on the run of their career these last few years. They generated buzz outside of the indie metal world with 2010’s Snakes For The Divine, toured extensively and commenced working towards what would be the band’s master-stroke, De Vermis Mysteriis. Then, when the album dropped early this year, they took the metal world by storm and commenced getting ready to play some of the biggest shows of their career.
However in the days leading up to an American tour that would have seen High On Fire share the stage with Motörhead, Slayer, Slipknot and Anthrax, Pike announced he was checking himself into a treatment facility to deal with his alcoholism. The three-piece dropped off the tour and the band was effectively put on hold. When Pike, now sober except for “burning a little joint now and then”, sits down with OffStreet Press, we ask our man about the incredibly unfortunate timing of his demons.
“I would have been a wreck if I had done the touring we had planned right after De Vermis Mysteriis came out. I kind of had to take this summer vacation to deal with my problems. I hated to have to take a break from this band, but I had gotten to a point in my life where I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing. I just had to take some time to get my head together. I would have died if I continued on the path that I was on. And as far as me being able to perform as I want to and to contribute what I want to my band, I had to take a look at my habits and lifestyle and get back to square one.”
Attributing the rock & roll lifestyle with exacerbating his drinking problem, Pike believes that the break helped him gain perspective on his profession and the habits that were damaging his health. “Years and years of touring takes it out of you, man. Being on tour for as long as I have, it really just kicks your ass. I drank my liver into submission. And once you get knocked out once it’s like getting back into a boxing ring after a knock out. It takes a bit of mental power, but I’m doing a lot better now.”
Now that he is doing better, Pike’s focus has returned to his work. He speaks with no regrets of taking time away from High On Fire, but is eager to get back to work with his buddies and capitalise on the success of De Vermis Mysteriis.
“We made an astounding record. And then from there to here I needed to go through this deep thing and I had to persevere, and my band mates had to persevere, it must have taken a lot of strength for Des and Jeff to back me as I was going through this so hat’s off to them, but we did, and now it’s kind of awesome because we’re getting to the light at the end of a shitty tunnel.”
The light at the end of said shitty tunnel for Pike is the band’s upcoming run of shows through Australia’s east coast. The three date jaunt will mark the band’s first touring on the back of De Vermis Mysteriis, a doomy monster that harkens back to Pike’s time in seminal stoner crew Sleep without forsaking the band’s post-Blessed Black Wings power-trio aesthetic. Pike promises of the upcoming run that his guitar playing is at an all-time high, and that High On Fire have never sounded better.
“A little anticipation never hurt to get people interested and get the fans really behind you. So hopefully our absence from playing shows has had that effect. If it doesn’t, I’m just going to play anyway. Because now it’s like what we were, on fucking steroids. Just get us in a room and magic happens. We’re going to kill it.”
Starting to play shows again to support De Vermis Mysteriis, how is Pike feeling about the prospect of putting himself back in a situation where he’ll be hanging out in bars, around a lot of people drinking, and does he have any plans or ideas on how to stay clean while participating in the rock & roll circus?
“Playing shows sober is going to be a bit of a headtrip for me to overcome. There’s some obstacles for me going out on the road, but I think when I was going out on the road prior to this I was basically doing things in a trance.
“I’m just trying to be honest with myself because if I’m honest with myself I can be honest with everybody else. I shouldn’t feel ashamed or like I have anything to hide, because I’m just glad I’m still alive. If I’d continued down the road I was on I just would have been the guy who sells a lot of swag because he’s R.I.P. And that’s not me, I want to be alive and well and present and be performing the best I can.”
TOM HERSEY is a writer and Amazing Race aficionado.
HIGH ON FIRE play The Zoo on Sun Sep 30. De Vermis Mysteriis is out through eOne/Shock. http://www.highonfire.net