This has been a year of ups and downs for the Oakland, California, metal band High on Fire. On the upside, the band’s sixth album, De Vermis Mysteriis, was released. It kicks ass. On the downside, frontman Matt Pike boozed his way into rehab over the summer. But he’s out now, and the band’s back on the road. High On Fire’s two-night stand in the city begins tomorrow night at Bowery Ballroom, and ends Saturday night at Music Hall of Williamsburg. A few hours before their show in Maine, I spoke with Pike about rehab, how pajamas are his anti-drug, how Jesus’s twin brother inspired the new album, and what’s going on with that other band he’s in called Sleep.
– The Weight: High on Fire mix brain and brawn while shrewdly underplaying the Satan card
When I was in Chicago this summer, I ate a High on Fire burger at Kuma’s Corner. Have you had it?
Yeah, I sure have. It’s fucking good. There’s a slice of pineapple and Sriracha sauce. It’s not bad.
You seem like the kind of guy that eats a lot of burgers.
I like ’em. Who doesn’t like ’em?
I love burgers. When you make them at home, do you normally put a slice of pineapple on them?
No. I like lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mustard, definitely cheese, mayonnaise, onions. No pickles. I hate pickles. I fucking hate them. I can’t stand the flavor.
Back in August it was announced that you were heading to rehab. How’s that going?
I’m doing good. I’ve just been on the straight and narrow, trying to drink tea and doing my fucking–it’s just been fucking granola and guitar, you know? I’m feeling pretty well. I’m managing it okay. There’s been some tempting moments, and I’ve fucked up a few times, but I’m just staying the path and trying not to die young. There’s too much fucking music to make.
I’ve read that High on Fire tours in the past were a long, hard party. Is it a challenge to stay sober when you’re on tour?
A little bit, yeah. It’s hard sometimes, but I manage. Our bass player quit drinking before I did, and I’m on tour with Bill from Mastodon–there are quite a few guys who are older with us that are–you know, the party catches up with you and you have to take a chill pill on it. Instead of doing cocaine and taking a bunch of shots every night, you put on your PJs and get healthy after the shows. It’s different, so you just have to find things that make you happy.
As I get older, I definitely enjoy my pajamas more than I enjoy puking up whiskey.
That’s one of my big things, actually. Right after the show, I take a shower and get in my pajamas. I jump in the comfies. It’s a stoked feeling. It’s like new socks.
Do you wear the classic plaid pajamas?
I actually have a bunch of Adidas sweats that I like.
How has being sober impacted the shows themselves? Are you playing better?
Oh yeah, we’re killing it. I’m playing much better. I get a little more anxiety now because I don’t have that comfortable buzz. You know, you’re not quite as confident as you were, and cocky, but at the same time, you end up playing better after the first few songs and you really get into it. It’s like, “Oh, okay, I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, and that’s why everyone is staring at me.” It’s harder to get my brain into that thing where I’m gonna go out–there’s just this clarity to it, and having that clarity puts everything under a microscope. Every little note you hit, you’re very conscious of it. But I think it’ll make me play better in the long run.
You’re speaking very openly about all this, but how do you feel about these private details of your life being made public?
I’m the one who made the love affair with the public, so I expected that if something like this happened, I’d have to explain it. I suppose I could just ignore all of it. But, shit, lesson learned. And I had a lot of fun with it for 40 years. I’m not that different of a person now. I drank my liver into submission, so I had to take a different path. I’m still the same guy. I still just wanna do what I do best, and that’s play music and be a good person. That’s who I try to be. Whatever puts me in that spot is what I have to do. And hopefully I’m a good influence on the people that I play for.
Switching gears to the new album: How the fuck did Jesus get a twin brother who was also a time traveler?
That’s clever, right? I don’t know. I just got on some weird tangent and went with it. I thought it was pretty fucking metal. I’ve studied a lot about religion. Jesus, to the Gnostics, was just an initiation. Jesus, to the Catholics, was just a means of Rome turning the Gnostics’s religion into a way of controlling the masses. The whole history of Jesus is very controversial, and it’s always been a weird thing in my life that I’ve questioned and struggled with. I love thinking about things that are perplexing, and this is something I’ve always wrestled with. So I turned it into my own sci-fi fucking, thriller fucking, story.
I’m confused. So is it about Jesus’s twin brother going into the future to come back and tell Jesus what happens in his name after he dies?
His twin brother dies at birth so he can live, and he goes back to try to warn his brother, Jesus, about what’s to come in his name.
How does all this play out?
I don’t know. That’s the second part of the trilogy. [Laughs hysterically.] I have absolutely no idea. I just kinda went with it.
Do you consider yourself a Christian?
I’m more of a Gnostic. I border on New Age, actually. I don’t have the answers. I believe in aliens and all sorts of stuff. I believe in one consciousness, and us having one consciousness, but looking out of different binoculars. It’s too hard, and vast, to explain. Humans can’t answer all the questions. It’s the divine torture of man. The divine comedy, I suppose.
When you’re not on the road, do you read and study a lot?
It depends. I go through phases. Sometimes I read a lot, sometimes not at all. Sometimes I play guitar a lot, sometimes not at all. It all depends on what’s going on in my life.
Now that you’re not hitting the bars after the shows, are you reading more books on this tour?
I haven’t been reading as much as I’ve been playing Angry Birds. And I’ve just been trying to focus on my own person, and meditating, and breathing. Fuck getting upset. You get a lot of anxiety when you quit partying. It’s just a matter of staying calm, and getting my job done, and keeping my band happy. And keeping the fans happy, and paying the bills.
You meditate quite a bit?
Yeah, I have been. I meditate in a few different ways. There’s walking meditation, sitting meditation. I definitely try to get my time in where I have silence during the day with no one around. I’m just trying to find peace anyway I can as the crazy world goes on around us.
A few days ago, there was some unconfirmed talk about Sleep coming together, not just to do shows, but for something bigger, perhaps a new album. What’s this all about?
Oh, really? Interesting. That’s a mystery. I don’t know whose information that is, because we didn’t announce anything like that. We’ll be playing shows here and there. I am jamming with the dudes, but I choose not to elaborate on it.
High on Fire, Goatwhore, Primate and Lo-Pan play The Bowery Ballroom Friday (8 p.m., $20), and Music Hall of Williamsburg Saturday (8 p.m., $20).