Interview: Matt Pike from High On Fire

Ahead of Guitarist issue 330's in depth feature with High On Fire and Sleep guitarist Matt Pike we have some extra material from our chat - exclusive for

In issue 330's feature - on sale June 7 - we talk in detail with Matt about his playing approach, gear (including a custom First Act nine-string as his main guitar) and evolution as a guitarist over the years. Here he talks about High On Fire's new opus, Snakes For The Divine - namely the riffage and leads behind it.

It is true you had four hours of material going into the studio for this album?

"Yes we had so much it was ridiculous. Des [Kensel, drums], Jeff [Matz, drums] and I were starting to arrange it so we got it down to about an hour and a half of material. Then Greg Fidelman came in as the producer and kind of helped us scope it down a little bit. As a fourth ear he gave his opinion, these are your strong points and this is where your music is weak. Well not weak because all of it is really good but the stuff that makes sense and the stuff that doesn't make sense."

The title track from Snakes For The Divine has a Judas Priest vibe to the main riff. That's a little different for you, did you have them in mind?

"Oh yeah definitely - I was trying to do the Judas Priest and Iron Maiden epic intro thing. That [song] is kind of my baby, Jeff wrote a lot of the other songs and Jeff's bassline on Snakes For The Divine should be in fucking tablature dude, I'm not even kidding! I started playing that intro leg and then Jeff came up with this crazy bassline under it - I feel sorry for him when he has to play it because it's impossible. It's like, Dude what the fuck? How are you even doing that?!"

The into to How Dark we Pray has some really expressive lead work from you…

"That came from me and Des sitting around [in the studio]. Des has this way of dreaming chordwork, he'll try and explain it to me and then we'll sit down. He'll hum the whole thing. He went through that whole lead with me, guiding my hand. I played it and played it and once I got it Des said, That's what it should sound like!

"Ultimately Des was using my hands to create what he wanted to hear. It's totally weird the way it works but my drummer knows what he wants. I'm like, ok whatever - I have no doubts he knows he knows what he's talking about."

You're a prolific riff writer, and there's obviously a lot of them on this album, but Bastard Samurai's is one of the best…

"I'll take credit for that one! For at least the intro riff - we wrote that in pre-production and that was an extra song that ended up becoming more. A lot of people like that one because it's a little doomier and slower. We were just fucking around when I came up with that riff and we based the whole song around it. Jeff wrote the big bass intro and that inspired me to write off of what he came up with. We write over each other.

"I also used the [MXR] Carbon Copy delay [on the verses] in that song. What I'm doing is taking the toggle switch and [makes machine gun effect noise] and the Carbon Copy will give me a weird feedback. I turn the Carbon Copy off when it gets heavy and turn the [amp channel] on all quick - two quick foot moves then I'm there."

You seem like an instinctive player with your lead work - do you tend to record parts impulsively?

"It's very on the spot and off the cuff. I'll play something over and over, I'll like one thing then I'll change my mind and like another thing. A lot of what you year on the album I probably improvised it; even if I doubled it. I went back, learned it and doubled it.

"A lot of that stems from jazz - I love freeform jazz. There should be structure and organisation, but at the same time music should be an expression of what your heart feels, what your soul feels. Your moulding the guitar into how you feel in the moment. It's like an artist, the best artists know what they're going to paint but don't know how it's going to look until it happens. They get inspired at that moment.""

Who do you feel are kindred spirits in metal for you these days?

"Oh god - so many. Mastodon, Converge… everyone we tour with we end up loving. If we tour with them, we're definitely kindred spirits. All the way from the bands that open for us and Megadeth when we're opening for them. My band has so much character - I don't think anybody ever hates us. We treat everybody with respect and on the side I'd have to say if none of us were musicians we'd all be comedians!"

Check out Guitarist issue 330 - out June 7 - for a full feature with Matt where he talks more about his style, inspirations, rig and the recent reunion with his old band, stoner metal legends Sleep.

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.