HIGH ON FIRE Frontman Talks About Making Of ‘De Vermis Mysteriis’

Toby Cook of The Quietus recently conducted an interview with Matt Pike of the San Francisco Bay Area hard rock band HIGH ON FIRE. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.

The Quietus: The title of the [new HIGH ON FIRE] record, “De Vermis Mysteriis”, obviously has links to the grimoires of Robert Bloch and H.P. Lovecraft, but the concept is based around the idea that Jesus had a twin who died at birth, and then became a time traveller, right? Can you clear up what the fuck’s going on there?

Pike: Yeah, well, he died at birth so that Jesus could live and then forwards himself through time and sees the destruction that Christianity causes and tries to travel back in time to warn his brother — who’s innocent of all this. But there’s lots of little factors in between that are Lovecraft-ian, Bloch-ish, Robert E. Howard-ish — and I kind of just put them altogether because I like religious studies and I like horror and terror and I like science fiction — like Philip K. Dick — and I like conspiracy theories and stuff like that. I just put it together and thought, like, “Whoa dude, you’ve really outdone yourself and you’ve put a large fucking thing in your own lap here!”

The Quietus: I hear that the writing process had more of an improvisational feel to it compared to previous albums. Is that right? How did working like that affect the outcome?

Pike: Well, we had a lot of skeletons of songs, but we had kind of a deadline, y’know? They were trying to enforce a deadline and usually I don’t play that game — I’m like, dude, it’s done when it’s fucking done — but I really wanted to get it done, and Dez [Kensel, drums] and Jeff [Matz, bass] really wanted to get it done. So we just did boot camp for two months; we were at the studio every day, every day, every day, trying to find the pieces to the puzzle that we had started. And yeah, a lot of it turned out kind of, not so much improvised, but, like, close enough to improv where it’s like, well that just feels good so leave it.

The Quietus: And you roped in Kurt Ballou to produce it this time. How did he become involved?

Pike: Well, we’ve know Kurt for a while and the whole band agreed that the last couple of discs he recorded were fucking stellar and we wanted to give him a try with our sound. Y’know, we had a whole list of people; we were considering [Greg] Fidelman again, we were considering [Steve] Albini, we were considering [Jack] Endino, but we’ve just been moving on every album or so, trying to get that right “thing” and change it up a little so that each album’s a little different. And I kind of like doing that, it gives it a lot of character, it makes it real listenable — and you’re not getting the exact same album as you did last time — I think that’s a pretty important part. Like, y’know, if you’re a fan of an artist, you don’t want to see the same painting twice, right? [

The Quietus: Moving on to the LP artwork, again it’s something in the past that HIGH ON FIRE always seem to put a lot of effort and emphasis into getting the right person, often with stunning results, but this time you’ve gone with something pretty different.

Pike: Yeah, it was Tim Lehi. Tim‘s a really respected tattoo artist, but he’s also a painter, and we were just trying to do something a little different this time — we’d been in that same ball park a while. And [Arik] Roper is astonishing. Man. Like, don’t get me wrong — it was nothing against him — we were just trying to do something a little bit different just to see where it’d go. And, yeah, I’m pretty stoked on the way this whole package turned out.

Read the entire interview from The Quietus.