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Matt Pike of Sleep, High on Fire on reinterpreting Sabbath

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Matt Pike of Sleep, High on Fire on reinterpreting Sabbath

Matt Pike might be more regularly referred to as renaissance man if he didn’t also appear to be the physical manifestation of rock ‘n roll hedonism, the embodiment of the rejection of all pretension, the inheritor of Lemmy Kilmister’s swaggering grit, Tony Iommi’s axe wizardry and Hendrix’s legendary appetites. And yet, the label seems completely apt given his creative output over the last few years.

Last April, the legendary stoner-rock progenitors Sleep, for which Pike handles shredding duties, released the critically acclaimed The Sciences on Third Man records. They followed that up with a 16-minute single “Leagues Beneath” and a live record.

In October the Pike-fronted High on Fire released Electric Messiah to even more critical acclaim; the band later won a Grammy for Best Metal Performance. Both bands have toured relentlessly, only pausing for Pike to undergo a partial amputation of his toe as part of diabetes-related complications. Pike has treated the episode as a minor blip and plans to be as busy as ever. 

Sleep’s upcoming show at Skyline in Crossgates Mall on June 7 isn’t Pike’s only connection to the area. One of his many upcoming projects is a contribution to Magnetic Eye Record’s Redux of Black Sabbath’s Vol. 4.. You can preorder the album here.

It just so happens that Pike’s partner, artist Alyssa Maucere, created album covers for a number of releases by the label. It was that connection that gave label founder Mike Vitali the inspiration to call Maucere to ask if maybe, just maybe, one of Pike’s bands might want to contribute to the Sabbath Redux.

We got a chance to talk to Pike and Maucere about their contribution to the Sabbath Redux as well as life post-Grammy.

How did you get involved with the Black Sabbath Redux?

Matt Pike: To be honest it was supposed to be High on Fire on the album but it wasn’t good timing. So it’s just my interpretation of “FX.” It’s gonna be strange, I’m gonna make it a little more interesting than it was at the beginning or whatever.

Alyssa Maucere: I did the covers for Summoner and worked with Matt. I know about the other Reduxs and how many awesome bands were on them. It’s going to be a difficult undertaking. I’m well aware of the quality Mike has put into this work and I value what he’s done. Mike called me and said “How about High on Fire on Vol. 4?” and I said, “How about an album cover?” And he was really stoked.

The Collaborative: “FX” is essentially an interlude track. How do you plan to approach it?

Pike: It was a weird song to begin with for sure. I’ve been concentrating on reproducing those early Iommi tones. So I did some shrooms and nitrous, some mind-altering drugs, and did an homage to Iommi. But I’m sure he had way better drugs.

To elaborate that tone I’m using my Laney and this Les Paul recording guitar with special pickups that has a surprisingly similar Sabbath tone. So I’m trying to keep it vintage which is a really weird thing, such a ridiculous thing to say because it is not even a song. But I upgraded it. It came from this antiquated thing where you had to have 9 to 10 songs to have an album and if you didn’t have the material you needed an extra track to get paid for a full album you just made something up.

The Collaborative: Alyssa, how do you approach revisioning an album cover that is so iconic?

Maucere: It is very recognizable, so I’ve been wracking my brain for the proper homage. And I’ve been more on the level of keeping the integrity of what was there. I had a guy in town who offered me his original pressing from 1972. It’s really something, I don’t think I’d ever seen that early of a copy it has panels with each member and then a page glued into it.

I have to see but what I’m going for is reproducing the experience of buying Vol. 4 and opening it. There’s this big gatefold when you open it up with each of the members playing live. I really want to keep the integrity of the original but I think I’ll take some mind-altering drugs and do interpretations of each member of Black Sabbath if I can get away with that.

The Collaborative: Mike’s vision with this redux series is to pass down these significant albums to a new generation of listeners. I wonder if you’ve thought much about your legacy lately given the amount of praise you’ve received on the new Sleep material and the fact that High on Fire won a Grammy for Best Metal Performance this year.

Pike: Well the Grammy thing has been good and bad in some ways. It’s hard to go out of the house and go somewhere I want to be with my girlfriend without getting punished. I love my fans and a lot of them are respectful but some people just don’t catch the hint.

Maucere: Sometimes they just don’t get like, we’re on a date right now.

Pike: Yeah, they don’t.

Maucere: I was a fan of Matt’s work before we started dating. I was in awe of all of Sleep but after a while, I realized they are totally just human being and they want some space. You don’t have to be their friends. You can just appreciate their music.

Pike: After the Grammy especially, things got crazy. I had to tell the restaurant where we hang out that they shouldn’t post a thing about me winning a Grammy on their Facebook page because my fans will be in here but they will punish everyone in here. I love ‘em but they can punish up a storm.

I do like having the respect of my peers but the Grammy wasn’t all that big of a deal to me. But I’m not so punk rock that I’m not gonna act like the respect of my peers doesn’t mean anything to me. I like what I do, I’m really hardworking and it is nice to be noticed. What is more rewarding is being able to play music—to be making a living doing what I love to do. Every time I’ve had a nine-to-five job I show up but I hate it. I like working for myself and with my brothers. It keeps me from self-destructing.

The Collaborative: Matt, I don’t have to tell you that you have a reputation as an authentic rock ‘n roll wild man, but I was really moved and actually sort of jealous when I saw you were working with your local School of Rock. I wish I had had Matt Pike as a rock instructor.

Pike: Man, it was amazing. They knew the songs when I got there and they could play. Or maybe these just knew to fake until you make it. They were great kids and I’m glad they have a place to flourish like that. They’re learning how to create something, not some political shit because music can touch everyone. It doesn’t divide us.

The Collaborative: A lot of folks were caught off guard by the release of Sleep’s The Sciences. High on Fire continuously puts out amazing albums, that band just had a Record Store Day release and you always are on the road. Is the plan to remain this prolific?

Pike: We had to address some business changes. I had to recover a bit with my foot surgery. There’s been a lot of assessing but now we’re getting ready to hit the world again with both bands. We have one more break this year and then we’ll be nonstop.

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