How Matt Pike Kept His Musician Friends + Visual Artists Busy During Pandemic
High on Fire and Sleep legend Matt Pike was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program, discussing his self-titled 2022 album Pike vs. The Automaton. It's an album born from downtime amid the outbreak of the pandemic as a means of keeping busy and jamming with friends while also collaborating with his wife, Alyssa Mocere. He also found a way to employ some of his favorite artists.
It was a very loose process where ideas that had never taken shape in Pike's career until now were able to run free in expansive new directions. That's apparent on the whiskey-soaked, dirt-caked single "Land," which features Brent Hinds of Mastodon.
The time off at home also opened up the opportunity for Pike to release a book of his lyrics accompanied by illustrations. What the musician took particular pride in was being able to keep his artist pals busy and keep money flowing in their direction. Pike, meanwhile, wasn't the least bit concerned with personal profit on this project and said he hasn't cashed in a dime for himself off of the book.
Read the full interview below.
The solo album basically started as you and John Reed jamming together. What would have been different about this album without the limitations of the pandemic?
The limitations of the pandemic is what caused the album. There wasn't a lot of flying around and me and Jeff were in between drummers. We were getting together but we weren't wearing masks next to each other in the garage. It wasn't the best way to create when you're starving of oxygen in your jam room but we got through it and we're working on High on Fire now.
John was over at my house and we didn’t give a shit. No one but me was really more at risk than anybody else. We just started jamming with both of us going nuts. Not only did we have the mask thing and then the quarantine thing, then there was a bunch of fires that started here. I swear to God, I'm still trying to clear my lungs out from that shit — it was really bad.
Musically this record references the influence of players who seem atypical to what you typically do. What was the most liberating creatively about making this record?
I had all the time in the world with them. My wife is on it, John is on it and I was writing stuff with them, just sitting around. Me and my wife had put together some songs that were more along the lines of like "Land."
Me and her wrote that when she got off of Black Label Society’s tour. Their tour stopped because of COVID and she came home and we were sitting around bored and I started writing a little bit of music with her and then Brent Hinds had been out here and learned some of the tunes that I had going, so he's on it. Todd Burdette from Tragedy has always been a hero of mine and John knew him, so we laid down some tracks in different sessions.
Every time the studio would open up (I know Justin, the owner) and was like, "Reserve a spot because we'll have three more tunes every time." So we'd go down there, get all the loud stuff out of the way, and then we'd just go in Billy Anderson's basement and do a bunch of mushrooms. I have to create or I'll go fucking crazy. It was alleviating the depression we all had.
I put out a book and I tried to give like all the artists that have worked for me over the years. I got some money going for that and I gave all the money, aside from the printing stuff, and put it on my credit card and then try to get paid back. The advances came in, it actually got published and my wife did the layout. I just tried to keep busy through the whole thing and Pike vs. the Automoton was the masterpiece at the end of it.
At first it was like a high school band and we were just demoing. Obviously with the little bit of clout that we have it got picked up and now that seems to be doing pretty well. I haven't really looked into numbers. I don't care about that.
We need to play a couple of first shows, so we've been working on that. I got another guitar player because there's like 400,000 tracks of guitar that I can't do by myself.
Pike vs. The Automaton, "Land" Music Video
Let's talk about the track "Land," which features a Brent from Mastodon. It could be traced back to music you associate with your mother. What's different about music once a personal connection becomes apparent?
My mom used to do country western dancing — line dancing and two-step — and I guess I just remembered it for my kid, but then I was picturing it and I wrote the tune with my wife on the couch. I went out in the garage to like record vocals on it started coming out well. Brent was out here and he learned a bunch of tunes that I had but then COVID really hit and the shutdowns, so we couldn't continue that adventure until recently.
So the two-step thing was something my mother used to do and I kept picturing Motown sounding vocals with a lot of reverb like you're at the bottom of a subway with a bunch of soul guys.
I got the tune together and then I ended up sending it to Brent. I said to put some lap steel guitar, I'll do the first solo and you just take it to the end. He put a ripping Billy Gibbons style thing on it. I'm really proud of that song. It's one of the weirder ones that I've co-written with other people. We put a Leslie Hammond organ on it. [My wife] Alyssa plays that and she plays on another track on the album where she screams and plays bass. That girl's got some lungs.
Your attentiveness mat to the sonic and theoretical aspects of music includes some formal education. What's the breakdown of your songwriting process in terms of studied vs. instinct?
The initial blueprint will be the chord work and when I'm putting a theme to it… You know how many stories there are about a horrible guy that gets touched by God one day and it's a happy ending like the Shawshank Redemption or something… well, this isn't about it. This is about an asshole who dies. How many stories haven't been told like that which are still kind of amazing because you can't believe someone could be such a turd? [laughs]
Head on a Pike — The Illustrated Lyrics of Matt Pike is a book of visual interpretations of your lyrics. How was adding a visual component to your words changed the way you conceptualize lyrics?
In my head, it always had art to it even if it doesn't exist or if an artist did a rendering of what they perceive it to be. I had all the guys who did the artwork for a bunch of the other albums, and poster and T-shirt artists and I wanted to take something that someone else did and switch it all around and see what their interpretations were. And, at the same time, I wanted to to provide a bunch of my buddies who are artists with work.
You don't want anybody depressed — I'm trying to put together a project because it pays. I just gave them all the money — I didn't take a dime. I wanted the lyrics out to edit all the typos labels make sometimes.
I didn't realize I wrote that many songs. It's a lifetime's worth of work. It's not that thick, so it makes me kind of a lazy ass [laughs].
Thanks to Matt Pike for the interview. Get your copy of 'Pike vs. The Automaton' here and follow High on Fire on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Spotify. To buy 'Head on a Pike,' visit this location. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.