High on Fire's Des Kensel Talks New Album: "We Always Want to Keep It Raw"

High on Fire's Des Kensel, Matt Pike, and Jeff Matz.
High on Fire's Des Kensel, Matt Pike, and Jeff Matz.

When one contemplates about all that's great in heavy metal, High on Fire should be one of the first bands that comes to mind.

The group initially emerged from the ashes of post-Sabbath stoner metal luminaries Sleep. But faster, louder, and meaner than its forebear, High on Fire's always managed to keep one foot in metal's past while making its own distinct statements. This month, the band is pummeling its way through Florida for the first time in ages before embarking on Motörhead's Motörboat cruise.

So we here at Crossfade caught up with drummer and songwriter Des Kensel to chat about the new High on Fire album, what Lemmy may (or may not) wear on a cruise ship, and staying creative and classic when you're six full-lengths deep.

See also: Win Free Tickets for Death Angel and High on Fire at Grand Central Miami

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Crossfade: So the band is going to be doing a short run of Florida dates and then hitting Motörhead's Motörboat cruise?

Des Kensel: Yep! We have a couple of shows on the way down to the boat, so we're looking forward to that! It's been a while since we've been to Florida.

It sounds like a vacation tour! A few dates and then playing a cruise ship.

Yeah! Totally! I wish they could all be like that!

What are your hopes and dreams for being trapped on a cruise ship with none other than Lemmy himself?

Well, knowing how his health is these days and that he's a little older, I'd have to say it would be great to get stuck at like a blackjack table with him and a bottle of Jack, but I don't know if that's going to be happening anymore. But to be on a cruise with Motörhead playing and our friends in Down playing, it's just going to be a blast! So we shall find out!

See also: Five Signs You Might Be a Shitty Guitarist


Do you expect Lemmy will wear his boots in the pool? I'm curious about his cruise wear.

Ha! I hope he does. That'd fuckin' be awesome!

I did hear a story about him once that's great! I think it was on Ozzfest -- and I don't know if it was around the buses at the festival or if something happened where their bus broke down -- but I heard that he just busted out a reclining chair and one of those folding mirror things that you put right under your chin and just sat out in the sun and sunbathed! I bet he had his boots on during that, though! He's probably got a tan line right where his boots stop!

I just assume that there is no fourth wall for Lemmy to break and that he is exactly what you see.

He probably does not give a fuck about what anyone thinks. We did a week or two with them and we played a show in Sparks, Nevada, which is a town next to Reno and is exactly what you'd think of a town next to Reno. It's just shitty and you can smell the fuckin' meth coming up from out of the vents.

So, anyway, I go across the street from the venue to this small casino and I look to my left and there's an old lady, Lemmy, and another old lady, all in row just sitting on chairs putting their nickels in the fuckin' slot machines.

With [High on Fire bandmate Matt Pike's] Sleep reunion being such an expectedly huge deal, have things changed at all for High on Fire?

No, not really. Because, other than a couple years ago when they tried to do a whole month in Europe, it's been like a week here or a weekend there. So it's kind of like he's in a side project that's way more than a side project. It's been cool because those shows have been going well for them. And in the long run, it could help out High on Fire.

See also: 25 Creepiest Heavy Metal Album Covers


High on Fire's Des Kensel Talks New Album: "We Always Want to Keep It Raw"

I hear there's new High on Fire material in the works?

Yeah! We've been trying to write new material. I'm actually now living in New Orleans, but we've all been going back and forth. That might be the one thing that Sleep's been affecting, now we have to figure out writing times and actually be on top of it and schedule things.

But yeah, we're hoping to finish writing and recording it either by the end of this year or very early next year.

Have you guys thought about who you'd like to record it with yet? The band has had such a lineup of world-class producers between Steve Albini, Kurt Ballou, Billy Anderson.

Yeah, I don't know. I think everyone that we've worked has definitely brought a lot to the table, but we were definitely very happy with Kurt Ballou, and we definitely like the way the album we did with him came out. And I can say right now, there's a 99-percent chance we'll do it with him again.

How do you go about staying creative while working the more traditional side of heavy metal? It seems the way most bands naturally progress in this genre is through becoming either more progressive or getting more musically athletic, but High On Fire always comes out with such a classic feel.

Well, writing is definitely a challenging thing now. We do know that it has to come out with a certain sound or a certain feel and we definitely don't want to alienate all of the fans that we've already brought to our music, but we do want to keep it interesting for ourselves, because fans can definitely tell when a band's bored or just going through the motions. That's another reason why we don't get a record out every year; it takes us around three. We definitely want to be satisfied with what we've done.

Things seem to get a tad faster with every record for us, but we sort of have our own little formula too. We're definitely very riff-inspired, and we build around that a lot. But I don't think we'll ever come out with any serious prog-y, off-time stuff where you need a calculator to follow it. With our tones and the vibe and feel of the songs, we always want to keep it raw and aggressive.

When Matt and I first got together and started jamming, we just wanted to down a 12-pack and a pint of whiskey and just make it as loud and as raw as we can. We definitely never want to lose that feel, though it's not alcohol-fueled anymore as Matt and Jeff are sober now.

Right now, everyone's healthy. Everyone's mentally really focused. And it's a really good, positive thing going on with High On Fire! Not to sound too hippyish!

But Sabbath were almost hippies in their early days, man.

Yeah, that's true! You know what? I remember we got into a debate about that a long time ago on tour, and we talked about how Ozzy and Sabbath were total hippies when they started, and I was first like, "No way!" and then they were like, "Just look at these pictures!" and I was like, "Yeah...they're hippies." So yeah, I guess it's fine.

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Death Angel and High on Fire. With Solstice, Thrash or Die, and Orbweaver. Saturday, September 20, at Grand Central, 697 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The show starts at 6 p.m. and tickets cost $25 plus fees via ticketfly.com. All ages. Call 305-377-2277 or visit grandcentralmiami.com.

High on Fire. As part of Motörhead's MotörBoat. Monday to Friday, September 22 to 26. Boarding at Port of Miami, 1015 N. America Way, Miami. Sailing to Key West and Cozumel. Visit motorheadcruise.com.

High on Fire's Des Kensel Talks New Album: "We Always Want to Keep It Raw"

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