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High On Fire - The little angry guy inside drummer Des Kensel
On the last day of their tour, High On Fire visited Holland. Just like last time, I really wanted to do an interview with them. This time I got the chance to talk to drum-beast Des Kensel, a very kind person and brilliant percussionist.

So today is September 11th, what meaning does this day have to you?
'It's definitely a day that goes down in history. Not a good day for America. Things have definitely changed since then, especially travelling became harder. There's people out there that don't like the Western culture, not just America, but most of Western Europe as well. It was unfortunate that it took such a huge catastrophic event to open peoples eyes or pay more attention to what's going on. But that's history, massmurder, holy wars, whether it's religion, political, it has always been there and always will.'
Do you think that in the end there will be a positive outcome to the war in Iraq?
'Hopefully. It's really hard to get a grasp on what's going on out there. I don't think the public really knows the truth, meaning why we're over there, and I don't think they want us to know. It was just like, okay we're going over there because we don't want another 9-11, we need to find all the people that are responsible that are hidden in little places in Iraq and Afghanistan and even in fucking holes in the mountain or whatever. I'm sure it goes deeper. I can only hope for a positive outcome for everybody, whatever that is I don't know. Hopefully one day we can just all get along. We'll see.'
So the title of the album; Death Is This Communion, is this the way you guys view upon the world?
'No, the name came up because basically the only way to save your soul is death. You know, death is your salvation. It's not the way we see the world. We choose our own destiny, which is being in High On Fire at the moment, and it's not always easy. Obviously there�s people out there that have it way worse than us. The world isn't always a happy place, and people aren't always happy, I mean we're not dark, depressed people. I'm not like 'fuck this, I wanna die'. But music is a form of expression, whether it's metal or high-energy Cuban dance. Whatever you feel at the time, you express in the music and lyrics or a record. We just thought it sounded cool, the imagery is cool, it's basically open to interpretation.'
So how have the reactions been so far?
'Great! It's only ten shows and it's by far our most successful European tour ever. There were a lot of shows like that one in Arnhem where you were at, where due to certain circumstances not a lot of people showed up. Like we played there the day after Roadburn so everybody saw us, other times the promoter wasn't good, it's a Monday night or whatever. Last night it was a Monday night and we played in Berlin to 150 people which is good, because last time we played their for like 15 people. And all of our shows in the UK were great, which is where we have more fans than in any other country in Europe. But in the other countries I see it growing and getting better and better. We just wanna stay on that wave you know, keep the momentum going. It's hard work, but we're doing it.'
I got the comment that the new album is overproduced compared to the sound you had in the past. What do you think of this opinion?
'I think it's a bit more sort of slick, but the way our songwriting is going and with these songs I think it needed to be like that because otherwise you lose little details on guitar or on drums. And this is our fourth record, so why keep doing the exact same thing with the same sound. I mean there's still a shitload of metal records that makes our stuff sound fucking raw when compared to. It's a little tighter sound, a little cleaner sound, but it's still us.'
Okay, fourth album, third bassist. How do you view upon these statistics?
'I think the common denominator is me and Matt, we just can't keep a bass player, haha! No, with George, the first one, we saw his motivation slowly leaving. He just lost the motivation for being in the band, or just the love for it, touring. So when he quit, it was like two weeks before we had to go into the studio for Steve Albini, so we were like fuck what are we gonna do man. We were thinking like maybe Matt would play bass on it, and I remember I called up Greg, from the Southern Lord label and Sunn 0))) and stuff, and I said to him we were kind of in a jam. It was actually kind of funny because I first asked him, and he was like 'oh fuck man, I'd love to play the four strings of death for you guys! But I just can�t man. But you know who would be perfect; Joe Preston.' Cause I believe that at the time he was doing something called The Whip, actually with the guys from Big Business. And then their drummer passed away in a boating accident, so he wasn't doing much. His solo project Thrones was just up in the air. So I called him up and it was basically supposed to be for him just to be on the record. Before the recording we did like a short tour through Chicago, to get the vibe going a bit. And when we were in the studio recording, we got a call from a booking agent saying Clutch wants you to go on tour with them in the States. So we were like Joe do you wanna do a Clutch tour? 'Yeah sure sure.' And then the record came out so we were like do you wanna do a record release tour? 'Yeah sure sure.' And then it just was one after the other, I'm surprised he lasted as long as he did. He's a great person, a great bass player and I have nothing but the utmost respect for him and we still keep in touch, even with George too. No bad blood whatsoever. So now we got Jeff, he's a great fit, personality-wise, musically, his style works. He has even offered a lot of ideas during the writing process. At first it was a little weird because we were letting a new person into our private space, so it took a little while for us to accept him and for him to feel comfortable, I think we're at that point now.'
Okay awesome. Will there be a Japanese re-release for Death Is This Communion with bonus tracks?
'We knew the Japanese wanted the bonus track, so we were in the studio like should we bust out a cover real quick? Like we did for the last one. We just didn't have the time to get it really together, so it didn't happen. But I'd love to do a Japanese re-release with a bonus track, perhaps even on vinyl, but unfortunately the one that is going to Japan now does not have a bonus track. So nothing on that for now.'
So what do you think of Om, as in it being the rest of the previous band of Matt?
Well I like it yeah, seen them a couple of times, I haven't heard the new one yet though. It's just a great band and they're continuing on from where Sleep left off. I think there's definitely more Sleep in Om than there is in High On Fire for sure. They're great guys and a great band and I wish them nothing but success. Hopefully one day we will get to play with them, or even tour.'
What do you think caused both string players of Sleep to have this weird motion with their neck when playing then?
'Haha, yeah, who knows man. There's something in the weed they smoked, hehe.�
Hahaha! Okay, stupid question then. In movies, who do you prefer, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone?
'Ow man. If I really have to pick one. You know when I was a teenager in the eighties and all those action movies were coming out, I mean I like Rambo, when I saw that I was like oh man he's fucking bad ass! You know Terminator, Commando, Predator. But nowadays, if I had to put one of those back in the DVD player and I'm gonna watch it, I guess Schwarzenegger. Just because he's not annoying and he doesn't have that stupid look on his face. And just looking at Sylvester nowadays, he's gotta be sixty and has had plastic surgery. He's trying to release another Rocky, like come on there's not gonna be a sixty year old boxer that's gonna win. And he actually came out with a reality show about fighting in the States. '
Oh yeah, we had that over here as well!
'That shit's just fucking dumb. They both get on my nerves, but I pick Schwarzenegger, because he gets on my nerves a little less. Die Stallone!'
Favourite Schwarzenegger movie?
'Uhm, Terminator. One.'
There is a lot of mysticism in High On Fire's lyrics, there's a song about Tiamat on the last album as well, is there a fascination for the Sumerian stories about the planet Nibiru and stuff in High On Fire?
'Well the lyrics are mostly done by Matt, but I think the mystical stuff he choose to write about really goes well with the sound. It's cool again for imagery. I know for 'Waste Of Tiamat' he used it as kind of like a metaphor for the powerful countries, you know the ones I mean, the one with the power and the money and stuff. But the lyrics can be interpreted by anyone in the way they want.'
If you compare where your band was with the release of the first album and where it is now, what do you see as the main differences?
'We've grown so much, we're better musicians, better songwriters, we take it more seriously. When we're touring we're not partying too hard anymore, when there�s an occasion where it doesn't affect a show or anything we still do of course. Also there are bigger and better tours now, and we're not working really shitty jobs in between tours now.'
You can stay alive from High On Fire?
'Yeah, barely, I get by. We just gotta keep touring. We gotta pay our rehearsal rent, our home, groceries, and go out drinking every once in a while, at least for me anyway. I know Matt puts all hits money to bars in a week, hehe. But other than that yeah, back then we toured, came back and take whatever job we could get. And you can't get a good job if you've constantly leaving, so whatever shitty job you'd get for a month was it.'
What's the shittiest job you've done?
'Ow man.'
Is it embarrassing?
'No no, I've done a lot of like delivery jobs, driven a truck, I actually lived in San Francisco as a bike messenger for a while. That's actually fun to do, you kind of keep in shape. There's fucking hills all over the place there, so you're at the bottom of a hill looking up like 'I gotta be up there to deliver this one envelope that will earn me like two dollars'. With the sun burning in your face and everything. Besides that I've also done a lot of construction jobs, And for a while I was with this company that removed led paint from bridges and highway overpasses. So after the sandblaster blasted of the paint, I'd be there to pick up all the paint and the crap, and helping tie up the containment area, shit like that. I had to get blood-tested twice a month just to make sure I didn't get too much led in my blood. And I worked at peoples houses, like landscaping, putting in peoples furniture, irrigation works, like water the plants, or the toilet, whatever.'
Might this physical labour have added to the power with which you beat the drums?
'Haha, some I guess, I don't know. Or maybe it's just the little angry guy inside me that comes out for one hour every night.'
And beat the shit out of your kit.
'Yeah. Better on that then on my wife or on my friends, haha. Or I can just picture the drums to be my wife; 'you fucking bitch, I wanted chicken, not beef!' Hahaha!'
Hahaha! So, how do you see the future for High On Fire now?
'I don't see the future, but I can just hope. Hopefully there will be more tours, we just keep writing music, keep it fun, keep it fresh, new and interesting, and hopefully it just keeps growing. Otherwise I can always go back to riding a bike up a hill, or putting in someone's toilet.'
Okay, do you have anything to add to this interview?
No, just do your research in the tourdates, we will be back in Europe in late November, we'll do a few Dutch shows as well again. So check it out and come see us. Thanks a lot man!
Yeah you too, have a good show!