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INTERVIEW – Des Kensel, HIGH ON FIRE drummer, September 2012

| 26 September 2012 | Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

Variously labelled sludge metal, doom metal or just straight ahead heavy metal, HIGH ON FIRE have released six studio albums full of pounding metal music, traversing the globe multiple times along the way.


HIGH ON FIRE – Des Kensel far right (phot by Tom Couture)

Des Kensel took time out of his busy schedule pounding the drums for HIGH ON FIRE to talk about their forthcoming tour of Australia, the physical toll of touring, being a heavy metal Dad and even the chances of him getting into the movies…

HIGH ON FIRE are touring Australia this month!

Friday 28 September Melbourne, Gershwin Room – 18+ & Oztix outlets
Saturday 29 September Sydney, Manning Bar – 18+ / & Oztix outlets
Sunday 30 September Brisbane, the Zoo – 18+ & Oztix outlets

Hey Des, how you doing?

Good thanks. How about yourself?

Yeah, pretty good mate, we’ve had a sunny day, which was nice so you should have some good weather when you get over here – we’ve just come into Spring.

Oh cool, okay, sounds nice.

Where are you at the moment, are you in the States?

At home, it’s the end of Summer now.

Very cool. So what are you looking forward to about your trip Down Under?

You know, just going back to Australia!  Last time we were there was for the Soundwave festival, so this time we get to headline a couple of shows and see how it goes.

Awesome. You’ve been touring with a really cool array of bands over the past decade, from Goatwhore and Watch Them Die, right through to Mastodon, Baroness, Metallica, Megadeath and even the cartoon band, Dethklok. Can you still learn from your touring partners, or do you think High on Fire has got into a bit of a groove where you know what you do and you do it really well?

No, I think definitely after a tour you get influenced by some of the bands that you tour with. That will definitely happen every cycle. Yeah, you know, people are influenced by bands like Goatwhore and Mastodon and stuff.

And there must be a bit of a difference, doing a headline tour for yourself and then jumping on and doing a handful of shows with Metallica, for instance. Is the magnitude of a tour like that radically different?

It is definitely different, playing at a 300 capacity club than going on tour and opening up for Metallica, for sure, but, you know, still loving what we do.

Just another day at the office, eh?

Hah, yep.

On that note, how exactly does touring with a cartoon band like Dethklok actually work?

Oh, yeah, the first time I saw them was the first show so I wasn’t exactly sure how it was going to go, but it was pretty cool because they were all great musicians so you definitely appreciate that.  Every night I’d watch them play, but yeah, I don’t know, it was kind of weird opening up for a cartoon!  Kids like it, so… that tour we weren’t sure how we would go over, but it went over pretty well. Those kids had an open mind to something a little different, not a cartoon.

(photo by Travis Shinn)


That’s the main thing, isn’t it, you know?


So after, what, 6 albums I think it is, how do you go about choosing a set list?

Yeah, that definitely gets a little tricky sometimes. I don’t know, each record had a handful of songs that we definitely have to play and after that we just switch it up between faster and slower stuff, at least try to get 2 or 3 songs from each record.

A bit of a cross section then.

Yeah, yeah, you know, just trying to mix it up a little bit.

I hear Matt was unwell and you had to pull out of the Mayhem festival. What was the story with that?

Well, basically after years of touring and drinking it just got to him and he got to the point where he had to stop that and yeah, pulling out of the Mayhem festival was kind of a bummer, but his health comes first.

Absolutely, and you’ve had problems with your shoulder and spine as well, how’s your body holding up after all those years bashing on drums?

It’s holding up alright, I’ve had to go to the doctor to follow up on some of those issues, but I’m just trying to stay healthy.

When you Google ‘High on Fire’ you see labels like ‘doom rock’, ‘stoner rock’ and ‘straight ahead metal’. How do you personally categorise your sound?

Whenever someone asks “what kind of band are you in” I just usually say hard rock, heavy metal.  It sounds a bit vague but it’s a mix of all kinds of stuff, that’s how I categorise it, just raw, loud, heavy metal I guess.

That’s the good stuff right there. One quote I did read when I was doing some research for talking with you was ‘the soundtrack for a Barbarian invasion’. Now how does stuff like that sit with you?


Sitting at home, playing with your kid and you think yeah, lets go write another song for the soundtrack for the Barbarian invasion man.

Haha! Yeah, I don’t know, that could be a good explanation…?  As far as with the kid, you know, sometimes travelling around we’ll throw on the CDs and he’ll be like “Is this daddy’s band?”.


He seems to like it, or maybe he’s just trying to be a good little boy, I don’t know.

My daughter’s 5, I think she’s just a little bit older than your son, she’s about the same. She says that she really likes all this stuff, but I don’t know. Every chance she gets she whacks on the Mary Poppins soundtrack, so God forbid, it’s all supercalifragilistic at the moment.

Haha! There you go, mine loves the movie Cars, so…

Ah yeah, right on. It could be far worse. If you had a daughter mate, you’d be watching “Barbie the Island Princess” right now.

That does sound worse!

Do you recall the moment when you first decided to pursue your love of music as a career? What was your pivotal influence at that time?

Well, I remember a previous band that I was in, I think I was maybe 19 or 20 at the time and they got a chance to do a tour of Europe and I remember, I was at school at the time, university and I think after that European tour, after one semester, I quit school for a while to kind of be more active in the music career, and I do remember one of the band member’s brothers’ was the main sound guy at CBGB’s in New York and I remember him one day, we were talking and I said I was thinking of not going back to school and he said to me just because you get a tour in Europe doesn’t mean you made it, you should still go to school and I was like yeah, yeah, whatever man, we’ll get there, we’ll get to the top. Here I am like, 15/20 years later still right there in the middle I guess.

Well travelling the world with a heavy metal band certainly must have some really good perks to it, but in this day and age when record sales are pretty slow, how does a band like High on Fire make ends meet?

Touring pretty much, and just trying to have good merchandise, you know. That definitely helps right there.

Yeah right. Can you see a time ahead when your shoulder will give you too much shit and you will have had a gut full of it all and want out, what are you going to do then?

When my body’s all beat up…good question. Well, you know, I guess I’ll have to figure something out. I don’t know.

Do you have any aspirations to get into production or something like that?

You know, probably sound and stuff in the past, but definitely being a studio engineer takes a certain personality and I don’t think I have that one. But, you know, one thing I’m starting to pursue would be film, obviously not necessarily in front of the camera, but any other aspect of it. A lot of my friends have got into set dressing, where they help put sets together and stuff.


You never know.

It looks like the song writing in High on Fire is pretty collaborative, especially between you and Matt. Can you tell us a little bit about the creative dynamic between the 2 of you?

I know when we first started jamming we didn’t even have the name High on Fire yet. It was actually him and another guitar player and a bass player, and they were just kind of messing around and a mutual friend of ours connected us together.  It was okay, you know, we had fun and the guys were really cool but after a while it wasn’t for me.  I talked to those guys about it and Matt seemed pretty bummed, so me and him did a one on one jam or something, then it really clicked. Then we realised we had chemistry right there, so we just bounce ideas off each other. It just clicked.

That’s what you want! So what does the rest of 2012 hold after the Australian tour is over and done?

After Australia, we get home and start a US tour in mid November. That’s still just in the final stages of being confirmed and worked out and all that.

Awesome, it’s good that you’re keeping busy.

Yeah, definitely. Matt’s been doing his thing and hopefully he will be alright and be able to make it through the tours and get back on the road.

Awesome. Now, if you could go back in time and magically be a part of the recording of any one song or album, what do you think that would be?

Any song or any album? I guess Black Sabbath Never Say Die.

That’s interesting. That’s probably not the first Sabbath album most people would pick.

Nope, but I heard that the stories around making that record were pretty interesting. I’m not saying that’s my favourite Sabbath album, but it would have been interesting to see them write it and record it at the time because, you know, as the story goes, they were just blasted out of their minds on cocaine.

That’s what they say, yeah. Awesome mate, thanks very much for your time and good luck with the Australian tour and the US tour following that.

Alright, thank you.

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