by Michael Alan Goldberg
MG-So who’s responsible for the nightmarish underworld beasts and landscapes found on High on Fire album covers and posters (and even their brand of hot sauce) compelling imagery in the classic metal tradition that perfectly accompanies the Bay Area band’s staggering wallop and doomy lyrical aesthetic? That’d be visual artist Arik Roper, who’s teamed with HoF’s Matt Pike and Des Kensel for years, and whose work has also been seen in Arthur, Revolver, and Guitar World, among many other places.
How did you first link up with High on Fire were you a fan of their music, or were they a fan of your artwork, or both?
AR-I guess it actually started way back when I met Matt, years ago during the Sleep days. We got reconnected when High on Fire came about and somehow it just fell into place. He and I had a mutual respect for each other’s craft. I was definitely into the
music regardless of my connection to it.
MG-Do you listen to a new High on Fire album a number of times to get a sense of what kind of art you want to create, or do you go into it with a fairly good idea of the imagery and feeling you want to convey?
AR-I prefer to listen to the music first, which is normally how it’s been done in the past. I’ll listen to the rough mix or whatever is available to form an idea. But in the case of Death is this Communion, I wasn’t able to get any audio during that stage, so I worked from lyrics to get some imagery. Matt writes lyrics that evoke scenes, so that helped. I try to capture their vibe the best I can they have a feel and a tone which is practically visual on its own.
MG-How involved is the band as far as the artwork goes do you present them with ideas and consult with them along the way, or do you just give them a final piece of work?
AR-They don’t usually have a very specific idea, so they leave it up to me. I came up with about three or four ideas based on what I knew about them and the music, and from there we focused on the one we liked the most. I try to get ideas from Des and Matt, but usually they just tell me to think of something since they’re consumed with recording process. I delved into some Lovecraftian ideas which i got from the lyrics. I wanted to make something mysterious.
MG-What appeals to you most about High on Fire’s music, and the band as people?
AR-I think one of the reasons I work well with them is because there’s some natural chemistry involved. The music and lyrics are generally about themes I’m interested in anyway. It was the same with Sleep, the familiarity of where that music comes from has always been very strong to me. The mythology, the occult/religious symbolism they’re all elements that I often work with on my own as well.
High on Fire has a rawness and sincerity that’s unmistakable, and it shows, it crosses boundaries. Matt and I have similar interests, I’ve always found him to be kindred, as if we’re cut from the same cloth. He’s got a unique presence. Of course I admire his drive and talent also. Des and I normally deal with the business of the art together. He’s a real solid guy and drums like a martial artist, it blows me away.
MG-The artwork seems like such a vital part of the High on Fire presentation…in recent years, obviously, album art has gotten the shaft now that so many people just download albums and don’t have an actual piece of art to hold in their hands. Is that frustrating at all when you set out to work on an album cover or poster? Do you think certain genres or bands like High on Fire are immune to that issue, just because the visual part of it is pretty important to the overall aesthetic?
AR-Yeah, the visual side of music packaging has been diminished by the “compactness” and compression of the business, which is really unfortunate because I’ve always thought of art and music as complimentary components. The art of an album creates a world in which the music exists, and the music animates the art itself. When these two things work together, you have a world that becomes real. It exists visually and aurally in the mind, and that’s the beginning of any reality. It can really make or break a band. One way to look at it is this: The music is powerful and dynamic and moving, but it exists in the air, when you create a foundation (the art) is gives it a home, a cage, a tree, a house, whatever you want to call it, which exists physically and mentally.
MG-What’s been the most rewarding thing about working with High on Fire?
AR-It’s satisfying having the opportunity to create narratives for powerful and quality music. Being part of their work is an honor too. Plus, they work their asses off going all over the world touring, and with them goes part of me.
More Info: Seattle Weekly
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