TJ Kliebhan interviews Mike Scheidt of YOB
Yob seems to tow the line between making aggressive music with portions that are very beautiful. Is this something you are conscious of during the recording process?
Mike Scheidt: This is something that happens more in the songwriting process. Once we’ve arrived in the studio to record, it’s all pretty mapped out. We definitely do allow time for experimentation while recording, but it’s built on the solid foundation of the tunes as they’ve been written beforehand. We want the tunes to have some kind of unpredictability, while also reliably building and releasing tension. That’s our goal, anyway. There are emotions that abrasiveness and gut-punch riffs best capture, while others are best expressed via clean vocals, melody and beauty. Aggression and beauty, and everything in between. No rules.
YOB has been inspired by the universe, religion, and philosophy on past records. What are you guys into right now that you could see creeping into the next YOB release?
It’s too early to say. The vibe hasn’t presented itself yet for new music. I’m playing guitar everyday, reading, trying to be healthy and live well. The music will eventually come.
A bit of time has now passed since ‘Clearing The Path To Ascend,’ by far your most personal record. How did it feel being so transparent with your lyrics and personal life?
Satisfying, and a little nerve-wracking. In being forthright with my struggles and writing about them, the response hasn’t always been positive. But overall, we’ve received amazing support and resonance, and the people who connect with what we’re doing seem to connect all the way.
The last record came from a deep place and a drastic time in your life. Did you have any sort of “where do we go from here?” moment now that you’ve begun writing your next material?
Kind of. It’s still unfolding. I realized about a year ago I was being irresponsible trying to deal with my depression on my own, without professional help. Being a shut-in while not on tour and rarely leaving my apartment, I was getting to a dangerous place. My girlfriend, bandmates and close friends/family are all pretty much saints in my eyes for tolerating and helping me get through those times. It wasn’t that I was an asshole, it’s more that I was a ghost of myself. It’s hard to describe how low it can get, and it doesn’t make rational sense as to why. But it hit me that I was on a trajectory to die early, and I saw with some genuine clarity that I needed to get help. So I enrolled in healthcare, started hitting the gym consistently, got myself back on a low dose of antidepressants. I’m also getting back in touch with sitting meditation practice, and getting out of the house more. It’s all very much a work in progress, but I feel more like myself than I have in a long time. I’m not sure yet how the new music will be affected by any of this, but I can’t imagine it won’t be.
I read that although the songs are heavy and emotional, you guys feel great playing them live. Is it just nice to have an outlet to express yourself or is it something about the crowd being there? Could you elaborate on this more?
Live music, for us, whether we’re playing or in the crowd, is about celebrating riffs, volume, good friends and good music, floating in the ether and letting the world go for a bit. As a band, it’s also about connection, hammering our instruments and leaving every frustration on the stage, and making sure we’re exhausted by the end of the set. It’s not really a thought process. In those golden times where a band and the audience suspends time in unison, it allows for an environment where everyone in the room creates something that is much more than a band on stage and people in the audience. We can’t control when that happens, but all the same it’s on us to give everything we have.
YOB is certainly a tenured band now. At this point in your career, what challenges YOB? Do you guys find yourselves still challenged in the studio or is it more like you take the challenges of the outside world into the studio and hash it out in there?
We’re at a place where we are pretty active, but we don’t make enough from the band to live on. So it’s a challenge to balance band activity with jobs at home, and having a healthy home life in between tours. The music, our friendship, playing live together, while it has taken time and work to develop, is generally the easiest thing we do. We’ve spent a lot of years together to arrive at the way we are as a band, what goals we want to work towards or rise to, and also knowing what we don’t want and what is non-negotiable. Songwriting is getting more difficult, partially because we’re getting harder to satisfy, and it can be easy to rehash ideas if we’re not growing and striving for new vibes. So the pressure is internal. Patience is difficult, but it’s really important. Our continued focus is to be fully satisfied with the music itself, first and foremost. Anything good that can happen for us as a band, comes out of that.
YOB has become one of the bands that receives attention from more than just the niche metal publications. You guys are now covered on big national indie sites as well. What has that attention been like? Have you seen a difference in the people coming to YOB shows?
There has definitely been a change for us, no doubt. I think that has occurred for a lot of bands, as more people are paying attention to metal. The attention we’ve received from both metal and indie sites has been overwhelmingly positive, and generally pretty on point. We do not have any problem with an “indie,” aka non-metal, crowd coming to our shows, listening to our albums. We’re honored and grateful we have the opportunity to tour and play for people who care, regardless of what scene they come from.
What is the biggest difference you’ve seen in metal today from when you started in the late nineties?
In 2016, everything is available. A few clicks on the keyboard, and you can listen to pretty much anything you want, from any era, instantly. Listen to this for 30 seconds, next. Listen to that for 30 seconds, next. And if you find something you really like, with another browser search and a couple more clicks, boom! Downloaded. I’m not making a for or against comment on that, it is what it is. In the 90’s, the underground metal scene felt pretty exclusive. The more mainstream listening audience knew Metallica and Iron Maiden, Ozzfest bands and such, but very few knew Morbid Angel, Mayhem, Satyricon, Napalm Death, Entombed, etc. And even those bands were very big compared to what was happening in the doom scene in the mid-late 90’s. It was a lot harder to get albums, and you didn’t always know what you were getting. I bought a lot of albums based on certain record labels that always delivered, album cover art, reviews in print magazines.
The metal audience has definitely grown a lot bigger in the internet/digital age. The scale of exposure metal is experiencing around the world has given something I’ve devoted a large part of my life to a validity and acceptance in society it never had before. Didn’t need that per se, but it is a change. But with the ease of the internet and instant accessibility of music, there seems to be increasing jadedness within a group of folks who feel they’re entitled to whatever they want, whenever they want it. But overall, the good for music in the digital age outweighs the bad. I do my best to let the negatives slide, and focus on what I like. And stay away from chatrooms. Luckily, with music it’s the same as it ever was. Great new bands continue to rise up, and along with established bands who reliably crush, together they keep passionate, sincere music current regardless of any particular genre or label.
When writing, how do you differentiate between what is for YOBand what is for VHOL?
John Cobbett, riffmaster par excellence, writes the music for VHOL. John, Sigrid and Aesop work on VHOL’s music largely in my absence, and send me demos of what they’re working on. When we do get together, it’s like new-song-speed-dating as we run through all of the new music and see what sticks for the four of us. It’s always a blast. John and I collaborate heavily on the vocal structures and melodies. He has a great, great ear for vocals, and pretty much everything else. I’ve learned a lot from playing with John, Sigrid and Aesop.
Four to five songs and around 60 minutes has been YOB‘s chosen canvas. What is it about this format that you guys seem so fond of?
It’s always worked out that way. We work on each tune until it feels like it’s done. We’ve never written a 5 minute song where we thought, “OK, we need 8 more minutes to hit the acceptable YOB song length.” But then again, We’ve never been able to write a 5 minute YOB song. We have attempted to write shorter songs before. But we can’t seem to write anything under 8 minutes that feels like us. You never know, the next album could be 9 songs and 40 minutes and genuinely be a YOB album. Ha, could happen. Probably won’t.
YOB is on the bill for this year’s Psycho Las Vegas