YOB "A Never Ending Path"

By Dr. Abner Mality

When one thinks of extremely loud and heavy music, spiritual enlightenment is not usually the first thing to pop into one's head. More likely it would be images of nuclear armageddon, demonic monsters and bloody aggression. Nine times out of ten, that's exactly what you would get. YOB is the exception and that's just the way that Mike Scheidt likes it.

Mike is the mind behind this massive 3-man doom squad. Since Day One, he's been dedicated to creating the heaviest of doom metal...and also using that sound to explore matters of the spirit.  For him, the combination of titanic waves of distorted guitar and the attempt to reach mental harmony is perfectly natural. You can judge the success of his theory by listening to any of YOB's albums. The latest of these is the most up front exploration yet of the struggle for balance and is entitled "Clearing the Path To Ascend".

I didn't have to hike to Kathmandu to receive wisdom from this metal guru...a simple phone call sufficed. Mike is a soft-spoken and humble dude who doesn't see himself as anything but a musician who is honest about where he's coming from. To me, it's where he's coming from that makes the music of YOB so special. Let's take a few moments to hear his voice....

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: The first thing we hear on your new album is a voice saying "time to wake up". Do you think the human race still has time to wake up?

MIKE SCHEIDT: You know, I just have to start with me. I think there are a lot of people out there that on their path...many different kinds of paths, but with the goal being the same. When I write this stuff, the music is part of my own path of awakening or spirituality or whatever you want to call it.  It's a path towards trying to not be a dick. (laughter. To be a better person. I write it as part of my process. There are people who relate to it and bring their own experience to it and that's wonderful. Miraculous, even. That's how I feel. But that voice is not a finger pointed's a finger pointed towards myself.

WC: Has anyone ever come up to you and said that you music changed their outlook, changed their life?

MS: You know, I have.  And it's a wonderful, fragile, humbling thing.

WC: Do the same things motivate you now as when YOB started?

MS: Definitely. Yeah, we had a pretty clear vision from Day One, I think, and it just kind of unfolded. I just write about what moves me and that's it.  The waters I like to swim in are more of the metaphysical/spiritual things....not taking what I'm told is real for granted. I write about it and that's been my focus. I think over the years, it's taken a few different twists and turns. When I'm focused on a particualr time in my life, it changes, because I change. As I learn more and have my ups and downs, that goes into the music as well.

WC: The new album "Clearing the Path to Ascend" and the previous one "Atma" seem to flow very naturally into and around each other. Was that the point from the start?

MS: You know, it definitely wasn't intentional. I think whenever I'm writing, I'm always aware of where we've been, but it's more a case of trying to be true to what's happening now. On one hand, every album is kind of a progression and built on the shoulders of the previous one. As we changed and grew and learned new things that became part of the next blueprint, there will always be some carry over from album to album. I think in my own headspace I felt pretty different on this album compared to "Atma". I don't compare them too much. I think we pull songs from each album when we play a live set and they feel pretty complimentary to each other. Even years later, we can play stuff from our first album alongside stuff from our new record. It all seems to work. We're lucky that way.

WC: It seems like you are coming up with a radically different concept of extremely heavy music. A lot of that music seems rooted in angry aggression and morbid stuff. That's not the feeling I get from YOB at all. Were you out to change people's ideas of what real heavy music could be?

MS: No, we're not out to change anybody, really. I think the description you just gave, which I actually agree with, is accurate because there are so many bands dealing with darkness and living it. I own a lot of records that are like that and I love them. Stuff like Burning Witch or Eyehategod. I'm not trying to put words into their mouth about where they're coming from but there is a pervasive sense of anger and grit in their music. I relate to that, I relate to that as a human being, as a punk rock kid, on any number of levels. I can only speak for myself as an artist and I'm as moved by Leonard Cohen or Michael Gira or David Bowie as I am by Sleep and High On Fire and Burning Witch. To me, there is a quality to certain kinds of music. You hear the word "transcendental" being used a lot and it's starting become one of those four letter words like "love" that can be a turnoff for people. Just the word can be a turn off. But I think that they are just fingers pointing towards something else. They are pointing towards something that's very difficult to put into words but you know it when you hear it. When you go to see Neurosis, time seems to stand still.  The experience is so total from top to bottom, you really lose yourself in their shows and come out of it like it has really changed you. Every time I see Neurosis, I wind up rethinking something in my life. When Townes van Zandt was doing shows, I never got a chance to see him but I saw a lot of footage of him.  It creates a similar experience, a human element that is not genre-specific. That is very, very powerful and invariably it is authentically heavy. That is regardless of how loud it is or how distorted it is or if it is 12 people on stage or just one person with an acoustic guitar.That human element when an artist is connected into themselves, when the artist is there as themselves all the way, that is Godzilla-heavy! That's where I come from in our "heavy".  It's not just about the  aesthetics of metal, which, arguably, isn't as heavy as it used to be.

Slayer used to be the most scary and frightening band. Now you see bands that are infinitely more extreme than them and somehow it doesn't seem as extreme anymore.

WC: Familiarity breeds contempt.

MS: Sure! And on one hand, that's kind of cool, because you get to hear the music and the art and you don't stop with the aesthetic. Something like "oh, I can't get into this because it's dark". There's more of a diverse listening audience out there in the world that can weather those superficial things and look beyond them and accept it and even hear beyond it. But the human element, whenever you see it on stage, whatever form it takes, it's powerful and so when I'm watching bands, that's what resonates with me the most. That authenticity, whether it be in darkness or just being exposed as an artist...that's what moves me, that's what I like to have my music come across as.

WC: I'm sure you have influences way beyond the typical or even beyond what you can hear in YOB's music. Maybe stuff like Middle Eastern or Indian music. To me, a droning tamboura has always triggered something in my head.

MS: Yeah, you bet. That's how I feel when I listen to a lot of Tibetan chanting...the polytonic, multi-octave chanting.  It's so otherworldly and primordial sounding. Same thing for the Tibetan singing bowls. I listen to a lot of nature CDs, too, which is a little weird. I listen to a lot of thunderstorms and rain sounds and ocean sounds. There's a strong vibration in nature.

WC: You can find a ton of that stuff on Youtube. Ten hours of a thunderstorm...that's kind of pushing it a bit. (laughs). One of my favorites combines the tamboura with the sound of the ocean. When I listen to YOB, I often get the feeling of the ocean.

MS:  We use nature samples on almost every album, whether it be wind or rain or ocean. It's powerful. Nature is a powerful thing, it's undeniable.

WC: Do you think that modern technology is destroying the kind of spirituality we're talking about?

MS:  I don't think it is destroying it, but it's sure easy to be distracted.

WC: Too many people spending time in the virtual world instead of the real world.

MS: It's always a progression and it's always something that's moving to the next stage. I'm always interested to see where it's going to go. We're now seeing studies on social media and depression and how they're connected. There's a growing gulf of disconnection. On one hand, we're more connected globally than we've ever been but at the same time, there's more of a disconnection. I am fascinated by that and I do avoid things like chat rooms and message boards where people are literally just tearing each other a new asshole with no repercussions. 30 years ago, if you wanted to mouth off to somebody, you had to do it to their face. It's a different world now in that regard.

WC: It's ironic because I have to do my own zine online. It makes me sound like a hypocrite, but I'm spending less and less time with it. The concert experience is also being negatively affected. I read a story today where Peter Frampton grabbed somebody's cellphone during a concert and threw it across the room. They ought to pin a medal on him! (laughter) What did you pay for a ticket for? I see this at every show and it is disrespectful to the artist.

MS: Especially if the artist has made it really clear from the get-go that there are no cameras, no photo, no video. Please, let's all be here in this space together instead of being on our phones. When people just insist on doing that regardless, yeah, it is disrespectful and unfortunate. There's more people doing this stuff than ever before and now you can put the media microscope on anything. In reality, it's all kind of been there from the beginning, it's just now we have all this new technology. Instead of tape recorders  being smuggled in a pocket, now it's just your phone and it's higher rez and more magical than anything we've ever had before. You will have people at shows that are completely respectful and completely supportive and you have every experience in between. It's really complicated.

WC: Everything is kind of cheapened. Back in the day when sci-fi and fantasy movies came out, they played on your imagination. Now you're bombarded by so much fantastic imagery, nothing has an effect.

MS: The irony there is when you see the reviews. On one hand, there's an audience that demands that level of stimulation. But on the other hand, they'll remark that the story isn't that good, the characters aren't that good. And that is really the human element. I want a human being that I can relate to in the story. The explosions and everything can be very hollow and empty if there aren't characters that we relate to or a story that doesn't hit our hearts in some way. Even in a horror movie! If we're not afraid for the character, and you can't relate to them, then it's not scary anymore.

WC: Think of modern car chase movies. The cars aren't real so the movies have little effect. Back in the 70's when you had drive-in movies , it was metal on metal. The modern car chase movie is the most hollow thing I can think of. All kinds of wild and impossible stunts don't mean anything because it's not a real car.

MS; Absolutely.

WC: Will you be doing another solo album down the road?

MS: Definitely. It will be equal parts electric and acoustic. There will be more of a band feel so there will be bass and drums and I'd like to get some strings on there. There will be some distorted guitar on there, but not in the standard A pitch. It will have a little more of a rock feel to it even though there will be a lot of acoustic. I'm working on that right now.

WC: Will there be another record from Vhol?

MS: Yes. It's being recorded right now. I'm doing my vocals when I get home from our European YOB tour. That should be in November.

WC: That debut record was one of my favorites of the 21st century. It was mind-bending. I listen to a lot of John Cobbett's other projects...

MS: Yeah, he's the man! He's the most prolific writer I know.

WC: I didn't even have to listen to that record twice to see how great it was. What are some of the live plans for the new YOB record?

MS: We're going to be in Europe starting September 3rd, we'll be playing 34 shows in 39 days. That's going to be a big trip. When we get home, we'll do a handful of  fly-outs and a few album release shows, but we're going to wait out most of the winter and then do a full US tour in early spring.

WC: In the last four years in Milwaukee, they had a really cool doom metal fest called Days of the Doomed, with a really great vibe. I saw so many great bands like Iron Man or Orodruin that I've never seen before. I don't think those fests will continue but YOB would have been the ultimate headliner.

MS: I've heard about that! I definitely would have liked to be a part of it...