Mike Scheidt: The Hellbound Interview

Mike Scheidt has been busy over the last couple of years, having seen the release of his first solo album, the first VHOL record, and the Lumbar record. He also found time to guest on the last Red Fang album. This year sees his main band, Yob, put out a stellar new record, Clearing the Path to Ascend (Neurot), which pushes boundaries for the band and takes their uplifting music to darker, uncharted waters. I had a chance to speak to Mike about Yob’s new album, his vocals, and transparency in heavy music.

This being Yob’s initial album for Neurot Recordings, did you approach recording for this label any differently than you have approached labels in the past?

We know who we are and what we do, so we tend to just approach recording an album the same as we always have – but I will say, it’s a little more nerve-wracking handing in an album to Steve Von Till and Scott Kelly than it has been to just about any other label, just because we love Neurosis, and we hold them in crazy-high regard as artists. So that was a little nuts, giving them the record, especially as they took the leap of faith on our album without even hearing a lick of it. But it’s turned out great.

You’ve been friends with Scott Kelly for a number of years. How did Yob’s signing to Neurot Recordings come about?

Just through that, really. I’ve known Scott since 2004, and I’ve met the rest of the guys in Neurosis through Scott, and through being able to play live shows with them. Both Scott and Steve made it known to us a number of years back that Neurot would be available to us if we ever wanted to do an album with them. Then, when Scott and I were on our solo tour together, it just came up again, and we talked about it, and it became a reality.

Neurot really seems to be a perfect fit for Yob.

On every level, we feel like Neurot is the first time we’ve ever been on a label where the guys who run it know exactly what we do, because it’s what they do too. They’ve spent countless hours in vans, and toured the world multiple times, put out records on multiple labels, and put out their own albums. They remain artistically intact and very much, their spirit is a sense of tribe – and almost a spiritual brotherhood, I guess. For us to be included on their label, and for them to have that vote of confidence in us, and put out one of our albums is pretty satisfying. We’ve had a great time being on Profound Lore; we had a good experience with Metal Blade, too. Relapse is putting out the vinyl of the new album, and they’ve been great to us too. We’re in a good place right now.

Yob_2014_8006626You’ve spoken of this album being Yob’s heaviest record yet, emotionally, and it certainly feels like a darker record. Did you seek consciously to write a darker record, or did this emotional weight just reveal itself throughout the writing process?

Definitely the latter. I was just writing from a very heavy place, not trying to wallow in it but to move through it. It was digging into those emotions and heaviness in a complete and total manner, and as a result, I think the riffs are soaked in it; it makes for nuances to it that are unique compared to other music we’ve recorded.

The title of has the ring of a Zen koan to it. Is there a specific spiritual mindset you were going for when you named the album?

Yes, just to make space – make space internally, so that better information can come in. Lessons can be learned, and not at the expense of yourself. I guess my view of the dark things in me, is that I’m not out to kill them, or irradiate them – because to me, that stuff has also been responsible for leading me into some very beautiful things in my life. It’s also a way that, when people are in touch with their dark side and don’t get puritanical about it, it’s easier to connect with other people, because we all have it. People may live healthier lives and make healthy decisions, but they all know full well their own darkness. It becomes a balancing factor, and also a siren too – when something can be dangerous, it can be a voice to help someone out of it. So it’s really meant to be a balanced approach, but all the same, to not to be run by it either. Good servant, bad master.

You’ve really knocked it out of the park, vocally, on the new record. Did you approach your vocal recording differently on this album?

There’s been a pretty drastic difference this time because I decided to take vocal lessons, and I’d never done it before. I’ve taken lessons for pretty much everything else I do, but I was a little leery of taking vocal lessons because I didn’t want to lose what I already had, and maybe get, like, classical training that might start to affect some of the things I already do. But I did some research and found a guy up in Portland named Wolf Carr, who’s a graduate from Berklee College of Music. His mom is a professor of voice, so he’s been in voice work his entire life – but he’s a younger guy, so he understands metal, hardcore, and hard rock singing. He really understands screams and death-roars. So, as a result, our conversations weren’t about how I’m destroying my voice, or how I shouldn’t be singing x or y; it was all geared towards exercises, patterns and warm-ups, and different ways to approach vocals in a live setting, dos and don’ts – that kind of thing.

I started practising with him in late 2011, and his training has completely changed my entire world, vocally. It’s allowed me to sing better and more consistently, it’s given me more tone in my voice, and more power with less exertion. As a result, it’s made my recording experience way better. This is the first time I’ve been able to put it into effect with a Yob recording, but I used it in sessions with VHOL, Lumbar, and Red Fang, alongside touring with Yob. It was a really creative process in the studio on this new record, where I was able to do a number of takes, and never really struggle too hard at any point, because I did warm-ups and was able to try different things, and be able to sing for longer periods of time. The whole training process has been a really great and satisfying part of my evolution as a singer. Thanks to Wolf Carr.

In the past, prior to this vocal training, you must have had episodes where you blew out your voice quite a bit.

Sometimes, or I would hear things that were outside of my ability, and then I would do my best to make those things happen. I can listen to my earlier work now – and I don’t want to ruin it for anybody by analyzing it too much here – but I can hear a difference now, where things are more open, more full. The training has made a difference, for sure.

You’ve had an incredibly busy year. How do you alter your approach to each new project that comes along, and how much influence do these other projects have on Yob, or Yob on them?

They all have an influence, for sure. Maybe my solo album might have had the most influence of everything I’ve done this year –but they all have an influence. Some things took more time to prepare for than others, but I find that I do my best work when I’m as prepared as I can be. I like to get there and do a solid vocal warm-up, then be present and listen to the material in the moment – and then let my body and my voice decide to do what it’s going to do. Or I can collaborate with the people there to find the best scale or note, and in that process something comes out of it, and it’s instantly pretty rewarding.

When you get back from this next tour, you’re heading in to record vocals on the new VHOL record, right? When’s that going to come out?

Might be early next year, would be my guess; early spring or something.

I wanted to mention, the Lumbar record really blew me away. How is Aaron doing? Do you guys have any plans to do more recording with that project?

No plans for that. Aaron wrote all that music and laid it down before his disease had gotten to the point where he couldn’t play anymore. He did all the instruments and wrote all the vocals and lyrics. The power of Lumbar is really him, and if he can’t hold drumsticks or play guitar for any length of time, then it makes it difficult for that thing to happen. When we did the record there was no future goal with it other than getting support for Aaron. Tad and I both felt like a creative part of it, but it was really about supporting our friend and being part of his vision and giving him our time. That’s not meant in a patronising way at all; we’ve all been very good friends for a very long time, and to think of Aaron as not being able to play guitars is just like… [pause]. Fuck, man – I’ve played countless shows with Aaron in a number of bands, on guitars, or on drums in Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, so it’s a hard one to take.

When can we expect to see Yob tour back up the west coast again?

We’re talking about it; I think we’ve been playing on the west coast a fair amount, so we don’t ever want to blow it and play there too much. We really try to have a balance between, “Yeah, we’re gonna come play there,” but we don’t want it to be like, “They’ve been here three times already this year.” It loses its impact if we do that, and if we’re out on the road nonstop, our lives all fall apart too. It’s a balance to do that and protect the art – so that when we finally do come and play there, it’s worth coming to see us, and it doesn’t become like a product that’s being sold every time we come through. So, that’s my long-winded way of saying it’ll probably be early next year when we come up your way, but we will.

Final question, Mike: what is the enduring quality of this genre of music of ours that makes people lifers?

So far its history is currently being written, and time will tell, but I think the bands and the artists that are heavy people, and are, on some level, there’s a transparency in their music. Be that Neurosis, or Scott Kelly, or Michael Gira – people that are writing very heavy, sincere, powerful, cathartic music. At that point, it’s not about a “metal” aesthetic – you know, spikes or things like that. Those are things that I love; I’m not bagging on it, but there’s something very relatable about the transparency of human emotion in heavy doom music. The most effective music, in doom, I feel, has that. Without it – you can have all the stacks and all the right pieces and notes, but there something that’s not quite there.

So I think that’s it – when someone is really baring themselves up there and hitting hard and being present – to the audience, it’s undeniable. It hits you harder and deeper than a lot of things. I think that’s why it’s so powerful and huge, and has so much vibe and atmosphere – it’s that sense of human quality that everybody can relate to. That’s where it hits hardest for me. When I’m going and seeing a bunch of bands playing, I can always really enjoy it, but my favourite bands are bands like Spirit Caravan, for example – fucking Wino, I mean, that dude’s so heavy. That realness takes the music to another place; there’s something else much bigger and grander within it. Neurosis is the ultimate example of that, to me – the aura and the power, the vibration. The music transcends just being notes on the fretboard, and the people onstage, they are so there. They’re working out their shit, their demons onstage, by celebrating their love of what they do, their tribe and their family. It’s another level of connection. That’s my long-winded answer, anyway [laughs].

Thanks, Mike – congratulations on the new record, and thank you for your time!

Thank you for taking the time to do this, I’m very grateful!

Vocals @ Hexripper | Curmudgeonly, freelance-hack shit-talker of all things metal