Though what follows demonstrates that such deep space environs are built from the same bones as the brief ending-as-beginning introduction to the void that the band provides, YOB, under the direction of guitarist and vocalist Mike Scheidt, and featuring bassist Aaron Reiseberg and drummer Travis Foster, demonstrates a fearlessness on this album that’s unrelated to the conventions and admonitions of doom metal. The plangent vocals with superb and searching tonalities tilting into syncopated guitar licks—balanced as they are against the sludge and slow death of life—propel this work well beyond genre, towards the universal.
While it’s almost impossible to talk about this version of YOB without referencing Scheidt’s near-death encounter with diverticulitis, suffice to say that the man is strong, is alive. He lived and what came out of him during that struggle and afterwards bears a canny resemblance to what we all must face. Translated into music, it is terribly beautiful but awesomely affecting. Certainly there is horror there, but also beauty and wonder.
Of course all of the above—and then some, compadres—was on my mind as I listened. After soaking up la neta for an hour, I praised Jah, took a deep breath and called Mike Scheidt on the telephone a few days before YOB was set to perform at Sister on Wednesday, Sept. 12 in the year 2018.
Weekly Alibi: Could I please speak to Mike Scheidt?
Mike Scheidt: This is him.
Hey, Mike, it’s August March, the music critic at Weekly Alibi, in Albuquerque.
Hi! Nice to make your acquaintance, how are you man?
I’m good, how are you?
I’m okay. That exchange reminds me of a Beastie Boys’s song called “Paul Revere” [both laugh]. What I really wanted to talk to you about though is your new album.
I read some on this and discovered that Our Raw Heart marks a real watershed moment for YOB both in perspective and in the sound you found. Tell our readers a bit about that, please.
Well. I know for us there were some times when we weren’t sure if we were going to continue being a band. It took some time for us to realize that we were going to continue and that realization brought with it new perspectives for us, as a whole. I went through some perspective shifts as well, having gone through some acute times when I was literally feeling deathly. All of that informed how we approached the new music, how we worked in the studio and how we’ve been a band since that. It’s not like the change is drastic, but there’s no one who could listen to our new album without feeling YOB. The lyrical content is not that much different than anything I’ve written before. I do think that the new album does what we’d want any new work to do: It fits in our lineage but is something that feels new. We’re pushing ourselves musically.
One rock critic wrote that you were actively subverting the conventions of doom and stoner rock with lightness …
We’ve always done that, from day one, for 24 years. We’ve never been typical, we’ve always had a lyrical bent. Sure, I think we’ve gotten better, we’re a better YOB [now]. That’s not really in comparison to anyone else, either. We don’t really think of ourselves in that regard, like we’re an alternative to something else, or that we’re against heavy, oppressive, dark, dismal, et cetera, et cetera sounds. For me, when I’m writing, I want to be as authentic a writer as I can be. And that means I have to write about what’s ghosting our art. So that’s what I write about. The new album really is no departure.
Would you say it’s more of an evolution?
As you moved toward and through musical and personal realizations making the record, did you wonder how metal audiences who dig those “bleak conventions”—that Rolling Stone mentioned—would respond?
Our audience, the people that resonate with what we do … my guess is that they also resonate with the band you just described. As do we. So, if we’re talking about Burning Witch or Corrupted or any of the brutal heavies, we’re big fans of that [sound] as well. And darkness and negativity? Those are things that are also part of our process. For me, when I look at those things, what I want to do is move through those things, rather than just express them, like throwing a glass against the wall and seeing the destruction. The glass and the noise and the shattering everywhere, there’s a certain kind of satisfaction in that kind of destruction. But in my world, I have to clean it up, deal with all these shards of glass. So it’s not the end of the story. I want to make music that moves through those destructive events, and ends up for me—it’s really selfish—in a better spot.
Is that a transformative process for you, artistically?
Yeah, and for us, as far as what our crowd is going to think, we have no control over that. All we can do is make the music that we love.
Do you hope that your music resonates, that those who listen find their own transformative processes, to make themselves better?
You know, that’s a hard thing to talk about. That’s none of our business, really. But, when a person comes to one of our shows, they feel like, maybe, they can come up for air, from their life. And time is suspended for a while. And they rock out and then they feel better. Or if they walk in feeling good, they walk out feeling even better than that. Those aspects are amazing. If someone comes to the show because they like how loud and bludgeoning the music is, that’s great, too. We don’t try to put much hope into it, though. We make sure that the show isn’t just our experience. Who ever wants to come on the ride is welcome. We’re all out there, together, doing it live.
Do you feel like the live shows are more representative of the essential YOB experience than what comes out in the studio?
Yeah. The recording process is a best case scenario. It’ really the capturing of a song. It’s the best the band has at a particular moment in time, a concerted effort. That is something that is really potent. But the songs start to evolve after the recording. When I really start to listen to it live—sometimes for the first time because in the studio you feel like you’re hearing it but not really hearing it—you start hearing what it could be, where it could go. When we play the song “Ablaze” 30 days in a row, it evolves, depending on the environment, how the crowd interacts with the song. That sort of growth makes our older catalogue better too.
Your new work speaks subtly and plaintively to personal experience. What sorts of outside influences inform your work lately?
I think that the influences I would say are the most profound to me really are things that move me; speaking musically that would be: Neurosis, watching old footage of Roberta Flack or Joni Mitchell, going to the symphony and seeing a particularly powerful rendition of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony. The reasons why those things inspire me, the reason they matter is because they are authentic, special. Certainly each artist that influences me has their own albums, books, movies, compositions, upbringing, cultural circumstances, that go into their expression. But they take those aspects and make them into a new, singular expression, so in effect, they are saying something that nobody else could. Nobody can say it the way Bob Dylan does or Leonard Cohen or Rilke did.
What are you trying to bring forth from all that diversity of experience and influence?
I’m trying to be my own artist, for myself, to find something new and undiscovered. It’s not about trying to fit in or be cool or anything like that. Within those things, there’s a lot of anxiety and hope. Those ideas paint the music I make with YOB.