Doomed for Success: Mike Scheidt Lives the Unreal After YOB’s Great Cessation

Posted on September 7, 2011

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From left to right: Aaron Reiseberg (bass), Mike Scheidt (guitar/vocals), Travis Foster (drums)

 

Dateline: Eugene, Ore., May 2008

Mike Scheidt sits in the Glenwood Café a block from the University of Oregon campus, calmly eating a bagel spread with the restaurant’s homemade jam and periodically taking sips from a mug of pitch black coffee. His easy demeanor and laconic speech lighten the gravity of the struggle he’s detailing.

Mere months after disbanding legendary doom trio YOB in late 2005, Scheidt formed another act in the same vein, which he christened Middian. By the summer of 2007, the band had signed to YOB’s old home, Metal Blade, and released an extremely promising debut, Age Eternal. Praised by the metal media and requested to tour around the planet by fans (though never allowed to play overseas by Metal Blade’s near-refusal to acknowledge they even existed among a roster of bigger, more accessible acts), Middian quickly earned the kind if respect in the underground most bands would trade their vintage Sunn amps for. Scheidt’s status as a bona fide doom metal icon surely didn’t hurt, either.

It was by this hype that Middian drew the attention of an outfit from Milwaukee, called Midian. Out of the addition of one miniscule consonant, the little known act filed a lawsuit against Scheidt and Co. for the theft of their name, despite the band’s lack of any concrete fan base or notoriety outside of their city. Indeed, Scheidt would come to discover that Midian hadn’t even used their trademark in years, typically rendering the entire case a non-issue. When Scheidt (who lacked the funds to fight the suit) offered to simply change his band’s name, Midian refused the peace offering and demanded large sums of money as compensation. In response to the bad press and financial strain, Metal Blade dropped Middian, resulting in their album being pulled from shelves and effectively leaving them in music industry purgatory. With no label to support him and his bandmates with legal assistance, Scheidt reached out to the metal community by launching the Middian Defense Fund. Emails were sent, money was donated and a mixture of sympathy, frustration and outright anger poured in from fans who couldn’t believe something so unjust was happening to such an honest artist. Just how dire was the situation that humid spring day? Scheidt couldn’t even name his own band on the record without legal repercussion.

 

Eugene, Ore., May 3, 2009

Mike Scheidt stands before a tower of amps, grimacing as he throttles his Gibson Les Paul. It is not pain or hatred that posses him, but the Power of the Almighty Riff. Splintered crags of doom pour from his twin stacks and rumble along the floor and ceiling of the Oak Street Speakeasy. It’s official: YOB is back. And they’re pissed.

In between shouts of “Holy shit!” from the awestruck crowd, Scheidt thanks the beer swilling, head nodding contingent for attending his new-old band’s second reunion show. Middian is dead, the resulting fallout having effectively split the band, with bassist Will Lindsay moving to Olympia, Wash. to join Wolves in the Throne Room and drummer Scott Headrick heading to Idaho for a career outside of music. In the summer of 2008, former YOB drummer Travis Foster contacted the bandless Scheidt about the possibility of reforming YOB. As the underground metal community clutched its collective invisible oranges in anticipation, the band recruited bassist Aaron Reiseberg, signed to white hot Canadian über label Profound Lore, and recorded their most primal slab of doom yet. Clearly inspired by a traumatic experience in the cruel world of music industry sheistery, the not-so-subtly-titled The Great Cessation pretty much slayed everyone in attendance at the choice shows during which the material debuted. The album’s mid-July release kick started a chain reaction that saw YOB reach a level of notoriety that had eluded them in their first incarnation. Nice guys may finish last in the square world, but in the realm of metal, their bands make year-end lists in touted metal publications and are featured in NPR and The New York-fucking-Times.

 

Eugene, Ore., August 16, 2011

Mike Scheidt grabs some much deserved R&R at home after a six-week tour that took YOB across more than 20 states and even into Canada. Since Foster couldn’t make the journey due to family commitments, Rob Shaffer, the drummer for YOB’s tourmates Dark Castle, pulled double duty on every date. Scheidt audibly shakes his head in amazement over the phone from the Euge to Sacramento. “We had played with Dark Castle a couple times and were really impressed with Rob and we decided to ask him if he would be interested and he worked his ass off and made it happen,” he says. “He just mentally made a decision that he would do it and he did it. It was incredible.”

As if one massive tour wasn’t enough, the two bands are headed out again, this time to Europe, for a somewhat shorter but still ambitious jaunt. If he survives, Shaffer will likely be able to arm wrassle the entire lineup in the World’s Strongest Man competition. He’ll probably need the money to buy a new kit after all the abuse he’ll have subjected it to, anyway.

And what inspired this superhuman feat of doom percussion? YOB’s sixth album, Atma, drops the day of this interview, and what a searing ball of molten lead it is. The Great Cessation, as massive and miles-deep as it was, saw YOB sounding like YOB: ever stretching, plowing the trenches and cracking the sky in equal measure, with Scheidt’s much worshipped tone bathing every corner of the recording in stupefyingly heavy, yet clear, frequency. It was a comeback album, a much needed catharsis after going through hell and back. But Atma; there’s something different about this beast, and it starts back home at Dogwood Studios.

“I think the predictable thing would be to try to get that bigger production and that next bigger or cleaner sound,” says Scheidt. “We just wanted to do something punk rock. True to where we come from. Back when Electric Wizard would cough up a record out of their lungs and you get Come My Fanatics…, which is this nasty sounding album that crawls across the floor like a frog with a broken leg. It’s just all mangled but it’s still moving and it’s just very fucked up. And that’s that record that we wanted this time around.”

Which is what they got. Advanced reaction to Atma’s grittier sound has ranged from, “The guitars sound like they were recorded with the microphone outside of the booth” to, “This sounds like Pet Sounds and it’s awesome.” Scheidt welcomes the comparison to Beach Boys mad genius Brian Wilson and his rock masterpiece. “It has that dense, kind of mono feel because there’s just so much there,” he enthuses. “And I think that’s very much what we were after. Something where repeated listens will yield everything that’s there.”

This time around, “everything” is much more than the stray solo, bass run or dollop of Moog synth, such as was on The Great Cessation (courtesy of that album’s producer, Sanford Parker). On Atma, YOB went from testing the waters of audio experimentation to diving in head first, learning as they went. The trio spent two days of trial and error, sampling everything from metal mainstays like rain and church bells, to frogs, an ancient Rhodes piano, a dying organ and, um…an electric massager? “It’s a rack mount thing and it’s meant to be run over someone’s body,” says Scheidt, laughing. “And by itself it emits a noise, and Travis kind of tweaked it out so you can use it like a Theramin.”

So basically a device that was once used to ease people’s pains is now aiding one of the heaviest bands on the planet to craft their most raw, unsettling album yet. Ironic, no? The most talked about contribution to Atma, however, isn’t mechanical, but organic. For the first time in YOB’s 12-year history, an outsider makes a guest appearance, in the form of kindred spirit Scott Kelly. Uh huh, that Scott Kelly; the bellowing voice behind Neurosis, a band so heavy they “suck light,” states Scheidt, emphatically. “He did some vocals on ‘Before We Dreamed of Two’ and he did percussion on ‘A Drift in the Ocean,’” says Scheidt. “Anytime there are exposed toms, that’s him.”

But you’d be surprised as to which contribution Mr. Times of Grace wasn’t sure about. “We talked a little bit about doing some vocals, and he was kind of in the middle on it,” offers Scheidt. “But then in the moment in the studio we kind of figured out a way to get some vocals going. And he sat down and wrote his part in 15 minutes and got up there and made it happen.”

Aside from messing around with various found sounds and manipulated instruments and inviting a certified underground legend to make a cameo, the writing process for Atma was pretty much YOB doing what YOB does best; that is, crafting killer riffs and a tangible atmosphere like it’s going out of style. Without jamming. So how the hell does one write an altar-burning basher like opener “Prepare the Ground”? The mental tyrant himself explains: “I come up with a number of arrangements and I bring that to practice, and Aaron and Travis and I will test these ideas and we’ll determine what sticks and what doesn’t stick. And if it’s something that we can pick up on right away and have a killer time playing, then I know it’s worth exploring. If I bring something to practice that one of them doesn’t feel or that the band has to work too hard on then it either gets put on the backburner for some simmering or it just gets thrown out altogether.”

Mmm, simmering doom. Sounds delectable. Scheidt and his bandmates are the most efficient kind of riff cooks, because when the ingredients don’t taste right, they simply move to what whets their appetite. “I feel like good ideas shouldn’t take a lot of work to come together,” says Scheidt. “It should just be an effortless flow. Not to say we don’t work hard on songs, but as far as working hard to making something gel, if it doesn’t gel right away it’s not going to happen.”

Taking the “take it as it comes” approach to heart is what brought YOB to the pinnacle of the extreme metal scene and beyond, so it’s a no brainer Scheidt’s sticking to it. “I would have ever guessed that things would be the way they are,” he reveals about not just his last three eventful years, but metal’s progress as a whole. “To be well known in underground music and to have your music out there, it’s very artistically satisfying, which is the most important thing for me. It’s a trip that there’s more attention to the underground than ever before. I still feel like the underground is a place where peers are coming together to share music with each other. As far as it being anything bigger than that, to me it’s a lot of smoke and mirrors.”

But what about the press? The glowing reviews from nationally syndicated newspapers and media outlets whose main consumers are bespectacled stockbrokers and uptight suits in Anytown, USA? “I really take it as, ‘One guy at The New York Times really dug us and wrote a great review, and that’s amazing. One person at NPR got the go ahead to write a feature on us, and that’s amazing,’” says Scheidt. “But it doesn’t go beyond that. It’s just a rad, wonderful thing. I think people think that we’re bigger than we are.

“When bands quit, for whatever reason, it makes people pay attention,” he continues. “People discover these bands and they learn more about them in their absence. And then the band comes back and all of a sudden there’s this whole group of people.” And if said yuppies and junior execs show up to YOB gigs in their button downs, it doesn’t sound like Scheidt would be too surprised. “Metal is starting to be considered as an art form in the general populous, not just in our own group where we’re trying to convince other people, like, ‘Oh, look, this is actually progressive music.’ It’s starting to be widely accepted. I’ve been playing and listening to heavy metal since I was a kid, like 1981, and it was very, very uncool until recently, so, who woulda thunk it?”

The quantum mystic is prescient, but he can’t foresee the future, whether it’s metal’s rise and collapse in its expanding audience’s consciousness, or his own band’s ride on the cosmic roller coaster. All Scheidt’s looking forward to is what’s right around the corner. “Right now our energy is focused on making the European tour as great as possible,” he says.

And after that? “After that, I have no idea,” says Scheidt. “We look at what’s ahead of us and we just go. We just try to live decent lives and try to pour what we got into the music then we just go where the opportunities seem most suited to us. We don’t want to let ambition or our goals separate us from what’s actually real. And we don’t want to get into the situation where we’re competing. It’s not a piece of the business that we’re interested in.”

Maybe there’s more to a July 10th Twitter post from Profound Lore comparing Scheidt to a metal John Lennon than just friendly ribbing from a label about one of its musicians’ hirsute appearance and teashade glasses.

Imagine all the people, raising the horns to doom…

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Posted in: Features