Since their inception in 1996, YOB has amassed seven full lengths, a pair of live albums, a spot on a label showcase and traveled the globe touring. During that time they split up for three years only to get back together stronger and surprisingly more focused than ever. Their sound transcends the doom genre they are closely identified with and each album is an intense spiritual journey that begs repeat listens to fully sink in. There’s a special quality to their output that pushes it to the forefront amongst their contemporaries.
YOB are currently touring but just before this tour kicked off Mike Scheidt was kind enough to speak with me and answer a few questions as well as being extremely gracious with his time, as you will see in some of his answers. Here’s how it went down…
Clearing The Path To Ascend has been out just over a year now and you guys have been a touring machine. How has the reception been outside of the US?
Killer, better than we could hope for really. It’s been really well received and some people have been really passionate about it. We feel really lucky.
Speaking of touring, we are fast approaching one with Black Cobra who have been fairly quiet for awhile. How did this bill come about?
We’ve been friends with Jason (Landrian) and Rafael (Martinez) for a long time and have played with Black Cobra since they were just a beginning band. Which is a long time ago, I’m going to say maybe 2004 or 2003. So we’ve been talking with them this whole time about how it would be awesome to do a tour someday and finally we were able to make it happen. We’re big fans of them and we’re feeling pretty stoked they can come with us.
Then there’s the one-off date with COC, looking forward to this one?
Oh yeah, we’ve played with Corrosion of Conformity a few times, never with Pepper though. It’s always been a three piece. I grew up with COC particularly Eye for An Eye, Six Songs With Mike Singing, Animosity and Technocracy. Animosity in particular, when I was in high school that record was like a lifeline for me where I was from. It really was a very important album, so any time we get to play with them we feel pretty lucky. We’ve played with Brant Bjork a couple times too and he’s a great dude and great songwriter. It’s just going to be a hell of a show.
As someone who has experienced YOB in the live setting, one of my biggest takeaways was that it feels like you guys come all that way to play that one moment in time and really put all you have into the entire set instead of just showing up to another show, playing and leaving. Do you feel this is a byproduct of the music or is this simply how you approach every show?
That’s how we approach every show and I think the nature of the music too, we write music for a lot of different reasons and part of it is to be able to have a great time and enjoy ourselves. We love the style of music we play and put a lot into it so it’s fun to share the stage with bands that we also love and new bands we’ve never heard. To be able to play for people that are there to see us or maybe are seeing us for the first time, you really want to give it everything you have. There’s also a piece in the music that’s extremely personal and it comes from places of trying to be good with ourselves and good with the world and work on things, express emotions that need to come out so the music is a sort of hammer and anvil. When we’re out in front of people too, it seems—particularly so—that we have to really strike true for ourselves and really put ourselves out there for everybody that decided to show up.
I know it had to be a high point seeing Clearing The Path To Ascend resonate with so many and end up being one of the big highlights of 2014. I have to assume from your perspective, you make the music for you first and if others like it that’s the icing on the cake but how did you guys feel after all the positivity from the album?
It’s overwhelming for sure, really overwhelming. It’s weird for a thing to be so in our faces and yet seem so abstract at the same time because it doesn’t seem real. But we know it is, we’ve toured a lot and talked to a lot of people directly, person to person, handshake to handshake and it definitely is very real. We don’t take it for granted for a minute and we’ve felt very charmed and very fortunate.
Let’s hit on “Marrow” for a moment, it is such an emotional song and people’s reactions differ to it, of course, but resoundingly it has an effect, whether emotional or spiritual. At this point it’s no secret you were in a rough place during the writing of the album but it has an uplifting tone the deeper in it goes. Was this track a sort of cathartic cleansing for you or something else entirely?
I think the arc of the songs preceding it on the record had some of that uplifting quality but there’s also a maelstrom of heaviness and emotion too and was kind of a digging deeper and getting more into the dirt of things. It felt to me, as I was writing it, if I was going to go that deep into the pit I wanted there to also be a lifeline that led back out and that was part of the process or arc of energy that ended up being somewhere positive, hopeful and somewhere that had a bigger picture to all those feelings and emotions. “Marrow” almost wrote itself. The other three songs I’d been working on for awhile and “Marrow” was the one that really started making itself known during the writing process of the other three and it was definitely meant to be everything you said.
No doubt there is an arc to this album, as you mentioned…
Always with each album we want that but this one has it maybe even more so than the others.
Throughout your discography each album has a different tone to it, whether subtle like the difference from Catharsis to The Unreal Never Lived or blatant as with Atma to Clearing The Path To Ascend. Is this intentional or do you let the lyrical themes and compositions dictate the tone?
When I start getting into a place where I think I’m ready to start writing—speaking for my part of the writing process—I just end up picking up my guitar a lot and playing a lot and I’ll come up with riffs and various ideas, try new scales or different approaches but that stuff is like the fishing rod—trying out different tackle and bait—the goal isn’t how great is my fishing rod or how great is my tackle or how good is my cast, it’s really, where I land when I do all that stuff right. That’s the goal, it’s good to be out there and good to be in the process but that doesn’t mean I’m going to be bringing home something that people want to eat. Really it’s about getting that vibe. When the vibe happens and the flavor of what an album will be when it starts presenting itself and what will end up becoming the first song that’s written for the album, then all the other songs for the album almost write themselves at that point. It’s just a matter of landing that first feel and it has to be unique and has to have a unique flavor to it, otherwise we are rehashing and we can’t do that.
Clearing The Path, as a whole, completely envelops the listener, even more so on successive spins. With that said, each release always comes with high expectations but how, in your opinion, do you consistently manage to rise above these expectations and create a new ‘experience’ each time out?
I’m not very objective on that. I struggle listening to recorded works that I do because I’m just a really hard critic like lots and lots of artists are on their own work. I know that I’m getting harder and harder to satisfy myself, so I’ll spend a lot of time writing and working on things. Less and less things make the cut all the time. I’m just always searching for something that feels new to me and new for me. It may not be new for other people but it has to feel like something I can throw myself into all the way and if I don’t have that sense then it really just doesn’t work. I think that’s why all of our records have been consistent, we’re willing to really jump back in as if we didn’t write the other albums. Obviously we did and we are building on that momentum because you learn every time you go through that process of writing, recording and touring and you take all those lessons with you. That learning can’t ever stop or else things get stale and you start rehashing things. Sometimes though, your fans want you to. Anytime any of the real big bands step out of their character you’ll have a big faction of people that aren’t happy about it because sometimes people do like to hear the same things over and over again but they also want it to be vital and fresh and it gets tricky. I understand that you know, I’m a fan as well. When Celtic Frost did Cold Lake that was a hard one to swallow. But, it’s a band following their bliss and doing what they want to do. We try to balance all that the best we can where we are writing things that feel really vital and important to us but that also maintain a theme and maintain what we feel like we’re about. Sometimes that’s led us to do things that are like Marrow, we’ve had moments in songs that have hinted at that but we’ve never had a song go as far as that one has. That to us is part of our evolution.
Three years have elapsed between your last two releases and YOB has never seemed like a band to release an album out of necessity. I’m interested in what signifies, to you, that it’s time to start thinking about new material or is it something that is a ‘wheels are always turning’ kind of thing?
Sometimes when I start the writing process I’m just picking up my guitar and messing around and sometimes I just feel that inner drive for a new album. Having done it for as long as we have I don’t feel the need to just have to do it, in other words if I’m just struggling with something, there’s no race and no time limit and we’re not going to put something out there that doesn’t feel 100% to us. So however long that takes and however many paths we have to go down to realize it’s a dead end and then we’d have to turn around and start from scratch. We will do that as many times as possible. If there comes a time where we’re really not feeling what we’re writing we will walk away from it for awhile or maybe we’ll walk away from it forever, who knows. I don’t ever want to put out something that doesn’t have the life to it we’ve been lucky enough to have on other records, I’ll totally end that on a high note rather than a low one. That’s not to say that it’s for anyone else to decide what the low note is, it could be a high note for us yet not well received. If we’re not feeling it it’s not going to happen.
Neurot, at least on the surface, seems like the perfect fit for YOB. There’s a lot of kinship between you and the label, now that you’ve settled in how has it been to work with them?
It’s great. They signed us without hearing one lick of the new music so it was real neat for them to say “we like your band and want to do your next record”. That was that. To hand them our album for the first time they’ve ever heard a lick of our music and however many years we spent writing it, weeks recording it, mastering and finally handing it over—you can’t just hand over your music and be cold about it like “well here it is and hope the label likes it and gets behind it”. Handing it over to Steve Von Till and Scott Kelly definitely had a different flavor to it as far as being a real long time fan of what they do and just how important their music is. I’ve probably never been more nervous handing over a master in my life as handing it over to them. Having them be so into it, to the point where their words and kindness around it was far beyond anything we could have ever imagined in our history as a band. It was really something that we will always cherish, that time was really a magic time. They’re the same as us if not more so, they laid down the blueprint in a certain way as far as how do you write music that’s completely from your core and then not compromise in any way, shape or form. They really represent what that’s about. Passion, depth and there’s just something about Neurosis that as they say, often imitated never ever equaled…never. They occupy their own universe. Being able to have any kind of part in that process and have their support and respect is incredible.
Other than the upcoming tour, what’s in the foreseeable future for YOB?
After the tour we only have two shows booked and we’re kind of looking at 2016 with some openness to it. Like you said we’ve been really active for the last number of years and for us it’s always a balance between home life, taking care of family, being out there on the road and playing, then having enough space in between to also be able to write. Every active band struggles with all those things. We don’t ever want to overstay our welcome or play that one time too many where people start to lose interest. For us too, we don’t want to wear ourselves down to the point that we need to go home and sharpen the sticks again. It’s a balance so we’re pretty open. Not sure what is going to happen past that.
Many thanks to Mike for his time.