Mike Scheidt is a cosmic dude and he has some pretty fascinating views about the nature of reality as well as what doom metal means in a larger context. In an in depth interview we get to see Scheidy at his absolute finest, shooting the shit about what he loves.
So Mike, how have you been?
Mike: I’ve been good. This has been a really good tour. I’ve been fighting a little bit of a bug the last few days. Tour AIDS more or less. A couple of sets have been hard to get through but our spirits are high and we’re having a good time.
Now that you’re latest record was #1 in Rolling Stone what are you going to do?
Mike: We’re just going to do whatever seems like the best thing to do next. It’s so far out of anything that we could have been ambitious towards especially because we were not very ambitious to begin with. It kind of feels like achievements but it also feels like a phenomenon, it’s just things that are happening to us. It’s an honor, a privilege and definitely a surprise but at the end of the day we just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing that has enabled things like that to happen and not deviating so much as to let it affect us overtly.
In the past few years doom has kind of taken off, how has that been for you? Is that a trend or is it here to stay?
Mike: That’s hard to say. I think that as to whether or not it’s a trend depends on who you talk to. A lot of them were concurrent with the music’s evolution. Like with grind, the genre hadn’t been around for thirty years before people found out about it. It was the same with death and black metal it was concurrent with the popularity.
Doom though has been around for a long time and then all of a sudden there are a lot of people who are into it. So you have this new crop of people who are really excited about it but also this group of people who have been at it for decades. Like, how long has Wino been doing it? They’ve been doing what they wanted to do for years without a lot of recognition. Now that it’s come around it’s a very complex interesting thing and the people that have been moved to write this music all along have been benefiting from it, and people respect the history of the genre. So people who deserve respect are getting it and there is a new crew who are really excited too. What’s that’s enabled for a lot of the happening bands has been bigger shows, being able to do more, and maybe tackling festivals they couldn’t have gotten before. People have benefited across the board and the excitement around it is really about the music more than anything else.
I’ve been playing doom riffs for twenty five years. It may be a trend for some people but it’s not for me. As far as it growing, I don’t see any real negative aspects. There’s pet peevey irritable chatroom stuff but that stuff doesn’t feel very real to me.
Part of what pulled me towards doom, especially being a younger guy, other genres seems to have waves of bullshit and doom is fairly down to earth, why do you think that is?
Mike: The people that have been playing this music for a long time did so without a lot of support. The scene support was small, we all agreed on certain things, like our love of Black Sabbath and Pentagram. I pretty much grew up on hardcore, death metal and black metal, so I’m used to high speed music. When you have an incredible quality of musicianship you can hide that you don’t have good songs.
I think with doom metal the riff is so bare and what’s being expressed is so bare if there’s no real emotional content to it, whether it be dark and ugly, or ascended but hopeless yet trying to climb out of it… like Obsessed, St. Vitus, and Pentagram had. It was trying to reach for something. You have to really mean it otherwise it becomes very boring very quickly. The expression is what makes it so vital, you can’t hide behind the technicality of it, you can only really feel it. So you can tell when it’s not there. It’s something that you can’t touch or taste.
I think that level of sincerity, especially when it’s been around for so long, someone who just discovers the genre gets to discover a wealth of music. All of these bands like Electric Wizard, Pentagram, and the Melvins of course, it’s all music that was made even though there was no hope in it. There was no ladder to climb. It was all seen as pretty hard to reach, the opportunities we tried to compete for and stuff like that.
Do you think that as the scene gets bigger we could get that kind of competition?
Mike: Sure. It’s kind of inevitable in a way. At the end of the day there’s such a history laid down already that it’s always going to be compared to the best. There’s going to be a lot of style over substance and when people are comparing it to other stuff it will fail. If your shits really there you don’t have to do that.
I just had this weird epiphany… Black Sabbath played to 300,000 people so now the bar is set so high you can’t compete.
Mike: Exactly, there’s a God. There’s no touching that. That’s where certain bands can be really interesting because they can take the fragrance and infuse so much into it. It’s not uncommon for a lot of people into doom started out not just into doom but also classic rock, Death, Napalm Death, Wipers, all these different backgrounds. You can see how it gets infused into different styles like Southern Sludge or bands who bring in death metal, or blackened doom or even that Black Flag style angst. It’s the classic metal thing of borrowing from everything and yet somehow remaining pure.
Building on that… are you saying doom is sort of the fundamental undercurrent that underlies all metal?
Mike: It’s almost like death metal in the way it can be traced back through time. Like, you have punk that impacted it, but also Mozart. The music is written in movements, much like in death metal. There are a lot of intersecting parts and parallels. Yet it all funnels through Black Sabbath. I don’t think there’s many styles of metal that can say they’re not influenced by Black Sabbath, and if they do say that it’s because they are younger and they are influenced by more modern bands who link back to Sabbath. There’s a history they might not be aware of.
That kind of purity started every scene and there’s always bands that keep it pure, in every era. There are still bands that are current and embody why we loved it in the first place. It’s not just doom. It’s just that doom is having its moment.
Tied into the idea of Mozart and classical music, what I’ve always admired about Yob is that your records feel kind of like a symphony in that they work as a whole cohesive work of art.
Mike: My goal is to have each song be its own universe that contributes to the whole of the record. There’s a flow in the art. Maybe I’m too close to it and my view is diluted, which is entirely possible, but in my mind, In Our Blood, the first song on the new record, does not sound like Nothing to Win. Then the minor tinged weirdness of Unmask the Specter which doesn’t sound like either of those songs comes up, but there is a thread there. Then you go to Marrow which also doesn’t sound like any of those songs and has a very different approach but it also has that thread.
If you listen to every song you’re not going to hear any recycled riffs though. My goal for each album is to have a common thread, a common vibration, an atmosphere and a taste that is the album, that is cohesive but has individual songs. I’m not saying I’m getting that, but I try. If you look at Killers, Number of the Beast, A Piece of Mind, and Powerslave, they’re all Maiden but they’re all different. They all have that common thread though.
So how do you go about getting that thread?
Mike: I just have to wait until it feels real. I’m not just writing a bunch of songs and seeing what sticks. For me I agonize over what I feel will be the first song of an album because I’m looking for the one that will kick the doors down. That can take a long time and it can take up to two years before I feel I have that. Once I have that though the rest of the album kind of falls into place. I can take two years writing what is the worthy next song. I may have other things in the works but when the moment comes and the sky cracks open and that thing happens then the other songs will write themselves in a few months. It’s kind of like an avalanche.
Do you feel that the other songs kind of grow organically from that one song?
Mike: Well I won’t rush them. This album started out being much faster. In Our Blood was originally going to be a much faster song. I would keep working at it and one day I got really frustrated and I played it like five times slower than what I normally was playing it at and there it was. When I get out of the way the thing that happens, happens. There were things about it that worked but once I found the right pace it was all the right riffs and arrangements and everything. Once I ended up slowing it down the song went from 7-8 minutes to 17-18 minutes.
What kind of got you playing slower music?
Mike: I was lucky. When I was a kid right around the same year of time when I started to get into more interesting music…not just the stuff on the radio, which was awesome though. Pop music was stuff like Neil Young, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. In the same chunk of time I discovered Judas Priest, Metallica, Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedy’s all that stuff. There was a wealth of music that hit me like a ton of bricks.
Sabbath was very much the beginning of my development. When I was about 15 Metal Massacre 6 came out. That had a bunch of really great speed metal bands but also The Obsessed were on there and it was right around that time that the first Trouble and Candlemass records came out. I was kind of familiar with this music but I was still into really fast shit. I was a big Napalm Death fan so when I found out Lee Dorian had a new band and it was Cathedral. When I first heard it I didn’t get it because it wasn’t Black Sabbath and it wasn’t death metal. It was the first modern doom metal where the metal was really in it. It was a lot more morose, dark and f*cked up than even some of the Sabbath was. Then I went and saw Napalm Death with Brutal Truth, Carcass and Cathedral and it was right when Cathedral was playing Soul Sacrifice. I was standing in the back of the room and couldn’t care but then about 5 minutes in I went from the back of the room to the front of the stage. The power overwhelmed me. I had never seen anything that heavy and huge and Lee Dorians vocals….They were a five piece then and it was just a very primal huge thing.
Then I discovered Holy Mountain and joined the Cathedral fan club and they sent me an Electric Wizard/Haunted Kingdom split and Haunted Kingdom were Orange Goblin before Orange Goblin. It’s then that I heard of bands like Pentagram too and it snowballed from there. That ’92 I was 21-22 years old.
Your hands have tattoos that say “Stay Awake” is that tied into the motif on the new record “Time To Wake Up”
Mike: In a way it is. In Eastern mysticism there’s that theme of when people are asleep and lost in their heads. It’s about people who are out of control or buying into reality all of the way and don’t question it. They take about the awakening where you awake out of your mind stuff and you realize that maybe there’s a lot more going on than what we’ve been taught and our creations. Stay awake to me helps kind of remind me when I’m getting lost in my shit. But also when I’m driving and feeling kind of funky it’s a nice reminder. It’s really for me, it’s not for anybody else.
Can you tell me about your interest in Eastern mysticism?
Mike: It was probably in 1990 maybe when I first started getting into it. I’ve kind of fought manic depression my whole life and in one really bad spot I said to myself “I need some philosophy” and I ran into this book store and there was a free bin and there was a book that was called something like What Is Philosophy and it was kind of a summary of all philosophy. It kind of blew my mind and started me on the past.
I know that other doom metal musicians are into that. What got you into that?
Mike: It wasn’t musically based for me, even though when I was past that, that was generally where I had written from. I think that music has the ability to take people into non—ordinary realities. It takes us out of time and space for a while. It takes us out of our conditioning. It can make us forget for a while what our lives where beyond the moments that we kind of got lost in. Space can open up and for whatever reason sometimes information can come in. I don’t know how it works but music helps allow you to let new stuff flow in. For me, this is just an opinion, but when I listen to the monks doing polytonal chanting and I hit my guitar in A standard with distortion there’s definitely some similarities.
Would you argue that music is in some ways a form of astral projection?
Mike: There’s probably different ways to say a lot of the same thing. There’s the literal kind of idea that you physically leave your body but there’s the silver thread that somehow connects you there. There’s also the idea that maybe you expand beyond your body or rather that yourself gets felt as bigger than your body and all of the sudden now you’re a part of the room and the sound waves coming off of the stage. It’s no longer just rooted in your body sensations, it’s expanded out. There’s a gigantic quality to that and that’s bigger than your body. It’s maybe not quite so literal as leaving your body and flying around. I don’t think it’s unique to doom though.
I want you to finish this sentence for me “I’ve never told this story before and probably shouldn’t but…”
Mike: When I first started Yob I had really young kids and was trying to find musicians but couldn’t. I brought on a buddy of mine who was a high school metal drummer and I spent three weeks trying to get him to slow down and then we recorded our first demo. I’ve never looked like I belonged to a certain genre, I always just had long hair and band shirts, but there was a period of time where in a weird phase I wore a lot of Hawaiian shirts and pub caps and was much more overweight than I am now. The first Yob shows I would wear khakis, a pub cap and a Hawaiian shirt and when people saw me at my gear they would be so confused and alienated they would be like ‘what are you even doing’. I’m a world class socially awkward dude, I’ve always been like this though. Even when I was 15 I had the long hair and band shirts. I had a really awkward beginning in this scene and it was hard playing with a lot of the old school bands that really almost couldn’t be around me because I was so weird…
We touched on this before but what do you love so much about music?
Mike: It was the first thing that allowed me to feel empowered. Before I was a musician I was painfully awkward, on the autism spectrum, fat tortured kid. When I started playing music and had a kind of aptitude for it, it was the first time in my life that my folks saw something in me. Before then they were trying to get me to get out more and fight guys who picked on me. They wanted to toughen me up and with music it was the first time that I had people starting to respect me or pushing me around. It was a time when bullying and getting your ass kicked didn’t really have an intervention, it just happened. It was more than that, it didn’t just loosen the pressure on me it also made me start to believe in myself which was a first. I started to feel like I had something to offer and it made me feel good about myself. From there I think music has been a continuing journey on self exploration and connection. Fast forwarding all these years later, I haven’t met all my heroes but I’ve met a surprising number of them and in some cases even have their respect and music gave that to me. It’s something I’ve been able to give as well. Being able to share music with my children too is awesome. The passion that goes into music and seeing people pouring their hearts out… it’s hard not to be attracted to that.
Final words of wisdom?
Mike: I only know what is working for me and what’s working for me is trying to breathe deep, give some space to everything and be careful with the cyber world because there’s a crazy kind of overly irritable angsty trip on chat rooms and Facebook and a lot of things that are meant to be good but are building towards crazy intolerance. Some of it’s good and some of it just feels like people venting and now everyone in the world has a soapbox they can stand on with their keyboards. I’m trying to breathe some space into it and now we might be able to understand our nature better. There used to be a time where we didn’t know what people were thinking unless they said it and maybe we were a little more careful with what they said and they maybe thought about it more. Now you can call people out from thousands of miles away with no real repercussions. This is starting to feel like a ramble but part of what attracts me to mysticism is how I get a sense of a sensory overload and I like stuff that breathes not just space but a sensory knowledge. My reactions to it don’t have to meet it. Having choices instead of just reactions is important. That’s where I’m at a lot lately, that may not be wisdom for anybody else but it’s what I’m trying to be right now.