Stay Awake + An interview with Mike Scheidt
YOB frontman Mike Scheidt has been a fierce and unrelenting presence in the world of metal for many years. With Stay Awake, his debut release as a solo artist, Scheidt moves closer towards his own universal truth. In the short time since it was released, there has also been news of collaboration with a few old friends that has already built some serious anticipation. This moment has been nearly year in the making as TBR presents an interview with Mike Scheidt.
TBR: Last time we spoke, you mentioned that you were “jamming with some friends in San Francisco”. Word is that those friends included Aesop Dekker, John Cobbett and Sigrid Sheie (Hammers of Misfortune). Exciting stuff!
First of all, how did it go? Had you guys talked at all about the creative direction that you wanted to go in before getting together or was it all about getting in there and jamming?
MS: Aesop approached me about six months ago and said, “I have a proposition for you, and if you can’t do it or don’t have time…” and I simply answered “yes” before he went any further. Then he explained that John Cobbett and him were doing another band that was centered around the work that they still wanted to do in the vein of Ludicra, but with a punk flavor in some of it.
Shortly after this conversation Sigrid Sheile (of Hammers Of Misfortune, Amber Asylum) became the bassist and they started rehearsing. They have been sending me demos of their work and that gave me something to work with until we were able to have rehearsals together. The first jams went amazingly well. We had a lot of energy, and it was apparent to all of us that this was a good idea, us all working together.
TBR: How did it come together with these guys? Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with those guys, how you met?
MS: I’ve known both John and Aesop since 2002 when YOB first played with Ludicra. We were friends pretty much instantaneously. Both YOB and Middian have played with Ludicra many times, as well as Worm Ouroboros, Amber Asylum, Hammers Of Misfortune and Agalloch. So our connection of playing music, sharing the stage, has been a decade long endeavor. I am very happy that a decade after our first meeting we get to be creative together.
TBR: What sorts of concepts and ideas have inspired you individually and as a group in terms of shaping the trailhead for the musical direction and aesthetic (assuming you’ve thought that far about it)? Has anyone written any lyrics and if so, what are they about?
MS: I don’t want to give away too much yet. It is still in a formative phase. But it is shaping up quite nicely.
TBR: Do you guys have a name for this project?
MS: Not yet. We are being careful, making sure we come up with something we all feel great about.
TBR: You mentioned earlier that you guys intend to start recording in the Fall… Can you tell us a bit more about that?
MS: We start recording in October I do believe, at Earhammer Studios in Oakland. I’ll go down to SF again in August to do some more jam sessions with them, and then maybe one more time before we record. John is such a monster in the studio, I cannot wait to see what he comes up with for guitar lines, counter-point melodies and such.
TBR: Let’s talk about your new album: You’ve just released your first solo effort – Stay Awake (Thrill Jockey) which is an acoustic album. Did this arise out of a desire to do something completely different from YOB or is it simply just a natural progression when it came to the songs that you wrote?
MS: I had a need to express some feelings that I didn’t feel YOB was a suitable outlet for. I had been working up to doing a solo album since early last year. Once I got started it took on a life of it’s own. I have learned so much from playing solo music, it has made me a much better player and performer in general. Still have a mondo amount to learn.
TBR: Can you elaborate a bit about the process of writing and recording it? Did you have anyone else join you on this or is it strictly a solo effort? (If there are any guests, would be great to get some more details…)
MS: I wrote at home with a digital recorder until I felt like the tunes were solid. From there I spent a few weekends at Witch Ape Studio with Tad Doyle. We spent a good amount of time dialing tones and then went for it. It was an amazing experience. Tad has such a great set of ears. I did all of the performance except for the piano on IN Your Light, that was performed by Stevie Floyd. She killed it.
TBR: Obviously, the drive to create and express yourself is always there, but did working with an acoustic throw your creative process off or did it all come together very naturally? Had you always played and written on the acoustic?
MS: I’ve played acoustic for most of the time I’ve been playing guitar since I was 15, and spent a number of years focusing on it. A lot of my guitar style in YOB comes from working on Merle Travis picking with my late great mentor Dick Gunn. So it wasn’t too much of a stretch, though in many ways it is much harder to record acoustic music than electric. Volume and distortion are very forgiving, even in a recording environment.
TBR: Are there any other acoustic albums or songwriters that have inspired you? If so, what about these particular artists moves you?
MS: LOTS. Angels Of Light/ Michael Gira, Neil Young, Merle Travis, Townes Van Zant, Joni Mitchell, Guy Clark, Son House, Aerial Ruin, Scott Kelly, Bob Wayne, Jay Munly, Richie Havens, Reverend Gary Davis…..the list goes on. Each of these artists are so powerful, and they each have their own voice. I hope to develop mine in this medium with time.
TBR: Personally, I think it can be fascinating to examine the relationship between one’s environment and it’s effect on their creative energy. You’ve traveled quite a bit and I imagine that also lends a different perspective… How would you describe the effect that living in Oregon or the Northwest has had on you and your creative outlook?
MS: I love the NW. It is so grounding to me. So much nature and nature minded folks. It has hustle and bustle like everywhere else, just a little kinder. The rain and trees, and the general vibe of the NW must have an effect on my songwriting. I haven’t really written songs anywhere else so I have nothing to compare it to.
TBR: Are there any other places that have come to resonate with you through your travels? What about them or your experience there makes them special?
MS: Lots of places actually.It’s less about the location and more about the people there that makes somewhere special to me. My particular friends and meeting new folks who take what would be an ordinary club or street in a city into a life-changing experience and fond remembrance. Places I cherish and always want to return to are Tilburg Holland, San Francisco, Antwerp Belgium, Amsterdam, Philly, NYC, Seattle, P-Town (only two hours away from where I live but one of my favorite places in the world) …man there are so many. I definitely don’t want to alienate anyone by not mentioning their town and the fun we have had there!
TBR: Speaking of traveling, how was your time out on the road with TOOL awhile back. Was this something that was “in the works” or did the news come out of nowhere for you? Did you know or meet any of those guys before getting the invitation?
MS: I’ve known Danny Carey for awhile through my old friend Rynne, and it was brought up once before that Tool was interested in having us open some shows. It didn’t happen that time. So when it came around again it wasn’t totally from left field, but it was a surprise all at the same time. The band treated us very well and made sure we were happy and taken care of. It was a definite high point in our life as a band.
TBR: Obviously, it was a great chance for YOB to get some exposure and reach a new audience, but I’m thinking that it’s also an interesting opportunity to exchange a lot of ideas – musical and otherwise – with some very interesting guys. For example, Danny Carey, has some incredibly deep ideas about rhythm and mysticism… Is there anything in particular about any of those guys that you’re looking forward to being around?
MS: I think what it comes down to is that Danny, for example, recognizes us as lifers – as serious artists and that we both dig deep for that art. We did not walk into the Tool shows with any sense of grandeur or feeling that we’d made it to some new level. Rather, we felt an immense responsibility to represent ourselves as we really are, keep our feet on the ground, and try to make a heart connection with the people at the shows, the people back stage. We wanted to enjoy the experience and do well at it. Keeping an open mind and learning all that we could.
TBR: Obviously, you’ve been quite busy since Yob released Atma last year. Is there any movement towards writing and recording the next record? Any new developments in Yob land?
MS: We’re doing a September tour with the excellent Norska(Aaron’s band from before he was in YOB), and then a handful of single shows. As for new material, I’ll be starting on writing some new tunes soon. I think we will be taking a little break after these shows to catch our breath and get caught up in our lives.
TBR: Realizing that you’ve already discussed some of the underlying inspiration behind Atma, from a lyrical or conceptual standpoint, I’m wondering if you’d be willing to go deeper about any particular people, concepts or written works that have provided food for thought not just as you were writing the album at that time, but perhaps more generally in life?
MS: I have found the more I talk about these sort of things, they almost lose some power and meaning in the telling, in the words themselves. Words are quite unsuitable. Not so much face to face where a meeting of minds and hearts happen, that is magic and mystery.
People who have definitely given me huge inspiration in my personal path are Sri Nisargadatta, Ramana Maharshi, Eckhart Tolle, Suzuki Roshi, Genpo Dennis Merzel, Yasutani Roshi, Philip Kapleau, HWL Poonja, Ram Dass, Alan Watts, Gangaji, Chogyam Trungpa, Lao Tzu, Chuang Zu. These writers and deep people changed my life forever and are the foundation for anything I write with YOB. I’d encourage anyone who wants to dig deeper into their mind and question their view of our world to look into some of these writers.
TBR: I can’t help veer into some guitar-nerd talk… That’s a pretty amazing custom guitar you’ve got! Monson Nomad, I believe… What can you tell us about it?
MS: I was getting frustrated with my Les Pauls. I still love LPs but I wasn’t getting the clarity in chords that I wanted. My friend’s Will Lindsay and Scott Kelly both have Monson’s so I asked them their honest opinion from thr gut how they liked those guitars and they both raved. Good enough for me, ha! So I contacted Brent and told him what I wanted. He’d been working on a new body design called The Nomad so I checked it out and LOVED it. He then proceeded to make me the best electric guitar I have ever owned. The BEST. My friend Nate Hall has a number of his guitars as well. I can’t say enough good things about Brent Monson.
TBR: Atma was well recorded altogether but you got an amazing guitar tone on this album – absolutely HUGE!! Please tell us a bit about your setup in the studio for the Atma recordings as far as amps and stuff goes. Have there been any changes or new acquisitions since that time?
MS: I have two Marshall Superlead clones made by my friend Steve Chamberlain here in Eugene that absolutely rule my world. Those and Emperor 4×12’s loaded with Eminence Man-O-War speakers. They rule so hard. Those amps with my Monsons. The distortion I used is made by Subdecay and it’s called The F-Bomb. They don’t make them anymore, and it has a huge almost-exploding tone that really worked for those songs.
TBR: The cover art for Atma was done by Stevie Floyd of Dark Castle Rob Shaffer has played drums from time to time with Yob. Can you talk a bit further about your relationship with them?
MS: Stevie Floyd is a stunning artist, period. Her tattoo work, her album art, her music. She painted the album cover for us in like 3 days in a time crunch. And it was PERFECT. The moment I heard Dark Castle I was a fan, immediately. We forged an amazing comaraderie with them that evolved into a full US and European tour. Travis Foster, our permanent drummer, couldn’t go on these trips so Rob Shaffer stepped up to the challenge of playing with YOB and Dark Castle. 150 sets for him total in 3 months. He is a warrior. And as good of a drummer as he is, he’s 5 times better on guitar. And pretty much 5 times better than anyone I know too ha. He’s one talented motherfucker.
TBR: Last but not least, I was very interested to learn that you are an instructor/practitioner of Krav Maga. I learned of it a few years ago when I found a video of “The Hebrew Hammer” and was greatly impressed by the technique! How did you come to it as a fighting style? Recognizing that there are other forms that are also worthy of respect, what makes Krav Maga special to you?
MS: Krav Maga was born on the battlefield in modern times. It is a system meant to end conflict quickly either verbally, or physically as a last resort and then to get to safety. There is no “art” in it, it’s all martial. It uses principles instead of katas or sequences of movements, and it’s very pragmatic. Nothing fancy. Just smart and brutal. There are a few really good modern self-defense systems out there. Krav Maga is one of them.
The best thing is that Krav is willing to learn and change their system to meet new challenges in the world, so it is never stale or rigid. And people out there in the armed forces, special forces, people in harms way every day, use these techniques to survive in 2012. It deals with knife, gun, stick, multiple attackers, riot situations, war time situations, close quarter combat, ground, stand-up… and training from the worst case scenario. They use recognition, fatigue, stress, loss of limb, eyesight deprivation drills all as a means to be ready for real situations, not just ones in the gym.
I have ultimate respect for any one who trains in any style of martial art and tries to improve themselves and their community. My opinion is that if what you know gets you home safely, it’s 100% valid.
TBR: There is certainly a “knucklehead” element attached to the emergence of MMA into the public consciousness but as someone who practices martial arts, are you at all interested in watching it or any other sort of competitive prize-fighting?
MS: I definitely enjoy watching boxing and MMA. The knucklehead part is a mixed bag. I think to fight in those arenas you have to have a certtain amount of bravado to fight other very skilled people. You have to believe you will win. It’s no different than Krav, the difference being you have to survive, whether you’ve been shot, stabbed, are fighting for you life… You have to be determined to survive, and know you can, or else you roll over and die.
As far as the macho MMA knuckheads who always having something to prove, that’s a mental battle, not a physcial one. I find that as long as I don’t resonate with someone who wants to fight anyone and anything, I don’t have to get involved in their personal battle with the world.
I’ve trained with some very famous people, and some extremely lethal ones, special forces Israeli bonafide killers. Those dudes know when to turn it off, and when to turn it on. They have mastered that in themselves. When they flip that switch to “on”, no one wants to be on the receiving end of that. Guys that always have something to prove are folks I try to steer clear of.
TBR: Well said, Mike. As the popularity of the sport evolves, I hope that people will grow to understand these things.
I hope you’ll abide a silly question, in the spirit of good-natured, knuckleheadism: You were just in Frisco awhile back… Have you ever crossed paths with Eugene Robinson? Who would win in an exhibition match?
MS: I love the spirit of true gentlemanly competition. However, I do not go there myself much anymore. I have a number of broken bones mostly healed, knocked people out, have been knocked out, and it ends up fucking up my ability to raise my kids, work, play guitar(I’m only one finger away from not being able to play guitar at any time). I leave the compettion to those who are driven for it. I train still, and love to train with fighters as they keep me honest. I have never met Eugene, but I have read his book and can see that he is the real deal. A scholar and a gentleman. Rather than compete with him, I would prefer to learn from him.
TBR: Any final thoughts before parting ways?
MS: I want to thank you for taking the time to interview me and thank everyone who has supported YOB, my solo music, and my path in anyway. The list is too large to even begin to compose. I am the culmination of all the teaching, love and support that has been given to me by my fellow man and as such I am eternally grateful.
TBR: Thank you for your time and generosity in doing this interview. …and, needless to say, for all of the amazing, kick-ass music you’ve given us through the years.
Stay Awake is OUT NOW on Thrill Jockey
Thanks and praise to:
Special thanks to Jana Miller for her help in making this happen.