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YOB | The Illusion of Motion | interview | Mike Scheidt | rock | Lollipop
The Illusion of Motion (Metal Blade)
An interview with singer/guitarist Mike Scheidt
by Brian Varney
How did YOB get hooked up with Metal Blade?
We kinda knew we were leaving Abstract Sounds, and I'd made a few good connections and friendships with other labels over the years, so I started contacting them and sending out copies of The Illusion of Motion. I was talking to a few different labels fairly seriously when an email from Brian Slagel (head of Metal Blade) landed. He said he was really interested in YOB, he had Catharsis and loved it, and wanted to sign the band. We kept talking to other labels because Metal Blade hadn't done anything like us in a long time. Plus, they're big, and not that big is bad, but we weren't convinced that it would be the best place for us. But over the course of a few months, they abolished any doubts we had.
What's the deal with Abstract Sounds, anyway?
It's a good outfit. It's the same people as Candlelight. Abstract Sounds had done a few things here and there, but I think it really kicked off when Lunasound tanked and Abstract Sounds bought all of their contracts. A number of the bands were dropped, and we were one of the handful of bands that stuck around. They put out our record and definitely did some good stuff for us.
The natural tendency is to compare bands to other bands, or to try to spot influences. Normally, it's pretty easy, but YOB is one that I'm not able to do that for at all. What are some bands that made you want to do what you do now?
I was crawling around, in my most impressionable years, in the early '70s, so I was infused with Steely Dan and Zeppelin and the Doobie Brothers and Van Morrison and the early Elton John stuff. It's an era that, to me, is full of high-caliber musicianship and songcraft, even in pop music. Steely Dan was pop, for crying out loud. I think that's probably where it started, and I think that's why I'm really picky about writing quality songs and not just going for "a sound." There's a lot of doom metal, stuff that I like, that's a sound. Individual songs are not necessarily the purpose. They do have songs, but there's an overall black cloud that's most of the record. I resonate with that, but for YOB, I really want to have different-sounding songs.
What did your previous bands sound like?
I was in a band called Chemakill for a long time. Very generic-sounding name, for sure, but we did a lot of stuff. We were equal parts hardcore and speed metal, influenced by the Accused and D.R.I. and Slayer and some death metal. We played shows with Econochrist and D.O.A. and the Detonators and put out a 7" and a full-length record. Also, all of the members of YOB are in another band called HC Minds.
We did a split 7" with dot(.) last year. The band has been around for awhile. I played in HC Minds in 1995 with Isamu (Sato, current YOB bass player), but I was the bass player and he was the guitarist. I started trying to put YOB together in 1996, and Isamu and I stopped playing music together for awhile. At the exact same time, I played in a band called Dirty Sanchez, which was just a balls-out hardcore band. I was the drummer for that band.
Which instrument did you learn first?
I started playing guitar first, but for many years, I mostly played bass. I played bass in Chemakill, I played bass in HC Minds, and I played bass in this band that was mostly a cover band. We did mostly '70s covers, Stones and Mott the Hoople songs. We also had a really serious jam element, where we'd do mushrooms and jam for however long. So I've got a pretty nutty background. HC Minds is still happening. I now play drums for them, Isamu is the guitarist and vocalist, and our drummer, Travis (Foster, YOB drummer), is the bass player.
Do you guys ever trade instruments mid-show?
Every so often when YOB plays and we get an encore, sometimes people will yell for an HC Minds encore and we'll switch.
What's HC Minds sound like?
It's doom metal also, but it's different, too. It's more crusty and dirty, like Autopsy-style doom mixed with St. Vitus and Burning Witch. But there are blastbeats.
You can do blastbeats on the drums?
Yeah. It's not the best you ever heard, but it's not the worst, either.
That shit's gotta be hard to do.
It is. There are insane grind bands like Origin or Uphill Battle, bands where you just watch the drummer and think "How the fuck does he do that?" In HC Minds, we can blast for two minutes, but I know the doom's coming. YOB played with Origin on a really funny and killer bill that was Jumbo's Killcrane, Lamont, Orange Goblin, Origin, and us. It was the worst show of our tour, ironically - there were maybe fifteen or twenty people. But we were able to stand right next to the stage and watch Origin's drummer, who's only 22 or 23. Recorded, they're not my favorite death metal band, but to watch that kid do what he does, you've gotta see him. I've been listening to death metal as long as it's been called death metal, since the very beginning, and this kid is special. Watching him is like going to school.
When did you start playing drums? Did you take lessons or teach yourself?
I've only recently taken lessons, but I started playing fifteen years ago. I used to be really good friends with this band called Dirtclod Fight with two brothers, Phil and Fred. They were a huge influence on me when I was 15 or 16. They introduced me to Corrosion of Conformity and D.R.I. and Crumbsuckers and Cryptic Slaughter and Reagan Youth and Minor Threat and Black Flag, and I used to play drums with them. Here and there, they'd let me sit in and we'd do Trouble and Celtic Frost covers, so that's when I started playing drums.
You guys are from Portland, right?
We actually live in Eugene, which is about an hour and a half south. We're in Portland a lot, though.
Are there other bands and places to play in Eugene, or do you have to go to Portland for that?
We've put on some good shows in Eugene, and there've been good bands from here.
I've never even heard of the city. What size is it?
150,000 or so. It's a college town, University of Oregon, and it's a little bit of a trendy town, but it's alright. People who are familiar with Eugene are completely floored that we're from here, because it's famous for being a timewarp. There're a crapload of hippies and Deadheads here.
What do hippies think of YOB shows?
Hippies cower at our shows. They're not happy.
You could kinda pass for one, at least in terms of appearance.
Sure. When you read our lyrics, it's almost new age.
I saw you guys at Emissions (from the Monolith, a stoner and doom festival held annually in Youngstown, Ohio) and you had braids in your hair.
We're not tough as nails. We're definitely serious about our metal and doom, but we're not on the narcissist edge of it where it's gotta be all black and mean. I get bored with that. At some point, it's like, "All right dude, there's a real person under there."
I'm not a musician, but when I saw your setup at Emissions, even I knew that your equipment was fucking nice.
I'm not really much of a gearhead when it comes to other people's equipment. When I watch other bands, my judgment is going to come from what they're playing, not from what they're playing through.
That being said, I'm very, very picky, and so are the other guys. We definitely have gear that people who know what gear is think is kick-ass. I worked in a vintage guitar shop for eight or nine years, and it was a very high-end shop, so I learned a lot about boutique amps and high-end amps and old amps and old guitars. So yeah, I have a pretty educated palette. Also, for what we do, we play in drop A, but we also use lots of melodicism and chords, so it's not just all bar chords. I've had to be really picky so that when I'm recorded live, it's not mud, it's something that comes across tangibly where you can hear chords, and if I do some kind of chord flourish, it's represented. Choosing Matamps and these super-heavy-duty cabs with high-wattage speakers, it's all pretty customized. I've been really picky about what kind of distortion I use. I've never found an amp with built-in distortion that works for what this band does, so I've gone through probably 30 different distortion pedals and really experimented over the years to narrow it down to what I've got now.
Do you use a distortion pedal on the vocals?
No, I use a vocal processor that'll give me delays and chorus and stuff like that. I don't use anything that enhances pitch. That's all me. Any of the highs, the growls, or the midrange stuff, it's just me singing through a chorus, basically.
That what gives the vocals that distinct sound?
Yes. I've developed my high-pitch vocals in conjunction with it. There are songs on Holy Mountain by Sleep where Al Cisneros has a really effected-sounding voice...
Yeah, some of them sound like he's singing through a Leslie.
Totally. And there are a couple of songs on Master of Reality where Ozzy sings through a really intense kind of effect .
Or on "Planet Caravan."
For me, when you have ultimate, crushing heaviness, to have something that contrasts that much, that's the portal to another dimension. When I started the band, the very first day I thought, "I'm going to do the vocals with a chorus pedal." I'm never not with it.
It's such an unusual sound, especially for a doom metal band.
The three of us are obsessed with metal of all styles, but I think with YOB, we wanted to do two very difficult things, which are to forge a sound and also not be limited to it. Being able to keep a sound that's recognizable, but be able to get our ya-ya's out by bringing in other influences so it's not just a doom metal band. I think we're a doom metal band, but we're on the outskirts of the genre.
Do you write the songs or is it a collaborative effort?
It's collaborative in the sense that I bring songs to practice usually at least halfway done. Isamu and Travis are the truth sensors. When I bring something to practice and we jam it out, I'll know that day whether it's something we'll keep working on. And whether it's an eight-minute song or a 26-minute song, if we don't have wicked grins going from beginning to the end, it doesn't make the cut.
If the final song is 26 minutes long, do you bring a 26-minute song to practice?
You don't bring the skeleton and then you guys jam and fill it in?
No, I'm the total mad scientist. I'll bring something in and say, "Yeah, for this part, there's going to be counts of ten where there's total silence, and then a count of four where there isn't, and then I'll phase back and forth" and they just look me... I think in big, 26-minute song schemes. At the same time, it's very A.D.D. It's not Jerusalem or Lysol. Even on a song like "The Illusion of Motion," every other measure has something different, whether it's a vocal inflection or a chord shift or a tempo shift.
How many new songs do you guys have completed at this point?
Enough for a new record, but the earliest Metal Blade will let us record again is March. We'll probably have another records' worth of material by then.
Yeah, it's nuts. I try to kinda hold back, but I always end up writing a lot of stuff.
Your set at Emissions was perhaps the loudest thing I've ever heard. When you record, do you play at full volume?
Yes. Absolutely. Engineers don't like to do it. They'd love it if you just played through a little practice amp. They tell you it'll sound better. I agree that it'll sound different and maybe as good in some ways, but when you're stepping on a pedal or turning on an amp and it comes out that loud, it sounds different. The microphone picks up different things. I think that's why the new record sounds more like us.
It's funny because when we were recording the new record, my friend who runs the studio had to go and take down the stuff he had hanging on the walls outside of the studio. It was rattling and you could hear it.
You talked about being on the outskirts of doom metal, what are some bands completely outside the realm of metal that you like?
I like the Darkness.
I can't help it. It's infectious. It's different. For what it is, I think it's daring, particularly being in more of a mainstream audience, so I think they're pretty cool and they put on a good show. I like some of the Jamiroquai stuff, particularly Traveling Without Moving. Not much new stuff. I listen to a lot of non-metal stuff, but it's Townes Van Zandt or Merle Travis. I have an old '50s Gibson acoustic guitar and I'll sit and work on Merle Travis stuff.
The guitar playing on his stuff is pretty amazing, even to a non-musician like myself.
When our first label came to see us, they were kinda blown away because there's a lot of stuff I do that they assumed was layered in the studio, and it's all stuff I've learned from studying Merle Travis and the Nashville style where you can have a chord and reach for stuff all around it. When they saw me doing it all once, they asked, "Where'd you learn to do that?" I told them "Merle Travis" and they said "Who?" There are a number of videos of him live where you watch him do it, and you still don't know how he did it.