Interview with vocalist/guitarist Mike Scheidt | By Mike Gaworecki
YOB’s new album, Our Raw Heart, is the Eugene, Oregon, band’s eighth full-length and their Relapse Records debut. Its seven songs run for nearly one hour and 15 minutes and are every bit as towering and crushing as fans have come to expect, maybe more so than anything YOB have released—but the album damn near didn’t happen. Hell, we should all be thanking whatever devils we pray to that YOB are even still a band, but the reason for their near-ruin is also what ultimately made Our Raw Heart such a monumental and evocative achievement.
“I definitely almost died,” vocalist, guitarist, and chief songwriter Mike Scheidt says. “The whole future of the band was uncertain.”
And yet, here they are, ready to release their latest epic doom masterpiece on June 8. “We have a new album that we all genuinely feel is some of the best stuff we’ve ever done with each other,” Scheidt says—and from the way he says it, it’s obvious that he is as grateful as anyone that this is so.
Scheidt was admitted to the hospital in January 2017 with a hole in his sigmoid colon, which caused air bubbles to enter his intestines. Aside from being a life-threatening medical condition, it caused him blinding pain. “When I got to the emergency room doctor, I basically left my body from pain,” he recalls. “The pain just made me dissociate. I have never done DMT, but I would imagine this was something like that, because I’ve done plenty of other psychedelics, and it was more psychedelic and far-out than any experience I’ve ever had. I completely forgot everything: forgot myself and the room I was in or the fact that I was sick or that I had a name, that I was a father, that I was a bandmate, that my girlfriend and mother were in the room, that people were working on me—none of that existed for me. None of it. My entire life was gone. It was just me basically dying, and the doctor said I was a few hours away from not being able to be saved at that point.”
The life-saving surgery Scheidt underwent was supposed to last three hours. It took nine—though he found out a few months later that the surgeon listened to old YOB records in the operating room.
Even after the surgery, YOB’s future was still in doubt. There was no guarantee Scheidt would make a full recovery, and it didn’t help matters that when he had a second surgery to remove an ileostomy bag, he caught MRSA and shingles while in the hospital.
Scheidt doesn’t relate his tale of woe to elicit sympathy for his suffering, but instead, to explain how it informed Our Raw Heart. “Certainly, some of that suffering informed it,” he says, but more importantly, he emerged from the experience feeling inspired. When he was finally able to get back to work writing the next YOB album, he found he hadn’t missed a beat. “I wasn’t able to play guitar for about six weeks, and when I did, a couple of the ideas I’d been working on right before I got ill—I was a little worried that maybe I had forgotten them,” he says, “but in fact, as soon as I could play, they came right back to me like I’d never stopped playing them.”
That was still no guarantee a new YOB album would ever see the light of day. “There was a sense that I might not survive. It was, at times, scary,” he shares. “So, when I was working on the music, I kind of had to be in a space where just working on it was good enough, and no matter how inspired or excited I was, you know, my bandmates may never get to hear it, or we may not be able to work on it long enough for it to become an album. There were a lot of potential outcomes, and it was very uncertain for a long time.”
No one will mistake Our Raw Heart as being the work of any band but YOB, but Scheidt says he approached the album from a new vantage point after his near-death experience. “Everything was seen and filtered differently,” he explains. “I mean, it’s like, no one’s going to listen to this album and think it’s not us. With each album, we’ve endeavored to make sure that there is something there that is pushing us and that the vibe of the album, the actual flavor of the new album, is different than other records. There’s an anchor of the flavor of who we are, but there’s also pulling up that anchor and sailing in the new seas. Each time, there’s different things that have been a catalyst for that arrival, and this time, it happened to be a severe illness.”
Knowing this backstory, it seems intuitive that a lot of joy went into the process of writing and recording the new opus soon to be issued by Scheidt’s doom metal band. “You know, we didn’t know if we were going to be a band at the beginning of the year,” he reiterates. “That could have been done. Instead, we had this new music to work on that was coming from a place of celebration. Definitely still heavy and going into some dark territory, but with a sense of empowerment and, kind of, warriorship—a feeling of moving forward in life, but with some new vision, some new eyes.”
The lyrics from the standout cut, “In Reverie,” seem to sum up everything Scheidt is trying to say: “This source of disease / It brings a blindness / To drive every hate / No matter how lost / You find yourself / The sun rises still.”
“No matter the suffering / You find yourself / The sun rises still.”
However, Scheidt is wary of delving too deep into what his lyrics “mean.” “Trying to describe what lyrics are about is like dissecting a frog. It’s like, you can do it and see all the inner workings, but the frog doesn’t survive,” he says.
But he does offer that love is a recurrent theme on the album. “Not the Hallmark variety, but the actual thing that even the most hardened person, if they’re knee-jerking against it, they’re knee-jerking against some kind of tender thing that’s within everybody and ties us all together,” he says. “And that’s ‘our raw heart’: it’s this connection that, speaking for myself, I feel with everything that’s alive. These are raw times we’re living in. That’s about as far as I want to get into it without it sounding soapbox-y and weird. It’s my personal feeling, and it’s the way that I want to relate to the world—and I know that there are a lot of people out there who feel similarly.”
Top photo by Jimmy Hubbard