Published Aug 16, 2011In a recent interview, Yob's Mike Scheidt had this to say about metal musicians who don't want to or can't play "slow": "They aren't heavy in themselves. They haven't lived enough or they haven't dug deep enough." According to his reasoning, the guitarist/vocalist must have experienced quite a few challenging circumstances before releasing sixth full-length Atma, Yob's most emotionally harrowing album to date. While the Yob trademarks are in full effect ― mystical, slightly Middle Eastern-influenced riffage and tension-filled subtleties ― tracks like "Upon the Sight of the Other Shore" take it to another level. It's not just that the song is heavy, it's absolutely unhinged, as Scheidt, who can easily be regarded as one of metal's most versatile vocalists, sings off-key, adding to the organic complexity of the track. Neurosis's Scott Kelly serves as the perfect foil to Scheidt's piercing wail on "Before We Dream of Two," with Scheidt literally riding overtop of Kelly's world-weary, but strangely touching, delivery. Another stellar album from the Oregon trio, but you might need a couple of listens to completely understand Atma's intensity.
In July, I caught your show in Toronto and was struck at the perfection of the line-up: Sons of Otis, Dark Castle and Yob. Besides temporarily sharing a drummer, you and Dark Castle seem to have a unique symmetry.
Scheidt: On a basic level, Dark Castle and Yob have a lot in common, as far as loving many styles of music. We're not content to try and recreate things that have been done before. We like to have a nod to the past and our heroes, but we also like to push music that is 2011 ― we're not going to try and recreate the' 70s or '80s. As far as players and vocalists, Stevie [Floyd, guitarist/vocalist] and I both push really hard to have creative and interesting vocals. We both write about similar themes, and Stevie is an amazing, passionate artist and has a deep, old soul. We both want to have that kind of element and that kind of depth, and we both try to bring as much to our music as we can. But as far as that goes, Yob and Dark Castle are also both very different.
Sanford Parker produced The Great Cessation (2009). Why did you decide to produce Atma yourself?
I just started getting an idea of what I wanted to do that was different from our past records, as they had gotten more polished, and I was spending a lot of time listening to old albums like [Neurosis's] Enemy of the Sun and Through Silver in Blood, [High on Fire's] The Art of Self-Defense, [Wino's] Force of Equilibrium and [Corrosion of Conformity's] Animosity and thinking, "what is it about all these albums that makes me come back to them?" They aren't the best-produced albums that these bands ever had, but there is this visceral, crawling-out-of-the-speakers quality to all of them. They are so vital. The music lived way beyond its production and the quality ― on any of the early albums, like Sabbath ― isn't that great, in comparison to today's standards, but they're vital. I thought, "Man, I just want that." We recorded everything to analog, then mixed through Pro Tools, then back to Interlog, so the stuff was very chewy, instinctive, not perfect production, but the kind of production I grew up on. For an audiophile, they may or may not like it, but it felt very punk rock, raw, alive and primitive, but we were able to give clarity, and it's what I wanted. It's what the band wanted and we're pretty stoked as to how it came out. You never know, the next album might be the most over-produced album that we do, with a choir and symphony, but this is the record that we wanted to write.
With The Great Cessation, there were rave reviews, most notably from The New York Times. For many bands, once they get those types of accolades, there's pressure to go a bit more commercial, to reach out to a larger demographic. But with Atma, you've dug your heels in the ground, more determined to stay true to yourselves than ever before.
Any success we have had is in spite of us. We have never been an ambitious band, we have never had a ton of goals, we've never worked as hard as some other bands have worked, especially with the bands that we have been name-dropped with. Those bands are just as big as us, but we have never worked as hard as them. We don't have a lofty philosophy or game plan; it's just who we are and it's how we function. To spend a lot of money for glossy production? I'm sure a lot of people out there would have liked that, and I'm not saying that we will never do that in the future, but there is a big game out there in the music business trying to get seen and well-known, and that stuff, to me, is really boring. I think the bands that are undeniable cannot be denied, no matter what they do. If you have to work that hard to get out there and try and make a living, I don't know how satisfying that is internally. You have to make decisions as to what is satisfying to you internally first and then let the chips fall where they may. It's not that we don't try, but we don't compete for them, we won't elbow our way there; it's just not for us.
The vocal dynamics have a lot of thought to them, especially on "Upon the Sight of Shore" and "Atma." What was your thought process?
I tried to go for a big variety of styles with singing and as far as that went, I wanted structure. I wanted structure in dynamics to change it up a lot. On some things, I had a definite idea of how I wanted to sing it. On others, I tried really hard to get out of the way and let things happen and to feel them instead of thinking them through. That's all I know.
How did you get Scott Kelly (Neurosis, Tribes of Neurot, Shrinebuilder) to contribute to Atma?
Scott and I have been friends for a number of years. We don't see each other much, or hang out, but when we first met, it resonated, as we both come from similar places, being family men and both being from the same headspace. It seemed as though we had a lot in common in both very surface and deeper ways that can't really be said; it's just there. We just immediately connected. We had done a couple of shows with Neurosis and Scott has always been supportive of us. We had seen [Neurosis'] Steve [Von Till], Scott and Jason [Roeder] play as Tribes of Neurot and do their drum circle, and I wondered if Scott would do something like that on our album. I just asked him and he was very positive about it, so I sent him the demo tracks of the tune and he showed up and we set up the drums for him and he did the tune.
He was originally approached to provide percussion for "Adrift in the Ocean," but his vocals on "Before We Dreamed of Two" are astounding.
[When he was in the studio], we asked him about maybe doing vocals, and so I set up a tape and I just did some vocal ideas about what I was doing for the song. He said, "I don't want to do the vocals," "you are going for something ambitious" and "I don't want to step on your toes." I was like, "no, dude, it's not like that, I think we can create something" and it just happened like that. He sat down and wrote his part on the spot, we set up the microphone for him and an hour later we had the track. He wrote his lyrics completely in the moment from what I had written, but he did his interpretation of it. A lot of times when you do your vocals with another band, it's like not exactly an accompaniment, so I put some stuff in there, did some background vocals, some harmony and additional vocals with him, and ultimately we were just in the moment, being creative and it was easy. It's been really satisfying and his ethic was very ordinary and wonderful. That being said, when we were in the studio, talking and having fun, when he started singing, the rest of us all went quiet. There was this silence, as we were in awe. We were like, "oh shit, this guy we've been listening to for almost 20 years is singing in the other room." It was a pretty special moment, for us.
Steve is a burly, mean looking guy, but on that particular track there's an emotional vulnerability clearly present in his vocals.
But that's really him. I also think he's burly and, yeah, he's not somebody a man would want to piss off, especially during a certain time in his life. But he's also an incredibly deep, soulful, heart-filled-to-the-brim-with-love person too. And he's very, very genuine and authentic. I think that as an artist, through his solo work or with Neurosis, he brings those qualities to the table.
Metal, specifically doom metal, is a very male-dominated musical genre. Back to the versatility of your vocals and the vulnerability that lies within the album, how do you feel about sharing that with your music?
I try and express it. There are moments that are, I guess, very "manly," as far as the growls and roars, and definitely some anger, not as a specific masculine trait, but expressing it as a way ― testosterone versus estrogen ― I know that's there. But as far as being a man and having softness in the music and being able to have a lot of colours in it, outside of just seeing red or being nihilistic and seeing black? Yhose are colours I like to paint with, but there are also other colours in my palette. I think that a full range of human emotions is masculine and feminine together, intertwining, each sharing their turn at the mic. I don't have to be tough. Looking at real life and looking at things as they are and trying to be courageous in music is more masculine than singing about wanting to beat somebody up or just being angry at the world. That comes off as more being childlike than being an awakened, solid, feet-on-the-ground person. Being courageous with your heart ― that is manlier. Don't get me wrong, there are bands that I love that are pissed, but for people to hate all the time, I think that that's one path to go, but that isn't my path. (Profound Lore)