Lumbar Face to Face with Unwelcome Days
Published Dec 17, 2013Lumbar is the new project featuring long-time Pacific Northwest musician Aaron Edge (best know for his guitar work in Himsa), Mike Scheidt of Eugene, OR sludge metallers YOB, and the incomparable Tad Doyle (Tad), who also plays with Edge in a project called Brothers of the Sonic Cloth. Lumbar's recently completed album, The First and Last Days of Unwelcome, on Southern Lord Records, is a legitimately bleak collection of seven desperately urgent songs that were written during a particularly troubling time for Edge: before, during and after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. As Edge recently told Exclaim!, the Lumbar material could be among the last music he will ever write using his now dysfunctional hands.
I was pretty excited to see that you got Mike and Tad to be in a band with you!
Yeah, I was pretty excited to hear that they wanted to do this with me! We were always buddies doing stuff together in other ways, but to come together and have their stamp of approval was a big deal for me because it took it to a different level. It was sort of like I created this baby and then I gave it to those guys to raise it.
So you wrote all of the music and then brought it to them?
Yeah, this project, as well as two others, was done together from my home studio. All three records were written the same where I had drums that I had already recorded. The way the Lumbar record was done was that I had drums from the Iamthethorne record that I had done with John Pettibone of Himsa, Heiress and Undertow in 2006 and I had the drum tracks separate because the engineer had sent them to me. So I took the drums and I cut them into all kinds of different patterns, not knowing what the riffs were going to be at all. I made seven songs with drums that went together, with no riffs in mind, and then I wrote each riff as I recorded it. So it wasn't like I wrote each song on an acoustic guitar while sitting on my bed, I actually wrote each riff on the spot as I recorded it. I put guitar and bass over the drums in my studio and none of it was planned out and it was done on the spot. As I recorded each riff I didn't go back and edit anything; the only thing I did was add more guitars. So it wasn't premeditated at all.
So you gave that stuff to Tad and Mike and they added their elements?
I sent it to both of them and said, "I have these songs, what do you guys think of them? I'd like to do some vocals over them at some point, would either of you like to do them?" Mike and Tad discussed this on their own after I sent the songs, and Mike emailed me back and told me they wanted to do it. He called and suggested we get together one weekend at Tad's studio, go up there and record vocals and mix it there. So went up to Seattle for the weekend, Mike picked me up in Portland, which is about halfway, and we drove up together to Tad and his wife Peg's house. Then my wife came up for the second half of the weekend to hang out and it was an awesome time.
It was a very heavy experience though; probably the most emotional experience recording I've ever had. Tad, Mike and I all did vocals and I had written all of the lyrics, so Mike tweaked those a little bit. Tad mixed it with all of us there and then we sent it off to labels. I wanted it to come out before the end of the year, which was a lot to ask because we finished it in May, but Southern Lord was able to commit, which was awesome because I had worked there for two years with Greg Anderson as his art director, so it was a perfect fit. And since I worked there I knew that his packaging was going to be rad and that he'd be on board with all of the packaging things we wanted.
At what point during all of this did you find out about your health problems?
I wrote and recorded everything on my own in November or December of last year and I was starting to have pain in my hands, numbness in my feet and my chest, and I thought it was just me acclimating to the cold weather because my wife and I had just moved back to the Northwest from L.A., and we're both Northwest people so we're used to the weather. But all of a sudden I had tingling hands and pain and I just attributed it to being cold. I'm a cyclist and a runner so I'm outside a lot, even during the winter. So I was writing and recording these songs with pain and I thought, "What the fuck is going on?" and finally the pain got so bad that I couldn't play music anymore. It was even difficult to shift gears on my bike, difficult to run, it was actually difficult to do anything. I think it was January 6 — that was the day when the pain never went away. So I went through months of testing to figure out what I had and finally got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. My diagnosis came on March 6. So that whole time I was in crazy pain and it was many months of not knowing what was going on, and that was probably the worst part of it. But I haven't been able to strum a guitar or play drums or bass since January, so everything was sent to Mike and Tad in between and then when we finally got together my pain was controlled by medication and has been since. I have flare-ups of pain here and there, where it's hard to get out of bed sometimes, or my hands hurt so bad that I can't even open doorknobs.
Was there any indication earlier that you had MS?
Now that I look back and I've met with my neurologist, there are signs of multiple sclerosis as far back as probably 2006, and they were minor, but they were there. I never thought anything of them; I just figured they were part of my life.
So what are the chances of seeing some Lumbar live performances? Is that off the table at this point?
Yeah. I think it's safe to say probably never. The only kind of way it could happen, and this is a really weird kind of, and it was even loosely talked about over coffee the other day with my friend Aaron Reiseberg, he's the bass player in YOB. I gave him our record and he loved it, so I told him if Lumbar ever plays a show he'd have to play bass. The only way it could happen is if I only did vocals, Mike played guitar and did his vocals, and Tad played drums and did his vocals. Tad is a killer drummer and not many people know that, but Tad actually studied drumming in school. He's a percussionist by nature. And that's the only way it would happen, but I just can't even imagine that it would work. The only thing I can do physically is sing, and I don't think it would ever happen, but if those guys said, "Hey, let's do this! It would be fun!" I would be totally into it.
So it is possible that this Lumbar record could be the last thing you will ever play an instrument on? Or do you think you'll be able to get back to playing music again?
Well, there are two other records I made at the same time and those will also be coming out. One of them is called Process Black and has Tim Singer from Deadguy and Kiss It Goodbye and he's finishing up his vocals now. I did the guitar and bass and my friend Brock played drums on it. It was written the same kind of way that Lumbar was where my friend gave me the drums and I cut them all up into pieces, but his drumming is far superior to mine. So it's a fucking awesome record, too. And then I did another record with all of my own instruments as well, and that's coming out sometime next year and it's called Hand Be Damned, and that's with my friend Thomas from the band Black Cloud out of Boise, ID, and that's just a pure sludge record. So, to answer your question: those two records still haven't come out and I haven't recorded any music since then. And I don't see any time in the future where I'll be able to strum a guitar or drum. I don't have the dexterity in my hands and I actually also have an issue that if I look down and stretch the nerves in my neck I get a sort of terrible electric shock in my body. So holding a guitar and looking down at the fret board is not possible. It hurts.
Have you thought about doing some music on the computer?
As lame as it sounds, I actually have been fucking around with keyboards and drum machines and some samples. I have no idea if it will ever come to fruition, but I have been screwing around, just because I'm going crazy not being able to play music.
It sounds like you're a very creative guy. How important is that creative process to you?
Insanely important. The three most important things in my life are in this order: my wife, music and cardio. Now I'm able to ride a bike again, and I'm able to run. I'm not doing these things at the level I was before my diagnosis, but at least I'm doing it. Playing music has been so important in my life. I started playing drums when I was 15, so it's always been important. So I have to find a way to still be creative. I think the only way I'd be able to tour or really be in a band is just doing vocals. And I'd love to do that, I just haven't found a Portland band yet that is interested, but I hope to find something. Without that outlet of vocals, at least, in a live setting, I'll fucking lose my mind. I'm already starting to, so I hope someone asks me to sing before I totally lose it. [laughs]
Can you describe this Lumbar record to someone who's maybe not familiar with all of the sub-genres it falls into?
I believe that there's a lot of tension in the record and, although it's really heavy and crushing, I believe it's a smooth listen. This might sound weird to people who listen to heavy music, but it sort of rolls through consistently, kind of like a storm coming in. And it leaves like a storm, on a big, thunderous hit, and resonates for a while. There's nothing too abrupt on the record that takes away from the consistency of the smoothness. Someone just asked me what the album is like and, off the cuff, I said, "Imagine if a sex-crazed lunatic escaped an asylum and broke into a convent at night. Imagine the moment where this guy comes through the door, locks it behind him and all of the nuns wake up." That's what it is: it's this intense, terrible thing and you know what's going to happen, and you don't want to know, but you have to know, and you have to see it through. And that's the crazy tension and heaviness in my life right now. Lumbar is brutal and it leaves you with this unsettling feeling, and that's exactly what my life is right now. I have no idea what will happen from this point on and it's a tough scenario.