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YOB’s New Album Comes Straight From The Gut

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Mike Scheidt’s voice sounds like a bloodletting. The wails and roars the YOB singer summons from his guts on “The Screen” are as sharp as the knife of a medieval surgeon’s slicing open humours to let the sickness out. “Until pain has bled out,” the YOB frontman sings, shouting a litany of “Outs!” over a bed of thudding beats and slow guitar chords that engulfs like a lava flow before finishing his thought with “onto the screen.” Pain exorcised and projected elsewhere: onto a canvas, celluloid, the black grooves of a vinyl record. As perfect a description of someone turning their own suffering into art as any we’ve ever heard.

It’s hard not to hear pain and the desire to transcend that suffering in “The Screen” and “Our Raw Heart,” the first two songs off of YOB’s eight studio album. Our Raw Heart (set to drop on June 8th) finds the trio of Scheidt, bassist Aaron Rieseberg, and drummer Travis Foster coming to terms with Scheidt’s harrowing medical problems. While “The Screen” is a claustrophobic and dense song, capturing the way pain can collapse an entire universe and shrink it down until the only thing that’s left is whatever is tearing your body or mind apart, “Our Raw Heart” exults in coming out the other side. “From holes in my gut to love from miracles,” Scheidt sings. The holes in his guts aren’t a metaphor.

Afflicted with diverticulitis, Scheidt underwent two grueling surgeries and faced several other serious health complications in 2017. His condition was dire enough that it was a very real possibility that he would not survive either surgery or the recovery process. Scheidt worked on most of the material for Our Raw Heart throughout this arduous period, writing songs that he didn’t know if he’d be able to physically play later or even live to record in the first place.

From holes in his gut to love from miracles, Scheidt is healed up and ready to help his bandmates Rieseberg and Foster take YOB’s thunderous blend of psychedelic sounds and crushing doom metal back out on the road. We talked to the singer about cover art, fretboard mathematics, and why his surgeons blasted his own music while they had him on the table.

— Ashley Naftule

YOB’s albums have really distinctive and evocative covers. I was wondering how the artwork for Our Raw Heart came together. It’s such a striking image: the bird wings covered with eyes… What are you trying to convey with that kind of imagery?

It was something that unfolded in the process of working with Orion Landau, who also did the art for Clearing the Path to Ascend and the reissue of The Great Cessation. He’s a really soulful guy and his creative waters run deep.

I try not to talk about this stuff too much because I don’t want to color people’s original takes on things with something that’s frozen in print. People’s interpretations, uncolored by our rhetoric, is important. But it ended up being this thing that looks like what a mystical experience might feel like. Not just the hippie side of that, but more of the unsettling side of it — where imagery will come together in ways that don’t necessarily make sense. The way that we shape reality is largely in part how we’re taught to shape it, how we’re taught to put together the pieces of the puzzle to end up with this particular picture. But behind the movie screen is a lot of different things that come together in ways we don’t understand but are a very important of how things get projected.

In a past interview, you’ve talked about how “riffs are great, but they’re not enough. There has to be an aura or a flavor or a spirit that flows through the entire album…” With that in mind, what would you say is the animating spirit behind Our Raw Heart? What kind of aura were you and the rest of the band trying to bestow on it?

It sounds pretentious to say it, maybe — it starts getting into artist talk, where it might get self-important. Or rather, the self-importance in being a channel… You kind of have to set the table for it. Like you’re inviting it and, if you’re lucky, it shows up. Or you go to the riverbank with your fishing gear — I haven’t come up with a vegan friendly version of this analogy yet — and you have to cast the line a bunch. You hope that something bites.

The vibe, the aura, the flavor: it’s certainly personal in the sense that it comes from a particular time and place and the amount of living that happened in between albums. Experiences, emotions that are unique to the time and to the three of us because they came from our perspectives. But at the same time we don’t get to decide what that is; we don’t get to decide how that expresses itself on the fretboard other than knowing when it feels sincere and authentic and true. When riffs start to become more than the math on the fretboard, when it become more than the schematics that our amplifiers are put together with to allow sound to come out… It’s an ineffable thing that’s hard to put into words. You know when it’s there and when it isn’t.

You’ve also talked about how you wrote most of the material for this album while you were recovering from your surgery and dealing with serious health complications. That you thought about how there was a possibility you wouldn’t live to see how your bandmates would react to the songs you were working on. When you actually got the chance to sit down with them and show them what you put together, how did they respond to it?

It was joyous. We felt like we had the opportunity to continue. It wasn’t just my future that was uncertain, it was theirs too. This band means something to us — our sharing of it is the whole. It’s not just me and it’s not just them. That period of time where we didn’t know if I’d be able to play or whether my surgery was going to work… I might have ended up with a permanent colostomy and not be able to tour. I caught MRSA in the hospital and that was its own kind of scary, potentially life-threatening thing that had nothing to do with my surgeries. It was its own beast.

I was just manically driven to write music because there was no guarantee that these surgeries were going to work. If this was the end, I wanted to let the fire that I felt to be something worthy to go out on.

You had mentioned in another interview that your surgeons played YOB while they were working on you. Did you ever end up asking them which YOB album they listened to while they were operating?

No. I wished I asked them more because I didn’t even know that they had done that until my second surgery. That was from my first surgery. The first one I was told would be about a three hour surgery but it ended up being almost three times that long. When they opened me up, the surgeon saw that it was a lot worse in there than they had thought. It was a major surgery to begin with — they had compared it to an open heart surgery. It was a big process. At some point in that surgery, they decided to play YOB in the operating room.

Who knows? Maybe they were shooting the shit, having a fucking espresso, and thought, “Hey, let’s check out this band while we’re squeegeeing his spleen.” I don’t think it was that. I think they were worried about me and were trying to give me something subconsciously to keep me there. That math makes more sense to me.

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