Transmutation and Rebellion: an Interview with Yob
From the jaws of death and on the heels of a soaring, ambitious new album, doom’s transcendent power-trio Yob is once more on a long journey through North America and Europe to bathe crowds in their heavy riffs and healing tones. Two of their members, Mike Scheidt (Guitar, Vocals) and Aaron Rieseberg (Bass), have agreed to sit down with us hours before their Philadelphia performance and unpack all of this.
Without further ado:
Congratulations on a decade of this lineup.
Mike Scheidt: Thank you. That is absolutely a fact. Yeah. It’s pretty wild.
Has it being the same people so long effected the writing process?
Aaron Rieseberg: There’s a lot that’s the same, but there’s definitely other things that have changed. We’ve grown in the way that we work with each other. We’ve just all grown with our abilities and changed through the years, but it’s still the same where Mike writes the songs and brings his riffs and skeletons, then we work on them together and experiment.
MS: Everyone’s always brought themselves to the table. No one’s ever been told what to play or not to play or anything like that. I have generally really fleshed out ideas. I don’t bring single riffs to practice ever; I bring collections and arrangements. Maybe I have an idea for a bass-line, or maybe I have an idea – because I’m a drummer too – for propulsion, but those ideas are meant to be springboards so that we can get on a sub-stratum same page. That way we can get familiar with how things feel, and they way that it hits me in my head.
From there, we take it wherever we take it. It’s always a discussion, y’know, around a vocal melody and a guitar harmony, or a bass fill, or a drum part, and just trying to make sure that things all fit in their place, and make adjustments there.
Even though I write the songs, write the lyrics, there’s nothing about Yob that is not decided on by the three of us. There’s nothing that we don’t feel a hundred percent about; there’s nothing that we don’t flesh out together. If something doesn’t gel for somebody, each person has a veto, and the veto stands for the entire band.
AR: I feel like we get on the same page quicker.
MS: Way easier, yes.
AR: We know each other so well, and our styles. When we talk about ideas and we’re trying to flesh something out, the communication happens *snaps* much quicker. We grew a lot on this last record.
MS: Even from day one, this lineup already had a leg up. Aaron and Travis had been playing together for near a decade before that, and Travis and I had been playing together for, at that point, I think six years, so we had a good relationship too. We’ve just become a better us together over time. Some things are kind of blissfully unsaid, because we’re so on the same page.
AR: Yeah, when you start to memorize something, the connections happen so much quicker. We have that between the three of us. The synapses are shorter and it has to travel across less space.
MS: To the point that, even though I’ve done this with different lineups over the years, I feel like this is the last lineup. I just don’t think that we could continue without the three of us. If any one goes, then that’ll be…
Then you’ll be changing the name if nothing else?
MS: Yeah, it’ll become something else.
How much of this last record was written under the impression that you wouldn’t survive, and how much did those parts change when you found out you would?
MS: I had a lot of manic, writing sessions, and it wasn’t manic because I was in a hurry; I was just really, really inspired, and so I spent as much time playing guitar as I could, though I had an colostomy bag. At one point I had MRSA and shingles, MRSA that I had caught from my second surgery in the hospital. There was an uncertainty that any of the stuff they had done in my body was gonna work, if my large intestine was gonna work the way it should, whether all the trauma in my midsection would allow me to bear down and sing and have a good singing voice again. Not to mention the MRSA could have been fatal. I could’ve had nerve damage that would effect my right hand, because it was all down my right side. If I ended up needing a permanent colostomy, that would effect whether we could tour or not, or whether I could sing. There was a lot of uncertainly, and so when I was writing by myself, I was like, “Well, this may be as good as it gets, and so I’m gonna just enjoy it.”
When it got to the point where we had our first practice – and I had been just feverishly working on material for five months – we got together and I showed Aaron and Travis everything, we just instantly connected on all of it and went “Wow, this is an album”. For one it wasn’t like any time had passed, in a way. We were just right back on it as if we had never stopped, but there was definitely a re-invigorated sense of ourselves too. That certainly did go into the music, this sense of joy, this sense of feeling like we were – it wasn’t just me surviving; we survived.
AR: Yeah, renewed vigor, and a rush of feeling of good fortune. There was a grave nature involved; we were just like “Oh, shit, I hope Mike keeps getting better.” It was still very much the healing process while we were still in the early stages of practicing. There was still no certainty where it could go from there. For me, there was that feeling of “take it one practice at a time”.
MS: Little bit of a specter looming.
AR: It had this grave quality of “I hope we can keep going”. Mike was just getting better and better as time went on, and by the time we were in the studio, you were doing really well, and that was almost a celebratory feeling. We were really prepared to be in the studio, and Mike was doing better than ever, and we were recording with Billy again. We were all just riding this high, and really excited about the new material. It was the best experience that I’ve ever had in the studio.
MS: Me too.
Yeah, it’s a real triumph. One of the things I like a lot about it is it has some of your most dad-rock moments. Have y’all come to embrace your inner dadness between the last two records?
AR: I think with the soulful side, vocally, some of it almost sounds like classic rock to me in ways – super heavy/crushing at the same time. Some of it hits me like Nazareth or some of that classic rock stuff that I love.
MS: Little ‘90s in it. We’re not genre-limited. We are influenced by doom, certainly, but we’re also influenced by King Crimson, Crosby Stills and Nash, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Daniel Higgs, Roberta Flack, Black Flag, Poison Idea, Immolation, and True Widow. We have a lot of influences. There’s so many bands that we love that are brutally heavy and crushing and desperate; there’s a sense of despair and longing and it’s all valid and true, but that isn’t what we wanna put our magnifying glass on. We wanna put our magnifying glass on something else, and maybe we will touch on despair, or touch on a darkness, but it really is about transmutation; it’s not about dwelling. We’re older too. We set our clocks to some different styles of music and it’s not just all metal all the time. We feel free to bring in those elements, but we also are mindful of a lineage, and we keep a foot in that lineage too, so we keep expanding on a foundation.
On Clearing The Path to Ascend there was this depressive sense of the material world being a school at best and a prison at worst which isn’t anywhere to be found on Our Raw Heart. Does that represent a change in your philosophy?
MS: When I was writing the lyrics for Clearing The Path and writing the music, I was in a depression. It wasn’t so much it being splashed out on the material world so much as the inner environment. Inner environment can color the material world in any number of ways; the material world’s almost immaterial to that.
It’s like a projection screen; it’s just white; it’s just blank. You can put a horror movie on it or you can put a romantic comedy. It’s not like there’s a bloodstain on the screen from seeing a horror movie or a kissy face on the screen after a romantic comedy; it’s just blank.
I do think, with that album, it’s a movement through it, and then you get to “Marrow”. “Marrow” was the release, and “Marrow” was coming out of it. Reaching, not just reaching for something that was redemption, but finding it. It ends on a very high, a very, in my opinion, strong, positive sense of transmutation, alchemy.
The new album, I think, gets into some places that have maybe a touch of that quality to it, certainly the lyrics to “In Reverie” or “The Screen”, but I think it’s a little more defiant in that no obstacles will be surrendered to.
That’s very punk rock. Actually, a sense I’ve gotten with Yob lyrics is that a lot of them are, in sprit, covering the same ground as old school hardcore lyrics, except written by a smarter person.
MS: Oh, I don’t know if I’d say that. [Aaron and Crab laughing] I think you do have to have a rebellious spirit to choose to put your best foot forward, because there is this kind of movement of either just a despair and negativity or a desperate need to numb, just to numb ourselves to things that are going on. Whether it be in our phones, or in movies, or in video games, or in alcohol/drugs, all the classic golden oldies, y’know. It’s this need to numb, and our raw sense of this tenderness that we hold in our chest and this raw mind is almost too much to bear. Nobody in our culture teaches us how to deal with these things, but everybody has it. Even the most calloused person, the most jaded, elitist person, it’s even more symptomatic of how hurt they feel, in my opinion.
So I think you do have to have a rebellious spirit to say “Y’know what? I’m not gonna accept the cultural story that this is the way the world is and you have to toughen up, and you have to harden, and you have to do those things.” It’s like, “Okay, yeah, maybe, but that weapon needs to also slice through these cultural stories that are so ingrained that we take them for granted. Even the most jaded person, when they’re hanging out with their kitty-cat, and they’re like “Oh, kitty-cat, I love you so much,” and maybe they name their kitty-cat Euronymous or something, y’know. That love that they feel for this connection feels so good. It feels so good to show love to this being. It feels negative to fight with somebody, it feels negative to be jealous. It feels hurtful to be envious, it hurts. I think that’s because it’s not our nature to be that. I think that’s why it hurts, and why things that feel good feel good; that’s closer to our nature. It’s a world that’s constantly putting the cart before the horse, and we’re not taking very good care of the horse, and we’re not being mindful of what’s in the cart.
AR: We’re just ignoring the horse. There’s so many distractions. You could pick any number of them and just tune out.
MS: And, yeah, there’s a lot of fucked up things in the world, but if we’re constantly tearing ourselves down internally – if we’re constantly tearing each other down externally, we’re weakened. How can we possibly solve it? How can we possibly come together? Nobody can wait for everybody else to do it; it’s an individual choice, it’s an individual statement of rebellion to choose – it sounds trite, but the peaceful warrior perspective, resolute.
Do you think that music can help me to grow and become more present in ways that spiritual practices can’t?
MS: I think what music can do is it can go to places that are taboo, and explore them. It’s not that there can’t be a dogmatic view in music, ‘cause there can be; there certainly can be dogmatic views in genres, or in scenes – Scene rules: the dos and the don’ts – or in music theory if someone’s too hopped up on theory and the dos and the don’ts.
I do think that there’s less automatic knee-jerking response to when music goes there than when you get a black metal band that does something shady, and you’re like “Woah, hm,” but when you get the catholic church doing a bunch of shady things, there’s an incredible dissonance between the message and the fact that they’re not accepting themselves as human beings, and they’re not dealing with their human nature. I think music inherently digs more into every side of humanity. I also think that spiritual practices, the best ones, are really meant to unravel the entire story.
Could you expand on that last sentence a bit? It’s a big one.
MS: In other words, let’s say a person is born in Philadelphia, and they’re brought up here their entire lives, and they have their parents who taught them a certain thing, they’ve learned the English language, they’ve been brought up in the American culture, they’ve been taught a certain set of values – what’s okay, what’s not okay, what’s okay to express, what’s not okay to express – that’s a cultural story. That’s not the same story that someone’s learning in New Delhi or in Jerusalem, or in Kenya, or in Ecuador, but there are these themes that run throughout us that are common, and that kind of surpass language. Music’s one of those things. It surpasses language. It surpasses culture. It can arrive from culture, but it can also transcend it.
The cultural stories that we get taught, if you take every word of that written English language, or every word of everything that that person was taught, and if all of a sudden, everybody just died. All of a sudden, all those words, all those books, all those cars, all those buildings, all those movies, would either be food or not food for other beings on this planets. There’s no deer out there in the woods going “I’m a muslim deer”, “I’m a christian deer,” “I’m a democratic deer.” This is all our stuff, and the only reason it survived is because of the juice that we give it. When enough people come together to make something a certain way, then that’s what becomes normal, quote-unquote.
But, literally, fifty years ago nobody was arguing about android versus iphone. We take our creations for granted and then we let them oppress us. The best spiritual practices take all the things that we take for granted and shine light on them. The best one take all the things that make us uncomfortable, and instead of trying to numb them, it tries to expose them, so we can be free from them.
It’s like if you have a refrigerator, and there’s something in the back that’s just getting more and more moldy, so you just put more and more stuff in front of it, you don’t see the thing that’s there, but your fridge is smelling worse and worse and worse and worse and worse, and the only way you’re gonna be able to get rid of that smell is if you take the stuff out, and clean it out. That’s what the best spiritual practices are supposed to do.
Do you find a correlation between advancing in these practices results in writing better music? Vice versa?
MS: Not necessarily. I mean, I’m not that big a fan of Christian rock radio.
Well, there’s no practice there beyond believing; I’m referring more here to meditation for example.
MS: Right, well, that is a practice, because that’s not something that’s automatic. There’s nothing else in creation that’s screaming “Christianity”. It’s all human beings, so it’s a mantra. It’s a mantra that’s practiced every single day: “Jesus Christ is lord, Jesus Christ is my savior”, that’s a mantra.
It’s not just accept and believe; they are practicing accept and believe. If everyone just stopped talking about it, birds aren’t chirping it, y’know? Bubbling brooks aren’t bubbling it. It’s the human juice, it’s the human trip, so that is a practice. Everyone is practicing some kind of mantra. So is the mantra something that makes them feel good, makes them feel empowered, has a sense of humility to it, or is that mantra one that is defeated, that is despairing, that is oppressed? – and not to say that people aren’t oppressed, don’t get me wrong – but within the conditions on the outside, there’s still a choice on what to do, how to do it, how to deal with it. The more that we get battered around by these conditions, the more and more that our happiness is dependent on things that we can’t control, but we can control what we set our internal clock to.
So, they’re not all created equal, you’re saying?
MS: This is just my opinion, big-ass disclaimer. What happens is, as I learn more, it changes. It’s like a living conversation. I find out sometimes that I’m a dumbass, and I didn’t understand everything, and I get humbled, and I learn more. This is stuff I think about a lot.
I do think that music can take a person to a deeply spiritual place, without them even realizing it. Anyone that goes to a Neurosis show, the most atheist of atheists goes to a Neurosis show, and they can have an experience.
Meditation is really just – all it’s meant to me is the practice of looking at the stuff of our minds, and then making decisions about it. So if our minds are a sushi island of thoughts, and we just think that every thought is us, all these thoughts that we’ve been told are us, and we’re just eating things that we don’t like.
It’s like, “Ugh, I hate fuckin’ eel, but it’s just going across my thing; I have to eat it; it’s all me.” Meditation is about going “Y’know what, I don’t like eel, so I’m not gonna eat that.” Salmon comes by, “Oh, I like that.” So then now you’re starting to make empowered choices about the things that you feed yourselves with.
To end this, looking forward I know you have a lot of touring a head of you. Do you know what else is next for Yob after these dozens and dozens of dates?
AR: Man, we don’t know. We’re gonna do Europe, and then, after that, we don’t know.
MS: We’re good planners in the sense that, if we know we’re doing an album, then we’ll book the studio time nine months in advance. We’ll get everything lined up with record labels. If we know we’re gonna tour, then we’ll plan that nine months in advance, and we’re making sure that we have all the machinations in order to do as well as we can on the road.
As far as 2019, that will present itself. There’s definitely a lot of inner dialogue right now about what we’re gonna do with another album, and I’m feeling pretty inspired. I’m already getting the sense of the aura and the flavor of a new album, which is more important than the riffs. Riffs can be call and fun but not necessarily make you muse, in the part of music where you lose yourself in it. Having that kind of sense and feeling is where the music comes from, so I already have that. It’s not hard to imagine that we’ll be working on new material sooner than later.
Our Raw Heart and tour dates can both be found at www.yobislove.com