Tuesday 2 September 2014

Clearing A Path For Their Ascent: An Interview with Mike Scheidt

As a musician, there is a line between writing and your personal day to day existence. How much should the listener know, how much do you want to let them witness what lays behind the inner curtain?

The trick is to find a realness, a relatable quality that the listener can ascertain what is going on. It can be despair, joy or a simple no thank you, time to shut it down.

The good ones are the writers that take you on a clever and heartfelt journey into their world. They let you see what is behind the curtain and let you in on what the real story is. They can bring you along with them and let you be a co-pilot on the travels of their lives.

The writer that gives you an honest outlook and puts their whole world into the music gives you a selfless description of what they are going through. They put aside their pride and give you an honest piece of work that can only be paid by one listening with a simple word; thank you.

The lyricist I am talking about is Mike Scheidt from YOB. He and his band deliver a piece of work that is not only honest but musically, a stylistic piece that one can only imagine one to one day compose. That piece of music is Clearing the Path to Ascend.

Mike and his mates have turned in such an honest display of music that is so good, it needs to be heralded as a miraculous album in any musical genre.

I was lucky enough to witness a few of these songs live at Roadburn. Simply put, they decimated the crowd with sheer musical whit and amplitude. I walked away a bigger fan than I already was.

So sit back and enjoy my discussion with Mike as it was truly an honor for me to speak with this soon to be musical icon. 

Gaff - Thanks so much Mike for taking the time and chatting with me. How is the new album going over, and what was the process? 

Mike - Every time we record, we get lost in the process and weeks pass like days. We were excited to put everything under the microscope, and went into a range of feelings and emotions. This album has an emotional heft to it that is unique in our catalog. The studio we were in called Gung Ho Studio is just fabulous. Billy Barnett has been recording bands for 40 plus years. So being with someone that has experienced every end of recording as far as what’s been available from 60s, 70s, 80s 90s. He has roots in all of it. The way people have been responding so far is been fantastic. I’m sure as we go along, we will get every range of experience as to what listeners are thinking about it. We gave the best of what is in us. 

Gaff - It seems to me it is almost spiritual in a way. A journey as it is very emotive. Was that something you had in mind or how you were feeling at the time? 

Mike - It was how it felt. That’s what was coming out. I think all of our albums have moments of that. It’s been a driving force from day one. Our collective tuning fork is getting more refined and we're able to dig more and more into what we want to emote as songwriters. The experiences of what we draw from as players and listeners is expanding and becoming more and more part of the music. 

Gaff - Some of it is almost trance like in terms of your playing 

Mike - I think the best music, when I'm watching a performer or a band, and there comes a moment where you realize you've been drifting in the sound, time has lapsed, and I’m wondering how is that feeling coming off of that fret board. It becomes more about the people and what they are bringing out.... being musically, emotionally, spiritually open and exposed, to the point there is almost a target on their chest, like there's nothing to lose and everything is given. That’s when I start getting really excited. There is a mysterious element that goes beyond the sum total of parts, somehow becoming much bigger than what is on the fret board, that’s when I get really inspired as a player and a writer. Those things become the ingredients for the spell and what comes out of it is something that is really hard to put into words. But you know it when you hear and experience it. 

Gaff - As a player and a singer, I found it to be trancelike. I think in terms of vocally and the chords, it’s pretty spectacular. I feel this album is so complete. Where you listening to different music while writing this? Marrow to me has a Cortez the Killer vibe. The drums are behind the beat. That is my favorite on the album. Vocally its great but the drums are really fantastic. 

Mike - For sure, we were listening to everything from Neurosis, Swans, Angels of Light, and definitely a lot of Neil Young and Crazy Horse , I've listened to the album Zuma quite a bit. I've also been listening to a lot of Wipers, Dinosaur Jr and music that is well composed but at the same time has a crazy aura about it that has an x factor that you can’t really put a finger on it. There is something there that carries it but the musicianship is also great.

It’s all there . I still listen to my share of metal and hard core punk, as well as Tibetan chanting, nature sounds, there’s a lot of vibe and power in the sounds of nature. We've used nature sounds on almost all of our albums. 

Gaff - For me , it transcends so many different elements. From trancelike, to a spiritual journey, to even the chords you are playing are hitting on different emotions. It’s a brilliant album. 

Mike - Thank you so much. 

Gaff - How long did it take to record it? 

Mike - About 3 weeks. We track everything live. Guitars, bass and drums, get that all in one shot. Then record other guitars and vocals. We built in time to be able to walk in and out, and once the basic tracks are down, to be able to have some breathing room and really listen to everything. To have the time for experimentation and exploration in the studio was great. 

Gaff - Some of the bass on the album has one note, but it’s so massive, where you all into playing less on the album and giving it more space to breathe? 

Mike - Aaron always knows what to play. He sinks right into the pocket, and has a great sense of dynamics. I often have these grand, specific ideas of what we are going to do when we start to write a record. But when I get really quiet, digging into the moment and start channeling what’s there, the music almost decides for itself what it's going to be. On this album there is definitely a lot more space, and there’s also some of the craziest stuff we have ever done, but as a whole, it’s a lot of pretty introspective pieces that have different kinds of tension and release to them. That was just what was there when we got out of the way. 

Gaff - Being that lyrically this is really heavy stuff you are singing, how is it performing and singing these songs live? 

Mike - It didn’t feel good right away, but you have to make friends with it. There were a lot of ups and downs when writing the album and the lyrics express that. The feelings I experience when singing these songs reflect personal experiences and revelations, which can be very charged. 

Gaff - Are there vocalist that you are into? 

Mike- I love Bruce Dickinson, Rob Halford, Edgy 59 from Burning Witch, Joni Mitchell, Roberta Flack, Townes Van Zandt, Waylon Jennings, Al Cisneros, Van Morrison, Neil Young, Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till, Uta Plotkin, Frank Mullen from Suffocation, especially his performance on Pierced From Within, Ross Dolan, Attila from Mayhem, J Mascis, Greg Sage, King Buzzo...my influences are all over the place. 

Gaff - Considering vocally, you are doing some dynamic things, can you chat about that? 

Mike - I enjoy being creative and trying out lots of different things. I have been taking voice lessons from a fantastic teacher in Portland named Wolf Carr and that has really helped. Wolf has taught me techniques that have really changed how I sing for the better.  Now I am taking better care of my voice, warming up before shows. Because of Wolf I can be more dynamic than I have ever been. As I practice the techniques and improve my ear, I hear different new things and I am growing as a vocalist. 

Gaff - So since Roadburn, what’s been happening? 

Mike - Well, we have taken a little time off, not much. We are going to Europe in September and we will be there for 40 days and doing 34 shows in that time. I have been crazy busy, getting ready for all of that and then working on all the album details and talking to fine folks like yourself. I am trying to get everything rocking and ready to roll. We have had a few west coast shows, and I have also been working on solo material too. I'm also working on a death metal project, not to mention I'll be laying down vocals for the new Vhol album when I get home from YOB tour. Busy. 

Gaff - What is your solo stuff like? 

Mike - it’s a mix between the 1st solo record approach with equal parts acoustic and electric guitar. I have been listening to a lot of Neil Young, Wipers and Dinosaur Jr, it's been very influential. I’m not sure how it’s all going to play out. It will be a full band feel including drums and bass, keys, whatever fits the tunes.

Gaff - How is it coming up with collaborators? 

Mike - I think we pick each other, and it depends on the project. If I have a specific vision, I try to find folks who are on board with it. I might be hard guy to collaborate with sometimes as a songwriter, because I have specific ideas. I have definite opinions on how things come across rhythm/tempo wise, how the song will flow. But I also want people to bring what they hear. If we agree on the vision then it's easier to stay on point. I like complete concepts musically. That's for music that I write. In the instance of Vhol, Lumbar, the Red Fang song I did, much of that music is already written. So as a vocalist my input is to make sure the vocal structures, the approaches I use, fit the music to the best of my ability. I default to everyone involved and ask for input. I want to make sure whatever I bring is appropriate and that my bandmates are way into it. 

Gaff - That definitely makes it more enjoyable and much easier. So in terms of the tour, where are you guys going? 

Mike - Holland, UK, France, Italy, pretty much all the Scandinavian countries, Spain, Portugal, Greece. All over the place, Austria, Prauge. We are bringing Pallbearer with us. 

Gaff - Are there certain places overseas that you really enjoy playing or does it all have its own vibe? 

Mike - Each town has its own vibe. We have a great connection to Holland, and the UK has always been really great to us. I am also very romantic about the UK and the Scandinavian countries as so many of my favorite bands come from there. Getting to play in Sweden, Norway and London, so much music that I love comes from those places; every place has its vibe and uniqueness and we are pretty wide open to all of it.  

Gaff - Are you guys doing Desertfest this year? 

Mike - We are doing Desertfest in Belgium.  

Gaff - How do you like doing the big festivals?

Mike - I like them, they have their incredible pluses and also things that are difficult, but we have done enough of them that we switch into fest mode and usually we know what to expect, set up quickly, watch our clocks and be respectful of the bands that are playing after us. One of the best things about playing fests is getting to see a variety of bands and diverse crowds that may not be at a smaller show. 

Gaff - now I know you are a Hovercraft fan, do you play one of Nials’ heads? 

Mike - I have one. They are great and Nial is great. Anything I can do to support him I am happy to do. 

Gaff - How did you get to know Nial? Is that from living out there? 

Mike - Yeah, from mutual friends. It was only a matter of time before we were able to sit down and talk gear. That’s what he does and that’s what I do. Our friends that we have in common, that’s what they do.  

Gaff - So you guys obviously have a ton going on. When you get back, are there plans to tour the states? Also, any plans on coming to Boston? 

Mike - We will wait until winter blows over, we will do a full US tour in mid-spring. We'll usually do a few shows in the winter, I know we have one fly out planned for December in NYC.  

Gaff - Where are you guys looking, St. Vitus

Mike - Exactly 

Gaff - That place is spectacular. In terms of things in general, are you someone that enjoys being busy and being creative? 

Mike - I need some balance and right now my balance is hard to manage, but between putting out a new album and the tour coming up, it is worth it. I have been insanely busy, nonstop since January of this tear. But what that is going to cumulate into is a lot of van time, looking out the window, playing shows, which is busy for sure, but there is a lot of down time in between where you can be quiet and reflect. When we get home we will have some actual real time off. It's all good. It’s a crazy life, this touring musician thing that we all do. 

Gaff - It sounds like it is what you are meant to do in this life 

Mike - Yeah, I haven’t been able to stop yet. I have moments where I think it’s too much and I get overwhelmed where I say I am gonna take a few years off, but it has never worked out that way.  

Gaff - so playing is such a big part, what is the guitar you are using 

Mike - It’s made by Brent Monson. Scott Kelly has a few, He has made a lot of guitars for people. Stevie Floyd also plays them. Really well made guitars, the ones I use are pretty much suited for what I do. I have been using them since 2011.  

Gaff - Do you come up with the concept for the head stock and body? 

Mike - No, but I let him know when we first started talking what I was after and he was working on a design called the Nomad which fit what I needed perfectly. 

Gaff - Is it a heavy guitar 

Mike - yeah 11 pounds 

Gaff - Fuck, However, it has a beautiful look to it. Very interesting head stock. Does he also come up with the humbuckers that are in it? Are you someone that researches the sound you are looking for? 

Mike - I am. I have been using Lace pickups. I have been using the Nitro Hemis and I have been really happy with those. PAF style but a little hotter. They have a great midrange tone to them which really makes the lower tuning come to life.  

Gaff - What do you guys tune to? 

Mike - A standard.  

Gaff - What are you running for cabs and heads? 

Mike - I have been using cabs made by a guy in your neck of the woods. He plays in Sea of Bones, Tom Mucherino. His company is called Mammoth Custom Cabinets. He made me 2 absolutely gorgeous 4x12 cabs with Eminence man o wars in them, 120 watt each speakers for a 480 total load at 16 ohm, reinforced for brutal loudness and clarity. I have been really stoked on them.  

Gaff - Now for the tour overseas, what are you using for gear ?

Mike - We usually rent from Nomads in Prague and they have an amazing backline of rental gear. For this tour we are probably using Emperor or Orange cabs, renting a few Hi Watts or Marshall JMP's, maybe a Marshall super lead, SVT head and an 8x10 cab, a set of quality drums etc. 

Gaff - So when you are here, you are running one of the Hovercrafts  through the Mammoth cabs. 

Mike - Yeah, I have a Falcon, it is kind of a unique one, it’s geared more toward clean tone, it does to a channel switch but the other channel is still pretty low gain, it has KT 88s in it. It also has these custom mercury magnetic transformers that are made for this specific circuit. It turns over 200 clean watts 

Gaff - Jesus Christ 

Mike - Yeah, it is loud. 

Gaff - What kind of effects are you running? 

Mike - I helped design a distortion pedal with Black Arts Tone Works. It’s called the Quantum Mystic. It is named after one of our songs. It’s based off an old Ross Distortion pedal and it’s like a TS-9 on steroids. It is more of an overdrive than a distortion but also the EQ on it is active, has cascading gain, like amp distortion and it has a lot of boost when you step on it. The quiet to mega crush is pivotal.  

Gaff - What is the delay you are running 

Mike - It’s a piece of shit. It’s a DOD, was named one of the worst effects in history but I have been using it for over a decade. Every YOB record except for Elaborations of Carbon uses a DFX 9. I also have one of those new TC Electronics Flashback X-4 sampler/delay. I like that quite a bit. I am using that on some of the newer stuff.  

Gaff - Are you someone that is pretty picky about gear 

Mike - Yeah, I am. I have become more flexible over the years partly from doing festivals. Often you don't get what you'd like to play through ideally, but you still have to show up and give it everything.  

Gaff - Is there a band out there right now that you still love to see live? 

Mike - Yeah, Neurosis. I am completely blown away every time I see them. I leave the show and am so inspired by how unbelievable they are. It is mind blowing. 

Gaff - Thank you so much Mike for taking the time and discussing the album, touring and gear. It was a pleasure. 

Mike -Thank you very much.

So, make sure you pick up the album Clearing The Path To Ascend. It is on my top ten list and I am sure it will be on many listeners.

Also, I want to Thank Mike as he was incredibly gracious while speaking to me. It is not easy putting everything out on the line for the public to see, but in his doing so, he and his mates have made an album that is true and thundering at the same time.

Music, any genre is supposed to evoke emotions. That is what makes music so needed in this crazy world. You can put this album on and feel a world of different vibes and totally get off on it.

I applaud
YOB and I am sure you will also.