Mike Scheidt, the Black Mastermind behind YOB, gives mass and weight to sound waves. And I’m pretty sure that defies one or two of the laws of physics, which means that he’s doing something supernatural. Which makes sense, because I’ve always considered YOB to be a sort of spiritual, transcendental experience. Not that I believe in any of that crap, but as far as music goes, I believe Yob comes the closest to making the unreal live. I do know that YOB + pot brownies = total out-of-body experience, but I don’t know if that proves anything as far as other dimensions are concerned. I’m still trying to run it by Stephen Hawking, but he won't talk to me. Mike Scheidt, on the other hand, was willing, and the release of Atma in five days seemed as good a reason as any to call him up and probe him on his theories of doom.
We started with the early days, before YOB was God. Mike: “Well, back then there wasn’t as much [doom], and it was beyond underground. There was Trouble and Candlemass, and everybody knew them, and I heard the Obsessed on Metal Massacre Six, I think. I was 13 or 14, and we used to skate to that comp, and I loved their song. It was the stoner Sabbathy track. But I didn’t even know of doom as a genre then. When I picked up Forest of Equilibrium I couldn’t get into it. I was like, 'Oh man, this is what Lee Dorrian’s doing now?!’ I was into Napalm Death. I listened to punk, grind, death. That’s what I grew up on. Then in ’92 I saw Cathedral when I went to see Napalm and Carcass. I didn’t care about Cathedral. I was in the back when they started, but in 10 minutes I was at the front of the stage. That show changed my life.
"By ‘96 I’m listening to early Sleep and Electric Wizard and nobody knew about it. I said, ‘Alright, I want to write an album like this,’ and nobody got it. I’d be giving out tons of albums and tapes. I’d have these drummers and I’d have to tell them, ‘Too fast, too fast… slow down, slow down.’
“Finally in ’99, I was just trying to put out a demo for myself. I got my friend Greg Ocon to play drums as a favor, who was actually a friend from high school. I said, ‘Can you just do this for me, please? Just do what I ask, please: slow down! So, I loaded him up with CDs and tapes and we practiced for two weeks and recorded it. Stonerrock.com had just gone up, and I sent them the demo and they loved it. And that’s where it really started off. Suddenly friends who blew me off as a lunatic said, ‘Oh, hey, maybe that is pretty good!’
About the earlier music itself, Mike explains, “My original intent in YOB was to be heavy but be interesting, like doom for ADD. We definitely have some droning, but it always has some shift or change that releases the tension a slow riff creates.
"In early YOB, with the vocals especially, I wrote way beyond my ability. I’d be in the studio singing for five or six hours just to get one take. Now I can go in there and get five or six takes to choose from, and we can pick the best one. Same thing with my solos. I can lay down five and we can see which one has the intensity or the feeling.
Next line of questioning. Last time I saw YOB, there was a legitimate pit. I was, of course, bent over the stage with the headbangers, but I took a punch or two, and I wondered: do a lot of people get punched in the noggin during a YOB set?
“Ah, the doom pit! I know it’s weird, but it I see it all the time. It happens often during the heavy bludgeon. Something with real menace, like when we play “Grasping Air,” I’ll see this slow-motion contact and movement in the pit. And I grew up in the punk scene, that’s where I came from, so I love to see it.”
As for the new record and the idea of Atma, Mike says, “The concept of Atma, the way it makes sense to me, it’s [a] Hindu term that means the self, the individual, but also all the change, all of the past-lives that..." He pauses to think, "Like, you’re not the same person you were five years ago, that's not you now, but that was still you, and that’s still inside you somewhere, and [Atma] is all of those lives at once, too, so the higher self. And the totality of self-hood: every tree, every rock, every set of eyes, every set of ears, every mouth…” He went on, and it was fucking enlightening, but I just couldn’t write fast enough to keep up.
About adding weight to sound, Mike could only elaborate so far. “I don’t write songs 'til I hone in on the vibe. I won’t just start putting riffs together. I write riffs all day long, and I think a lot of guitar players do that, but riffs do not write records. Once I start feeling a vibe, or I try to find that energy, and then I’ll start building the song around it."