Photo by James Rexroad

Metal stalwarts YOB ascends to greater heights on upcoming album

Hailing from the unique college town of Eugene, Oregon, YOB has continually redefined heavy metal music since the debut release Elaborations of Carbon in 2001. Whether branded as stoner rock or doom metal, there is no denying that YOB has built one of the sturdiest fortresses within the heavy music sphere. It is common for their songs to reach the 10-minute mark, or in some cases, above 20 minutes.

YOB’s music cannot be simply slotted and their sound is signature. Founding member and bandleader Mike Scheidt possesses the ability to blow listeners away with bone-crushing guitar riffs or enchant them with sedate, entranced melodies on every release. His trademark vocals range from almost ancient world-like, drawing visions of a wise, yet plotting wizard, to the roars and bellows of a determined Viking aiming to set a wicked precedent.

Defining track “Burning the Altar,” from 2009’s The Great Cessation, contains one of the most dominating and captivating guitar riffs ever put to tape; drummer Travis Foster pummels the drum kit and bassist Aaron Rieseberg controls the low end on an entrancing break solo before a burst of fury. YOB’s back catalog contains a plethora of impressive songs that go far beyond the standard fair of heavy metal music; “Catharsis” from 2003’s Catharsis is a mind blowing, nearly 24-minute masterpiece of craft and precision. The piece begins with a swirled guitar riff swelling with flange and delay effects. A slow but steady blossom builds to form a sedative trance, which evolves into a graceful wall of sound and ferocity. Their calculated yet precise formulas are undeniably engaging, leaving a lasting mark on record and demanding undivided attention during a live performance.

In the following interview ahead of their July 25, 2014 show at Starlite Lounge in Sacramento, Scheidt delves into the Internet, spirituality and what fans can expect from the band’s latest release, Clearing the Path to Ascend.

Yob Press Photos 2014 - Clearing The Path To Ascend

When did you first realize you wanted to play heavy metal?
Probably when I was 12 years old, the first time I heard Judas Priest. I was turned on to punk rock and metal around the same time. From 1982 to 1986 I was turned on to bands like Dead Kennedys, Cro-Mags and Motorhead. Being into punk rock gave me the courage to pick up a guitar and play. Listening to Greg Ginn [Black Flag] construct and deconstruct his guitar made me realize I didn’t have to be a shredder like Dave Mustaine [Megadeth].

How has the landscape changed for YOB in the dozen years since your debut Elaborations of Carbon was released?
It has changed quite a bit for underground heavy music in general. There seems to be a lot more visibility and people who care and listen. Before we first disbanded, touring was very difficult and we always lost money. Nowadays, the crowds are bigger in part from establishing ourselves and having the opportunity to share the stage with bands like Sleep, Slayer, Tool and The Melvins.

What role has the Internet played for YOB?
The Internet facilitates bands and helps get the word out about letting people know we’re playing in their town, but causes attention deficit disorders where anyone can check out 30 new bands in an hour. It can also make it more difficult and threaten the existence for a living, breathing band to operate because there is so much access. As we all grow as music lovers and musicians, we have to be careful and take care of our baby, making sure that bands can continue to be on the road and that the community and support can exist.

Does spirituality factor into your songwriting and stage performances?
Yes, it’s everything, although that term is an abused term and is a turnoff to some people; I like to consider it my “path.” I’m pretty dedicated to becoming a better person, but not become too hardened or jaded by what the world presents by keeping a sense of wonder, openness and availability. There’s something about the vibe of being in a room where all the hearts and minds connect together at once, being rooted in the moment. I’m a big fan of being able to passionately lay it all out on the line; that’s the biggest turn on for me as a spectator and what I aim to do, but it’s more of a lifestyle and a way of living.

Can you further elaborate on how live performances and the Internet have contributed to your successes?
We’ve always been very serious about our live performances by having a mutual connection with the audience and creating the most authentic, live experience that takes you out of yourself and into the universe by creating a living organic entity. If a band blows your mind live, that experience will last a lifetime.

How is being from a smaller city like Eugene helped or hindered your progress?
We have been spread out since 2002. Aaron lives in Portland and Travis is in Albany. I make weekly trips to Portland from Eugene to rehearse, which equates to about 800 miles a month, but playing with the people I resonate with best makes it worth the trip. When you’re from a small town, there are fewer pressures as far as what the scene demands or supports. It’s also nice to cut your teeth in a smaller town with playing a lot of shows, so finally when you do hit cities like Portland or Seattle you have some experience under your belt.

How has the transition to Neurot Recordings been?
Our previous label, Profound Lore, was great to us. Reasons for switching to Neurot were due to the opportunity presenting itself and having a great relationship and friendship with the guys in Neurosis. They’re collectively one of our favorite bands and we respect what they do aesthetically. They know what it’s like to sit in a van, so they’re understanding of what a band goes through to support a record. They’re also pushing us to operate and perform at a high level and learning a lot from them. We’re punks in the sense that we don’t have management or tour managers, so each piece we work through is done in our way. Sometimes it works out well and sometimes we go through growing pains and realize we have more to learn. We may look at improving these mechanisms, but until then we’re an army of three.

What can listeners expect from your upcoming release, Clearing the Path to Ascend?
It’s definitely the most epic, slower record we’ve done in quite a while. Some of it will be instantly recognizable as us; we hit some magic moments where we were aiming for the stratosphere and we hit it. The lyrics are less overtly in spiritual language and more human. We went farther down the road of creating depth. On this record, we have one of the most beautiful tracks we’ve ever done; we have one entire song that has six to eight layered vocal tracks inspired by having listened to a lot of Queen. Someday we’ll be dead, but the record will still be here.

Is it ever surprising how you cover spectrums from beauty to brutality?
I’ll never hear our records like someone else does. I don’t spend a lot of time listening to our music, so it’s hard to say, it makes our back catalog more potent live as we dig deeper because we’re able to create more depth with the songs. If people are connecting with us on a high emotional level, that’s the best thing we can ask for. When we toured more frequently I backed myself in a corner and struggled by trying to include different vocal ranges and colors. I then started taking vocal lessons from Wolf Carr up in Portland, who taught me to do vocal warm ups before shows and my recovery time got quicker.

What are the biggest challenges in writing 20-plus minute songs?
The hardest part is with the logistics of having to rehearse and eventually record those songs. We like to record guitar, bass and drums all at once in a live take, so if we’re recording a 20-minute song, we play those songs as many times until we’re satisfied without using any Pro Tools. We want nearly everything we put on an album to be performed live. Plus, if we’re playing at a venue that allots us 30 minutes, it makes it pretty difficult to come up with our sets, even though they’re never pre-planned unless we’re performing a full album at Roadburn.

On the new song “In Our Blood,” there is a sample that says “Time to Wake Up.” What do you think our society needs to do to rise and shine?
We need a growing realization of our inner connectedness. On a personal level, I’m trying to act with as much care and kindness as I can muster. I don’t know what it’s like to live in other places or be anyone else, but when I meet someone from far away and we can both say “The Wipers rule,” you realize how much you can have in common with people across the globe.

Any fan of creative, heavy or experimental music will not want to miss YOB perform at the Starlite Lounge Friday, July 25, 2014 with Oakland’s Giant Squid and Sacramento’s own Horseneck. Show starts at 8 p.m., tickets are $15.