Yob's Transcendental Doom: Life and Near Death in the Pacific Northwest | Revolver

Yob's Transcendental Doom: Life and Near Death in the Pacific Northwest

Mike Scheidt's journey from bullied outsider to doom metal's resident Zen master
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Yob, (from left) Mike Scheidt, Travis Foster and Aaron Rieseberg, Ecola State Park, Oregon, 2018
photograph by Jimmy Hubbard

"I'm grateful to be from here, and I'm still from here," Yob's Mike Scheidt tells Revolver, while relaxing and spinning records at his modest yet comfortable home on a gray afternoon in Eugene, Oregon. "It's interesting to travel all over the world and see a lot of amazing places, and when I come back here, it does still feel like home. I raised my kids here. Eugene still works for me."

Scheidt was born here in Oregon's second largest city in 1970, and he formed his first band — the hardcore/speed-metal crossover trio Chemakill — here in the late Eighties. All of his subsequent musical projects (including H.C. Minds, Middian and VHÖL) have hailed from Eugene, and it's where he developed and refined Yob's uniquely cosmic brand of stoner-doom heaviness.

Scheidt very nearly died in Eugene, as well. Three times, in fact — twice from excruciatingly painful complications from diverticulitis, a gastrointestinal disease that required him to undergo emergency surgery in January 2017, and then from an antibiotic-resistant staph infection that he contracted while still in the hospital. Our Raw Heart, Yob's eighth and latest album, emerged from this intense and frightening period, and its songs express and reflect the sort of profound changes in personal outlook that a near-death experience (or three) can often provoke. "I'm on record as being clinically depressed and having very deep depression problems and anxiety," he says. "But after I almost died on the ER table, my hard drive crashed — and when I came back, my perspective just shifted forever."

Eugene isn't Scheidt's only hometown: Just a few miles to the east, on the other side of the Willamette River, lies the old logging town of Springfield, where Scheidt spent most of his childhood. "My dad was a logger," he explains. "When I was about seven years old, my dad bought a bunch of forested land, about 220–250 acres of land. So we moved from just outside of Eugene, to the country country."

In some ways, he says, Springfield was a pretty idyllic place to be a kid. "For my brothers and I, it was kind of a paradise — we were surrounded by trees, and we could kind of take off in any direction that we wanted. We would all bicycle all over the valley, and camp. No cell phones — you had a dime for the pay phone to check in — and our parents would all be like, 'Be home by dark!' or whatever."

But a conservative community like Springfield was never going to be a good fit for someone as artistic and inquisitive as Scheidt, who even from an early age showed a marked tendency to approach life from a different angle than his peers. "I just always knew that he had this uniqueness about him," says his mother Charlotte Scheidt as she shows Revolver around her home in Springfield. "When he started first grade, he had a teacher that felt there was something wrong with him. He had been in school for six months, and he hadn't learned to read or write or anything ... She said that he had all these disabilities, and she just couldn't teach him. And I knew that was wrong. I just knew it. It's just that he always had a different way of learning, and she didn't want to take the time. So I got the principal to take the time to take him under her wing, and in six weeks, she had him surpassing what [the other kids in his class] had done."

It wouldn't be the last time Scheidt's mom would have to stick up for him. "That's his high school graduation picture right there," she says, pointing to a photo of the young musician wearing a vest, a stiff-collared shirt, puffed-out Eighties hair and — horror of horrors — earrings. "He was at Briggs Middle School when he got his ear pierced," she remembers, "and the school just had a fit that he had an earring — they just thought it was going to be such a bad influence for the other kids." "In 1982, around here, that was like a big deal," Scheidt laughs. The school wanted to expel him for the piercing, but his mother harangued the administration until they finally backed down. "He was just a rebel from a really young age," she shrugs.

Scheidt caught the music bug in his adolescence, often riding his BMX bike four hours each way down country roads to the closest record store, where he'd stock up on punk and metal cassettes. While his parents couldn't relate to his music — "Some of it was charged for them," he says, "like seeing my Iron Maiden and Dead Kennedys shirts" — his mother still encouraged his interest in it by driving him to any show he wanted to see. "I remember we had a counselor one time with Mike," she recalls, "and they said, 'It doesn't matter if it's varsity chess — find a passion. Whatever it is, find out what their passion is.'"

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Scheidt’s high school graduation photo
photograph by Jimmy Hubbard

"A lot of punk came through Eugene — Raw Power, Poison Idea, D.O.A., Corrosion of Conformity, D.R.I., the Mentors," Scheidt recalls. "Not metal, so much, though I did see Def Leppard with Uriah Heep opening for them on the Pyromania tour." As someone who was regularly picked on by the local jocks for what he listened to and the way he dressed — "I grew up just having my ass handed to me, all throughout high school, for every haircut, every look, every band shirt, walking down the street" — Scheidt felt equally frustrated by the fact that the various outsider music tribes in the area also seemed to be at war with each other. "Punks and metalheads did not agree, did not get along," he remembers. "I saw Motörhead and Cro-Mags on the Orgasmatron tour, in '86 or '87. Motörhead brought out everybody — the bikers, punks, metal, skinheads and relics of the early punk [scene]. It was just fights all night long. I'm, like, this 15-year-old country mouse in a Saxon shirt, at the very back of the room, just going, 'I don't think we're going to survive this!'"

With his ever-present trenchcoat and fingerless gloves — style moves copped from Judd Nelson in the 1985 John Hughes classic The Breakfast Club — Scheidt managed to find some common ground with the local new-wave crowd. "They didn't really get along [with the punks or metalheads] either," he says. "But being from a small town, and being one of the only metal/punk kids, there just wasn't a lot of places for me to go. And they just accepted me, even though I was the only hesher. I was really big into all of that [music], too, and remain very big into it — New Order, Depeche Mode, there are so many bands that are such a big deal to me from the Eighties. Duran Duran, all the Eighties Bowie stuff, Specimen, Billy Idol, the Fixx … So I was into all of that, but I was also into all the punk, and I was also in shop class making Black Sabbath plaques, with my hair every color and spiked out."

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photograph by Jimmy Hubbard

Back on the other side of the Willamette, just about a mile west of the University of Oregon campus, sits McKenzie River Music, a store renowned worldwide for its impressive selection of vintage guitars and high-end amplifiers. Scheidt worked at the store's smaller, original location from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, an experience that proved equally as crucial to his growth as a person and a musician as his days as a punk/metal/new wave outcast in Springfield. Despite his relative lack of gear knowledge, store owner Bob November and senior salesman Dick Gunn recognized Scheidt's innate enthusiasm for musical instruments, and took him under their wing.

The job further expanded Scheidt's musical horizons; not only did he sell guitars to a wide variety of touring musicians who came through the area — including Frank Black, Lyle Lovett, Jackson Browne, and Parker Chandler of Windhand — but he also became deeply immersed in country music, thanks to November and Gunn. "This is where I was introduced to a large part of my guitar style, which is country swing," Scheidt says, looking into the store's front display window. "Bob and Dick, their lives were certainly immersed in rock & roll and pop of the Sixties and Seventies, but just as much it was honky-tonk country, country swing, Merle Travis, Jerry Reed, Chet Atkins … When I started working here, I was a barre chord guy, and I did a lot with it, had a lot of fun. But my style didn't really start to develop until I started putting on a thumb pick, and banging my head against the wall, trying to figure out how to use this sucker on an acoustic guitar."

Gunn, a veteran country picker, taught Scheidt "how to move chords around, how to grab notes in any position, and make music with it. How to use my right hand, instead of concentrating on my left — which is a good thing, because I couldn't shred to save my ass. I tried! It's not like I couldn't learn it, but it's never been my strong suit … Getting my right hand moving, and learning to make music that way, that's where the music that I was writing started to get interesting."

Scheidt also took guitar lessons during this period from Eugene resident Bill Harkleroad, better known as Zoot Horn Rollo, guitarist of the seminal Sixties/Seventies avant-garde ensemble Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band. "I was probably his worst student," Scheidt laughs, but Harkelroad and Gunn's tutelage, combined with Scheidt's hardcore, punk, crossover, heavy-rock and death-metal influences, all ultimately added up to the uniquely percussive yet majestic sheets of sound that fill Our Raw Heart. "Dick told me, 'It's just about weeding out the bad notes,' so I'd try to find all the things that didn't work," he explains. "But sometimes, I'll just find stuff out of nowhere. I like the 'out of nowhere' possibility at any given time — that's a good place to be."

Actually, when you've nearly died on an operating table, any place is a good place to be. And having lived to not only tell the tale, but also write and record another great album with the long-running Yob rhythm section of drummer Travis Foster and bassist Aaron Rieseberg, Scheidt is visibly — and understandably — grateful. "We feel like this is the best thing we've done together," he says. "It's a miracle that our music resonates with anybody, as far as I'm concerned. But we've always approached it like, as long as it works on us, all the way, then even if no one else likes it, it's still our medicine. It's still what we would do, regardless. We just write music we love, and we only make decisions and do things that we love, and that's it. So with that in mind, the fact that we were able to see this [album] all the way through, this was the craziest journey ever."

Actually, it's all been kind of a crazy journey for Scheidt, even if he still lives not very far from where it all began. "What's funny is, like, I really don't look much different than I did, all those years later," he laughs. He also clearly hasn't lost touch with what it's like to be an outsider, or his distaste for the needless stylistic rules and divisive barriers that are so often imposed upon music scenes by people who really should know better — and which would have kept him from blossoming into the musician and person he is today, if he'd bothered to adhere to them.

"It's interesting to talk about old times, and how these experiences hit us when we're so young, and everything is so giant," he reflects. "The emotions are so giant — the need for identity, it's life or death when you're a kid. I think sometimes the current metal scene takes it a little for granted, and I'll see them being like the ones that are picking on people: 'These fucking hipsters!' and this and that. And it's like, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa — don't be the jocks!' Watch the end of Breakfast Club, please. Just Google it. We're all a criminal, we're all a jock … There's big problems out there. Let's let the 'dress code' part go …

"Seeing some of the arguments that happen online about music, the fashion, and beards versus moustaches versus man buns … it immediately triggers me back to a time when all the shit that was flicked at me was from jocks and cowboys," he continues. "We were, like, the rebels, you know? We were, like, the outsiders, in a way. So there was kind of a camaraderie that came with that. But then now, fast-forward, and you have this scene that's becoming more and more a part of popular culture, and now they're the ones that are flicking the crap. And it's like, 'Nooo, don't do it!' We took a long time to get to this spot. Now it's our job, from having come from a harder place, to try to make it better."