Mike Scheidt is one of the most universally beloved figures in all of doom metal. His smiling face and buoyant personality have been just a much a support to countless fans as his band, the legendary Yob. Watching him get very ill earlier this year was terrifying for many of us who love the great man, Mike had received emergency surgery for his diverticulitis, an inflammation of the digestive tract. He had a second surgery in March. There was a deep concern he might not make it.
Yet, here we are. The doom metal titan is back on top and we are all going to be blessed with a new album in 2018. It's fascinating to see this all unfold, and getting to dig into the mind of one of my favorite modern musicians at Psycho Las Vegas was a huge honor. This is one of the most emotionally deep and intense interviews I've ever conducted, I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed doing it!
All photos courtesy of Dante Torrieri
How the hell are you?
You’ve been through a lot…
One of the things that really struck me in your numerous Facebook posts while recovering was you said “When people see me they’re like ‘Whoa dude!’” Is that still happening? Do you think it will always happen?
It’s still happening. I know that I have a new lifestyle that’s kind of based on some necessities that actually is a healthy lifestyle. I’ve tried to live healthy lifestyles in the past and had varying degrees of success, it was like a pendulum shift. Being brought up with junk food not being off limits didn’t help but wanting to be healthy was important to me. I never had the body type to be thin but have sometimes endeavored to be thin, sometimes to a negative place. There was constantly a tension in it. There was a tension in being unhealthy and having low self esteem and being on the other direction where I was in good shape but struggling against the demons of habit in me that would send me to the other side.
All of that is gone. I don’t experience that anymore. I just experience what foods make me feel good and what foods make me hurt and what foods will sustain me to keep doing what I love.
Historically, a lot of your interviews have been defined by self esteem being a struggle – is that still a challenge?
Yes, but I see the empty quality of those thoughts. Those thoughts are informed by how I grew up as an overweight kid who was pushed around and picked on. I have big issues with men, especially macho jock types. And my own dad. He was a kid raising a kid so I hold nothing against him. It was reinforced in my family that being overweight wasn’t okay. Sometimes we carry around these hurts like it’s “the past” but we’re only ever bringing the past in the moment. We bring these old feelings that things in our present situation can exacerbate or be triggered that are informed by the memories of a child. When I look back on who I am now and what I would say to that 8 year old and what messages I would give that kid, and I look at the hurt around that that can be created in the moment with all the power and gusto I experienced back then, it’s like we don’t even question it. Now I’m in a place where I very much question that.
Part of that has to do with the fact that I got into negative thought loops and you think about where your pain and emotional center is in your stomach or chest, and when I went down those paths my pain would go through the roof and I became very hyper aware of how my thoughts could negatively affect my recovery. I didn’t have room for them. The moment I started going down those paths my pain ramped up and I would have to recognize that thought and realize I couldn’t do that. I’d press stop on the mental tape player, pull that tape out and put in a more positive one. Not arbitrarily but as a means of survival. That’s stuck with me. I’m not saying I’m impervious to negative thoughts or depression but I see more than ever how much I participated in it and that I willingly, subconsciously, but all the same, was kind of my own worst enemy.
There’s a lot to unpack there. The first question would be, what specifically would you say to that 8 year old?
I would say that your body is a facet of who you are in the sense that it is the vehicle for you to be in this world. In the words of Kyle Kinane “We’re all just different pilots being dropped into space suits.” Sometimes the space suit doesn’t fit the pilot. It’s good to take care of the space suit because that is the vehicle to experience any kind of goal or passion or surviving any struggle. That’s the vehicle you do it with but it’s not who you are. It’s okay to be different. It’s okay to be moved by different things than the people around you and the knocks and scrapes you get in the process will actually be treasures down the road.
What this is pushing towards is that I’ve noticed changes in you since you were sick, a lot of our mutual friends have seen changes within you too, what are the biggest changes you notice within yourself?
Almost really everything. The easiest way for me to describe it is when I was in the ER the pain was so bad it kicked me out of myself. There was a chunk of time there where I was no longer there. There was no name, no history. I wasn’t a dad. I wasn’t in a band. I wasn’t even in an ER room, I was gone. Consciousness was there. Awareness was there. The near death experience I had, because I was dying, it was kind of like looking out over the ocean on the beach. It seems really far away but at the same time it wasn’t far away at all, it was right there. there’s a vastness that was very up close and personal. There was a lot of different colors and things going on but I was aware of this incredible vastness that was awake, unmoving and still. There was a little separation inasmuch as I was aware of it being aware of me being aware of it. It wasn’t ego death, there was a sense of myself. But it wasn’t a sense of myself as “Mike.” When they gave me pain drugs it woke me back up. The pain erupted in my body.
I had two other situations, once when I had a seizure and went from a normal temperature to 104 in 2 minutes. I was shaking on the bed like in a movie. Then in surgery, the surgery was supposed to be 3 hours but it took 8 because I was so messed up, but somewhere in the surgery, and I didn’t know about this until the second surgery, but the surgeon decided to blast Yob in the speakers while they were working on me, and the hit that I got from that was that they were trying to keep me there. What all that equates too is my hard drive crashed. Sometimes on your computer when your hard drive crashes someone can retrieve the information. Other times they can’t and you’re a vegetable. Sometimes they can get most of it. In my case they got most of it.
There were some things that were there, forces of habit, ingrained emotional bodily forces of habit that weren’t there anymore. Or when they were there because of the pain and the awareness around that the survival mechanism meant I had to see through it and move past it and it was choiceless if I wanted to live.
My musical choices have change a lot. I’ve never been one to study music. My knowledge is Swiss cheese knowledge, there’s holes in it. There’s still parts of it that are tasty though! Now I came out of it and I’m learning bouzouki and learning all these scales and studying DADGAD and studying chord forms and how these different scales fit together and I’ve expanded on my singing voice quite a bit. I read voraciously and my meditation has deepened times twenty. My automatic reactions, discriminations and things that make me angry, it’s not that it doesn’t happen, but I don’t get very far in it before I go “I don’t have to live with that energy to explore that subject” I don’t have to carry that with me to deal with that. Carrying that with me starts other patterns that lead me down paths that I don’t want to go and that don’t feel helpful. It’s a long winded way of choosing what feels important to me and wanting to deepen how I use my energy in a way that is much more co-creative than knee jerky. Not being a victim of my own mind.
I don’t see the world as it is, I see it as I am. My perceptions, where I was born, my conditioned thinking, the country I was born in, my experiences in my life and ancestral knowledge, you and I don’t need to learn “bananas are good, don’t eat shit it’s bad” we have that passed down, but my own personal reality is shaped by the self imposed limits, partly societal, but it requires my participation for that to work. Some things I want to participate in that cause me pain that I want to do because that’s how the world is. Lots of people do that. It’s because that’s how the world is. But that’s only because lots of individuals choices make it that way. When lots of people make choices for something else, something else can be.
I still have fucktons to learn though. I’m not trying to be preachy, it’s on the subject of what we are talking about and what’s in my mind and there’s lots of ways to be in this world and different kinds of wisdom. It’s like organs in a body, they all do their own thing but when they are working together we can have a body.
You talked about this enhancing your passion for music, theory at least and changing how you approach life, and your approach to life has always been a big part of what Yob is, so how will that impact Yob musically?
I think we’re all impacted in the sense that for a minute there we didn’t know what was going to happen. We didn’t know if I could tour again, if we could be a band, if I could sing. For me to come out of it I couldn’t play guitar for six weeks. I had been working on a couple ideas that I felt positive about. I didn’t know if I could even remember those. When I was able to put a guitar in my lap and I remembered everything. Then within a very short period of time a new record materialized along with a new approach to my solo music. After six years of playing solo I’m finally playing music that I like. It’s taken six years to write music I feel good about. It made us realize how much we like doing this and that we need to keep doing this. When we did our first Yob practice I said “I’m going to bury you in new ideas” They were excited! What maybe we didn’t realize was that I had laid an entire record on them. It was completely plotted out, 70 minutes of music in 7 songs. It was completely carved. As soon as I could play guitar at home I would have to do it between big breaks and pain drugs and things like that but I was playing upwards of 8-10 hours a day and playing bouzouki a lot too. There’s no doubt it’s going to impact the music. It’s impacted the way my energy feels.
It’s easy to get kind of ‘woo woo’ about it but I think a lot of people have had near death experiences and been through traumatic things and come out the other side, it just naturally informs their way of living. Sometimes it can be really positive or really negative. People can get really broken and traumatic and given my history of depression it could have gone that way. I went through years in deep depression because I’ve written about these subjects in Yob from day one, Eastern influenced wisdom and stuff. I try not to write about wisdom I haven’t earned, I’m not trying to parrot something out of a book. I went through chunks of time where I felt like a fake. How can I have sat for this long and chanted with Tibetan lamas in Tibetan and sat with teachers and read books and still be depressed? But when it really mattered it all came rushing to my aid, it was an utter and total support.
Other kinds of support materialized around me, from people that loved the band to family. A buddy of mine who is Western but is an ordained lama and he gave me practices. When I was hallucinating in the hospital he got permission to do that. These things came together to give me a new foundation that wasn’t thought based. It was the energy to take thoughts and shape them into a co-creative positive present result that would then manifest itself in future positive results.
I’ve held off on writing lyrics because I’ve been doing a lot of studying and reading and at the end of the month there’s a shaman coming from Peru that’s talking about the way they connect the dots in there practices and the parallels with Buddhism and other religions. I saw a video of him talking and he’s so vivacious and full of energy and powerful with a great sense of humor. This doctor in my hometown is bringing him to Eugene for a three day retreat. I’m waiting to go to that at the end of the month. We’ve been demoing like crazy. The vitality of the band has never been stronger. There’s a lot. I’m just painting it all with a rosy brush a little bit but there’s enough of the dark brush out there. I feel that stuff too and I have deep fears about the world and where it’s at but I don’t want to be another tree burning in the forest fire. There’s a lot of ways to deal with problems and I’m not dissing anyone who is upset and enraged and screaming and throwing punches. It’s cacophony and everybody is hurting. I just know that in myself I want to be very careful in how I use my energy.