Theirs is among the most inimitable sounds in all of underground heavy music, and with the self-produced Atma, their second album for Profound Lore following 2009’s excellent The Great Cessation, Eugene, OR, trio YOB transcend the upper stratosphere of their generation of doom. Touching and expanding on elements familiar to the band’s growing fanbase, it’s an album that nonetheless pushes into new territory as well, incorporating new rhythmic techniques, a more developed vocal approach and a guest appearance (a first for YOB on their sixth full-length overall) from Neurosis guitarist/vocalist Scott Kelly.
I spoke to guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt—joined in the band by bassist Aaron Reiseberg and drummer Travis Foster—while YOB was on tour with Dark Castle in support of the album, which is due out next week.
Was a rawer production sound something you specifically wanted to push after doing The Great Cessation?
No, it just felt like what the songs were requiring. I just wanted to hear a record like my favorite records that was a YOB record. When you look at Elaborations Of Carbon maybe or Catharsis, those are pretty raw recordings too, but we’re just such a better band now than we were then, and so, to approach the record with a total analog darkness and chewiness and have that kind of raw—listening to a lot of Poison Idea—feel, I just really wanted that in our record. It felt the best.
Maybe the next record will be retarded polished and we’ll hire Bob Rock or something (laughs), but this one, we just wanted it to be brutal and complex.
I don’t have a lyric sheet, but it seems like some of the songs could bleed into each other lyrically. Can you discuss the themes of Atma?
Certainly the theme has always been the sort of mystic, Eastern thought bent, more or less, from the perspective of somebody trying to stagger their way through it, versus it being some real clean and polished version of spirituality. I think with Atma, the actual term “atma,” you get a sense of it from the sample, but the Eastern version of it means self as in our individual sense, self as in our higher self, but really, it also means self as in, in one moment, every single living, breathing, vibrating, growing, stagnant, whatever, thing. In one moment, taking one breath or whatever it is, together at once, where there truly is this giant underlying current of seamless wholeness that is not good, not evil, not letting us do whatever we want.
It doesn’t take sides, it’s just one giant whole thing that every eyeball sees through, every ear hears, every mouth tastes. It’s all the same moment. That’s before any thought. That’s before any concept. That’s before any religion, any politics. It’s all just the ground from which it all happens.
For whatever reason, that hit me as a very profound theme, and I think the album definitely is from a perspective of a human mind trying to relate to a concept like that, but really, I’m very stoked on that concept. I like it. I live the concept.
At this point, do you have something that’s a definitive YOB sound?
We’ve had a certain sound that’s been based on our own musings, my own weird guitar style and certainly the influences of our record collection—but also, every album, and I think part of what YOB is as a sound too, brings some new element that the record before it didn’t have. It brings in a new twist or a new vibe that also is us.
That becomes the new us, but without ever abandoning what it is that we do. It’s very important to me that as soon as the first song hits, that it’s instantly like, “Wow, okay. This is the new YOB, and it already hits me differently, but it sounds like YOB.”
I don’t ever want to be in a place where somebody grabs one of our records and goes, “Yup, sounds like Slayer. It’s another Slayer record.” Because that’s how I feel about Slayer. I love Slayer, but I think their best albums are many years behind. There’s always one or two great songs on each record, and they’ve never abandoned their sound, and to that I’ll throw them the horns forever, but I also want each record to be a challenge in itself, or have something on it that’s really challenging to a listener or to our fans.
Your having Scott on the record was kind of a surprise for me. After five albums, you don’t see that kind of thing coming.
He stunned us, man. We wanted some Tribes Of Neurot/Through Silver In Blood-style percussion, and we definitely got that from him. Over the years, Scott and I—it’s not like we talk a lot, but we definitely are friends. We have a lot in common and definitely enjoy each other’s company whenever we are hanging out.
We were invited to do the two Neurosis shows around New Year’s Eve, and I saw them do their tribal drum circle onstage and thought, “Man, maybe Scott’ll do that on our record.” So I asked him and he was way into it.
We brought him into Eugene—he doesn’t live too far from there—and we were having a great time hanging out. We set up drums for him and he did his parts, and it was killer, and kind of in a very last-minute thing, “Maybe you could sing too,” and (laughs), and he was like, “Yeah…” He wasn’t sure if he wanted to at first, and he was like, “Man, I hear you’re doing some really off the wall and cool stuff, and I don’t want to get in the way of that,” but then we talked about it some more and found the perfect spot on the album.
He just sat down, and in about 15 minutes, he wrote out his part. He wrote out his own lyrics, and we set up the mic for him, and he’s out there mic-checking and we’re all in the control room talking and laughing, and doing what you do, and then he started singing. It got real quiet.
We’re just like, “Wow.” It was a revelation in that moment that, this guy we’ve been listening to for 20 years and have on the highest pedestal, was singing. In the next room. On our record. It’s like, “Yeah, Scott Kelly’s on our record,” but in that moment, the gravity of that for us personally hit, and we’re just like, “Holy shit.”
He did an amazing, amazing job, and we talked about having me sing with him, and so I just did some backup things with him, harmonies, and sang a couple lines with him, definitely not trying to get in the way of his power and what he was doing, and he loved what we came up with, and so did we. We’re just both really thrilled with it.
What’s next for you after this tour?
I have no idea. Zero idea. None. Zilch. We could just have a really fun tour and that’s it, or we could write another record. I definitely have some kind of excitement around writing some more, so I do intuit that there’ll probably be another YOB record. Whether that becomes a touring situation or whatnot, I don’t know.
I feel like it’s not really up to us. There are a lot of bands out there writing music, and a lot of bands out there pouring their heart and soul into things, and some bands get supported and some don’t. There are bands out there that work very hard to make a living playing music, and they stay on the road a lot, and I think sometimes that’s really great. Sometimes I think bands start to suffer for it.
Their art starts to suffer from being on the road too much. They start to write records that feel like products to me, versus being living, breathing documents of a time. It starts to feel like a means to stay out there and do it.
I’ll never write a record from that perspective. I understand why people do it, and it’s not a judgment or a critique, it’s just a statement of intent that, for us, it’s the music and the art first, and then, if there is support out there that is outside of us that is like, “No, we really want you out here, what can we do to make that happen?” then we’re gonna do it.
Atma is out Aug. 16 on Profound Lore. For more info, check out profoundlorerecords.com.
JJ Koczan has the complete Q&A of this interview on his blog at TheObelisk.net. firstname.lastname@example.org.