Mike Scheidt is kind of my hero. By kind of my hero I mean that both my wifi name and password are Yob-centric. Any chance I get to sit down with this great man is an honor and this interview was no exception. Put together at Psycho California I got to have my most in depth interview with Mr. Scheidt in years where he was incredibly honest and gave us a look into some of the darker sides of his reality. As biased as I might be in his favor, I feel like this is one of the better interviews I’ve done in recent years.
So what do you love so much about cats?
On the plus side of them, when they are purring and cute and playing and beautiful. I don’t think there’s that many people that don’t enjoy watching them jump around and play. They do kind of have this weird thing where they are in our reality and kind of out of our reality. It’s like they have one foot in another dimension almost. It’s like how the Egyptians would worship them. Each one is like a little zen master. They are so in the moment. There is never really an apology with a cat. They aren’t feeling bad about anything. When they want to eat they eat. When they want to play they play. When want to get petted they get petted. When they are done, they are done. I know some people think cats are assholes for that reason and sometimes that’s probably pretty true, but all the same I love it.
Do you ever try to learn from them?
I don’t know. I think for people who love cats and have them you learn from them in the sense that they are so in the moment. Whatever you are doing if a cat is purring and trying to get your attention and loving on you you lose yourself in that awesomeness. Some people have that with other pets, but there is something about cats for me that make me completely slow down, enjoy it and enjoy them. I’m not obsessed but I’m definitely a fan. I like their work.
So what does the day to day of Mike Scheidt at home look like?
So boring! It depends though. These days I go to the gym pretty often, 4-6 times a week. I play guitar every day, sometimes for only ten minutes sometimes for a couple of hours when I’m writing. I tend to play in these kind of mini-episodes. I’ll play until I get to a certain point with something and then I will go focus on something else. Sometimes if I’m feeling like I’m hitting a wall I will go for a walk outside or go down a Youtube wormhole and then something else will come to me and I will run back to the guitar and apply that to it.
I have a rehearsal space in Eugene. I go there probably four days a week and do vocal practices. I have an acoustic amplifier that’s made for performance, it has a channel for guitar a channel for vocals and an auxiliary input. So I plug in my iPod which has scales that I run through. I put on headphones so I can really hear myself and the music that is playing. I will sing along to them, usually it’s harmonic minor and natural minor with maybe a few blues scales to warm up. Then I will go onto Youtube where there is tons of Karaoke. In a room by myself I will run through everything from The Cure, Psychedelic Furs, New Order to Dio and Ozzy and generally a lot of 80s new wave that I sing by myself. Neil Diamond is a favorite for karaoke. If I’m missing something and not getting a pitch then I can look up the real performance with the lyrics, sing along to that and find where I’m missing out.
When I’m feeling adventurous I will reach for things that are way out of my range. It’s the kind of stuff that would be absolutely awful in a karaoke bar. I’m sure the people outside the room are like “What the fuck? He’s horrible!” It’s good for me to go for stuff outside of my comfort level though because then I come back to Yob or Vhol and all that practice it makes me so much better. With Vhol I have to practice that often. I have to keep my vocals at a high level to sing that stuff, with Yob to, but with Vhol it’s so fast sometimes.
Otherwise I spend time watching Netflix and hanging out with my girlfriend. There’s some great television these days. I go through big chunks of time where I’m not in public too often, though I try to got oat least one show in Eugene a week. Then I see my kids too! None of that in any particular order. My youngest son stays with me most Fridays and Saturdays and I get lunch with my daughter when I can but she is in school to be a respiratory therapist so she has crazy hours. I see my son Zeke as often as I can, but he’s busy too. They’re all pretty much grown up!
There’s a lot to unpack there. First off – will we ever get footage of you singing The Cure?
You never know! Robert Smith is a hard one to do. I try to do it in my style and just hit the pitches because he has a lot of lilting notes that he does. It’s things that are not quite in pitch but they are at the same time. He’s such a fabulous singer and his timbre is one of a kind. You’re more likely to catch me doing Psychedelic Furs or Neil Diamond at a karaoke bar. The Cure I do by myself, it’s a lot of work.
Who else do you have a hard time doing?
When I want to focus on power and vocal compression I go to Dio-era Black Sabbath karaoke. Where I’m at on a particular day ability wise is really measured by how well I can hit those pitches. It’s not just the pitches though. He had a way of hitting those crazy notes. A friend of mine once said “You never felt like Dio was at the top of his range or straining” and it’s true. Everything had this amazing head resonance and chest resonance. It felt very compressed sometimes and a little gravelly but never rough. I was reading about how Bruce Dickinson and Rob Halford both list him as one of their favorite singers. Rob Halford before his shows sings Dio. He’s just a magical singer. Ian Gillan too. I’ll pull out Deep Purple karaoke. His voice and timbre is so wonderful.
When I sing along to lyric videos I’m not so much to sound like those guys as it is to see how they resonating in their head and chest and nasal cavities. I’m basically becoming a big vocal nerd. I will never be as good as those guys, nor do I need to be. I can always be myself, but that’s my favorite stuff. That’s the stuff I go to to really try to step up my game. Occasionally I’ll try some cleaner stuff. Joni Mitchell in particular, trying to sing that is way out of my range. All the same, when stuff is out of my range I try to focus on my breath and approach it lightly. It’s not about trying to belt it out and be there but rather to work into it and pick it apart and find my way into being able to sing some of it.
How long have you been a vocal nerd like this?
Probably over the last five years. I’ve sung in bands since the late 80s but I was pretty punk about it. I loved metal and punk pretty equally, maybe leaning more towards metal. As a teenager I really resonated with Corrosion of Conformity, Black Flag and Animosity as much as I resonated with Black Sabbath and Dio. I’ve always been a singer but I’ve always approached guitar and vocals more from a punk end. It’s good to have ability, but it’s really really good if you have passion and energy. As a result I would sing myself hoarse. With Yob early on I would have a few good days early on tour and then have a number of horrible days. I wouldn’t understand why I was having a number of bad days. At one point we were getting ready to go on another tour and going into the studio and I had a moment where I realized thee is a reason great singers are great and I ad to find out why. Sure enough there was. There definitely was that natural ability, but there is a lot you can learn.
I think we’ve lost an era of great singers now that there isn’t religious suppression and you don’t have to go to church and be in the choir. A lot of great singers, including famous metal singers, came up in choirs. They were taught how to sing. I started seeing this guy I had been hearing about for lessons. He was young enough that he wasn’t wagging his finger at me about how I was going to ruin my voice and instead taught me warmups and techniques so I could sing for an entire tour. The goal was to have a natural talking voice at the end of every set. That’s how I know I had a good night.
How often do you meet that goal?
It’s hard on tour. Everyone gets sick. For a vocalist it particularly sucks because your instrument isn’t something you can put on a tuner or get fixed. If you’re sick on tour and it’s in your chest and nose and throat you’re in survival mode trying to make it through. At times where I’m sick sometimes I come out hoarse. If I’m not sick and do my warmups and apply the proper techniques then I can talk pretty well after shows generally. The techniques when I am sick help me survive it and not further damage my voice.
You’ve been not just on a health kick, but generally making better lifestyle choices than you have in the last few years. Why is that?
Because my depression was going to kill me. I just have really bad depression like a lot of people do and there’s a lot of stigma around it. There are people who completely shut off the moment anyone starts talking about mental health issues. There’s a lot of people that suffer from it and I ad a really bad run with it. It didn’t matter how good things were going with the band or how my family life was. It didn’t matter whether I had a little money in the bank or not or how many compliments I got, I was in a dark dark pit. I rarely left my apartment between tours and then I would go on tour and I would feel like I had to put it all away somewhere and show up. It was a blessing in a way because it would force me out of that place to meet people and be on stage and use the music and stage to work through some of it. Then I would go home and shut the doors, close the windows and disappear. It’s not like I drank a lot but I drank every night to go to sleep and turn off my brain. I went way off my path.
The thing with the depression is that it is so insidious that you don’t even know how deep you are in it. I had a moment in time that was a turning point. I went off psych meds and hadn’t meditated in a chunk of time. I had an overarching bigger picture awareness that there is more to life than my particular story. Life is vast and it’s for the living and I wasn’t living, I was surviving. I had a moment of a lot of bad habits colliding and I realized I was on my way to death and being completely irresponsible for not taking responsibility for my illness. I was being irresponsible to my friends, family and children. I went through the process to get back on healthcare, and started going to the gym. I put on 60 pounds in 3 and a half years. My girlfriend is a saint, she and my bandmates stood by me through all of it. I got on to a light dose of antidepressants, started getting back into my vocal practice, started going out to shows more often and started to try to be just more visible and accountable. Making sure I’m having quality time with my children was key too.
I have goals in this life that have nothing to do with music, it’s just a symptom of it and how I want to live. There are a lot of people who are living and doing amazing and inspiring and incredible work, people who are much further down the past. When I see people doing that that awakes something inside me and makes me want that and makes me realize it’s part of a tradition of all of us that are working hard and trying to make something reasonable out of this mysterious fucking life. That’s why I have been changing. I’m not trying to ping pong the other way and become a health nerd which is lame. I don’t want to just talk about health. I just realized that I was on a really bad path and it had to change.
What was that defining moment?
Sitting on a couch and being depressed and realizing that I was just sitting around living. Especially at my age. When you have a heart attack at 25 that’s tragic. If you’re 45, that’s not bad luck, that could happen. I realized that I was sedentary and that there could easily be a moment where life would flash in front of me and I would see with total clarity every step of the way where I could have made a different choice. I could still be there for my children, there to write another album, to be a good partner, to be a fan of music, to high five friends I shared the stage with. It made me realize I had to be better than this and had to accept myself as I am, and that meant I needed help.