Interview by Parisa Eshrati
After a difficult year of combating illness and near-death experiences, YOB founder Mike Scheidt has learned to own his darkness. Ahead of his first set back since his recovery at Northwest Terror Fest, Scheidt reflects with us via email on his gratitude and growth from this journey.
One of the hardest stigmas to break when it comes to mental and physical illness seems to be asking others for help. With YOB’s last release, Clearing the Path to Ascend, you were very outspoken against the stigma of mental illness and exposed a very personal and vulnerable side of yourself. Did opening up in this way on your last album allow you to openly ask for help this year for your recovery? What processes allowed you to break this specific stigma?
The shame and suspicion directed from many around mental illness is still strong. I'm glad to add my voice to that conversation in shared support and encouragement to those of us who suffer and to those who are trying to understand and offer support as well. That said, during the writing of Clearing I was deep in it. I wasn't asking for help from others per say. Rather, I was writing from where I was at, and then choosing with Aaron [Rieseberg] and Travis [Foster], us together, to take the lyrical content and vibe of the music towards a place of openness and healing. It can be nerve-wracking to write about such personal subjects and put it out into the world, but that is what feels best to me.
As for when I became sick in January, I initially had hoped I could keep it under wraps and not make my being sick public. When it became obvious we were going to have to cancel our shows and I needed emergency surgery, I chose to talk about it as I didn't want rumor or partial truths to be out there once we'd canceled our shows. The GoFundMe and benefit show that happened were arranged by dear friends. I was included in the planning and folks had my permission, and I couldn't have stopped it anyway. It was an amazing blessing and truly blew my mind. I received messages, donations, gifts, overwhelmingly so. It was a huge teaching, to let myself be helped. I haven't broken through the stigma, feeling uncomfortable in these situations, but I have gotten better at saying thank you and not making it awkward and weird, accepting the good energy and love sent. It makes me very excited to write and share new music, put good energy out into the world, learn, and use what feels like borrowed time wisely.
You’ve stated how now you’re at a point in your recovery from mental and physical illnesses where you can own your darkness. How do you find the balance where you can still tap into that darkness to learn and grow from it, but not let it take control of your thoughts?
There are parts of my darkness that I was born with as chemical imbalance, and large parts that are inherited from the human world, from it's focus on pain, anger, objectification of each other, the way we're taught of what to value, how to shape reality etc. The balance for me happens when I see my thoughts and feelings for what they are, phenomena arising that are in their essence as natural as trees growing and clouds forming. When I attach "Me-ness" to these feelings and thoughts without discrimination and awareness, then it's like being caught in a whirlpool with the water up to my chin and I'm almost drowning all the time. If I try to run from it or avoid it, it's like trying to avoid and run from your own shadow, it appears to never stop chasing you.
Instead, I'm practicing setting a place at the table for it. Sometimes there is wisdom to be heard. No thought or emotion can overtake me without my permission. We are taught nothing about our minds, emotions and thoughts, that like a rotating sushi island we can choose what we want to eat, we don't have to eat every single thing that passes by whether we like it or not. It's a practice, and I have much to learn.
The central theme of your posts this year have been centered on gratitude. Tell us how the notion of gratitude has shifted your perspective in your life, and where you see it guiding you in the future - both personally and in your music.
Gratitude for me is in part the knowledge that nothing I do is realized without the support and participation of countless people. "My" work and energy is a shared effort with my family, Aaron and Travis, colleagues and friends from all over the world. My life was saved by doctors, nurses, nurse's assistants, donations and good energy from people closest to me and also from people on the other side of the planet. I had a NDE in the ER when I was taken back to be seen, and almost died twice in the hospital. My perspective has shifted some. I survived, and was shown unbelievable kindness. I feel more connected to myself and others than ever before, and I am not taking this time I have left for granted.
Now that you’re healing, you’ve been simultaneously working on solo and YOB material. How will these two differentiate? Will there be a central idea connecting the two projects?
It's better to let people hear it when it's ready to be heard, and they can come to their own conclusions. No doubt my recent experience is hugely involved in the creative process for both. If I say anything else on it, it's too much.
I saw in a post that you’ve been reading “The Art of Zen” by Alan Watts recently, along with several books by Cornel West. What philosophies from these two have you used to guide you through your recovery? Have you been reading anything else lately that you feel might inspire your upcoming solo and YOB material?
I am hungry for growth and increased awareness, both worldly and not-of-our-creations. Ignorance that has lived within me hurts more than ever, and I need greater perspective so I can act with better informed thoughts, along with space around those thoughts in regards to both myself and others so that I can be flexible. A work in progress, my words here are clumsy.
I love that you shared a Spotify playlist that describes both the pain you experienced this year as well as the uplifting moments from healing. Now that you’re in the recovery phase, what kind of songs would you put on a playlist that’d describe your current state of feeling gratitude and rebuilding strength?
Daniel Higgs- Love Abides
The Cure-Underneath The Stars
Captain Beyond-Mesmerization Eclipse
Aimee Mann-Wise Up
Neurosis-Fire Is The End Lesson
Spirit Caravan-Lost Sun Dance
Alice Coltrane-Journey in Satchidananda
SubRosa-Borrowed Time, Borrowed Eyes
Dead Can Dance-Yulunga
Finally, who are you looking forward to seeing at Northwest Terror Fest?
We can only be there the day of our show, so I'm missing a number of bands I really would like to see like Transient, Samothrace, King Woman, Graves At Sea, Take Over And Destroy, etc. That said I'm really looking forward to catching both Marissa Nadler and Infernal Coil. With any luck I'll be able to run over and catch Chvrch and Hand Of Thieves as well. Being that this is my first show back, I don't know what my energy is going to be like, or how my body will deal with being in a crowd. I'm still healing and while I am much better than I was, I'll be listening to my body carefully. I'm very, very grateful that we'll be there
For more info and tickets for Northwest Terror Fest:
All interviews posted before October 2015 were originally recorded for KAMP Student Radio.