As he sits down with his meal and talks casually about the current European tour and his disappointment in missing Pentagram’s Dublin show the night before, it’s apparent that Mike is truly a fan of music through and through and no different from you or me.
OD – Having been fronting YOB now for close to twenty years, you must have seen many changes in your local scene as well as globally. Do you find that things are in a good place now for doom in general or have they become somewhat stagnant?
MIKE – Yeah, absolutely! The scene has grown on a tremendous level with loads of new bands and then you have the bands that have been doing it for a very long time like Sleep, Pentagram, and Eyehategod who are rightfully getting a lot of respect and support which is just great to me. I would have to say that this is probably the most vibrant period in what is known as the ‘doom’ scene and long may it continue.
OD – Clearing the Path to Ascend truly is a masterful album and has the ability to transcend into something; that at times is far beyond the realms of what we know as “doom”. Do you find that putting together new material is more than just an exercise in creating music but more developing a landscape in which you can push boundaries as a pioneer?
MIKE – We just try to write music that we all feel really passionate about and is interesting to us personally. We know where we fit in and as we list to a very big variety of music we know what our particular influences are, which we feed into the music that we create. We don’t get too clever with it as far as that goes. We just know that each album that we release has to earn it’ place for us and has to earn its vibe and has to have a new sense of adventure, while at the same time we want to keep a foot in what it is that we have previously done. so it’s not like it’s unrecognisable to who YOB are.
At the end of the day, if we are just completely thrilled by ourselves listening to what we have done regardless if anyone else is listening, then we know that we are happy with the way things are.
OD – With Clearing.. now just over two years old, have you been writing for a new album and if so how is that coming along?
MIKE – I play the guitar all the time and we’re always trying out ideas all the time but it’s all about the vibe and that’s where the actual music will come from. I will play the guitar and mess around and maybe occasionally get inspirational moments where I’ll try to root something out, but until the vibe is right, it’s just riffs and not really music, if you know what I mean. Just playing riffs is a stepping stone of sorts; to finding our vibe. I’m really looking for the cohesive spirit that will run the course of an album and have a flavor to it, that is almost as important as the songs themselves.
So, without that; it’s not cohesive. At the moment we have some ideas but we can’t rush it and if you do, the energy and feeling of the music have a tendency to run away from us. We just kind of have to cast the line and wait.
OD – You have incorporated many different styles into your music with hints of Pentagram, Electric Wizard, Neuroses and Sleep here and there but also elements of Death Metal and strains of Hardcore, there is no doubt that you’re very open to cross pollination when writing. You are seven studio albums deep now and the sound is continuing to evolve, are there any styles that you have tried to incorporate but found that just doesn’t sit right?
MIKE – Not really. I would say at the very beginning, with the earliest demo, we were trying to get a very pure thing, which I guess you could call it straight up stoner doom. After that, we started incorporating elements of different musical styles and it’s just been a really natural and organic progression with the music. There hasn’t been anything that we have tried to force in there that didn’t work, we just followed everything we do purely by feel and what naturally comes out is what we go with.
OD – You have spoken in the past about starting out and playing more shows in the Punk / Hardcore scene rather than the Rock / Metal scene. That must have been an interesting time as ‘doom’ then was not really as established as it is today. Would you consider that path through the punk / hardcore shows as important part of who you are today?
MIKE – A lot of how we go about doing things comes from playing music back in that period and even before YOB started. All of this experience affects the way that I attack the music, which is more in the vein of a punk rock band. Everything we do is very physical and honest. We are not really concerned about things being note perfect all the time and we make mistakes periodically because we’re being really physical and I just resonate with that kind of performance and that’s what get’s me excited.
There are lots of different ways to be on stage and what comes to mind is what Henry R0llins said about performing live: “burn every calorie, be exhausted and if you’re not, then you’re not doing it right” and that’s kind of the way I feel about it.
OD – One of the unique elements of YOB for me are the subtleties within the song structure; which is something that seems to be hard to find these days. When you look back at Pink Floyd, The Allman Brothers, Zeppelin, and even Maiden, who all have compositions that exceed the timeframe of most songs, it’s hard to not appreciate the process of composing a piece of music that intensely engages the listener for a long period of time. Do you have a process in which you form each composition, or is it purely a second sense type thing?
MIKE – I always approach the writing process with the mindset that if we’re really trying to make something work to the point where it almost feels like we’re forcing it. Then it needs to go back on the back-burner and simmer a little more or it just simply doesn’t work.
There is a certain degree of work with creating music like practicing your instrument and working with the rest of the band in trying to be as tight as you can and have good arrangements. You can force yourself to do scales all day long but when it comes to creating and writing music, it simply can’t be forced. That’s not how music works! There has to be that play element in what we do. Like Alan Watts (Philosopher) once said: “when dancers are on stage, their purpose is not to end up at a certain point on the floor, the idea is to be free and dancing to let yourself go” and I think that with good music there is good structure and some clever ideas, but I really think that music has to have an element of ‘feeling’ about it where you can let your mind wander and feel freedom within it.
YOB works really hard but doesn’t believe in working the music too hard, because otherwise if things are strained and forced it sounds pinched and things are patched together rather than a natural progression of organic ideas and feelings. If you’re trying to create something in a hurry and meet a deadline then the entire process becomes purely about that, rather than the music itself.
OD – I understand that you all record together in a live style environment, this must really enhance the overall method of capturing the dynamics of the music. Have you ever tried any other methods to enhance the true essence of the band during the recording process?
MIKE – We are in a rut for sure, but it’s a comfortable rut (laughing). We’re pretty set in our ways with things and like to get in a room and do things at our own pace. The concept of doing things separately just seems very wrong and totally alien to us. We like to plug in and record in one take, to capture the real intensity of the moment. We’re forced to be a band in the studio and in some cases there can be stuff that we ‘punch in’ from time to time. For instance, if we have a really good solid drum performance and there are a few little things that need to be cleaned up, then we would ‘punch in’ and fix that but we are very cautious about that as sometimes you can fix the soul our of a record and the next thing you know, the record is getting smaller and smaller.
Having that element of looseness makes the album sound bigger in my opinion. We want to capture really inspired performances and we get that by feeding off each other when we’re in the room recording.
OD – Having been through the 90’s and have seen the change in the way music is not only consumed but marketed, do you find that you tend to miss the way things were with regards to the physicality of things, such as fanzines, floppy discs etc?
MIKE – Definitely fanzines and magazines are something that I occasionally miss. They were the source for loads of new bands and new sounds. Another thing that I really miss is the mix-tapes that friends would make and we would swap, discovering so much incredible music. In saying that, I do really like the way music is so accessible right now. If we had that when we were growing up, it would have been fantastic. I feel that there’s kind of a mystique looking back on things like this. Yeah, there was a time when there was a huge amount of music that was being downloaded illegally and people had these massive libraries of music which they most likely only bought one or two of the albums.
But I’ve really seen this kind of movement lately, especially with the kids, who tend to feel like there is a mystique to owning the physically of records again as well as merchandise. It’s almost like going back to the day’s when it was cool to have a collection of stuff that’s not just on an iPod. It was something that as a musician, you couldn’t tell anybody, because the more of a stink you made about the ‘money grabbing asshole’ who’s been stealing your music, the more it made you look like a charity of sorts. I look at it this way, some of my all time favorite records were only $6 and I’ve had them for forty years and continues to be part of my life and is still very important to me, but I understand the other end of it also and we’ve never made a bit deal about illegal downloading or anything like that.
I do think that it’s that there is a soulful quality to owning something. It’s almost like the digital age is becoming age once again and see kids getting excited again in owning their very own album / turntable or CDs. I think that’s perfect and great to see a sort of natural progression.
OD – Portland is producing a phenomenal selection of bands at the moment, with the likes of Red Fang, Hands Of Thieves, Holy Grove, Gaythiest, not to mention further up north in Seattle. There is no doubt that the further north you go the music just gets’s deeper, darker and heavier. Do you find that certain states / areas have been accustomed to producing a particular sound?
MIKE – I think there is definitely a particular vibe in terms of sound and subject matter when looking at the music that comes from different places. If you look back to the mid 80’s there was a definite difference for sure with the whole hair / glam thing. I think today there is more of a change with things today. That whole ‘carrot dangling’ of being a star doesn’t really exist that much. If you go down to Southern California, there are just tons of great hardcore bands of every variety underground that are releasing fantastic music and that’ the same in San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle.
There are subtitles when looking at the regional differences with the likes of say Portland and Seattle being associated with a more heavy and darker approach and style. There are so many great bands that come from down south that I really love and just thinking of that period of excess back in the 80’s, it was so relevant to the evolution of music and I have to admit there are some great bands and albums from that era that I have in my collection. But, I just love the northwest music scene and feel very fortunate that we are part of something that is overflowing with quality and innovation.
OD – After you complete this run of dates with Black Cobra, what is on the schedule for YOB?
MIKE – We have five shows with Neuroses and when we’re done with that, we are just going to chill out and go about capturing the vibe of another album.
OD – YOB has always been on of those bands that have very different looking album covers that don’t really follow any consistent concept like Iron Maiden, but reflect the vibe of the album. What album covers are highly prominent for you personally from your own collection?
MIKE – Well I’de have to say Abbey Road (Beatles 1969), Beggars Banquet (Rolling Stones, 1968) and Led Zeppelin II (1969), they are all albums that have had a huge impact on me personally. Also Elton John’s, A Single Man (1978) and Greatest Hits (1974). All of those albums were played in the house quite a lot when I was growing up. Oh, I nearly forgot Fire and Water (Free, 1970) and Captain Beyond ( self-titled,1972) that album is just mind-blowing man. Everything about it is incredible. Now that I’m thinking, there’s also Corrosion of Conformity, Animosity (1985), Black Flag, My War (1984) & Loose Nut (1985), Suicidal Tendencies (self-titled 1983) and Iron Maiden, Piece of Mind (1983) which I still remember buying on cassette from a Buymart store, like it was yesterday. I still have that very cassette at home (laughing).
There are just so many fantastic album covers that are just so iconic for me and take me back to a certain time in my life. That’s just one of the fantastic things about the power of music and one of the reasons why I was drawn into becoming a musician.
Check out our review of YOB in Whelan’s, Ireland 11/10/16, on this link.
YOB will be hitting the road with NEUROSIS in November for a selection of shows. Check all the dates here.
© OVERDRIVE 2016
Ireland’s doom / stoner crew TEN TON SLUG release their highly anticipated EP Brutal Gluttonous Beast via Bandcamp on Tuesday, Oct 25th. Get your copy by clicking on the link below.