Yob have to be one of the most talked about bands this year, if you don’t know who they are then you are probably on the wrong website… If perchance, you are on the correct website, then as they say “it is never too late”, so hurry along and check some out. I was late to the party too in comparison to most, but it isn’t a competition right?
I arranged to do this interview in September, finally composed it in December, Mike returned it in March and it just went online in April. Moving like a glacier… Much like Yob. Read on for some choice words from the man himself with some rare input from Aaron…
Let us begin by talking about Clearing The Path To Ascend. Were you at all overwhelmed by the positive reception from fans and critics alike? Or were you consciously aware that you were creating what many consider to be your magnus opus?
Mike: We are definitely overwhelmed by the response. We’re honored and blown away.
You have recently finished an extensive European tour with Pallbearer, how was that? How is touring over here compared to the USA? Do you see any notable differences?
Mike: The tour with Pallbearer was great. They killed it every night and were great tour companions. Touring in Europe vs the US, there are some differences. In Europe, the shows often start earlier than in the states, and wrap up earlier as well. In many places in Europe there are pretty hard decibel limits that you don’t see in the States. That is always tough to get used to. The hospitality for bands touring in Europe is consistently good to great, which is not always the case here in the States. But that aside, the crowds in the US and in Europe are diehard and sincere, and we love playing for both.
Of the hundreds of gigs, do you have any standouts? Also you are a regular face at Roadburn, what is your relationship with the festival? It definitely has a vibe that is felt nowhere else… A proper sense of unity that lots of other gigs & festivals lack…
Mike: I’ve am very outspoken about my love for the Roadburn festival. Roadurn was and has been a life-changing event for me personally and for the band. The heart and soul of that festival runs very deep in the people who run it, the bands, the people in attendance. Everyone there feels it. Every time we can be there, it is an immense honor. We have been lucky enough to share the stage with many of our heroes, and travel around the world to turn up and tune in. There have been so many high points over the years that at this point we just feel gratitude for everything.
How important is the actual writing of an album as opposed to the finished recording? Do you find it cathartic to actually write the music or are you more interested in the singular goal of producing the best record you can?
Mike: We shoot to have it all there. But the music and inspiration has to be there first. The recording production is a vehicle for the music. Certainly the better the production, the better an album sounds. But a great production will not save uninspired, bland or half-cooked music. So to me, the writing is #1. It has to all be there before we step in the studio. I may not have every vocal line dialled in ahead of time, but I do have the flavor and spirit of the music in full focus.
And by that token, when you set out to write again, do you feel intimidated by your previous work?
Mike: I don’t look too much to the past or future with our music. As long as we are completely inspired by what we are writing, we can continue. If new music we are working on isn’t resonating for us, then we keep working at it until it does, or we’ll stop working on a piece altogether and move on. When I do start working on a new album, it usually comes from a moment when I realize there is another one to be written. At that point I put every riff, vocal line, arrangement through the ringer until it feels right. I don’t reference our previous music often, unless we are rehearsing for shows. There will always be favorite albums for folks who listen to what we do, and our new music may not be it for them. But as long as we feel energized by our new songs, we’ll continue.
Can we talk about the use of samples within Yob’s music? Where do you find them? It certainly makes a welcome change from the generic horror movie samples… How important are they to the record? Are they something used to write around or added afterwards?
Mike: I listen to a fair amount of spoken word albums from Ram Dass, Alan Watts, Pema Chödrön, Gangaji, Eckhart Tolle…mostly spiritualy/mystic focused audio books. Some sections I’ve listened to will really jump out and inspire me, and I’ll think a certain passage would be great for a sample. Our albums would work fine without samples, but the ones we have used carry vibrations that I feel really connected to, and the music I write is highly influenced as a result.
You have spoken quite openly about your battles with depression, and you coming off medication… How differently do you view your body of work when looking back to where you are currently? Is the process any different? Is it easier or harder to write these days?
Mike: In some ways it’s easier, and in other ways harder. I need each album to be inspired and sincere, and have its own unique vibe as both stand alone and companion albums in our history of work. Not being on meds has definitely brought some new vibe to the music. My depression is always right there, threatening to unhinge it all. It also can inform the music in deep ways. So I do my best to manage it and push into new growth and expression. Time will tell whether I end up on meds again, I’ve seriously considered it.
The lyrical themes explored all lean towards a form of higher consciousness than the physical self, touching upon Eastern philosophies & belief systems (Taoism, Buddhism etc), was it this interest that drew you towards martial arts or vice versa? Or maybe it was a separate thing altogether but all three are bound by spirituality of some degree?
Mike: They are definitely connected. I started doing Tai Chi and Chi-Gong in the early 90’s as a meditative discipline and for health, but not really for self-defence. Later on we were touring a lot, and because of a couple of intense tour moments in clubs, I became drawn to Krav Maga in particular as a means for modern day self-defence. For me they (martial arts and mysticism) all contribute to an overall sense of community, reaffirms self-worth and they challenge on deep levels. There are moments in training that seemed impossibly difficult, especially instructor’s training in Krav Maga. The only way I got through it was to let something deeper than “me” take over. It’s incredibly liberating and empowering. I strive for similar experiences when playing music, performing live. I have not been practicing martial arts of any kind much since we’ve been touring a lot more in the last couple of years, but I intend to get back to it.
Yob doesn’t really follow the conventional verse/chorus formula. How hard is it to remember the lyrics, all whilst trying to play complex guitar parts?
Mike: Ha, sometimes it is hard. For the most part I remember everything.
I am also a little intrigued by the unconventional (by heavy metal standards) lyrics of “Quantum Mystic”. Can you elaborate on them a little? Who was the Quantum Mystic?
Mike: Sri Nisargadatta was a Indian mystic who came to be a teacher quite a bit later in his life. Before he was a teacher he owned and ran a number of shops and supported a family. He met his guru when he was in his mid-30’s, Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaji. Nisargadatta was told to look at the sense of “I am” in himself. So he did. According to his account, he didn’t practice meditation per say, counting breaths or anything like that. He simply did what the guru instructed and over time came to a deep realization that he then spent the rest of his life teaching. People came from all over the world to sit with him and ask questions, receive his teaching. His book “I Am That” is a sledgehammer and it’s been blowing my mind for years.
How did the Quantum Mystic pedal by Black Arts Toneworks come to fruition?
Mike: Initially we were introduced via my friend Chad Remains of Uzala. I tried out a number of Black Arts Toneworks pedals, all of which ruled. Mark of Black Arts asked me if I had my own pedal, what would I want it to do? That became a series of dialogues and prototypes then ended up being the Quantum Mystic Overdrive. I am truly in love with the pedal. Mark, Nicholas Williams of Dunwhich Amplification and Jason Scott really hooked me up with their time and work. Gratitude.
What is your current rig? That you use for domestic gigs? What piece of gear could you not live without? (*feel free to be ambiguous for fear of being “tone-jacked”)
Mike: I cycle through gear quite a bit, but over the years it’s become more steady. I have two 4×12 Mammoth Custom Cabinets made by Tom Mucherino, who also plays in the excellent Sea Of Bones. They are the best cabs I’ve ever owned and are stunningly beautiful. For amplification I have Hovercraft Falcon loaded with KT-88’s that absolutely levels. I also have a Reeves Custom Jimmy that is a reproduction of Jimmy Page’s Hiwatt that he used in the early 70’s. Add my Monson Nomad (my favorite guitar ever) and Quantum Mystic pedal…these are things that I cannot do without. I also tour with TC Helicon Voice live pedals. I don’t tour with as much gear as I used to. I used to use two full stacks at every show. I’ve paired it down to give our soundman something to work with and not fight against. Now we consistently have drums and vocals that can be heard, ha.
Can you tell us more about Monson Guitars? Were yours built exactly to your specification or were existing models tweaked to your liking?
Mike: Brent Monson had a new model (the Nomad) he wanted to start putting out there, and I was first to get one. He did tweak mine for me however, as I like giant 40’s styled guitar necks. So both of my guitars have huge necks and Lace Nitro-Hemis pickups. Brent makes amazing guitars that are affordable and fantastically built. My Nomad with a zebra wood top is the best guitar I’ve ever used for Yob, hands down. Much love and respect goes to Brent Monson.
I am sure there are many people envious of your success as an artist, but how hard is it to actually be in Yob? To strike a balance between your children, relationships, paid work (during downtime) etc with a busy band? Have you ever come close to throwing the towel in and succumbing to a regular day job?
Mike: Yob has grown almost in spite of us, ha. We are not the most organized band out there, and our ambitions are pretty short term in the sense of making sure the music is 100% to our liking, performing the best live that we have in us, dealing with what is in front of us. Our focus is on having a measure of balance between the band and our personal lives. As the band has continued to grow we’ve gotten busier and busier and it has definitely overwhelmed me, especially in the last 18 months or so. We all get along really well and minor spats are resolved very quickly. So right now we are having some growing pains and are trying to figure out what our goals are, ha. We’ve not talked too much about that really.
What is your favourite Yob song. Both personal favourite and favourite one to play live. And why? (To both)
Mike: I don’t think I could choose a favorite! There are a number of tunes that regularly make appearances in our live set. Personal favorities are Prepare The Ground.
2012 saw the release of your solo record Stay Awake on Thrill Jockey Records. Was this some form of release so as to not dilute the sound Yob? Or was it a calling of sorts? It is definitely not the usual “heavy guy does acoustic” fare. It has many layers despite being very honest, open not to mention raw. It is at times heavier than most music made with distortion pedals. How does it feel revisiting that record?
Mike: It was definitely a calling, and I wanted to do something that had nothing to do with volume. I’m old enough to have grown up in the 70’s where folk and folk rock music was still on the radio. So I listened to everything from Joan Baez, Dylan, Cat Stevens and Jim Croce, Neil Young, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Joni Mitchell and many more. Later on, I was turned on to Townes Van Zant and country fingerpicking from the likes of Doc Watson, Merle Travis. I spent many years working on Travis picking and playing acoustic by myself, but it wasn’t until I saw Scott Kelly do it live that I considered trying it myself. Since then I’ve been really stoked on Scott’s solo material, as well as Nick Drake, Michael Gira both solo and in Angels Of Light, J Munly, Aerial Ruin, Wovenhand, Nate Hall, and more. I am not convinced I am very good at solo music and performance, but I am very into it and at minimum it has made me a better guitar player and singer.
Are there any plans to release Elaborations Of Carbon on vinyl? I am surprised that no one has in this day and age of format fetishism. How do you feel listening back to older material?
Mike: The prospect of a vinyl release for EOC would be a question for 12th Records at this point, we do not have a say in it sadly. In regards to listening to older material, I very rarely do it. If I’m brushing up on older songs I’ll reference our recordings, but I can’t hear them with much objectivity. I like some of it more than others. Live much of our past material still works really well and we still feel energized by the songs themselves.
Whilst you are very much the frontman of Yob, but one must also stress what a devastating rhythm section you have. How comfortable are Travis & Aaron with your role as spokesman? (*some words from Aaron and/or Travis would be fun here)
Mike: Travis and Aaron are the time-keepers and also 2/3rds of the quality control. When I bring songs to the band, we only work on what all three of us completely resonate with. So while I write the music/riffs/yrics, Aaron and Travis decide as much as I do what ends up on an album. As for me being the band spokesman, I do my best!
Aaron: We three are in pretty close contact even when we are not working on music. I feel like he (Mike) has a solid idea of the totality of the band and as far as spokesman he steers us true for sure.
What is next for Yob? Have you ever felt like recording smaller records, splits or EPs for example, or do you feel that Yob is more about taking the listener on a journey via a full length?
Mike: I have yet to write a song for Yob that is under 8-ish minutes, ha. So a 7” vinyl has not been a possibility so far. I tend to think creatively in terms of full albums more than EP’s or splits, but they are not off the table. I’m sure either will happen someday. We are going out with Enslaved and Ecstatic Vision for three weeks in March, then joining Witch Mountain for two weeks afterward. We are also playing MDF and looking to Australia as well. From there we will be writing and working on new music.
I have already taken up enough of your time, any final words?
Thank you for the interview!! Hails!!
Interviewed by: Jas Murray
Photo Credit: James Rexroad (Promo)