YOB’s Aaron Rieseberg on Our Raw Heart’s gestation, and how they turned personal tragedy into triumph.
Oregon trio YOB are, and always have been, an out-and-out doom band, but they’ve never been ones to stagnate. Each of their albums has its own distinct personality, and their latest is no different. As album number eight, Our Raw Heart takes the band’s proclivity for colossal riffs and warps it into something more uplifting. Informed by a life-threating experience, namely frontman Mike Scheidt’s struggle with a potentially fatal intestinal disease – the fact that Our Raw Heart album exists at all is glorious, let alone the fact that it is one of the band’s most accomplished and dynamic offerings to date. That’s not to say that the band has lost any of the potent, doomy power they’ve always wielded, though, rather that such power has been realigned here; on Our Raw Heart, YOB don’t sound angry.
This in itself is impressive for a band in a genre so obsessed with songs that revel in slow, downtrodden riffs and distressing vocals, but YOB have always been adept at weaving a certain mystical grandeur into their compositions. Whilst their last two efforts, 2011’s Atma and 2014’s Clearing The Path To Ascend, dealt with increased bouts of aggression and psychedelia respectively, Our Raw Heart is grounded, raw, and yet boasts sections of transcendental beauty that are only more affecting when considered alongside the wider context of the album’s gestation.
As usual, their efforts are nothing if not dynamic, boasting an approach that differs from many of their contemporaries in that it doesn’t have the same reliance on repetition or simplicity. These works build and morph, combining enormous metallic power and more pensive sections to craft beguiling tracks that earn their lengthy runtimes. Our Raw Heart is a wonderfully eclectic offering in a career lined with them, but it’s also much more than that. Informed by the cataclysm behind it all, it’s a showcase of just how much Scheidt, Travis Foster (drums) and Aaron Rieseberg (bass) still have to offer. Having endured line-up changes, a hiatus, collapsed side projects and a near-death experience, YOB are survivalists, and the metal world is better for it.
Our Raw Heart has a darker, more grounded feel than your previous output. Is that a result of the recent hardships the band has gone through, including Mike’s health scare?
I definitely would agree that there is a sort of grounded vibe on this record. About six months into Mike’s recovery we resumed jamming/constructing and there were big waves of elation, plus Trav and I were loving all the stuff Mike had been working on while we were apart. Pretty much all we did was work on these songs to get them ready for recording, which allowed for some extra comfort due to how familiar we were with the songs. Another factor that lent itself to that was working at Gung-Ho studio with Bill Barnett for a second time. From my perspective, this record doesn’t sound as dark as some of our other recent works. For sure we hit a lot of darkness along the way, but to me it has an expansiveness and variability that balances it in the other direction.
Was there ever a point where you thought YOB may not be able to carry on, or that it would have to run at a reduced level? If so, has that changed how you approached this record and tour?
Yes, that was a reality at the time we got back to playing together. Mike would still have lots of intermittent pain and we were thinking we may have to pump the breaks on the amount of the band’s activity. I think the biggest thing it affected was our outlook during the recording process. There was a hyper-focus, gratitude, and celebratory attitude that laced the entire experience. When it comes to touring we are just going to take care of each other and keep an eye on how Mike is feeling after the nightly bashing and wailing. I envision a little less party and more sleep for some of us.
The album also holds a majestic grandeur befitting of its artwork. As such, do you feel this is the band’s most varied affair to date?
That was certainly a welcomed component! I think it is our most diverse album.
Was that grandiose aspect important to have in order to give the album a triumphant feel?
I think that those feels lend themselves to each other. So, yes!
Each of your albums have their own individual tone. Do you set out with the intention to make something different than what has come before?
We for sure try and do that in both the writing and the recording. When we rehearse the songs we try different ways to play the riffs to steer the song down a new path that isn’t too familiar. To an extent, we still will always sound like YOB because certain characteristics always resemble us – the tuning, Mike’s voice, and the sound of the three of us jamming in a room immersed in decibels.
Your songs are lengthy compositions and the new album reaches an imposing 75 minutes. How do you go about creating a long song that holds interest, especially in a genre that favours slowed paces and repetition?
In order for these songs to keep us stoked when we are playing them it has to have lots of subtle flavours and also bigger, more dramatic ones as well. The songs have to be growing from some angle, whether it’s very slow or building very quickly. Massive slabs of repetition can be extremely enjoyable, but to keep ourselves engaged throughout these long tunes they have to move a lot. Mike has joked that it’s “doom for people with attention deficit disorder”, from a writing standpoint. It’s kinda true [laughs].
A lot had been discussed about the rise in quality doom that seems to have taken place over the past several years. Did your approach to the genre change as a result of anything you’ve heard? Or did you pick up any new influences from any of the newer bands?
I wouldn’t say directly so but there is a loooot of amazing doom these days. Some of my current favorites are Primitive Man, Bell Witch, Hell, and CHRCH. I definitely have absorbed some of this music and it’s a part of me somewhere.
The album is due to have a limited run on cassette as well as CD and vinyl. How do you feel about the role of tapes in 2018? Do you feel that they’re a legitimate platform for music or more of a novelty for collectors?
I love the sound of tapes. My collection is very different than my LP, CD, digital ones because for a long time people stopped making them. I think labels and bands are realising the demand is there and it’s nice to have something a little cheaper to sell at shows. A bit of a novelty in 2018, but totally legit IMO!
As bassist, what role do you see bass having in YOB’s sound? Where/how does your role fit into the writing/recording process?
My role in the sound of YOB is nailing the melodic stuff down to the percussion and rhythm. Given that we are a three-piece, another big part of my role is making the band sound larger than it actually is with a solid sonic backbone. When it comes to songwriting I am more of a catalyst in the songs that Mike is writing. I try and write basslines that connect the guitar/vocals to the drums to create a big song. In the recording process it’s always us in a room playing together, but if a bassline isn’t hitting me right when we look at it under the microscope then I’ll overdub other ideas and make it better… or worse.
You’re also in Norska. Does the project have anything in the pipeline after last year’s Too Many Winters?
Norska is on a hiatus at the moment so nothing in the pipeline these days. We have about ten new songs that we have constructed, but no tours in the near future.
Can we in the UK expect any YOB live dates this year?
Yeah! We will be back in October/November but not concrete on those dates yet.
Our Raw Heart is out now Relapse Records. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr
Interview: David Brand, George Parr