Machine Music's Albums of the Decade: An Interview with YOB
This is the 29th installment of the Albums of the Decade series of interviews. For the rest of the series go HERE.]
Album: Our Raw Heart
Label: Relapse Records
Favorite Song: "Beauty in Falling Leaves"
The Bare Bones: Our Raw Heart is the eighth full length from Oregon doom-stoner band YOB, notable for being written and recorded following a health scare experienced by band founder and main songwriter, Mike Scheidt.
The Beating Heart: Aside from the obvious pun, this album is perhaps the most worthy of this section heading I chose for these introductory comments. Because, as cliche as it is, Our Raw Heart is precisely that, a beating, persisting, living, anguished, crushed, revived, and fierce beating pump of blood and emotion. The path of associating art with artist's biographies is a slippery and often unrewarding one, and there are ways – many of them, in fact – in which Our Raw Heart would have made it to this ongoing decade-summing project with or without Mike Scheidt coming as close to death's door as he did. But, in a bit of unfair reverse engineering, listening to the way in which tension ebbs and flows throughout this wondrous album, and, mostly, to the searing humanity in Scheidt's uncanny vocal performance, one would not have been surprised that this is that album that follows that horrible personal experience. Human, above all. What a rarity that is, a work of art so wonderfully wrought, so meticulously made, and so fragile.
And it is the fragility of the record, of the context that surrounds it, and Mike's attempts to come to terms with his experience and his music since all that took place that stands at the heart of this wonderful, candid conversation with Mike, and also the reason it took good few months to set it up. I say this because that's where we being our talk, in confronting the fact that Mike had not, for a while at least, really wanted to have it, and had felt that revisiting Our Raw Heart would be prying open wounds that had taken long to heal. But I waited, and I think for those brave souls ready to confront this sizable interview, it was more than worth that wait.
As always, before proceeding to my conversation with Mike I would like to encourage any who are interested to read the rest of this ongoing project, with a few more exciting conversations yet to be published. You can follow us on any one of our social media outlets (Facebook, Instagram, Spotify) and also, if so inclined, support us on Patreon. My aim has been to use whatever support we can get to produce interviews like these, focusing on the art and life of that art, as well as other projects supporting our local scene, such as the newly launched music compilation MILIM KASHOT VOL. 1 of amazing local metal, hardcore, and noise. Thank you all for being here. Now for my talk with Mike.
These interviews tend to, for whatever reason, go smoother when dealing with albums that have been out for years and the person who's made the album hasn't talked about it or thought about it for six, seven, eight years. But it gets trickier with with cases such as yours, albums that came out recently. And we already went through this, but because you've already talked your face off about this album and quite recently, and in your case, there are personal reasons that have to do with the fact that you've talked about that album as much as you did. So you might not see the point of talking about it any more. Hopefully you'll see the point by the time we're done.
I just wanted to say is that I appreciate your approach, and that’s cool. For me it’s not that I don’t see the point, it's just that it's a point that constantly takes me back to a trying time. And part of it that it’s become kind of like an old injury. When it was current and the band was touring and busy that albums and its story, so to speak, was dramatic and it brought a lot of attention to the band, and particularly since it was such a good album. But that’s all from the outside, and technically you could say that is true since I'm still alive and still playing music and am deeply grateful that that album had such a resonance. Because to me that really isn't about me, it was something that became one big giant set of mirrors reflecting each other. And that's why it was something greater than then the music, it was actually something that everybody brought to it. And at the time that I was writing it, there was just a lot of uncertainty and physical pain and all sorts of things that are life, just life. But I think it started to feel like I just wanted the wound to heal and the world kept picking the scab open.
And that’s a hard thing, because realistically I can’t stop all communication about it, allow it to callous over and, in a way, kill it. And I can't do that for two reasons. One, I'm not sure that actually is good for me. I think that there's a context and there is certainly perspective that can mature over time. And two, and I’ve always known this, that music has a life of its own, and the way that it will fly around the planet and in the ears of every individual to take it in. And that's not personal in any way. There's something about it to where it's none of my business to try and control or choose the narrative. I think that would be really arrogant, you know? And so it's been a process to return back to all this and feel free to talk about it without it becoming like a complicated idea is to say that it's uncomfortable.
So, I understood that and I appreciate your reasons to stay away, and I think I have a couple of things I want to say about that. The simple, pragmatic thing would be to say that I am not at all interested in walking you through that experience at all. That's not something I'm interested in doing. I think you've done that already, you’ve spoken very eloquently about it. I am to an extent interested in how you feel about you just spoke of, the limit between how much you can speak about an experience and how much you can just emote an experience, that complicated relationship between expression and non expression, that is something I'm interested in. But I’m not interested in the details of the experience as much. But what I would like to say, to what you just said, is that – and this is starting quite differently than all the other interviews, but for good reason – I think there's something that's been fascinating to me for quite a while about musicians and maybe it's okay to say metal musicians because that's basically the people I speak with. And this is a very kind of simplified way of saying this, but musicians being rewarded for the wrong thing. What I mean by that is – someone had a rough patch in their life, where they felt not necessarily what you felt, but they felt angry, right? And they felt they had to expel that anger out of their system. And that anger sometimes turns into what other people identify as metal music or punk music. They don't think of themselves as punk musicians, per se, it's just that the music that comes out of that emotional experience sounds like what journalists or listeners say: “Oh, that's metal right?” So that happens quite a bit.
But then something weird happens and it gets very popular. And so that musician is being trapped in a position where the audience in a way is rewarding that musician with popularity or with attention for a very shitty time in their lives. And so what happens when a band gets huge off of a really shitty time? I guess I could ask you, now you're in a different place: You don't want to be where you were when you were writing Our Raw Heart. You're a different musician, you've moved on. Is there a way in which you feel like you're obligated to repeat yourself, or to make that album again, just because of how it was received, despite the fact that you don't want to be in that headspace?
I think there's a lot of different answers to that question that if you ask the people for whom the answers are correct they resonate with it as truth for them. So you'll have a group of fans, for example, that never want a band to change. They wrote, like you said, a highly potent album, and it was a chunk of time in the artists’ lives, and that expression was born out of the ingredients all coming together in such a way that it became provocative, perhaps medicinal. Maybe there's a sense of resonance and a vibe, it could be a message, it could just be an emotion. What exactly is this particular artist saying? For example in the case of Dinosaur Jr. J [Mascis] is a really – and I hope he won’t cringe if he heard me say this – but he has a lot of depth. He's a serious guy. And his lyrics say a lot of things without saying and you're not exactly sure sometimes what is being said but, and maybe he doesn’t know what's being said. But within that there is just this overarching feeling of a kind of completeness and vibe, and it's heavy, but it's also rockin', it's got all these things going. And within that framework they put out a lot of records and you can tell it's all Dinosaur Jr., but each one has its own take on Dinosaur Jr.
Another example is a band like Nails – they’re angst, it’s violent emotions. And some people who would see that and feel that would say: “Yeah, I feel angst, I have violent emotions, I need a soundtrack for them, I resonate with this band.” To me is the harder trap to get out of, out of the two, because the person has to ask himself, and I think this is one of Tom Arraya’s big issues in being in Slayer for the last 15 years: “I'm not that guy anymore. I don't resonate with this anymore.” But this is a machine, and it’s growing, and it’s this 800-pound gorilla you have to wrestle with. But you see interview with that guy, there’s nothing “Piece by Piece” about him.
So, when you talk about trying to repeat certain things, I think there are bands that do try to do that, and it almost always fails. And I think they may feel under pressure from their fans or from a buying public that they're supposed to repeat it. But then on the other hand, if they try to repeat it and don't do as well, then they also get lambasted by critics for not growing and evolving. And then when a band does grow and evolve, then people will lambaste them for changing. And so I think within our band – and it's not a hard rule, but it's meant to pose a question to ourselves – what we do is ask WWND: What would Neurosis do?
That's the question that we ask ourselves. To us they represent a truthfulness in their art and authenticity, that they will fearlessly grow, even if people aren't going to be on the ride anymore because it's too soft, or it's not Times of Grace or it's not Through Silver and Blood. And it's like: “Yeah, that was 25 years ago, or that was 20 years ago! Who was this person 20 years ago versus who I am now?” We apply these these inhuman categorizations to things that are alive. It's like a cage, you know, no living thing wants to be in a cage. And these are very selfish ideas too, people want the thing for themselves. This is why people get furious over Star Wars, you know? It's putting the cart way before the horse.
But to answer now more personally – I spend a lot of time on my guitar and playing. I have probably 100 new riffs. But all those riffs, if they're doing their job right, are like fishing lures. So I'm at the river bank, I got all my tackle for fishing, I cast the line, and I throw this lure into the river and see if anything living bites it. Because otherwise, it's just a shiny lure. And there's a lot of people that like shiny stuff. And that's what they want to see on the stage. They want to see a band that's “new” but that’s more or less a kind of tribute, it’s not really treading anything new. It's recreating an era and a style, and maybe some people were too young when the actual thing was happening, so it's being carried forward into a new generation. But a lot of times people forget that, yeah, it's cool if you have the outfit, and it's cool if you have if you have the licks and the talent, it's cool if you put in the time and have the songs. But the bands that truly capture people are bringing living things to the table, and not nostalgia.
When you say “bringing something living to the table” – I'm trying to find a good way to ask this, but does that mean blood?
No. Well, we could speak metaphorically about it or poetically, but what I mean is something that is truly inspired in a fresh feeling. That’s why in my opinion there will always be room for a truly great rock n’ roll band. It's not like rock n’ roll hasn't been done over and over again, same with the blues, and the same with any number of musical forms. They have a long history and they have standards within those forms, as reference points or as influences. There's nothing wrong with any of that. And you know what I was saying earlier, about nostalgia and things like that, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with nostalgia, I’m nostalgic. But when I’m being a writer, what I’m waiting for is the living breath of actual life in the moment that will take this math on a fretboard and turn it into a living, breathing thing.It's not just math on the fretboard anymore, it's not what guitar I'm playing, it's not anything to do with any of that. It has nothing to do with me, personally. And I don't mean that in some weird New Age channeling way. I'm just plugging into the actual living life, that when all of these things change and come and go in different eras of music and different eras of expression, and what was cool then and what isn’t cool now, there's something within us that's witnessing all of that, and that is not domesticated by any of it. It's alive. It's not in the cage. Whatever thoughts we have about it, it lets us have them just the way the sun lets us either go sunbathing or put on all black and or don't go outside. The sun's not getting involved, but the sun is the reason why we could choose one or the other.
It's interesting because I started this series of conversations not expecting anyone to oblige me in any way. I was like: “Why would anyone want to do this?” and it also seemed like a logistical nightmare for me. But, I don't know why, maybe because this is alive, it worked, and the response has been great, and the conversations have been great, and I'm a different person now. I guess 40 odd hours of conversations about music later, and I'm a different person. And one of the things I've learned is this idea of impersonal art. And I don't necessarily mean that surrendering yourself to a higher force type of idea, but the idea that whatever it is that is in control of the creative process has less to do necessarily with who you are and more to do with what feels right in that moment, what's interesting in that moment, and it kind of leaving that curiosity antenna up, always having kind of an ear for something that would be interesting and exciting for you right now.
So I guess one example for a chameleon-type artist, that is always changing according to that antenna is Ulver, who were also a part of this series, and that was a major part of that conversation – that there was an audience out there that was expecting stuff, and, famously, when Ulver stopped making black metal a lot of people were confused. And then Ulver started making what you could call spacey post rock music or something like that, and people were like: “Okay, I like this,” and then they switched it up again, and people were confused again. And at some point, when you're doing it long enough, people just get used to being confused and they stay along for the ride, accept change as part of the art form. But to me that seems like such a heavy task, because I can relate to being in the moment and creating in the moment and then having that product be different from what you've done before. But I can't relate to detaching yourself from expectations. That seems to me almost impossible. Especially when, and here we're returning to a conversation about your album, it's going so well. If I were in that position as a person, I would find it very hard to ignore the fact that whatever it is that I did now, that may not have everything to do with me, and may have to do with channeling, did really well, and the almost primal instinct to try and do that again.
Sure. It’s a discipline to manage expectations, to manage a person’s own expectations. I'm not pretending that I do it well, but I know that it’s a thing, and so we’ll call that progress.
“Glass half full” there. But I really do think that….. It's like if you're good at growing rose bushes. Certainly you're going to apply your knowledge to each bush. You're gonna apply your expertise, the time you put in what you know about them what their nature is, you're going to apply that. But really at the end of the day, you're tending each individual as a whole unique living thing in itself. So if you have eight rose bushes that are doing really well and one that's suffering, you have to approach it a little differently. You dodge and weave and see what you can do to help this thing on, and that's how you'll get that particular bush to come back to life, if it's going to. Maybe it won't. Maybe it's just how it is: eight of those bushes grew and delivered the goods, and one of them didn’t, and it’s out of your control, no matter how much you know. So I think with albums and records, and moving on with a future album, there has to be flexibility to work with what's actually there, because that's really all you can do. You can use memories from the past or scales that you know. But it's very easy to write riffs and it's very difficult to write music.
I assume that's the difference between what you're calling the the “math part” and the “life part,” that it’s easy to exercise facts on the fretboard and it's difficult to make it come to life? Is that the idea?
The way I think about it, if I can think of an example here…. Take the song “Rake” by Townes Van Zandt. Now, technically it’s a very easy song: four chords repeated through four iterations, with one small bridge part. That's it. He’s kind of like Dylan in the sense that nobody would say that Dylan was some great luminary guitar player or singer. But there was something that they brought to the table. There's lots of people who write poetry but it doesn't necessarily mean that their words leap off the page. It doesn't mean that the words will all of a sudden become this soup, expressing the thing in with the symbolism of words that can't be really spoken in words. And to me, that's the “muse” part of music, where I listened to a piece like, like “Rake,” and what I'm caught up in isn't what he's technically doing, though I am interested in it, I learned how to play the song, but what is interesting to me is the spirit of the person who created it, and what he did with words and symbols, and music, and his heart beating, and his lungs breathing in a particular timeת made something that was greater than the sum of its parts.
You'll hear any number of versions of people playing “Rake,” and they're playing the chords, singing the words, but they’re not him. His ability to be himself, totally, is exactly what we want. We think we want this new soundtrack that's going to be that thing in our lives where we drive around and high five to. But what we really want is these artists being 100% authentic and true, because that's the only way we're going to actually get the thing that we want in some way that's lasting. We get to talk about Wish You Were Here 40 years later because of the level of truth and authenticity that went into making that record. It's so vast and deep, and there's a purity to it, a space and magic. It's literally like spell casting. And you can get that feeling from Pink Floyd, or you can get that feeling from Magma, or you can get that feeling from Stevie Wonder or you can get it from Roberta Flack. You know “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”? To me that’s as beautiful a “holding space” within a song that I can think of. And also Son House, who captured some real living. And he wasn't the greatest player in that group of people – didn't fucking matter, because he was true. Daniel Johnston, he was true. Scott Kelly, that’s as true a person as you’ll meet.
So it's these individuals who are like: “Okay, I can try to do all these different things, but if I'm not actually trying to really truly become myself then I’m just adding more noise.”
You could argue that whatever you called before “medicinal,” that aid music can provide, that that you are sabotaging that aid if you don't keep it about expressing yourself and who you are authentically. It's not just adding noise to the world, it's adding noise to yourself as well.
Sure, you end up just banging your head against the wall trying to make music the way you think it should be, whereas that’s really not how you make the art that we cherish. There has to be an authentic quality. If it’s a seedy rock and roll band, and the seedy part isn’t there – the look is there, the right guitars, the sneer, but the actual seediness isn't there, it isn’t going to work. It just doesn't have the danger, doesn't have the feeling. Part of it is that we’re approaching this from the standpoint of consumer culture: “What’s your favorite movie? What's your favorite album?” And we we want to consume these things. But there are certain things that, when they tap into a wellspring of the living, the thing that bit on that particular lure, and you reeled it in and: “Whoa, it’s a whopper!” There is something within a piece of music that somehow never dies. It doesn’t die. I mean, look at the works of Mozart, this music doesn't die, it continues to live. It continues to be this thing that is almost like a finger pointing us back to our own hearts.
I was just about to say that, and this is a kind of segue into what was supposed to be my opening question, it's fascinating that there's music – I feel like I'm going to fall into the trap of the type of rhetoric I don't want to engage in, so I'm going to put it in simplest terms possible: there are types of music or types of artists that when you listen to it you enjoy yourself, and I mean that in the deep sense, you enjoy yourself. You don't want to skip the song, you don't want to skip the album. It’s great. But there is music, that seems close to the music you are called “fish-catching music” that makes you want to write or create. And if you're a creative person an encounter with that music makes you ambitious. It doesn't humble you. It doesn't make you feel like “How can I ever compete with something like this?” or “How can I ever write that?” it makes you say “I want to write.” And a mutual acquaintance, Patrick Walker, would be one example of a musician who writes music that makes me want to create, and I told him as much. I don't write music myself, I write, you know, whatever, writing, but it's the life force, if you want to call it that, and here I am falling into the trap I wanted to avoid, but the life force, it's contagious. It makes you want to create more life as opposed to just listening to it.
It's a mirror. It just holds up a mirror to your own self. Because the life force that's in that is, is it. The thing. Bodies come and go but the life carries on, and somehow we have this legacy of thinking that gets carried forward into the next generation and gets mutated and changes, and some gets scribbled out, and some things get exclamation points around them over time. And I don’t want to fall into the trap either because the real truth of it…. I compartmentalize a lot of things, in so far as I don’t pretend that my opinion has any real significant outside of between my own two ears, and I'm questioning it there as well. You know, yesterday I was driving around town with the Misfits’ Earth A.D., cranked. And it was the music that you're talking about, where you don't want to skip the song, you're entertained. You enjoy it. You enjoy the presentation of it, the artwork, and the way that they were on stage, with the haircuts and the makeup, and it's all there. There really is room for everything, if it's got the juice, and whether it has the juice or not is very subjective, it really depends on who you ask. If life and making music and the different ways of making music were crayons, then we need the 64 pack. We need all the colors, all the ways, all the different ways of doing it.
I love horror movies, there are some horror movies that are just purely visceral and entertainment. There's some horror movies that raise questions, existential questions, questions around theology and all these different possibilities exist within it. And I'm not gonna pan a movie if I watch it and just go…. Like that new movie Crawl. It's set in the Florida Everglades during a hurricane, a daughter's trying to leave town, and her dad has stranded on the other side where this hurricane is happening and the waters have risen up and now there are alligators everywhere. And that's good, it's scary, you know, it's very implausible. I really hate alligators. And the movie works, right? It really does. There's some really terrifying moments, it’s tense, and the acting is pretty good and I'd walk out of it going: “Yeah, that was a horror movie. That was a good creature feature.” But there’s something about a movie like The Exorcist III that hits me on so many different deep levels as well as being entertained by the movie. As if there's something dripping off the screen when I'm watching that movie, that is more than what they're talking about. It has another layer of like living that, to me, anyway, is something different.
I'm not an elitist that’s going to say “This is art!” or “This isn’t art!” I’m not that guy. I’m more like the end of The Breakfast Club. We have way more in common than we don’t You're it's like, we're all criminal. I’m not going to get caught in that very privileged minutia.
Fun fact, which isn't really that fun, but who cares. One of my favorite quotes is from The Breakfast Club, and it's a very seldom used quote. It's when they have this talk on that veranda a there's a whole really touching story about the geeky kid admitting to failing shop, and his dad abusing him over it. And his he's having a real moment about it. And then the Judd Nelson character says something like: “What? You can't make a lamp?” And then the geeky kid says: “So I’m stupid for not being able to make a lamp?” And Judd Nelson goes: “No, you're a fucking genius because you can’t make a lamp.” And I love that line. Judd Nelson’s character is the brute force, chaotic side of things, right? It's almost as if he's saying not to over philosophize, there is knowledge that is physical knowledge. And you failed at that. You're not a genius for not doing something well. You need to learn to do it. Anyway, I love that moment.
But I do want to segue to my opening question because I think it has to do with what we've been talking about right now, which is: Do you remember a moment when you were a kid, you first listened to music, you heard your first few bands you kind of got the general direction you might be liking in music. And then one song came along or one album came along and it was like a meteor hitting you. Like something completely new that you never thought coming? Do you have something like that in mind, like an experience like that?
It was probably around the time where when I started becoming aware of punk rock. I mean, when I was in diapers crawling around in the 70s AM radio was on and that was the glorious era of “pop” music, meaning music or catchiness within a music, or the feeling, or what it was saying were so real or good that it became popular. A record-buying public decided what was pop. Record record labels could throw money at bands all day long, but if there wasn't a real song there, it wasn't going to fly. So that mattered. And the musicianship, on average, was next level. I don't care if it's the Doobie Brothers or Emmylou Harris or Dolly Parton or Curtis Mayfield or whatever. They were all incredibly good musicians.
So I think that what hit me about punk at the time was that it wasn't that. Clearly there were lots of incredibly good musicians within punk music, but it wasn't really about that. It was really about just throwing it down, really just leaving it all on the stage or leaving it all on the fretboard, and It was a bloody, defiant, messy, beautiful affair. And I think the first time I heard Dead Kennedys, I think that was maybe a moment like what you're talking about.
The tones and the musicianship are certainly of a high caliber, but it just completely unpredictable. It was all over the place, and Jello Biafra, his lyrics and singing style, I just like: ”From what planet did this come from?” As a 12 or 13 year old kid, growing up in a pretty conservative environment, way out in the woods, a country, kind of rednecky place, and here come the Dead Kennedys. I was very much into metal but metal was still following this era of music that involved certain song structures and songwriting patterns and a high level of musicianship, all those shredders and the amazing soloists, they were all doing the crazy stuff, like Yngwie Malmsteen. And East Bay Ray occupied the same musical universe, creating music that captured people's imaginations, but doing it from two completely different places. One is steeped in a tradition that’s been already established, but doing it within metal, so it's new. And the other being this wave of punk bands, Black Flag and others – nothing like it existed before that. It was brand new thing. And that was an experience like what you're talking about.
So I have a question about that, because I've been kind of struggling to try to understand – and I think I may have the beginning of something of an insight – but a lot of bands that could be described as being engaged in, and this is going to be a very superficial description, but just for the sake of argument, lengthy, meditative, spacious, elaborate explorations of sound started off punks. You have Neurosis in that group, and we can place you yourself in that group, as well as ISIS, Slint, and Cult of Luna. And I'm fascinated by the transition from “fast and furious,” three, four chords of kicking ass, while being either super funny or super political. And then suddenly this shift into larger than life songs that are often very introspective and very emotional, very motive music. And I wonder I whether you see a connection between those two modes of creating music? I should say that one answer that I've received from a practical standpoint is that punk is an easy gateway because it's easy to become a punk, musically speaking. So you don't have to be a shredder, you don't have to practice eight hours a day, you can just pick up a guitar and do it. That's kind of the ethics of that aesthetic. But I wondered what would be your angle?
For me, and this is true of any style of music….. I've said this in a couple of interviews before but I think maybe it bears repeating climbing into this, the genre tags, like punk and metal and their supposed differences, right?
I actually mean less the tag and more the scope and structure of it right do it you can even.
Well, when I talked about it in terms of genre, when you think of genres, like what we were saying before, that metal comes with certain kinds of baggage or maybe, from another person's perspective, defining characteristics. And “What is metal and what is not metal,” and there's lots of heated arguments about that. And the same is the same is true of punk. I think that for me, banging out three or four chords and having a downbeat behind it, that may be punk on a piece of paper if you're writing down “the characteristics of a punk song,” right? Or can be a characteristic of a particular kind of punk. But that isn't what makes it fly. What makes it fly is the people and the thing that they've got to say or express, to the point that you feel it dripping off the fretboard, you feel it dripping off the stage. And within punk especially when you talk about the 80s I mean there's so many different bands that you had to be different. Like, if a band came along that sounded like Motorhead – that’s strike one and strike two. That wasn't good, that wasn't a good thing. Where's your voice? People came to shows dressed totally differently from one another. There would be one person with spikes a safety pin through their lip, and another would be wearing a plaid coat with a neon pink tie, and then the next person comes in with combat boots and tight pants.
You were being yourself, and that was a rebellion. Being yourself was rebellious. You’re trying to be part of a club of people trying to be themselves, and also wanting community and to come together in that spirit. And then within that you could have a band on stage like DRI, with a guitarist that is just kick ass, just all over the place killer. And then you can have a band like Flipper, and it's kind of weird. I mean, for I know that guy is a jazz wizard, but when you listen to music, that's not what he's aiming for. There's something that they're going for that is hard to put your finger on, but it's there. And I think that's true of any of this stuff that you talk about, it's really hard to put into words, but you know when you feel it, when they hold up that mirror to you and you feel that. And that something that comes up isn't there, it's your own. And that's what was empowering about it.
So, you used a word there that I like, and I want to kind of use that word to point toward the narrative surrounding Our Raw Heart, which focuses on everything you went through in your personal life. And. again, since I'm I've been awarded the gift of being able to speak to artists prior to this conversation, I have also had two other musicians as part of this series that faced life-threatening experiences that led to the albums that I interviewed them about. One was Behemoth and the other doesn’t really focus on physical illness but on a childhood memory. So I'm clumping these examples together despite vastly different experiences because there are moments in which and you just said “empowering,” and a lot of punk and metal is about a sense of power, that you are either participating in something that makes you powerful, in a group of people that makes you powerful, or that the ideas that you have in your mind make you powerful. Power is a big word, I think, in this realm of music. And it seems to me like that being sick isn't a very powerful moment in your life. And having a memory you can't access that you feel distant from that you keep trying to return to isn't a moment of very great agency? And so I guess part of this conundrum is the issue with generic tags, like “What do I care if it's metal or not when I'm trying to talk about a moment of vulnerability in my life?” But I would be interested in asking if empowerment is such a huge part of the music that I think you are making, how does fragility and vulnerability and powerlessness fall into that? Or is this just another case of being who you are, and if being who you are is powerless than that’s who you have to be?
Well, we all get our little bit of time in the sun, and we all have a cultural conditioning – the place where we were born, the language we learned, the hand-me-downs from our parents that were hand-me-downs from their parents, some good, some not so good. We all are in a predicament where our personal particular time on this planet can end. So there's a vulnerability that every single person holds that's identical and their relationship to that and how they use their time then determines the quality of their lives, the quality of the lives that they touch. And there are things that are considered powerful and are often revealed as weakness, and then there are moments when everything's taken away, against what you would consider great odds, we find power. And for me, what was that power? And I'll try to say this in the least amount of time possible and really stick to the important points to make this clear.
Before I got sick, I had a lot of challenges – partly in how I was raised, partly in where I was raised, partly just who I was in my body, you know, and having some mental illness and strong traits of autism and things that just made it a challenge. There was never a time that it wasn't. And within that, it can always be worse and it can always be better. I'm not comparing it to anybody else. I'm not trying to elicit anybody sympathy, or prove it.
But when the rug got completely pulled out, this momentum of thinking, a momentum of good thoughts and momentum of neuroses, a moment of childhood trauma, and also a lot of love – the things that I love, the music that I love, the colors that I love, clothing choices, every single kind of thing, being a father, all the roles in my life, I'm a father, I'm a band, all these different things as a particular gender, a particular race, all these things that in this world has been determined before I was born, all of that disappeared. It was all gone. When I was in the emergency room after my insides exploded, and I was hit with a pain so total that I blew out of existence. I no longer existed. I was out of my body. I was not an individual. I wasn't any of the things that I was, but I was still there. There was still awareness, and that awareness had an experience that had nothing to do with this world, or any regular reference points to this world, just to try and describe it in terms of this world would make it seem like a DMT experience. But it was like a hard drive crash, and it everything got dropped, and then everything came back online. Except, all of a sudden, and it's taken me two years to really start to grasp it, I actually permanently became a different person. And what I mean by that is that all of the things that I could tell you was my person up until getting sick, I actually look at those things as objects in a consciousness. And so, they’re toys, and if I want to play with the “how I was abused toy” I can play with that.
And so there was empowerment in certain kinds of stories that helped me survive situations. It's like you went through the woods and had a particular club and a bear attacked you and you used that club to defend yourself against the bear. That club often has some significance to it, right? It's a thing that has no life without me doing anything with it. And that's also true of thinking. It doesn't have to mean anything if I don't make it into something. And so, all of a sudden, now it's just extrapolated, and every single thing in my life, it’s all sitting there. And all I knew that something arose in me that was the very power of life, wanting to survive. My body wanting to survive, and all of a sudden my thinking became very focused, very clear. I made sure to memorize every doctor's name, every nurse’s name, every CNA that came in, every assistant that came in. I remembered all of their names, and I thank them all for everything. And it wasn't like I was trying to be a good guy, it was from this general place of life is coming to my aid and trying to save me. My own body is coming to my aid and trying to save me, the power that is within me, that if I get knocked out cold and my heart still beats, my lungs are still breathing. There is this thing in me that has nothing to do with my personal story that is my greatest power. But it's not my power.
And now I want to be in accordance with its thing because I suddenly realized that there are other things that maybe I wanted to do. Maybe I realized: “Oh, man, I need to heal this relationship, I need to deal with this situation,” or “This whole bunch of trauma that I've had any number of strategies to avoid, now, if I want to live a good life, I'm gonna have to heal that stuff. I'm actually gonna have to look at the things that scare me the most, and heal it, and get it out of the way, and take that crap.” Nobody wants to eat crap, but if you put it in the right place, you get to have tomatoes, you know, when it's used correctly…. Undomesticated reality, undomesticated energy doesn't know the difference, it just takes it and uses it, and it can be transmuted and changed into something better, more in accordance with life as it is, not as life is in my own particular personal little dream, my own little version of reality that comes out of my two eyeballs. And it made me start to look at all the stories that I told myself and go: “Well, how true is that? How true is the story? How do I act from the emotion of a five year old who got hurt, and got his feelings hurt?” All of this unlooked-at, unexamined stuff that surfaced when I disappeared, the entirety of what was in my body, my mind, my psyche, and my heart came forward.
And it has been like having my finger stuck into light socket. And it hasn't been pleasurable all the time. And it hasn't been pretty. And it's taken me, like I said, a couple of years to start coming back to some kind of stability. And I don't pretend to have clarity, but I'm working toward it. I'm not saying I've got the point, but I'm hopefully talking about it in a way that’s like a funnel which will create the little aperture that then actually is the thing.
I can completely understand all you're saying and I'm personally very interested also because of my own experiences. And so my focus has been, in my real life, on reading soldier poetry. Trying to understand why soldiers write poetry. And so the stuff that I came up with or the general idea is that whatever it is that happens to these people, which you could easily call trauma, but I think is also somewhat equivalent to your experience, you know, whether in the hospital or your childhood, that there was a certain break. that something has happened, that you are, that is very difficult for you to express what it was that happened or what it was that you saw, without falling into the trap of someone else's story. So like, for a soldier that would be like, this is this happened and I saw this guy die, and someone will tell him: “But you couldn't have saved him” and you would be like “Yeah, but I'm not into the saving story. This is what I saw. And whatever it is that I saw made me into a different person now know that that's a very long process.” And that writing and making music is something that for whatever reason can be helpful in that process.
And one of the major parts of that process, or the one that I'm currently most fascinated with, and this has to do with my own experience as well, is that you kind of discover a superpower. And that superpower is that you can rearrange things that you thought weren’t rearrangeable. I tried to write about my own experience for years, and I couldn't because it wasn't “it.” And if you want to compare it to making music, I guess I got into an inefficient position, I didn't know how to use the tools at hand to try to make something that would fit my experience. So I struggled with it for quite a while. And the shape it took eventually was a story in which my own experiences, say in the military, had to do with my dad's experience with in his military, and my grandparents experience during the Holocaust, and everything was mixed, time was mixed. It wasn't really a generational trip, it was that everyone was mixed.
And then I wrote whatever I did, and I published it and everything was great. But then I started thinking: “Wait, but if everything is mixed, I can rearrange things all the time. And so, like you said “I can become the five year old, and that's legitimate in that moment,” my kind of weird way of acting out on that realization is that I can be, I don't know if this is an interesting conversation for you to have it all, I can be my father's father. My grandfather can be my baby. My baby can be my grandfather, everyone is everyone at the same time. So if I can do that, and if say we one of the stories that has been troubling for me is: “I've never felt my parents accepted me for who I was in the kind of kind of ideas I had, and the kind of person I was intellectually and that I never got that seal of approval from them that ‘Yes, you are cool, whatever you do is cool,’” even though I feel like I have that now from them. But there was a time when I felt that was frustrating for me that I didn't get that “Nobel Prize moment” where my parents are proud of me and that's it, they'll never be unproud of me ever again. And, and then I thought about it, and I was like, wait, but my parents are my children. So maybe they need me to be proud of them. And that dawned on me during dinner, and this is all because of me writing. So the art part, if you want to call it, produced this idea. And then I just sat there and I looked at my parents and I said: “You know, I'm really proud of you guys.” I gave them what I felt I couldn't get. I gave them that. And I said: “I’m really proud of you.” And they were like: “Why are you proud of us?” And I said: “Because you were good parents.” And they started crying. And I felt like that by giving them by being their parent. I got what I needed. All that mumbo jumbo story is to say…
That’s not mumbo jumbo to me, that’s profound.
Thank you. I mean, I’m kind of a mumbo jumbo person. But one of the things that I've noticed when I'm reading these poems is that poems that soldiers write upon return from war, or during war, are usually quite different from the kind of writing they make when time has passed. And so when it's close to the event, there's a lot of stress on getting the facts right, remembering names, remembering places, making sure that you have these anchors to an experience that is so surreal that you have to, I guess, in a way, make sure that it actually happened. And one of the ways in which you ensure that is insisting on what you could call a factual depiction of the event, which sometimes seems even distanced from the event: “This and this happened,” very cold. But as time progresses, something begins, which I think it's safe to say is something like a game, it begins to take the shape of a game. And instead of the facts anchoring you to experience you start playing with them. So one of the great examples for this for me is Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, which is one of my favorite books of all time, in which he's trying to write about his war experience and the only way to write about it is as if he was abducted by aliens. That's the only logical way to talk about it. And so some people would look at that book and say this is a crazy cockamamie book, as if the parts where the aliens come in discredit the parts where he's talking about the war, because it's obviously a work of absolute fiction. And putting in aliens just confuses the message. But if I were Kurt Vonnegut, I would say: “No, this is how it happened. This is the way I choose to tell this story. And to me, this is as real as it gets.”
So in a way that superpower is to play with things that you thought you weren't allowed to play with, or you were afraid to play with. You're having fun with things I dare say that aren't fun, or aren’t considered fun, right? And including the most painful experience you've ever had, and trauma and all that.
A lot of different things came up that I could share my perspective on that. I think it takes a lot of lot of awareness to do the thing that you're doing, you're talking about, and I think that that awareness requires a certain amount of humility. And that humility is in: “Maybe the way I'm thinking about this isn't accurate. Maybe the story I've told about this was just the story of that person at that time that I keep carrying through history.” Over time, these stories, sometimes they lose their juice. Sometimes they kind of gain a momentum. Sometimes there are certain experiences, I think, especially in traumatic experiences or childhood experiences where it's like, our bodies are like these pristine spiderwebs, they don't have anything stuck in them yet. And then you'll occasionally see an old spider web that, at one period of time, was a pace where bugs were caught, but then you have a carcasses all over the spiderweb, there are leaves, there's dust, there's the dead spider. It's all caught in this web this old filled-up-with-crap web. And that spider at a certain point went “This web isn't usable anymore. I'm gonna have to go and make a fresh web.” Now I think our bodies are kind of like that in the sense that like why would childhood trauma just come up in an experience 30 plus years later? Because it got in there young and it took root and at a time where you don't have your faculties or discrimination available to process adult emotions, with these messages coming to you as a child.
And this isn’t meant as some kind of victim story, though it has been conveyed that way, I have played out victim stories in my life. I know what that can be like and how ultimately limiting that is, how it's like wearing three pairs of sunglasses, everything can be really dark and you just don't see the actual hues of life when you're living that way. And it's not to say that I didn't have my reasons, but at a certain point you gotta either clean up the web or make a new one. You learn what you can, and I think part of that is being able to look at those stories and go: “Okay, well, that was what got me through it then, that was like that club against the bear in the woods, it got me through it. But now that thing has actually become a splinter, its painful and it's actually impairing my ability to see the freshness of current life situations and act to it in a fresh way.” And so the housekeeping has to be done, and, being able to reset emotions, being able to reset certain kinds of stories being able to, like what you're saying, which in a way my interpretation of it was, that I think sometimes when people are really struggling and hurt and traumatized they're waiting for some kind of parental or godly thing to come in and save them. But really,
I think if there's a possibility where you can become your own parent and save yourself, and you can save your experience, you can save your own history. You can let other people be human. You can let it go. Like with your parents, you can let it go. I can let it go with with my parents. One thing I can say for sure is that they're completely different people today in how they interact with things, how they interact with each other, than they were when I was a kid. So it's an incredible kindness to look at that and go: “You know, if they were back then who they are now they would not have done that. So am I just going to punish them endlessly or punish them by punishing myself?” That's how I'm using my life. That's how I'm using these minutes. That next breath that next looking out the door and not seeing sunshine, even though it's a beautiful sunny day. Not not seeing it. Because there's just too much shit in the spider's web, you can't even see where the web was anymore. The color not being the point, the point being the freshness.
And so that can be reclaimed, because that actually is our real experience now anyway, it's just a matter of taking that awareness and shining it there and not being afraid. Or being afraid, but understanding the greater good of looking at that. And those are hard-won realizations, those realizations come with, unfortunately, in the words of Townes Van Zandt, “flowers and wounds.” There's no two ways about it. And I think it does take a certain fortitude to really make a decision like: “Okay, reset.” To acknowledge the fresh breath, acknowledge the fresh moment. And then what can I do to make different choices about how I'm telling the story of my life, and how that is creating limitations, like neural pathways, routes in our brain formed from replaying a certain emotion over and over and over again. It's the things that nobody wants to talk about, but it's the reality that everybody lives. Let me rephrase that, it’s not that nobody wants to talk about it, it’s just a very messy, difficult conversation. Our nature is, well, the nature of amoebas: They crawl towards things that are good for their Amoeba selves, and they crawl away from things that aren’t, they don't want the death, they don't want the pain. They want the thing that's going to be healthy for their being.
That's an interesting place where art seems to insert itself. I think it's true that most people or all people try to avoid things that are difficult for them. And I think it's true that a lot of people know their stories become stale, and then kind of have a hunch that a reboot is needed, but it's just too much work, and it's too much work thinking about it. And I think in a way, when you listen to music, when you read a book, a lot of times art comes out of that kind of needing to replenish or refurbish your space. A lot of art comes from shitty times. Artists, when you think of it that way, they're not heroes, they're just applying that life force in order to survive. They're re-webbing the web in order to survive, but then other people are looking at that from the side and that's inspiring to them, because they're saying: “Yeah, I still didn't changed my life the way I wanted, I still haven't, respun my web, but I'm listening to – for the sake of our argument – Our Raw Heart or I'm reading a book, or I'm listening to Townes Van Zandt, and he's doing it for me. He's acting out on that life force. He is doing it and it's not like it's a replacement to me doing it in my real life, but there’s a comfort there.
It's like you don't know what you know until you know it. What moment in time happens and what group of conditions makes something that somebody can say 5,000 words about that won't reach you, but then that one moment it does. And the only reason it's so complicated is just because of how complicated we've become, stories…. And I’m not anti-story, there are stories that really are important. But I think that for people have mastered their own own knee jerk impulses, or continue to bring greater awareness to those things, I think they tend to find a sense of real power there. Where they're able to look at these paths that they've gone down in their lives and then maybe certain ones that were really worn down because they went down that path so many times, to take refuge there, but really, when they get to the end of that path, it ends up that they are find themselves in a place they don't want to be.
And so then you get that awareness and go: “Well, okay, I know part of that path is great, but the end of that path is not great. And I don't want to go there, I don't want to go down that path anymore. And then all sudden it becomes like you're saying, it becomes “choose your adventure,” and within that comes some compassion for the people who are fucking up and who are suffering, and you're just like: “I know how that is and I can't just have a closed heart to that.”
I just wanted to say that I'm going to do something that might annoy you.
My take is that I love stories and songs that seem to signal to me that they know they’re stories, or songs that signal to me that they know they’re songs. There are many ways of doing this, right. So the example that popped into my head, and this is the part that's going to annoy you, maybe Is is the very end of the album, right which is “Our Raw Heart,” the title track. It goes into this endless repetition. Now, I'm not supposed to enjoy endless repetition, it's boring and I don't usually like repetitive music but that part of the song is already after the song has been sung in a way. And so the repeated rising and falling riff, even though there are some small kind of minute movements in there, that to me is a song saying “I know I was supposed be over, I know I was supposed to end, but I won't end, and you're going to notice it.” That's what I get from it right. And in a way, that relates to what you're saying – I'm going to walk down that path, but I'm not going to end it the way you expected me to end it. I'm not going to make it pleasant for you. I'm not going to make it familiar from you. It's like opening a door, but instead of the living room is the kitchen. It's like, there's something that's kind of uncanny about that. I guess I thought it would be annoying that I'm analyzing your own song. But that's for me an example of a song saying: “You know, I could go there, but I'd rather go somewhere that's interesting to me. Even if that place is you know, the dictionary definition of uninteresting.”
[I don’t usually annotate facial expressions, but I thought it worthwhile to note that Mike was smiling here]
Anyway, I don't know how you feel about that.
Well, I think some of what I would call my favorite albums had to wear me down over over a number of years.
Do have an example of that? “Wear you down” as in you didn’t like it at all at first?
Yeah, and then I finally came around and got it. A real obvious one for me is Neurosis. I bought Pain of Mind when it came out, and that was the new shit, Neurosis. They were this really very aggressive punk band that was heavy and dark, and there was something about that was dirty, but there is a power and ferocity, and just something's going on there, and there was something mystical to me, within within the frame of fast and heavy hardcore punk. And then they did The Word as Law, and I couldn't go along for the ride. I just didn’t get it. Maybe it was weird, compartmentalized thinking, I was young, but I just didn't understand how a band could go from that to that. And so I didn’t get that, or Souls at Zero or Enemy of the Sun, or Through Silver and Blood. It wasn't until I had a friend who just said: “Dude, you're an idiot,” and played Times of Grace to me, and I went “Oh.” It was just a moment where I went “Oh,” and then I went to Enemy of the Sun and to Through Silver in Blood, but then I went to Souls at Zero and I went: “Oh! Oh!, okay it's fucking incredible!” It was like a turning point. And it wasn’t that I didn’t love all the bands that they loved, or that I didn’t like things that were adventurous and bands that were taking risks and doing things differently – from Slayer’s Reign in Blood to South of Heaven, that's a bold move, that took me a while to catch up to as well.
But then, at the same time, how are they going to remake that record? Going back to our previous point, you don't you make your current shit, you make what's correct for you now, if you're still going to be the authentic, if everything is authentic and vibrant and beautiful about the last album, then the part that you want to create that is vibrant and true. If you try to then make that into a structure, then it's going to feel like it's a structured thing, a cage where you hope to trap the living thing, instead of being the living thing.
I mean, everything that I'm that I'm saying to you are things that in two weeks time I could have something different to say about any. I'm just trying to I'm just trying to have some measure of clarity in my life and I understand that the biggest obstacle to that is me.
Yeah, I'm just teaching a course now and today I explained to my students that part of the, my goals in this class is going to be crippling me.
Because I know what I want to do, and I know the advantages and disadvantages of me doing what I want to do. And so I'm going to throw some wrenches in the middle to make it more difficult for me and see how it comes out. Anyway, so I had two small issues left. One is a minor music geekout: there was an interview where you mentioned True Widow, and True Widow happens to be one of my all time favorite bands ever in the world. And the reason why I was interested by you mentioning them is that you mentioned them as a band you're influenced by. And I don't think it's that often that, you know, older bands are influenced by younger bands, because True Widow are kind of a generation after you. So I would love to hear why you like them, which is geekout potion, and what is it about them you feel like is inspiring to you?
Well, I'll use the example of their self-titled album, that's my favorite of the bunch. I love them all, but that first one is really a special record. And there are a lot of things I could say about it technically. But really why I would start there is just because of how much I marvel at how they get to where they get, because, you know, it's very little distortion, the two Fender concert reverbs side by side that are turned up pretty hot, but then there's a volume pedal, so that when he wants to be cleaner he just backs off the volume. When he wants it to break up he pushes the amp. And then just Slim, as a drummer, he’s like Phil Rudd, there's not a drum fill to be had. No drum fills, there's hitting a tom rhythmically, hitting a cymbal rhythmically, getting a kick drum rhythmically, hitting a snare drum rhythmically and it’s all about unencumbered motion. Like a fish swimming in the ocean, swimming, swimming, swimming. Just a vast, endless ocean where the swimming is never broken up by any distractions in the drums whatsoever. The drums are the backbone of backbones. The bass playing, I think it's pretty similar, she'll move and color some chords, but really it's still pretty backbone. And then the guitar, it’s chord phrasing and structures, it's kind of classic songwriting – verse, chorus, verse chorus, bridge, all those things.
All this stuff is there, but there is like this immense, immense atmosphere. The atmosphere of that album is bigger than the music, for me. The feeling of it in headphones, the amount of space that you feel all around, the music is so big. And there's so much breath and air and everything. When they choose to sing, and how much they sing…. It's not like the songs are just covered with vocals, they let certain things breathe. And they know how to build the tensions and they know how to release them. But then within all of that, in that atmosphere is this flavor. This thing that can't be put into words, it's the difference between showing you a picture about strawberries and we can talk about them versus each one of us having a strawberry. Now you're trying to come up with some kind of symbology to describe it, you can never really describe it, you have to just give somebody a strawberry. That's the only way they're actually going to know. So to me, they have that wordless, can’t-put-your-finger-on-it thing. But, like a strawberry, it’s sustenance. Like it's a real thing. It's not a picture of the same image. It is.
And the way that album flows from song to song to song. In fact, for a while there a girlfriend of mine and I, one of our soundtracks just cruising around doing things would be the first True Widow record and Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, just on an endless loop those two records back to back, and the way that they fit together for me, the final sounds of Wish You Were Here and the first tune of that first True Widow record. It's like magic. Magical music.
I agree. I mean, when we were in the States for a few months, I was visiting a university there, and I felt so alone. I mean, one of the advantages of being someone from a non-English-speaking country who is proficient in speaking English and writing English is that you are a good cultural ambassador, you're a good portal into other worlds for people to peer into. So Americans can talk to me they can get what an Israeli is, and I can talk with an Israeli and they can get with an American is. The downside of that is that you forget how foreign it is when it's not at home. Because you feel like the words coming out of your mouth make you seem like you're comfortable, but you're not. It's a very weird sensation. Anyway, so I felt like the first month there, it was horrible for me. And it was even made that much more horrible because I'm the one who you know caused all this ruckus to uproot our lives and go to Northern California for three months, my wife was pregnant and our daughter. And three albums saved my life. And I loved True Widow anyway, and I got to see them during that trip for the second time. So it was the newest True Widow at that time, and it was Morbid Angel’s Domination, and the current and last Unsane album. Morbid Angel was for: “I want to feel strong and fuck all these people.” That was my soundtrack for that. And Unsane was :”This is what I'll do to their bodies.” But True Widow is living music. It's like you in your own space. And I think one of the wonderful things that other people can do, and I always fail at – this conversation may be further proof of this – is giving breathing space. But I really do appreciate other people giving me space. So and I feel like True Widow and my wife are great at that.
I share a similar affliction. When you start to transcribe this, you'll just realize how, how fucking chatty I am [Note: I did not realize that].
No, no, no, I'll curse myself for speaking too much. It’s a theme [Note: Yup].
Well, I vow to work on it with you. I have a couple of friends who are gifted with brevity, and that's a gift. I mean, it is good. I also like chatty motherfuckers too, but there's sometimes there’s a chattiness that’s not necessary. I speak only for myself, when I started to see myself saying things and be like: “You know, I already said that, who am I trying to convince here?”
I have that a lot with my wife. I always admire how she acts when I'm angry. I love it. It's like she just stays there, she doesn't go away, just takes it in. And then I have time to cool off. And then you know, apologize for 90% of what I just said. Whereas when she's angry, I'm like, in the thick of it immediately like: “No, you're wrong!” That's me not breathing at my worst, I think. Anyway, so last question. I promise, and this is kind of a formulaic question, so please forgive me in advance but I'm trying to taste the fruits of limiting myself once and every once in a while. Um, and the question is this: given everything we said, and not everything we said was about Our Raw Heart directly, but this is a question about that album directly. When you look back at that album, and you think about it, whether in relationship with those experiences or not just as a piece of music. Is there something about that album that you're super happy about?
Well, we got better, we became a better band, we reconnected. And not that we'd ever really lost it, but there was a period of time where it was easy just to take things for granted, where it’s so easy to do, and then all of a sudden when you realize you may not have that thing anymore…. That wasn’t just my experience, of me losing the ability to play music or losing my life. But for Aaron [Rieseberg] and for Travis [Foster] that would be their loss too, they wouldn't have this anymore, everything would change. And when we realized that we did have it, that was incredible, like a growing moment for all of us in our friendships and as a band. How we were on the road, how things sharpened in a really good way.
The other thing is that because of the way I was healing and my surgeries I couldn't sing for six months, not even a peep, because if I bore down on any of the incision sites, it could have been a bad situation. And so I had to really let it heal and then slowly relearn how to sing. And that was the first time that I could play guitar and I got a Monson guitars, a very lightweight guitar, because I had a 10-pound weight limit of what I could hold. So I got a lightweight guitar from him and I started writing on all the Our Raw Heart stuff. And a couple of the ideas I had before I became ill, but after the illness as soon as I could sit up and play, at home…. Some people said I was writing in the hospital, that's not true. I was at home, but I was in between surgeries and so I was just writing feverishly. Part of it was this thing that I was telling you about earlier, this power of life trying to survive, and it was all in this moment writing on this fretboard and playing. But I couldn't work on lyrics. I mean, I could work on lyrics, I couldn't work on singing, I couldn't work on structures. Now I've spent enough time playing and writing songs that I kind of knew what choices I might make. So I had ideas in my mind, but when it came time to actually be in the studio and record – the truth of the matter is in my own personal experience there I went from the edge of death, two surgeries, to writing a record, to being in the studio, all in the same year. Now we're in the studio for album number eight. New record label, increased public awareness – where we were known maybe a little bit before, after this whole process we were known a lot more, partly because of the media coverage we got, and just a general awareness, and a lot of an immense generosity, which was one of the greatest experiences I've ever had.
But when I started trying to sing the songs, some of them went down more or less how I thought, and because I rebuilt my voice it actually grew. There was no guarantee that was going to happen. Like, it could be that I didn't have it anymore, it was entirely possible that maybe these life changes and the engine from which I sing had been cut in half and put back together. “Is it going to work? Is it going to be flexible? Am I going to be able to do these things?” Well, I could. Part of it was the lessons I've gotten from my vocal coach, part of it was me going just like: “Okay, I'll find out at the end of this, whether I can or can't do it. I'm not gonna say I can't do it. I'm not going to act as if I can't do it. But I am going to make these measured steps towards doing it.” So when we got in the studio, four of the songs went exactly how I thought they were going to, more or less. And it was really exciting because I was singing really well – for me, not compared to anybody else, but I was singing well. Two of the songs I was so utterly and completely stumped by them. I thought like: “Wow, this is what it must be like to have that situation where like the left hemisphere of your brain and right hemisphere of your brain are independent, or this must be like to have a stroke” – you can think a thing, but then when you try to do it, it just doesn't come out, it isn't the same. And that's what it felt like, and I had to – especially with song “In Reverie,” I had to write it out and then hand clap all the parts because I literally couldn't play it and sing it at the same time and understand why I was singing what. And I wrote these weird mathy things. I just wanted that song to be like: “Okay, what if Khanate or Burning Witch did a collaboration with Nasareth?” It’s blues rockey but all of the cues are wrong, it’s discordant and yet it’s still this blues rocky kind of thing. But fucked.
So that’s what I wanted. Where it sounds like it’s 4/4 but if you try to learn it you're like: “Oh no, this is really messed up,” and then you try to sing off of the other thing that's also really messed up. Because, for me, it has to be counterpoint, sometimes I can't sing along to a melody line, but it has to be able to break away from that and be a solo creative instrument in itself. And so that was the most despair I've ever felt in a recording situation, to where I actually thought for a minute of when Henry Rollins talked about how music left him. “Why are you not a musician anymore?” “Because I don’t have music in me anymore.I don't know why I still love music. I don't have that in me anymore. It left me.” And I felt like “Wow, that's really scary thought,” and I thought “Man, maybe that's what happened to me.” And my bandmates weren’t there, because I really need to be there with the engineer when I do vocals, because I get too self conscious, and I really just need to be in the trenches with somebody that I know is this objective. It’s just an easier way for me to work. And so we've done a number of records together and even he was worried about it. He wasn't voicing it, but he has never seen me in that place before.
But when I finally figured it out, I thought about how I've never written a song when I could play it and wasn’t working on the vocals, and then I went, and we had a weekend where we had two days off, and I went home and plugged in my guitar and started singing the lyrics as I was playing. And I went: “Oh!” And so the next time we went to the studio Aaron was there, and he hadn't heard any of my failed attempts. And me and the engineer we had one stanza put together and I told him, let’s let that go. And he was like: “Dude, come on. We put a lot of time into getting to this part.” And I went: “I'm not saying get rid of it, but I'm starting from the top”. And so then that song “In Reverie,” I nailed the performance that went on the record in one hour, it took me one hour to do that whole entire song. But it took me a week of utter despair to get to that moment, and I'm not saying it's the best song on the record, but as far as a learning experience, and how it turned out, that was victory.