THE SEED WAS planted in fall of 2010, when YOB—a heart-slowing, austere, cresting, and critically acclaimed doom metal group from Eugene—opened for Sleep at the Roseland. After YOB's set, Neurosis singer Scott Kelly took the stage to a nearly full house. Kelly then did something practically unheard of in the diverse but insulated world of metal: He went acoustic.
"I was in awe," says Mike Scheidt, YOB's guitarist and frontman. "And utterly, my heart was in my throat. It scared me to watch it. It was like when you watch a crazy cop video and somebody crashes and you just cringe. That's all I felt like—oh my god."
Kelly's performance split the audience. Half talked, as if the stage were empty. The other half was drawn in. "I thought to myself, 'I could never do that,'" Scheidt says. "The more I thought about it, the more I was gravitating toward trying it. Because, I don't know, I gravitate toward some things that freak me out."
And though performing alone, without scorching amplifiers and a thunderous rhythm section, was frighteningly new to Scheidt, acoustic guitar was not. "I've played acoustic guitar for a lot of years and I've worked in a couple of really high-end guitar shops that sold like, the tip-top acoustic guitars you can buy," says Scheidt. (One of those shops was Eugene's McKenzie River Music, where this writer bought his first guitar.) "I have a lot of familiarity with acoustic guitar, but I never really had used it as a medium for myself—though I do love acoustic music." In October of last year Scheidt quickly wrote the six songs that would make up Stay Awake, his first solo record.
Compositionally, Stay Awake shares familiar building blocks with YOB—namely an extreme patience, which rolls onward like heavy sap into epic, elemental tidal waves. "The song 'Breathe,' in particular, has some definite similarities to YOB," Scheidt says. "It builds and it builds and it builds and finally there's an arrival point to which the lyrics and the singing kick in."
The record, Scheidt says, "was born out of a really hard time," though he opted not to get more specific. "I needed to express something different than YOB."
Scheidt started the band in 1996. Lineups changed and the aesthetic was perfected: an extremely loud, slow-burning crash of heavy tones and dark chords, rolling and shifting together. YOB continues to grow; they're getting more and more offers to fly around the world to play metal fests and tour with other renowned outfits. In recent years YOB have reached—or are damn close to—the pinnacle of the doom scene.
But, as Scheidt told New York Times critic Ben Ratliff in 2010, when it comes to supporting his family, "doom metal don't pay the bills." Nonetheless, Scheidt is proud and honored by what YOB has become. And it's getting better all the time.
Doom, though, is a challenging and highly refined taste, one with a particularly high barrier to entry. Scheidt's acoustic output has the potential to reach a wide swath of new listeners—the types who would be confounded by why Ratliff would write that YOB "might be one of the best bands in North America."
Going acoustic has become a fresh start for Scheidt. He is both inspired and trepid, but ultimately free of expectations and excited to see where it may take him. "It was very personal stuff and really it made for a very, very personal record that I put out there," Scheidt says. "The storyline kind of continues from there."