YOB’s Mike Scheidt on Touring Well with a Chronic Illness
Getting—and staying—healthy on the road helped save this doom metal icon’s life.
In 2017, Mike Scheidt—the warm, shaman-esque guitarist and vocalist of long-running Oregon doom outfit YOB—got sick. He got very sick, and spent months battling a flare-up of diverticulitis, a life-threatening, chronic intestinal disease that struck him like a bolt of lightning and sidelined his participation in music (and everything else) for most of the year.
Though he’s since recovered, the experience changed him; his health remains a constant concern, since he could fall ill again without warning. His close call figured heavily into YOB’s latest album, Our Raw Heart, a sprawling, contemplative doom odyssey whose title track sees Scheidt belt out lines like, “Beckoning my restless ghost/ From holes in my gut/ To love from miracles” in his impassioned howl. YOB have hit the road several times since Scheidt received his clean bill of health, and though he and his bandmates—drummer Travis Foster and bassist Aaron Rieseberg—aren’t party animals by nature, these days the singer stays especially vigilant about his wellness routine.
Calling from a tour stop out West, Scheidt opened up about surviving his ordeal, the ways he’s adjusted his touring routine to stay healthy, and why it’s important to avoid writing checks that your body will eventually have to cash.
Spotify for Artists: How do you make touring work nowadays, knowing that you’re going to have to factor in your health?
Mike Scheidt: Well, I just have to take responsibility for the fact that I do have limitations, and if I want to keep doing this, then I have to make a choice. In this case, that means choosing to eat better, making sure I’m drinking lots of water, that I have supplements and the other things I need to manage my illness, and also cutting down on things like drinking [alcohol] that have a negative impact on my insides.
I think that anyone who goes on tour comes back home feeling a little beat up, and for me that’s increased some. That affects my quality of life in general when I’m back home as well. It’s possible for me to get sick again, and so this is just an entire life decision.
If you hadn’t gotten sick, do you think you would have naturally eased into a routine of more serious self-care and wellness on the road?
About a year before I got sick, I was trying to manage depression. I’ve been in a spiral for a number of years and made this decision that I had to turn that around, so in early 2016, I quit drinking, got on what was then Obamacare and got back on antidepressants, and started exercising. I dropped 50 pounds and was getting pretty healthy; when diverticulitis struck, it was a really dramatic attack, and one of the doctors hypothesized that I may not have survived it had I not spent the year prior getting my house in order.
So I would say that having an illness where I literally almost died put some perspective on the whole thing … and as bad as it looked then, there’s an interesting serendipity about all of this. Also, I just turned 48, and there’s a certain amount of extra upkeep that’s just a fact if I want to keep living well and touring well, and not slowly fall apart.
__You’ve been touring with YOB on and off since 1996. What are the biggest challenges of living on the road now, and how have they changed for you over the years? __
I think there’s a certain amount of exhaustion that you find an equilibrium with when you’re touring, and [you] have to dig deep every day ... for 30 or 40 days. For me, it’s about two weeks in, where I’m tired but I’m able to do it, and there is something that’s energizing about alcohol; it can take an edge off, or a shot of whiskey can have this almost fake energy effect in such a way that it makes it a little easier until the very end of the night.
Really, YOB doesn’t party that hard on the road in general; we have our buzzed times, but then when we’ve toured with bands who are just barely crawling into the van at 6 a.m., we’re just like, ‘Man, how do you do that every night?’ Maybe I just don’t have the constitution for that, especially now.
Why do you keep hitting the road so hard? At this stage, YOB could pull a Neurosis and play two big shows a year, and people would still trip over themselves to get tickets.
You know, in our future maybe that’s not off the table, but it does seem like right now ... it feels like there’s work to be done. Getting out there, playing music, and doing what we do, the conditions are right, and we’re supported in doing it, and it may not be that way forever, so we just all feel like these are things we need to do.
What advice can you share with other touring musicians living with health issues and chronic illness?
It’s hard to give advice in the sense that I think most people intuitively know that if you drink a bottle of Scotch, you’re probably not going to feel good the next day; if you eat at Taco Bell every day, you’re probably going to pay for that with extra-long trips to the bathroom. I think for each person, they find a place where they realize that they just don’t want to write checks that they have to cash and deal with those consequences.
And there is something to be said, in my personal opinion, in that we travel a long way to get to a place, and then people will go out of their way to end up in that room, and they’re there to see us and we came to see them, and I feel a certain sense of responsibility to get it right. It’s not just about us and our agenda—it’s a shared environment and we want to give the best that we can, because not only does that make for a great evening for us, it can make for a great evening for everybody; if we are just complete drunkards onstage and play a terrible show, we’ll walk out with that, and that’s not what we want.