“Stay Awake” seems like a pretty straightforward command: Stay conscious, stay alert and stay aware. That is, don’t fall asleep physically, mentally or spiritually.
Mike Scheidt, who is best known to heavy music fans as the force behind esoteric Oregon doom act Yob, depends on the idea of staying awake. The words are tattooed on the backs of his hands—a convenient reminder while driving on middle-of-the night long hauls while Yob is on tour. It’s also the title of both his debut acoustic solo album and the album’s dramatic closing track. Over a chorus of mournful voices, punctuated by a clear, forcefully strummed guitar beat, Scheidt’s vibrato-laden voice delivers a solemn promise to himself: “No matter what comes, I will stay awake.”
Over the phone from his home in Eugene, Ore., Scheidt explains the concept: “It’s trying to remember what’s real and what’s important, not getting lost in drama. And if I do get lost, to come to the surface quicker.”
Scheidt talks a lot about diving in and surfacing when he talks about this tour.
“They have to be able to take the dive,” he says of audiences who come to hear his acoustic show. “If they’re not willing to do that, then on the surface it can be slow, it can be spacious. It’s not rocking.”
Fans who know Scheidt mainly from Yob indeed need to do just that in order to appreciate this material. Yob’s sound is pummeling and mystical; the group’s last effort, Atma, is the heavy metal equivalent of a mandala—intricate, cyclical, and open to many interpretations. They depend upon sheer volume and intricate repetition. What to make, then, of the delicate melodies and messages of love from the earnest, hippie-ish Scheidt, who sounds here more like Gordon Lightfoot than the Melvins?
Scheidt says the album grew out of a “brutal, tumultuous” time in his life, leaving him with the need for self-expression, but without any real plan to release what he had written. “It’s just so personal,” he says, “but I gravitate toward scary things so I made the decision to do it.”
In a few days, Scheidt will hit the road for his first solo tour without Yob. His companion for the tour will be Nate Hall from Appalachian psychedelic metal act U.S. Christmas. The band opened Yob's show last year at Kings. Hall also recently released a solo album of his own, titled A Great River, recorded during a single March afternoon last year and released on Neurot. But unlike Yob, U.S. Christmas has freely dabbled in sparse, acoustic music, so A Great River is not as much of a stylistic departure as Stay Awake.
Hall says the tour was a matter of fortuitous timing, and both he and Scheidt were inspired by a recent solo tour featuring well-known heavy music frontmen Scott Kelly of Neurosis and Eugene Robinson of Oxbow. Hall, for one, thinks that audiences will understand, and hopefully appreciate, the music.
“The kind of people who listen to me and Mike, they tend to be more forward thinking,” he reckons. “I think we appeal to more people than that one group. I hope it expand people’s horizons a bit. I mean, electric guitar is just an acoustic with a pickup behind it.”
Mike Scheidt and Nate Hall play Kings in Raleigh tonight, Wednesday, July 18, at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $10.