[SINGER-SONGWRITER] Mike Scheidt looks glassy-eyed and a little wobbly, desperate for his first coffee of the day, as he searches for a seat at the downtown Stumptown. Twelve hours ago, he stepped off a plane, returning home from playing some international festival dates with YOB, his long-running and critically lauded doom-metal band. In a few short hours, he’ll fly to San Francisco to jam and record with a new project featuring former members of the avant-metal outfit Ludicra.
Although Scheidt is relieved to be home, when he’s asked about the events that inspired his first solo effort, Stay Awake (released this month on Thrill Jockey), a look of extreme anguish flashes over his heavily bearded face.
“I won’t get specific,” the 42-year-old says, tearing a chunk off a pain au chocolat. “But I will say that sometimes things don’t go how you really, really, really want them to. It’s a constant lesson in humility and a constant lesson in how life is. I felt an intense need to process that and purge it.”
Even without all the details, learning that something painful inspired these new songs isn’t surprising, especially when you dig into the lyrics (“This is the price to truly live/ Is to watch it die and not turn away,” he sings on “The Price”).
Dark themes are normal in metal. What is shocking about Scheidt’s new record is his chosen medium for this catharsis: quiet, humble acoustic drone-folk.
In truth, Scheidt has been studying acoustic playing for years, starting with some lessons from legendary Captain Beefheart sideman Zoot Horn Rollo (“I make a point of letting people know I was his worst student”), and then on-the-job training at a guitar shop in Eugene.
Unlike the Merle Travis-style finger-picking Scheidt learned in those days, the sound of Stay Awake is full of slowly unfolding melodies and long, drawn-out chords over which he reduces his usual furious growl for a wobbly tenor that cuts deep. On “In Your Light,” he even affects a bit of falsetto, a nod, he says, to his love of Cat Stevens and Gordon Lightfoot.
It’s daring enough to hear Scheidt, as he puts it, “tear my chest open and let it all spill out” in such an unadorned fashion. But one gets a real sense of the huge risk that he’s taking when you see him perform the songs live. At a recent Mississippi Studios appearance, the burly, tattooed musician looked so much more exposed (and smaller) than usual without a huge amp stack and eardrum-crippling volume at his back.
“It felt like I was skydiving without a parachute,” he says of his first time performing solo, at the behest of another metal musician with acoustic proclivities, Scott Kelly of Neurosis. “This music was born out of very deep, personal pain; putting that in front of people was horrifically frightening. It’s made me better as a musician, but every time I do it, I’m scared to death.”
SEE IT: Mike Scheidt plays Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., on Friday, June 29, with Sedan, Vradiazei and Aerial Ruin. 9 pm. $6 advance, $8 day of show. 21+.