When Craig had the crazy idea that we start a column about heavy metal parenting and that we include interviews with “heavy metal parents,” my first thought was of Mike Scheidt. As the leader of YOB (and member of Lumbar and VHOL) he has been a musical inspiration to myself and many others. I wondered what kind of inspiration he would be as a parent. Turns out he is most definitely a parent that I/we can look up to.
Mike has three kids: fraternal twins Zeke and Maggie (19) and son Hudson (15). For me, speaking to a parent who has weathered the storm a little longer and has dealt with some more mature issues provides some insight and guidance for the parenting challenges that lie ahead. Mike is humble and sincere, and as much as we revere him for his legendary prowess in the doom scene, it’s obvious that family is the most important thing in the world to him. It was an honor and a privilege to speak to him. Perhaps you, as I, can look upon his work in a new light and take inspiration from reading our third Full Metal Parenting interview with Mr. Mike Scheidt.
I know you’re interested in and have participated in a number of different musical styles, but what first brought you into the world of metal?
The first time I heard metal was probably 1981 or 1982. I was 12 years old, and at that age and at that time, there was Maiden and Priest and a lot of this kind of metal explosion going on. Early Metallica. That was kind of where I began. There was this radio station that played metal as well here locally. And you know, spikes and leather and blood and kick-ass scary music…I mean, the first time I saw the album cover for Number of the Beast it scared the FUCK outta me, man. I was so scared! But within two weeks I was completely over it and listening to it non-stop. I was pretty hooked at that point. You know, it’s rebel music. It had a rebellious nature to it in some regard. I was turned on to punk around the same time. I was one of those kids that listened to both. It was the first time I’d ever found anything that I really felt like I found an identity in. It was empowering as a young person. So that was really it. That was where I started.
Metal is filled with all sorts of controversial messages and imagery. Did you try and filter what your kids were exposed to or did you use the sex, violence and Satanism as a way to talk about those things with your kids?
For the most part when they were really young I was very careful about what they listened to. It wasn’t stuff that I played for them a lot. When we were sitting around the house with my toddlers I didn’t put on Cannibal Corpse. They weren’t really exactly exposed to it until they started getting older. Maybe I’d be wearing a t-shirt they’d be interested in or something like that, though. My son Zeke just had an affinity for metal. Whereas Maggie, his twin, and my son Hudson, it just never caught on with them as much. And so Zeke would go through my CDs and tapes and vinyl and he’d bring me stuff and say, “Can I listen to this?” I would either say yes or no depending on the band. It wasn’t until he was quite a bit older that I’d let him listen to certain things. Because I wanted them to have a sense of themselves and a sense of reality, so that they could make some sanctions between what was fantasy in the music and what was actually reality.
Metal doesn’t bother my kids. We listen to Cannibal Corpse at dinner (when Mom’s not home). They don’t see the images or ask about the words. It’s actually the pop music that I try and filter…to no avail.
It’s tricky. Each family has to decide for themselves. Rigid rights and wrongs in that regard often are not very helpful. They don’t always work necessarily. I always felt like with the kids that I just needed to make sure that they had overwhelmingly positive messages coming towards them—some hard, kick-ass music that had some celebration and toughness to it. I mean, they’re watching cartoons and all sorts of violent things on their regular kids’ shows, so I wasn’t so worried about denim and leather and motorcycles and cars and things like that. But when we start talking about decapitating women and stuff like that, I drew a line there for them.
You’ve been in YOB basically your children’s entire lives. Was it hard to balance touring life and family life? And has that changed as they’ve gotten older?
Yes. And it’s changed because as they’ve gotten older they want to do their own thing and care a bit less about hanging out with me, or Mom and Dad, as much. And they have friends—boyfriends, girlfriends, things that they wanna do. When they were younger it was harder, but at the same time it would register really intensely for them in short periods of time. They’d have a really bad moment of missing me when they were hanging out with Mom. But then they’d get distracted with toys and various things that they were doing and going to school and whatnot. So, I think now it’s kind of a mix of things. I feel like as they’ve gotten older it’s gotten easier.
Gotten easier to rationalize with them as to why you’re not home?
Yeah, and the big rationalization is, well, it’s tricky. Very, very few people get paid very well to do the stuff that we do, which is partially why YOB didn’t do tonnes of touring. I couldn’t just go out on the road for six months and spend thousands of dollars of my own money to do it. I couldn’t come home and say, “Sorry, kids, you have to eat crap because I went on tour.” I couldn’t justify that to them. I felt that bare minimum we had to be breaking even at least. I used partial vacation time or whatever it was to go on tour. So that for the kids when I got home I wasn’t being a bad dad by just going out and “being an artist” and “following my bliss” and your kids will accept living on food stamps while I do that. I couldn’t rationalize that. It’s not a knock on anybody who does do that. The flip side of that of course is parents who work themselves to the bone in jobs that they hate. Kind of what that does to your psyche. It’s a big sacrifice not only in their lives and energy but also in what it is that we’re teaching our kids too. We want, of course, for our kids to not just go out there and survive. We want better for them than that. And it’s part of having rewarding work, something that’s a little closer to your heart and soul, and being an artist, and being a musician and having the opportunity to tour and potentially break even or do well. The kids have learned a lot in that—me modeling passion to them. I’m definitely not meaning to say anything bad about that [worker bee jobs] of course. It’s always when you’re a touring musician, that stuff comes more into play. You’re trying to juggle these realities, and it’s complex.
Do you find that you’ve taken any inspiration from being a parent into your music or your lyrics?
Definitely. There hasn’t been one day of YOB without children involved. And so as a writer when I’m doing what I’m doing I feel like there has to be a certain sense of kindness and heart in it that I can relate to my children, and share it with them in a way that they can find empowerment in. If they were reading the lyrics or seeing us live or whatever it is, it’s not something that’s alien or scary or harsh to them. And so that’s always been kind of important to me. I mean, I love scary, harsh, brutal music and I think as they’re quite a bit older now I could certainly have free range to do a number of things that I’ve wanted to do. But that’s just always been how I’ve kinda felt with my kids. It’s just that I wanted it to be that the music was coming out of the life that I was living, and part of that life is being a parent.
You’re not exactly the polo shirt, clean-cut kind of guy, as most of us are not. Have you ever had any issues while out and about with the kids as far as your “metal image” is concerned?
Not so much anymore. I think tattoos, long hair, beards, piercing, whatever, that’s part of popular culture. Not just people walking around, but in movies, in all forms of popular music and media. It’s put in our face. So I think it could probably be an issue for some people, but certainly not the level that it was 20 years ago. It seems a lot easier to be yourself and get around. So I don’t experience that so much. Not even when the kids were young. It’s been changing for the last 15 or 20 years at least—I’m talking when I was 14, 15, 16. I’m talking mid-’80s. Yeah, there was all sorts of friction around being a weirdo. You’d get your ass kicked, get called names. Every kind of discrimination you could imagine for just being counterculture. But counterculture these days isn’t really so counterculture. It’s just all part of it now. At least it seems that way to me. Maybe people are looking at me and judging me. I know who I am. I’m older and maybe it’s just that I don’t take it on. But a lot of the stereotypes around “scary people,” even in horror movies, if you go see a movie and the villain is listening to death metal and covered in tattoos, that’s like the total cheesy movie. That’s not scary at all. What’s scary is the guy with the perfect haircut, the ’50s look, really nice car, with a couple of heads in the back seat listening to Elvis. That’s scary. So I think that more and more all the time, if people are dirty or nasty or obviously not taking care of themselves, people judge that appearance. But as far as if you’re wearing clean clothes and have tattoos and a beard and working your job and you’re in your flow and articulate, people aren’t that judgmental.
I know I get looks.
I probably do too. Maybe I’m just being naive or maybe I just don’t care anymore. Because I’m in my mid forties, maybe I just don’t even care.
I know you’re a very spiritual person. I consider myself a follower of the Buddhist philosophy (and send my kids to a Catholic school, so I obviously don’t know what I’m doing). I was wondering if your spirituality affected how you approach your parenting?
It’s helped me remember the bigger picture. What I’ve seen in my three kids for sure is that they have come into the world with their own rhyme and reason, and they’re all very different. What moves them is different. The way they express themselves is uniquely their own. And I kinda felt like I was a guardian in making sure that they’re physically safe, fed, taken care of. That they’re learning good basic human habits: brush your teeth, take showers, wear clean clothes. Be respectful of yourself. Teach them how to navigate their world. But I didn’t have any huge worldly agendas for them about how I need them to think a certain way or look a certain way. It wasn’t that long ago that a lot the populace had an agenda from our parents that was passed down. To me that’s a little more of the universe and the world as an open-ended question, and giving the kids tools to be able to answer that question for themselves and then keep them safe along the way. My views with them, my kinda big rule was I did demand that they get good grades because I feel like if they want to travel the world or hitchhike or whatever, if that’s the choice that they wanna do as an 18, 19-year-old kid, I can’t stop them from doing that. They’re gonna do what they want, but I do want them to have some choices. Same with college. I really would like them to go to college, not because I think that they need to be establishment and be a part of the consumer culture, but because I want them to be empowered and educated and have those tools to be able to make choices that are healthy for them. And theoretically do something that follows in their heart, something that they want to do and theoretically could get paid for it. So I demanded good grades: rule number one. Two, I can’t control if you have sex or not, but use a condom. Don’t get a disease. Don’t get anyone pregnant. And don’t die. And as long as those things are in place, I kinda work with everything else.
Something I’m going to run into in a few years I’m sure, is the subject of drugs. How did you broach the subject as far as harmfulness and legality?
The conversation we’ve had around drugs, legality never really came up in it because it certainly never came up for me…unless I got caught. As a kid I think me and all my friends just did what we wanted, which is what most people do regardless of whether it’s legal or not. My conversations with them around drugs had more to do with one thing: to be healthy and be able to make decisions and have an internal locus of control that wasn’t determined by a substance. With the idea that having a couple beers occasionally or smoking weed sometimes or whatnot, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that personally. I think that my fear for them being of course that in my family there’s a history of addiction. I just wanted to have open dialogs with them around drugs. Basically, conversations I had with them were: “Look, I don’t want you to do it. I don’t want you to smoke weed. I don’t want you to drink. I don’t want you to do these things. However, I have no control over it. And I don’t want there to be a situation where you can’t call me and talk to me about it. If you’re at a party and you’re stuck, your friends are drunk or on mushrooms or whatever, don’t get in the car. Make the phone call, I’ll come get you. You won’t be in trouble and we’ll talk about it when you sober up.” So, I’ve made it very clear that I didn’t want them to do it, but what control do you have? I mean, if they’re gonna do it, they’re gonna do it. To me, making a big deal about it? I know as a kid when my dad made a big deal out of something it made it very appealing to me. To my best ability I just try and stay open with them, and that was pretty much that.
It terrifies me to think about how my kids might react if they catch me in the act.
Sure. That’s tricky too. I think that if we’re not clear on that ourselves, at least for me if I can’t be clear about why I’m gonna have a beer [to] my kids, then speaking for myself I probably shouldn’t be drinking it. Certainly, times that I’ve smoked weed or whatever, I wasn’t doing it right in front of them. I quit smoking cigarettes when they were born because I didn’t want them to have that modeled for them. And they didn’t have the maturity to understand it anyway. There’s some of that stuff where you can’t even have a real dialog around it anyway, so to me it was just about not modeling that behavior for them, and trying to build them up as independent from smoking or drugs or drinking. They have enough stuff in their face. I have plenty of friends that were brought up with hippie moms and dads and they smoked pot with them from when they were 8 years old, and who knows, man? Who knows what’s right or wrong in this universe of ours. I like to think that there are some absolutes there, but I’m not convinced that there are. I think we just follow our guts and we find out more as we go.
Life is basically one big frustration, unless you have one of the few extraordinarily charmed lives. Parenting can be major part of that frustration. I was wondering if you find metal to be something you turn to to help manage all the challenges that get thrown at you as a parent.
Yeah, metal’s always been that for me from Day One. It still works. It works for just about everything. And it’s amazing that the more brutal and insane it is, the more it has that kind of Ritalin effect on a hyper kid. It just mellows me out. It has the opposite effect. No doubt that I return to it daily.
One last question, and this is the most important one of all! Here’s your chance to recommend your top five metal discs to soundtrack the joys, frustrations, laughs and loves of parenting.
If we’re talking about to parent with, I’m just thinking about the stuff I listen to around the kids; that I felt like was music that definitely made me feel like I was having a great time, but I felt like the kids were also into. Definitely Sleep‘s Holy Mountain was at the top of that list. My kids LOVED Sleep, man. We’d listen to Sleep all the time. Cathedral, The Ethereal Mirror. They just loved that when they were little kids. They loved Lee Dorrian’s voice and how he made all these crazy sounds and said crazy stuff. They just thought it was hilarious and fun and the riffs are all pretty punchy and high energy. Metallica, Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets. Those are two great-sounding records. Melodically wonderful. We all know those albums rule, but with the kids I just felt like I could listen to it around them, and they liked it. It was high energy. They had no problem with it. I didn’t have any problem with them rocking out to it. It’s not really exactly metal, but I think every parent and kid can get behind Highway to Hell or Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. Pretty much any of the early AC/DC records, man. They’re just such a treasure. My kids still listen to those records a lot and we have their entire lives. Also too, my son Zeke in particular just really loves At The Gates, Slaughter of the Soul. Melodically it’s really fantastic and graspable and high energy. Now he’s a pretty amazing guitarist himself. He can play almost the entire album front to back.
I’ve really appreciated talking to you about parenting. Thank you very much! It was very insightful. I’m happy and I’ve learned, so that’s great!
I hope I gave you some good stuff—[the] world according to me. Like everyone has an asshole sorta thing. Awesome! This is the first time I’ve ever done an interview that’s geared specifically towards parenting, so that’s awesome.