Photographer Alyssa Herrman Discusses New YOB Book

As faithful Decibel readers know, YOB guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt had a rough 2017. Suffering from a painful intestinal disease called acute diverticulitis, he underwent a grueling series of hospitalizations and surgeries that ultimately saved his life. After a slow and methodical recovery process, Scheidt and his bandmates—drummer Travis Foster and bassist Aaron Rieseberg—recorded what became Decibel’s Album Of The Year for 2018 and possibly YOB’s best yet: Our Raw Heart.

Meanwhile, Portland, OR-based photographer Alyssa Herrman spent two years documenting the entire process—starting with the March 2017 benefit shows to help with Scheidt’s medical bills and recovery, through the writing, recording and release of Our Raw Heart. The result is The Raw Within, a 120-page, 11×10” hardcover coffee table book fully authorized by the band and featuring a forward by Scheidt himself. We recently spoke with Herrman about her self-published labor of love.

When and how did you first meet the YOB guys?
In 2013, I shot my first music festival—Music Fest NW in Portland, OR—and YOB headlined at Plan B, which is now White Owl Social Club. After their set was over I introduced myself to them while they were loading gear and we all hit it off instantly.

What drew you to their music?
I had been listening to YOB for a while before I ever saw them live and always loved their albums but finally experiencing them live is what really got me hooked. YOB’s live shows take me on a tour of my emotions, good and bad, and help me make sense of them and find balance somehow. That sensation became addicting and led to me to try and see YOB live as much as possible.

Did you have the idea for the book before Mike got sick, or did his illness motivate you in some way?
The plan for making a book was already in motion about two months before I knew he had diverticulitis. When I heard about him being in the hospital, the project disappeared from my mind completely. I was so worried that I was going to lose my friend; I didn’t care about anything other than him getting better.

Mike and I mutually agreed that it was important for me to document his healing process and everything surrounding that because it was an important moment, but we didn’t know if it was going to be in a book or just photos that never saw the light of day. It wasn’t until around August of that year that I knew I was going to be in the studio with them and the book was back in the works. There isn’t too much emphasis on Mike’s illness in the book after the first chapter because it’s more about the story of him and the band healing from that process and the beauty that came out of a scary situation.

What was it about this particular time in YOB’s trajectory that made you feel the time was right?
It wasn’t necessarily that I chose this time to do a book about YOB. The inspiration for the project started because I was at a point with my photography where I felt unfulfilled and I really wanted to do some kind of project that I could truly sink myself into—something big that would make me feel the fire that I felt when I first started shooting shows. I really dug deep within myself to think of what that would be, and YOB kept popping into my head.  I couldn’t let go of the idea that it had to be about YOB. I didn’t know what the project would be or exactly what the premise was, but I knew it had to involve them.

When did you first approach the band about the project?
I first approached Mike about this after YOB’s set at a Neurosis show in November 2016. The story of that is in the book, so I won’t tell the whole thing now but basically after that conversation I knew I was going to try to do a book about the band. But I still wasn’t sure what the basis of the book would be and I had absolutely no idea what journey was ahead.

When you approached the band about it, what kind of questions or concerns did they have?
The main question they had was whether my presence in the studio would disrupt the creative process or not. They have never had anyone in the studio documenting them before this. The only time someone was there besides the engineer and the band was if they were collaborating and creating together, so they were a little concerned that having a camera on them all the time would make it hard to create in the way they needed to. I did my very best to stay out of the way while making sure to document this awesome process.

What were the biggest challenges for you, photography-wise?
This whole project was one big challenge. It was exactly what I needed to revitalize my passion for photography.  I learned a lot about myself and my skills during this process, and I feel I’m a better photographer coming out of this.

What did you learn about the publishing process?
Self-publishing is very difficult. In my mind I was like, “I’ll just contact a printer, make the book and print it. Sounds easy.” Which is so naive of me to think that. Every step of the way I told myself I had thought of everything and was covered and it turned out I wasn’t. Not one time when I thought I figured everything out was I correct. There are a ton of costs you don’t think of, roadblocks and challenges and lots and lots of tedious work and research is required to self-publish, especially if you’ve never done it before like myself.  

The main thing I learned was that you need to have patience and go with the flow. If you try to fight that, you’re fighting a losing battle and will cause yourself more stress than needed. Patience is your biggest asset when self-publishing a book! I guess you could say that about life in general, though.

Ultimately, the book shows and tells the story of a community coming together to help one of its own. Did you realize that was the story you were telling while you were working on it?
I’m very happy to hear that it came across that way because my intention was to tell the story of what was happening in that moment in a true and honest way. The first half of the book is definitely about our community coming together, so that’s great that the message came through!

Last but not least, is there anything else you want folks to know about the book?
I wanted this book to be an insight into the real story of the making of the album and who Mike, Aaron and Travis are on- and offstage. When looking through the book, I hope that the reader feels like they were there and that it brings them as much joy as it brings me.

You can preview The Raw Within and order a copy here.