It’s no secret that MEWITHOUTYOU are a spiritual band. Religion plays a large role in the musical and personal lives of the members of the eclectic Philadelphia outfit. Frontman and freegan AARON WEISS often writes passionately about topics that less daring bands wouldn’t touch. Whether you’re Christian or not, it isn’t difficult to relate to the progressive album that mewithoutYou have just released this week-their fourth full-length, it’s all crazy! it’s all false! it’s all a dream! it’s alright. But for all of its quirky instrumentation and upbeat tone, the album is a window into a time after the band struggled with personal limitations and nearly went their separate ways. MICHELLE ABBASCIANO caught up with Weiss to talk about everything from the band’s humble nature to what exactly a bouzouki is.
Is the title of the album a spiritual reference?
Yes. Certain aspects of the band and my life seem more like events that I’ve been observing rather than participating in. So how the album got to be called that or what that means, I’m afraid I don’t know. I can tell you my spin on it, or why I like it, but I don’t want to ruin it for someone else who has a better meaning for it. Also, there’s actually an ending that’s been cut off from the title: let’s see what’s next. Our past is going to stick around whether we like it or not. We don’t have to intentionally go back and revisit it. We can keep moving forward and see where the next foot is going to fall.
Does the title reflect an optimistic message?
It’s funny you say optimism because it sounds sort of bleak-well, the first three quarters of [the title], at least. I remember reading somewhere about someone who wasn’t satisfied by optimism–because it’s dishonest and doesn’t really acknowledge what’s the matter–or pessimism, because it’s equally dishonest, and in its cynicism, it ignores the hope that exists and the beauty and the goodness. I guess a lot of our time as a band has been spent together trying to look at both; trying to come to reality without any preconceived notions of what things should be. For me, looking at my own heart and seeing how all those things in our album title–creating a falsehood and a dream–is about my life. I’m not telling anybody else that their life is crazy; you can decide that for yourself. I certainly don’t want anyone to pick up an album with lyrics written by my hand without giving them a certain warning that you know, this is crazy.
What was one of the craziest things that happened to you guys during the recording of this album?
It’s hard to think of anything outwardly. There was nothing [dramatic]. We all grew together, though, and went through a lot. We had kind of broken up, and [wanted to] go back to school or just have other priorities in our lives. But we just couldn’t stay away from each other. So we kept writing songs, and then we said let’s just do another record. But there was so much less pressure, because we stepped back from the whole thing and sort of de-invested from it. We didn’t have anything riding on it, where we needed to be successful. It was by far the best experience of all the records in terms of dealing with the other guys and contentment with where we’re all at, peaceful that we’re not exactly on the same pages, but we can all accept each other and our differences, rather than me trying to convert everybody to the way I do things.
the Angel of Death came to Davids room – mewithoutYou
Has the current state of the world affected the outcome of this album at all?
Yeah, the state of the world has affected us, that’s what the record is. It’s a product of that. I’m a product of that. That’s what the craziness is: the falsehood and the dream. We’ll always find something to worry about. But there’s always something to be thankful for though. It really is a question of perspective. In the past, I’ve done a lot of focusing on the negative, and being on a high horse about everything I know and everything I do, and it’s kind of been swept out from under me when I realized I haven’t been seeing clearly.
Have you discovered you’ve been seeing things more clearly?
No, it hasn’t been that I’ve been seeing clearly. It’s just been realizing that I don’t see clearly. It’s like if you spend your whole life with poor eyesight and you don’t know why the world is blurry, you just think that’s the way it is. But then maybe for a moment, you borrow someone’s glasses, and for a moment you see. “Oh wow, look at that! Everything is okay, everything is clear and crisp and beautiful and perfect!” And then you take the glasses off and you’re back to seeing blurry. So, the clarity has come in moments, but then it’s back to blursville, but with a remembrance of what was seen in those times, and knowing that clarity does exist, it’s just something that I don’t have. So I need to tread a little more lightly and try to keep my mouth shut.
The band worked separately in the studio at times, right?
Sometimes. Certain tracks were recorded together and then a lot of over dubs were done.
Do you think this affected the diversity on the record?
Sure. There was an openness to whatever may come. So when someone showed up with a set of bagpipes, we let them give it a shot. When someone came and wanted to sing, they sang. And it was in Philadelphia, so a lot of our friends could drop by. And if one of us would show up after missing a few days and all of a sudden there was cello and tuba on one of the songs, you’d say, “Where did that come from?” So it certainly allowed for more surprises.
There’s a lot of that unique instrumentation. How many guest musicians do you think you had?
Many. We had a fellow named Joshua come and orchestrate some music. He was in charge of the classical composition for one or two songs that had strings or low brass and clarinet. None of us in the band play those instruments. But then there were other instruments, like the percussion, bouzouki, harp, horn and trumpet that friends of ours played. The majority of the standard instruments–like the guitar, bass, drums, keyboard and accordion-are all within the band.
What’s a bouzouki?
Scotty Krueger, who is our dear friend and brother with a group called the Psalters, played it for us. The bouzouki is like a Greek or Turkish flute or miniature guitar with a half-spherical body and a little neck. It sounds high- pitched and twangy, like a Middle Eastern guitar. It’s featured on “The Angel Of Death Came To David’s Room.” It almost sounds like a mandolin.
Spirituality played a role in the title, but how much of the album is rooted in it?
It’s sort of the underlying tone of life as best I can tell, at least anywhere that I look. Maybe it’s just the terms and in our deepest and most honest moments that we understand what we’re doing here. It’s something in some ways I tried to stay away from, though. You know, some things are just too special to talk about, and it might be inappropriate for me to put it on an album, sell it and make a big show of it. With those spiritual ideas, there was a lot of conflict with [the idea that] maybe this doesn’t belong here in a world of commerce.
Did you struggle to decide more or less of your spiritual beliefs on this album?
In the end, we tried to keep our hands off of it and dial it back and keep those things more subtle. Some of the original lyrics are much more out in the open and straightforward. I really don’t know what I’m talking about when I say the word, “God.” It’s throwing around heavy language in a very light and arrogant way. In the past, I feel like I’ve talked a lot about things I don’t truly know about, so there was some attempt to reel that in, and write about, you know, pastries and vegetables and things we do understand. But of course the religious stuff is going to find its way in; we can’t keep it out, try though I may.
There also seem to be a lot of food references.
Sure, it makes sense and I do [like to sing about what I know]. But I really enjoy sweets, too, because there are some references to sugary things, certainly to the detriment of my dental health. I definitely have a sweet tooth, especially those pastries.
the Fox, the Crow and the Cookie – mewithoutYou
What influenced “The Fox, The Crow And The Cookie”?
The title and plot are taken almost directly from a children’s story by Bawa Muhaiyaddeen that my mom used to read to me. It’s from a book called My Love You, My Children. [It was] one of my favorites. When I was a little boy, to see those drawings and hear the stories, they were always very simple but had a powerful impact. A lot of them used animals, and others were about people who were trying to believe in God. For example, a child who was a good son to his parents; a respectful son who believed in God and didn’t steal or use drugs; seeing how that was one way to live, and then there were other ways that you could live that would hurt your parents and upset people. The simple encouragement to be good, believe in God, and respect people had a really powerful impact on me as a kid, and it really stuck with me.
It doesn’t get much more personal than referencing a book from your childhood.
Well, so much of what Bawa said was such a treasure and a gift; so many points of wisdom and clarity and goodness and faith and hope. So much love came to my family and into my life that it doesn’t feel like a personal story, just more like an incredible treasure that is endless. If anyone is hurting, or if anyone is sad or lonely and feels unloved or wishes they were dead, or has lost their faith in God, or is afraid–any problem that you have, you have a love for you from God. I know God loves you. It’s in my heart. So I can share that, and say no matter who you are, no matter if you believe in God or not, whether you’ve done good things or bad things in your life. It’s just love; it’s unconditional, like the way the sun shines on everybody and gives light to everybody equally. Bawa talked about a love that exists like that.
What song on the album are you most proud of?
“The King Beetle In The Coconut Estate.” That’s also from a Bawa story. It’s not the name of the story, but it’s the rough plot, and the way it ended.
the King Beetle on a Coconut Estate – mewithoutYou
Are you nervous to re-create the new songs live?
No nerves. More excitement. It’ll be cool. I’m probably most excited to play that song, ["The King Beetle In The Coconut Estate”], live. That one and another song called “Cattail Down.” That song actually almost got scrapped because I didn’t think it was any good, but then our [m[merch guy]verheard me playing it and he thought it was really cool, and I was like, “Oh, this old thing?” He said, “You should really bring that to the guys.” So that gave me the confidence to do it, and then Rick [M[Mazzotta, drums]aid it was his favorite song that we had, and once everybody put their parts to it, and once the horns came, I was sold. Ever since then, it’s been one of my favorite songs.
“Bullet To Binary Pt. Two” is obviously the follow up to the original “Bullet to Binary” on A ->B Life–but with more fruit and vegetable references.
My old friend was very enthusiastic about urban farming. She’s into community gardens and growing her own food, and I visited her. Some of those images were happy memories, and sort of a sweet way to tell a story using those characters, rather than making me the star of the show and talking about myself. While a lot of [t[the lyrics]re my experiences, or beliefs or observations, if I put it in the mouth of a potato or a strawberry, they can say these things. And then if someone disagrees, I’m like, “Yeah, go ahead and disagree with a potato. I won’t take it personally. It’s the potato’s point of view.” If it’s something I say, then it’s like, “Oh, he’s saying that? Last year, he was saying this, and now he’s saying something different.” Well, you certainly have my permission to scrap everything I’ve ever said and disregard everything I’m saying now, and to write off anything I say in the future. But when the potato speaks, you might as well listen.
bullet To Binary (pt. two) – mewithoutYou
So this song is sort of mocking the original, with a more serious message underneath?
Well, yeah it’s even more serious in a way. Things are way more passionate and things are way more powerful and that’s just contained in that [s[song]The first time around, it was like, “I want to literally die. I’m jealous. This girl, we broke up. I’m going to haunt her.” It’s all just crazy stuff that you think about when you’re the age I was. The newer song, I guess it’s sort of making fun of it, but not in a way that’s regretting that I wrote those words. I had to learn what it’s all about when we put our trust in another person and we fall. So, with this song, [i[it’s]aying that we can survive that, and we can move on and I think it’s more joyful and pointed toward sweeter things rather than regret and jealousy and anger and all these things that the old song seems to embody. It’s kind of like a draft on a paper. If you get a failing grade on the first one, but your teacher lets you re-write it. You might have the same ideas and some of the same words, but overall you’re improving it, and you don’t regret the first draft, because it was where you were at, but you’re just grateful that the teacher let you write it again.
So is “Bullet To Binary Pt. Two” more of a second draft, or a final draft?
Well, I guess only time will tell that. There are no plans for any more revisions, but hopefully there is the idea to not keep revising the same old paper, but to get out of classroom and start living.
Toward the beginning of the song, you’re singing in Arabic. Do you speak it fluently?
No, my mom has been studying it; she taught me certain prayers. Some parts were prayers, and other lines were basic words that she helped me translate.
Allah, Allah, Allah – mewithoutYou
”Allah Allah” also seems to convey an important message.
Yes, it’s powerful. That’s a safe assumption. It came very quickly and suddenly and powerfully. It is a three-chord song, with a simple melody, so that kind of frees you up to say exactly what needs to be said, without being too fancy or embellishing it. There really is no message, because I’m trying to learn keep my mouth shut. Sometimes it’s difficult to keep quiet though, and certain messages are going to be there. It’s not like I have an agenda and I’m trying to convince other people to believe what I believe, or need everybody to know about my ideas. More often than not, it’s starting to seem perfectly fine that nobody agrees with what I believe, or if nobody hears my ideas again. I’m probably better off in some ways. But at the same time, being in this band, I don’t want to say things that are insincere, so it’s hard to write an entire record about just vegetables. While that is a part of our experience, that’s not all there is.
Just write what you know, right?
Yeah, and if you write about something you don’t know, there’s probably someone, somewhere who does know, and they’re going to look at what you said and say, “Wait a minute, that’s not true.” Especially with the religious talk, having encountered a lot of people who were in a state of having more sincerity and purity of heart, they could point out to me lovingly, like, “Look, you’re talking about these things, but you really don’t understand them, and you’re only misleading people.” When someone says that to you with love, you can either call them crazy, or listen to them and consider what they are saying. It’s more like cutting away something that needs to be cut away, like a sculpture. Somewhere inside this big rock is a beautiful sculpture and you have to remove all of the rubble around it. Whatever’s left is still there, and even more beautiful than it was before that chisel came.
Would you say that this new record is the statue underneath yet?
Oh, no, not even close. This record for me is still the rubble. My whole life has been cutting it away and getting rid of it. It’s something that had to happen and then we’re going to tour, and then go deeper, see what else there is, and let go of that. And I only say that because it seems to keep getting so much better. The more we cut and let go of who we’ve been, the more clarity and joy we get. So why stop here? Musically, I don’t know if we’ll ever write another song again. I’m talking more in terms of looking at our hearts. If we decide to continue musically, then so be it. But if this is our last record, then that is fine with me. At this point, I feel like I’ve gotten everything out that I needed to say. alt