In The Studio: mewithoutYou
(Photos: Ben Sasso)
mewithoutYou’s fifth album—which is due this spring and was produced by Daniel Smith—comes three years after It's All Crazy! It's All False! It's All a Dream! It's Alright. In an in-depth interview, drummer Rickie Mazzotta, guitarist/keyboardist Michael Weiss and frontman Aaron Weiss discuss the genesis and inspiration of the still-untitled LP.
How many songs did you bring in the studio to work on?
Rickie Mazzotta: With this record, we brought 13 songs into the studio and recorded all 13 songs. That is an all-time high for us; usually, we have a solid 10 or so and just go with that. But on the fifth try, we ended up recording enough that b-sides will be available. When you are writing, its hard to know what will be on and what will be off the album so you need to just contextualize the body of music as a whole and figure out what it is lacking or has too much of. These songs don't stay in the same skin for long; they sort of sliver in and out of different bodies, forming new lives and shaking hands with past selves.
Mike Weiss: We basically just took the standard approach to writing a record: compose as much quality music as you can and plan on weeding a couple of them out to narrow down your album. Rickie’s right: You have to wait until songs are done being mixed and all the twists and turns have had a chance to materialize and then assess what the album will need less or more of once you listen to all of it. I believe this will be the first time we will definitely have at least one b-side—and probably two.
When did you start writing the songs that would become this record?
Aaron Weiss: We had vaguely batted around the idea of making a new record for months. The general idea behind most of the lyrics came along in fall 2010, but we didn't start writing music or many actual words until late spring/early summer of this past year.
MW: We talked about making the album for some time, but we really didn’t have a lot of riffs or ideas coming into the writing sessions. There were a few song ideas, but for the most part, we just banged out instrumentals as a group during June and half of July. Whatever was cooking that day, we just went with it and make a tune out of it.
Was writing this record different than writing your past records? If so, in what ways? And why did you decide to write it differently?
AW: Instrumentally, it was more or less a return to an old pattern of ours in at least one respect: All the music was roughly finished before any of the lyrics came along. Also, I'd say the music was more collaborative than ever before, with each fellow bringing his own ideas, but also willing to take direction from the rest. I also solicited more feedback regarding lyrics than I ever had before. As for the last question, I actually don't remember us deciding on any of this
How does this music compare to the past music in your catalog?
RM: This is always a tough questions to answer, mainly because when you are writing a record or working on new material, you kind of want it to be distant from the rest of your catalog. But in the end, it is always going to be the same core group of dudes working on the music, so patterns develop and tendencies arise, and they basically dictate the band's sound.
On the last record [2009’s It's All Crazy! It's All False! It's All a Dream! It's Alright], we ditched almost everything we do in exchange for an ultimate curveball of an album. With this record, we got more back to grooves, riffs and Aaron's vocals being a little more aggressive. It was all flowing naturally at the time of us writing. Now, that’s not to say there aren't soaring hooks, sweet melodies and alternate style arrangements present as well; I would have to drum up comparisons to Brother, Sister, if any. Some of the songs are heavy, some are heady, all of them have some interesting things going on in them—and when I think of Brother, Sister, it feels like a complete record. That's what I think about this one as well. There is a little something for everybody on it.
MW: The first thing that comes to mind would be that it is very lyrically conceptual. That distinguishes it from past albums. From the first song, the listener is being introduced to a story that will continue through many other tracks to follow. That being said, somewhere along the way we all agreed that we didn’t want the album to only have that “storytelling” element to it. As a result, Aaron took a few songs and tweaked them so that they could sort go either way. I love the tale being told, and I also love how that’s not all the album is.
What are your favorite songs so far?
RM: After listening to mix after mix of all the songs we have written, it is really hard to say which one is our and my personal favorite. Even now as I sit in my room, I can hear Mike through the vents in the house in the basement blasting the record, and when every new song begins, I get pretty excited. Being that we are still making tweaks and figuring out how the songs should sound, the ones that I enjoy listening to the most at this point are "Fox's Dream" and "February 1878." We played the latter live, and it got really good reactions and is a pretty good indicator of where our heads were at with the making of this record.
MW: I'm definitely into those tunes as well as: “Bears Vision,” “Cardiff Giant” and “East Enders Wives.”
You’ve worked with producer Daniel Smith before. What did he bring to the music this time? What sort of advice or guidance did he give you?
AW: For me, probably his most important contributions were personal. [He’s] always happy and friendly, and he opened up his house to us like family. Also, his willingness to wrestle with some of the same questions addressed in the lyrics helped me feel more comfortable in letting all that unfold. Plus, he encouraged I think a healthy mutuality; he said we were a table with four legs—the four band members—and each needed to do an equal part. This was nice, because maybe in the past, certain records or decisions corresponded more strongly to one fellow or another's vision. This time it was a pretty good mix, I'd say
MW: Daniel is great to work with, because he doesn’t hold back his opinions—positive or negative. He’s not very emotional about whatever conclusions we all come to. That is a good yin to my yang, as I am very opinionated and emotional. I love it when I know somebody is giving an unhindered assessment of a situation. That way when (or if) they say they love it, you know it’s not phony.
Lyrically, what sorts of things are you guys addressing in the lyrics? What sorts of themes are emerging?
AW: A lot of the same ideas or elements as our old songs had (faith/doubt, freedom/necessity, celibacy/desire, self-as-illusion, world/s-as-dream, unity, depravity, anthropomorphic animals/vegetables, etc.), and I think every song is about death in some way or another. This last point wasn't intentional, but there's a circus theme throughout that was intentional. Probably the main difference is the regular use of different characters to present, to the best of my ability, utterly conflicting viewpoints in as sincere a way possible, typically without any explicit resolution
How do you feel you guys have grown as songwriters on this album?
RM: Those who make records would like to think that with every project, they are growing or expanding in some way. There definitely isn't any regression on this record; to me, it has all the influences we love, twisted out by our brains, thus making music that we enjoy playing and listening to. From a songwriting perspective, we do it in a sort of fragmented kind of way. There isn't one primary songwriter; if someone has a riff or a chord change, almost anything can happen if we all just start playing, and it may go to some unexpected places for the band and the person who brought the initial part. It's kind of funny writing a guitar part, bringing it to the band and then seeing in six months what that has turned into. I don't know what makes for good songwriting, but I know that we gel pretty well together and that the new record has turned out to be way better than I could have ever expected.
MW: I think I have “grown” by not growing too much. I set out to contribute by bringing the electric guitar back into the sound in a way that’s more in my comfort zone. That is, I wanted to make it the genesis of a song and not just as an accompaniment to something already established. This is something I hadn’t done as much of as I wanted to on our last album. Maybe I just had more ideas this time around.
What is the current situation with a record label? Do you have one?
RM: Right now, we are in between labels. We have offers on the table to work with so-and-so and said label, but we are being very cautious of what our next move is. With the digital age moving on at the rate it is, we are wondering what the use in a label would be. Sure, there are benefits like handling all the things we don't know about (i.e., distro, shipping, printing, promoting) but as grown men—some with families, some thinking about families—money definitely factors into the picture, and we just have to feel like we are getting a fair shake. We didn't create this piece for cash in the slightest, but when there are consequences of putting your name in pen on lines which take a lot of control and funds out of your hands, it would be prudent to mull through all the options, hopefully finding one that appeals to all parties involved.
MW: When you are a band starting out, it makes a lot of sense to sign to a label that will nurture you and do their part to cultivate a fan base. We are fortunate to have had a label that did just that for us. We also helped ourselves by touring a great deal and made decent records. At this point, having fulfilled the terms of our contract, we have less of a need for a label because of the following that we’ve earned. Now, we make the decisions about how our music will be released, and more money from sales will go to the artist. I’m sure that we will still need to outsource many aspects of our operations, which we pay for out of pocket, but we are excited to see who the whole thing balances out.
What do you hope people take away from the album?
RM: This answer would probably be different for everybody. My hope when people hear this is that they will be stoked at the general vibe and concept of the record. Our core musicianship is at an all-time high. It would be nice to know that when people heard this, they felt inspired to pick up an instrument and want to make songs. Lyrically, some of this stuff is really heavy and seems to work nicely with the age of the band. We aren't kids anymore; we have a standard and need to convey that to new fans and to the people who have followed us all along. We are adult men making music; there is a little bend for the audience and a little break for the band. If anything, we are excited to be making music right now, and I think that will spell itself out for the listener.
MW: I basically agree with Rickie. We are happy with what we’ve become after all this time. I hope someone who has been with us from the beginning will appreciate that we took from the early years and still own that energy, as well as how we kept exploring more eclectic sounds that inspire us to keep at it. We’re also excited because it’s something that was conceived of in a short time span. It’s who we are at this moment. alt