Interview and Ticket Giveaway: MewithoutYou at Neumos 7/23Posted by Adam Barnett
There’s a clear and rare skill set involved in the art of storytelling with music, both lyrically and sonically. When present and implemented well, records can become more powerful than the written novel. Combining song and story for over a decade now, Philadelphia-based post-hardcore outfit MewithoutYou – made up of Aaron and Michael Weiss, Greg Jehanian, and Rickie Mazzotta – has proven its mastery in this art over-and-over again. It hasn’t gone unnoticed, to say the least.
Mewithoutyou’s presence on Tooth & Nail, tours with bands like Coheed and Cambria, and heavy, hard-hitting records like Catch for Us the Foxes brought an influx of devoted fans from the associated side of the national music scene. Aaron Weiss’ vibrant storytelling and religious candor mid-career attracted fans across music spectrums. Then came It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All A Dream! It’s Alright, a surprising record of softer alt-folk that grabbed several avid fans who might not have given any band from T&N the time of day. So the 106,000+ “likes” listed on the band’s Facebook page isn’t as staggering as it may seem at first.
Finally, May saw the release of MewithoutYou’s fifth full-length record Ten Stories.
In a recent interview with Paste, drummer Rickie Mazzotta mentioned the emotional trials of each band member during the writing and recording of It’s All Crazy, leading to a “detachment” felt by Mazzotta. After a summer tour supporting that record, this detachment manifested into a short hiatus. When it was time for MewithoutYou to get back together and write a new album, Mazzotta said the band was “way more present.”
Already lauded as one of the best records of 2012 so far by MTV, the album is a highly-noticed departure from the alt-folk musings of 2009’s It’s All Crazy, but a definite return to the band’s original, heavier career. Though, elements of both are clear on the new record, combined with an upgraded and very clear sense of togetherness and intensity. Mazzotta’s feelings of “presence” are spot-on.
This increased cohesion might be due to MewithoutYou’s plans to self-release. Ten Stories marks the band’s first full-length on its own label, Pine Street Records, and departure from Seattle’s Tooth & Nail (Underoath, MxPx) with whom the band released its four previous LPs.
“It can be overwhelming to meet with the goal to write a record,” Mazzotta told SSG Music. “The band didn’t want to force anything, and we wanted to just be in our element.”
Based in West Philadelphia, Pine Street has been a key creative home and practice space for MewithoutYou’s past two records.
“We had built a practice space at Pine Street with some of our advance money from the previous recording, hung some posters of childhood idols, some art, usually had incense burning, lights dimmed low, tried to make it as comfortable as possible… I don’t know if you have ever been in a West Philadelphia basement in the summer. If you have, you know it can be unpleasant. Luckily, all of this goes down in Mike’s [Weiss] house where I happen to live so all our amenities were within an arm’s reach be it the Deli down the block, a stocked fridge or downtime NES playing.”
On the surface, Ten Stories is exactly what you think it is: ten stories told over ten songs. In the end, it’s all very Gestalt; the stories converge into one big tale detailing the derailment and wrecking of a train housing a travelling circus and the subsequent elephant-led uprising of circus animals against the traveling show. Every song is a contribution to a band-created mythos inspired by vocalist and lyricist Aaron Weiss’ discovery of a documented train crash in Montana while reading a book for a class.
According to drummer Rickie Mazzotta, Weiss brought the idea to the band about a year ago.
“One day last summer while we were backstage at a show in New York City he dropped the dime on the direction he was thinking of going,” Mazzotta recalled. “There was a mixed bag of emotions from the band members and management. I for one was all in. My line of thinking was, if he felt good about the direction he was going lyrically, then I would have full confidence in him. It was exciting because most of the music was done and we were pretty much in the dark about what he was going to do; the wheels just started turning with all these different ideas and it began to take on a life of its own and all happened pretty organically.”
The record covers several events related to the animal-uprising like the train wreck in album opener “February, 1878” to a jury’s wish to “hang [an] elephant” on “Elephant in the Dock.”
“It is just the repercussion for the perceived criminal acts of the Elephant in our mythology,” Mazzotta said on the elephant’s legal troubles in the song, which he assured is in not inspired by the incident involving Mary the Elephant and a crane. “It is crazy to think that that happened in real life, sad really that that is the best thing we could think of as humans to do to punish an animal that was being held in captivity. Never mind that Mary was put in a situation that was restraining and probably abusive. ‘Let’s hang an Elephant for being an Elephant.’ It is a pretty astounding display of absurdity.”
MewithoutYou has always had a talent for allegory, and the band’s reinterpretation of a classic Aesop story in It’s All Crazy’s single “The Fox, The Crow, and The Cookie” indicated Weiss’ interest in and knack for fable, something clearly explored on Ten Stories. Though, Weiss’ intentions in his use of animals as characters are far beyond mere bedtime storytelling.
“I think it is taking the self out of the story telling,” Mazzotta explained. “I mean, the self is still in there. But for Aaron, I think without seeming like a complainer or a total mess, it is easier to convey the emotions through characters. I hear the songs and know exactly (most times) what he is referencing, even if it isn’t told in a first person scenario. So, in a way, it’s like putting on a costume or a mask to bring to life what is going on inside of him.”
Weiss isn’t the only one in the band with an interest in the Animal Kingdom. According to Mazzotta, each band member has a spirit animal and “share[s] kinship and characteristics of animals.”
“If I had to reveal them here now, Aaron would be a rabbit, Mike would be a Wombat, Greg, a Seal (according to Aaron), and I of course would be a Dire Wolf,” he said.
Story albums aside, MewithoutYou isn’t a band for sticking to a single piece of its catalog to build a set list. Taking the songs from Ten Stories and performing them live essentially takes them out of the context of a storybook. As a result, Mazzotta said that Ten Stories “takes on a life of it’s own” on the stage.
“With ten years under our belt, we have built up a deep catalog of music and a healthy fan base,” Mazzotta explained. “So this time around, we’ve been playing a healthy mix of everything we’ve ever written, nothing in total context, to appease both ourselves and the great people who pay to see us play. So, there isn’t much continuity in regards to playing the new album live. Just being with these guys is like a traveling circus. I never know what Aaron is going to do or say, so I am always just hanging on for the ride. But it would be nice to turn this into a grander production, maybe do a limit run, Broadway style, have costumes, additional players, monologs, acting. It is something I kind of dream of doing. There is a fine line though. If you have ever seen the Styx behind the music, you know exactly what I am talking about!”
The tour is already underway, and the most recent bio for the band documented the return of its vegetable-oil powered tour bus, an appropriately-described “mental hospital on wheels.” Mazzotta said that, while there were some initial “explosions and miscommunications,” the tour is going well.
“We hadn’t been on the road in a year and you know, it takes a while to get back into the groove,” Mazzotta said. “Just because you love music doesn’t mean that you are cut out to be on the road in a metal tube going 70 miles an hour from city to city, so adjustments have to be made. I love these dudes, I love being around them and traveling and eating food and meeting people and doing all the other tour like things. I really can’t believe that we have done this for so long; it’s insane. We are fully grown adult men who have families and lives back home. Each man possesses his own will and getting seven or eight heads on the same page – well, you get the gist.”
MewithoutYou comes to Neumos on Monday, July 23 with New York’s Kevin Devine and fellow Philadelphians Buried Beds.
We have a pair of tickets to give away for this show. For your chance to win tickets to MewithoutYou, e-mail email@example.com with the phrase “mewithoutYou (Neumos 7/23)” in the subject line! Please include your first and last name for the guest list. Don’t forget to follow @SSGPromo and SSG Music on Facebook to keep your eye on all of our giveaways.