During the New York City stop of their tour with Sparta and Aloha, which wraps up tonight in Kansas City, MO as a free MySpace-sponsored show, I had a chance to interview mewithoutYou guitarist Michael Weiss.
How has this co-headlining tour with Sparta been going so far?
Very good. It's been awesome. I feel like the shows have been very fun; the vibe between everybody in the bands has been super friendly and open. We've been on tours where certain bands just keep to themselves and I mean, that's fine, but I definitely appreciate when other bands have an interest in wanting to make the most out of the tour and have a desire to make friends.
Do you find that a lot? Touring with bands that are more introspective?
Nooo, more often bands seem to be on the friendly side. We're definitely like a big family on this tour; we've been trying to do a lot of meals together, [etc.]. Plus the shows have been doing well, and that's a really good thing. I think a lot of [Sparta's] fans are checking us out for the first time, so that's good for us.
Over the course of your albums you've made this really smooth transition from more jagged, rough, traditional post-hardcore fare like "Bullet to Binary" to the really dreamy, more restrained stuff like "In a Sweater Poorly Knit." You, or at least one of you guys attributed that at one time to "getting a little older and a little tired of loud music" [Alternative Press, October 2006], but obviously there are still shades of that on Brother, Sister. Do you think you'll ever completely abandon that more aggressive, discordant style?
…maybe. Maybe. I don't know. I think that you're definitely going to hear a lot less of Aaron [Weiss'] vocal in that style and you're probably going to hear more singing from him. We're talking about trying to write with more melody at the center of the song and not spend so much time working on the instrumental part, because we seem to, as a band, really concentrate and devote a lot of our collaborative efforts towards just [that]. When it comes time for Aaron to do his vocals, he's sort of just on his own to do that. What we're gonna try to do is get more involved as a band with his parts and really come up with songs that have a stronger sense of melodic structure. I think it's just, up until now we haven't really thought too much about it because we didn't think we'd have the tools for it. But Aaron's developing more [into] a singer, and we're gonna see how that works out.
Speaking of which, what or who were some of the influences you found seeping into Brother, Sister that you didn't find prevalent on the previous albums? I know bands like Jawbox, Burning Airlines, and I'm sure Fugazi were huge early on but I think things might have changed a little.
Definitely. Yeah, we've been listening to bands like the Grateful Dead…stuff like Bob Dylan, for me at least, stuff from when I was growing up [and] my dad would listen to all the time. [I] didn't really think too much about that kind of music for a while because of the whole punk thing / when I was into hardcore, even [when I was into] stuff like the Smashing Pumpkins, or Nirvana, or stuff like the Smiths when I was getting a little older. I think recently I've rediscovered those kinds of sounds where it's not like, such a big guitar thing. It's not such a huge drum-driven kind of sound, but it's more free-form…more of an emphasis on free vibes…more of an emphasis on lyrics…
Bands like the Arcade Fire come out and just blow your mind, or Bloc Party, for me. It makes [for] contemporary bands that really floor me, like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs…which still fall into the same sorta categories for me as like the Smashing Pumpkins kind of influences, where it's just like modern day music that deals heavily in guitar, bass, drums and stuff. I think we start writing another album, we're gonna try to rely less on that formula. Not that we're gonna start playing all these different instruments, but…we're gonna try to find something different.
Are you still doing the pre-show potluck dinners? How are those going?
They're not really happening on this tour because it's kinda cold I think. It's kind of the middle of the winter, which is winding down, and it's kind of an outdoor thing. The fall tour last year, when the weather was nicer we had a lot of potluck dinners. But it'll probably start up again when the weather breaks. We're into it; the fact that people come and bring their food they cooked, and the recipes, trade it, and all this stuff happens… It's like a meet-and-greet, but we try to put our little spin on things.
How do you think you manage to get along and find common ground despite everyone's conflicting views on or about Christianity? I think we get along because we… Well, we don't always get along. I shouldn't say that. I think sometimes Aaron sort of pulls the brakes on everybody; he gets to the point where he wants to make sure that [there's] something tying us all together spiritually, or else he doesn't feel that comfortable. We all sort of have to talk about it, and ask each other why we're out here on tour doing this, what we value… For him it's definitely the feeling of being in a community with other people and really just trying to love God, follow what Jesus teaches… He definitely does, I think, a lot more on the extreme end of things in what he does or doesn't do in order to follow Jesus. But I think he's also understanding of that extremism in his personality, and that we're all -- in the band -- not like him, and I think some understanding comes from that, and some leeway is there. We just try to assure him that we do care about spiritual things, and I do; I think it should be a big part of what we're doing as guys, on the road together so much. We usually have a pretty good session about workin' things out, but, I never know for sure. It sorta happens sometimes and there's question.
"I do not exist. Only You exist." I kind of have a vague understanding about that lyric, but can you explain it yourself for me?
It comes from something my mom read about or learned and taught us when we were growing up. My mom's not a Christian, she's a Muslim, but basically it's kind of a broad, very abstract sort of statement about us and God. I think that the "I" is, obviously, me, or anybody, and the "You" is God. Only God exists. I don't know; I guess it's pretty abstract. I mean, when you're talking about what does existence mean, and it almost seems like the exact opposite is the more apparent view; we definitely seem to exist. I'm talking to you right now. You see me. We're here now. Where is God? No one knows what God is. What does God look like? What does God sound like? It's a pretty radical statement looking at it in those terms, but what it really is is just crying out and saying, if there is a God, that created us, then He is ultimate; compared to that we might as well not exist…compared to how amazing God is.
I think it's just sort of a celebration though, honestly, and that's why it's at the end of this celebratory sounding kind of song ["In a Sweater Poorly Knit"], and we can almost find comfort if you believe that. You can just wrap everything up in your life in this world that seems to be off, or not correct, things that just don't make sense to you, you boil it all down to "you know what? This is meaningless" compared to God. It's a pretty typical thing of Aaron to write…I think. He seems to look at things in a much broader sense, and not so much of details…more of an ultimate sense of how to think about your life.
Are there plans to shoot any [more] videos from Brother, Sister? ["Nice and Blue (Pt. 2)" premiered last year.]
We're talking about making another video for that song you were just talking about ["In a Sweater Poorly Knit"], but we haven't really made any solid plans. We're thinking about going down to Honduras and shooting something down there. We're gonna do a parade kind of thing down there, have a village kind of host us, have a big feast…everybody just sort of has a good time…just see what happens. A friend of ours, actually Chris [Weinberg's], our guitar player's father-in-law, has people down there that would probably be interested in having us.
I think the collaborations with Jeremy Enigk on Brother, Sister were pretty incredible. How likely is the possibility of you two working with each other again?
Probably not very likely. I feel like, we did it. I don't feel like any of us want to keep pushing it. I feel like it's good for one album, guest singer… He's not trying to join the band or anything. We're really grateful he sang on the album, [though]. Where did the idea to incorporate the unique instrumentation come from?
It just sort of evolved over time. Aaron met this girl at this festival a couple summers ago playing harp, and she joined us for a couple songs when we played there. We just met dudes from a band called Anathallo, who played horns [on Brother, Sister]. When it came time to record this last record we decided it would be silly not to ask for a little help from our friends. The songs seemed to lend themselves to certain feelings, like that only a harp can bring, or French horn, or trumpet, or electric piano. We tried to do it for the sake of the musical idea, or like a feeling or emotion that we could bring that wasnât dark or sinister.
You recorded your first album [2002's [A --> B] Life] with J. Robbins, but the last two were done with Brad Wood, obviously someone with a little less notoriety. What does he do differently that you prefer?
Brad Wood probably has a little more notorietyâ¦
Well, within the punk/indie/hardcore communityâ¦
Alright, [then] yeah. Weâre just really into Bradâs stuff. He produced part of the Smashing Pumpkinsâ Adore; he did the first couple Sunny Day Real Estate records; the Fire Theft record; he produced Liz Phair, and Pete Yorn, andâ¦
So I guess you could say the transition from Robbins to Wood was reflective of the musical [transition]â¦
I think so. I like the way [A --> B] Life sounds; I think [Robbins] did a great job on that record. I think heâs an amazing producer. But we were also at a time where we were definitely at a crossroads where we sort of wanted to take a very sharp turn in the road, and I think thatâs why we went for Brad. We had such a great experience recording Catch for Us the Foxes that it made sense to go back to himâ¦just continue [in that] vein. I personally believe that Brother, Sister is the album that I wanted to make [back then]; [itâs] kinda how I wanted Catch for Us the Foxes to turn out. I didnât know how at the time to make that happen, but looking back at how Brother, Sister turned out, I definitely look at it as the album I wish weâd made.
But I guess your question is more, why did we start to work with Brad? He seemed to be really interested in us, for one thing. Once we took that first step, going back to him we knew what we were getting into. Weâd had a great experience with him and I felt like we could have done betterâ¦and we did the second time around. Given what he doesâ¦heâs a lot more involved. Maybe itâs just because we had more time with him too; maybe J. wouldâve done the same thing if he had more time too. We [only] had 10-14 days with J. Brad took more of an active role, working on different kinds of structure, different arrangements, which is something we were hoping to [achieve]. Heâs very much into Pro Tools and stuff, and we were interested in going down that avenue with our album production. At the end of the day I feel like you shouldnât mess with something thatâs not broke. I think we just didnât want to take any chances. I think weâll go to him again.
What are the plans for the future?
Weâre going to Europe in the spring, coming back and doing a headlining tour thatâs gonna hit all the major cities in the U.S. After that, thereâs talk of writing a new record, but no set-in-stone plans to go to the studio. But Iâd like to go in the studio at the end of the year.
Who do you think youâd like to take out on [the U.S. headlining] tour?
Weâve asked some bands, [but] we havenât really heard back from them. Thereâs a band called Dr. Dog from Philadelphia weâre friends with that we love taking out on tour. Thereâs a band called Why? -- I donât know if itâs a band, it might just be a dude / solo projectâ¦I donât know much about it but I heard some stuff that sounded really cool. Thereâs this band called Battlesâ¦ Itâs a good question. Iâd like to know where weâre at with that, because itâs gettinâ down to the wire. Hopefully something really good.