LAist Interview: mewithoutYou
The internet is, of course, the greatest invention since manned flight. To wit: a few months ago, the prettiest girl that ever was (who I met, incidentally, thanks to the internet) sent me a Youtube link to a video that she thought was cool. I watched it and agreed. In fact, I not only thought it was cool, I thought it was kind of perfect. Sure, it was decidedly low-tech, but it succeeded brilliantly at being low-tech. I sent the link out to a group of friends whose opinion I trusted and valued and -- sure enough -- the consensus was that the song and video were fucking great. That song was "The Fox, The Crow and the Cookie" by mewithoutYou.
Fast-forward to a few weeks ago. Sadly, the prettiest girl that ever was -- tha' damned Aerish gehl -- went and got herself lost in someone else's drink, but I was still really digging mewithoutYou. On a lark, I sent the band an email letting them know what a fan I was of the video and inquiring if they'd be interested in doing an interview. They agreed, and that interview is published below (again, thanks to the internet). Thanks to band members Aaron and Mike Weiss for their time and many thanks to Josh Bender for coordinating everything. That video I mentioned is embedded after the jump. What do you think?
LAist: I can't remember the last time I saw a video that was such a perfect marriage of concept and execution, of story and song. How did the song come about? Was it just a sudden, inspired thing or was it derived from something else? And what was the process of conceiving and ultimately shooting the video?
Aaron: Musically the song was put together by the whole band. The story is an old fable, and my mom used to read to me a version told by M.R. Bawa Muhaiayaddeen (Ral.), same title and moral, just a few variations in our song. For the video we called on old time, creative-in-every-way friend Amy Carrigan - she knew David Bell, who'd had a bit more experience directing, so they took it on together.
LAist: Were there other ideas that were approached and ultimately abandoned or is what we see in the video basically the realization of the original idea?
Aaron: Our vision for it was pretty vague, but once we pitched it to Amy, maybe a week later she was calling and writing with all these ideas, elaborate costumes and fine details - then David came onboard and really ran with the set design. Plus Josh Bender, our Brother/manager/tour manager/photographer/graphic designer/friend was at it hard behind the scenes, and worked the camera for the shoot. Everyone was over-the-top devoted, went above and beyond the call of duty - we're super happy with how it came out
Mike: I don't think there was any other treatment for the video. I didn't originally even want to do a video for that particular song. I wanted to do a video for cattail down or every thought a thought of you. As it turns out, everything worked wonderfully!
LAist: What’s the song about to you? Is it about the story of the lyrics? The sound of the language? The feeling of the music? The sheer joy of playing the song? A hidden or further meaning within the lyrics? I don’t even know what this question totally means, but let’s explore!
Aaron: It depends - probably every one of those, in different songs or singers or on different days. We were just out with Damien Jurado, who's great at telling stories in his songs. We toured with Unwed Sailor a few times, who's got no singer, so they depend more on the feeling of the music. As for performing a song, I'm not sure if that's joy, but there are definitely powerful energies there - probably closer to adrenaline, exhibitionism, or sometimes sexuality. The "hidden or further meaning" is most interesting to me, cause everyone brings that to the song themselves in such different ways, according to where they're at or what they want to hear
Mike: I usually think of a song from it's sounds and what kind of guitar rhythms would be fun to play. I've never had a good idea for what a song could be about lyrically, I've always left it up to Aaron to make that shine.
LAist: In a more general sense, what is your process of songwriting? Is there a standard way you construct songs - say lyrics first, then a skeleton of music then a full fleshing-out? Or vice versa? Or is it more something where you take inspiration from whatever strange place it comes and then build something any way you can?
Aaron: It's changed over time - for our first two records it was music first, then lyrics on top, 100% of the time. For our third record that started to change and our most recent one has about half songs that were written lyrically first around a couple simple chords as a base, then we'd build with other instruments from there.
LAist: Being a musician is essentially a combination of one’s own solitary existence, rehearsal with the band, laying down material in a studio and ultimately performing in front of a live audience. What is your take on each of those elements? Are there profound preferences and reasons for having them? Are certain aspects particularly meaningful or worthwhile or the opposite - necessary and dull?
Aaron: In some ways the first two blend together for me. We have such a deep connection and so much love for each other, even when the band's not together rehearsing, we think of each other and try to pray for each other. And then, you know how it is - there's times you're with someone or a whole group face to face and you still feel alone. As for the other two, that's an easy one to answer: recording in a studio is super stressful cause I'm usually writing, scrambling to finish lyrics and anxious it won't turn out right. By the time we go out to perform, that's the payoff - all the cooking's over, now it's time to enjoy the meal.
Mike: I think one of the reasons why most musicians prefer playing the music live vs. working on all the other aspects of being in a band is the immediate rush that you get. There is something about a live audience, the volume of the amplifiers, the energy of the other band members. It's all very instantly gratifying to perform the music after all the work of writing, rehearsing and recording is done.
LAist: When you listen to other musicians, are you able to listen purely for enjoyment or is there also an additional element of pulling apart the music, examining it as a form, finding something within to possibly crib, etc.? Towards that, have you ever accidentally been influenced by something and not realized it till after the fact?
Aaron: Some times are easier than others to lay down that need to "pull apart, examine, crib" or even worse, compare. Especially if the music is a similar style to what we're playing. As for being "accidentally influenced," I'm pretty sure a Fugazi line unknowingly found its way into a song on our first e.p., word for word. I had no idea at the time.
Mike: I like to listen to music in the way you mentioned it, like you're picking it apart a bit. It's all very much a mixture. As a music listener, you are still enjoying the natural stimulation, but as a musician you can externalize it in musical terms and ideas. This is a big way that I write.
LAist: Are you interested in or are you able to examine your own work with some objectivity? On any given collection of songs, do you just “know” that some came out exactly how you wanted them to while others just missed for whatever reason? Do you know that reason?
Aaron: When we're working on a song, lots of times something doesn't fit, and it'll stand out, in a real obvious way. You can think of the framework of a batch of songs like different rooms in a house, and early on, the house is a total mess. You go from one room to the next, sweeping up the dust, arranging the furniture, patching the plaster, moving some fixtures from one room to another - then maybe back again. the closer you get to being finished, the more those oddballs stand out, the leaky roof, the cracked window (a cliche lyric, something insincere in the performance). You go on fixing and straightening and replacing, but you've only got so much time and money, so by the end, a lot turned out perfectly, better than you'd hoped, but there's a few things that still don't look so great to you. Other people might not notice, but yeah, every time you walk by, you notice.
Mike: I think it's almost impossible to listen completely objectively to your own stuff. I find myself swinging back and forth between being completely lathered up over something we've come up with to being way too critical and negative. I rely on close friends that have been listening to the band for some time to get a more objective opinion. Either way, I don't like the idea of having too many outside voices getting into my head. Therefore, I'll take the energies of my band mates and I good and bad over the lack of objectivity
LAist: From your perspective, when is a song “finished?” Do you stop working on them because you are satisfied or do you just abandon them because you don’t know what else you can do?
Aaron: It may be entirely subjective, but to me it's very apparent when a song's "not there yet." Usually the whole band agrees, we can feel something's off. Like one of those "what's wrong with this picture" games - do you know them? At first glance it's alright, but you look closer and you see, "Oh, wait...the mouse is chasing the cat...that's not right! And, hey, why's the car got oatmeal cookies for wheels? And why's that guy dipping his cell phone in mustard?" So you straighten those things out, you know? Maybe you miss a few, or maybe you like the oatmeal cookie wheels, or again, you run out of time, but at least you've straightened out the cat - got her back chasing the mouse.
LAist: Simple question - what's next?
Aaron: Let's see!
Mike: Tough to say...... I like to play music in this band, so I would like to be a part of whatever seems to be exciting to the guys. Count me in!
If you are in Philadelphia for Christmas, you can check out mewithoutYou on 12/26 at 8 pm at Johnny Brenda's (21+) or on 12/29 at 7 pm for their holiday show at the First Unitarian Church (all ages). Wish I could be there!