Guitarist Michael Weiss provides insight into the band’s new direction on It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All A Dream! It’s Alright, the process of always trying to do new things, finding and pointing to truth, and what the group’s early days were like.
So your new album just came out last week. How are you feeling about that?
I feel good about it. We’re happy that all that hard work and, you know, blah, blah, blah. In all honesty, though, it’s great to have the CD released. Mainly for me, it was kind of a bummer to see people downloading it for free before it was released. Not so much the just for free part isn’t really the thing that bummed me out. It was more that people couldn’t wait until the release date.
I use the analogy that you’re cooking something in the kitchen. You’re putting all your best ingredients and really working hard at making everything good, like a pizza or whatever. You just say, “Look. Don’t eat this until dinner time.” Then everybody runs in and grabs a slice anyway. It’s like, “C’mon, dude. You could have waited.”
So as far as I’m concerned, if people aren’t going to pay for it, that’s another thing, but whatever. I really don’t care as much about that. It’d be nice for everybody to just be able to wait until the time that everybody involved with the making of the project decided that it would be presented. Now that it’s officially presented, it’s not an issue anymore.
The album is titled It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All A Dream! It’s Alright, which is a pretty unusual title. It’s also the last lines on the actual CD. What’s the story behind that?
That was something that a guru by the name of Bawa Muhaiyaddeen said about this world, basically. You could call it an illusion or our perception of what we’re in right now, kind of like this world – earth, now, alive, human. All that stuff. Things that seem to be the reality of our situation right now. It is crazy. I don’t need to explain this to anybody, really. I mean, it’s right there in front of you. It’s crazy. It’s false. A lot of things that you think you see and understand aren’t what you think they are. OK, so there’s the false part.
It’s All A Dream! A lot of this that I’m talking about is an interpretation of our lives as just being some sort of story or series of events that in a way seems like a dream sometimes. I don’t know. It’s all a dream. It’ll all be over, like when you wake up from a sleep and you say to yourself, “Wow,” thinking about the dream that you just had. Maybe it made you feel a certain way, but it’s over. I feel like the meaning behind It’s All A Dream! is that in a blink of an eye, really, if you think about it, our life is over. Of course, you’ve heard life is but a dream, and that kind of language. It ties in with that.
Finally, It’s Alright, which I think is a reference to some sort of divine purpose, like a god or deity. Something that’s real, and faith, and always perfect. Basically, at the end of the day, it’s all right.
I heard when you were recording in the studio that not necessarily everyone in the band was there at one time. How exactly did that work out for you guys?
Basically, it was like most recording projects where at a certain point, after you’ve gotten done tracking things that you need to do together as a band, you do overdubs a lot of times. Our drummer wouldn’t show up if I was going to be doing a lot of guitar overdubs, and stuff like that. There’s really not much behind that.
We all really worked equally hard on the project as a whole. Even though there were some people that were in the studio more hours than another person, the bulk of the creation of the music is the most important part. That stage was the writing, where everybody was present very much every day.
Did you have everything pretty much written previous to recording?
Pretty much. There was a lot that we sort of left, well not a lot, but enough to mention. There were songs where we thought we had it written, and then we tracked it and we realized there in the studio that it wasn’t working out. We had to go back and rearrange songs completely.
There was another song that we hired a guy that our producer knew very well to compose arrangements for “King Beetle on a Coconut Estate.” There’s a lot of stuff in there that was written during the time that we were in the studio, like the string arrangements and the trombones, the flute and the clarinet, and stuff like that.
As you were mentioning, this album has a lot more instrumentation on it than most of your past work, along with more acoustic guitars and some folk-inspired stuff. What went into all of that?
I think we just thought that with the new record we wanted to have a different approach to our music. We wanted to push it to a new direction, of course. We had one less guitar player on this record. Chris Kleinberg, our second guitar player, was not with us when we wrote and recorded it, so we were down to one electric guitar. Even though when you’re in the studio you can go and overdub as many guitars as you want, we wanted to work within the lineup that we had for our live show, which is one electric guitar. So, we didn’t have as much focus on that sound.
We also thought that Aaron had a lot of great songs that he wrote, like melodies and lyrics and chord progressions, for acoustic guitar. It didn’t seem like those kinds of songs needed a lot of mewithoutYou, Catch for Us the Foxes kind of sounding stuff on it. It sounded like it needed for us more of a Brother, Sister vibe but taken up a couple notches, as far as using different instruments.
Being in Philadelphia and making the record, we had access to a lot of great resources. That is to say, musicians that we either knew or that our producer knew to hire on to play. Like I said, Joshua Stamper, the composer, wrote a lot of cool stuff for a few songs. In the past, we would just have somebody come in and we would ask them. Like a trumpet player would come in, and we would ask them to write a trumpet part. We would have an idea and there would be a trumpet on a song or a harp, but on this record we had a guy who knew how to put all those sounds together into one idea.
So, yeah, composition wise the extra instrumentation stuff was a lot more cohesive. It was a lot more focused on one overarching idea, rather than just whoever we could get to come in and play their instrument on a song, which was kind of the way we did it in the past.
I heard someone describe the album as having a bunch of campfire sing-alongs, which I thought was an interesting way to put it. What do you think of that description?
Yes, I could see that. I think what Aaron likes to do lately with writing his songs is to really overstate a particular idea. If there’s just one thing that you’re going to take from a song, it’s going to be this one notion. On this record, there’s just so much to the point where we had to sort of stop ourselves from doing it whenever we could.
If there’s one sort of criticism I could have of the record is that it’s definitely saturated with these repetitive, big ending kind of sounding songs. But, it’s a great thing live and they’re good lyrics. I think if you’re going to be very repetitive and make that a part of your style, then at least let the lyrics be really good. That’s where I reconcile the whole thing.
This record is your most different sounding record, but each one of your records is kind of like that in their own distinct way. How are you able to keep reinventing yourselves, yet still have it be mewithoutYou?
I think we really try [laughs]. I know that sounds like a lame answer, but we really try to do it. We don’t just sit back and hope it happens. For the most part, every band probably wants to take steps as the years go by. I’m sure every band likes the idea of moving in a new direction and not being just completely stagnant.
I think we’ve always had that one voice, whether it would come from this person or that person. Someone’s always been the rally behind like, “OK, this is a great song, but what it needs is a little bit more of a kick in the ass. We’re not really getting anywhere new with this. What can we do to spice it up a little bit?” Sometimes it comes from this person. Sometimes it comes from that person. Usually, there’s just that one person that really wants to challenge the rest of the group.
On this record, we wanted to take the things that sounded a little outrageous to us at the time for making Brother, Sister, and then use that as the starting point for this record. We let that be the norm. Honestly, I feel like we’ve finally come to a sound that is really what we’ve been trying to do. It seems like we’ve sort of met our quota for the big guitar rock stuff.
That is to say that it’s just not what’s naturally exciting to us anymore. Maybe that’s just how it works. You sort of lose your inspiration to continue with one particular method of writing music. You try to write those kinds of songs, just because that’s what you think you’re supposed to be doing, when you realize, oh, crap! This sucks. It’s not good. It just sort of sorts itself out for you.
I recently was able to hear your very first EP, Blood Enough for Us All, and I was blown away by how much you guys have progressed from those early days.
[laughs] Yeah, that was a long time ago.
It sounded like a completely different band almost.
It really is, yeah. If you want, we could use the I Never Said That I Was Brave EP, even though that was one record later, and still could say the same thing. The Blood Enough for Us All CD, only two of the actual members of the band made that record at the time. The guy who wrote most of the music for that ended up quitting. Those songs weren’t even mewithoutYou songs, really. It’s kind of hard to explain. They were written for another band, and then it became mewithoutYou. It’s a long story. I don’t know if you want to hear the story behind it.
Ultimately, what I’m getting at is that EP wasn’t really the band, even at that time. When we were selling that CD at shows, it wasn’t really the idea we had behind mewithoutYou. We were still trying to have something to sell and we were playing those songs. The idea behind those songs and the person who wrote them weren’t a major part of what the band was supposed to be. Anyway, the record we did after that, I Never Said That I Was Brave, I always kind of consider that our first one.
When someone asks you about what kind of music you play, what’s your response to that?
I usually just say rock ‘n’ roll, with like folk.
Keep it simple.
Yeah. Folk, rock ’n’ roll, experimental indie rock. That kind of music.
You’re going out on tour in a few weeks with the Dear Hunter. Have you been working on how you’re going to be able to pull off these new songs live?
Yeah, we’ve done some shows locally over the spring. We played a lot of new music for those shows. We had a really great show at the Troc last Saturday, where we played a lot of new stuff. It’s all very much worked out.
I was a huge fan of your last video for “Nice and Blue.” Are you working on a new video for this one?
Yeah, we recently finished making a video for “The Fox, the Crow and the Cookie.” It’s going to be great, I can tell.
No more Speedos on this one?
Yeah, no Speedos on this one [laughs]. We’ve stepped into the realm of shooting puppets on this video, so it’ll be kind of interesting. I’m excited to see how it turns out. We haven’t seen any edits of it yet. It should be cool.
On this album there seems to be a bunch of references to animals mixed with some parable storytelling. Were you guys reading a lot of Aesop’s Fables or something when you were making the record?
No [laughs], but there’s a lot of really great fables and stories from Bawa Muhaiyaddeen. You can look that up and do some research on him.
You guys are well known for using a lot of Biblical references and such. How are you able to balance that with drawing inspiration from Muhaiyaddeen, or the Qur’an, or all that other stuff?
I really don’t think there’s too much of a conflict within my heart about those three different sources that you just mentioned. I feel like there’s a truth in the teachings of all three that is really more of the focus of the point. There’s truth that exists beyond religion, and even like a single man or woman.
We don’t have to look at using the Bible as a reference towards pointing to a truth as being in conflict with using the Qur’an as something to use as a reference towards pointing to a truth. By the truth, I just mean something that’s real, something that’s important, or something that’s holy, or spiritual or godly.
I feel like Aaron is such a brilliant lyricist. What’s it like to work with someone of that caliber?
It’s great. I really enjoy it. It’s fantastic. The guy writes amazing songs. I get to play music with him, you know? It’s truly a blessing. If you ever wanted to bottle that term up, this experience for me has just been a blessing.
Did you two get into music at the same time?
Yeah. Right around my senior year of high school, he was a junior, I think, and he got into the drums. I was getting into the bass guitar. From there, we would start these little bands with friends of ours. You know how it goes. Everybody’s in a band. Someone’s got this new project that they need somebody for. We just kept playing together. It wasn’t until after college that he started to decide, “Well, I want to start writing lyrics and sing.” It took us a while to sort of get together like this.
I’m curious but what did you guys study in college?
We both actually graduated with a degree in secondary education, with a focus on English.
Oh, that’s right. You’re like a substitute teacher part time, right?
So what were your musical influences growing up?
Growing up, like real early, I used to listen to my dad’s records. He used to have Abbey Road, American Beauty, Blonde on Blonde, Highway 61 Revisited – those kinds of records. Jim Croce or Prince’s Purple Rain. I remember he got that record. He bought us Michael Jackson when Thriller came out. By the time I became an adolescent and started to think about what I wanted to listen to, it was a lot of punk rock and hardcore. Youth of Today, Chain of Strength, Mouthpiece and straight edge hardcore bands like Minor Threat. You know, those kinds of bands. Then Fugazi, and stuff like that.
Are you still listening to everything today?
I kind of reverted back to a lot of the stuff that my dad listened to when I was a kid. A lot of the records that I mentioned earlier. I really like that band Dr. Dog a lot, too.
There’s been some speculation recently that this might be mewithoutYou’s final album. What do you have to say on that?
Who knows? We sure haven’t decided that that’s the situation. We sort of look at it like we just got done making this record. Let’s just do what we’re inspired and want to do with this record touring wise. We’re doing a tour this summer. We’re going to play it by ear.
In today’s music scene, it seems that a lot of times bands don’t push themselves creatively as much as they could. What do you think about that, since your band is definitely one that strives to do that?
I’m sure everybody’s trying to be creative. I don’t think that any band or musician or artist is sitting there, saying to themselves, “I don’t want to be creative. I don’t want to push myself.” I think everybody within this position is just doing what they feel they have to do as an artist. I don’t know. I don’t think anybody’s making a decision to hold back.
Honestly, I see a lot of great creativity right now in music. I definitely don’t believe that we’re in a time where people are stagnant and bands aren’t doing interesting things. That band Dr. Dog and Sufjan Stevens are two great examples of bands that are making beautiful, creative, innovative music. I’m sure we could go on and on.
Ultimately, in any time period I think you’re going to see where in your opinion what certain bands are doing aren’t relevant to your life, or just aren’t really challenging you as a listener. It says more about the individual than I think it does anything else. This person or that person, whoever you decide to quiz on the subject, might have a particular reason for not liking whatever music is crappy to them. You know what I mean?
Do you have anything you’d like to close with?
Not really. Just thank you to anybody who listens to the music. We really appreciate that we have an audience. Thank you so much.
Originally appeared on Mammoth Press