How fitting that when we rang the year 2000 in, full of worry about technological advances and spiritual reckonings, mewithoutYou was born. The Philly post-hardcore act came onto the scene delivering spoken word opuses that reached deeper than music’s standard philosophical questions, setting a trend for poetic, gruff music that listeners could lean into when worried about their future—a future that still seems cloudy and brooding today.
Frontman Aaron Weiss, his brother guitarist Michael Weiss, and drummer Rickie Mazzotta rolled out their debut album, 2002’s excellent [A→B] Life, to cultish fanfare. It was a cautionary example of what not to do in life, but now, Weiss looks at it a little differently. The new lineup of the band is bringing the album on tour, playing it in full. It’s a welcome set for fans who caught on to the band too late to see those songs in their heyday, but it’s also a reflection for the band on how much they’ve grown. Now, mewithoutYou view themselves as entertainers rather than preachers, even if their songs ramble on with questions as their guiding light.
“There’s a lot of space and repetition and plagiarism on the album, and I only noticed how often the lyrics were lifted directly, like whole sections, when revisiting it,” says Aaron Weiss, laughing in disbelief. “In the early days, I thought plagiarism was completely all right and didn’t even cite my sources. Probably starting around the third album, I started to credit when I stole lyrics or phrasing. There’s times where I would repeat the same line over and over, because people are more inclined to shout along to those parts, and that’s what seems to connect with them the most till this day.”
It’s an influential record for listeners and musicians alike that’s worth bringing to light once more. To dig deeper into mewithoutYou’s record before they headline the Sinclair, we interviewed Aaron Weiss for a round of Wheel of Tunes, a series where we ask bands questions inspired by their song titles. As is to be expected, he gives thoughtful answers that go long, the type of critical, reflective, hopeful pattern of thinking he can’t help but include in his music too.
1) “Bullet to Binary”
DIGBOSTON: What’s an overlooked part of our modern social binary that’s overdue for a rewrite?
WEISS: The first thing that comes to mind is a refrain that started with the very beginning of our lyrics, the you and I binary. That’s the most simple and common everyday thing, seeing yourself as a separate being from the other person: your spouse, partner, enemy, president, whoever. You see the self and the other as completely distinctive. It’s a concept that’s so pervasive but so unfounded that I think it’s worth re-examining and unpacking as much as possible. This probably comes from my spiritual upbringing about our oneness.
2) “The Ghost”
DIGBOSTON: Have you ever seen a ghost?
WEISS: I don’t believe in the word “ghosts” very much, but I do believe it can refer to different things, some of which I believe are real. The kind of ghosts that I have seen are the ones I believe in, but they aren’t the Disneyland haunted mansion transparent spectors. They’re traces of the past or the living remains of those who physically left us within our own consciousness.
3) “Nice and Blue”
DIGBOSTON: If you had to prove to someone that blue is a powerful color, what would you point them towards and how does it exemplify that?
WEISS: That’s a good question. Although, it’s difficult to put myself in that scenario because I can’t imagine proving myself to anyone. I’ve never thought about this before, like these terms. The answers that come to mind are the ocean, because that’s such a powerful blue, and then I thought of sadness, but that’s only because the word blue is a synonym. But the actual color blue? There’s so many shades, some I like more than others or that feel different ways. I don’t have an answer that comes right to my heart. I think if I was trying to show somebody what the color blue meant to me, I would probably stop myself and wonder why I was trying to show this person this thing anyway and why I felt like I had something to offer them. If they were curious, I would want to know where they’re coming from and what it’s like to not know, to be colorblind, or to be unsure of colors. It’s hard to imagine not seeing that color. I have to think about that. I might give them a backrub. A shoulder massage would explain what the color feels like, one of those open-hand soft chopping or thudding.
4) “Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt”
DIGBOSTON: When’s the most recent time you felt so elated that you lost sense of your surroundings or felt limitless?
WEISS: Oh God. Well, I think this is easy. I recently took my daughter to Disney World. We went on It’s a Small World. Are you familiar with that? We had been to Disney World before, and she went to the Ariel Under the Sea adventure. She loved this room where all the fish are dancing and Ariel is singing; there’s saxophones, cool music, and lobsters. It’s a very cool design. She was so excited to go in there and see these things right before her eyes. She had a big smile on her face. Going on It’s a Small World was like that ride, but in every room, every turn. It was making her so happy. That makes me feel so happy. At the same time, there’s always a bit of fear when being so in love with my daughter, a fear that I’ll lose her or she will lose me before I lose her, but it’s nice to be able to forget that and enjoy the moment of being alive together and seeing this look of wonder in her eyes. It’s a pure, total happiness. Almost all my happy moments these days have to do with my spiritual practices or my daughter.
DIGBOSTON: What’s your favorite word that starts with the letter A?
WEISS: It’s gotta be “and.” I thought of “aardvark” first, but that’s probably because it’s the first word in my mental dictionary. “And” is such a helpful word. My friend was in a theater group, and that “yes and…” game lets you riff off people and continue this conversation. Instead of “yeah but,” which feels like arguing, like telling someone they don’t get it and you want to prove them wrong. If you say “yes and,” you’re affirming their position and reality, and then adding your own to that. Even when you’re at odds with someone’s viewpoint, there’s always room to understand them.
DIGBOSTON: Name two chivalrous acts that gentlemen are supposed to do without being asked that you think everyone, regardless of gender, should do.
WEISS: I think pausing… and listening. Pausing is important. You’re in a situation and then someone says something you don’t like or you think they need help. Maybe you don’t have to seize that opportunity. It’s really quite presumptuous to throw yourself into somebody’s world. Maybe sometimes it’s obvious, but I think a lot of times we could do well to pause and listen before inserting ourselves into somebody’s life. My first thoughts were holding the door for somebody or giving someone money when asked, but it’s so hard to understand what anybody needs that maybe we should do the step before that: to pause and listen first.
7) “Be Still, Child”
DIGBOSTON: What’s your go-to activity to calm down a kid?
WEISS: Probably dancing. For me, the first thing that comes to mind is when I hug my daughter and do a little slow dance with her. That’s if she’s tired or crying, because she’s feeling rowdy. When she wants to watch a cartoon and we take it away from her, then making a fool of myself by dancing works as a distraction. In one case it’s touch and sound that accompanies dance, and in the other it’s the visual of it that distracts her from the feedback loop of being upset.
8) “We Know Who Our Enemies Are”
DIGBOSTON: How long is the longest grudge you’ve held against someone?
WEISS: That’s funny. My experiences with grudges is never a long period of unbroken time. I don’t consciously stand by holding any grudges. I doubt there’s even a single day that went by where I spent the whole day having a grudge nonretentively. There’s a difference between holding a grudge and being held by a grudge. I’ve been held by a grudge in that I have this idea of absolute forgiveness and grace that I would like to embody, and the concept of being wrong doesn’t even enter into my vocabulary, as far as me being wrong. In that, the idea of holding a grudge doesn’t make sense in my actual experiences. In the times where I’ve felt mad, I try to let go of it, and there’s varying degrees of success. In my real world, my mind tends to make enemies out of people all the time, and it’s a process of catching that pattern and adjusting it. There might be hundreds of times where I hold a grudge and let it go. It’s a constant thing so that means they’re pretty short, really.
9) “I Never Said That I Was Brave”
DIGBOSTON: Can you name a time when you were too scared to do the right thing? How do you wish you would’ve handled it differently?
WEISS: Yeah, absolutely. A lot of times, what I feel like is the right thing to do is to speak up when a person is saying something off-point or inconsistent, but I don’t want to talk and seem argumentative. But I end up blurting out something that I shouldn’t have, all because I wanted to be seen as somebody who knows things. I’m not secure enough in whatever I am to not have that impulse to impress people. It probably is more fear-based, actually.
Last month, I witnessed an argument in the street where a woman was yelling at a man and following him down the street. He turned around and grabbed her. It turned physical, and he didn’t hit her, but it felt uncomfortable for me. I didn’t know if I should step in and tell him to let go of her. It was hard to tell what to do, when to let a situation go without interrupting. But the fact that I didn’t because I was, ultimately, afraid of him or both of them turning on me stuck with me.
DIGBOSTON: If you had to change your name to one that starts with the letter B, what would you pick?
WEISS: Hm. What kind of B names are out there? There’s Bryan, Brandon, Bill, Bobby, Bunson, Beaker—oh gosh, The Muppets [laughs]. Nothing fits yet. Hi, I’m… Beaver? I’m Bobby? I’m going to have to think about this. Do you have some?
DIGBOSTON: Well, my roommate’s name is Blaise and my uncle’s name is Basil!
WEISS: Basil! I like that! I’m going to go with Basil even though I didn’t think of it. It’s a nice name and off the beaten path a bit, but also not reinventing the name. It’s also one of my favorite smells.
DIGBOSTON: What advice would you give to someone who feels like they don’t have a voice in their community?
WEISS: Oh boy. I think the B question related to this somewhat because it wrestles with the concept of recognizability, who counts as a human being, who has a say, where the power is. As a dude who identifies as a white male heterosexual in America, in other words a person of privilege, it’s difficult to imagine what somebody else’s life is like as a person who is marginalized and not accepted. I have no way to say something to somebody like that because it couldn’t feel authentic. I’m afraid of someone doubting me, rightfully so, because I can’t understand.
12) “The Cure for Pain”
DIGBOSTON: Are there any home remedies you swear by, be it for a cold, sore throat, headache, bruises, etc?
WEISS: That I swear by, no, but my go-to diagnosis is that you’re dehydrated. So it’s always drink more water and get more exercise. That’s always the cure [laughs]. It’s my first thought: get up and have a glass of water. Also, having an outlook of hope. Having optimism about what you’re going through will help you see there’s something redemptive about it, and you will begin to get better by not wallowing in it when possible.
MEWITHOUTYOU, PIANOS BECOME THE TEETH, SLOW MASS. SAT 11.25. THE SINCLAIR, 52 CHURCH ST., CAMBRIDGE. 6:30PM/18+/$25. SINCLAIRCAMBRIDGE.COM