Thursday, 12 April 2012
There aren’t a whole host of bands these days who can brag about getting to their fifth album and still commanding a cult following like Mewithoutyou do in America. Most bands fall by the wayside by the second or third album, they either flop after that troublesome sophomore album and lose faith in the industry when their label drops them or the pressures of being in a small van with the same group of unwashed individuals day after day finally gets to them and they call it quits in order to join the generic rat race. But Mewithoutyou are proof that the old industry works, and that if you give a band time they will grow and evolve. From the post-hardcore thrashing of Catch For Us The Foxes to the twee folk sound of It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All A Dream! It’s Alright, Mewithoutyou have proven time and time again that they are not a one trick pony.
I caught up with singer Aaron Weiss on the eve of the release of their fifth and latest album, Ten Stories, the first album not to be released via Tooth & Nail Records to ask him what fans can expect from the release and whether he is daunted by the prospect of his bands’ first foray of going it alone in the industry.
Your forthcoming album is called Ten Stories. Is there any particular meaning behind this title?
Well, if anything its meaning is an attempt to step in the direction of non-meaning - or rather, very small, modest meaning, if that makes any sense. If nothing else, it's simple and unambiguous enough to be almost jarring - at least to me. Our previous album title (and several of our others) were pretty lofty, all-encompassing type statements, images, implications. It seems like a welcome departure from that, suggesting a more detailed account of smaller narratives (albeit fantastic ones), not so much the attempt to paint a grand picture tying everything up neatly (with the exception of the final track...old habits are hard to break)
To me, the album sounds like bridging the gap between your alt-rock earlier material and your progression into a folkier sound. How did you approach the writing and recording of Ten Stories, was it different in any way to your previous records? Did you have a particular goal or aim when creating the record?
Yes, we definitely incorporated some of the earlier strategies, actually reverted to the writing style that had brought about our second and third records. Basically, we'd start with the music, more or less finish the songs as instrumentals, and then I'd add the vocals after-the-fact. I guess the aim was to write songs in a more evenly collaborative way, a way that would leave room for everyone's distinct creative input, more so than the last record.
Once again you worked with producer Dan Smith on this record. What is it about the way that he works that you like, what does he add to the writing and recording process?
He's a very sweet guy, and so very easy to be around; very gentle and caring but also clear-thinking and direct with his input. He’s also awfully quirky in terms of his musical ideas. Since he's a singer (and has such a peculiar style), I was especially grateful to have his help with thinking of creative vocal arrangements. He has a great ear for background vocals and harmonies, which I'd always thought relatively little about.
When I first saw you live you were touring in support of your Catch For Us The Foxes album which saw you lumped in with a post-hardcore crowd. You've changed a lot musically since then, was that a conscious or unconscious decision, and how do you feel Ten Stories fits with your musical journey?
I suppose it was a mixture of conscious and unconscious. A lot of our tastes of course have changed over the years, so that's bound to come out in some way or another. But I have to admit, I think there was some element of wilful deviation in our last record. I remember distinctly my wanting to write only songs that could translate to quieter or less conventional musical settings like on a street corner. Songs that we or I could play anywhere, anytime, with just an acoustic guitar and a voice. With this record, we kinda let go of this intention, just kinda let it unfold as it did.
Lyrically you've always had a folklore storytelling feel. What inspires your lyrics, and how are the lyrics on Ten Stories similar or dissimilar to your previous records?
I don't know everything that inspires the lyrics, probably a great big mixed bag of all sorts of things I don't understand. One change I can recognize with this latest record is a movement toward openness, of thought or of heart, I don't know, but an openness that is not so concerned with making definitive statements about the way things are but trying instead to look at them from contradictory viewpoints, and to let those contradictions exist side-by-side without clear or explicit conclusions. A recognition of my own massive, massive ignorance, maybe even a roundabout apology for years of conceit, the blind uttering of bold truth-claims, the arrogance of my endless moral finger-wagging. These recent songs are my attempt to minimize that conceit, unsuccessful though it may be.
Hayley Williams of Paramore fame features on Fox’s Dream of the Log Flume. Can you tell us how that came about?
I'm afraid I don't really remember the specifics. We've been in touch with Hayley a bit over the years, and when we wrote that song musically, someone - not sure who - suggested we ask her to sing on it. She agreed, and did all the recording I think somewhere down in Nashville. She was super easy going and great to work with, and did an amazing job - she actually sang on another song as well, called "All Circles," she wrote and sang a beautiful vocal melody over a section that had previously been instrumental - really brought the part alive in a way none of us could have imagined.
This is your first album since you parted ways with label Tooth & Nail. What was the decision behind parting ways, is it daunting for you or relieving to no longer be on the label?
Personally, I stayed out of the decision, so I really can't say much about the reasons behind it. But our contract was complete, and so I guess it seemed to everyone like a nice time to try something new. It's definitely not relieving to me, as I've always really liked working with Tooth & Nail, and would have been entirely happy to keep on doing so. They've always treated us extremely well, and I still have tremendous respect and affection for them, as a label and as friends. Still, it's not too daunting to be on our own, mostly because our managers (Josh Bender and Mike Almquist) have done whole lot of work to take care of the business end of things.
You're touring the states in support of this album as many would expect, but will you be over the UK at any point soon?
Well, I hope so; definitely open to the possibility, should someone be willing and able to arrange such a thing.
Ten Stories is your fifth album. How have things changed since you started, and what keeps you wanting to make records and tour?
Shucks, there's too much to say in response to that first question. A great question, but how could I answer it sufficiently? Too much.
As for the second one, I don't know what keeps us going. All different motivations I guess. Definitely the desire to be liked, to feel important and valuable. For me, definitely that back-of-my-mind fantasy of meeting an imaginary future wife. Some of us have bills to pay. Some have insatiable wanderlust. Some of us don't feel like we're good at anything else. But all that aside, we do really like playing music together, on tour or otherwise, and enjoy being with each other now more than ever. We have a special love I think.
Finally, if you had five words to sell Ten Stories to someone who hadn't heard your band before what would they be?
"Hello. What's worth talking about?"
Thanks a lot for your time, good luck with the album!
Mewithoutyou’s fifth album Ten Stories is available from May 15th.