Catching Up With mewithoutYou
mewithoutYou, a post-hardcore indie band from Philadelphia, is set to release its fifth studio album, Ten Stories, on May 15. Fronted by the quirky spoken-word guru and lyricist Aaron Weiss, mewithoutYou sometimes feels like part poetry and part music. Their 2009 album It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright saw the band heading toward a more accessible, indie-folk sound with Weiss singing a lot more than his usual shouting. And along the way, the album brought the band a large new audience of fresh ears.
Their forthcoming album, Ten Stories, continues some of the psych-folk influences picked up by It’s All Crazy!, but reintegrates more of the band’s passionate spoken-word and hard-hitting instrumentation into the mix. We got a chance to chat with drummer Rickie Mazzotta about an emotional past few years for the band, record labels, backup plans and how Ten Stories represents somewhat of a reunion for the band.
One of the new tracks from Ten Stories titled “February, 1878” also made its debut today through Paste. Take a listen here.
Paste: Your previous album received a lot of positive attention, perhaps more than mewithoutYou has ever received. Does the band feel different after the success of It’s All Crazy?
Mazzota: The last album was kind of strange in that it was such a departure from what we were doing at the time. It’s often hard from here to gauge who likes and who doesn’t like it because I look on the internet and read reviews that swing from both ends of the spectrum. I don’t pay attention too much to the press and stuff like that, but I know that after that record release we had some of the biggest shows we’ve ever had. It kind of felt like we were on a different echelon. But again, the representation was strange because it was hard for old fans to accept and new people seemed to like it more because it wasn’t “scream-y” and “yell-y.” But with this [upcoming] record, it was felt good coming into releasing an album knowing that was a good representation of all things that are the band. It’s actually really exciting because we’re all pretty stoked on the album.
Paste: For the new album, was there a lot of thought behind pleasing both old fans and new fans while still remaining true to yourselves?
Mazzotta: When we were beginning to practice and even talk about it, there was a lot we had to clear up internally. During the making of the last record, there was a lot of heavy, personal things going on in everyone’s lives. There was a detachment. But with this record, we kind of took all these things into account. We wanted to make sure we were healthy as friends and as a band before we even started writing. We factored in how the last record got made, how it sounded, people’s reactions to it, and where we’re at now. It didn’t dictate the vibe of the [upcoming] album, but it set a tone of “we have to do something really awesome here—or at least try to—but just satisfy ourselves at the end of the day.”
Paste: I ask because like a lot of people I know, your previous album was my first introduction to your music, and it really clicked with me in a lot of ways.
Mazzotta: That’s interesting because I don’t really meet or talk to a lot of people who say that. We definitely like the album, but it was more like something that needed to be done—it got us through a really rough time. That whole process is like a blur. I definitely feel like all the dudes in the band were way more present with this [upcoming] record and focused on just being happy with each other. I guess that stuff doesn’t always translate when someone puts on It’s All Crazy! You hear this kind of goofy, acoustic, neo-folk kind of thing, but underneath that there was a lot of despair, for a lack of a better word.
Paste: Are you releasing Ten Stories independently?
Mazzotta: Yes, technically. We have distribution through another company, but that’s sort of something you need. We’re releasing it on our own label that’s called Pine Street Music Collection. A bunch of us live on Pine Street and that’s where we wrote the last two records. We were off with our contract with Tooth & Nail and it seemed like the right thing to do with the way the industry is going—just having a fan base and being able to reach people. It’s definitely a strange feeling. We used to be responsible for recording, and then we were told when it was coming out and when we were going on tour. Now it’s kind of like seeing all the gears grinding behind what get’s done in trying to music out to people in a professional way. It’s pretty wild and it’s a lot more work than I thought. It’s an eye-opening experience, but in the best way possible.
Paste: Songwriting and lyrics have always been a big part of your music. Is there a story behind Ten Stories?
Mazzotta: There is somewhat of a story behind Ten Stories. We’ve never thrown around the term “concept album” or anything like that, but it helped Aaron get his ideas out in kind of a linear theme based around a story. I know he got some of the ideas from a class he was taking. I forget what the subject was on but essentially it’s about a circus train that crashes due to an elephant rising up to free all the other animals. Some of the animals stay, some of the animals go—it’s this whole world that’s kind of hard to even describe. It made a lot more sense to me when I was reading the lyrics in terms of what characters are saying what. Before it was just a bunch of words, but then I was like “holy crap I get this and it’s awesome.” Aaron claims he has trouble writing lyrics, which I think is bogus in the most friendly way possible. He’s a great writer and he came up with something that really fit the vibe of the music and was necessary to get the project done.
Paste: That sounds like perfect source material for a mewithoutYou album.
Mazzotta: A fortune teller and a rabbit fall in love, the fortune teller plans to ditch the rabbit. It’s bizarre and it’s pretty funny. Not everyone can relate to a bear thinking about killing himself and jumping off a cliff. But with Aaron, that’s a way of dealing with a lot of the things going through his head.
Paste: Is school something members of the band have tried to keep doing while you’ve been a band?
Mazzotta: It’s been tough. Three of us straight up dropped out out of university studies when we found out we were going to record with J. Robbins on our first record. It was like “Okay, we’re going to devote our lives to doing music.” It all started when our guitar player Chris Kleinberg left to pursue medical school. He’s three or four years into his program, Aaron’s getting a Ph.D at Temple, Michael just got his Masters at a school in Philadelphia, and I’m going to Villanova finishing up a degree I started like ten years ago. But it wasn’t something we all kept up with. In the last two or three years, we started integrating back into school and taking class just as a backup plan. Music is a really fickle industry to be a part of if you’re trying to make money in a professional sense. But also, you never know what your band members are going to do, so we each naturally drifted back to school.
Paste: That’s an interesting thing to hear. You don’t hear a lot of professional musicians talking about their backup plans.
Mazzotta: It’s strange leaving school and going back, but not doing anything with the band for one year and getting freaked out that we’re going to break up, it’s like “I only need twenty credits to graduate, like what am I doing?” I just would rather finish up and get the piece of paper even if it’s meaningless and college is a sham. It’s better to have it then to not have it.
Paste: I saw that you’d be touring with Buried Beds guitarist Brandon Beaver as a second guitar player. Any plans to include other special music guests this summer?
Mazzotta: We talk about it because there are a good amount of female vocals on the new record. There’s also a fairly good amount of alternative instrumentation on our last three records that would be nice to bring to life on tour. But I don’t want to step into that big band territory because what I really like is just a band being a band doing the band thing. But yeah, people can expect a little bit of that this summer. We’re just trying to do best we can.