I had the pleasure of sitting down with Aaron Weiss from MewithoutYou after their in-store performance at Plan 9 in Richmond, Virginia. I just want to thank Aaron for sitting down with me and giving me an interview that really made me think about things. ( I am in bold and Aaron is in normal text.)
– State your name and position in the band.
My name is Aaron and I’m the singer of the band. I play a tiny bit of the guitar, a tiny bit of accordion, a bit of percussion. Nevermind, just say singer.
– Give a brief history of the band and how it has changed throughout the years.
(Two guys walk passed us and one of them speaks to Aaron.)
Guy # 1: Great job tonight.
Aaron: Thank you. Yeah, yeah. I’ll take it, anything I can get.
Brief history of the band. Well we started out just a bunch of jokers, not planning to ever do this for a living, you know? Just sort of a side band that none of us took very seriously but we kind of immediately got signed on a fluke. So we were like “Alright, let’s do it, let’s really try to do it good,” you know? And then it was just really loud obnoxious kind of music. I couldn’t sing so I shouted all the time. Then I tried to learn how to sing so we got a little more melody involved and try to incorporate different instruments and mix them with electric guitar, bass, and drums. So to try and expand our possibilities of what we could sound like, so there is a little more variety and try to make music more like what I like to listen to and mix it with some softer stuff, with still some of the shouting. And lyrically, it’s more about, more things about God and what I think about God rather then this girl, that I screwed up”¦.yeah.
– What are the pros and cons of playing inside stores instead of venues?
The pros are that”¦um”¦have to be some pros. It’s a change of pace. The cons, it’s not set up for that, you know? It’s not like, the sound system is not as good and it’s all bright, like everything is perfectly well lit so you don’t”¦
(Richard Mazzotta, drummer of the band, opens the back door of Plan 9)
Richard: Are you doing an interview?
It’s like, you don’t have the ability to forget yourself, all this stuff is self conscious. You’re looking at all these individuals and you’re right there and some people are just walking around shopping. So you just have the sense that you don’t belong, not everyone is there to see a show so you feel strange just making a bunch of noise. And tonight we played acoustic, which is different for us. It’s just uncomfortable in a sense. But it’s also a change of pace and you kind of have to rethink what we are doing. And then the whole signing thing at the end of a little string of shows is just stupid. I don’t understand it, I don’t mean to complain. I’m sorry.
No, it’s cool.
It just feels like I’m about to lose my mind. Like I don’t know what to say, I just don’t want to just write my name on a piece of paper. But then, how many things can I say that are different and original. How many peoples’ name can I ask and then forget five seconds later. It’s just kind of unreal interaction, it’s like “Ok, who’s next? Who’s next to meet me?” Obviously we’re not this famous band, you know? So it’s just weird that, even if we were a famous band, it’ll still be a weird thing. But for us, it’s especially weird.
– How do you feel about the outcome of the record and how would you compare it to the rest?
Um, it turned out great. For how our last few records have been, it’s by far my favorite. That’s the best that I can expect, is that we did our best and we shattered what I really thought we could ever do. Every single song turned out better than I thought it would, without any exceptions. Every single song I like better than I thought it was going to turn out. What could you ask for better than that? I mean we’re not my favorite band in the whole world, but we’ve gotten a lot better.
(Cop car drives around shinning a spot light around the area we”˜re at.) Aaron: Haha, the police are just riding around.
– What was the lyrical and musical approach when writing the new record?
I don’t know, the same as before, we just do our thing. Like the other guys write their instruments and I write my instrument. And I write a whole lot, it’s usually, mostly garbage. A little bit I like and then I take that and see it together with a song and fit it into the music trying to be written. A couple songs on the new one where the music and melody were written with the lyrics, just kind of all as one. That’s the minority, by far, of the songs. Usually it all comes together the same way. Starts out with the guitar riff and then the drum beat and we build something from there. The vocals come in way after the fact. That’s the usual way.
– What is the meaning behind Brother Sun, Sister Moon?
I don’t know, ask Saint Francis, he’s the one that came up with it. Praying to God and addressing all the aspects of God’s beauty and the creation of the sun and the moon and, you know, the wind, the rain, the animals. He really loved the physical world, he saw the beauty and natural of it.
That’s where you see God the most. I mean, you look around and see a tree and notice that God is there. God is in every aspect of nature.
– If there was to be one main theme to be taken away from the record, what would it be and why?
I would hope that the main theme would be that God is good. I’m tempted to say something about the spider songs, it mentions a spider that gets old and dies. That’s kind of one theme, that all things in this world will pass. Then the other theme is, the first and last line of the record is “I do not exist”, so it’s just a lost of the ego. My attempt of a religious pursuit, like trying to lose my obsession with myself and come to believe in God, to love God and care about other people that aren’t me. But that has largely been a failed pursuit, so far. That’s what I’m doing with these songs, or eating breakfast or going to a church meeting, or whatever it is. It’s always the same, trying to forget about myself and love God and love other people. That’s the theme of the record and my life. Again, it’s not a successful theme.
– What do you think is the biggest issue that society is overlooking and how can we fix it?
Well our society, the biggest issue we overlook is lack of compassion and greed and wealth over our culture and those of others. And the way we think to resolve that is to sponsor a child or give a little money at church. They say to give 10% percent of your money but sometimes it feels like we’re letting”¦it’s like giving the dog the crumbs off the table. It’s not like we ever”¦.
We’re not sacrificing something of ours to give to them. It’s like we just give a dollar to them and that’s it.
Yeah, exactly. It’s like we always are conscious of the fact that over 30,000 children are dying every day from starvation and preventable diseases. And we have new gismos and technologies and cellular phones and DVDs and all that stuff, none of which are necessary for our survival and we ignore our brothers to survive. I can’t reconcile that and live with a clear conscious. And I don’t know if other people can or if they just silent their conscious or there is something going on that I just don’t understand. It’s just something that is generally ignored. My luxuries and entertainment are more important to me than other people’s lives. What do we do about that? As Jesus said “Sell all your possessions and give to the poor”. We do without those unnecessary things until all the people in the world have the necessary things.
– If you had to give advice to a group of teenagers, what would you say?
I’ll say to believe in God but not to put your trust in any religious organization or particular religious tradition, but the one that made you and lives in your heart. You know, like you said the trees and stars and all the things that you see. To reflect on that and all the wisdom and the beauty that goes into sustaining the life of all the world and protecting the lives of the people in world. And the love that is put in all of us, the reality of forgiveness and commit your life to following the one that is the source of all love, all light, and all truth. And don’t be persuaded to give yourself over to the pleasures of this world, all the ambitions of this world, whether it’s for money or sexual gratification, or power, or pleasure, or comfort. But be willing to look to Jesus, who showed us the way to life, which was submission to death and peace and forgiveness and love.
– How has being in this band changed your life and what effected has it had on your outlook towards life?
I don’t know. I really wish I could see a parallel universe where I was never in this band and where I’ll be right now, probably married, probably still with the same struggles. It hasn’t changed too many things fundamentality, but I ht has given me more of a struggle with arrogance and self-importance and egomania. To think that someone wants to do with an interview with me right now, for example. You know, five years ago no one ever wanted to do an interview with me so this is like, makes me feel like I am more important than I am. The fact that someone wanted to pay us to play a show, buy our CD, the fact that we have a CD. Any of the things, like Jesus said “Woe to you if people think well of you.” And I’m always afraid that, to whatever extent we haven’t been successful by most standards, to whatever step we have been, I think it’s probably hurtful to me, spiritually. I don’t know. What do you think? I mean you don’t know me but is that generally a dangerous thing?
I mean, I don’t know. There are a lot of issues and things in this world that I don’t agree with. I’m sure you’re aware of the current state of the youth and how everything is, importance is placed on technology. Everyone is focusing and drinking all weekend and getting high and doing all these things. I see that and I walk around school and hear about people talk about things that doesn’t make sense. I see all these things around me and I just don’t see a purpose to give such importance to whether or not you get something, whether or not you get a TV or whatever. There are just so much more important things. Yeah, those things may give you pleasure, but they’re not going to last. They’re not going to be there for you when you need someone, like God is. God is always going to be there for you, God is always going to listen, always going to help. Even though people say God didn’t answer my prayers, or didn’t do this. It’s when he is most silent, is when he is most at work. There is so much stuff going on in the world and no one is doing anything about it. There is so much poverty in the world, there is just so much stuff going on in the United States, everyone is focusing on the war in Iraq, putting money towards that and oil.
The thing I see most wrong about this world is there is no unity. Everyone is out for themselves, everyone is trying to be better than everyone else. The competition is always, I have to have a bigger house then this person. Instead we are not helping each other, we are not sacrificing something of ours, to help someone else. We are not giving our time, to help someone else. And that is the problem I see most about this world. There is no unity among man. We’re all in this together, we are all one big family. There is no unity and people don’t care about each other.
(Aaron sits silently, thinking about something and looking at me.)
– What is your involvement with The Simple Way and how would you explain it to those who don’t know what it is?
The Simple Way is a house, an organization of people, friends of mine, that live in North Philadelphia and try to follow Jesus by sharing their lives together, sharing their possessions, and serving their neighbors. They take the Commandment seriously, love your neighbor as yourself and doesn’t mean you should be nice or polite to people but really loving people. Laying down your life, your possessions, your conveniences. I lived at their place for about 3 months, 3 years ago. That time changed my life and I still stay with them sometimes when I am in Philly, and stop by and spend time with them. It’s just a handful of people that take the teachings of Jesus more seriously than most groups, and the spirit of God is strong and clear. A group of people that I’m very grateful for, that I hope to always be united with them in some way. But it’s not totally extraordinary people, fairly ordinary people, just doing something that is some what extraordinary. They’re trying to follow Jesus, to be in a more honest way, in a more thorough way. But they wouldn’t want to be sensationalize, just saying that anybody can do this. It’s a matter of loving the people around you, and not being, like you said, in competition for these things in the world of wealth and respect.
I’ve been reading Shane Claiborne’s book, “The Irresistible Revolution” and I’m halfway through that. That book is just affecting me, showing that you can just strip away all the common things that people have and helping people. It’s not the things people put importance on that are the things that are important in life. It’s a good book.
Yeah it is.
– What do you think is the biggest issue facing Christianity and what does it mean to truly be a Christian?
I mentioned the issue of wealth and greed with me, Christians in particular, is important because we say we follow Jesus, who said, “blessed to the poor, woe to you if you are rich, but we are rich in culture”. Even the poorest of the poor in our country are still rich compared to wealth standards if we all have access to running water and electricity and heat. We have a lot and I think it’s hard to feel our need for God in those circumstances. Also, what you mentioned with Iraq and the fact that all Christians are waging war even against countries, when we are told not even to defend ourselves, ” Do not resist an evil person but turn to the other cheek, love your enemies.” So far from doing that, we’re waging war against our enemies in case they ever strike us, we’re killing them before they can even strike us. And it’s received as a blessing and a sanction, the approval of most of the churches or many Christians that I meet, think that we need to support our President, support what our government decides to do. And it me it seems wicked. That’s an issue facing Christianity; how do we react to war and the possibility of taking a pacifist position is not even considerate. But for groups like the Amish, and the Mennonites, and the Quakers, that is what I’ve come to identify more with, called the Anabaptists groups. They just say “We don’t pick up arms, no matter what.” I just wish more of Christianity would take seriously, the teachings to not resist evil.
– What is your opinion of the music industry and how independent music is looked upon?
I don’t really have an opinion of it. The music industry is just like anything of business. And to try and make money, is one motivation for living your life or for working a job or try or creating art. But to share what you believe is true and inspire or try and help people or make something beautiful and glorify God. Those are all very different motivations, ones that I hope people, especially in independent music world, that would be more of a motivation, people are trying to spread what is true and encourage people to do the right thing, rather then just, the bottom line is the dollars, you know? How many records you sell and all that stuff won’t bring you any peace. It doesn’t impress God and doesn’t make a different to God whether you made a gold record or you just sang in your room by yourself. Like the intention and motivation in your heart is much more important. I just don’t have much of an opinion of it, just seems more like another business.
– What is the most important thing in life that you feel many of us are forgetting about?
I mean, we are always forgetting about God. My mom taught me that we should be praying for forgiveness with every breathe. My dad said to think of God all the time, all day, all the time. And most of the day, I’m thinking about many other things, so I’m trying to quiet my mind and think about God and realize that no matter what goes wrong, God’s will, will be done. If something seems to be going right, not to put our hope in that, “Oh this is great, it will always be like this.” No, I’m going to die one day, everything I see is going to pass. But to think of God as the only one that will never pass, never change, the beginning and the end, the eternal One. That’s the reality that I want to be in tuned with, but I’m not, you know? I’m caught up in the waves of the illusion of this world and emotions and circumstances that come and go. Yeah, I need help.
– How do you wish this band influences people and do you think you’ve accomplish it as yet?
I hope people can love God and love other people more because my experience trying to find happiness in other things, and not relationships or ambition with music or you know, anything I’ve tried to do like trying to be smart or a good writer, or anything I’ve always wanted to come out of being in a band. None of it makes me happy, I hope people can see that, take my experience and one man’s experience, that nothing makes you happy except for the love of God and the light of God that shines in your heart. And realize that you don’t need to be good, you don’t need to be together, you don’t need to be smart, you don’t need to be cool, you don’t need to be good looking, you don’t need to be confident or you know, successful or rich. You don’t need to be any of those things, you just need to be broken and lonely and humble and needy, which all of us are deep down but we just hide it and try and act confident and together. So we come to God broken and then God is the physician, God is the potter. God is the loving healer, the mother and the father and lover of us all, the restorer, the forgiver, the most patient one, the most merciful, the most kind and gentle one. We’ll find all we need in God, in God’s provision and protection. Not a religious group or going to a church on Sunday, or joining an organization or something like that. In reality, God is the source of love and light and serving others and forgiving others and praying for others and mediating on good things and humbling yourself and not taking yourself too seriously. All these things you know, different aspects of it. The one life that I’m trying to communicate or trying to live, is a life of faith and a following of Jesus.
– What is the most memorable memory that has changed you the most as a musician and person?
When I went to visit the Brudov (not sure if this the right name) community in upstate New York. It’s a community, similar spirit of The Simple Way, people just living together, and just many more people. It was just while I was staying at Simple Way that I went to visit Brudov and I remember being up one night and the wind was blowing outside and I thought if I went out I would see an angel outside. There was a stuffed gorilla in the room, I was ready for it to start talking to me. And the way the shadows were falling on the curtains by the window, everything seemed alive. And I realized that what I wanted along was not the Christian religion but was God Almighty. And I felt free and my duty all along was not to convert people to think like I think but to love people and to serve people. That hit me because I saw people who loved each other and I felt the spirit of God and I tasted the fruit of peace. And I thought, this is what I want and I don’t know anything. That I am known, and I better stop pretending.
– Is there anything else you want the readers to know?