MewithoutYou gained recognition playing at Cornerstone on the Christian festival circuit and signed to CCM label Tooth & Nail. But ask bandleader Aaron Weiss if his band is Christian and he’ll respond ambivalently. “It’s not like I’m offended if someone says we’re a Christian band,” revealed Weiss in an interview with Matt Fink, “I just don’t think it’s true. I don’t think we live up to that calling, so I’d be reluctant to go saying that, and God knows the truth.”
Aaron and his brother Mike were raised in a Sufi household, but their parents did not dictate their beliefs. As a child, Aaron attended a Christian summer camp. In high school, he began attending a fundamentalist Christian church. Aaron recalls, “I had some warnings from my family, like, ‘Be careful of this spirit of self-righteousness.’ They were sensing in me an arrogance that said, ‘Now I have the truth and you don’t. I’m going to tell you how it is.’” Later in his spiritual journey, Weiss found a transformative power while visiting Christian communities and living with Shane Claiborne’s The Simple Way. “I didn't find any real contentment until about three years ago,” recounted Aaron in a 2007 interview with hardcore/metal website Lambgoat. “I went to visit this community and saw people who loved each other and I realized that was all I ever needed. It wasn't to be popular, or to be accepted, or to be successful, or to get married...any of the things I tried to do and failed, in some respect. I realized all I've gotta do is love people and if I find my contentment in serving people, and giving, and loving - then it's not dependent on what people's response is.” He expressed a newfound humility in “January 1979” on Catch For Us The Foxes, singing “My life’s become the sugar I’ve borrowed before/Time and again and forgot to return.”
Aaron is currently balancing the worlds of music and academia, having received a masters degree from the University of Pennsylvania, pursuing a P.hD., and teaching as an adjunct professor in the urban education department at Temple University.
Weiss’ parents introduced him to the teachings of M. R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen. His writings have inspired much of mewithoutYou’s work, including the title of and fables recounted on 2009’s It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright! The album marked a radical departure from their post-hardcore sound to a more melodic indie-folk driven by acoustic guitar and spiked with accordion and Sufjan-esque brass.
MewithoutYou plugged their guitars back in for “February 8, 1878”, the first track on 2012’s Ten Stories. While the track nods heavily to the trademark sound of mewithYou’s earlier albums like Brother, Sister, it also marks a sonic progression for the band, including the best elements of the new territory they explored on It’s All Crazy! Skillfully weaving diverse instrumentation and colorful lyrics, mwY continues to mature as a band.
Ten Stories is a concept album about a circus train accident in 19th century America. The songs follow a host of anthropomorphized animals, describing, according to Aaron Weiss, “a contemplative Fox’s prophetic dream, a starving Bear’s vision of a martyred saint, and an indecisive Peacock & gnostic Tiger learning the virtues of megalomania from an ego-annihilated Potter Wasp.” Weiss tells these tales with his part-spoken, part-sung, part-shouted delivery, mixing in allusions to American folk history, philosophy, and a litany of sacred texts.
In the opening track, the Elephant throws her weight against the side of the railcar, causing a train wreck on an icy curve and freeing the circus animals from their slavery. Deepening the gospel allegory, the Elephant doesn’t attempt to escape, but remains in her cage, waiting for her captors, sacrificing herself. Later on the album, the elephant is found guilty sentenced to hang, a reference to the hanging of a circus elephant in 1916. The title of the particular track is “Elephant in the Dock”, possibly referring to C.S. Lewis’ essay collection God in the Dock, about the human tendency to try to put God on trial. This sort of lyrical depth rewards close listening and sets mewithoutYou apart.
- John Muyskens