By sheer coincidence, when we call Aaron Weiss, it is exactly one year to the day from his getting married. If you know a little about the mewithoutYou frontman, you understand how bizarre tying the knot was for him. But for a band that is consistently and creatively reinventing itself, it only makes sense that its eccentric vocalist would do the same.
The Philadelphia post-hardcore band (a nice way to say emo, but these guys are far from overwrought) channels Cursive-style riffs dominated by Weiss' deeply introspective lyrics. His lyrics, sung in a warbling vocal style and punctuated by labyrinthine fables, are rife with religious and literary references, drawn from everything from the Bhagavad Gita to Kurt Vonnegut.
The group's sophomore release, 2004's Catch for Us the Foxes, climbed to number 20 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart and amassed a considerably cultish fanbase. The band has toured with Tegan and Sara, New Found Glory, and Brand New and collaborated with Forgive Durden, Norma Jean, Hayley Williams of Paramore, and Jeremy Enigk of Sunny Day Real Estate.
Weiss performs acoustic guitar and accordion while his brother, Michael Weiss, handles lead guitar and vocals. Brandon Beaver also plays guitar, with Greg Jehanian on bass and Richard Mazzotta on drums.
MewithoutYou's sixth album, the just-released Pale Horses, approaches a more artsy, post-rock sound, somewhere between Mogwai and the Appleseed Cast, but maintains Weiss' erratic narrative style. Weiss also has a habit of writing "sequel songs," tunes that, while not explicitly connected to each other, share many similar themes. For example, there's "Four Word Letter," off 2002's I Never Said That I Was Brave EP and "Four Word Letter (Pt. 2)" on Catch for Us the Foxes.
The newest sequel song, "D-Minor," is somewhat of a reference to the band's 0x000A"C-Minor," from 2006's Brother, Sister. Of particular interest is the line, "I'm still (ehh . . . technically . . .) a virgin / After 27 years / Which never bothered me before / What's maybe 50 more?"
Yes, Weiss, now 36, was happy, even thrilled, about being celibate. In fact, Weiss claims to have never even dated or had any kind of "romantic, exclusive, or non-platonic" relationship, as he puts it.
Until last year.
"[Celibacy] was something I was happy with and willing to maintain for the rest of my life. I had no hopes of losing my virginity and no plans of having sex," Weiss says. Even though it's his anniversary, he's on tour, at the moment passing through Ohio picking up gear at a music store.
"It wasn't an easy decision [to get hitched], but in some respects it felt like it wasn't even a decision. It felt like it was something I was sort of carried along into," Weiss says. "When I met my wife, there was strong attraction, a magnetic pull that I felt. And I didn't necessarily decide to go and see her and to talk with her. It almost felt like something was unfolding, and I was a spectator. And so I didn't fight very hard to stop it."
Weiss dated his wife for about two years before marrying her, but the transition wasn't exactly smooth for the singer.
"Without going into too much detail, we consummated our marriage, and the song 'D Minor' has a brief and rather humiliating account of that consummation," he says.
Maybe by modern oversharing standards, Weiss seems modest. In fact, while we're discussing his sexuality, Weiss pauses the conversation because he doesn't want the two young girls walking by him to hear him. If you hadn't already guessed, Weiss is serious about his values.
Weiss' obsession with religion has earned mewithoutYou a reputation as a Christian rock or gospel band, but such labels would oversimplify the group's music. Weiss' Muslim mother and Jewish father converted to the Sufi faith, with its Islamic mysticism. Weiss himself is a Christian but doesn't think of his band as the same, even though it once was signed to Tooth & Nail Records, one of the largest Christian labels.
"It's not like I'm offended if someone says we're a Christian band. I just don't think it's true," Weiss told online magazine Busted Halo in 2007. "I don't think we live up to that calling."
Weiss also has admitted to being more fundamentalist in the past, but now he's reluctant to push any sort of religious worldview. It's first clear when he dodges explaining some of his lyrics.
"I mentioned earlier I may be hazy and evasive in my answers. Here I'm going to take myself up on that," he says. "I don't feel like I'm qualified to tell people what's true about God, the way I once felt like I was. So I like leaving it more open for people because then I feel like I'm less likely to mislead somebody."
Weiss adds, "I'd say there have been times that I've been much more confident, not only that what I believed was true but also that I was able to communicate the truth of that belief using words. And I've come to doubt both of those things . . . so I can say certainly there are things I have come to let go of that I once held to be true."
But though mewithoutYou might shy away from the Jesus label, it does have clear-cut values. The band members avoid bathing, prefer to live in communes (something they say more closely resembles the Kingdom of God on Earth), and enjoy eating from garbage cans.
"Why would you go buy food when you can get it free in a dumpster?" they've famously advocated.
MewithoutYou also was notoriously known to run its tour bus on used vegetable oil, but currently the band has to rely fully on diesel fuel now that most restaurants are reluctant to part with their leftover grease.
"We've had a grease tank for about 10 years, and we literally just took it out yesterday," Weiss says. "When we first began, it was very easy because restaurants seemed eager to get rid of it, but nowadays I think they're more often getting paid for it . . . They have a contract with the recycling company or something."
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Pale Horses can be seen as a return to roots for the band, a step away from the folky direction the group took on It's All Crazy! It's All False! It's All a Dream! It's Alright, whose wordy title is a reference to the teachings of Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, a Sufi mystic who was a big influence on Weiss' parents.
"When I was really young, my mom would always read us stories, a lot of them from Bawa's books, and his children's book in particular," Weiss says. "I always liked the dimension of the stories: the talking animals and the trees, these living things having this ability to communicate with one another and with humans and think about them as creatures with beliefs and desires and passions and hopes and pain and sorrow, just like you and me. That was very formative for me, I think."