Aaron Weiss – lead vocals
Michael Weiss – guitar
Christopher Kleinberg – guitar
Daniel Pishock – bass guitar
Richard Mazzotta – drums
Don’t tell Aaron Weiss of Philadelphia’s MeWithoutYou that it’s not cool to be on a Christian tour.
He doesn’t care. He’s got bigger things on his mind.
MeWithoutYou plays raw, passionate music that has been compared to At the Drive-In, but deserves more than simple comparisons or pigeonholing as a niche band. Aaron, his brother Mike, and Chris Kleinberg played together in The Operation before forming this band and releasing their first full-length, [A–>B Life], on Tooth & Nail Records in 2002.
From the poetic lyrics on their album and the thoughtful, confessional journal on their website (www.mewithoutyou.com), I had guessed that Aaron would be an eloquent speaker, but even I wasn’t prepared for the level our discussion went to.
KaffeineBuzz: Tell me how your tour’s been going so far.
Aaron Weiss: It’s been good in some ways and bad in other ways. We’ve been playing well, our shows are great, a lot of stuff has been selling, so tangibly, all the things you’d judge a tour on have been good. But with all that comes the interior stuff, worrying about money, getting excited for the wrong reasons, having ambitions to do this or that, it’s all kind of silly. But when you’re out on the road 24 hours a day, doing this band stuff, so it’s sort of all we talk about. You get tired of it. I don’t care how many T-shirts we’ve sold or what color. But Ricky’s girlfriend just came out to meet us, and Mike’s girlfriend, too…we’ve got people from back home that we can talk to about real stuff, not be so self-involved.
KB: It must be nice to be able to bring other people with you.
AW: Yeah, we’ve got this bus–it’s a little bus, but it’s way bigger than a van. We’ve got couches and beds inside, and a big trailer, so we’ve got a lot of room.
KB: How are the other bands doing?
AW: They seem good, we’ve been getting to be good friends with them, Watashi Wa especially, even though we’ve only known them for like two weeks. I don’t know how the tour’s going for them as far as music, selling stuff, what they think. We try not to talk about that, try not to have everything revolve around the music stuff, but it’s hard. It’s kind of our common link, what we’re here to do, so we’ve got to take care of business, but there’s only so much of it you can take.
KB: A friend of mine commented to me the other day that so many bands, so many people, what’s “hip” is ironic…ripping off ’80s metal bands and wearing trucker hats and whatever. Your music seems very honest. You really seem like you’re just opening up out there. That’s refreshing right now, because I’m so tired of hipsters and the worry about seeming cool.
AW: I know what you mean, for sure. You get to a point where, I think Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun,” and everything that has been done will be done again. I think people start to sense that and become jaded, or just bored. I don’t know where all the irony, the sarcasm, or the popularity contest, all the silliness comes from. To be blunt, I feel like a lot of people are rejecting a belief in God and they think, “Well, what do I have in this world. I came into this world by accident. I have only my biology to make me up and my environment to influence me,” and it all just loses any meaning. We’re nothing more than machines, or animals at best, no reality of love or free will or any significance beyond the day we die. You can imagine what all this does, people think, oh, this is just a joke, it’s absurd and meaningless.
I don’t buy it, you know. To me, the question of whether we’re here for a reason is super relevant, whether we were created or just kind of appeared, whether we were put here by somebody, then we belong to that somebody. I believe that God is the same God of Israel from way back when, and when Jesus taught he taught straight from that God, he lived a life of perfection that tells me all the things you’re supposed to do in order, he says “blessed,” but I’ll put it simply — to be at peace or happy or have joy and have meaning and have purpose and sense and order and sanity in your life. And those things are to be poor and to be hungry, despised, lowly, poor in spirit, rejected, broken, hurt. I just don’t see that. I think everybody with their irony, we’re all speaking from luxury, myself included. We have our comforts and every need, and meanwhile there are 30,000 children that die every day of starvation and preventable disease. I don’t mean to throw a statistic in there, but you know, a kid will look around, in his band, and go “all this is a joke.” But if it was them that was starving to death they wouldn’t say it was a joke, they would understand that there’s some meaning to life because they’d be on the verge of losing it.
KB: Sorry to dump the heavy stuff on you right away!
AW: No, I appreciate it, it’s better than asking who our musical influences are. I mean, you can ask that, it’s just that that’s what everybody asks, and I’m like, “I don’t know, man, leave me alone!” You just get tired of the same things.
KB: Okay, so here’s something else: I heard recently that Tooth & Nail Records was trying to distance themselves from being labeled as a Christian label, or maybe pigeonholed as a Christian label. Is that something that’s actually going on, or is that just a nasty rumor?
AW: No, I think that’s probably true. It seems like they talk more about what they call a general market. But I mean, who wouldn’t, you know? They have to know that the bands they sell in the Christian bookstores are notoriously bad. And it’s always a second- or third-rate version of what the mainstream market is doing. You can’t listen to Korn, you know, ’cause your parents won’t let you, so you check out this band that sounds just like them but has a more positive message, and it’s always lame.
Usually it seems to me when people want to do that it’s because they know it’s dorky to be in the Christian scene, so they want to be cool. They talk about the word credibility. “We need more indie cred.” It’s like another language. Talk about a dude who has more crap than he needs, not only does he have all the food and shelter and clean water and all the luxuries of a house and a car, now he’s worried about an imaginary scene and his status in it. It’s just all a weird idea. It’s a bummer, because as much as I could be and was a businessman, thinking, “How much can we charge for these shirts so people will still buy them, what’s the most profit we can make?” I disappoint myself. The fact that I still do care, “Oh, why would I do this Tooth & Nail tour, that won’t help us in the general market.” But what is the general market? It’s all just people. The general market’s people, and the Christian market’s people, it’s all people who are lonely and who are sad and confused and angry and have been hurt, and I think everyone needs the same thing as best I can tell, to be shown love and respect and patience and gentleness and kindness.
It doesn’t matter if you say you’re a Christian or not, or if you bought our CD at a Christian bookstore or at Tower Records in the mall. You’re just a person. It’s hard to see things as a market. The only time I read about the “market” in the life of Jesus, he came into the market and flipped all the tables over and took a whip and smacked all the merchandise around and said, “Get out of here, this was supposed to be a house of prayer and you’ve turned it into a den of thieves.” But then he also says every temple from which he drove everybody, not one stone will be left on another, it will all come crumbling down, but you try to destroy this temple, pointing at his body, I will raise it again in three days. The body is the temple of the holy spirit, and where two or three gather in my name, there I am. It seems like the place of worship for God is no longer in a temple but in the communion of two believers. If they can say at that label that they’re believers, and I can say I’m a believer, and then here we are. We’re the temple of the holy spirit together, and yet we’ve turned our lives into dens of thieves. We’ve turned our labels and our bands that could actually be helping people into self-serving machines.
KB: Personally, I don’t like to see bands pigeonholed into anything, whether it be Christian or whether it’s this scene or that scene, this kind of music or that kind. People say, “I like hardcore but I don’t like emo,” or “I like indie rock but I don’t like that,” and I just like to listen to good music.
AW: Yeah, it’s all kind of imaginary. You can see with how we dress and all of that. I fall into the same thing, like, “That’s too emo,” or “Those kids wear this, so I shouldn’t wear it.” And then the rejection of that becomes almost as bad, like the people who say, “I don’t like the Beatles because they’re overrated.” Well, nevermind if everybody else likes them, is it good or isn’t it? Just like what you like. Dress in something warm when it’s cold out and cool when it’s warm out. Something comfortable that cost you a dollar at the thrift store. Then yesterday I bought a shirt for $30. I know that’s a big waste of money, but I wanted it because I don’t have any clothes I liked, I wanted it just because it looks cool.
KB: It seems like more and more, that we all just look at something in a magazine and say, “Oooh, this is the hip thing this week, let’s be like this.”
AW: Yeah, in 1992 it wasn’t cool to be ’80s.
KB: It was horrible.
AW: And now it’s trendy again, you might make fun of somebody, like “Get with it, man.” Again, it’s just the stuff where people have too much money and too much time on their hands. Then the advertisers need to make money so they keep on changing what’s cool, so you’re not happy with the clothes you have and you’ve got to keep on buying. We can’t only blame them because we continue to consume. But if everybody would just listen to what Jesus said, don’t worry about your clothes. Look at the lilies in the field. Even Solomon in his splendor was not dressed as one of these. I think we could all learn from that. But I don’t live according to what I read. I read the Bible, but that’s the story of Christianity, isn’t it? People who say they believe in this book or this man and they don’t live like him. They don’t follow what the book says, they make up their own rules and justify themselves by doing different things, like “I won’t smoke cigarettes,” “I won’t drink alcohol,” “I won’t say curse words.” Okay, so what about when Jesus said to sell everything you have and give it to the poor? “Uh…”
KB: We don’t like that so much. It’s easy to not drink. It’s easy to give up silly things like that. When it comes to actually putting a lot of things into practice, people are not so good at it.
AW: And will even turn into something that’s the exact opposite to justify themselves or appease their conscience, to say, “When somebody gives me a lot of money, that’s God blessing me.” Well, already you’ve twisted things. Because the blessings of Jesus are to the poor. I have to really disagree with that idea, that material abundance is a blessing and that means we’re doing well in his eyes. Well, I don’t know. It’s much easier to follow these simple rules. “I won’t do these three things,” and that’s sort of what we’ll judge people by rather than the things that would actually change our entire way of life. It’d bring an entirely new social order if Christians all lived as the early church did, sharing everything they had, no one considered their possessions their own, but gave freely.
KB: But that sounds like Communism! We can’t have that!
AW: Well certainly, the government of Communism is worse. A few people in charge of all the money, that’s not a communism of love. Most of them as I understand reject God and say they’re going to share by their own power, by their own strength, but for the Apostles it wasn’t an idea, it was like “This person is my brother, and doesn’t have food, and I have food.” They wouldn’t hoard, they would sell themselves into slavery or enter prison so that somebody else could have food. This isn’t based on an idea, but on the reality of their love for other people. Which is the center of the Christian faith, or at least the faith that Jesus came to bring, certainly not the Christianity that I’m familiar with. I don’t mean to criticize…
KB: I think questioning the way things are is important. I think people know what’s right and they try and cover that up with a bunch of other stupid concerns.
AW: Oh, absolutely. Because what’s right demands something very different from what we’re doing. If we all would accept what’s right–if we would say out loud, “What’s right is if we have more than we need, we should share it with people who don’t have enough to survive. That’s right.” And then to say, “I’m not doing that,” and not just admit you’re a sinner in some Christian-tract kind of way, but, “The way I live, when I wake up in my house in comfort and drive my car, my other car, go out to restaurants, buy my clothes, all the things I do are done in a lack of love for the people in the world who are suffering.” Not to be all Sally Struthers, it’s almost become a joke now to talk about hunger in the third world, well, why? Because everybody’s talking about it but is still living in relative luxury, myself included.
So what am I going to say? I don’t know about all this. I don’t know about being in a band, having all of our expensive equipment, and our big bus, and driving around and having people clap, and say “Good job, you guys are doing a good thing,” when I see the early church was getting killed for their faith. I can talk until I’m blue in the face about poverty, but as long as I’m still living in comfort, you might as well throw away the tape you’re recording this with, because I don’t live by it. The only reason I mention it is because this is what I’m thinking about, and I see that my life doesn’t correspond with my ideas. It’s like, “What now?” I can’t go on living like this. Either I’m going to have to kill myself…
KB: No, that’s not the answer.
AW: No, I don’t want to do that. I either have to submit to my conscience that says, “This is not right,” obey that or to drop it altogether and be like those people who say, “Everything is a joke, and everything is meaningless and ridiculous and absurd. There is no right and wrong, and everything is relative. It may be wrong for you to starve children at the expense of fashion and luxury, but it’s not wrong for me. I’m perfectly right in everything I do.” Maybe if I said that, I’d be able to be more at peace with the way I live.
I’m not willing to blatantly lie to myself and say, “No, despite everything I know about my existence, there is a philosopher out there who says there is no right and wrong. There are people who have denied the reality of a creator or the fact of love.” I say reality and I say fact because these things are clear to me. They’re clearer than the fact that I have a cellphone in my hand and I’m talking to you, who are somewhere in Denver. These things are very tangible and physical, but they’re gone a minute after they’re there. I’m going to put down the phone when we’re done and this conversation won’t ever exist again. It’ll be printed on a piece of paper, but the paper will disintegrate. We’re all eventually going to die. And nothing’s going to come of our existence if there’s not a life after death. We can try to save the environment but the earth is going to explode. We can try to perpetuate our race, but we’re eventually going to die out. It’s the same things everyone wonders about.
I’ve got no new answers, all I have are the old answers. Jesus taught that you should love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength, and love your neighbor as you love yourself. And when he taught that it wasn’t an idea, it was a command. These are the two commandments. This is what you have to do. “You have to love other people exactly as much as you love yourself, or you are not my disciple, because that’s what I’m doing.” He lived the idea. He died himself, he gave his life. If we want to run with that guy, if we consider ourselves Christian, well, we may have to die for what we believe. I bring that up to Christians nowadays and it’s like, “Well, no, that can’t be. We can’t be martyred, we can’t give our lives, no politician would ever want to kill us nowadays.” People are just kinda, the Bible would say lukewarm. I’d say we’re all just liars. We’re all just pretending to be Christians. If we were to live according to the teachings of Jesus it would be extremely revolutionary. The powers that be would be very upset. It’s probably just arrogance, you know, like, “I’ve got all these ideas in my head. You should hear them.”
KB: I don’t think it’s arrogance for you to say that. I don’t think its arrogance for you to be in a band and say what you feel because I think what everybody has to say is important. Especially when you’re up there, as a musician, trying to say something that you really feel. You’re talking about sharing, and sharing your food and whatever. I think that by being a musician you’re sharing yourself. Maybe it’s not as fundamental a need as feeding the people in the street, but you’re still sharing something of yourself. If everyone that comes to see your band leaves feeling better at the end of the night, you’ve still shared something.
AW: I have an idea about that, but I got it from the Bible. I don’t want to sound like a Bible-thumper, saying, “Well, the Bible says…” but it’s like sensible stuff. The idea of giving–the Pharisees, the priests, they made a big show of how much they were giving, saying, “We’ll donate 10 percent of what we have,” and they’re rich. So that’s a lot of money. Like a millionaire giving $100,000. You’d say that’s a very charitable thing. But there’s another woman who had two copper coins, that’s all she had, but she gave them both. Jesus said that she gave more because she gave all she had. Jesus said something that is mathematically incorrect, but he’s more concerned with the attitude of the heart. What are you willing to lay down for the cause of love, and what are you still holding on to? For the rich person, or for say, me, or anybody living in luxury or perpetuating this kind of music, art, we’re giving out of our abundance. I have anything and everything, and you can have some of it, and it seems generous of me. But I haven’t given everything, and I know there’s some people who would give everything. So I still feel kind of torn about it.
KB: Well I hope people don’t mind that I didn’t ask you your musical influences.
AW: Thank you for that. And I’m sorry if any of this sounds like I’m on a soapbox. I just want to get it out there so maybe people will ask me next time, “So, have you actually started to do any of that stuff? Have you given your money away? Are you still playing in a band and soliciting approval and admiration from sixteen-year-olds?” “Um, yes, still doing the same thing, ask me again next year. Maybe I’ll have actually developed the courage by then.”
Check out MeWithoutYou at the Bluebird on February 24th with the rest of the Tooth & Nail tour. Click here for more information www.toothandnailtour.com.