By: Sarah Hagerman
"There's a love that never changes/ No matter what you've done" – "Allah, Allah, Allah"
"There's something I read from the writings of the Buddha, 'If I being by nature subject to corruption disease and death, why do I seek after things like nature?'," Aaron Weiss, lead singer of Philadelphia's mewithoutYou says. "Why do I seek the same things in something else that's going to die? Why am I pursuing a wife or family, why am I pursuing a job, why am I pursuing a reputation as a songwriter, or why am I pursuing someone's opinion of me to be high when I know all that is going to pass so quickly? It's just like zooming out and taking a wide lens, looking at your life from outer space or taking a time line of eternity or even in a billion years. My life is so short and it's just the blink of an eye and I really wonder, is there anything that's not passing like that, is there anything that doesn't fade, is there anything that wasn't born and that isn't going to die? Is there anything that doesn't change? Those are good questions and I guess all the religions kind of wrestle with those questions. And I guess everyone does at some point. My parents have really taken those questions seriously, so it's rubbed off on me."
They are good questions. Taking them on can seem like grappling with a few dozen sumos. A complicated situation since you don't speak Japanese and your wrestling skills are rusty at best. Perhaps that's why many who claim to follow God (or even doggedly embrace Atheism, or whatever color of "ism" you like, be it political, moral or spiritual) turn towards exclusionary finger pointing and judgment. It's just easier to look outside yourself than look within, and it takes little effort to bolster a limited perspective when it comes to those big questions, to surround yourself with the likeminded and consume the media that supports your reality. While the world seems closer and smaller than ever, wrapped tight with the forces of technology and globalization, it's still drastically divided. Rome is burning while pundits and opinion makers, TV preachers and message board haters fiddle us into sweaty torrents of righteous rage, jaws snapping and foam flying. Few seem to ask if being proven right in their "ism" is as important as looking towards solutions, towards common ground, towards what unifies. But the search for inner and outer peace is surely part of our collective human experience that transcends philosophical labels. It's the lifetime's journey and finding that light ain't easy.
mewithoutYou - brothers Aaron and Michael Weiss (guitar), Greg Jehanian (bass) and Richard Mazzotta (drums) - would never profess to have answers or solutions in this respect. They definitely aren't afraid to say, "I don't know," and "whatever happens is fine," even when it come to the big queries. But their songs gaze towards what's universal, with questions, inward reflections and a sense of wonder that looks outward. It's the sound of seekers rather than preachers. The Weiss brothers obviously hold some deep spiritual values, but they were very conscious in our conversations that their words and actions not be taken as vehement statements of purpose. Perhaps this has to do with the Christian label that has followed the band, or press perceptions of the group as devout eco-warriors bent on changing the world. They really see their roles as musicians as being small in the grand scheme of things, to the point of using the stage as a starting point to reflect about the fragile, at times destructive, nature of their own ego attachment.
| mewithoutYou by Jake Krolick|
"In the past there's been that [goal], that I'm going to inspire people or we're going to help people, but it's starting to seem like that's not my responsibility to lead people to the truth or to teach anyone, given that I don't know the answers myself. So, what can I do but continue to seek truth and continue to open and soften my heart and keep letting go of my conceptions, my attachments, my desires?" says Aaron. "If people see that in my life – 'Well, look at that, something about him is going in a good direction' - then maybe they would be inspired to go that direction, too. Whereas if they say, 'Look at this guy, he's just a religious fanatic. He's just preaching to us and trying to convert everybody to what he believes,' that might just hurt people. So I don't know the effect of our songs. I'm beginning to consider that maybe it won't have any effect on anybody. And you'd rather think, well God is responsible for opening everyone's hearts and for drawing people to the truth and for revealing love to people, and I can't do that. I can just ask God, 'Please help me and please forgive me. You sing these songs, you play this guitar, you come and take my life, which is really your life.'"
Many musicians speak of being vessels in various terms, but taking the artistic process away from the self can often be difficult. In many ways, this was Michael's struggle as he came to terms with the future of the band. The visions of success and artistic influence that may have danced in their heads, and were presented to them at various stages of their eight-year career (including a Woodie award for "leftfield artist" from MTVu in 2005 where they beat out Arcade Fire and M.I.A.), have been replaced by a sense of, "whatever happens, happens," at least for Michael:
"I personally suffered too many breakdowns hinging all of my life on the continuation of this band as an entity of touring and a career outlet or opportunity and was really hanging my hat on that. You know anyone that plays in a band, it's such an exciting thing [if] you get to make money doing it. It's something that a lot of guys I know, including myself, dream of their whole life and it's hard to let go of it for some people. For me, I'm definitely one of those guys that saw, and does see, tremendous potential and talent in the band, and for awhile I was looking at it as I really need to motivate this thing and help it grow and succeed. But, a lot of times I let myself get too caught up in that and overlooked how tiring it is for some people. The band is made up of other individuals and everybody else has their own idea of what this thing means to them. And sometimes people get to a point where they're not going in the same way they did back when they formed the group. People want to go back to school or want to start focusing on other things. It just took me awhile to get it - that you have to let things go where they're going," says Michael. "So, I'm just trying to become more and more at peace with the idea that whatever is going to go away is going to go away. And whatever comes next is going to be what I have to do. Just to have faith and trust that it's going to be fine. But that was a real personal kind of struggle I had. It really had nothing to do with anybody else but myself. It feels good to stop squeezing and holding onto something so hard that you could choke, you could smother, you could end it even sooner than it needs to end."
He quickly adds, "As for the band, do we have plans to break up? No. Not that I know of. A lot of people say we are and I hear that from time to time, but as far as I can tell we're still planning on being a band. But it's been hard to keep it that way because I've been a little foolish."
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