mewithoutYou: Let It Go

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?

-Aaron Weiss

Every Blade of Grass

With orchestral arrangements, dig in your cranium melodies and folky charms, their fourth studio album It's all crazy! It's all false! It's all a dream! It's alright (released May 19 on Tooth & Nail) is a further departure from their dense, post-hardcore drive and Aaron's rapid fire lyrical scrawls, which were often marked with a palatable vexation. Here, there's more peace at play, with songs set in talking vegetable gardens and fables sketched vividly, striking imagery drawn out in melodic vocals rather than sing-shouting. The album simply sows its seeds, at times gently pawing the meditative soil, at times stirring the inquiring heart into a joyful swell, particularly on the last track, "Allah Allah Allah," which begins with a rousing celebration of interconnection, "Allah, Allah, Allah/ In everywhere we look," shifting to "In everyone we meet" and "In every blade of grass" in respective verses. Elements of their earlier fervor and darkness are still present on the record, but they are served up in a sonic shift where the branches stretch towards brighter skies. Digging to the roots, some songs do draw from personal stories and shared band experiences, but many draw from religious texts and figures, from Lao Tzu to the Bible, spiritual plurality as inspiration. The strongest presence on the album is Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, a Sufi teacher and mystic. A well-respected figure that encouraged spiritual unity, his influence comes from Aaron and Michael's parents, who both converted to Sufism from Episcopalian Christian and Jewish traditions. Michael describes what growing up in their household was like:

"On Christmas we would go to my grandparents' house on my mom's side, and we would celebrate Hanukkah and Passover with my father's parents. Then there would be certain celebrations my mom would try to push on us, like I would witness her fasting for Ramadan. I've been exposed to the three major religions of the world pretty extensively. I think it always gave me a belief that there was a God, and that's been pretty strong, but not necessarily a specific religion or way to worship. Just going out into the world as an adolescent and seeing different friends of mine, some were Catholic or Jewish or Protestant, and it was very hard for me for a while to really latch onto any of them. But I really had a sense that there was something more than just what we perceive on a daily basis. Growing up in my house there was a strong sense of there being an ultimate moral truth, it wasn't just something we decided as individuals."

Bawa Muhaiyaddeen
Besides the new album's title, which is taken from his words, two songs – "The Fox, The Crow And The Cookie" and "The King Beetle on a Coconut Estate" - are based on Muhaiyadeen's stories. "The Fox, The Crow And The Cookie," is taken from a book the Weiss' parents used to read to them called My Love You My Children ("a book of stories for children of all ages, that's what it says, right on the cover," says Aaron). You're probably familiar with the premise from Aesop: a crow steals a cookie from a baker. The crow's then approached by a clever fox, which compliments his beautiful singing and begs for a song. The crow is so taken with the praise that he opens his mouth to sing, dropping the cookie for the fox to steal. The fable especially rang true for Aaron's own experience as a musician.

"It's warning against flattery and people trying to puff up your ego and pride," says Aaron. "That's something in playing music that's an obvious danger, when you go up on stage and everyone claps or after the show someone wants to take a picture with you or wants to do an interview with you, you might start to get the idea that, 'Oh look at this, I have something important to say,' or, 'I must be a wise person. I must be very talented.' For my life, I've been hurt by that. When I started a band I went looking for that, I really wanted that affirmation, I really wanted that praise and those compliments. But you reach a point where you go, 'Boy, that doesn't bring me peace to hear that about myself.' Instead, it brings me peace to give praise to God, to give all the glory to God, to look to God within and not to worry if people approve of me or not. But, it's really powerful because that is still strong in me, that wanting people to like me and that kind of thing, but I think it has a limit."

"King Beetle," on the other hand, has a more ambiguous moral, one which lends itself to further inquiry.

mewithoutYou by Jake Krolick
"My dad told me that one, and he told me, 'There's other ways of investigating what's true,'" Aaron describes. "By hovering around and pontificating or observing from a distance, you might not get the full experience compared to giving yourself completely over. But the meaning of the story I wouldn't be able to describe or explain accurately, so I will try to keep my words few here. 'Cause of course Bawa is the one that told the story, and mostly I'd want to tell people well, I might interpret it one way but you could find the story for yourself and read it or you could come visit where Bawa lived in Philadelphia, or read some other of his books or watch his videos. The closer you get to the source probably the better chance you have of having a true interpretation of it. Or just look in your own heart and ask God in your heart, 'What's true?' Is there truth and is there a right and wrong? Does love really exist and is there really a God, you know? Is it a certain religion, is it a certain philosophy, why are we here? Just keep searching for the truth within us and not just keep coasting through life numb and entertained or comfortable."

"King Beetle's" dramatic story is scored by a lush, stirring orchestral landscape. According to Michael, producer Daniel Smith had the idea of bringing in composer Joshua Stamper to create classical arrangements for some of the songs.

"[Joshua] just took the direction that we gave him and nailed it with songs like 'Beetle King.' It was kind of a tall order, we told him we wanted something that sounds sort of like a Disney cartoon, something really magical and out of this world, like Fantasia," says Michael. "We wanted there to be a musical representation of certain characters and so the military beetle, you hear trombones come in, or the professor beetle, strings. The flute gave it a very magical, majestic sort of Moody Blues sound, and that's exactly what we wanted - just a real out of this world [sound]. You know, Aaron's not singing about his personal life on this song; that was a little bit of a departure for him. So with that we wanted to create a song where you're just being transported to a different space."

Another departure the band took on the album was in their approach to the songwriting. Previous albums took a collaborative approach to the music, with Aaron's vocals added later to fit around the melodies. This time around, his vocals were present on the demos.

"In the past there [was] more of an instrumental approach, everybody putting their two cents in on everything, everybody's song from start to finish, and then the vocals and the lyrics coming in [after]. Too many chefs in the kitchen sometimes make for a salty soup, as they say," Michael remarks. "So, I really liked the way Aaron already had rigged tunes, and we just sort of made them better, or tried to, well, hopefully we did [laughs]. [We] just figured out where we need to provide support, rather than just construct this big monster and sort of see where the vocals could fit after."

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