Can you give us a little history on how the band formed and also where did the name mewithoutYou come from?
Well, the only three original members are me, our drummer Ricky, and my brother, Mike. Mike and I played music together in one form or another for a while, and with some of our other friends who came in and out of the band also. We had just done different projects before and so this one didn’t feel like we were necessarily trying to start anything serious. It was just another piece of spaghetti we were throwing against the wall and this one happened to stick.
And as for the name, that was totally unoriginal. It was suggested to me, actually for a different band and I didn’t like the name for the other band. But I sort of kept it in my back pocket until we started this band and it seemed like a better fit. I think it’s from an innocence Mission song. I don’t know if “mewithoutYou” is the name of one of their songs or just a lyric from one of the songs, or maybe an album; I really don’t know, but that’s where he got it.
So not only is it unoriginal for me, it wasn’t even suggested to me by somebody who thought of it. Somebody else took it from Innocence Mission and I took it from him. Maybe innocence Mission took it from somewhere else, I don’t know.
Who were your musical influences when the band formed?
Back then we were really trying to be heavier… I guess we saw that there was a scene for hardcore and metal-sounding music. We didn’t necessarily just want to be cut from that exact cloth, but it felt like a good place for us too. And so there were bands like Refused and… Fugazi for sure was an influence from the very beginning. That one never really left.
And I have to say from my perspective, I always was a big Smiths fan. And I can’t say that musically that really came through in the beginning — or maybe not ever — but lyrically. I always liked Morrissey [frontman of Smiths], and so I took a lot from him. And Rumi, a lot of the early lyrics were taken directly from the Poetry of Rumi.
Ink & Dagger was an early influence, especially vocally. The vocalist of that band is named Sean McCabe and I really liked his voice. He had a very distinct inflection, or a way of delivering his lyrics, it’s kind of a shout, not like a scream. But it definitely wasn’t a typical melody. And I think I was more ripping him off than anyone else in the early days. Then as the years went on it got tiresome to just shout all the time. So, the first few albums you can just see more and more melody creeping in.
But I can only speak really for myself with what I was influenced by, because most of the other guys, they listen to different things or they’re writing the music and that might have a totally different inspiration.
For me, I’ve always been drawn to the music that had a strong lyrical quality or strong lyrical emphasis like the Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, or Paul Simon. And like I said Morrissey… Neutral Milk Hotel… you know, when I think of all the bands that have really affected me the most, it’s generally where the lyrics are the strongest. And sometimes the singer isn’t necessarily even… doesn’t have the prettiest voice, but there’s an urgency or there’s a sincerity or gravity to what they’re saying, so you don’t mind that their voice isn’t traditionally pretty.
I’d say that more and more as the years went on, I am able to incorporate melody. I was able to draw a little bit more of those influences. Not to say I succeeded in sounding like any of those guys, but that many times was what I was shooting for.
I think in some ways it’s more powerful to have someone who doesn’t have a traditionally nice singing voice as a front person of a band, because in a sense it lends more weight to what they’re saying or you’re more drawn to listen to the message, in a sense because you can’t just tune out the voice as being one more pretty-sounding instrument. In a way it’s a little more jarring.
I was listening to a song on the radio by that band Cake, for example, he was just talking, it was a really monotonous vocal delivery, but it was almost impossible not to pay attention to what he was saying. Whereas if he was singing it, in a sense, you could tune it out. It could just kind of be background music, but there was something about that spoken word that made it feel more commanding of my attention. I don’t know that I was influenced by him, but I’ve done some of that too, the kind of talking over music and I don’t really do that much anymore.
Maybe not at all these days, but there was a time that, I guess, I was influenced by Velvet Underground or… maybe Cake, I don’t know where I got that idea that it was appropriate just to talk over music, but I did that sometimes.
We noticed that your video for Julia is a mixture of the Back to the Future prom scene and the movie 1984, what inspired that combination for the video?
That was cooked up by some conversations, mostly between me and our manager Mike Almquist. The song has a reference to the character Julia from 1984. The Back to the Future references just… that was mostly… I think came out because the song itself would add a heaviness, but also kind of a slow relaxed feeling, and it made me think of a slow dance. And so somehow, I don’t know how, I got the idea to watch the enchantment under the sea scene while listening to the song, and it was such a cool fit. And not only at the beginning of the video. Everyone’s dancing slowly together, and then by the end, the song is the same tempo, but the dancing picks up and somehow both of those seemed to fit.
And of course the narrative of the disappearing and us playing the part of Marty McFly, it just felt like it scratched a lot of itches for us, as far as fitting the song and fitting the… there’s a darkness through it, but also it’s very silly. So, we’re certainly not taking ourselves very seriously with the video. We just wanted to do something that felt like we would have a good time, nice to look at, and kind of tied together a few things that either were nostalgic parts of our childhood or had some relevance to the song.
I mean I grew up in the 80s. And so that [Back to the Future] was one of the best movies to come out at that time. I do remember really loving it, and I’m not sure I’ve watched the whole movie in over 20 years… gosh maybe 25 years, but yeah, I loved it.
When you guys first started touring, were you opening for much more experienced bands? If so, did they offer you guidance as you were exploring this new world of touring?
The very beginning we were touring with another band that was about as inexperienced as we were. Our first tour was a co-headlining trip down to Florida, where I think there was probably an average of about four people per night that showed up. It was enough to just be on the road and playing. But it wasn’t long after that we started to connect with other bands, mostly through the label that ended up signing us, Tooth and Nail.
A lot of our early tours were with bands that were signed to Tooth and Nail or one of their affiliate labels. From that point on, we were plugged into a pretty sizable network of bands that had a following. We’d show up and there would actually be people, a room full of people there to listen to the music.
And I don’t know that we ever asked any advice. The one thing that comes to mind when you say that — really the only one, there’s only one example that comes to mind. There was this friend of mine named Johnathan Ford, who was in a band at the time – still is I think, called Unwed Sailor. And he had experienced something of the so-called Christian music industry and… warned us that if we wanted to, we could play Church shows or youth group shows or festivals that were marketed toward Christians, and sort of stay in what he called a “Christian bubble.”
Or we could try to play at secular venues, at bars and clubs or VFW’s or wherever we could get shows, but where there wasn’t an umbrella of religion over us. And he said “well, it’s going to be easier for you to stay in that Christian bubble and make more money. But I suggest you go the harder route and try to plug away in the secular world. Competition is stiffer, you know, but it’s where you guys belong.” I’m totally paraphrasing, I don’t actually remember what he said, but that was my take-away.
And we did take that advice. I don’t know if it was because of his offering or if we would have done it anyway, but we generally steer clear of the so-called Christian Market except for a few festivals here and there. I can’t say totally, but let’s just say we’ve tried to keep the separation between church and state, you know.
Do you tour with a lot of young bands that you are able to pass on advice to?
We do a lot of headlining tours and every now and again, we’ll get a support tour, and that’s always my favorite and we can go open for somebody else. But most of the time we’re headlining, then we’re going to take out bands that are younger than us; because not a lot of bands are older than us, and that are still going [laughs] in that kind of punk, indie world, or whatever we are.
Most of our contemporaries have broken up or gotten other jobs or whatever. And so yeah younger bands have popped up over the years and so that’s mostly our options when we go to embark on a headlining tour. We want to bring out a support band or two and they’re generally going to be younger.
There’s exceptions, we toured with Joan of Arc a few months ago and they were the main support on a headlining tour; and those guys are sort of living legends in our world, they’ve been doing it longer than we have. But there’s not a lot of bands like that — certainly not a lot of bands like that, that would come out on tour with us — but generally it’s newer bands.
This year, it seems like there’s an inordinate amount of co-headlining plans. You know about the Tigers Jaw tour that’s bringing us through Sioux Falls, and then we have a tour with a band called Cursive and that’s another co-headlining tour in May, which is just a couple months away.
There’s some talk, I don’t know if this is going to happen, but there’s some talk of even another co-headlining tour later in the year. So, this year it seems to be a disproportionately high amount of co-headlining. That’s unusual for us. We’ve only done a couple of those in our career.
You are married and have two kids…
Is touring really different now, with a family?
Yes, it’s extremely different. It’s much, much harder. I used to have an unlimited fuel tank, so to speak, for touring. I could just stay out as long as anybody else wanted to and I’d never say no to a tour, never hesitate to confirm a given tour no matter how long.
To me it just felt good to be working and to be on the road. But, nowadays that typically means I’m away from my family. Sometimes they come with me on tour, but that’s usually only for a week here or a week there, and if it starts getting much beyond a week and a half or so, it just gets difficult.
My wife doesn’t really feel like she necessarily has a clear purpose when she comes on tour. So, she kind of feels — from what I’ve gathered — like she’s just sort of tagging along. And it doesn’t seem to be very fulfilling for her and so that’s not a good situation in any long-term sense. I think she comes out here so that I don’t have to be away from the kids and vice versa for too long at any one stretch, but it’s not ideal.
Have you been able to adjust your schedule in order to balance touring and family life?
Yeah, we’ve changed how we tour. Most of the guys, I think everybody in our crew… or band at least, band and manager, are all married and most of us have children. So, there’s a consensus that we don’t want to be on the road for six weeks, eight weeks like we used to be without a break.
If we have a full headlining tour nowadays, we’ll break it up; rather than a 5 and a half or 6-week tour, we’ll do two and a half weeks and then we’ll take some time off and then do three weeks. I think there was one even recently where we did three separate legs. That to me felt a little bit excessive. A lot of starting and stopping and kind of difficult to get the momentum going.
For me, there’s a lot of flying back and forth because I’m in Idaho most of the year. That’s where my wife’s family is from, so doing three separate legs of a single tour is inconvenient in a different respect.
What’s a typical tour day like for you? Do you spend time exploring the town that you’re performing in or do you not really have time to do that?
It depends on what city we’re in and how far a drive we had the night before. We do have a lot of down time, but we can seldom all agree on something we necessarily wanted to go do together. A lot of times we just look for a Whole Foods. We drive through the night and we get to a Whole Foods in the morning, and then whenever everybody wakes up they can kind of stumble on in and get some coffee and breakfast and spend some time there; and everybody can find something that suites their appetite or their particular diet.
Or we’ll look for a big cluster of different restaurants and fast food places and grocery stores or whatever everybody eats. So much of the tour just revolves around food. And I’m trying to eat healthier, which isn’t always easy on tour.
We have a couple of vegans on the road and vegetarians, and so we have different restrictions in our diet. My wife’s allergic to gluten, so we all have different distinct needs. We’re generally just trying to find a place where everybody can eat and then we get to the venue.
We’ll get to the venue at two and load in at three and a sound check at five, and then we have a show where we go on at nine. It’s like a start and stop. We have a few hours combined of total responsibilities, and between that, driving and unloading and the sound check, performance and then a load out. There’s not that much time we actually have to be at the venue, but it’s spread out so much that we can’t really go very far. I couldn’t go clear across town without feeling like I have to rush back for the next thing, and so I usually just stay with in a two-block radius of the club.
I’m not proud of that, it’d be nice to tell you that I went and explored and got to do a whole lot. I probably did more early on in the days of touring. It was maybe more exciting to be in Kansas City, Missouri, you know, but now it’s like we’re going there for the 30th time or whatever, it’s not quite as… the novelty has worn off, you know?
I just don’t have the same drive to go exploring… I’m more content just sitting down, reading or practicing my guitar or doing something where I don’t have to go out and about looking to be entertained or looking for something to do.
What should fans expect at your upcoming show here in Sioux Falls?
I don’t know… I don’t tend to think very far ahead for better or worse. We generally play about an hour and 15 minutes when we’re headlining. And try to mix up the set from one night to the next so that there’s not a real clear expectation of what we’re going to play. But we don’t deviate too far from the kind of standard… you know, we just get to come out and play some songs and tune our guitars [laughs], and I know we have a job to do, so I can’t say it’s like anything goes, as if we show up and just are able to be totally spontaneous. But I do try to take it one night at a time and really let each night be special; and to look around the room at any given club and try to see who’s there and try to find some way to connect with someone in the room.
And in some ways, find new meaning in the songs that we’re performing. Especially so it doesn’t just feel like we’re doing the same old thing every night. Because it really doesn’t have to be that way. We’ve played so many shows, I don’t know how many, but I think it’d be pretty easy just to phone it in, or just to get kind of bored with it, or to feel like I’m just sort of going through the motions, but almost every song — maybe every song, but certainly most of them – they’ll have a lot of meaning for me, a lot of emotional gratitude.
Most of the time I try to tap into something significant in my life that is able to come across, and able to hopefully find someone else there who’s experiencing something similar.
I don’t know, I surely wouldn’t want to tell anybody what to expect, but if you come we’ll play a set of music, you know [laughs].
I don’t know what beyond that. We’ll be selling t-shirts [laughs], that’s pretty consistent. But it’s hard to say what someone should expect.
What’s your pre-show ritual to get ready and energized?
I do vocal warm-ups, that helps with my energy and sometimes I do yoga stretching. And sometimes my brother and I say a short prayer, very quick. It’s just a prayer of gratitude and surrender and trying to get focused on where my solid ground is. But most of the time I don’t think we even do that.
No, I think the clearest answer: typically I don’t have anything that I do like that beforehand — I usually remember after going up onstage, “wait a minute, I should have prepared for this” [laughs]. Other than the vocal warm-ups, that’s my most consistent routine because I just feel like I can’t sustain being on tour, and shouting and screaming and singing night after night, without losing my voice if I don’t do these vocal warm-ups. So, I have learned that, that’s pretty important for me to do my job.
What’s next for mewithoutYou?
I hinted to you earlier we might have a co-headlining tour after the Cursive tour, but I don’t actually know if that’s going to happen. So… I’m not sure. I talked to our manager a couple of days ago, and he was talking about us going over to Europe at some point or maybe going overseas further away.
I’m surprisingly clueless about the band. I’m out of the loop, I don’t really know what we’re doing most of the time. I get the email that says when our next tour is, or what the plan is and I generally just give it the thumbs up. I don’t really feel the need to know very much about what our plans are.
Sometimes the guys will have a meeting where our manager will call everybody together, but me being about 2,500 miles away from everybody else it’s easy to… just sort of slip out of the rhythm that the other guys are in. They get together and practice without me and I’m sure are talking about the plans or what they want to see happen.
But just being so far away… and I’m just up to my ears in this construction project that I’m working on and it has absolutely nothing to do with music, so I’m not thinking about music or my career, or anything to do with my band the vast majority of most days.
So even talking to you now, kind of have to dust the cobwebs off of that part of my brain… “I’m in a band? Right…ok. Where we going next? Ok, Sioux Falls… where is that?” [laughs]. It’s not on my mind. So, I’m trying to think of it now, but I don’t really think that far ahead, if that make sense?
What would you like your Sioux Falls fans to know?
I mention Sioux Falls in one of our new songs. And I almost named the song “Jilted by Squirrels in the parks of Sioux Falls.” That was the working title, it was between that and August 6th. And the song ended up being called August 6th, because it just was easier to say and remember — and it felt like a more appropriate song title.
But yeah, the line about the squirrels in the parks of Sioux Falls is still a lyric in that song. So hopefully we can play that song the night we play Sioux Falls, because that would feel nice in some way.
Was that lyric from a personal experience?
It was not. No, not at all. It was just something I imagined [laughs].
In just a few short days, we hope to see Aaron playing with the squirrels in the parks of Sioux Falls. Tickets for the mewithoutYou show are available here.