For the better part of a year, the guys in Mewithoutyou have been the odd band out. Whether on tour with Coheed and Cambria (on a bill that also included experimental dude-core act Dredg and spazzy noise-rockers the Blood Brothers), or earlier this month at the mtvU Woodie Awards, rubbing elbows with Death Cab for Cutie and Matisyahu, they never seem to fit in.
And it’s mostly their fault. After all, they’re overtly Christian, they drive a van that runs on vegetable oil and they often shower the stage in flowers during their spastic live sets. They hold pot-luck dinners before each show, sport scraggly, unkempt beards and exude a vaguely culty, hippie-dippie vibe that’s waay more off-putting than they probably realize.
Yet despite all that (or maybe because of it), Mewithoutyou have managed to carve out their own little niche on the indie scene, and have achieved a level of success that most bands in their position would kill for. They wowed fans on the Coheed tour and surprised just about everyone by winning the Left Field award at the Woodies (beating out acts like the Arcade Fire and Saul Williams). And they earned heavy rotation on mtvU with their mesmerizing video for the song “January 1979.”
But none of it has been easy. In fact, Mewithoutyou have pretty much fought with everyone every step of the way, trying (and usually succeeding) to do things their way, on their terms.
“Some bands are content just to be like, ‘Sure, do whatever you want, we’ll just show up and play our instruments.’ But we’ve been a pain-in-the-neck kind of band every step of the way,” frontman Aaron Weiss laughed. “Whether it was recording, album artwork or T-shirts — whatever’s going to be representing our band — we always stick our nose in it and say, ‘Well, this isn’t the way we want it to be.’ And that bothers the people we work with, but in the end, it’s not like somebody did a video for us, it’s like we all did a video. And maybe we’d be better off if we let someone do everything for us, but then what would we be?”
Nowhere was this struggle for control more evident than on the video shoot for “January 1979,” where the band engaged in a battle of wills with director Shane C. Drake. It seems Drake was going for grandiose, arty and obscure, while Mewithoutyou wanted something that captured the kinetic energy of their live show. One look at the finished clip and you’ll see who won out.
“There were a lot of weird, artsy, undefined images — kind of like pseudo-modern art that even we didn’t understand,” guitarist Chris Kleinberg said. “They kind of wanted it to be his ‘Losing My Religion,’ and we weren’t having that.”
“He had a really strong vision of what he wanted, and so did we. In the end, we sat down and talked with him about the edit and how it would turn out, he was like, ‘OK, you guys are in complete control,’ ” guitarist Michael Weiss added. “So he ended up being very gracious, and it kind of worked out despite itself.”
And the band — which also includes bassist Greg Jehanian and drummer Rickie Mazzotta — has applied that sort of dogged determination to supporting its second album, Catch for Us the Foxes, which hit stores in October of last year. Even before the album was finished, Mewithoutyou were putting the finishing touches on a bus they bought off eBay (and subsequently rebuilt, from the bunks on up to the special vegetable-oil-powered fuel system) and were hitting the road for increasingly long and grueling tours. And when you drive a bus that runs on vegetable oil, you’re going to have some maintenance issues, which often means lots of 5 a.m. repair sessions.
“We’ve basically become mechanics first and musicians second,” Kleinberg said. “There have been many, many nights were we’ve been under the bus trying to fix something, and a lot of times, it’s been like, ‘OK, time to play.’ So you just wipe the grease off your hands and pick up your guitar.”
And now all that hard work has begun to pay off. But it’s not like the guys in Mewithoutyou are slowing down to enjoy it. They just shot a video for the second single from Foxes, “Paper Hanger,” they’ve got a slew of benefit shows lined up for December and they’ve begun writing material for a new album, which they’ll start recording when they return home to Philadelphia in January. And as for their Woodie Award, well, they’ve got a special place reserved for that.
“We’re going to put it in the window of my dad’s barber shop in Philly,” Mazzotta laughed. “Business has been kind of slow lately, so we’ll just put the award in the window and hopefully it’ll bring in the customers.”