Interview: Aaron Weiss
By Will Thompson
January 4, 2007
Aaron Weiss eats out of trashcans. The man who fronts the band mewithoutYou is known for his seemingly strange behavior. mewithoutYou has seen a rise in popularity since the release of their last album, Catch for Us the Foxes, due in part to touring with bands like Coheed and Cambria, The Blood Brothers and playing spots in this year’s Warped Tour and Seattle’s Bumbershoot Festival.
Their new album, Brother, Sister, is out on Tooth & Nail Records and features collaborations with Jeremy Enigk (Sunny Day Real Estate/The Fire Theft) and members of Anathallo and Psalters. The band has received serious attention from major press, and they just wrapped up a tour this fall with Say Anything and Piebald.
With all the attention the band is receiving, it’s doubtless that fans will see him rummaging through waste bins or get a whiff of his sweat-drenched body when he walks off stage. This will bring questions, and Weiss will lovingly oblige, as he did with me backstage. This interview, a combination of in-person conversation and e-mails, has answers for the pressing questions many will have for him.
The fact that your tour bus is bio-friendly is receiving a lot of attention. What’s the reason behind the conversion from fossil fuels to vegetable oil?
Well, oil is a limited resource and vegetable oil is renewable. It’s good to not support an industry that seems pretty shady. A lot of violence breaks out over petroleum and for environmental reasons, it’s good all around.
Did you do the conversion yourself?
No, no, we found a guy online who sells kits that allow you to do the conversion yourself. Then we found some mechanics who had never done a conversion like that before, but were familiar with what needed to be done. Our manager didn’t really want us to do it, but when he found out that I was going to pay for it myself, he said “Well, it’ll be great publicity.” It has been, it’s been great publicity.
I read that a few years ago, Christianity was just "business" to you and that you wanted to "just make out with chicks" (at one point). It wasn't until you spent a time in a communal living situation that things changed for you. What made you join that commune?
I suppose it was a longing for something real, something different than what I'd known. The Christianity I'd been exposed to was primarily concerned with the afterlife, little concern for people's tangible, immediate needs. We pray, of course, "your kingdom come ... on earth as it is in heaven," and I found myself wondering what the world would look like if the kingdom did come, if it were a paradise, right here, today. And it seemed like communal living was a step in that direction.
Have you received direct criticism to your way of life from other Christians? What was it, and how did you deal with it?
Not as much as I'd hope. When criticism does come, I usually think, "Finally, I must be doing something right!"
What were your friends' and family's reactions to your life change? Was it immediate, or did the Aaron Weiss we see today emerge slowly?
For a while there was a gradual turning, with one single experience bringing about a sudden and dramatic change almost three years ago. I think people worried about me. I was feverish, couldn't sleep much, woke up trembling. I would ramble on, trying to communicate what was inside, to share what had been given to me. It didn't work—I've had to learn to be quiet, to listen, to show it instead.
How does your view of Christianity affect your desire to, or lack of desire, to be married?
Jesus said that it's better for a man not to marry. Paul wrote the same thing. I see it as a sort of a concession I'll have to make if I don't have the faith to find contentment in my God alone. That I may need such a compromise seems likely, as I've always had a passion for that sort of union, and I get lonely. I don't so much mean sexually, but mostly I long for companionship and a deep friendship. If God is willing though, maybe I could find that in the Holy Ghost.
What is your reasoning behind not following traditional hygienic standards? I'm thinking of bathing and digging through trash cans.
Ah, lots of reasons. One's I'm a cheapskate, and I'd rather find food than buy it and not spend the money on hot water or soap. Another's that I feel some inclination to care for the creation and not use the resources it takes to bathe all the time and to produce, ship, package food and so on. I used to be embarrassed taking food from a trash bin or looking dirty. Anymore I feel embarrassed buying food when it's being thrown away everywhere I look! And dressing up in new clothes every day, trying to look attractive or desirable and stay clean and respectable—it's a lot of effort, and I don't have it in me anymore.
When I see people with their hair done and make up and stylish clothes, it looks silly to me now, like a costume. I try not to come down hard on that sort of call for affirmation (I'm not far removed from it at all), but the Scriptures say we should try to look beautiful with a gentle, quiet spirit—if there's peace in our eyes, this is much more beautiful.
What is your response to those who would say you're just a "neo-hippie Christian?"
"Thank you," and "I'm sorry," and "how are you?"
What theologians and philosophers have inspired your thinking?
What is your advice to those who aren't ready to give up all they possess like you have?
I haven't given up all I possess. I've been trying to live more simply, getting rid of things rather than accumulating them, but I still have things. I don’t even need as much money as I make in the band.
Anyhow, material possessions are just one way we can be chained to this world. Even if we were to give up all our stuff, what good will it do us if we then judge others who haven't done so? Giving away everything we own is right, but we can get rid of our belongings but hold onto lust, jealousy, pride, arrogance, ambition. My advice is to ask forgiveness for trusting in what is useless and to pray for God to give you the love for others that would move you to sell all you have to give your money to the poor, not with reluctance or motivated by guilt, but with joy. Pray for that, and if it doesn't come pray for it again and again, and whatever good does come don't make a big show of it but keep your goodness a secret for God, and tell someone you trust the things you do that are the most wrong and shameful. Keep praying for mercy and forgive everyone, and show gratitude to the One who made you, and pray for me is my advice.