Dawood: How’s the tour been? Do you guys have any specific things you like to do in Dallas, or Texas in general?
Brandon: Dom’s more of the guy who goes out and does stuff.
Dominic: Yeah, I went to the DMA, it was really cool, awesome that it was free.
Dawood: Did you get the chance to see the special exhibit, the Kusama one?
Dominic: No, I opted to not spend the money, though I think that Kusama’s a genius for having four Infinity Rooms touring the states always. It’s incredible. I opted to save some money, but I’m stupid for it. The museum is beautiful, though. It’s cool how expansive the Asian art wing is too, I feel like when I was a little kid I’d always just be like, a butt and go look at modern stuff.
Dawood: Yeah, they’ve got a really extensive Islamic art wing that I always enjoy. I don’t go nearly often enough considering I live like, in the Dallas area though.
Dominic: Is it more or less the same collection all the time?
Savannah: Yeah, a lot of it is the same, but they’ll have very specific travelling exhibitions as well.
Brandon: I need to do more of that stuff. It’s hard on tour… it’s not hard on tour, I don’t know why, I’m just lazy. That’s really what it comes down to.
Dawood: Well, you’ve got a lot more to worry about on tour than just like, going out.
Brandon: Yeah, I guess, I mean do I?
Dawood: I don’t know, I’m just assuming so!
Brandon: This guy, he makes it seem like, he’ll hop on a bus, and he’ll be like “It was a half hour bus ride”, and I’m like, “No thank you.” But that’s the thing! What’s the big deal! I should definitely do that. I’m just going to lay on a hotel bed and watch “Chuckie” instead.
Dominic: Which, we also did.
Brandon: Yeah, we definitely did. You got the best of both worlds.
Dawood: Wait, so you went to the museum and also watched “Chuckie” with him? Never mind Brandon, you have no excuse, I’m sorry. Next city you stop in, you have to see if there’s a museum or something for you to check out.
So, how does this compare to previous tours you’ve done? This is obviously a very special one, [A->B] Life, 15 years, congratulations on that! But, how does it compare to just a regular album release tour, or just going on tour in general?
Aaron: Well, we play the same set for more than half of the set every night. So, there’s a certain monotony to it, but also, it’s always a different crowd of course, and different vibes, so it’s fresh in some respect. Playing these old songs, some of them we’ve had for so long, and haven’t played for most of our career, a few of them we probably haven’t played in ten years. So that’s kind of fun, bringing those back, and people are excited because… I don’t know, maybe nostalgia? A lot of people come up and are like “Hey that’s my favorite album of yours!”, and it’s like, kind of a left-handed compliment.
Dawood: Yeah like, “Hey, this sound you sound nothing like anymore, I love it!”
Aaron: Yeah exactly, still it’s cool that anybody would like anything that we’ve done, because even if this is something from a distant past that I don’t feel too connected to anymore, they’re still songs that we wrote, and it’s nice to kind of bring back some memories, and to be able to perform them without all the emotional baggage that they had at the time that we wrote them. So, it’s just fun, biggest trouble for me is that I hurt my back over the summer, so I’m not 100% physically, and the songs are pretty energetic. I’m taking it a little bit easy, and I do a lot of stretching and yoga before and after the shows in order to not just get worse.
Dawood: You mentioned how it’s older stuff, and obviously you don’t feel as connected anymore, whenever people ask me about you guys I always try to describe your lengthy discography as almost like a perfect circle. It’s coming from [A->B] Life, then going to one opposite end with like, [It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright], and kind of almost coming back to near completion with Pale Horses, it’s kind of like going back to the original sound almost. How, in the past 15 or 16 years, has your writing inspiration shifted? Then also, how do the instruments follow? Do you guys do it separately, then bring it together, or just go in with whatever Aaron’s been working on?
Brandon: I can speak to the newer side of stuff, we’ve become more democratically involved altogether, which is really great, especially for the new material we’re working on. In a way that’s really cool because usually, in my experience, Aaron is kind of the last piece of the puzzle. We’ll write together musically, and with some contribution from Aaron, because he helps a lot with the music too, but then basically the first time we’re hearing lyrics or melody, or anything like that is usually really late in the game, like in the studio. This has been, in my experience, the first time that that’s been different, where we’re a little more aware of tone, or direction, and it’s super cool. That’s been really fun, at least from my perspective, it’s been engaging, it gives you more of an idea of where we’re all sitting. We do write pretty democratically, and so it’s nice to kind of be all in, and Aaron’s opinions, they’re not really meaningful to me (all laugh), but they’re meaningful to others, and that’s important that he’s represented.
Dawood: What about the writing, the actual words and lyrics themselves? I can see that some of the inspiration has stayed the same, through just theology as a whole and your connection to that, but have you swayed or gone from that, or how else has it shifted over the past 15 years?
Aaron: Yeah, I feel like I’ve shifted a lot, even from day to day sometimes, and I’m sure from year to year. If I were to look at the person I was 15 years ago, or have a conversation with myself from that time, I don’t think I would’ve liked who I was very much. There are certain aspects of my personality that have been pretty persistent that I still don’t really like, and that are kind of stubborn and still hang on, so there’s been kind of an ebb and flow. Probably the main thing that comes to mind that has changed is my sense of having anything to offer somebody who’s listening, because there was a time at the beginning I just thought “Well, I just want to meet girls and I want to travel around the world and play music”, and it was very self-centered and superficial as I look at it now. It’s not a very admirable aim, but then I started to think that I needed something more meaningful to have as a motivation, so I started to think “Well, it has to be some kind of moral message, or a kind of spiritual dimension to what we’re doing”, so I wanted to inject more of that kind of motivation, like “I’ll be able to help people who are struggling with their faith”, or “I want to be able to give people a new perspective on the Gospel, or about who God might be”, or that kind of stuff, and it felt much more meaningful than just trying to meet girls. But then when I look back on that now, I think boy, there was an arrogance to it, to think that I was capable of doing that, or that I knew anything about that stuff. It was kind of like, a rock and a hard place. Either I’m doing something that I think is meaningless, or there’s something that’s way meaningful, but I’m also totally unqualified to address. I don’t know where I’m going to land. I’m sure there are a lot of places in between, where there’s things that have some meaning that aren’t otherworldly or beyond my ability to talk about with some authority, but I haven’t found that spot. For example, after the latest presidential election, I had a lot of emotions, a lot of things I thought that needed to be said, criticisms of Trump, or of right-wing thought in general, or those currents within our culture, but a lot of it felt self-righteous and angry. After I wrote a bunch of it down and I looked back a few months later, I didn’t really like the tone of that either. So maybe it’s just part of changing and growing as a human being, is you develop, you look back on things you used to say, or believe, and think “Well, that doesn’t represent me anymore, I don’t really resonate with who that guy is.” It’s a moving target, because I think my role in the band is unique in that I’m more explicitly communicating ideas with the lyrics, and then people ask me about them, or approach me as if I’m still the person that wrote this thing from 10 years ago.
Dawood: Do you find that to be frustrating?
Aaron: Sometimes, yeah. I think it depends on the tone of the person, or where they’re coming from. There’s this kind of expectation that I’m supposed to be on the same page as them, and all of these assumptions about what I meant by this, and who I still must be because of that, then it just puts me in a position where I feel like I’m either going to be dishonest with the person by going along with it, or if I’m going to try to set the record straight, “Actually, I don’t really think that”, it could just spark this big conversation that I don’t really have energy for. So, I mean, I guess I made my own bed and now I’m sleeping in it, but sometimes it’s draining.
Savannah: I’ve read interviews in the past where you’ve mentioned how you don’t necessarily trust language to express the more vague and abstract ideas that you’re trying to convey. To what extent would you say the instrumentation can fill in the gaps, if at all? Is the goal when you’re writing the music parts to continue the same expression, or is it to make something that sounds good?
Brandon: For my take, it’s sometimes a combination of both. I think there’s some stuff musically that’s just like “this sounds cool”, wouldn’t you agree with that, for the new stuff especially?
Dominic: Yeah, to me the one thing that I thought of were the working titles. We have these really absurd, insane working titles that I guess have been going on for the whole band, but for me, this is the first record I’ve ever worked on with these gentlemen, and to me, the working titles, as silly as they may seem, really help the feeling –
Brandon: Sometimes. Sometimes they can also be the damning thing –
Dominic: (laughs) I know, I’m sorry. I was thinking in particular about one specific thing, where the title really put me in a place. As we would continue working on it, it was kind of what I was thinking, or a vibe that a song gives off. Then, for that one where it has that Western feeling, then Aaron brought in all the lyrics to it, it was crazy to hear his lyrics to that, because it was almost exactly what I was thinking. Maybe not the words, but just like the feeling, and what I was hearing. I’ve never written instrumental music on this level before, so I was thinking about Aaron the whole time, but again, this is my first time, so I have no context.
Brandon: Yeah, I think it’s mix and match. I think there is some stuff where, and I don’t want to reveal too much about the new stuff, but we had a little bit more of an insight, like I said before, of where Aaron’s mind was at a little bit. And that kind of can inform musically what we do, at least a little bit. I can only speak for myself, I think we would still write songs if we didn’t have that input, but it definitely can shade how those songs develop or come about, at least for this go around. With [Pale Horses], honestly, I can’t even remember, I think that was more, we just wrote cool-sounding songs. I would say that’s probably the majority, is we were just like “Here’s a cool riff”, and we’d construct it, then Aaron comes and does his thing. For me, that was a really cool process, because in other musical projects I’ve done, it’s never been like that. It’s always been like, lyrics and music have some kind of synthesis together, and in this band, it was very different in a way that was really fresh and cool to me. We’ve sat with these songs for so long, months and months, then Aaron comes in and does this stuff on it, and you’re like “Whoa, this takes a new life”, and I think that’s probably a lot of pressure on Aaron. I think this [new] process has been a little bit, at least I would assume, easier in that you’re already opening the door a little bit, and it works both ways. It’s helping us out, as musicians that are building these things around what he’s going to ultimately put lyrics to, and it’s probably helping him to be getting an idea what we’re doing early on.
Aaron: And as to the question of meaning, what I took from your question about the music “filling in the gaps” where the words couldn’t, the most obvious example of how I think about those factors is my daughter. She comes to a few of these shows, and is watching us perform, and hearing the music, but she’s only two, and she can’t understand most of what I’m saying but still is feeling something from the music. I think, for anybody, no matter what language they speak, if they’re able to hear, they can listen to the music and take something, or have it put them in a certain mood regardless of what the words are signifying. And I’ve become more comfortable with that, the further along we go, with thinking of my contributions vocally as just that, just another instrument that’s being laid down that has a potential to have more complex meanings for those who extract them, but it also doesn’t have to. If someone were to just say “This just sounds nice to my ears, I don’t care what this guy is saying, or what these guys are intending”, if it were just entertainment or something pleasant to put on, just like instrumental music might be, that would be okay with me.
Savannah: We kind of touched on this earlier, but I know you guys were sort of reluctant to re-release the first EP because it wasn’t necessarily the music that you were most proud of, and it’s very different from what you’re putting out now. Was there any hesitation to do a tour like this, where you would primarily be playing 15-year-old material, or did it feel like it was an easy choice?
Brandon: I think early on, there was some difficulty. I think [Aaron] was hesitant too. I will say my nervousness, which has now been dispelled completely – I think this tour is awesome, by the way. I am loving doing it, I feel like we’ve learned a lot, this tour has actually been kind of eye-opening in a lot of weird ways, it’s been really fun to play these songs, but I will say I was hesitant at first because I have this real fear of being seen as just a “legacy band”. That’s not to discredit what this band has done, I have all the respect in the world for it, but of just all of a sudden feeling like we’re riding this thing of like “Hey, we’ll see you in five years at this release”, and that just being what we do. I don’t have any interest in being a band that’s a legacy kind of band like that. I’m not knocking bands that do that, this is a job, and I respect that.
Dawood: Yeah because there is a certain, as soon as you announce a 15-year anniversary of something, then you’re like “Oh, now I’m just waiting for the next anniversary tour”.
Brandon: Yeah, exactly, because like you said, we did the [Catch for Us the Foxes] tour, which was super fun too, but I think there was a little bit of hesitancy from me with this one. Probably all the way up until we started, if I’m being honest. The first show, I think it was all about the crowd. It was very clear that people had a really deep connection to this record, and just really wanted to see it. There was something that just made that like, a no-brainer. It’s just fun for everybody! It’s fun for us to be playing these songs, and it’s fun for the crowd to be hearing it, I think. That kind of changed my whole tone, but it definitely wasn’t a slam-dunk right off the bat for everybody.
Dawood: This one is for Aaron specifically, I’m very interested in your creative process and the inspiration behind it. Your inspiration or, for lack of a better term, “menteeship”, from Bawa and Rumi, where did that stem from? When did you find yourself first deeply entrenched in that, and where did it come from?
Aaron: I think from my conception. I don’t know when that imprint starts, it might have been in that moment, it might have been when I was actually born, or somewhere when I was hearing stories of Bawa’s, the first kids’ stories I can ever remember were all from Bawa’s books. Maybe also seeing my mom pray the Salaat. My dad’s side of the family was Jewish, and that’s actually how I identified as a child, I was Jewish. I don’t know why, but then at some at point I began to identify as a Christian, kind of as opposed to Muslim, which my mom was. Not that I was against that, but I thought, there was a definite shift, and I thought it was a mutually exclusive identity. A few years after that, I began to read Rumi’s poetry, and just fell in love with it, not knowing that he was connected to Bawa. At least, insofar as that Coleman Barks, whose translations I was reading, was a disciple of Bawa’s. And of course, they’re both kind of under the Sufi umbrella, so I’d say there were two major waves of that, maybe even three. The first being, when I was a child, and just too young to have any say in it, it was already being fed to me, and then after I had kind of turned away from that and accepted certain Christian teachings, I came back to Rumi and that was my door back into the world of Sufism. Then, I’d say around the time of the fourth album, It’s All Crazy, which you mentioned, that was probably the time that I was the most immersed in that, and probably the happiest time in my life. Since then, nothing has fundamentally changed in me, it’s just other things have come in. I mean, I went through grad school, and that gave me more of a secular academic lens to look at certain ideas. I studied philosophy, in totally secular terms, and that was a different kind of a language, different tools you have to use to navigate those waters. I’m grateful for both the spiritual and secular foundations I have, it seems like some people can do with one or the other, but I’ve never felt at home if I just go around people who are totally religious and distrustful of the mind and the intellect. I think they’re selling themselves short, and I also talk to people who just trust what the senses tell them and have no room for what’s beyond our understanding. I’m equally unsatisfied there. Somehow, I’ve felt, as I get older, I feel more of a need to just leave myself totally open to any kind of truth that might come my way, whether it’s religious, or secular, or whatever label you give it. Something that gives me a sense of hope or a feeling of freedom or a feeling of potential for love, and gives me the strength to live according to my highest ideals. Anything that feeds into that is fair game, whatever you call it. Mostly for me, probably the strongest current of that has been the Sufism, I think.
Dawood: This is a much lighter question, but also potentially a divisive question, so feel free to pass if you’d like, but do each of you have a favorite album that the band has written?
Aaron: I do, yeah. Mine’s definitely our last one, Pale Horses.
Brandon: Yeah, I think it’s a tie for me. I like Pale Horses, and I really love Brother, Sister a lot. It’s funny though, because you mentioned It’s All Crazy. I don’t even know how long I’ve been in the band now, it’s been maybe eight or nine years, but I remember the first time I had heard of mewithoutYou, and I don’t remember what I listened to, I was like “Eh. Not really my thing.” And I was living with a mutual friend of ours, who’s the singer for Dr. Dog, and we were in a kitchen, I’ll never forget it, this was years ago, and he put on It’s All Crazy, and that was when it all clicked for me. I remember being secretly like, “This band is incredible”, because it was so different. It’s not even like It’s All Crazy is my favorite album, but I love it. That’s a really divisive album, people either love it or they hate it. To me, secretly it’s my favorite because of what it represents. It represents that this band is really unafraid to do what it wants to do, and I feel like that’s what all musicians are searching for, is that true expression. And I remember us just ranting and raving about it together. So that is secretly my favorite record, but I might as well just list them all now.
Aaron: Except [A->B] Life apparently, the one we’re playing right now. (all laugh)
Dominic: I think for me, it’s definitely Pale Horses, though I did get really into the Norma Jean split when I was in high school. I downloaded “Bullet to Binary” illegally on the internet, for sure.
Dawood: Oh man, how do you feel about that Aaron?
Aaron: I think he owes us all a dollar, a collective dollar.
Dominic: You know, I’ll work for free today. But I got to know this band on the Pale Horses tour, because I play in this band called Lithuania, and we were first-of-three on that bill, and I really didn’t know much about mewithoutYou. But getting to see that the set is generally different every night, and getting to see basically a full career retrospective with focus on Pale really made me get into that record. It was cool to see that as an accumulation point after all of these other things. So, definitely Pale Horses.
Dawood: That wasn’t as divisive as I thought it would be!
Savannah: When you go back home, do you go to shows often? Are you involved in the local scene much?
Dominic: Uhhh… it’s just me. I’m pretty active in the Philadelphia music scene, or I try to be, but I think that’s mainly just because I’ve been in like, a bajiliion bands before reaching this point.
Brandon: I’m always amazed by how many bands Dom knows, even on the road he’ll disappear and go to like three shows the night that we have a show, I don’t even understand how it’s physically possible. I always talk about how I should go to more shows, but I just don’t ever feel like it.
Dawood: You’d rather watch “Chuckie”, yeah.
Brandon: Really! I want to be home and just like, just do nothing.
Dominic: I love going to shows with you though, it’s fun.
Brandon: I used to go to shows all the time, and to be honest every time I go, I’m glad that I went, it’s always that kind of thing. It’s getting me out of the house and getting there, once I’m there I’m cool. I don’t go to shows like I used to, that’s for sure.
Savannah: Are there any bands in Philadelphia, or just in general in the U.S. that you think are about to blow up?
Brandon: I definitely would not know the answer to that. This guy, again, he’ll know every single one.
Dominic: I’m not going to say anything!
Brandon: I know, one of our mutual friends’ bands who I think should, and deserves to blow up enormously, is a band called Dark Rooms.
Savannah: They’re from Dallas!
Brandon: Oh yeah, that’s right! We’ve been buddies with them a really long time, we actually did a tour with them maybe four or five years ago. I just love them as people so deeply, they’re just such great people. That band is unbelievably great, and they’re only getting better.
Dawood: I remember seeing them here in Dallas, I know Aaron knows Yoni Wolf, I saw them open for his side project Yoni and Geti whenever they came last summer.
Brandon: That’s a band I always – you know, you see them live and you think “They should be the biggest band ever.”
Dawood: This is going to be one of our last questions, because I know you guys have to go, and you know I have to ask, is there anything you guys can tell us about LP7? In terms of what you think of it, or what it’s most comparable to?
Aaron: Yeah, that it’s not an “LP7” really. For the first time, we went into a recording session trying not to think of it as an album, and just trying to think of ourselves as going to record music and not worry where it ends up. Not everybody was equally on board, but I thought it was important.
Dawood: Do you find it more freeing, like you’re not really shackled to anything you’ve written in the past?
Aaron: Yeah, just to think “What if there weren’t any expectations on us?”, or, “What if we didn’t have to limit this to a certain amount of songs?”, or to even have a certain minimum number of songs. You know, if you think you’re going to do an LP, you think “Well, it’s going to be like 38 minutes”, or if it’s going to be in keeping with what we’ve done in the past, there’s certain parameters like twelve-ish songs that are about three and a half to four minutes long, we have just a precedent that we’ve set, and that we’ve taken from other people, and this time around a few of us felt strongly about just trying to facilitate us exploring new territories by whatever means necessary. So, one example might be just allowing a song that doesn’t really fit stylistically, that doesn’t seem like it makes sense with the rest of the songs, to just go ahead and flesh it out, see how it turns out. If it doesn’t end up on “LP7”, maybe it’ll be on “EP2”, or maybe it’ll be on “LP8”, or maybe it’ll be on a split 7” with Norma Jean, or whatever. You never know, maybe if we wrote a really heavy song that would fit with a band like Norma Jean, or maybe we’d have a song to fit with Yoni! He’s a dude where, the music he writes, stylistically, is generally very different than what we write, but there’s also a certain kinship that I feel with him, where he’s coming from and his aesthetic that I would love to be able to write a song that made sense with a Yoni song. These guys are writing music, then I was writing stuff on my own, then we’re kind of pooling together a bigger mass body of music than we’ve ever had from any given session. Then, we want to be able to put it all down and step back and look at it, and see how it would make sense to release this body of music, rather than knowing in advance that it’s going to be a single LP release that’s coming out on this certain day, and maybe it has one or two B-sides. This time around, it’s definitely a little bit more uncertain what it is even that we’re doing.
Dominic: I love that you were talking about the length, because we were listening to the roughs, and I was remembering being stoked that there were songs that are a minute and a half, then songs that are pushing six. That’s very cool to me.
Aaron: Exactly, and I have a song, or at least one of the little things that I brought, that might or may not end up being released anywhere, it’s just one line. Lyrically it’s just a couple of words over and over again, and it was the first time I’ve tried to do something like that, whereas a lot of our songs have all these lyrics, and they’re five minutes long, and I just thought “Well how about a one-minute long song, that just has one line that’s repeated a few times?”, and that it could have a different effect, and give somebody a chance to take a breath after listening to this really dense, full-on musical intense thing, to have something a little bit more minimalistic. There’s actually a lot of ways, and I don’t want to bore you or let too many cats out of the bag, but there’s a lot of ways that I have felt very different about this time around, the writing and recording process. I don’t know how much that’s going to translate, if somebody’s going to pick up on that. I don’t know what’s going to come out next with our name on it, but it’s definitely feeling different for me at this point in the game. I hope that translates, but even if it doesn’t, it’s sufficient to me that it feels fresh and it’s in keeping with roughly where I’m at as a human being, and hopefully these guys are feeling free to do the same. To bring their current personality, and their current sensibilities to bare on what we’re creating now, not just trying to rehash something we did in the past, or on the other hand, change and do something new for the sake of doing something new, but actually doing something that’s whatever is fresh and relevant in our lives. I think that’s happening, at least on my end, I feel like that’s happening.
Brandon: Yeah, I would agree with that. I think the only nervousness right now is like he said, what it’s going to actually look like. It’s the first time I think we’ve had this much content, because in the past it’s definitely been like “Well, this is all we got, so put it on a record!”, and we’d have some B-sides, but it was pretty clear what the album tracks were going to be. But I think it’s a good problem to have. We have so much quality content, I think, it’s a new problem, but it’s exciting to me how that’s going to take shape. I think there’s varying degrees of nervousness of what that’s going to look like, but to me that’s all a part of the process, and again, it’s something fresh and new, which is something that I’ve come to expect with this band. Which I think is generally really exciting, and really cool, because I wish I could be like “Oh! Here’s what it’s going to be like”, but I literally would not be able to, it’s not me withholding information, I really don’t know! I have no idea, and we have really, as a band, have yet to really have that full discussion. We still have more to go in and record, and there’s a lot still to do, but I think it’s a cool new process.
Dawood: So, I think “exciting uncertainty” is pretty much the general consensus?
Dominic: Isn’t that always the general consensus?
Dawood: Yeah! We have very specific questions rather than interview questions next, but we don’t want to hold y’all up if you have to go.
Brandon: No, it’s all good, you’re fine! No worries.
Savannah: I have a question specifically about “Birnam Wood”, because my friend and I have kind of argued about it.
Brandon: (laughs) So has the band.
Savannah: There are lines that are pretty clearly referring to Alexander Litvinenko, and my friend is of the mind that it’s just about his story and I thought surely, it’s part of a larger allegory. Did you write it with him being the subject in mind, or did his story fit something larger?
Aaron: You both give me too much credit, it was just a random reference dropped in there. It definitely isn’t totally about him, so whichever of you is saying that –
Savannah: That was me!
Aaron: So yeah, you win definitely.
Savannah: That song, I just go back to it all the time, I’m obsessed with it.
Brandon: That is fascinating to hear because that is a heavily debated song to this day within this band. I’m speaking more towards song choice, that’s the one where there was another song that was always sort of interchangeable. I love meeting people that are fans of that tune because I find it’s always the one, it’s an odd duck kind of a song, I think, on that album –
Aaron: (shouting at the ducks in the water nearby) No offense guys!
Brandon: It’s cool that there are people that are fans of that.
Savannah: It’s kind of what got my friends into you guys, actually.
Brandon: See? Wild, absolutely wild.
Dawood: What was the reasoning behind you guys picking [Birnam Wood] over whichever other track you were considering?
Brandon: Honestly, I can’t really remember. It was more of us retrospectively debating.
Aaron: I think the other song was more of a finale kind of song, and the song that actually closes that album was unanimously the one we wanted to close with. It was like well, we could put the other one at the end of a side A of an album, but on a CD, it would be in the middle, and it wouldn’t fit as well that way. It was definitely that “Birnam Wood”, even though I don’t think anybody that I know liked it as much as this other track, as a standalone track, it kind of made more sense as a role-player on the album, it set up the ending better. None of us were crazy about how it turned out. I wasn’t connected too much to it musically when it came to me, but the other guys really liked it musically and kept asking me to try. I did, and what I did didn’t really impress anybody as far as I could tell. At least the verses, I still like the choruses of that song.
Dawood: I’m going to cut the last question I was going to ask and ask another instead, because you briefly mentioned “Rainbow Signs”. I remember reading an interview where you talked about that last spoken part initially not being in there, unless I’m misremembering?
Aaron: No, that’s true. It kind of goes back to the first thing we were talking about, the idea of having authority to talk about something with a certain sense of experience. The way that big, heavy part crashed out at the end was originally going to be the end of the album. The way the lyrics carry on through that part, you know, the pale horses, the riders of the apocalypse, and the end of the world, is really dark and really Revelation-inspired, very religious and definitely larger than life. It’s done with a certain, I won’t say tongue-in-cheek, but it’s all like “The sky I’ve been told will roll up like a scroll”. It’s not like I was saying that this is what’s going to happen, or trying to position myself as a dude who understands that stuff, but it’s still about that stuff. It’s not tongue-in-cheek, but it’s also not totally serious. I don’t even remember exactly what’s supposed to happen according to the Book of Revelations. The fact is I’ve read that Book, but I don’t know anything about what’s going to happen in the future, about the end of the world, if any of that is predicting anything true or if it’s just a bunch of poetry. I wrote all the lyrics, and it ended there, and I just didn’t feel good about it because I thought, “…that’s the way it ends? That’s the final word, is the end of the world? I’m going to write this thing about the end of the world?” It just felt like it was too pretentious, or too presumptuous.
Dawood: And does that hark back to the arrogance you were afraid of earlier in the years, where you felt you were giving yourself too much credit for what you could explain?
Aaron: Right, exactly, like I’m going to handle the biggest, most intense fear that we all have: death! And we’re all going to die! And the earth is going to be melted and turned to ash! It’s like… okay, that stuff is interesting, but the fact is I’m in a studio, smelling like onions, doing thirty takes of one thing, insecure, don’t really know what I’m talking about, just want to get home and see my wife. I had to level with myself, ask myself if I’m really a dude who can talk about this stuff, or if I even want this to be the final takeaway. To have someone turn off the album, and walk away like “Yeah, they really tackled that whole ‘end-of-the-world’ thing!” Well, no, because I didn’t! The music is really intense, as far as our music goes it’s really heavy, and I thought “What theme could possibly match this?”, and my brother wrote that lead guitar part in the wake of my Nana’s death, dealing with those emotions. It’s definitely a “death” kind of thing, but I just thought I’d bitten off more than I could chew trying to talk about Armageddon. I thought, “What’s a way to reframe that?”, so I say all that, then just shift gears and say “Alright, well here’s actually who I am.” I’m a dude who’s still struggling with the death of my dad. That’s real to me, and this other stuff with the imagery of Revelations, it has had an impact on me, but I don’t understand it. I can’t speak with any authority on that, but I can speak with some authority on what it felt like for my dad to die, and for me to now still have some kind of a need for a connection with him. That’s me trying to cope with that, in that final thirty seconds or so. I’m really glad that it went that way, because to me, how you end something is so important. You could have a great relationship with somebody, but if it goes sour at the end, you have that taste in your mouth when you split. Whereas, you could have a really rocky relationship with someone, and if you patch it up – actually, my dad is a good example, we had some rough years, but we patched it up before he died. So now, I think back on him, and it’s perfect, my memory of him is perfect, and I feel very peaceful about him and our relationship because it ended well. So, it was important to me to end the album in a way that felt true to me, and not just big and intense and larger than life. Does that make sense?
Dawood: Absolutely, and I think that’s actually a perfect way to end the interview, just like it was a perfect way to end the album. Thank you, guys, so much for coming out and talking with us.