|If you ask the members of Hot Water Music what it’s like to be back, the musicians will tell you that it doesn’t feel like they’ve gone anywhere. And it’s understandable why: The rock foursome, which formed in 1993 in Gainesville, FL, has been a staple of the music scene for years. The band’s new album, Exister, is their eighth in nearly two decades, yet another addition to an already impressive career.
But it’s also understandable why fans see this album as a sudden return: The group, singer/guitarist Chris Wollard, bassist Jason Black, drummer George Rebelo and guitarist/vocalist Chuck Ragan, pressed pause in 2006, electing to pursue individual projects and live their lives for a while. In the long run, that break worked—two years later the four members reconvened to perform live, a few shows evolving into many.
The band’s desire to pen a new album to succeed 2004’s The New What Next rose directly from those live shows. “The more shows we did, the more we felt like a band,” Chris says. “And what do bands do? They write songs. So it was only a matter of time before we started talking about it. The more we talked about it the more we got excited about the idea. A lot of the writing was based around what we wanted to play onstage. It was a natural progression from enjoying playing these shows to making another record.”
Instead of plunging into writing an album, the four musicians first wrote and recorded a new seven-inch called “The Fire, The Steel, The Tread,” which the band released on its own in August of 2011. Working on the two tracks that appear on that disc opened the floodgates and suddenly the members of Hot Water Music were writing together again, quite prolifically. It was around this time that the band signed with Rise Records, a label Chris says was “an obvious right choice for us.”
This meant that a new album was definitely and finally happening, and the musicians, who now live in different parts of the country, wrote whenever they were together during the second half of 2011, testing out new material backstage and during soundchecks at shows. Jason and George spent time in Florida writing with Chris and later flew to California to write with Chuck. These sessions and the passing back and forth of demos was a new method for the band, but it was one that was ultimately to their benefit.
“It was a different approach for us,” Jason notes. “But I think it worked out better in the long run. I think everyone got to write more and got more of their own voice. Once we started writing it just started going. And we probably could have kept going and going and going.”
The Menzingers originally formed after the dissolution of Bob And The Sagets, a band local to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area of Pennsylvania. With the addition of Greg Barnett the band recorded a demo/self-released album “A Lesson In The Abuse Of Information Technology” in 2006.
Shortly thereafter they were signed by Go-Kart Records and re-recorded the songs from “A Lesson” and re-released their album with the addition of some new tracks.
At the Fest VII in Gainesville, FL they were approached by Brendan Kelly of The Lawrence Arms and subsequently signed to Red Scare Industries.
They released their Red Scare debut EP “Hold On, Dodge” in 2009. They will be recording in January of 2010 for their sophomore LP “Chamberlain Waits.”
The band currently lives in South Philadelphia, PA.
Those who have followed mewithoutYou’s music in recent years will likely see their new, self-released Ten Stories as a return to old form. Their previous record, It’s All Crazy!, etc. had been a drastic and intentional departure. Aaron Weiss’ manic, unorthodox hollering was nowhere to be found, deliberately giving way to a more conventional melodic vocal approach. The explosive, schizophrenic drumming and swarthy, tempestuous low end (Rickie Mazzotta and Greg Jehanian, respectively) were accordingly subdued, relegated largely to keeping basic time. Chris Kleinberg had jumped ship for med school, leaving Mike Weiss reluctantly alone on electric guitar, feeling like a session player embellishing his little brother’s folk songs, no longer part of a coherent unit.
In short, due largely to their singer’s creative wanderlust, the band had entirely forsaken whatever they’d become; in an effort to spurn the familiar, they had grown unrecognizable, alienating no shortage of fans in the process. Those fans, and whoever has come to miss what was most distinct about mewithoutYou, will welcome Ten Stories as the rightful follow-up to their 2006 release, Brother/Sister, and 2004’s Catch for Us the Foxes. To be sure, the band hasn’t altogether renounced the psychedelic-rustic-pop elements of It’s All Crazy!; rather, they have renounced the scrupulous control inherent to its renunciation. Simply put, they seem to have let go of the steering wheel, and are back to writing music, well, ‘naturally.’
“They’re not quite children’s songs,” vocalist Aaron Weiss explains, “with not quite coherent storylines, but there is an overarching and kind of child-like narrative: a circus train crashes in 19th century Montana. Some animals escape, others stay in their cages. The traveling menagerie re-rails, stays its course, and struggles to fill in the missing attractions. Meanwhile, freed from institutionalized life, the rice-cake rabbit takes to a peripatetic fortune teller, the monastic walrus is tempted by a hedonistic owl, a fish falls for an eggplant. Other songs describe a contemplative Fox’s prophetic dream, a starving Bear’s vision of a martyred saint, and an indecisive Peacock & gnostic Tiger learning the virtues of megalomania from an ego-annihilated Potter Wasp.”
This bizarre, character-heavy lyrical approach let the band revisit their perennial leitmotifs of romantic disaster & quasi-mystical speculation, without the self-pity/indulgence of direct autobiography. Reflecting recent, devastating personal losses, practically every song addresses our inevitable dying, apparently easier to face when projected onto anthropomorphic animals. This zoological ventriloquist act allows them to explore abstract philosophical themes and draw on finespun literary sources with a profound goofiness that deflates whatever danger of pretentiousness. The story-teller elements are obscure enough to avoid the short-lived rock opera aesthetic, leaving most plot details and potential moralizing to the imagination; and this without succumbing to insincerity/irony, overt relativism, or outright nonsense.
The ever-odd Daniel Smith’s production and veteran Brad Wood’s mixing combine to improve upon the best sonic elements of the band’s past releases. Musically, Ten Stories is a mix of the brazen noisiness, hypnotic soundscapes, and derelict shouting of their old songs, the dead-level melody and extravagant orchestration of recent years, and a newfound reliance on ethereal harmonies, courtesy en masse of female guest vocalists (most notably, Paramore’s Hayley Williams). Whimsically morbid as an Edward Gorey alphabet, simultaneously self-abnegating and -aggrandizing, defying simplistic musical or intellectual categorization, mewithoutYou’s new collection of songs is the fabulously vivid outgrowth of an ongoing religious and irreverent eclecticism, a ‘decade-plus narcissistic scramble for artistic affirmation’ (their words), and the even longer-running and peculiar friendship of four not-so-younggentlemen from nowhere in particular, apparently at the height of their mutual affection.