After playing together for somewhere around 10 years, putting out a cassette, three full length CDs, and an acoustic bonus disc, I found myself, quite to my surprise, with a marriage that was exploding. I told Brian I had to stop for an uncertain, possibly permanent amount of time to see if I could save the unsavable. I quit playing music except to finish up recording the first Wussy album (which was fraught, to say the least, on many levels itself).
At literally almost the same time, Brian was diagnosed with a degenerative disease of the inner ear called Meniere’s Disease. I hung my hat on the mic stand at a long distant Mid Point Music Festival show and we walked away. The divorce nearly destroyed me — but of course, eventually one begins to reclaim one’s life. And I realized I was never going to give up music for anyone ever again.
Somewhere along the line, very slowly, we began to play together again. And as we began to bring new songs to each other I realized that we were making a different kind of music now. Music for adults, I guess. The isolation of raising children, the destruction we can visit upon the people we love the most, the weirdness of finding oneself dating as an adult… things like that.
And then to reform Messerly and Ewing as a band and to receive the great good fortune to have old friends, talented musicians, and MPMF co-founders Sean Rhiney and Bill Donabedian express enthusiasm about becoming our rhythm section. The changes they bring to our music and the fact that this feels like a band in ways it never has before. Believe me, we’ve known each other too long and they have far too forceful personalities to become anything but equal partners.
Two important things happened to me while M&E were on hiatus. Well, specifically, two things related to my songwriting. That’s the thing about a hiatus — lots of time to think. In general, I realized I was very dissatisfied with my lyric writing. I’ve always enjoyed the storytelling aspect of lyric writing, but it just seemed to me that my words were not affecting people on an emotional level. There was a distance to my songs that meant that they didn’t affect people the way the songs I loved affected me.
I decided to try and put a little more of myself into the songs. Not confessional songwriting so much, but hopefully a way to try and connect the songs to the emotions running rampant through my life. Seems like a little thing, but it completely changed the stories I was telling and what I hoped for them. The second thing that happened was that by joining Wussy I got to watch a world-class songwriter in Chuck Cleaver go about his job. And the thing I noticed was how patient he was in his lyric writing. He would hone them until they were right. If it took six months to find the right word, so be it. I began to write and write lyrics and just take the best.
Lyrics and music did not always happen simultaneously anymore. Sometimes that would mean a line might sit for a year until I came up with something that felt right with it. For instance, in the song ”The Down,” the first line, ”The rain falls upon the living and the dead,” came from a song I started back in college (I think), where I tried to update “The Dead” by James Joyce. (It must have been college, because when else are you that pretentious?) However, I always loved that line. A second verse line came from an article I read about five years ago, about how long it actually takes for water to complete the water cycle. And so on, until gradually themes I’ve been fussing with coalesce into something I’m proud of. I feel like in many ways I’m a brand new songwriter and it’s a wonderfully exciting feeling to have after so many years. — Mark Messerly
About the time we were wrapping up the last M&E record darkness drops again, I started to notice changes in my hearing. Odd ringing, pressure, and some loss of low-end sounds. Trips to doctors — and, eventually, to a specialist — rendered a diagnosis of Meniere’s Disease. While I had never heard of Meniere’s before, it seems that everyone I tell seems to know someone dealing with it. Turns out that the ringing, pressure and hearing loss were the mild symptoms. The worst was yet to come. Meniere’s causes spells of dizziness and vertigo that can last for minutes or days. This is the laying on your bed, room spinning non-stop, nauseous, head in the toilet of an all night bender without the bender. When Mark said he needed to take a break, it came as a bitter relief. I didn’t want to stop M&E…the fact that we were both dealing with crumbling worlds made it easier to accept.
I knew that my health issues would require major changes in my life, and I was sick with the thought that this disease would keep me from the stage and eventually might leave me deaf and cut music from my life completely. Meniere’s is different for everyone, and you just need to figure out how it works for you. As the pieces started to come together, the one thing I started to notice was, like Mark, I had driven myself into a self-imposed isolation. I too turned to writing again, and as the dust of our collective lives started to settle, the music came calling. A popup show here and there gave me the confidence that Meniere’s did not have to end my lifelong affair with music. This eventually led to forming the new band and learning where the road we had traveled had brought us. The new M&E record, to me, is a direct and indirect map of the past several years.
Spend nearly 18 years in the trenches with someone, slow nights at the a coffeehouse when you are really only playing to yourselves, late night drives to or from shows in one town or another and you get to see how the highs and lows change them over time. I’m blessed to have an amazing wife and a relationship that has lasted while I watched Mark deal with the pain of heartache and loss. These two seemingly polar opposites drove my songwriting for Every Bitter Thing.
“Once” and “Living on Lies” speak to the emotional transference you build over time in bands. “Once” is a melancholy walk in the first step of an ending, while “Living on Lies” is a look back in anger, a realization of what it was and was not. “When it Comes Down to You” rides both sides of the tracks. The verses explore my own wondering and questions about relationships, while the chorus states the understanding that with the right person in your life, all of that doesn’t matter. I have always looked to the lives of those around me as inspiration, but never realized until this album just how much. Songwriting is such a personal thing…to me, it’s a way of sharing grief and pain as well as joy and love. While words often fail me, lyrics never do. — Brian Ewing