Last week, Say Anything fans were greeted with the shocking news that longtime drummer Coby Linder was leaving the band. Although Max Bemis released a statement along with that news, the frontman had more to say about Linder's departure and what it means for the direction of the band. In an hour-long, contemplative interview from his Tyler, Texas home, Bemis opened up about these matters and the future—which included much discussion about the fifth Say Anything album. (Don’t hold your breath: Bemis isn’t going to record LP No. 5 until sometime next year—after the release of the debut album from Perma, he and wife Sherri DuPree-Bemis' band—and so he estimates “it’s probably going to be 2014 when it comes out.”) Stay tuned tomorrow for updates on Perma and reflections from Bemis on how he’s preparing to become a father. He and DuPree-Bemis will welcome their first child, Lucy, in February.
How long has Coby’s departure been in the works? Was it sudden?
It actually was very sudden, but the emotional lead-up, so to speak, has been almost 10 years. Coby was one of my best friends; he was in my wedding and the bonds we share—and shared—cannot be overemphasized. But the reasons that led to us both agreeing it was probably best to call it a day in terms of our collaboration as musicians have been building for a long time, because both me and Coby have undergone massive transformations in the past five years.
As friends, we work perfectly; that’s why it’s such an amicable thing. But in the context of how Say Anything works—how we’re developing as people, over time, has led to some friction. And we both agreed we’d rather be good friends and enjoy our lives than keep pushing and pushing something that was starting to seem like it was just something we were doing almost out of habit.
And you might as well quit the work element before it affects your friendship.
Exactly. It did sort of flare up suddenly toward the end of the last tour we did. There was a little bit of petty fighting, and after that we thought, “Why is this happening?” We could’ve just swept it under the rug, but we both agreed that it’s better to address it than not.
That comes from being in a band for a while. You’re adults, so you have the communication down, so you can say “What is really going on here?”
The actual conversation we had was, like, beautiful. And everything was agreed on both parts. That speaks to the bond we have and that we do get along so well in our hearts. That’s what made it so easy.
Did he call you? Or did you guys just kind of sit down and realize at the same time, “This isn’t working; we need to do something.”?
Well, I think we both probably felt weird after we had, as I said, a conflict toward the end of tour. I called Coby and brought it up and he was like, “You know, I totally see what you’re saying.” For a while there, I was just like, “I’m going to sweep this under the rug and let’s just continue.” But I don’t know—there’s a lot going on in my life that is causing me … I’m sort of in a phase of not sweeping anything under the rug. And I don’t like to not be in control of the few things in life that you can control. When there’s something like this, [where] there’s an easy, very blatant solution that’s almost so clear that you don’t see it… I’m the type of person, at this point in my life, who would rather attack things head on. That’s why it actually turned out this way, sort of suddenly.
Have you thought about a replacement yet?
Some people—justifiably so—are going to be like, “Oh, no, Coby was such an important part of Say Anything’s sound. What’s going to happen now? How can you possibly get someone else to play that way?” And my answer in my head, was, “You can’t.” That’s the simple truth. Coby—as well as my personal musical connection with Coby and the way we work together—I don’t think can be reproduced in terms of Say Anything. Not to say I don’t like playing with other drummers, but the specific dynamic that me and Coby shared cannot be reproduced.
So we are retiring the role of a permanent drummer who plays on the record—which is what Coby was. This is where the dynamic of the band comes into play. There’s always been this confusion: Is Say Anything a band, or is it just me, basically? Where does Coby’s role fit into that? He’s been with us since the beginning, and he’s the only other person who consistently plays on the records. What I decided… [to] provide the most musical growth and be the most exciting thing, is to make it [so] on the record it really is just me and whoever I decide should play drums for any particular album or track. There’s going to be a lot of variation.
Once we decided Coby wasn’t going to be a part of recording anymore, I just wanted to retire that dynamic and have it be me arranging the songs, playing pretty much all the instruments and calling upon whatever drummer I think is most appropriate for each project or each song. Nine Inch Nails is the best example I can think of, where Dave Grohl played on one album and Josh Freese played live sometimes. It’s more open-ended. That would put some people off in certain other contexts, but anyone who really understands our band knows that [the dynamic has] almost been that way for a long time, and it was a confusing little element that was unresolved. I’m ready for the future of this band, and I made the executive decision to never—or do my best to never—retire the name Say Anything or what we stand for. So to keep that going, adopting what we kind of always were—except for Coby’s existence—is the next natural step for us.
It seems like you’re ready to take this step. Is it frightening, or is it exhilarating?
It’s exhilarating, I have to say. And that’s no slight to Coby, because I love Coby and he’s my favorite drummer, still. At the same time, I’ve had certain plans for our next record, musically, that I’m sure Coby would have done a great job with. I’ve always wanted to continue to be an almost off-puttingly progressive band when it comes to changing our sound on every record and always trying to keep things exciting for the people who have been so dedicated to us for so long. But thankfully, [this change has] felt like one of those things that I’m ready for, I’m happy about and it fits perfectly into the scheme of what’s going on in my life and what I have planned for the band.
Tell me about the vision for album five. I know you already have the title track written.
The musical approach we’re taking—in how we’re producing the record and how it’s going to be arranged—is going to be really radical for us. I can’t give away the exactly definition of why it is so radical. [But] when it comes to what the instruments sound like and the types of music on the record—I think we’re going to be stripping away all comfortability when it comes to that on this next record. In some ways, it’s going to be a total 180 for us.
But then, the cool thing about the record is … what I have written so far—and how I plan to produce it—is also the most self-indulgently Say Anything record that I’ve ever written—almost to the extent that I think I lost the want to escape the cliché of Say Anything. I think the past couple of records, for me, have been [about] trying to avoid being pigeonholed. And in a way, we’re going to definitely be doing that by changing so much sonically and musically.
But there’s an element of the lyrics, melodies and the type of songs that embraces certain things about me and Say Anything that I haven’t really embraced or indulged since our first record, because I almost was ashamed to, or I felt it would be a cop out. Partially due to the stuff I’m going through in my life—and the stuff I find entertaining—I feel more comfortable writing about certain things. And specifically, a lot of this record is going to be about exorcising my personal demons. In the last couple of records, I’ve made it clear in what I’ve been writing about that I’ve gone through this really liberating spiritual experience—being married and getting off drugs and getting my mental health together. I’ve written a lot about that; even Anarchy, My Dear, which was a punk record, was still written about self-empowerment.
On this record, even though I’m in such a happy place, I thought it would be fun to dig deep into the most wretched, dark, embarrassing things about my psyche. At least for half the record. [Laughs.] Again, as I said, I have felt a little self-conscious doing [this], because I didn’t want to get us pigeonholed as [the] …Is A Real Boy band. But I also feel like, given that my writing has changed and I feel like I’m a better songwriter now, I can write about that stuff: a) I’m in a totally different place, so they are totally different neuroses; b) I’m writing about it in a way that makes me really happy and fulfilled.
I’ve had a lot of experience interacting with fans of Say Anything. We’re the type of band that has a really close relationship with our fans. I know a lot of them listen to our band because they have a lot of struggles—inner struggles and inner doubts and fears. My goal over the past couple of records is to help them grow out of it. But I think the best way I can reach people in that way now is to acknowledge the darkness and try to excommunicate it by putting it out there with a microscope and really getting into it.
Basically, the plan for the next record is to make the most radical shift away from what people are familiar with, and yet at the same time embrace what we’re about in a way that we haven’t done. I think that’s going to please a lot of people, because the progression will continue, but at the same time, it’s going to be fun for the people who have been wanting me to write about certain things for quite some time.