Exclusive Interview: Max Bemis reveals all about Say Anything’s new album

October 6, 2011 by Annie Zaleski

Exclusive Interview: Max Bemis reveals all about Say Anything’s new album

SAY ANYTHING recently finished recording their fifth album and first for Equal Vision, Anarchy, My Dear, with producer Tim O’Heir. It was a homecoming of sorts for both O’Heir and Say Anything frontman MAX BEMIS: The two last worked together on the band’s first widely released album, 2004’s …Is A Real Boy. But Anarchy My Dear comes from a much different place and represents a sonic and lyrical shift for the band, as Bemis explains in this exclusive interview.

Recording this album seems like it was a pretty quick process.
It was very quick. The last record took probably an average amount of time for a major-label release, when you work with a high-name producer like Neal [Avron]. You usually map yourself out to take anywhere between a few months and however [long]. But honestly, I prefer to work quicker, and Tim prefers to work quicker as well. So we’re like, “Why not just get it done quick and have a good time doing it?”

How long were you actually in the studio?
I think the whole process has been two months altogether, including pre-production and mixing. Last time me and Tim worked together was …Is a Real Boy, and that took, like, a year because I went crazy. [Laughs.] So I think he’s relieved. It’s funny to be reunited at a time in our lives when things are really different for both of us; he has a family, and I’m married and in a healthy place. We [naturally] produce a zaniness and craziness together, but we both kind of have to keep our shit together. There’s a lot of things [on this album] that remind me of that first record.

In what sense? Musically? Lyrically?
The best comparison I can make to […Is A Real Boy] versus the other [Say Anything] records [is] I feel like this one is an offshoot of the first record, [but] in a different direction. We kind of chose to go in a certain direction with the second two records [2007’s In Defense Of The Genre and 2009’s Say Anything], which I love; I would never knock that direction. On …Is a Real Boy there is a healthy mix of anthemic quality and then the quirky, odd, neurotic music that’s more of an offshoot of Queen or the Beatles or the Stones, that kind of an influence—versus Foo Fighters and more anthemic, big rock ’n’ roll. Even though we’ve always stayed a quirky, weird band, we kind of chose to go the route of [the latter], especially on the very last record we did. I feel like this one [is what would have happened] had we chosen to go in a different direction after …Is a Real Boy—it’s like a cousin of the other records as opposed to a brother or sister.

It’s really fun to explore that aspect of our band, and it’s a direction we’re going to go for the next few records at least. It feels a little more satisfying right now at this point. It’s not like we’ve decided to not write music you can sing along to, but it’s edgier and the influences are a little more diverse, and it makes us stand out a little bit more. That’s what I’m proudest about this record: There’s no way you can put it on and think of any other band besides ours.

Would you say the music is a little bit rawer?
I was in a pretty weird place when I wrote …Is a Real Boy. I was fully manic, doing drugs and living this crazy, young man’s life. Then I reeled it in for a while cause I had to get healthy, and now I’m a happier person. Basically, the first three records were kind of the story of a guy who grows up, comes into his own and realizes he doesn’t have to, like, destroy himself to be happy. And I sort of ended up happy in the storyline, so to speak, of the last few records. That chapter of my life is sealed, because I’m married. I’ll hopefully never have to write a song again about trying to find love; I’ve already found that and I’m really happy when it comes to that part of my life. I’m a reasonably healthy person and try to keep stable.

So it’s no longer about coming into my own; it’s more about what do I think of the world, what are the changes I’d like to see, what do I think of life, how do I experience life. So it is more raw in the sense that it has that early quality of rebellion. That’s the main thing I would put out there in terms of describing this record, because it does have a concept: coming out from the pack, rebelling and choosing to make your life your own and not have your mind be controlled by society.

I know a million bands have written about that, but I’d like to think we have [a couple of things] to lend toward that topic. First, we’re doing it in a very jubilant fashion, so it’s kind of like, if you would combine Sex Pistols with Guns n’ Roses in the [thematic] sense. Because it’s all about having a good time and being triumphant; you can really hear it on the record, the mood we were in when we were making it was totally triumphant. But then it does have that anger and that rebellion in it.

A lot of bands who tend to sing about political stuff or sociopolitical stuff tend to get super-dark and preachy, but this record is about kind of living it and not letting your anger towards everything control you; it’s about rising above it. I’ve heard a lot of kids asking for us to write that angry, edgy record. I think I was able to finally do that without sacrificing, without it being this false pursuit of who I once was when I was 19, stoned  and hating myself. This is about, “What do I really think of the world around me, and what do I want to do now that I’ve sort of grown up?”

So many musicians are facing the same thing: “Now that my personal life’s in order, what do I write about and how do I write about things?” Now that your mind is clear, you can actually comment and see the stuff around you.
Totally. I think there are many musicians who found love and stability to some degree and were still able to write awesome stuff, whether it’s [Bruce] Springsteen or John Lennon. And I look up to a lot of people. A lot of my friends in bands are getting older and have families now. If you even look at Chris [Conley] from Saves the Day, who wrote this record which is basically all about that, all about having these things in your life and still trying to find yourself, and there’s always a struggle.

So that’s what this record is about: trying to win that personal journey, and trying to triumph over these factors in your own life. I’d like to think that that’s where this record starts out. In my mind [I’ve] done that enough, and now I want to share it and try to spread it through this record and this music as much as I can.

Are there any guest stars on it?
My wife [Sherri DuPree] is on it; she obviously sings beautifully. She’ll probably be on every Say Anything record from now on. And Coby [Linder], again, he started singing on In Defense Of The Genre, and he’s kind of become a mainstay when it comes to doing dueling vocals with me. It’s sort of become an interesting, cool part of the band’s sound. You get kind of annoyed with my voice after awhile. [Laughs.] It’s like, “All right, we’ve been hearing this guy ranting and raving for like the past hour, I think we need a little bit of a change,” and Coby sounds nothing like me. He does a lot of cool stuff in this record.

What songs are you the most proud of on this record?
There is a song called “Burn A Miracle.” [It’s] probably my favorite song, because I wrote it right before I feel like I took this really big step in my life. I loved the melody and I loved the vibe of the song, but it had these kind of morose, depressing lyrics, and I was like, “I don’t want to get rid of this song; there’s something really special about it.” Once I felt I was in a better place, completely rewrote the lyrics.

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