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

[Again] people are asking what I see as a commonality between this [new album] and …Is a Real Boy, [and] really, it reminds me of the anthemic quality of those songs, but without the sort of like, stereotypical young guy-isms of it. [“Burn A Miracle” is] this rebellious anthem that kicks off the record in this really energetic way, and I haven’t written a song ever that makes me want to play it live and have a bunch of people singing it, since those early days of …Is a Real Boy. [Then] I think that became our thing, having these sing-along anthems. Thank God that’s continued to persist, and people feel that way about the new stuff. But this one [in particular] I have that vibe in mind of, like, a sweaty club full of kids just losing their minds to it. And that’s the first song on the record, so it kind of kicks off this vibe that persists through the entire thing.

Who’s the band lineup in the studio?
Right now, it’s just me and Coby [Linder, drummer], which is as it was for …Is a Real Boy. The other guys are definitely members of the band, but I’m just so controlling when it comes to guitars—which is my instrument—and that’s what mostly they play, so I choose to keep it reeled in. But it’s been really nice just returning to the me and Coby thing; it kind of feels like the old days.

I mean, we’ve been a band for 10 or 11 years, and it really started out with me and Coby just kind of walking around and talking about music, and getting excited and being crazy together, and trying to push each other into new directions and challenge each other.  That’s definitely a lot of what the musical dynamic on this record is; there’s a lot of little ear candy and yet at the same time it’s really loose and energetic. I think Coby has pushed himself into a place that’s really amazing. His dynamics on this record are really nice; we kind of gave him room to breathe a little more, because one of the defining things on this record is there’s almost no distorted rhythm guitar.

Really!
You think about the bands that Say Anything kind of gets [compared to]—at least the last couple records—and you think of Green Day or Weezer. But we wanted to push ourselves away and go off into a different direction than we did the last couple records. So we decided we would strip away any pop-punk. As much as we love Blink-182 and Green Day, I just feel like we’ve been doing a lot of that on the past couple records, and we kind of were going for a more of a Beatles, Queen [vibe]. Even if you’re talking about punk bands, then it’s like the Clash and At The Drive-In didn’t really have huge walls of power chords the whole time. And so we were like, “Lets just maybe keep the grittiness to the lead guitar,” and that way it has this kind of classic rock-y feel to it—or a vintage sort of proto-punk feel to it—as opposed to a pop-rock or punk-pop thing.

We really stuck by that rule. There’s only one song where it comes back in, and I’m not going to give it away, but it’s employed in a very self-conscious way, as opposed to, “This is what the sound of the record is.”

One thing we’ve done while recording, is there’s no tuning in the vocals at all. On the last record, we would labor over small lines and words in songs, but in this one, basically, all I’ve done is sing the song once or twice all the way through, as opposed to stopping and starting the entire time. So we get this really live, totally energetic feel for the vocals, which has made all the difference. It’s really crazy how different it sounds. I’m not going to say it’s better or worse, but it definitely feels like Say Anything live, when it comes to my delivery.

That’s so interesting, because it’s rare these days to have a vocal take that doesn’t have any effects on it. So people will be able to tell your vocals are so unprocessed?
I think so—even to the laymen, they’ll going to be able to be like, “Wow, this seems pretty energetic, he seems pretty into it.” There’s more chaos, which is, you know, the vibe of the record.

Your life was pretty chaotic for many years, but even now that it’s calmer, you can still remember that time.
Yeah, you go from being like—or at least I went from being—this really idealistic, head-in-the-clouds, 12- or 13-year-old. And then you grow up into a teenager and young adult, and it becomes all chaos, in a way, and you identify with yourself completely through that. And then, I think as you get older, you try and reel it in, and then once you’re secure, you can start interjecting little bits of zaniness into your life in healthy doses, because I think you need it for the creative spirit and to make sure you’re not held down by the Man, so to speak.

And a lot of times if your life is chaotic, a little bit is good--but too much is not good.
Exactly. It’s all about what’s going on with you internally. Because I feel a lot of people need to express the descent, or the chaos, with self-destructive tendencies. Then you learn that that’s not really the way to do it; there’s art and, you know, choices in your life that you can make to express yourself without having to destroy everything around you and yourself doing it.

Musically, is there a particular song that you really like?
Musically, there’s a song called “Peace Out” on the record that we employ the use of a hammered dulcimer in, and I have to say that’s one of the most exciting things on the record. We brought in this ridiculously talented kid who just came in and banged out this ridiculous dulcimer track, and it sounds like a medieval jaunt kind of, it’s like a weird, minstrel-music song. Again, we were at this point where we were like, “Let’s just go all out with this record.” We’re trying to turn things around and push the band into a different direction, so that one’s probably the most pure expression of what the hell is going on—in a good way. And there’s the title track on the record, “Anarchy, My Dear.” That’s an expression of the stuff I was talking about before.

Really, the record in its purest sense is a form of propaganda, to some degree. It’s a real, true expression of how I feel. And at the same time, it’s propaganda, because I believe in some level of anarchy. I feel like people mostly identify the idea of anarchy with certain political beliefs—like, you know, communism and stuff like that. But there are many different offshoots of it, some of them that are just expressed in personal choices, and some of it’s a little bit more abstract, and some of it’s a sociological ideal. And so this record really is my way of promoting what I see as a healthy level of anarchy, and that I believe in.

You see bands like NOFX, who I grew up listening to, who somewhat believe in some of these anarchist beliefs, but you end up associating it kind of with just louder punk music. And I feel like, it would have been interesting to see the Beatles or the Rolling Stones write an anarchist punk record.  And that’s kind of what we were trying to do, and the record is named after one of the songs on it called “Anarchy, My Dear,” which is basically my love song to anarchy. It’s sort of written as if it was to a woman, but it’s about my belief and my love for this idea of anarchy.

That’s one of the songs that I’m actually most excited about on the record musically, because it sounds like Neil Young or something. There’s harmonica in it, and steel guitar, slide guitar; it kind of sounds like the Band meets Aerosmith. Again, there’s nothing on this record that I believe sounds Foo Fighters-y. And they’re one of my favorite bands, and they were my main influences on the past couple records. But I think there’s only so much of that you can do, and that isn’t really where we started out. …Is A Real Boy isn’t really an over-the-top, modern-rock record. There was a lot of eclectic, eccentricity to it, and I think that’s kind of where we chose to pursue with this new record. alt

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