A Conversation with Say Anything’s Max Bemis (Part Two) – On Perma, fatherhood and songwriting
Max Bemis is one of the hardest-working musicians in the business. Besides gearing up to release All My Friends Are Enemies: Early Rarities on January 22, he is recording the debut Perma album with his wife/bandmate, Sherri DuPree-Bemis. “We’re not treating [the band] like a side project; we’re treating it like a full-on band,” Bemis says, adding that the record is “tentatively” due in the fall. In addition to that, the prolific musician also hints at some sort of activity to mark the tenth anniversary of …Is A Real Boy, although he doesn’t yet have specifics: “We’ll definitely do some stuff, I don’t know exactly what yet—knock on wood—but we’ll definitely be doing something for that.” Oh yeah, and in between his musical endeavors, he’s going to become a father to a baby girl named Lucy, which he and DuPree-Bemis have been ecstatically talking about for months. Bemis gave AP the scoop on how the Perma record is shaping up, and also how impending fatherhood is changing his psyche and songwriting.
Talk to me about Perma. What space in your head does Perma fulfill?
It’s actually quite perfect in terms of the Say Anything record and the direction of that material. Basically, I don’t see this always being the case, but I feel like my psyche and my inspiration have fractured, in a way. Some of our most notable, fan-favorite songs are actually just love songs, whether it be “Alive With The Glory Of Love,” “Walk Through Hell,” “I Want To Know Your Plans” or “Crush’d.” It’s been really important to the dynamic of the records we’ve put out to have those to express that part of myself as a die-hard romantic.
But in terms of this next Say Anything record, I have found it interesting to divide those parts of my writing personality, to some extent, into two. And so much of my life is just being head over heels in love with Sherri. I’ve found that letting Perma be my outlet for that for a little while has been really cool. We’ve already started recording the Perma record. [It’s been nice] being able to not hold back and worry about being too corny or not edgy enough, and just becoming this sap when it comes to Perma, because Perma is just sweetness and us indulging our love for each other, no matter how corny or romantic it may seem to the skeptical people out there. And I know there are plenty of people who want that from me as a writer. But there are also plenty of people that are like, “I don’t want to hear you writing about your wife. I just want to hear you sing about the hardcore stuff in your life.” And then there are people who want both.
So far, I have put all my love songs into the Perma project, and focused a little more on just my psychology and my other stuff for Say Anything. It’s caused the Say Anything stuff to get a lot edgier and darker, and it’s caused the Perma stuff to be more free and loving and not held down by the need to be some kind of dark character.
I like that. It’s pushed both projects to the extreme.
Exactly. I’ve never done that. It’s always been in the context of Say Anything. Even a song like “Crush’d,” it’s so full of my own personal crap [Laughs.] There’s still that innate darkness. And in Perma—we want it to be smart. We don’t want it to be boring and stupid and ultra-corny. But at the same time, I’m able to take myself out of myself and make it more about Sherri and about us. And that’s been really fun.
Musically, what is the record like? Is it more stripped-back?
Yeah, it’s very stripped-back. There are a few songs with percussion and drums. It’s not boring by any means in terms of its arrangements; we want to make sure it’s an interesting record to listen to, with ear candy and different arrangements. It’s not like Iron And Wine or Elliott Smith, where everything’s sort of soft and depressing, or like Bon Iver. It’s very up. There are songs that almost have some punk elements to them, but we ideally want to be able to play shows where it’s just us, and have people not feel like they’re lacking something. So we could play with a band or we could play without a band, and the songs will speak for themselves in that context.
I totally know what you mean—there are some stripped-back records that are so boring. The lyrics are great, but you just want to fall asleep.
Exactly. There’s only one slow, soft song that I’ve even written, and I’ve already written all my songs for the Perma record. I’m still debating whether to put it on. As of right now, my songs and Sherri’s songs and the ones we’ve collaborated on together, they’re all very… the vocals are not subdued. They’re going to be very much sing-along songs.
How are you preparing for fatherhood?
Me and Sherri have a particularly, blessedly easy life when it comes to many things. We still work hard, and we put a lot of our effort into music and spend a lot of time working on music. Sherri is an awesome artist. I’ve actually begun writing comic books, so that’s something I’ve been working on a little bit. But beyond that, there are these large gaps of time where we’re basically just sitting around. And during that time, I’ve just been mentally preparing myself for the reality that this may be the last time in, like, 30 years or more in which I’m going to be completely pandering to myself and Sherri.
To me, that’s the biggest preparation that I’ve been doing, is the acceptance of that. Otherwise, we’re just totally stoked. You hear horror stories about being a parent, and no sleep and blah blah blah. But we don’t really care about that stuff; we’re just so excited. The only thing that’s going to be a big change for me is just not being a selfish asshole anymore. [Laughs.]
Musicians—especially if you don’t have a family yet—if you’re in any way successful and you’re able to go on the road and play and then you come home, you basically sit around. That’s the part of my life I’m willingly sacrificing in order to have a family. But it is a mental thing, where it’s like you’re no longer going to be looking out for yourself and your wife and that’s about it. That, to me, is what I know is going to require the most work and at the same time is what I’m most excited about. The way I look at it, [there] is only so much of your life you can live like that before it starts to get boring and you need to do something that gives back to the universe. To me, having a kid is that. We’re going to try to take this person’s life and make it as love-filled and fulfilling as possible.