For years Say Anything, led by their off kilter front man Max Bemis, have made music that relates to, but never aligns itself with, specific genres. This is probably the reason for the group’s longevity, coupled with the fact that the songs they write are simply, damn good. The band has recently signed a new deal with Australian label UNFD and are about to release their fourth album, ‘Anarchy, My Dear.’ Kill Your Stereo caught up with Bemis to give him a chance to explain the anarchy…
So the new album, ‘Anarchy, My Dear’ is about to come out, we in Australia are yet to hear it, so what can you tell us about it?
Well, it’s a pretty different record from our last record, for anyone that’s heard that one, it’s a little more in line with our first record ‘…Is A Real Boy.’ But obviously it has more advanced musicianship and lyricism, that hopefully I have now as opposed to and eighteen or nineteen year old kid, so I’d like to think that it’s maybe going in a different direction to the first record as opposed to an extension of our last record.
So when you say it’s similar to ‘…Is A Real Boy’ do you mean musically or more just the feel of the record?
It’s the feel of it, I mean the lyrics are actually pretty far away from ‘…Is A Real Boy,’ it actually doesn’t really share too many qualities up front, but when you think about the fact that there was a cross between The Beatles, The Clash and Queen, which had a huge influence on ‘…Is A Real Boy,’ and less so the sort of, anthemic, U2-ish quality of like, emotional anthems, which was a lot of our last couple of records, there is more playful quality, which was very present on ‘…Is A Real Boy,’ and a lot more of a dangerous quality.
I noticed that you have done a sequel to the song Admit It from ‘…Is A Real Boy,’ what made you decide to do that three albums later?
I just felt like we have always made a point of moving forward drastically on each record and we’re lucky to have the kind of cult fan base in which people are really understanding and love that and crave that from us at this point, that we are always going to do something different, but I kinda wanted with this record to let kids know that as much as we’ll always be moving forward and are in a different place that we’ll always be connected to the past and what we share with them. So I think the best way I could have done that was buy targeting that towards a song that I know means a lot to kids and it was mostly just wanting to illicit the kind of reaction from someone where they are like "holy shit," y’know, something like what I would have felt like if a band that I liked made a sequel to one of their songs.
One thing I have always wondered about Say Anything songs, especially on a record like ‘…Is A Real Boy,’ where most tracks seem to be almost like three different songs pasted together, in a good way of course, what is the writing process like for you to be able to create something like that?
It really differs when it comes to that element of our music, there are times where I’ll literally sit down, and my brain is kinda weird so it really does sometimes think like that, and the things I wanna hear from a song often are really not linear. I just want the song to emotionally and lyrically build and go to a place that is cinematic in a way, where it is sort of like musical theatre, where there can be a million different parts in a song but it makes sense emotionally. But their will be times where I’ll write a part of a song and I’ll be like "wow I don’t know what to do with this," a lot of times it’s really weird and funny how sometimes I’ll just throw it onto the end of something I was working on and change the lyrics and it works perfectly a lot, which is weird. I don’t know what says about me as a song writer but for some reason it works.
So what about the recording process for the new album, was that different to what you have done before? How did you approach it?
To me there was a lot less pressure, in a good way, there was just as much ambition, if not more, but it wasn’t centred around a particular goal or wanting to make our music appeal to any particular demographic, we just wanted to make the best record possible and kind of make our fans flip out, and make ourselves and our family and friends flip out, which honestly you hear bands say that all the time but we weren’t really like that on our first few records. We were really like an axe to grind if that’s the expression, trying to achieve this or that. On the first three records everyone of them was this intense experience of trying to achieve something in particular and each record had its own ends in terms of that, and goals, but this one was looser, the only thing that drew it together was the need to be comfortable in our skin and what the record was written about lyrically and the production, wanting to keep it raw and free which translated into the production and that made it a lot more loose and fun to record.
The Say Anything sound is pretty well set, I know with each record you do change things up a bit, but as far as your tonal qualities and things like that you keep to a similar vibe. Do you ever try and change those things or are you happy with, for example, your particular guitar sounds, so they are locked in?
There are elements that I definitely want to change, and I go out of my way to change on every record, but I guess there are certain things that I believe inherently define a band. Even a band like The Rolling Stones, which has made songs that sound like so many different types of music, or especially The Beatles who are the kings of creating every single type of pop to some degree, at the same time there is stuff like John Lennon’s voice for instance which is just John Lennon’s voice, do you know what I mean, you can’t get away from it. I never wanna be one of those bands where you can’t be like "oh that sounds like Say Anything" because as much as I become influenced by different music for every single record, and wanna do something different on every one, there’s a part of me that wants to stick to the level where everyone knows that if they enjoy Say Anything they can look forward to our new records rather than feel like they will be jarred by some other band. I never want to be like that.
I know it’s an unfair question to ask which of your kids you like the best but where would you put the new record in the ranks in contrast to the others?
I’d have to say that I can’t even think of a record after I made it where it didn’t become my favourite record to be honest. It’s the case with most musicians unless they have the horror story when making the record of like a bad producer or the label gets involved and fucks it up. Yeah this is definitely my favourite record by far and to be honest, I foresee that it’s one of those records I’ll be able to listen to comfortably in a few years without wincing which is honestly not the case with all my material. There is certain stuff I can listen to and have a really good time, like for some reason, because there is so many songs on it and because I don’t know what, I have a really easy time listening to ‘In Defence Of the Genre.’ I enjoy listening to it. I don’t listen to it ever really, like I listen to it once every couple of years or something and I really enjoy it but I never listen to ‘…Is A Real Boy.’ I don’t know what it is, it causes me to feel weird, just because it was my first record and I laboured over it so intensely that I could hear all of the effort and the misery and the blood and sweat and to be honest, it may be the record I’m proudest of, which is the weirdest thing about it, out of our first three records, but at the same time it draws a certain reaction from me. So I have this weird prediction that this one for some reason, maybe the type of music that it is, and that it really is the kind of music I would listen to, that makes me feel like this one will be one I’ll be able to listen to comfortably for quite some time.
So is it weird for you when people get into the band on say the third record, or maybe even this one, then go back and listen to ‘…Is A Real Boy’ and probably freak out over it because it is so good, even though for you it was such a long time ago, how do you deal with that?
I love it, I really love that. I would almost prefer that that’s what is happening as that would mean that there is tons of new people coming to appreciate my music as opposed to you know, the same people that were listening to my band in 2004 are still listening, which is great, and that is more important to me in the long run, but I would rather hear more about new fans discovering us. I feel confident in the people that have been listening to us for a long time that it would still be close to their hearts, they express themselves all the time and say like "I’ve been listening to you for ten years" or "I’ve been listening to you since ‘…Is A Real Boy," and I never get insecure about that. To be honest the only thing I worry about sometimes is just making sure that people are going "oh, who is this band, I’ve never heard them, that’s wonderful" and then they wanna just go back and discover all our old music, that’s beautiful, I hope that continues to happen.
Moving away from Say Anything for a second, I heard there might be another Two Tongues record, is that true?
Yeah, there was always gonna be one, we never thought there wasn’t going to be one, I think I brought it up on Twitter and I guess people weren’t aware about that so I think it caused a little bit of a stir which is awesome. It’s just a question of when we’re gonna do it, it was one of the most fun experiences that I have ever had making the record, it was a really significant, spiritual experience making the record too. We really do consider Two Tongues to be a career band, we never thought it would be one record then we’re done.
So you guys have a new deal here in Australia with UNFD, does that mean you’ll be coming back to Australia sometime soon?
I really hope so, I can’t say 100% yet because that would be fibbing but we’re really close to being able to say yes.
Cool, because I caught you guys on the Soundwave Festival when you played but I think you were a little sick so we didn’t get a full set, we just got a little taste.
Yeah, hopefully I won’t have my typical bug that I always get on tour.
So you have moved from a major label to a smaller label now, do you prefer this situation?
I definitely prefer it for this stage in our career, we were lucky to have a great experience on a major label and I think it was perfect for exposing us to a whole shitload of new fans. They really did set us up to have a really long, fruitful career. It’s just it got to the point where it no longer made sense, kind of like when you have a girlfriend who you break up with, I’ve never had this, like where you break up and you remain sort of friends in the future and you’re like “that was nice” so you can look back fondly after a few months when you’re with someone else and be like “that was nice and it wasn’t horrible.” That is sort of how I feel about RCA, there is a lot of amazing people there but at this point we found our match with Equal Vision, and I really hope to continue making records with them indefinitely.
There is a question I like to ask in interviews because I find it really interesting to hear from your point of view as a full time musician what it is like trying to make a living in the current musical climate, the industry being what it is today. Do you struggle with it?
To be honest it’s actually not bad for me, I’m really lucky to, God I’m trying not to jinx myself here, there’s no wood around for me to knock on but I’m theoretically knocking on wood right now, it’s gone pretty well for us, we’re not living like the rock star lifestyle, I don’t have a Starbucks in my house, but at the same time, thankfully I’ve never gone broke and that’s really the most that I can ask for. It helps us a lot that we created a fan base that are so sort of rabid and just stick with us, rather than being like a flash in the pan, because it affords us the opportunity to do all kinds of cool stuff like song shop.
I was actually going to bring that up, you obviously do Song Shop as well, how is that working out for you?
Great, God, really great, I really hope I can keep doing it indefinitely.
Do you ever get creatively tired from it though, it seems like you would be writing a lot of songs which is quite an effort?
You know what, it is never creatively tiring, more so just a feeling of exhaustion that you get after going to work I imagine? You know what I mean, like if I was working in construction, where it’s just like your brain is kinda fucked and you’re physically screwed, you wanna lie down and not really do anything, but it’s never a sense of like I couldn’t write more, well hopefully, another knock on imaginary wood.
Would you ever consider putting out a release of some of your favourite song shop songs so other people could see what it’s like?
To be honest I don’t think I will, maybe like one or two songs, but part of what’s cool about it is that it is between me and the person who is receiving it, and I feel like I wanna keep that special. And I like the fact that there is all these songs out there that, after a certain point I start deleting them of my computer so I will never hear them again and that is kinda cool to me.
I know you are a comic book fan, what are you reading at the moment?
Right now I’m reading this giant Mighty Thor Omnibus from Marvel, usually I resign myself to reading modern comics generally unless they are alternative comics but for the first time I’m trying to delve a little bit deeper into older superhero comics just because there is so many books that people are saying are life changing and they are so much better than newer comics which I love, so I’m trying my best to understand the mentality of what went into comics of the sixties and seventies and older comics.
You’re also preparing for The Avengers movie in a way if you’re reading Thor.
Yeah, exactly, I mean I’m definitely prepared for that.
Do you think it will be any good?
I do think it’s going to be good, I do. But then again I could be wrong, I’ve been wrong in the past.
Would Say Anything do another comic book theme collaboration like you did with Jeff Smith on ‘In Defence Of The Genre’?
Yeah definitely, completely, there are so many artists that I love, there is this guy named Nathan Fox who is like a younger dude, I’m really into his work and I really want him to do something for Say Anything.
Well thank you so much for the chat, looking forward to hearing the new album and hopefully we’ll see you in Australia soon.
Thank you man, thank you, yeah you will see us very soon.