Say Anything have always strived to be one of the more interesting and eccentric acts in modern punk rock over their twelve-year career. Their sixth album, ‘Anarchy, My Dear’, pushes their left-field take on the genre forward with a rawer, more intense sound and lyrics that seek to subvert the rules of society. Frontman and primary songwriter Max Bemis recently spoke to Kill Your Stereo about the new album and the band’s upcoming Australian tour with The Getaway Plan.
Tell me a bit about yourself and your role in the band?
My name is Max. I sing and write the songs and play the instruments on the record, except for drums. Live, I just sing. I started the band with the drummer Coby (Linder) twelve years ago and kind of did most of the behind the scenes stuff as well. I’m married, I live in Texas even though I grew up in LA and New York. I’m a huge comic book fan and a neurotic character, one might say.
What was the songwriting process like for ‘Anarchy, My Dear’? Did it differ from your previous album?
No, the songwriting process is always very similar on all our records. It always begins with me writing a song on an acoustic guitar and I bring the shell of a song. I have a vision of it in my head and I bring it to Toby who helps me write it. I think we purposefully stuck to that and think we’ll always stick to that formula, because it defines Say Anything.
What were the musical influences behind the album’s sound and attitude?
There’s a lot of the same bands that go without saying, like The Beatles, Green Day and things like that that are just ingrained in the fabric; Queen, bands that every Say Anything record kind of sounds like. I’ll never escape that. I think when we came to this record I felt a lot more happy with what’s going on today than I did on the last couple of records, so I felt comfortable straying a bit from the formula more. My favourite band of the last couple of years has been Japandroids. They’re like my favourite band that I’ve discovered in the past five-to-ten years, and there’s a lot of bands that we know or sort of know, who work with the same people and aren’t much older or younger than us, like Surfer Blood, they’re pretty young. It’s a lot of people my own age and maybe a little younger, and I would hear a lot of stuff that’s not that far off from what I’d like music to be. I felt unashamed making that was current. I feel like our last record was a throwback in a way. As bands like Fleet Foxes and Arcade Fire were blowing up around the time of our last record and a lot of Nu Metal was being played and the crappy, worst parts of emo were having their death-cry, I felt the need to reach back to what I grew up with like stadium rock and pop rock. On this record, I didn’t feel bad about being a modern indie rock band.
Lyrically, the album is unified by a subversion of the rules that society places on itself. Was it intentional to link the songs together in this way?
Yeah, very intentional. I think I would’ve done it even if it wasn’t intentional because that’s basically what I was thinking about when I wrote the record. I think I’m the type of person who likes to put things together in a grand scheme, so once I realised that’s what I wanted to write about I was pretty forthright about injecting that into all the lyrics and the artwork and everything.
What was it like to reunite with producer Tim O’Heir?
It was amazing. He’s one of my favourite producers to work with, he’s a genius and he really gets me. It was just easy, he’s a very easy person to work and a pleasure to be around.
Do you feel that the album’s writing and production managed to capture the live energy of the band?
Yeah, I do. Tim is a big fan of bands like The Clash that sort of took punk in a creative direction rather than hammering you over the head, but at the same time we love this raw, live-sounding stuff. I think especially with what we were trying to do, we were able to harness the energy of the band in a live setting much more than any album… that we’ve done, not in general!
You’ve described ‘Anarchy, My Dear’ as a “true ‘punk’ record”. What do you say to critics who disagree with this?
I haven’t really seen anyone disagree with the fact that it’s definitely a punk record about subversion and anarchy and destroying society, I mean, you can’t really argue with that. It’s not really a matter of what people think, it just is.
On ‘…Is A Real Boy’, you said you wanted to outdo Andy Warhol and Jesus. Are there any famous figures you tried to outdo on this album?
I guess, to be honest, no one famous, but I really wanted to outdo the bands that I have been enjoying and the bands I’m surrounded by. I think there is a very competitive drive in me when I make music and not for the sake of wanting to feel cooler or we did better than someone, but more so that I get bored listening to my own music if I don’t think it can compete with what I love. I think I was more so trying to outdo everyone around me making music.
So it was basically trying to keep up with your peers?
Exactly, and not even my peers, not even music I necessarily liked, just everything that was going on and especially stuff I was into.
The band is set to return to Australia for the first time since Soundwave 2009. What are you most looking forward to about coming back?
The fact that we’re headlining, I would say, is the thing I’m most excited about. Last time we were just on a festival route. It’s always exciting, every town, every city and every country has their own flavour about how they react to a headlining set from us, and I love doing our thing and spreading our gospel, so to speak, in places that we haven’t been. I’m excited to see how people react to it and it’s usually interesting and fun and people have these great, varied reactions. It’s a new thing every night with us.
Is it daunting returning to play in a headline role this time?
No, I don’t feel daunted at all. If anything, I feel a lot more excited playing for crowds that generally know who we are. There were a lot of fans, but it was this huge festival with Nine Inch Nails headlining, so there were a lot of people who had never heard of Say Anything. At a headline show, everyone would have at least heard of us. I really do enjoy festivals and I really do enjoy opening for other bands, but how can you compete with really indulging with what you do to the most extent in terms of a live show? It’s hard to compete with that.
You’ve started up your fan songwriting service again. Is it difficult to write song after song for complete strangers?
I don’t find it difficult, although I do find it to be time consuming. At the same time, I am lucky that I get to do it and it’s extremely fun and rewarding. The only thing is that it requires a lot of time and concentration and effort. I’m rewarded for it, and it’s one of the greatest creative endeavours I’ve been a part of, and I feel very proud of it and proud of the effect that it’s had on the people who have bought a song. I can’t complain about the fact that it takes a lot of time. The length depends, but I do bang them out fairly quickly. You won’t really catch me spending hours on a Song Shop song unless there’s some special condition to it, or I’m like really tired and having a hard time, but that’s rare.
Are there any Song Shop songs that are particularly memorable?
Yeah, there’s so many. What was particularly memorable was that I did this whole album for this one girl, who is actually from Australia. It was nine songs and it was crazy. She really had gone through a lot in her life, so every song had this serious gravity to it and there was no throwaway. Every song was this dramatic event or this perception of herself, and I really connected with what she was feeling and thinking and it didn’t let up. There was like nine songs in a row of really intense shit. Whereas once in a while I’ll get a song for a first dance or wedding, it’s not like I’m having to dredge up my own pain to write that song. It’s more of a pleasant experience, as opposed to here where I was really reaching for every song.
Will any of the songs ever be formally released?
I think part of the appeal to me as a creative soul is that these songs are out there and no one will ever hear them. I think that’s pretty rare when it comes to musicians in any semi-successful band, where you can say that there’s two thousand songs out there and only twenty percent will every be heard and the rest are just a special thing between me and the person who bought it.
It sounds like you have a lot of artistic integrity.
That I have it? Who knows, I’d like to think I do and I try to have it but I’m subject to the pitfalls of being a creative soul, which involves kind of being a tool, no matter how cool of a person you are. I’ve always acknowledged that if you think your problems are worth everyone singing about it and hearing about it, there’s a part of you that’s a little messed up. I’m proud of it though, but I can’t claim to be a perfect person.
Will we be seeing any activity from Two Tongues in the future?
I wouldn’t say the near future, but definitely within the next couple of years. Me and Chris (Conley) have been planning on doing something sooner than later, but I can’t say the very near future. Definitely it will happen and it’s not going to be a ridiculously long time. I’ve got other stuff I’m working on and Chris has other stuff he’s working on and it’s just a matter of making sure it’s the right timing.
What does the rest of 2012 hold for Say Anything?
We’re going to Australia and then we have a tour in the fall. There’s actually some really cool stuff coming up that I can’t quite talk about yet, but there will actually be more stuff happening this year that people can conceive of. I know it’s a huge tease, but it’s a truth.
Is that hinting towards a possible release?
Yeah, that’s all I’ll say about it, but yes.
Are there any comments you’d like to finish on?
I’m gracious that people so far away from my home have heard in my band in Australia and you guys are invaluable to us, so thank you.