Substream Magazine: Let’s get started with some sort of update on the band. The band has gone through a bunch of changes, from labels, to you personally, to the lineup change. How is this Say Anything different from last year’s?
Max Bemis: I feel like the major difference now is that what we have going is even more sustainable than it has been in the past, for a multitude of reasons. I think it all kinda started back when we left RCA, when we left Sony to go the indie route and paired up with Equal Visions, and frankly they’ve been amazing. Having them in place and having them keep us in a headspace where we can be a career band, and not be so focused on selling records and getting on the radio immediately changed the way I was writing and how I approached the band, and it’s kind of where I wanted to be. That is not to say that Sony wasn’t useful in getting us to that place where, you know, we got bigger and exposed us to a mainstream audience, but that had already happened, and I think we were ready to shift to a place where we could keep this going to for as long as we wanted to, and for me that’s indefinitely. The first change was leaving RCA, and we partnered up with Equal Vision who we intend to stick with forever, and they set me up with an imprint label, so I’m basically working at Equal Vision as well as being an artist. I’ve already signed six or seven artists that I’m really proud of working with. So that started happening, and then Coby and the band parted ways. That was a really good idea, because as much as I love Coby, he was heading in a different direction and the band was heading in another direction. By having Coby out of the dynamic, specially on a record, we were able to kinda embrace the fact that Say Anything is really just my songwriting and then whatever can bring it to life in the most exciting way possible. It’s not a traditional band in any sense of the word. I consider all the live members to be members of the band because they interpret it and do their own thing live, and make it a different experience live, because our live experience is nothing like the record. The biggest change is that now on record it literally is me doing everything. I can bring in different people to play drums or bass or whatever I really want. My vision is intact now without anyone touching it, and that is very sustainable, why wouldn’t I have always made records like that? There’s no band to break up. Now there’s comics and writing comics, and a bunch of cool things going on like Perma, my band with my wife, the ten year anniversary of IARB is coming up. It’s just this really awesome natural progression. a lot of things popping up all at once. A lot of them were changes, but positive changes.
SM: It seems like all these changes all connect back to Say Anything because you are in a great creative place right now. You mentioned Say Anything as kind of your brainchild once again now that all the changes were made, when was the last time the band functioned like this, with you being able to write a record this freely?
MB: Yeah, I mean to be honest it was never so much about clashing, as Coby was a great person to work with and we were usually on the same page creatively. It was just that our friendship got muddled with the creative partnership, and those two things could not continue and I think we chose the friendship. The band hasn’t existed like this since the first few songs I wrote by myself acoustic , before we did the Junior Varsity EP or even Baseball. That was the idea of Say Anything when we first started talking to labels, that it was just me, but then I became obsessed with these bands and I kept thinking “Man, I want to be a real band.” So we went out and got real members and had them play on the record. I had that experience and it was awesome and it lasted for quite some time like my relationship with Coby, but when I first started playing music I had this vision of me running the show to some degree. It’s hard for people to not see this as Egocentric thing, but it’s more of a creative choice, some people happen to do it that way, and some people don’t. You have someone like Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins who basically calls the shots or Trent Reznor who does the same thing, he basically plays everything on the record. I guess it’s been since the beginning of the band since we’ve had this setup.
SM: So was this return to form kind of one of the reasons to release these demos now?
MB: Yeah, I think part of it was embracing the history and the organic timeline of how this band was formed. I kind of had a lot to prove, and a lot of weird internal issues circling the whole material surrounding the material and defining who we are. So that’s sort of why I made it clear that Is A Real Boy… was our first official release. In reality now, I do look back and see those first songs as part of our history, it’s so loose, the multitude of ways they were created that I think it fits the band, since the approach was so varied for each song.
SM: Before it was clear that Is A Real Boy… was your first record, but now with this release it seems more and more like the album was more of a step in the history of the band than a start, is that how you wanted it to be?
MB: There’s kind of two ways to define it. Baseball and Junior Varsity are more like when you discover a new band. They have their old stuff they sold as CDs at their high school and local shows and then signed to a label and released their first real record. That’s kind of how I look at the pre-IARB material, except that we literally recorded an actual record, so it was our first record. I still do see IARB as the first time we had the resources and I put the mental capacity into a record that came out the way I wanted it to sonically and thematically. The earlier ones were recorded in my parents bedroom to sell at my high school and at our shows in LA. We weren’t intending for it to be a major market release, just to launch our career, which is what happened. It’s sort of a literal versus figurative, existential way of looking at what our first record is.
SM: Last year with the release of Anarchy, My Dear the pressure on you guys was higher than ever because you compared the chaotic nature of it to IARB, and there was even Admit It Again. Do you believe that the record lifted some of the pressure off the band?
MB: I think that record was important for us in so many level. It was a return to form for us because we were able to write the majority of the record outside of the major label system without worrying about singles or being the next blink-182 or Green Day. It was more about “What’s cool and quirky about our band and how can we hone in on that?” I think that put us on a creative path that has been really fun as I’m starting to record our next record. It’s definitely a different path than we would have taken had we continued at RCA or had we continued to try to make music that played to the mainstream. I love our self titled record, i think its right on the edge, but I’m almost scared of the record we would have been forced to make had we been pushed a little further. If Say Anything had been a breakout success, if a song like Do Better or Crushed had taken off instead of being fan favorites where we can go and come back from that place, the label would have expected us to put out a whole record of poppy material. I think we still write songs like that since there is always a place for that , but now there is creative freedom to explore the quirky side of our band. The pop will always be ingrained in us, but now it’s more of a choice rather than being forced upon us.
SM: Speaking of the new record, can you talk a bit about how the process for that is going and how far into that process you guys are?
MB: It’s been going great. We are not planning to release it until at least next summer, but I learned logic, the recording program, and I’ve been mapping out the songs. I started the pre-production phase on my own and I’m planning on producing the record, which is a first for us, at least since Baseball, obviously. I know so much more and frankly I’ve worked with these amazing producers, Tim O’Heir, Neil, and Brad Wood, but any of them will tell you that I have such a heavy hand on the arrangement and the production of the record. Truthfully as much as I needed these amazing producers for each of our records, in general all I really need to make a record is someone who knows engineering better than I do. Those records would not be half as good without the production those guys lent to it, but I’m ready to make a record that is all me. This is sort of in line with what we were talking about before. I’ve already begun the process and I’ve put together the musicians that are going to play on it, which are all exciting, and the direction is something we’ve never done before, none of which I can get into quite yet, but I can definitely say it’s down the path of making drastic and cool creative decisions that still push the band and continue to be ambitious. I know a lot of bands I loved growing up still do exciting stuff, but a lot of them seem to just be resting or something.
SM: Kind of like re-releasing the same record ten times?
MB: Yeah, but worst, like subpar, not even as good as the same record. There are some bands that I grew up listening to, and you can tell the difference between the bands that still lends gravity to their new releases and their careers as opposed to the bands that are just like “Yeah we’ve had some success ten years ago, but let’s just try to keep making money or being a band” instead of being like “What would Radiohead do.” Even if our band is not half as smart or big as Radiohead, it doesn’t mean that I should’t take a record as seriously as that band does. I think that is where a lot of bands falter because they don’t think enough of themselves to push themselves in a way the beatles would. Just because you are not as good as the beatles are, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to try.
SM: As far as the songwriting, you recently had a kid and got married and a whole lot happier than you were. How will that come into play when it comes to writing a Say Anything record, since to fans it seems like you probably aren’t even able to write an angst-filled record anymore?
MB: Well, I think you’ll be surprised by this record. As much as having Lucy and being happily married has informed this record quite a bit, as well as the last one, I’m definitely not a contented person, I’m a true neurotic. The whole first two-thirds or half of the record is all about my demons and how they still exist and they do for everyone. You don’t have to be married, just look at someone who works at a cubicle for a real estate agency. You think he’s just a normal guy, but he probably has some crazy issues that you don’t even know about. My goal with this new record is to examine the darkness beneath any happy, successful, exterior and work through it. The second part of the record has this really hopeful, awesome feeling of Lucy coming into my life. People can always expect the darkness and the anger and the angst, it’s just a part of who I am, even if I’m a happy guy.
SM: The Painful Splits record that you just recently wrapped up, you said it is the first breakup record since In Defense, how did that come about?
MB: With the Painful Splits records I kind of just sit and write very stream-of-consciousness and put it together fairly quickly and organically. I record it in my room, very lo-fi. I just started writing songs and it kind of came out. A big inspiration for that is the song shop thing I’ve been writing for some time, and a lot of what I have to write about is people going through the end of a relationship or a hard emotional time in a relationship. I find that I still connect to those songs really deeply and there are parts of me that still have unresolved issues. I started looking at my life, and those people’s lives, and the lives of my friends and sort of explore it. Not all of it is auto biographical, some of it is little pieces put together, but I enjoyed writing this record because I still enjoy listening to break up records, you know? I haven’t been in a breakup for seven or so years, but I can still put on a Red House Painters record and still get emotional, you know? Anyone can still have a part of them that still has a scar and there is still a place. It’s a big thing for human beings, you know, letting go of someone else.
SM: It really seems like you are very in touch with yourself and everything around you now-a-days, and it affects you in such a good way.
MB: Yeah, with twitter and all these new ways to connect including song shop to connect to my fans, I feel so much more grounded to the real world as opposed to when I was like placed in a corner and nobody was allowed to touch me or talk to me. I would just you know, play a show and that was it. Now I feel like I have an open dialogue with people who enjoy my music and it means the world. Every day I get this resounding positivity injected into my experience, wether its in comics or music or song shop. Every time someone says something positive, how can you not let that encourage you and humble you to some degree?
SM: The reception to the comics seems pretty great. Issue number 3 came out yesterday and fans seem to be liking it a lot and providing feedback since they can relate.
MB: They relate to it the same way as the music, since it’s kind of the same voice, not too foreign from my voice as a musician. It’s cathartic and inner turmoil and valuing yourself to grow into a person. That’s always going to be a part of my writing, even in the less auto-biographical stuff I’ve been moving towards.
SM: How did the whole writing comics thing get started?
MB: I’ve always wanted to do it, I’m sort of an obsessive comic fan. It’s another creative boundary I wanted to cross. It’s my favorite medium of expression other than music so I was a bit intimidated. I was too scared for a while, but I realized that If I wanted to do it I had to start soon. I kind of just told myself “Hey man if you wanna do it for the rest of your life, just do it.” So I started sending out pitches to publishers and boom, they liked what they saw and now we are putting out a couple books together.
SM: Now, to shift gears to the tour. You named the tour the “Rarities and More” tour, does that mean we can expect some of those rarities? How does that play along with the new and improved Say Anything?
MB: The set is about half rarities and half material from the records. We kind of spruced up the rarities songs, since a lot of those songs from the older material don’t even have real drums, I recorded them on a keyboard with my fingers. This is the first time we have a real drummer playing some of these songs. Reed who is playing drums for this tour is amazing, and I walked in on them playing some of these songs in the studio and they have really come to life. It’s an amazing experience.
SM: So fans can expect a lot of the rarities material, a bit of fan favorites, and just a good time overall?
MB: We are even playing some deep cuts from In Defense and Anarchy that we haven’t played before, so it’s a pretty different selection of songs for fans. We’ve been off the road for a while so we are ready for a long tour.
SM: I saw the whole family is on tour this time around, right?
MB: Yeah, with Eisley on tour we have four babies and four families divided between two buses and an RV. Everyone’s related and it’s just fun. It’s like hanging out with family and friends.
SM: What do you think of the backlash Eisley got from their Kickstarter?
MB: It was such a stupid thing. Now a days you get backlash for just about any Kickstarter or if you are in a band you get backlash for just about anything, really. It’s already falling by the wayside, and they put out such an amazing record that people already forgot about it. People always get angry about things and then forget it, kind of like when we put out “Hate Everyone” and people began to get up in arms on message boards saying it was ripped from a Clash song. I felt like it was the end of the world, but it went away. Not to say that message board people aren’t people, but it’s such a small part of everything. The general public isn’t even aware of all this gossipy feuds and dirty parts of the music scene. I love Absolutepunk and I have an allegiance to it, but it’s weird. Like this band Escape The Fate, everyone hates them and its a huge deal and everyone is annoyed by this guy Ronnie Radke, but when I call my friend and the band comes up he’s like “What? I never even heard that” Most people don’t care about that stuff and just wanna listen to the music. Not that I don’t think that there should be a place for all the people who are like super into music and want to get down to the nitty gritty stuff, but as a musician I have to remind myself that there is a general population and people who really care about music. The people who care about Eisley really focused on the situation instead of the whole drama surrounding it, and whether they supported it or not they could at least see why they did what they did. It wasn’t a big deal whether they supported it or not they are still traveling with four babies which doesn’t happen every day. Whether you like a song or not or disagree with something, it’s all preference and it is all so small in the long run. Even stuff like who Taylor Swift is dating, nobody will care in like twenty years.
SM: That also changes every week.
MB: Exactly. One guy is gonna come along and we’ll forget all the other ones ever existed.
SM: How are her records gonna sell though?
MB: That’s the question. We’ll see, people thought the same about me.
SM: Well, I think that’s a wrap up. Thank you very much for doing this Max, is there anything else you’d like to add?
MB: Just thanks for the time and for doing this, and thanks for the support, man.
Photo by Ryan Russell
Interview by Victory DePaulo