Just two weeks after Bayside were in a van accident that resulted in the death of drummer John “Beatz” Holohan and left bassist Nick Ghanbarian with a broken vertebra in his back, vocalist/ guitarist Anthony Raneri and guitarist Jack O’Shea were back on the road with acoustic guitars in hand. On the decision to return to the road so quickly, Raneri concedes that “It was just a matter of ‘I just want a guitar in my hands, I want to play.'”
Continuing to play music was a reflex and a much-needed emotional outlet for Raneri, but he makes clear that thoughts of the band’s career were far from their minds. “When you talk about Bayside, that’s talking about career,” he differentiates, “and we weren’t thinking about our career or the business or anything like that. [Music] is how I’ve dealt with things since before I did it for a living- so the fact that at that point I was doing it for a living didn’t really change it.”
A year after the accident the band began recording, and on February 6, 2007 Bayside released their third studio album, The Walking Wounded, through Victory Records. The album’s title was born from a paramedic’s comment to Bayside bassist Nick Ghanbarian following the accident and serves as a reminder of their strength: on the lead single “Duality”, Raneri declares, “I’m still alive.”
When I speak to Raneri in early September he and the rest of Bayside are in Philadelphia with just hours to until the second show of their tenth anniversary tour for The Walking Wounded. He’s standing on a busy Chinatown street near the Trocadero, the venue where the band will be playing that night, and says that the previous night’s show in Baltimore went well. Like most anniversary tours, Bayside’s The Walking Wounded celebration sees the band playing songs they’ve never played live before. There is a certain degree of risk in such an undertaking, but Raneri appears confident as he tell me “considering we’re playing a whole lot of songs that we’ve either never played or only played a couple times, [or] haven’t played in a while- I thought it went pretty well.”
Over a decade of nonstop touring, certain songs will come in to regular rotation on a band’s setlist, with others to remain deep cuts for fans to discover on their own. For Bayside, this has happened naturally. Raneri explains that which songs would become singles wasn’t on the band’s mind when making The Walking Wounded, confessing “earlier in our career we did think about if we were doing things that we weren’t going to be able to exactly do live- like, obviously in the title track of that record, we don’t bring an accordion and a tuba out- but I think we stopped worrying about that a long time ago. We just try to make the best music we can and then we figure out how to perform it later.” Ultimately, he says, “We just write stuff that we think is great.”
Perhaps it’s this focus on writing music that they believe in that allows Bayside to stand out and maintain a legacy. When making an album, Raneri says they don’t think too heavily about which songs will be singles and which will remain deep cuts, noting that “we just try to come up with a collection of the best music that we can.” While he acknowledges that “some [songs] are gonna lean towards being singles and some are gonna lean words being deeper cuts,” he concludes that “if you shoot to write singles then you’re setting [yourself] up for failure. If you shoot to not write singles you’re setting yourself up for failure.” Maybe the key to creating songs that will continue to resonate more than a decade later is not thinking too much either way, rather simply focusing on writing great songs.
Album anniversary tours have become a trend over the past few years, as more and more artists relive the past by routing extended tours surrounding an album released a decade ago. In 2015 Bayside embarked on a tour celebrating 15 years as a band, though regarding the choice to do a tour for the tenth anniversary of The Walking Wounded, Raneri admits that “The anniversary tours aren’t really that big for us.” But while the album was born after a tragedy it’s ultimately an album of triumph, and he says that the band “wanted to do this [tour] because it commemorates a special time in our career more than commemorates the record.” Rather than a month-long cross-country trek, they’re celebrating with less than a dozen shows in the US (save for Riot Fest, they’re primarily small venues), and four in the U.K. Creating the record was Bayside’s chance to prove to themselves “that we’d be able to move on, to keep being a band”; this tour is their celebration of that time, and the fact that they’re still here.
The mid 2000s saw a huge boom in alternative music as formerly niche bands saw crossover success, though several of the bands have since broken up or gone on hiatus. Bands like Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance broke through to the mainstream, and despite a positive critical response and appearances on MTV, Fuse, and Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Bayside never quite made that leap. “It was tough at the time,” Raneri admits, “when we were really hustling and just starting out trying to make a living, it was hard to watch all these other bands pass us by. But now we’re really happy.”
In contrast to artists who found themselves climbing the industry at a whirlwind pace, Raneri reflects that “we’ve been at a much more sustainable pace.” While perhaps unclear ten years ago, that sustainability has allowed Bayside to maintain a career as a consistent band. “We’ve been working hard and constantly for almost 20 years,” Raneri reflects. “We’re happy that we didn’t do anything to change the trends or do anything that we could’ve gotten bigger faster…. Like you said, we still have a career.”
Some bands have seen a crowd with a rotating cast of characters of the same age range, but many of Bayside’s fans have stayed with them for years. That’s important to the band, who are always thinking of the future and the potential lasting impact of everything they do. Raneri explains that “when we’re making music or doing a photoshoot or coming up with an album cover, we always do ask ourselves, ‘Is this something we’re gonna be embarrassed of in ten years?'”. Rather than hopping on whatever trends are currently in vogue, they’ve chosen to focus on the long term: “It’s always been really important to us to do timeless things and have this legacy career- that’s always been the goal. Now, almost twenty years on, it kinda seems like we made the right moves.”
At the start of a band’s career there’s often a focus on immediacy and a desire for overnight success without much thought of the long-term. I wonder if Raneri’s goals for the band have changed over the years. They’ve been consistent, he assures me, noting that “Our goal has always been making good music and being good influences on people. We want to be good role models- we want to be people that fans or other bands look up to.”
It’s rare for artists to have such a strong sense of self-awareness at any point in their career, and Raneri informs me Bayside have had the same aspirations since the start. “Even back when we were starting and we didn’t have any fans, that was a dream- we still said, ‘One day, we want to be the kind of band that other bands respect and look up to.’ That’s always really stuck with us.” I remark that many of the bands that came up around the same time as Bayside broke up because they’d lost control of creative and business decisions upon reaching certain levels of success, and Raneri agrees that “we’ve always been in control of every move- nobody has ever told us what to do. Everything has always been on our terms.” Maintaining that control has been key to the band’s longevity, and while he says he’s “learned more about songwriting- so there’s been changes in all that”, he notes that “the goal has always been the same.”
Although Bayside have always known who they wanted to be, The Walking Wounded saw the band lock into their sound and come in to their own. Knowing what he said about wanting to create a lasting legacy, I ask Raneri if he feels any obligation to make music fans will like so that they’ll continue being fans. His answer is simple: “We want to always sound like Bayside.”
To clarify what this means, Raneri brings up his solo project. “I’ve always thought if you want to do something else- do something else. If I want to write a country song or something, I don’t feel like I need to do it under the Bayside umbrella just so people would pay attention.” We discuss how certain bands have made a drastic change in sound and how that doesn’t always work out, leaving long-time fans disappointed. “You know, I’m a music fan and I have a lot of bands that I love that stopped sounding like themselves and I didn’t like that,” he laments, later adding that “if a song doesn’t sound like a Bayside song then we don’t use it.”
While it’s important for the band so sound like themselves, Raneri says it’s not about making calculated moves, and stresses that “You can’t set up all kinds of rules for yourself when you’re making music.” Speaking on his writing process, he says, “If you sit down to write a song and you say, ‘This one has to be a single, I’m gonna sit down and I’m gonna write a single and it’s gotta sound like Bayside and it’s gotta be fast and it’s gotta do this and the lyrics have to be dark‘- that’s math at that point, that’s not making music.” But how do they decide what to put on the record? “We think about, ‘Okay, which songs sound like a Bayside record? What are the best songs?’ and that’s what comes out on the record. But we never set out to do any of that- you can’t set all those rules for yourself.”
We discuss the music we were listening to ten years ago and I mention that I’m still listening to many of the same artists and albums today, though sometimes old songs have taken on new meanings as I gain new life experiences. I ask if, a decade on from writing The Walking Wounded, performing and rehearsing these songs brings back old memories or rather if the songs take on new meaning.
“They’ve definitely taken on a new meaning,” he decides. As the group performs “Head On a Plate”, “Thankfully”, and “A Rite of Passage” for the very first time, there’s more to it than being transported to the past. “I don’t have the same inspiration that I did when I wrote those songs,” he notes. “Some of those songs were about breakups that happened ten years ago- so I’m certainly not reliving that while we’re playing them now.” So what does go through his mind when he plays those songs? “It’s a celebration of the time- playing ‘Duality’, for instance, at these shows, does kind of remind me of playing it on Conan O’Brien and it’s taking me back to when I wrote and recorded these songs- I’m remembering the studio time and us being all together and coming up with these ideas. I’m definitely remembering all that now.”
On “I And I” Raneri sings, “Oh, I’m so proud of where I am,” and a decade on from The Walking Wounded, there’s no doubt he is. With the tenth anniversary tour for the album, Bayside aren’t aiming to relive the past. Rather, they’re celebrating a moment where they became survivors instead of victims, and the fact that they’ve had a long-lasting and constant career. With Bayside, there are no fads or trends that will pass with time, just songs that continue to hold their legacy- and that is certainly something worth celebrating.
Bayside are currently on tour in support of the tenth anniversary of The Walking Wounded. More information on all upcoming shows can be seen on their website.