Sometimes a record comes out and defies all expectations — or rather, simply just defies the odds. In some ways, a little bit of both is  where Say Anything’s second studio album, …Is A Real Boy, finds itself.

By 2003, Say Anything had self-released numerous EP’s and one full-length album with Baseball, and thus were part of the early-2000’s onslaught of labels rushing to sign these indie/emo/punk/whatever-you-want-to-call-it bands that were slowly but surely taking the world by storm. Once they signed to Doghouse Records and work began on what would ultimately become …Is A Real Boy — while at one point being planned as a full-fledged rock opera — vocalist and bandleader Max Bemis began feeling the pressure.

What happened next and intermittently in the following years has been well-documented, as aside from being in the public image, Bemis has always been open and forthcoming about his battles with mental health. In 2004, …Is A Real Boy was released to rave reviews from critics and a rapidly growing fanbase, and in 2005, Say Anything ultimately signed to Clive Davis’ major label, J Records. This is the defying the expectations part.

In June of 2005, Bemis’ mental health had reached a tipping point causing the band to cancel a headlining tour, and later in October of 2005, another tour was canceled on the same accord. Ultimately, Bemis got the help needed with support from family and friends, and things turned around. J Records sent “Alive With the Glory of Love” to radio — achieving chart success and placements in movies and TV shows — and re-issued …Is A Real Boy with 7 additional tracks, including one of their popular tracks, “Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too.” This is the defying the odds part.

Now here we are, 20 years later and when talking to Bemis a few weeks back regarding the …Is A Real Boy anniversary — as well as their upcoming album, …Is Committed (more on that later) — he’s in a spot of reflection while simultaneously looking forward. “It is crazy,” he says to me not he 20th anniversary. “I mean I don’t know perceive it as such but it definitely is when I explain.”

When discussing with me, Bemis shares that he feels as a whole the record has held up well, and was precisely what he set out to make at the time. The reaction was unprecedented, but yet was exactly what he wanted to achieve. It’s a record full of sarcasm and jokes, and for the critical and fan reception to get the jokes and irony behind the songs, meant the world to Bemis and co.

Things weren’t always that way, per se, as Bemis recognizes there was a point where he didn’t necessarily always hold …Is A Real Boy in such regard. “With anyone in a band you want to move forward and make music that still connects,” he reflects on this period of disenfranchisement. “But I always felt like that was a cop out and a lame attitude. The only thing that complicated it, it was written in character as the worst version of me of all time. It’s just that my performing persona and sometimes my speaking persona is aimed to provoke. Even though that’s what I wanted, it’s like any magic in that theres good and bad consequences. You may get what you wanted, but the frog you pulled out of your hat takes a dump on your foot. I feel like that made it difficult, especially as I became a husband and father.”

In terms of celebrating the 20th anniversary of ...Is A Real Boy with a tour, despite having a new record coming out, Bemis explains there was never much of a hesitation. “I might not have brought it up first,” he recalls, “but it’s not like I needed convinced.” He credits his manager, David, who prior to becoming the manager of Say Anything a couple years ago, had been a long-time friend of Bemis. “I wouldn’t do it unless I deferred to people who I trust more than me about business decisions. Forget business, it’s more about trusting other people to know.”

With …Is Committed coming out May 24th (via Dine Alone Records), it marks their first release since their original — albeit always a temporary one — swan song, 2019’s Oliver Appropriate. The record itself made it a point to joke about and predict the inevitable return of Say Anything, something Bemis reiterates while we’re discussing this period of time in his life. 

While he originally sent he band into hiatus to focus on his family in 2019, ultimately socially and world-view wise at the time — and going into 2020, of course — his five year experience outside of Say Anything wasn’t everything he originally set it out to be. “I think the time was similar to how a lot of people — at least most American people — the weird thing is that it lined up with COVID, Trump, and such, so I think that colored my experience is un-alterable. I can’t say how it would be without those things,” Bemis says. 

2023 saw Say Anything back together with the release of singles “PSYCHE!,” “ARE YOU (IN) THERE,” and “CARRIE & LOWELL & CODY (PENDENT)” throughout the year, as well as a performance at When We Were Young that year. “PSYCHE!” was the first song written by Bemis for what would ultimately become …Is Committed, and was ultimately it was written on impulse, which he describes as what he feels is when he normally is at his best writing wise, as a way to avoid overthinking.

Bemis reflects on the person he was when he originally started Say Anything, describing himself and the reasons behind it as “[not] very punk.”  While he felt a sense of rebellion and the typical high school angst, he’s candid about how he was ultimately a relatively popular kid in high school, being a guy in a band in an artsy school in Los Angeles.  “All of my strife was internal, and I finally experienced some of these things in my 30’s that people experienced in terms of like oppression,” Bemis shares.

“When I wrote ‘PSYCHE!’ I had empathy for myself,” he continues. “It was both easier and harder. The writing process was pretty easy. There was no filter. The album came out really fully formed because I knew what it would have to be to even exist. So it just came out so easily in almost of boringly fun way, I would sit there slap jawed and I would record vocals and out would come all of these sincere moments.”

The words behind …Is Committed came from a very autobiographical place, and perhaps during a time when Bemis needed Say Anything just as much — if not more — the listeners needed the band. Outside of the aforementioned COVID pandemic and how that affected everyone, there was a point in the last 5 years where things came to a head as there were unfounded claims by some of their family regrading his children and their well-being.

“I’m still figuring it out,” Bemis shares when I ask how him and his wife, Sherri, got through this with their children. “I think on one level, that kind of stuff bings out the best in people if you have principals. When I say that I don’t mean being part of some political or religious organization, I just mean if you care about other people and you don’t have to die to be there for other people. I don’t have to suffer to be there for other people.”

He refers to some of Say Anything’s old music as a “searching for purpose,” and even when he ultimately met Sherri and started a family, there was still that searching. While he ultimately knew he had a purpose to himself, his audience, his family, he remembers still having a lot of feelings like he was a, self-described, “useless piece of shit.” All of this ties back into the reason for …Is Committed exists as it does today; “Most peoples way and my way, is humor and lets make a joke out of it or through art instead of dealing with it. I think you can do both so I wanted an album that could do both, having humble and humility but still fighting back,” Bemis shares on how this influenced the new record.

“In a way its not fully sorted out, the people making a dent in this world bc its such a flawed world, you’re going to receive push back. It shouldn’t exist [and] as much as its not good and I don’t think it should be happening, for me to expect that to disappear, is unrealistic.”

The very first line on …Is Committed finds Bemis singing “Fuck breathing / let’s die alone” and while it kicks off the record in an angry fashion, the end of the opening track finds Bemis making the confession that, in the present, he is now the one that needs Say Anything as an entity to exist. But specifically, this new beginning on “BE, CHILDREN (INTRODUCTION TO THE REUNION RECORD),” he calls back to previous songs of his about suicide, death, loneliness, or the path into self destruction. “I wanted people to know they were safe in their feeling of nihilism at times. I’m a moralist but in a way I embrace some of those principles and I think thats healthy,” he says.

The record is full of classic Say Anything tracks and ones that truly harken back to this punk-rock energy that founded the early Say Anything days — with one of the more prominent tracks that displays is the recently released “ON CUM.” Bemis tells me that songs make it to the track-list on the order in which he wrote them, and remembers when he decided to turn this Say Anything return into a new record, outside of needing an intro, he wanted the second one to be a “banger.” 

“The first verse even talks about great second songs on the records that I love. So I wanted [‘ON CUM’] to be that. Then the ending, the song becomes extremely vulnerable starting at the bridge,” Bemis tells me. “Everything in that song is a crazy reference to 1999 warped tour, thats a very me thing to do, and then even narratively I was like ‘What am I trying to say” Then the ending is this long part about Sheri and my actual feelings. There’s humor but way less trying to project anything. It’s lifted from an Eisley song, which I took some of the lyrics and melody.”

Perhaps one of the more interesting songs that makes its appearance on …Is Committed is “CARRIE & LOWELL & CODY (PENDENT)” and it takes a different approach to discussing his upbringing in his music. There have been songs like “Do Better,” which is a song about his father and even though it was a sincere song for Bemis to write, he feels like it was very a spiteful and “daddy issues” type song. “When I grew up, I had to come to terms with how I was raised and now I love my dad,” he shares.

Ultimately, this is something that came later in life with his mother. For Bemis and out of respect to his mother, this was something that took a little more time to write about as he’s able to recognize the care and time she put into him as a person. Hence, “CARRIE & LOWELL & CODY (PENDENT)” isn’t simply a “Do Better (Mom’s Version” or anything of that sort. “It’s more of a sad ‘Where are you?’ — which I’m sure can be hard to digest as a mother,” Bemis shares. “But it was my truth, it is my truth, but I feel as long as Im being like — trust me, as a person I don’t have a problem being disrespectful to my mom s my teen years will attest, but I don’t think it was good. So I try to give her more dignity.”

The penultimate song on …Is Committed is “Woman Song,” and is perhaps the most deeply personal song on the record to Bemis. It was written right after child services came to his house, to investigate the aforementioned claims made by family members regarding the wellbeing of his children. “It was tough in the sense that it was one of the most painful things I’ve ever done,” he shares with me. “But to me, feeling and feeling so deeply it hurts is easier for me than being numb and dead inside.”

He mentions the struggle he has with this quality, but turning it into a good thing and being able to flip it into a song — even if it hurts — can be positive. “Woman Song” may be one of the most painful songs on the record, but it still is one of his favorites overall.  It’s an archive of how someone feels at that very specific point. It would have been harder to old those feelings in. I think the reason its on there ecord and not some therapy exercise, I wanted people who look up to me to realize that I am equally vulnerable,” he recalls. “Therapy is so normalized, we live in a day and age where people go online and shame people. I think people are being bullied for not being ready to open up, and I feel like that’s not okay. I clearly have less shame than the average person to even put that on the record. But I’m not some god, I have these same struggles.”

Where ...Is A Real Boy defied the odds, as well as any and all expectations, there are similar parallels to how we got here to …Is Committed. While the struggles were different leading up to the album’s creation and ultimate existence, the truth is Say Anything has always existed in a world of pain. Even if the earlier records were written “in character,” there was always a layer of truth and pain behind what inspired the songs. For fans, it’s great to have Say Anything back at surface level and this time around, at the very least, Bemis is in a better place to where the band being back is great for him, too.

With …Is Committed, it shows. The songs are real, they are sincere, and while the wit, sarcasm, and jokes all make their signature appearance, this time it’s different. Say Anything is back, and in a time of seemingly endlessly reunions of early aughts “emo” bands, …Is Committed may be the record that best encapsulates where the band has been, and where they may go moving forward. 

‘…Is Committed’ will be released on May 24th via Dine Alone Records and can be pre-ordered here. Tickets for all remaining ‘…Is A Real Boy’ 20th anniversary shows can be purchased here.