Considering the amount of turmoil they’ve put up with over the past decade, it wouldn’t be surprising if LA-based indie rock band Say Anything had hung up the mic years ago. A slew of members have come and gone; the band has bounced from label to label – big and small – about four or five times over their career. Oh, and front man Max Bemis had a much-publicized breakdown during the recording of their first album.
Regardless, the band soldiered on, turning in one impressive, ambitious record after the next. When their peers were singing about high school crushes, Bemis and the boys were recording verbal fuck you’s hidden inside infectious pop rock ditties.
It’s no surprise then that their latest Anarchy, My Dear, their first for Equal Vision, is again filled with dark, sardonic, intelligent lyrics. Perhaps their strongest release so far, the band even brought back Tim O’Heir, who produced their first full length.
The band has just started a new tour that will bring them to Lancaster, PA on Oct. 18 and Sayerville, NJ on Oct. 19, but no Philly dates yet.
Bemis spoke recently about the new record, working with O’Heir again and why he was so open about that mental breakdown.
You guys went back to work with (producer) Tim O’Heir on this one. Is that something you’d wanted to do for awhile?
We’ve been tossing around the idea of working with him again ever since we discovered the circumstances we would have making this record and understanding the type of record we would want to make. The songs were starting to come about. Once we sort of figured out the label we were going to sign to, the path we were going to take with our career, the way the songs were leaning, we immediately thought of Tim. He was maybe the first and only producer we considered for this record.
You hadn’t worked with him since about 2004, right?
Yeah, exactly. It was an amazing experience. Well it was definitely a traumatic experience the first time around – and that had nothing to do with our working relationship or the quality of his work, which are both really great.
So what was it like to work with him this time versus in 2004? Was it a different atmosphere this time around?
Yeah, there were a lot of differences with the details. I’m a much better guitar player than I was and I have different methods of how I go about recording and I think the main difference is the results we were aiming for. With the first record we had a whole different recording process where I, well I lost my mind and we had to stop recording, which was an obvious difference. Now I have my shit together. On the first record we were going for more of a really shiny pop-type record even though the songs were gritty. This time around I was really looking for a raw sound. I wanted to really capture the spirit of the band. I think that was even more conducive to Tim’s style.
You had mentioned in your latest bio that you were looking to make a “punk record”. Can you elaborate a little on that?
Everyone has different interpretations about what is punk and what isn’t punk and it’s an annoying debate. I kinda threw that word out there associated with this record partly because I don’t give a crap what people think; on an aesthetic level it’s not loud and it doesn’t sound like the Sex Pistols and it doesn’t sound like Anti-Flag or NOFX or Black Flag, but the idea of the punk record is the ethics behind it. The themes throughout the record are anti-establishment. It’s centered on this idea of anarchy, of disrupting the control the government and society has on our lives and taking it back. To me that’s what I define punk as – a problem with authority or at least questioning authority and this is a record centered around that idea. That’s how I associate what a punk band is. I was not hesitant to throw that term out there because I made a concerted effort to keep the record focused on that theme.
I think one thing that made you really stand out among your peers over the past 10 years or so is that kind of contrarian theme in your lyrics. When everyone else was writing about high school crushes, you guys had some pretty aggressive lyrics hidden inside more pop-sounding song.
During that time I really did love a lot of the bands we came up with and are best associated with. I’m not one of those who people who don’t admit to loving the music they really like. As a songwriter though I just couldn’t help but write these sort of sardonic, dark, neurotic songs with uncomfortable subjects. I never could personally write an entire album about very idealistic, romantic love. But I’m definitely a romantic at heart. I just think it’s something different we had to offer otherwise we would have just blended in with the pack. I’m not saying it’s what defines us completely, but if you took that away it would be a lot harder to say what makes us different from some of these other bands.
You had mentioned earlier that you feel much more condiment now as a guitar player. Can the same thing be said about you as a songwriter?
Oh very much so. I think it comes to me a lot easier and I can attribute that to experience. When I sit down now I’m feeling inspired about something and want to vent about it through song, the barrier of what I want to say and writing it is lessened now. The confidence is inherent in the songs.
I was impressed by how open and honest you were with your hospitalization and past problems. Is that something you felt like you needed to open up about simply because you were a band in the spotlight and people were starting to talk about it or is that something you had no problem sharing with others?
Honestly, I had no problem sharing it. It’s sort of the kind of relationship I’ve always had with my fans and people who follow my band and it’s also sort of how I deal with my life. Anyone who knows me knows that I am awkwardly upfront with everything in my life. And I’m not an extrovert, I’m still sort of a shy person, but if you have a subject that’s embarrassing I have no problems discussing it. I find it less embarrassing to just say things. So I think it’s a combination of wanting to keep the trust of the people who have supported the band and just the way I am. That’s my nature. Also just the fact that I think it was a good cause and worth sharing. People need to hear about that. I wanted other kids who were going through the same things to have someone to relate to.
What made you decide to sign with Equal Vision?
We were talking with a few labels and we went through this experience a couple of times. We first went through this when we were super young and we came about in LA where labels are aplenty; and then we went through this when I was in college and we signed with Doghouse Records; and then a bunch of majors were looking at our Is a Real Boy record to buy it out; and then there was the experience to leave our label, which despite being mutual was still sort of a traumatic experience. I was just at the point where I couldn’t deal with the BS. As soon as we sensed someone wasn’t really interested to the extent we wanted them to be or if they were interested but it didn’t seem like the right place, we just kind of immediately stopped talking about it. Equal Vision was super excited, super dedicated and we knew that the experience of signing to them would be a long term relationship and we were just tired of the song and dance. Despite being a sizeable indie label, they are really down to earth people. They had the resources we need and we feel comfortable with them. We learned a lot from looking around. We’re lucky to be a part of it.