In their twelve year, six album career, Say Anything have gathered quite a reputation for both their acclaimed music and their visceral live performances among their viciously dedicated fans. To say Max Bemis’s reputation precedes him is an understatement. In his relatively short career, the Say Anything front man has been dubbed “the next Bob Dylan”, gotten married and been admitted to a mental institution after two mental breakdowns.
In between all that, Bemis has also found the time to write some of the most powerful, witty and emotionally wrenching lyrics in modern punk rock. Despite the buzz that surrounds him, Bemis is funny, engaging and excited for his upcoming trip down under as he phones in for a chat.
Say Anything’s new album Anarchy, My Dear saw them make the jump from recording giant Sony to independent label Equal Vision, their first independent label release in six years. Leaving behind the pressures of a major label unsurprisingly allowed the band a greater creative freedom and Anarchy, My Dear is a direct reflection of that. “You can definitely fashion an extremely experimental, artful record if you’re on a major label,” reasons Bemis.
“I mean The Beatles were on a major label, so I won’t say that it restricts your creativity. When you’re owned by a corporation, a big factor in that is selling tons of records no matter what. It is interesting to be a part of a label that is less focused on records sales, even though they would love to sell lots of records and would like you to sell a good amount, a label like Equal Vision is more interested in your career as a whole” explains Bemis.
“I think you can’t help but acknowledge that that definitely has a big effect on the pressure you feel when you’re making a record and the kind of songs you can put on your record and the kind of things you can say. Our first two singles from the record are both very polarising, sort of controversial songs which as much as we had a few of those during our time on Sony, I think there are things that I said and did on these singles that I couldn’t have done necessarily on RCA” he concludes.
Bemis’s lyrics often wade deeply into the darker side of life, something the 28-year-old openly admits and embraces. “I think I was born without a filter creatively. I don’t walk around proclaiming my business to everyone who will listen but as an artist I have always found it very comfortable to sing and write about extremely disturbing or uncomfortable or weird personal stuff. I don’t know why that is, I just find it entertaining. For me it is funny and it is cathartic to acknowledge those things that most people won’t.”
Anarchy, My Dear also sees Say Anything team up again with producer Tim O’Heir, for the first time since the emotionally draining …Is A Real Boy sessions in 2004 which culminated in Bemis’s mental breakdown. Unlike their earlier offerings, their latest studio album was recorded in a short space of time, “a couple of months,” says Bemis, “definitely much quicker than our other records”; a process which agreed with the band.
“It was nice” laughs Bemis, “we were obviously working on a smaller budget and beyond that Tim O’Heir who produced the record is actually a big fan of really long work days and toughing it out and making things happen quickly. I think he just wasn’t really allowed to do that on our first record we made with him because I was crazy and that held up the entire process,” another hearty chortle emits from the singer; “so this was kind of how he likes to do things anyway and how I like to do things in my natural state and we kind of just got to indulge that.”
Say Anything will be bringing their energetic and eccentric live show to Australian shores for their first headline tour in early July. Having last toured Australia for the 2009 Soundwave Festival, Bemis has nothing but good memories,“it is probably the furthest from home we have ever been. We got onstage at the festival and there were some pretty sizeable, notable bands and I just remember feeling a lot of kinship and friendliness from the audience and it was enough to really let us know that they wanted us to be there and to keep coming back… it was just very positive and uplifting.”
Unlike most rock bands, Bemis avoids the temptations of touring life by keeping his head down when he is not onstage. “Part of my mechanism for staying alive through touring and through the lifestyle we have is taking it easy a lot and I do that as much as I possibly can. I don’t really do anything strenuous, including partying,” he admits. “I don’t really party. I definitely sometimes hang out with the other bands or once in a blue moon go to a bar with the dudes with the band, but I just like sitting and reading. “
The singer is quick to point out however that while the lifestyle may not be ideal, touring is an experience that he lives for. “I love it on so many levels. I love performing; it is the greatest physical and creative thrill. The kind of band we are, we go really crazy onstage so it is a very physical and emotional experience that I love and frankly if touring is the grunt work of being in a band, I mean that is some pretty awesome grunt work.”
“Not only do you get to have this experience,” Bemis continues, “but generally you just get to sit around all day and night. In my position at least, where we are lucky enough to afford guitar techs and merch people at this point, that gives me the luxury of sitting on the bus all day hanging out – then I get to have this amazing visceral experience and I go back to just doing what I would normally do. Anyone who would complain about that, unless you’re on heroin and suffering or doing something to make your life unhappy, I would say should shut up.”
With a new album and tour under his belt, Bemis has no plans to slow down. A quick glance at his schedule paints him as King Of The Side Project. Bemis currently plays in Max Bemis And The Painful Splits, Two Tongues and Perma, with his wife Sherri DuPree-Bemis. “I plan on doing another Painful Splits record in the fall. Then me and my wife are planning on finally really getting into our band… which hasn’t really gotten to be realised but we have been working on playing music through our whole lives together.”
“Now we are actually going to hunker down in the studio and make the record next year. I plan on doing a lot of touring and treating it as more than a side project. It’s something that we really want to do seriously.” He also teases, “I have some other stuff that I can’t really talk about yet, but even more than people have heard thus far.”
As time winds to an end, Bemis weighs in on the rebirth of vinyl and whether it may be the thing that saves a crippled recording industry, he momentarily considers his answer before thoughtfully replying “we have done all of our records but one on vinyl and I really believe in it. I know it is probably going to get me a lot of flack but I’m not really a vinyl guy. I know it sounds better, I know its cooler to collect because the artwork is so big and awesome but I’m more like a “put it on my iPod” kind of guy.”
“I do buy music, I don’t download it illegally. I just buy stuff off iTunes. I give a lot of credit to people who are dedicated and enjoy vinyl because it is like taking music not only to its most collectable extent but to a place where you are listening to the record in the best way it can be listened to. I think that is awesome and I think that if that is the way things are going than music is going in an exciting direction.”
Anarchy, My Dear is out now through Equal Vision. Say Anything’s Australian Tour kicks off Wed 11th July at Amplifier Bar in Perth. Fowler’s Live in Adelaide on Thursday 12th July, Billboard in Melbourne on Friday 13th July, Sydney’s HiFi on Saturday 14th July. Then finishing up the following Tuesday 17th July at Brisbane’s HiFi.