PropertyOfZack Interview : : Say Anything

by Zack Zarrillo - Mar 5, 2012

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PropertyOfZack had the chance to speak with Max Bemis from Say Anything a few weeks ago for a great interview. Max and I discussed the band’s break between albums, changing labels, the possibility of writing and releasing too much material, and other projects. Check it out and enjoy!

Say Anything has been quiet for a while now, longer than usual. But things are finally heating up once again with the album and tour coming soon. Are you pretty excited to see all of that on the horizon?
Yeah, definitely. It was getting to a certain point within the past couple record cycles where we had been doing things non-stop for a really long time. We’ve been working on a lot of stuff behind the scenes for the past couple of years, but we definitely have gotten time to ourselves to be real people for a while. So it’s kind of nice that we had that and now I feel really recharged and ready to get into it. We have a lot of stuff coming up so I’m excited about that. 

It does feel like you guys did step away for a while to record that album and all of that and to enjoy life. But was the writing process for this album longer than it has been in the past?
Not really, I think a lot the record came about once we had a label involved and when I knew the kind of record I wanted to make to some degree. It was really inspirational once we started working with EVR. We were already going down a certain road in terms of a direction and the material but once we got the OK and knew we had a label that would support us in that direction it kind of flowed mostly from there. That was still a while ago, but it wasn’t that long ago when we closed the deal with Equal Vision. I’m the type of songwriter that when I know I’m writing for something in particular, even having a deadline, it actually helps me and inspires me, so a lot of the bulk of the record came after that.

The self titled album was poppier than the past few albums before that, and was a change definitely for the band. Fans seemed to be into it overwhelmingly. Are you still proud of that album a few years later?
Yeah, very much so. I’m proud of all our albums, and especially that one. We put in a lot of time and effort into making it what it was. I’m really proud that we got to make a record like that in our career. It was the type of record where we went with a bigger producer and a big mixer and got to record in a bunch of really insane studios and we spared no expense making it. And it was a really cool experience doing that, it’s just not necessarily something I could see myself doing with the next couple of records. I’d like to think that a lot of my favorite bands have records like that. You know, everyone gets to try their hand at it once, making a big pop-crossover record. Thankfully, we made one that wasn’t cheesy, hopefully. It was just poppier and had a more mainstream appeal. We got to keep our integrity and still experiment with that type of production. 

This new album, even by name, is more edgy and rough like some older material. Like you said, you enjoyed doing that album, but was it nice to get back to something you might have been more comfortable with?

Very much so. I can’t say which I’m more comfortable with in the long run, but I can definitely say that I don’t even know if I was capable of making another Say Anything record given the circumstances, if it hadn’t gone in this direction. Because there was a few times where we talked about continuing to go with the thread we had begun with the last record and certain situations where we almost would have had to; especially if we had stayed on Sony, if we had stayed on RCA, then we would probably have had to go even poppier. But because we had this time period where we redefined where we were as a band to each other, especially me and Coby. One of the things we decided was that we need to refocus on the longevity of the band. That being said, it was really exciting to sit down and write songs that enveloped classic Say Anything material, stuff that just would be fun for the sake of being who we are as opposed to trying to be something to somebody else. It was mostly like “What are we about? What is the essence to our band? And what means the most to the people that are dedicated to the band?” That was kind of how we went about writing this record so it was really exciting to get back to the nitty gritty of it. And in general, in terms of it being a rougher, more angry record, I think that was also really fun to write because it’s kind of the stuff I felt like should come out at the time. 

You have spoken about RCA a few times in the past, but was the future of Say Anything up in the air for a while before things got hammered out?

There was definitely a period where like… It wasn’t as I felt that the band was going to break up, but I definitely was considering working on other projects for a while. As most people know who are into what I do, they know that I love doing other projects and doing stuff like that. It was a little disheartening how things sort of ended up going down towards the end with our old label. As much as I really appreciate that label, and I honestly have no bitter feelings towards RCA, it was just kind of a disheartening process toward the end because, as has been happening with a lot of labels, everyone who we worked closely with left. Now that the only thing that was really making them money was pop records, they were pushing us in that direction. And it was easy for us to lose sight of the fact that any sort of success that we’ve established has been being a really quirky, weird, screwed up, kind of off-center band. We were forced to look away from that as if it wasn’t an accomplishment. When we finally got on our own we were like “Wait a second.” The only reason we feel disheartened is because we were having to define success by standards that are not even our standards for success for so long. That was when we decided that we wanted to keep doing this forever. It was basically all or nothing mentality where we had to have a conversation where it was like “Either we keep doing this forever or we just stop, or take a very long break.” I think we were, very much so, in favor of doing it forever, on our terms.

Yeah and you guys signed with Equal Vision. Eisley and Sherri are signed with them too obviously, but what drew you to working with them and how has it been so far?

We did talk to a bunch of labels at the time, when we were transitioning, and the experience that we had interacting with the people at equal vision was so above and beyond anything else we were looking at at the time, even though there were some cool people and cool options. It was like they were the label that had the resources, the enthusiasm, the catalog of bands that we love, and all of the above. More importantly they made us and continue to make us feel special. Like our band has something to offer that is really different than any other band. They continuously remind us that they feel privileged to work with us, which is a big deal to us. On our last label, as much as we had all of these fans of the band and everyone was really proud of our band at that label, there was always a comparison to the bigger bands on the label and trying to get you to essentially be them. Whereas, on Equal Vision, “This is a label, let’s put out a ton of classic records.” They really make us feel like it’s a big deal for them to be working with us. Therefore, they let us have complete creative control, they involve us in everything, and it’s not like they’re some tiny label that has no resources, they are a sizable indie label. It did come in line with that conversation I was just telling you about, where it was like, “We need to appreciate ourselves and be appreciated for what we are, and if that’s not happening, what’s the point?”

Say Anything is heading out on a big headlining tour in the next month, month and a half, with Kevin Devine and Fake Problems. The lineup is a little different than you guys would normally do, but are you really stoked for that tour?
Very, very stoked, yeah. It’s been so long since we’ve gotten to do not just a full band tour, but a headlining tour. And I’m really excited that our record will be out before the tour. We’ve already released a couple of songs and we’re going to be playing all of those songs that we’ve released. 

This will be your first tour with Adam as well. How has it been practicing with him?
It’s been amazing. The cool thing about Adam is that he is so unequivocally dedicated to being in this band. As soon as we finalized the fact that he was joining, he set it out learning all the songs he could and he’s obsessed with learning every tiny little bass part. He’s also just a great guy to be around, and really enthusiastic and chill and we’ve been loving it.

Will this tour be the start to setting you guys up for a very busy year?

I hope so. Right now, we’re already lining stuff up for the months directly after the tour. I guess the only thing that’s up in the air right now is fall and winter, but we’ve got some stuff in the works there as well. So yeah, I’m excited to put in lots of time. I just want to be very present for our fans and for people who have yet to hear about us. That’s something we did a lot of on our first two records and I think a little bit less so on the last one, but I want to just be available for as many kids as possible to see us play.

You guys have released those two songs, have fans been into them?

Yeah, it’s been amazing. It’s crazy, the coolest part of releasing “Burn A Miracle” was like, I’m pretty in touch with our fans via Twitter. I always get tweets about what kids’ favorite songs are, and those quotes from our songs, and “I was just listening to this and that,” and it’s weird. We have yet to even play “Burn a Miracle” live, but it feels like it’s already been sort of adopted by our fans as one of their favorite songs. Like one of those song’s that we’re always going to have to play. 

You’re about to head out on this tour and the songs are going well. But before this, you did a little solo tour with Sherri and fans got a taste of that, and you had done a solo tour once before, but was it cool doing this again?

Yeah it was amazing. I mean it’s a whole other facet of performing and of being in this band… I started out playing music stripped down acoustically, and that was how Say Anything came about. But it’s like, now that we’ve had a ten year career or eleven, it might even be twelve. It’s nuts to go back to that style of performing where I’m not hopping around the stage or where I’m not dancing around like an idiot. Yet at the same time, it’s almost just as visceral because the kids are singing so loudly and I’m so connected to them because they are right there and it’s smaller venues. So it’s like, in a way, the shows are just as emotionally exhausting, but in a great way. I love it. I hope it will always be an element of how we get ourselves out there. I am looking at continuing to do it as long as I can. 

I believe you released a Painful Splits LP on that tour as well right?

Yes I did. My goal is to semi-regularly release them. Not every single time I do a tour but most times… I’ve got one I’m sort of planning to do maybe later this year or early next year.

Fans are obviously beyond stoked when one of their favorite bands or artists continuously releases music. At some point do you ever get concerned about over-writing too much?

I think in this day in age… Well first of all, on a creative level, to me there is definitely no such thing as writing too much music. You continue to develop and you can’t evolve unless you are working on music or at least thinking about it. I never get burnt out on the act of songwriting, especially with Song Shop where I’m writing hundreds of songs a year. It’s just constantly a way to improve my singing and my songwriting and to stay in it. And it’s also the thing I love to do the most. But then also, when it comes to the exposure and over-exposing, I just feel like in this day in age, where everyone is complaining that the music industry is coming apart, I really think it’s not. It’s just that people need to adjust. One of the ways that people can adjust is by giving more to the people who are… If you are lucky enough to have fans like ours who are super dedicated and love to hear more and more material and they dig through the internet to find your b-sides and rarities. If you are lucky enough to be that kind of an artist, I think you should just keep giving people what they want as long as you enjoy it. For me, with the bands that I’m super dedicated to, I listen to pretty much everything they put out. It always makes me thrilled when I can hear new stuff, even if it isn’t a full, proper record. So I feel like it’s a better model for the type of band that we are and the way that things function and the type of song writer and performer I am to have more to give. Especially when it all has its own flavor and compartments in the scheme of things. If it was all just “Let’s make ten Say Anything records a year,” that might be different, but since they all have their own purpose to some degree, I don’t want to really worry about it now.

There has been more talk than we’ve seen as of late about Two Tongues, and you obviously want to focus for a long time on the Say Anything record and touring cycle, but has that been talked about more lately than it has in a while between you and Chris? 

I think it’s just that I made a comment that there would be another record and I think he had got a lot of people excited. We always were planning on doing several records and just continuing to make music together. It’s just that now, one is just going to make the most sense, and I’m really glad that people are stoked, but I hope that they realize that, whether it happens this year, or next year, or in three or four or five years, it’s going to happen. There is no question about it. I just have the new Say Anything record on my plate and also me and Sherri are working on music that we’ve been wanting to do for quite some time. So it’s really a matter of fitting it in.

Will there be more Perma stuff?

Yeah, me and Sherri are definitely planning on fully realizing Perma relatively soon. You know, like a record and stuff. 

Just to close stuff up, a while ago I think you also made a comment about the possibility of some of the older back catalogue getting repressed, like Baseball

Yeah that’s definitely going to happen too at some point. Equal Vision is more than obsessed and centered on this new record and they love it, and they’re really working their asses off on it. So I’ve been sort of weary in terms of not wanting to shove “Let’s go,” at the b-sides thing. I’d rather let them give their all to this record. They are definitely dedicated to the band and are really excited about releasing Baseball and the early stuff as well. I think we’ll sort of talk about that once this record cycle gets up and going.

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    Check out this interview with Say Anything and be sure to see them at The National on Wednesday April 18! You can get...
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    I fucking hate you Zack. How dare you interview my hero.
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