It’s always a pleasure talking with Max Bemis of Say Anything, and the new PropertyOfZack interview is a great one to read. We spoke with Max about the release of Hebrews, how the band has shifted over the past few years, how to use language to an advantage, Two Tongues, and much more. Read it all below!
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It seemed like Anarchy was sort of a backlash in sound to the glossiness of self-titled. That whole album seemed like a big shift for Say Anything, even with the big leak. How do you view the album two and a half years later?
It’s exactly what I wanted it to be. Basically, coming from the major label world where expectations were set so differently for the band - success was viewed as selling a lot of records or just having a lot of critical success. What I wanted Anarchy to do was to cement our place as a band that could still be making music in 20 years. That means people still coming to our show, and we still have a large amount of people coming luckily.
If you’re referring to the lack of glossiness, there was a reason it was done that way too. We had just done two records that were playing off of very large emotive themes, and then self-titled sounded like a very polished and commercial record, in a good way. I wanted to show that we could do something else. It lead us to where we are now. I don’t care that Anarchy leaked early. At the time, it was pretty distressing, but here I am a couple years later and it doesn’t even matter. People are still coming to shows and are interested in our new music. I’m able to do this for a living, and that’s pretty amazing to me. I still love the record as well.
Say Anythingis five or six records in, depending on how you count Baseball. The band could be considered a legacy act now, but Hebrews seems very revitalized.
I agree; there’s a sense of urgency to it. And there are a lot of reasons why it has that quality.
To me, just with the sheer energy of the record, it feels like it could have been a band’s first album. Is that because there have been so many shifts as of late?
That’s really cool to say, thank you. There was this beautiful synergy of all of these things happening in my personal life and for the band. Just being8 inspired to write those songs since there were so many things happening in my life that had a lot of momentum. I started writing the record around the time when we realized out we were having a kid, and that gave me urgent emotions that needed to be written about.
To be honest, it had been a really long time to write about myself in that way to the point where it was like, “I have to exorcise some of this stuff.” There’s some urgency to it, it’s not that we needed to put a record out and there was something we had to write about. Then there were all of these behind the scenes things that came together in a really cool way. It sounds bad to say, but when Coby left the band, it basically gave me the license to sort of start treating the band like I did when it first started. Which meant doing anything and everything I wanted without worrying what other people wanted. That included making this record by messing around on a computer with me and my acoustic guitar in my house like I did on Baseball, which was our first record, ironically.
I had all the time in the world to mess with everything. The label trusted me enough to produce the record myself. So it meant I’d wake up when I normally wake up, be in my own house, work on the record. I’d find myself doing things experimentally or better than I’d normally do, in my opinion, just because I had the space and time to wrap my head around it and have fun making music. Literally there were no constraints or insecurities bogging me down. I think part of that has to do with people accepting Anarchy and loving it and coming to our shows. We didn’t end up as one of those bands crippled after you get off of a major label. We actually got to keep our momentum going. Now that I had that, I was afforded the right to write the best record I’ve ever written.
I didn’t expect to hear you scream “swastika” repeatedly throughout a song.
Clearly I’ve got issues.
POZ: There are a lot of ballsy lyrics on the album, but that’s not necessarily strange for Say Anything. However, there are a few songs on this album that take that to a level we haven’t seen since …Is A Real Boy.
Max: I’ve talked about it before, but I have young cousins that are obsessed with Say Anything. That made me not want to say things like “pussy” and “fuck.” I do think, to some degree, when you’re writing music… The swastika part of “Kall Me Kubrick” could have just been me screaming “fuck.” Instead, I came up with something that was darker and was a little more unnerving. I don’t really believe swear words are that bad; I believe they’ve kind of lost their power. I think it’s always been our thing to say stuff that’s made people uncomfortable. It doesn’t have to be referring to my penis, it could be just me saying things that people are afraid to say. It was fun being able to experiment with how dark could I go without relying on the tropes of generic words.