Tonight 800 people will be spending their evening in the intimate XOYO venue at a sold out Say Anything show – the first UK show in a very long time. Lead singer, chief songwriter, and frontman Max Bemis has just arrived. Kelly Jones sits down in the café in the venue and kicks off with a general chat about the journey over from the States. Despite having just had time for one coffee – although bassist Adam Siska brings him a second during the interview – Bemis is eager and happy to talk. “This has been the least stressful trip overseas that I’ve ever had, it feels like I haven’t really left the country, it’s weird,” he states. With the brief introduction over, Kelly launches into the interview and starts off talking about the band’s latest release, Anarchy, My Dear.
You just released Anarchy, My Dear. Not only did you work with Tim O’Heir again but you’ve written an almost sequel of sorts to Admit It. Is there a feeling of coming full circle?
Yeah, in many ways, I see it as sort of a beginning of a new phase for us, and so I felt the best way to celebrate that was to kind of revisit a lot of themes that we had been playing with when we started out as a band, or when we started out making serious records. I felt like our last record, our self-titled one, was kind of wrapping up the story of me growing up into a man, and this one was sort of the story of being a grown up and what do I take out of life. It doesn’t mean you have to be my age to relate to it, but at the same time I feel like I was able to approach certain subject matters with a sense of confidence. I was able to write about different things that I did as a kid, where I had a lot of stuff going on that felt very out of control.
Has the song process changed for this album?
It was pretty much the same. I’ll write the basic structure, I’ll write the lyrics for the songs and I’ll bring it to Coby [Linder, drums] and he turns it with me into a full on Say Anything piece of music. So that was the same. In fact, because Alex [Kent], our previous bass player, had left the band during the process of writing the record it was actually a lot more like our older records in the sense that it was just me and Coby writing and creating the record, and the fact we were with Tim. It was very traditional for us.
So it must have felt quite familiar.
In a good way, exactly. Like I felt challenged but only in the sense it was like having this familiarity in the process and the people we were working with opened me up to being able to explore stuff without the addedtrepidation of ‘whose this producer I’ve never worked with’ or ‘we’re in this huge, expensive studio in LA’, which is what the case was with the last record. It was more like: everything’s calm, everything’s nice and now what are you going to do with this comfortability.
What do you think makes a good song – is it in the lyrics, is it sincerity?
There’s always a certain magic that goes into a song where one song may be deceptively simple, lyrically, but it felt a certain way writing or when I hear it back. Where it just clicks and it feels like it’s a totally natural thing, and I think that’s probably the number one thing that attracts me to my songs. Like when I wrote Burn A Miracle I was really into the state of mind that produced the lyrics and the song, there was nothing facetious about it. I wasn’t trying to be cool in anyway when I wrote it. As much as I don’t want to admit it there are times as a songwriter where you’re like ‘what’s the coolest thing I can say?’ or ‘what’s gonna make people think?’. When you’re not so in your own head about it stuff tends to happen that you can connect to more.
You’ve recently signed with Equal Visions, what kind of benefits do you feel being on an indie label gives your at this point in the bands career?
It’s a very different situation for us than it was when we first signed to an indie when we were kids. We were originally on a label called Doghouse, and then signed to a major label, we were on that label for many years and kind of went back into the indie world working with Equal Vision; and Doghouse was a great label at the time, but we connect really well specifically with Equal Vision. I don’t think it’s necessarily just the fact that they’re an indie, they also happen to be a great group of people. It’s the fact that they signed us really having appreciated us for what we are as a band, what we have to offer, as opposed to trying to mould us and shape us into something different. The whole idea of signing to a label like that and signing to them was they were like ‘we love what you’ve already been doing and we just want to be a part of it’ as opposed to on our previous label, it was like ‘how can we turn you in to the Foo Fighters?’. In terms of being on an indie as a family environment, but I think it’s mostly the fact that it gives us the freedom to be a quirky, weird band that doesn’t sell millions of records and still does our own thing successfully and have that be appreciated rather than seen as something to be wittled away at.
There’s talk you’re releasing a boxset of unreleased stuff next year, as well as playing shows with old material?
We’re talking about it, I can’t really say anymore details of that but we’re definitely talking about doing something like that, for sure.
You’ve got the song shop, which is obviously a great way to get fans to feel connected to you, have you written any songs and thought ‘man, that would be great to put on a record’?
The first one I ever wrote ended up being the B-side from our last record, it’s called I Could Be President. But you know what, even when I write a song shop that I’m particularly proud of I just get very stoked on the idea that someone out there is gonna be really happy with it. So it doesn’t really make me wanna take it and steal it and make it into a Say Anything song even though I’m sure it will happen at some point. It just makes me proud that if I’m feeling good about it they’re probably gonna feel pretty good about it. So, it’s less of a concern, I just want them to be really good.
How many have you written now?
It’s going on 2,000.
That’d be a lot of albums.
Yeah, I just actually finished – sort of – the last wave that came in from 2011. It takes, usually, between three and six to eight months to get through all the hundreds of songs. This one was actually the most songs in the shortest amount of time, so it was kind of crazy. That’s why I was up for twenty four hours right before our flight.
You’ve recently released the video for the track Say Anything. It’s quite simplistic but it looks like it was a lot of fun. Did it take a long time to film?
It did, it took the most time that I think any video we’ve ever worked on has taken. Videos are usually kind of a rush job, where it’s like all this money being spent. This one was made with a close friend of ours [Darren King] who is in his own right a very talented filmmaker, but he’s the drummer for this band called Mutemath, and he’s mostly only made videos for his own band and his wife’s band [Eisley]. He’s a genius. It was this very communal process where we were throwing out ideas and making up things as we went along, because it was stop motion it took two or three days to do the whole thing, and much more work on his part outside that. It was more like a project in a way than a video and everyone got in on it and that’s probably why it took so long.
You’re playing the Slam Dunk dates, Slam Dunk is kind of unique festival because it moves around a bit, sort of like Warped Tour. What’s the best thing about those kind of festivals?
Yeah. I have mixed feelings about both, we’ve played several festivals where it’s in one place. Bamboozle is something we’ve done a whole bunch of times in the US. That’s really cool, that’s always in the same place. I do like the idea of touring and having the festival environment and getting to see different places and different fans rather than whoever’s just in the area, so I do I think it’s a cool combination of different worlds, like traditional touring and then the feeling of a festival.
You’re doing an instore at Banquet Records tomorrow, who have been a long time supporters of Say Anything. I guess it’s kind of unusual to showcase songs acoustically when you’re in a different country, is it cool to be able to do something like that?
I feel very welcome and it’s a shame we haven’t been able to indulge it during the last record cycle. We’ve always come over here and we’ve always had great shows, and we always felt a kinship with our English fans and Scottish fans. It’s awesome. I feel it’s an extension of that, that we’re able to do cool stuff, whether it’s an instore or this headlining set or coming over for the festival. I hope we get to come back sooner rather than later and do cool more stuff.
Any plans to come back over?
Not at the moment, but I feel like the next thing I’d like to do is come over here with another American band. Whether it’s like Saves The Day or my wife’s band, Eisley. Someone we that we have a close association with, so some of the English fans can see like a package tour with us.
And, finally, if you could re-write any of your songs now, would you? If so, what would it be?
You know, I can’t say that there’s any I want to re-write because they all represent a certain place in time. I would have said Admit It but I kind of got to do that already, so I can’t say there would be any that I would. They are all so indicative of where I was when I wrote them, it would probably ruin any if I attempted to.
Cool. Thank you so much. Nice to meet you.
Nice to meet you too. Thank you very much – I’m very much looking forward to the show.