Max Bemis of Say Anything: "We're stripping away the loud, distorted guitars and the redundant self-destructive imagery"
On March 13, Say Anything, the indie rock band that came of age in the 2000s, released its fifth album, Anarchy, My Dear. The band soon launched its tour, which will hit the Mile High City this Friday, March 30, at the Summit Music Hall. In advance of the show, we spoke with frontman Max Bemis about evolving beyond the band's genre. He name-checked his influences and talked about the album he's recording with his wife, Sherri Dupree-Bemis.
Westword: Talk to me about the evolution of your work.
Max Beemis: We went through a cycle with our first three records, which involved me coming into my own as a man. On a professional level, we were on a label for those first three records and got off that label after that third one. A lot of things conversed - want to be who we are, we're embracing who we are and feeling comfortable with both who we are and the odd nature of the band.
We're at square one with the band after finishing the story of a guy growing up, letting go of the self-destructive tendencies. We wanted to redefine the band's sound and pull from a different place lyrically - we definitely achieved it. We're stripping away the loud, distorted guitars and the redundant self-destructive imagery. That sound had its place, but being beyond that as a person, I'm continuing to evolve.
You're a band that came of age in a specific time period and helped define a genre. How are you moving beyond that?
If there is a genre that we were a part of, we were always at a fringier weirder part of that genre. So many of the bands that we grew up playing with have started to taper down their involvement in the industry - they have families. We're at point of looking at what's our place outside of that box we've been placed into. If we want to be a band outside of that, we have to push ourselves to mature.
We're a band that has our own thing. We kind of always have, but we don't have to be associated with something that sort of flared up over four or five years and disappeared. At the same time, a lot of bands from that time deserve more attention and respect than they get - I am proud of the lineage. We sort of carved our own niche.
Did your shift to Equal Vision, an indie label from RCA, a major label, affect that change?
It's not really based on the major to indie connection - the major label did a lot for us in terms of resources. It really did allocate a lot of resources. We had great producers, and we had kind of a momentum going. Now that we're back to doing things off of a major label, it's like our fan base is growing even further. We have more artistic freedom. We got the better end of that deal. We had a place to do things on our own, and the label took advantage of the quirkier aspects of the band. That took us to a broad audience; we're able to harness that and keep them going.
You've said before that you view Anarchy, My Dear as an offshoot of Is a Real Boy and a divergence from your last two records - how so?
I feel like this record is an offshoot of our earlier stuff. Maybe thematically so, because I'm a human being, and I'm growing up. It's as if it's the cousin of the last couple of records.
What about the notion that this album is about rebellion?
You kind of find your place, which is what the first few records are about. They had this M.O. of this self-empowerment. Then you live a life of the values. You're not taught to be true to yourself; you're taught to conform. I live a life that is off the beaten path. It's not like I'm a violent guy. I don't go out and burn down embassies. But how I live my life is that I make a living off of making art. I'm also a dedicated husband.
Our society functions on not being true to yourself. To me, an act of rebellion is being true to yourself and having affection - true affection - for those around you in a support group. I think that's a great act of rebellion. Anyone who follows their true path, that's a real act of rebellion. It's the beginning of affecting change in the world, and you can't affect change unless you have yourself figured out.
So is this the direction you plan to continue?
Yes. At least for awhile, I want to continue down the path of eclectic sort of strange music without loud poppy guitars.
You've paid conspicuous homage to your influences on past records. What about on Anarchy? How do they differ from the past?
Definitely. On our first record, it was like Queen and Fugazi, At the Drive In, Weezer. I was listening to a lot of Foo Fighters and Sunny Day, Drive-In, U2 and stadium rock -- you know, music that was weird and neurotic, but over-the-top, accessible. And there was always the Green Day influence. On this new one, we steer toward more angular rock and roll. There are Rolling Stones, Stooges and post-punk influences.
At the same time, I got really annoyed with indie rock around the time of those first albums. I grew up in Superchunk and Built to Spill, and I got annoyed with the stuff that was claiming to be indie rock. Now, a lot of the current crop of indie rock -- No Age, Japandroids, even Best Coast - affected and influenced this record. Before, I was trying to exist outside of what was popular, but now I'm sort of okay with that.
You worked with your wife on this album. What was that like?
It was great. She also sang on our last record, and she's a pleasure to work with. She did it all without any direction. I'm starting a project with her: I'm recording an album with her, and it's completely different than Say Anything. She'll be on tour for part of this tour, she'll get to sing some of these, and then we'll do our own tour once our album is out.
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