Interview with Say Anything’s Max Bemis

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Max Bemis is a brutally honest person, so it should be no surprise that Bemis confronts both his fears and his legacy with Say Anything on the band’s newest album Hebrews. This record is an in depth look at the inner workings of Bemis’ personal struggles, as well as his response to some fans attempt to dis empower the band’s growth. Bemis takes Say Anything to a whole new level with Hebrews, both lyrically, as well as instrumentally by replacing the guitar work with strings. With Hebrews, Bemis had to get some heavy thoughts out into the open, which proves to be a powerful attention grabber, since this record was not released because the members felt that they ‘needed’ to write another record. The powerful truth in how Bemis felt about how the band has progressed, as well as in his own life, gave Hebrews the momentum it needed to get the album written in perhaps Say Anything’s most honest and mature album to date.

Cliché’s Heather Glock spoke with Bemis on how he tackled the challenges of writing against the grain of angry internet bloggers, his thoughts of remaining as a relevant artist, and his promising role as a comic book author.

Cliché: Say Anything was fortunate enough to have limitless time to write, produce and record Hebrews in comparison of the pressure other labels place on their artists to put out a new record, almost as if the band is on an assembly line. As the person whom also produced this record, do you think the marks the most honest record that Say Anything has released?
Max Bemis: I have to say they’re probably all pretty on par with each other in terms of honest, lyrically especially. But I’d like to think that as I age and grow older that I’ve become more honest with myself, maybe because I know myself more. So, I guess in that regard it might be the most honest Say Anything record but in terms of the intention to be honest I think they are all about pretty much equal.

You had stated that in the song “Judas”, that the song was about both your thin skin and the notion of people dismissing musicians completely when they put out a new record that is not to the personal taste of some of these fans. This attempt to dis empower the artists can lead to a band writing a different record to please their fans. Do you feel that artists today are trading in their poetic license for a handout or a pat on the head rather than protecting their own identity as a band or even as a human being?
I think throughout the history of rock and roll that there’s been a lot of re activeness. I think criticism and art have been too closely intertwined by modern society. And I guess that goes way back even before modern society. Criticism is obviously a beautiful thing, it’s just people expressing their opinion about art, but when it gets intertwined with social movements and especially with corporate interests and the trends of society that are dis empowering to people, and dehumanizing and then that gets wrapped up in criticism and it goes from being a critic sounding off about a record that they don’t like to suddenly the advent of the internet you’ll have just thousands and thousands of people flocking to message boards just to express negative opinions about someone. And I’m not really referring to myself, because there are not that many people who care, haha. But when I think of someone like Miley Cyrus, who I’m not a fan of and I’m not a fan of aesthetically how she presents herself or anything but I don’t really feel the need to express that to anyone but my friends or people where she comes up in conversation privately. But, like half of her career is the reactivity of how people respond to her and reinforce her with negative commentary. Almost like it’s a part of the worst part of society expressing itself through free speech, through the most important amendment is kind of being abused by people in my opinion.

Almost like hiding behind an email or web post is easier for a “critic”?
 Exactly, but I think it’s always been easier to be a critic than to be somebody who makes art. And now with the internet that has been placed in not just in the hands of professional critics, but in the average person that has a lot of insecurities that they have to project onto other people. and then that causes the artist to become insecure and petty as well. I think that’s a lot of what “Judas” is about, it’s not just about them being petty, it’s me being petty for reacting the way I do.

This record has a wide range of guest vocals of singers from different genres; however what they do have in common is that they have been around for a long time, such as your band. Was this an intentional collaboration of showing how a band’s sound grows over time?
Yeah, I mean I think there’s a good amount of people like that, but then there’s people like Jon Simmons from Balance and Composure where they’ve only put out two records, and even though Jeremy from Touche Amore is about my age and been in a bunch of bands, I think Touche has only put out about two or three records themselves. I think it’s kind of a mix of those things. If there was any intention besides just wanting to pick people who I thought were great artists, which I think was really how I judged it, but there was like a small part of me that was like, it would be awesome to have Tom DeLonge who’s like this dude who’s been in a band for like thirty years… or twenty – at least twenty and establish this long term career up against people like the guys from Los Campasidos, who are kind of like the past ten years phenomenon, or the past five to ten years and show how they’re both equally relevant and both equally talented. So I guess that would be the reason why it wasn’t all people I grew up playing music with or people that are new – or newcomers so to speak. I think that I sort of mixed it up. If there was any reason behind it would just be to show that you don’t have to be the next big thing or an established band to be equally relevant.

You chose to not to have any guitars on this record. What made you want to incorporate such a bold and unique move?
The idea came to me because someone suggested it and I always like making bold-ish creative shifts on each record. They usually are more apparent to me than anyone else. I could go on forever about how each Say Anything record has been different from the other ones for a long time, its’ just that this one in particular I wanted to be – not only did I love the idea itself but I wanted to do something where it was impossible to ignore that we made the attempt to do something different. When I started experimenting with it, writing songs for that purpose I became completely not worried about the reception for it – which has been exactly how I thought it would be because it really didn’t shift things to the point changing the sound of the band, even. You know sonically it’s different but at the same time all of the songs have the same energy and it very much still sounds like a Say Anything record and not like a Bjork record. I think once I started actually putting the record together I wasn’t really afraid of making such a big change because it didn’t actually mess with the formula as much as it sounds like it would.

Would Say Anything consider possibly doing a tour with strings, or perhaps even live performing a few old songs with the string instruments?
Yeah! We’re already planning on doing a tour with strings for sure… I think we probably wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t for the whole record being entirely strings, you know? If it was just on a few songs we could get away with never doing it. But I think it would be a disservice to never play the songs as they are on the record.

Of course I must ask, with bands starting 10 year celebratory tours of their “hit” records, can we expect to see Say Anything doing the same for …Is A Real Boy?
We definitely have stuff planned! I can’t reveal what it is yet, but we’re definitely planning on commemorating the ten year thing for sure.

You are always a man who has been honest lyrically and in Hebrews there is no holds barred content on this record. Do you feel that fans needed to hear certain feelings or opinions that the band, or you personally have been holding back?
I don’t think I have really ever held anything back. But the way it usually works with that aspect of a band is I’ll write about something when I feel that it’s relevant to say for myself and for fans of the band. So this is the first time that I felt that this stuff needed to be talked about, and that doesn’t mean it was less true before I wrote it down but a lot of these feelings did come to the surface during the time period when I was writing the record. So that’s usually how it works, it’s not like I’ll be holding something back and be like “Ahhhhh, you know maybe they deserve to hear it now”, it’s more like I’ll just be like “OK I just need to say this at this given moment”, I don’t think there’s ever a point of holding anything back.

I loved how Absolute Punk said that “The perfect subtitle for Hebrews could be …Is a Real Man.” Do you feel that this opinion holds true for both the mature content subject on the record, such as fears as a being a first time dad, and the band’s continued steps forward as remaining a relevant artist all these years later?
I think that’s really cool. I would totally, if it wasn’t kind of shameless, I think it would be a great title for the record. I think our last three records probably could have had that subtitle. I think after “In Defense of the Genre” I kind of grew up, but this is the most apparent example being that it involves having a kid, and because it’s so self-reflective. I think it talks the most about the experiences of being an adult. But then again, we’ve been playing the songs on tour and the songs have been out for a while and I don’t think that they’re exclusive to being over eighteen or being a dad, you know? I felt some of these emotions when I was a teenager and I think it’s kind of a universal thing but maybe me being an adult drove me to actually be this reflective and honest and therefore it came out the way it did but I don’t think it’s exclusive to being a thirty year old guy.

Now aside from being a musician, husband and father, you are also a comic writer. For Evil Empire, you took the idea of society devolving into the loss of all morality and living our animalistic urges. Did you adapt the backlash and anger from fans to this comic? Perhaps that you tied together that society is so eager to have their repetition, that if you change it, they turn primitive?
I think that I have a unique perspective as a comic writer when I’m writing about stuff like that, you know being a part of pop culture outside of comics. Because comics could be – to be honest it’s a really supportive and much smaller industry, and when you’re a successful comic writer, and I know a few of them, I don’t know, there’s a lot of that backlash and there’s a lot of the same experiences. But being in a band for fifteen years, I don’t know there’s something about being on stage, being in magazines and people dissecting how you look that’s a little bit more keyed in with what’s wrong with society. I think being a comic writer you’re a little bit shielded from that because it’s a niche art form and so the people drawn to it, even though they could be really fickle and mean sometimes, there’s less of just, like the average sh*tty person (laughs). So yeah, I do think I brought some of that to Evil Empire in the sense of that a lot of the characters reflect certain experiences I’ve had, you know the main character is a hip hop artist. But mostly, yeah I feel like I’ve been exposed to how bad society can get because I’ve seen some of the inner-machinations of corporate America through being on a major label, and I’ve seen a lot of how the media can spin things based on my experience of being in a band. But I think anyone could have written Evil Empire, I don’t think I have some special knowledge of how the world works, I just think that maybe that’s the reason that I in particular was inspired to write about it, but I was thinking about these concepts before I was even in a band to be honest. But having been in one has definitely illuminated the darker side of humanity, for sure.

Have you ever considered on doing a comic book music video? Perhaps as the men of Say Anything as a group a la The Avengers?
That sounds like a lot of fun! It sounds like I’d have more fun doing it than I think even people would enjoy. But yeah, that’s a great idea, I haven’t considered it, but it’s a great idea!

Images for Interview with Say Anything’s Max Bemis courtesy of SayAnythingMusic.com.

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