After over a decade of Say Anything, Max Bemis still does things his own way. The band surprised the music world with their most recent release, I Don’t Think It Is, dropping around midnight on February 4 without warning. The Beyoncé-esque move is not the only influence Bemis has pulled from today’s pop and hip-hop stars.
Bemis is no stranger to forging his own path and allowing his uniquely styled creativity to shine through. The band’s last album, Hebrews (which has no guitars on it), continued a method of collaboration rarely seen in punk or rock music. Like many of today’s rap and hip-hop artists, Bemis works Say Anything almost like a collective with a variety of players contributing different parts on nearly each and every song. Bemis’ brother-in-law, Darren King of Mutemath, co-produced the record guest appearance with members of The Hotelier, Little Big League, and Tiny Moving Parts.
Say Anything’s strain of brash honesty may not appeal to everyone, but after 15-plus years of creative output including multiple bands like Say Anything, Two Tongues and Perma, and comic books series, it’s clear that Bemis is comfortable and more than capable of holding his fate in his own hands.
We recently caught up with Bemis to discuss I Don’t Think It Is, the decision to release the album at midnight, hip-hop and more. The transcription is below:
What was the process of picking collaborators like for I Don’t Think It Is?
It was really natural. Darren being the main collaborator became the standard for the entire record. I think he’s the most important collaborator and that really just came about with us saying to each other, “Hey, it would be fun to make music,” and we were making music together and then we said, “Hey, this could be Say Anything and let’s just start.”
We just started making songs and eventually it just turned into, “This is definitely an album.” We called the label and were like, “We’re making an album,” and they were down with that so we kept going. And then the other collaborators were kind of similar to Hebrews and Defense Of The Genre. We just started calling up people to contribute and most of them are my friends or people I know through other people so it was easy.
With Darren being a full production and composition partner, what was it like not having full control of the reigns this time?
It was really liberating actually. He was wonderful. I didn’t feel as much pressure and it was a whole new fun dynamic added to the band. On a day-to-day basis just seeing how someone else’s imagination could mold some of the things that I’d introduced or working off someone else’s imagination. I mean I had a little bit of that when Coby [Linder] was in the band. But Darren is a multi-instrumentalist whereas Coby was just a great drummer. So it was more back and forth dynamic.
At what point did you decide to have the surprise release?
I think just as it went along we heard the urgent quality of the songs and how it was somewhat different from our older material… It was sort of a meta-weird thing where I couldn’t see the album going through that sort of mundane pre-release, the teasing and the bum-bum-bah. And just part of me being sick of that in general you know? It was a mixture of the quality of the music itself and me just hating that (laughs).
Was there any backlash from the decision from people in higher up positions?
No, no, they got it. Our management and the label got it. Obviously there’s consequences to it, which is that we’ll probably sell a good amount less records but at the same time, selling CDs in this age doesn’t mean much… So the fact that it was up on Spotify and that’s monetized and YouTube is monetized, in a way that’s kind of where my band sort of makes its most money and vinyl and stuff like that which was not affected by [the decision].
When did you first start to realize the influence hip-hop has on you and how you make records?
Well firstly, Darren’s style pulls a lot from [that]. We both grew up on hip-hop and electronic influences so automatically with Darren it’s going to have that soulful feeling which in turn leads to hip-hop. And then… a lot of the recording came from this experience we had working with Kanye West briefly and when we got to hang out with him and see how he does stuff a little bit. We’re like, “Why can’t we make an indie rock emo record that utilizes some of the ways someone like him would approach a record?”
Why do you think more people haven’t adopted your style of having you as this one-centralized figure and then working a collective approach?
Well I think sometimes it can come out sounding a little bit like Limp Bizkit—not that they’re horrible—but I think to make something that’s tasteful also infused with hip-hop and rock is a line that is hard to walk. But for me a lot of people have done it in a great way like Beck, but it’s hard to think of.
And also emo is such a white, male stereotype. Like you know people tend to associate it with straight white guys who don’t really know what soul music is or stuff like that. So I think that’s why people wouldn’t associate that normally with people who appreciate hip-hop. But I think that’s a falsehood, I think there’s a lot of diversity in the scene plus a lot of diverse influence.
Do you think being open to genres outside of the umbrella of rock and punk puts you at an advantage over other musicians in the emo/punk genre?
I wouldn’t say it’s an advantage because there’s other people who are not so keyed into that and they’re doing just as cool stuff and even cooler stuff. But for me, yes, it’s an advantage for me over me because the less I restrain myself, the less bored I feel. And the more and more I allow my influences to color my work, no matter what they are, I think the cooler Say Anything is going to sound. So there’s only so much of the same crap you can do.
On “Jiminy” you say, “Destroy our first LP is you know what’s good for me.” As someone who’s clearly extremely creative how do you feel about the chatter for you to make “Is A Real Boy…” part two and the nostalgia surrounding that record?
I think it’s normal, I mean it obviously annoys me but I don’t really put myself in a position to be exposed to it. I’m aware that it exists on like message boards and amongst people who don’t go to our shows but used to, but rarely am I put in contact with people like that. So my world is essentially shows where, who’s going to pay for a show if they just want to hear three songs? Not many people. Twitter, where not many people are going to take the time to follow me and hear what I have to say if I’m only a guy that they like three songs from 10 years ago. And then the people that surround me—my friends, co-workers, people in business and people in media who generally are really respectful to me.
So I think every artist of any note has that album or that era in their existence where people just can’t let it go and that’s cool, that just means that it’s significant. And there are times that I want people to burn that record, but at the same time I really don’t. I was just writing in that song about how I don’t want people to be stuck on it, but that doesn’t mean I’m not aware of how important it is to people and it doesn’t negate their emotional affection for it. Just being the type of writer that I am, I am going to write about that feeling that I have once in a while where I’m like, “Shut the fuck up” (laughs). But again I rarely have to face that because I’m generally surrounded by people who have been aware of everything I’ve done since I was 19.
Say Anything will be performing at the Theatre Of Living Arts in Philadelphia on May 12, Webster Hall in New York City on May 13, and at Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ on May 15. For more information, go to sayanythingmusic.com.