Around this time last year, Los Angeles, CA-based rock outlet Say Anything were in the middle of a North American tour, celebrating the release of their sixth studio album, Hebrews. This full-length introduced listeners to a 12-song masterpiece that traded the band’s core electric guitar elements with string quartet arrangements—proving to be one of the band’s riskiest, yet most unique release to date.
While Hebrews truly reflects a highly matured, and more honest lyrical approach of Max Bemis as a songwriter, this record also featured a fantastic variety of friends and colleagues like Chris Conley (Saves The Day), Andy Hull (Manchester Orchestra), Brian Sella (The Front Bottoms), Matt Pryor (The Get Up Kids) among many others, who have contributed guest vocal appearances throughout—almost in a similar direction of 2007’s In Defense Of The Genre.
Fast forward one year later, Say Anything are embarking on another Hebrews tour again; talk about déjà vu. However, this time around, not only did Say Anything invite Modern Baseball, Hard Girls and Cymbals Eat Guitars on the road, the band will be accompanied by a string quartet who will be assisting them with creating a refreshing delivery to both newer and older songs.
Right before Say Anything started their second supporting tour for Hebrews, I had the honor and privilege of speaking with founder and leading frontman, Max Bemis. In this interview, the two of us discussed how the band prepared for this upcoming tour, and also reflected back on the personal satisfaction of releasing Hebrews. Not to mention that Bemis also filled me in with progress of the new Two Tongues record, and the possibilities of a new Say Anything album, which he anticipates for both to be on the way very, very soon.
So, Say Anything are starting their second consecutive tour supporting Hebrews. What are you looking forward to about this tour the most?
Well this time, we have strings with us, which is a huge… change; we’ve never done that before. So, I am definitely looking forward to seeing how that sounds (laughs) and, you know, having the songs sound completely different. There’s a bunch of songs that we’ve never played in the set, so I am excited about that too.
What was the main inspiration behind wanting to do a tour where you incorporate string elements into both your newer material off of Hebrews as well as your older songs? Was there a particular process that you and the band had to go through to involve the string elements into your set while you were rehearsing and preparing for this tour?
Yeah, we’re actually in the process of rehearsing now. So basically, the idea was, if we were going to have a string band come out for the new songs, it would be a waste to not have them do something with some of the older stuff. Since there are not any older Say Anything songs that have strings on them, we thought it would make sense to write string parts that go with the existing versions of the songs.
So basically, we just sat down and I wrote a whole bunch of string parts and the string guys are rehearsing right now—we are rehearsing the guitar, bass and drum elements right now—and in a couple of days, we’re going to meet up and put it all together.
Very, cool. I bet the string elements will definitely introduce a whole new dynamic all of your older material. So pretty much, was this the first that you’ve ever done anything like this before for a tour?
Uhh… yeah, for sure. You know, we’ve always experimented with song structure or anything arrangement-wise. But this is, I’d say, probably the furthest from taking it from how you hear it on the record. At the same time, the songs still have the same energy, and it’s not like an orchestral concert by any means; it’s still a punk show (laughs).
For me it seriously feels like a complete déjà vu to see Say Anything play a headlining show at the Starland Ballroom. How does it feel to return to New Jersey once again since the …Is A Real Boy tour with Saves The Day and Reggie And The Full Effect?
Yeah, it’s amazing because it’s always guaranteed to be one of the craziest shows on the tour, if not the craziest. We always look forward to playing Starland, and just anywhere in Jersey. New Jersey has always been great to Say Anything in the beginning of us actually touring outside of California. It’s a big deal. I mean, a lot of my favorite bands are from New Jersey, and the scene in the ’90s was the biggest inspiration for our music. So it’s really come full circle that we feel like we’ve been adopted by New Jersey in a certain way.
The …Is A Real Boy tour had to be one of my favorite shows I’ve been to last year hands down. To be honest with you, I was very, very surprised that you and Saves The Day guitarist/vocalist Chris Conley didn’t get to play any Two Tongues songs on that tour.
Yeah, we’re always thinking about it, but since we were getting close to making a new [Two Tongues] record than we have been in a really long time, I think the idea was not to spoil it, so to speak, or to dilute the effect that it will actually have when we really put out a new record, go on tour, play that whole first record [Two Tongues] and play our new songs. We want that to feel really special. We’ve done the Two Tongues thing before on tour, and we didn’t want to necessarily do it every single time we play together, so that was the idea behind that.
Around this time last year, I spoke with Chris Conley and he told me there is going to be a new Two Tongues record coming out soon. With that being said, has there been anything new with this project as of late?
Yeah, definitely. We have been taking our time with it, but it’s going to happen sooner than later for sure.
Fantastic! That is something that I definitely would love to hear. Now, on this tour you’re going to brining along Modern Baseball and Cymbals Eat Guitars as opening support. How did you reach out to these two bands, and invite them on the road with you guys?
Actually, I’ve become really immersed in sort of a natural way with all of these younger bands that have sprung out from I guess what Say Anything was doing, or what our other patrons at the time were doing. And it kind of naturally led to what we have as kind of a revitalization of what is happening right now. So, it was very natural to be involved with these bands, whether it’s The Front Bottoms, or The Hotelier, or Modern Baseball, or You Blew It.
So yeah, I am friends with people who are friends with them, and I am also a big fan of their music. But it really came together when they [Modern Baseball] started working with our booking agent recently, and he actually brought it up to me, and I was completely, immediately enthusiastic about it. I was like, “Yes! That’s the perfect band.” Cymbals Eat Guitars, I think we submitted for the tour, and Hard Girls is managed and booked by Andrew, our agent as well.
These days, in the world that we live in, the one cool thing about it is that a lot of these things happen in an organic way. Where we don’t have to stretch too far away to get in contact with the bands that we love, and the bands we think are best for a Say Anything tour.
When I saw you on the Hebrews tour last year with The Front Bottoms and You Blew It, it was very exciting to see fans react to the new material very well. With that in mind, do you think the overall reception of Hebrews has changed since the record’s release?
You know, I wouldn’t say that it changed too much actually. I think we did pretty well off that with this record, which is definitely not a prerequisite of putting out a record. Like, often times you do get that effect where it first comes out and people have their, “Woah! What is this? That sounds different!” kind of reaction, and slowly become accustomed to it. With Hebrews, I think right off the bat, people connected to it, which was great.
So it’s now just a solid entry into our catalog, I think. And doing a tour that involves the strings, and sort of… We’re playing less of Hebrews than we are of certain songs off other records, which is funny about the whole thing. I think just thematically, and in terms of the experimentation and the direction of the band, that it was a definitive statement coming off of from the records before it.
Right now I am actually working on new music, and it was definitely inspiring to see how people react to me just being true to myself as a songwriter, and not having to cater really to anything in particular, and still feeling like I am writing for our audience and also for myself. That’s what I really took the most out of Hebrews that I intended, and that’s kind of what came out of it, and that was really affirming.
With that being said, would you say that was your biggest accomplishment with releasing Hebrews?
Every record is its own accomplishment. It’s really hard to weigh them all because, I mean, …Is A Real Boy was a huge accomplishment. I think every time we put a record out, and don’t not put a record out and don’t, you know, break up (laughs)—which doesn’t even make sense at this point because it’s just really me and a bunch of other guys—I think that’s just an accomplishment. The fact that people still care and connect with the music that I feel just as passionate, if not more passionate than I did which started the band when I was… you know, that was 15 years ago, and I’ve been in this band for half of my life. Well, actually, more than half of my life.
So I think every record has its own sense of accomplishment. Sometimes, it’s the type of music, or improvement as musicians, and sometimes it’s just the effect that it has on our fanbase or culture around us. But yeah, Hebrews was a big deal. I think at the place we were in our career, and the reaction to it was a big deal. Not that it was some huge thing like, you know, “Drake big deal” (laughs) or something, but no, it was a big deal in my world for sure.
There is no doubt that you have a pretty eventful summer lined up, and these shows are going to be a blast. With that being said, are there any plans in the works to tour right away after the Hebrews tour?
Obviously, anybody who has been following me, I am something of a comic book writer, so I have a lot of coming book stuff going on this year. I have a new series currently being released this year; actually, the new issues came out today. So I have all that, a bunch of new projects coming up on that end in the “comics world.”
But musically, I think after this tour, we are kind of saying to ourselves, “The cycle of touring for Hebrews is done,” unless if we do some festivals or international stuff. So, I am actually already working on writing new music—new Say Anything music specifically. Chris and I are writing the new Two Tongues record, so the idea is that, probably the rest of this year will be spent finishing recording and writing those two records because those are the two most pressing.
I’m crazy when it comes to finishing stuff, because I never know what I am going to do when it comes to putting out new music. I don’t want to get too into it, but I know we made a lot of progress on Say Anything and we’re definitely making progress in terms of writing Two Tongues. So, both of those things are going to kind of wrap up. Hopefully, we will able to be more active when it comes to putting out stuff. I want to put out a new Say Anything record, hopefully, by obviously next year, and same with Two Tongues as well.
Personally, I just had another kid a few months ago, so I am going to be spending tons of time with my family, which is great, and doing “Song Shop” as well and finish this huge bundle of songs after tour, and then we will probably open up the Song Shop again after the tour when I am done with everyone’s songs.
Say Anything will be playing at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville on July 9, the Best Buy Theater in Manhattan on July 11 and the Electric Factory in Philadelphia on July 12. Their sixth studio album, Hebrews, is available now on Equal Vision Records. For more information, go to sayanythingmusic.com.