MEB writer Kristyn Shannon got to chat with Max Bemis of Say Anything about their new album I Don’t Think It Is, Max’s best friend Josh being his inspiration (who Kristyn had the chance to also chat with on tour), and why hip-hop has such an influence on the band’s music.
MEB: What’s your favorite song to perform?
Max Bemis: Lately, I’ve been liking playing a song called “Lost My Touch” from our Hebrews album. It’s just me and a keyboard and I don’t have to play the keyboard, so it’s kinda fun to do a song that I can not have to scream the whole time. I also like the lyrics a lot.
How’d you come up with the band name Say Anything? Do you actually say anything?
I try to. I was just a big fan of the movie in high school. There was a movie that was early ‘90s teen movie, so I named it after that.
Why did Josh inspire your songs?
It kinda came together that way. I started writing the album with a sort of theme in mind and Josh ended up sort of being relevant to that theme. A couple of the songs are definitely linked to Josh because some of the situations applied to me and some to my life before I was a father and had a family. Josh is still single. So, I can sing about that stuff with a closer knowledge knowing what Josh’s life is now. It applies perfectly to that.
How’d you bring it up to Josh that he was the focal point of the album?
I just told him. It wasn’t awkward. He has actually been involved in other songs before, has appeared on records and done back-up vocals, so it wasn’t anything new.
What did he think of it? Did he like being the inspiration to the album?
Josh, who came on for the NYC show and stayed for a few others to hang out: Yeah, it’s an honor. It was pretty cool and surreal.
He was on one of the songs, right?
How did you come up with the title of I Don’t Think It Is?
It was something we used to say to annoy people at camp, specifically our counselors, just by trying to be little punks to everyone. We would say “I don’t think it is” to whatever they wanted us to do and we would just say that. So, the album is kind of about that mentality and being an adult and still having some kind of that mentality towards people who try to hold you down or the system. It’s kind of keeping that alive.
How did you come up with a theme of abandonment and self-worth for the album?
I’ve just been through tons of struggles with both of those things. I’ve written albums that usually center around a particular idea and the idea that I wanted to sing about for this album is self-worth and having greater self-worth. Hebrews was pretty self-loathing, which was good. I needed to write that at the time, but I kind of wanted to feel good throughout the writing, the performing, and the live shows after. I wanted to have a record that was a pump-up album essentially.
Within I Don’t Think It Is, did you include any non-generic phrases, like swastika instead of saying fuck on Hebrews?
Yeah, totally. I think you take a song like “Rum” where most songs with that kind of cadence, there’d be a lot of cussing. I try to use creative insults. In the song “Varicose Visage” as well. It’s kind of an attack song, but not explicit actually. It’s more literal in its insulting-ness.
How did you come to mix hip-hop with pop-punk music?
It’s what I listened to; it’s always been what I listened to. I grew up at the same time listening to both those things since I was 11 or 12 years old. I’ve always liked hip-hop music and obviously, I have strong ties to punk rock. It’s something that’s always been a part of our music because there’s always a little bit of that influence in terms of lyricism, cadence, vocals, and rhythmic approach. This album, I was working with Darren King [of MUTEMATH], who’s really good at samples and playing drums, like a jazz or hip-hop drummer as well as a rock drummer, so I felt like it was really natural sounding to have him as a collaborator and for me to do that stuff versus when it was [former Say Anything drummer] Coby [Linder] because he’s a big time rock drummer. It felt more natural.
Do you believe there’s more empowerment to hip-hop than punk-rock?
I don’t think that; I think there’s as much. It’s more obvious in hip-hop because there’s sort of a braggadocios quality to so much of it. It’s almost like you show weakness when you’re effeminate, and that standard is being broken down. In underground hip-hop, it’s not really been that way in a while, but then you get people like Drake now, who is the biggest rapper in the world and they’re complaining the entire time. It’s not like I think that’s a staple, but the stereotype of hip-hop is that it’s much more self-affirming and self-empowering. Punk-rock can be a little nihilistic at times or sometimes deflated and lazy. I definitely was leaning towards stronger voices, so there’s more of that.
What was it like to work with Kanye West?
M: Honestly, I wouldn’t say we worked together; I did work on a song for him. I got to listen to music with him, talk about the world, and hang out with him a lot, but even being in his creative environment was really inspiring. He had a lot to say about creativity and a lot of suggestions for the songs because I got to play them for him. I did get to work with him on other non-music related stuff, but it wasn’t like he produced the record or anything. It was amazing, getting to work on a song for him was an honor. He’s always been really kind and cool; he’s a hero of mine. I definitely think he gave me a boost of confidence going into this record knowing that he actually liked what I did. Whenever someone who’s literally inspired the music itself likes that music is the biggest honor because they don’t see it as “oh, you’re ripping me off” or they don’t get it. If it’s like a homage, it works.
What was the reason behind dropping the album digitally first?
I just wanted people to hear it as soon as possible without any preconceived notions of what it would be like. I felt like doing the whole teasing it for months and releasing singles definitely works for certain albums, but for this one, I felt like it needed to be immediate.
For more photos of the three opening acts, Museum Mouth, Teen Suicide, and mewithoutYou, as well as Say Anything, click here.