I Want To Know Your Plans: The Max Bemis of Past, Present, and Future
Words: Jack Appleby
Photos provided by Say Anything
Most will take the new Say Anything record and immediately start dropping …Is A Real Boy references like it’s nobody’s business. It’s a comparison both expected and intentional, and Max Bemis knew it would be this way. While the back-to-basics approach certainly favors long-term fans, Anarchy, My Dear is as much a return-to-form as a new birth for both the band and Bemis himself.
“We were on a major label for six years, and now we’re on an indie, we’re working with Tim [O’Heir], and we have full creative control; it’s the most exciting time to be in this band. When we first had this level of freedom, we were little kids who didn’t know anything about life; now we don’t take things for granted, and we have an awesome situation,” Max excitedly said. “It was kind of the perfect time to go back and work with Tim.”
O’Heir famously produced ...IARB in 2004, back when Bemis was breakdown-prone. Despite the singer’s then-questionable health, Tim got the most out of Max, helping create a record that is continually celebrated even as it approaches its ten-year anniversary. Reuniting with O’Heir inevitably romanticized the new recordings while bringing that raw sound the band was looking for. That familiar rough touch brought out deliberately imperfect sounds in an experienced band, making Anarchy an organic, yet veteran album that will appeal to each generation of the band’s fans.
When the tracklisting was revealed, more than a few eyebrows raised at some of the song titles. Amidst the usual and obscure came “Say Anything” and “Admit It Again,” two names that only bolstered the …IARB associations. Explaining the former was simple (‘It was Coby [Linder, drummer]’s idea to have a song named after the band just for fun – we always wanted a flagship song, and it represents our sound in a primal way’), but there’s an obvious appreciation in Max’s tone when speaking about the sequel to a Say Anything classic:
“We know how much that song means to fans; a lot of what we put into making this record was just trying to make it for people who love our band – for the people who really love our band, true devotees who are just big huge fans of that first record. We wanted to give them something that would really excite them, which excited me and made it really fun to write the song. I had so much fun writing and redefining now that things are so different in counter-culture, and now that it’s really taken over the mainstream, it’s even more fun to try to tear it down for different reasons, now that I’m a grown-up.”
It’s those adult traits that not only influence Bemis’ Say Anything songs, but the songwriter’s personal future as well. It’s no secret that Max is married to Eisley’s Sherri Dupree-Bemis, and his talented wife is going to be around a lot more if all goes according to plan. Sherri snuck into Anarchy thrice and will be her husband’s partner-in-crime with their personal new band, Perma, a project started long ago that is beginning to take shape.
“Our goal is to have Perma either be the next thing I do or sometime in the next one or two records. We’re gonna do a full-length and make a full-time thing out of it. I don’t mean taking over Say Anything at all, but I don’t see it as a side-project. We get to be with each other and the type of songs we’re writing really come straight from the heart, because we’re writing about each other, and there’s nothing more pleasant than having a band where I get to tour with my wife. I think it will be really nice for Say Anything fans to hear me attack music from a completely different angle, without angst; it will be something else.”
The plans don’t stop there. Along with Perma, expect Max to build on all his other projects: he revealed there will be another Two Tongues record, Song Shop, and maybe some Painful Splits in the future. “There’s other things I’m interested in too, from screenwriting to graphic novels and other parts of the music business I can’t talk about just yet,“ hinted Max. (Ed's Note: Max has since announced Rory Records, his imprint on Equal Vision). No matter how much is on his plate, though, he promised that Say Anything will always be around.
“We want to be one of those bands that keep putting out music long until we’re old. There are always other things we can do, but we don’t really see the need to take Say Anything from the kids it means so much to. I had a talk with Coby and we said ‘why ever stop?’ Even if we had day jobs, even if we have to take five years off because someone has a kid – we’d come back.”
The future can wait for now; no matter what you’ve heard so far, the era of Anarchy, My Dear is only just beginning. The album’s official release is less than a month away, and a full U.S, tour with Kevin Devine and Fake Problems will follow shortly after. No matter when you subscribed to the band, enjoy the latest from Bemis and know that Say Anything will continue long past 2012.
Weekly Releases: How Josh Kirby Keeps Your Interest Year-Round
Words By: Jack Appleby
Photos and Music courtesy Josh Kirby
Hear the AbsolutExclusive stream of "The Plan" beneath the article.
“Release a record, hope it sells, go on tour forever, and record a new record (and hope your fans don’t hate it).”
It’s a tired model. Despite revolutionary advancements in the way we distribute and consume music, the product remains the same: a collection of songs labels push to fans bi-annually. Josh Kirby has challenged the norm with Mount Carmel and The End Of The World, a solo-project-turned-music-experiment that could change conventional thinking.
Through both personal necessity and a keen eye to an industry’s stubbornness, Kirby has taken a new route to releasing his solo music. Rather than the current standard, the Mount Carmel tracks are seeing daylight one at a time, with a new song released every week. Once every seven days, his Tumblr-based website has a new blog post, containing the song stream, new album art, lyrics, and a list of influences (see his post for "Heavy Hands" here). It’s a strategy that’s simple and elegant, even though Kirby says the process is ever-changing.
“My thought was to just change the delivery method; get rid of the album altogether and release songs episodically, like a TV show does, for a specific period of time. [i] noticed a need for experimentation within the industry; everyone is talking about how it’s broken and needs to change, but at the end of the day everyone is still doing the same thing things.”
It makes sense. Currently we market one product to consumers for a year or two (or longer, in cases like Saosin); why not spread out the coverage across a longer period of time? The rise of social media ensures that thousands of bands are thrown in every Facebooker’s face daily, making other bands irrelevant by the minute. Kirby is aiming at 20 weeks for the first “season” of Mount Carmel, meaning he will have new, noteworthy content for five months; how many bands can say they released new material weekly for nearly half a year?
The few who have tried a similar model have seen positive results. The most notable participant was Kanye West, whose G.O.O.D. Fridays bore a striking resemblance to Kirby’s vision: a weekly song, individual album art, and guest collaborations (something Josh hopes to include a few times later this year). Craig Owens didn’t go for the weekly model, but saw the value in every track his band D.R.U.G.S. had created. Usually only one or two tracks are released before an album comes out, but Owens premiered each of the band’s 11 songs on different outlets throughout February 2011, creating a massive swell of love for their debut record.
The key differences between Craig, Kanye, and Kirby are that the former two used the releases as a marketing tool for a full-length, and that Mount Carmel songs are crafted within two weeks of release. Over the remaining months, Josh’s songs could change direction to places he could have never foreseen, all while linking together in a new way.
“All of the lyrics, for new and old songs are usually written a week before the song is released, this way even if they songs are completely different in style the whole project is tied together by lyrical content, almost like a song journal. Not having huge breaks in between writing is nice too, repeatedly going through the entire songwriting process is really helping me hone in on what I like and what I don't like in terms of my songs.
I try not to let the success of previous songs affect the way I write new songs, when I start doing that then I stop writing for myself and start writing for other. However, if I notice a pattern like ‘Hey, everyone hates all of my songs that have kazoo solos in them,’ I'll probably stop shredding so hard on the kazoo. I really don't see that happening, mostly because I'm awesome at the kazoo.”
Watching the songs change and evolve has become a real treat. Over the last six weeks, Kirby has incorporated numerous different influences without affecting perceptions of the last track, listing everything from Sigur Ros to Hey Mercedes as his inspiration. The model works for Mount Carmel and is plausible for other side-projects and new bands, though it could be difficult implementing the style on the world scale that major labels work on. Kirby thinks it’s possible, though the forward thinking could prove too much for the big wigs:
“[It would only work] if a label was willing to really work with an artist to make it happen. Again, this entire industry is built around albums, when you take that away the whole thing falls apart (which, depending on how you look at it could be a good thing).”
While Josh has no concrete plans (“this is an experiment, I won't really know what happens at the end until I reach the end.”), his goal is to release a limited edition vinyl package containing each song. On the surface, this seems to head back to the old ways, but is actually again inspired by television’s latest moneymaker, box sets.
“The limited edition vinyl box set is for people who really want it. That way the supply is always even with the demand and we're not selling people crap they don't want.
Whether the strategy works or not is of no relevance; it is the thought process behind it that is most important. This type of experimentation is desperately needed, and it’s the creativity of Josh Kirby and his musical peers that could make waves in the nearly flattened music industry.