Max Bemis, lead singer and songwriter of Say Anything, a rock band originally based out of Los Angeles, formed the band along with four of his friends in 2000. In just two years they self-released two EP’s, “Junior Varsity” and “In Your Dreams”, and their full-length album, “Baseball: An Album by Say Anything”, to widespread praise. Fast forward almost 15 years, and the band is still going strong, recently releasing their latest album, “I Don’t Think It Is”, this past February. Bemis and the band are ready to hit the road as well, with their United States tour set to kick off in Dallas, Texas on April 20th.
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Read the interview highlights below, or listen to SCP Radio’s full-length podcast:
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Sean Ritchie: I know you’re originally from New York City, at what point did you move away? When you come back do you still consider it home?
Max Bemis: Ah, no I left New York when I was like three, but then I moved to [Los Angeles] and I moved back to NY. I basically moved back-and-forth between NY and LA until I was about 23 or 22, and then I moved to Texas and that’s where I live now.
SR: Awesome. Now, obviously the cities are drastically different, but what’s one quality about each that differentiates the two?
MB: Well, the culture is really rich. I guess I relate better to the culture itself in NY. I have more in common with the average New Yorker. I feel like the culture is really rich and diverse on any given block. It’s kind of like a seasoned vibe there, as things can tend to be a little more put on to some degree. Like, almost too clean and nice. There are areas that are more diverse, obviously, but in like West LA. That’s where I grew up. It was a little segregated and weird, but I still think LA’s an awesome place. NY just has that indefinable NY “thing”. You either love it or it stresses you out.
Photo courtesy | Thomas Hawk
And, I mean part of our music was growing up in LA, but having it coming from a family of people from the east coast. So, I felt a little bit out of place as a teenager growing up in LA, with the sort of entertainment culture and a little bit of sort of the fakeness. So, then I moved to the east coast and I found out that it was really more about growing up than it was about the place itself, because you can find cool stuff anywhere really. You can make your own place to call your own home anywhere, and I kind of was attributing that to LA versus like where it was just me and my surroundings myself.
SR: What was your inspiration to getting into music? Did the chance of hitting it big and traveling the world play a role?
MB: Well, I probably started playing music for really boring reasons, because, you know, I didn’t really have anything to do and I took piano lessons. And, then eventually, you know, I was always into listening to music. Then all the little boys around the age of 13 started learning guitar to play Green Day songs and play Bad Religion and stuff like that. So, I picked up the guitar for that reason. I think my first motivation to write music was just out of like feeling really deeply and having no other way to express it and wanting to express it artistically, ‘cause I was always writing.
I was always doing creative writing, like stories, screenplays and stuff, but it was less immediate. I think maybe when I had my first like “date”, and I was really excited about it, I wrote my first song. But, I didn’t know anything about doing professionally. I hadn’t even played a single show. I actually got, sort of, discovered through this label Drive Through Records, huge at the time. They kind of introduced me into everything when I was like 14 or 15, but I was with no previous experience. Then, we didn’t even go on tour until I was around 18 or 19. I dropped out of college to do it.
SR: Hell yeah, just diving right in! What’s the main correlation between music and travel? How do they complement each other?
MB: Well, I mean to me, I always think of musicians to some degree, like what keeps me grounded about being a musician, is that sometimes I remember that initially, back in the day, there would just be traveling musicians who would like travel to different towns and just play. If people liked what they heard they would give them money and that was basically it. All this kind of like “mish-mosh” of the record industry really sprung up a lot later. In a way, it’s always kind of been linked in that way. So, going on tour is really like being a minstrel or something. It’s kind of like, how else are people going to hear your music? And now, obviously we have recorded music, mp3’s and the Internet, and initially that’s what it was about, playing live and going to different places.
SR: I know that you’re going on tour, but I wanted to touch on your new album first, titled “I Don’t Think It Is”. What’s the main difference between this album and the others that you put out?
MB: I think the main difference is that it wasn’t just me really just doing everything. It was me and Darren King, who played the drums and help produce it and help arrange it. He had as much of stake in writing the music as I did. I’d say that’s the biggest change.
Photo courtesy | Alejandro Rdguez
SR: Now, touching on your US tour that kicks off April 20th, what are the cities, to you, that you can’t wait to hit?
MB: New York always is exciting. I get to see my friends and family — California, same with LA. I mean you get to go there all the time, but it’s always kind of an event when we play there and all my friend and family come. Seattle. We’re going to Nashville this time, which is great because we don’t play there often. Portland — always fun.
SR: There are cities all over the world that are known for their nightlife and known for their partying. Are there any cities that stand out in your mind where the crowd atmosphere at your shows reflected the city’s nightlife?
MB: You know what, at our shows we’re not really the kind of band that you go out for a casual night to go see some music, because it’s so visceral. So, I find that the nightlife tends to be independent from what we’re doing. Sometimes we’ll go out, [but] I’m kind of homebody, so I sit in the back of the bus often. You know, in NY we always tend to go out. There is always something going on there, same with LA. Again, I think our music is more like, “Let’s go, kind of lose our minds and …”
Photo courtesy | Boqiang
SR: … Rage a little bit?
MB: Yeah, it’s a little ragey for sure.
SR: When you do find yourself with some downtime and you’re on vacation, are you a beach goer? Or, are you in the center of the city where all the action is?
MB: You know, usually when we do go on a vacation, I have a wife and kids, we’ll go somewhere where we have family. We’ll go to NY or LA, or we’ll go to Nashville, and just hang out kind of like we would be at home. I’m definitely not like a beachy type person necessarily, or like touristy type person. So, if I ever do go on vacation, even when we went to Paris for our honeymoon we kind of just wanted to feel not pressured. So, we would find a place that we liked, a particular café or restaurant, and go there a lot. Kind of try and take it easy and not feel like we want to ruin the experience by trying too hard, so it feels like you’re not really on vacation. I guess like really lazy/casual vacationer.
Photo courtesy | Laura Luz
SR: What were some of the bands that you listened to growing up that helped mold you to become the musician you are?
MB: My favorite band in high school is still my favorite band, called “Saves the Day”.
SR: Chris Conley is the man.
MB: Yeah, dude! We were kind of lucky enough to kind of get pulled into their world and they became like out “buddy band”. Now we tour with them more than any other band. Chris is like my best friend. We have a band together; it was actually what I was just working on, finishing the second record from our side project (Two Tongues). What I grew up listening to ended up being the bands that sort of took us on and helped our careers early on, and then they continue to be close friends. So, it kind of enveloped my life. I definitely do have really eclectic tastes. So, like, hip-hop when I was like 11 or 12, and then grunge when I was like 13, then Metallica a little bit later that year, and then punk rock for a long time.
Photo courtesy | Yoshikazu Takada
SR: Everyone has a list of destinations that they haven’t been to, but want to hit. What are three on your list?
MB: Tokyo. I really want to go to Japan. I haven’t been to too many places that are crazy, except for on tour obviously we’ve gone to Europe and Australia and stuff like that. But, even in Australia, which I love, and it’s so beautiful and awesome to go to, but it’s still so meshed in western culture. So, I guess if I was to take like real vacations to places that are like super different, you know, like it would be Tokyo or India. I wouldn’t mind going somewhere, though this doesn’t count, I wouldn’t mind going somewhere like Spain. I’ve been to a lot of Europe, but I haven’t been to Spain. So, I’d say those three places for sure.
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For more on Say Anything visit their website:
Cover photo courtesy | Dan Cox