Say Anything: …Is A Real Man
Ahead of their tour this October, Say Anything’s Max Bemis looks back on their defining album, …Is A Real Boy, and the decade that was.
To use the band’s words, the “odd, unclassifiable indie rock” of Say Anything has been a staple in the emo and alt rock communities since the early ‘00s. This year, their landmark sophomore album – …Is A Real Boy – hits the big 1-0, and along with it, frontman Max Bemis’ complete mental breakdown. It’s no secret that the singer had lofty ambitions for the record, once stating that he wanted to “outdo Andy Warhol and Jesus” (“Oh I definitely failed on that one,” he laughs), and from it came some of the era’s defining emo/indie rock moments, most memorably the brilliant “Alive With The Glory Of Love” that chronicles a couple’s relationship against the backdrop of the Holocaust.
“If no one had ever discovered that record and we hadn’t blown up the way we did, I think it would’ve still been a really amazing process making it,” the singer considers. “Growing up in LA you kinda see through the machine and all the hype and the bullshit, and really what lasts are the real personal moments in your career, not success.”
The artistic struggle of piecing together an album can be challenge enough, but at the same time, Bemis was suffering from drug addiction and bipolar disorder, exacerbated by the immense self-imposed pressure that came from writing and playing most of the instruments on the grandiose pop-punk album. Looking back, it’s with the gift of hindsight that Bemis is able to see the events of that time as a necessary means to a more positive end.
“There was a lot going on in my life that was difficult to stomach,” he begins. “It’s more funny at this point. I vividly remember all the experiences – including losing it – but mostly it’s a positive memory. The worst thing I was doing was smoking constant marijuana and making music; it wasn’t debaucherous or as dark as it comes across, the only really dark part was when I lost, lost it,” he emphasises. “But even that was kind of a really cool, weird experience that I’m able to look back on that not a lot of people have. It was a very pivotal point in my life.”
At the time of our interview, beloved actor and comedian Robin Williams had just passed away, another victim lost to mental illness, and our conversation soon turns to the social stigma that surrounds it, even in 2014.
“I think it’s very similar to the way people say the words ‘gay’ or ‘crazy’ or ‘retarded’,” Bemis considers. “We’re only in the first half-century of being slightly more enlightened as a society; in terms of civil rights and the recognition of diversity, that’s something that only now is becoming more a part of the vocabulary of the world. I think people are only now realising that mental illness is not a defining feature of someone’s personality – it’s part of their genetic makeup and it’s something you don’t choose.”
As someone who’s been through the worst of it – at the height of his breakdown, Bemis’ condition led him to believe he was being unknowingly filmed for a mockumentary, thinking that strangers he encountered on the street were his friends – and come out the other side, Bemis is more than aware of how important it is to keep a positive frame of mind, even when things look their darkest.
“Sometimes people are in the most bleak, horrific situations that even I can’t comprehend and it feels like everything’s working against them,” he explains. “But even then you always have a choice to some degree, to have compassion for yourself and love your life and appreciate it for what it is, and to me that was instrumental in accepting my mental illness, accepting that I’m gonna have to live my life a little bit differently than everyone else. Getting past shame is part of that, as well as prioritising it because ultimately, it’s something that can end the way it did with Robin Williams, but it doesn’t have to at all.”
Say Anything Tour Dates
Wed Oct 15th – Amplifier Bar, Perth (18+)
Thu Oct 16th – Fowlers Live, Adelaide (AA)
Fri Oct 17th – The Corner Hotel, Melbourne (18+)
Sat Oct 18th – Manning Bar, Sydney (18+)
Sun Oct 19th – The Hi-Fi, Brisbane (18+)