Say Anything

Say Anything frontman and songwriter Max Bemis was in the middle of the band’s first tour as a headliner in support of its major label debut, the Pinocchio-themed …Is A Real Boy, when Pollstar caught up with him by phone in Las Vegas.

Ordinarily, the fact the band was on the road wouldn’t be noteworthy. But just a year ago, the original tour and album release had to be pushed back when Bemis was admitted to a Texas mental health facility to be treated for severe bipolar disorder, which wasn’t helped by Bemis’ drug use. Some published reports said he was in drug rehab.

“It wasn’t rehab, it was more a mental health thing,” Bemis told Pollstar. “I’ve never been strung out on drugs necessarily, but I smoked a lot of pot. It was mainly to deal and cope with my bipolar. I was self-medicating. There were so many things I had to learn in order to take care of myself. It was pretty intense.”

Everything’s fine now, he said, with the support of family, his friend and longtime drummer Coby Linder, and the guidance of people like Red Light Management’s Randy Nichols and Ellis Industries’ Andrew Ellis. The album’s out, the band is on the road and selling out 1,000-seaters after more than three years opening for bands including Dashboard Confessional and Brand New.

It’s been a long journey for Bemis, 22, who seems to have finally settled on his band, his sound and his artistic team for the first time in a career he began as a somewhat precocious 14-year-old in Los Angeles. In the following years, he would go through managers and “random dudes” in his band before finding the right combination.

Bemis now writes and records all of Say Anything’s music, except for Linder’s drums. They tour with four additional musicians.

“We had something like eight managers before Randy. I’m sort of a hard person to deal with and it takes a very particular type of person just to deal with me,” Bemis said. “I’ve always wanted to work with people that I’m friends with, that I’m close to. But I decided I really needed to be working with a major company, once I’d started touring and realized I could really make a living doing this.

“I did work with one other big management company and they were just a little bit too impersonal on the other end of things,” Bemis continued. “Randy is somewhere in the middle – he’s your friend, but he’s also a hardass. He wants you to do the job and get it done, but at the same time he wants you to be happy. He takes my happiness and my safety in consideration as well as how we’re going to do the job.”

Nichols had been a Say Anything fan for a couple of years before becoming its manager, and considers Bemis a friend as well as a client.

“We totally hit it off and I’ve been able to work with him and keep him a lot more organized and on the road,” Nichols said. “Since we’ve been working together, we’ve worked to keep him moving and his career is finally working right.

Say Anything

“It’s a very different kind of relationship. Everybody says that a manager is kind of a parent, a psychologist, a business adviser, and all that but with Max it goes a step further. You have to really genuinely care about a person to do it. If it’s just about the dollars and cents, there’s no point.”

…Is A Real Boy is a sprawling two-disc debut that has spawned a single, “Alive With the Glory of Love,” a ditty about sex and genocide set in a WWII concentration camp. J Records agreed to expand the original indie release by an additional eight songs in part to reward old fans who had the original and were waiting on something new.

“You want to reach new fans, which is why you do the major label deal,” Nichols explained of the unusual release. “But you have all these fans, who have been fans for years, and who are frustrated that they haven’t gotten another record.”

It’s difficult to reduce Say Anything’s music into a neat description. Bemis doesn’t try. “It’s hard to market the band so I like to let the music speak for itself. It’s hard to describe our band because it doesn’t really fit a genre. We have to just be who we are.”

He does cite influences including Queens of the Stone Age and Brian Wilson, perhaps not surprisingly – as Bemis clearly shares some traits with the Beach Boys founder.

“We’ve always been a really ambitious band. The fact that we had to do this rock opera and the fact that we had a 15-song album with a demo that we recorded and spent a year on is part of that,” Bemis said. “Most bands spend a couple of weeks on their first EP or demo. But we like to throw ourselves into it like it’s Pet Sounds or something.

“It’s part of what makes the band; we take everything way too far. It’s part of the whole thing.”

In shooting for a personal Pet Sounds on Say Anything’s debut, Bemis made the album’s conceptual focus around the story of Pinocchio – a somewhat twisted Pinocchio named Max.

“It was really about the struggle that was encapsulated in the story of band – feeling fake and trying to become real and true to yourself, and the values that define who you are,” Bemis explained. “It’s a personal journey, a much darker version of what Pinocchio went through.”