Plugged In: Say Anything
Written by Chrissy Mauck
Plugged In is an ongoing feature in Fender News highlighting Fender artists with new music out that we strongly recommend you “plug in” and give a listen.
|Jeff Turner, Coby Linder, Jake Turner, Max Bemis, Alex Kent
and Parker Case.
FACTOID: Coby and Alex first met Parker at Penn Stationwhile waiting for a train to Long Island for their manager’s wedding (Parker was also an invited guest).
In their white short-sleeve button-down collar dress shirts, black slacks and schoolboy trimmed hair, the men of Say Anything call to mind the young Mormon missionaries riding around on their bicycles and spreading the gospel. But these indie punk rockers pulverize that tame pretense about ten seconds into their set.
The “uniforms” are a relatively new twist for the sextet, which has been performing with its current lineup of singer Max Bemis, drummer Coby Linder, bassist Alex Kent, guitarist/keyboardist Parker Case and guitarists Jake and Jeff Turner, since 2006.
“It’s about having a sense of unity, a sense of class, a sense of professionalism and a little bit of tongue-in- and cheek,” Kent says of the band’s onstage outfits.
“Also, I would say it’s to make us standout, as opposed to every band out there having long hair, beards and tight jeans,” adds Linder, who co-founded the band with Bemis in 2000 shortly after the two teenagers met at Camp Ramah. “The uniforms are a maturity thing, definitely.”
And in their own fashion, Say Anything indeed delivers a sermon each time they take the stage.
Like As the band name suggests, Say Anything’s frontman is not afraid to “say anything,” even if it’s airing his own personal demons, from an abusive relationship to his bipolar disorder and subsequent mental breakdown. Since the release of 2004 debut album …Is a Real Boy, the band has built a cult following because of the uncensored and brutally honest lyrics Bemis spits out, made all the more cynical when accompanied by his facial sneers and dramatic hand gestures.
“Anything that he writes is a completely honest and true story,” says Kent. “I actually joined the band right after …Is a Real Boy, and as a Say Anything fan, that album changed me so much. It helped me get from an adolescent to an adult.”
In fact, Kent rates Bemis as one of his top two all-time favorite songwriters (the other being Pedro the Lion’s David Bazan).
“Max is a f-ing genius,” surmises Kent, thus igniting a 10-minute internal band discussion about what makes their lead singer so special.
“On the record, I recorded bass after guitar, which is not normal,” Kent offers as an example. “Usually it goes drums—bass—guitars—vocals, but Max does pretty much all of the songwriting. He’ll have the general idea of either a vocal melody or a guitar riff first and then he, Coby and I will start jamming stuff. He just sits there and improvises most of the time, creating layers and layers of guitar parts, hence why there’s three guys playing the guitar live.”
“But even though he’s improvising, the guitar parts are still very well-thought out in terms of how they are panned onstage,” interjects Case, who plays both keyboard and guitar. “Jake and I are stage right and we are never playing two power guitar parts at the same time while Jeff is doing something else on the other side. The power of the guitar parts is very well balanced between among the three of us.
“I don’t know if genius is the word really to describe him, but there’s a specific something—that X factor,” continues Case. “He’s a true songwriter. There aren’t many people in that age group who can write about the things he writes about and then also technically build a song while visualizing how it will play out live.”
Guitarist Jake Turner relies on his Fender Telecaster® guitar for Say Anything’s first two singles, “Hate Everyone” and “Do Better.”
“Max said he needed a specific tone for ‘Hate Everyone,’” says Jake. “He would say ‘Give me the clash—that clingy, good twangy tone’ and I instantly knew what I would play.”
To duplicate those guitar parts live, Case and the Turner twins spend countless hours listening on headphones and playing along to the record until they’ve finally picked up every intricacy.
“When there’s a part that has more feeling, we all hit harder; play harder,” explains Jake Turner. “We emotionally connect with everything we play. Even though Max does most of the writing, we all know what we are preaching when we get onstage.”
Like Kent, Case and the Turner brothers were Say Anything fans long before joining the band. And now, after every show, they hear dozens of testimonials from fans who likewise relate to their troubled and angst-filled lyrics.
“I had this girl come up and tell me about how her boyfriend died in a car accident,” recalls Jake Turner. “And then this teenage boy told me about how his best friend committed suicide. I think that’s what separates us from other bands. People really understand and relate to our lyrics, and it helps get them through life and its tough experiences. Knowing that the songs we are playing are touching people not just musically but lyrically is something I think we all take pride in.”
Say Anything’s message and delivery are a bit more thought out these days though, as Bemis has become more aware of his impact on his audience and the social responsibility he carries.
“I think with our earlier albums Max had no idea what they could possibly do,” says Jeff Turner. “He wasn’t writing it to help change kids’ lives; he was just writing about his own life. I think now he realizes what he’s affecting and that he can go about telling the story in a different way––a more positive way. It’s a different pedestal. He knows there’s an audience of people listening and he has something to say.”
And although the snarky first single “Hate Everyone,” from the band’s self-titled 2009 album suggests another turn of dark and sardonic life experiences, Bemis is in fact a changed man.
“This is a record about finally actually believing in the optimism of life; the glass is half full,” asserts Kent. “Max got married and is very happy. He found someone to share his love and life with and it reflects in the music.”
Wife Sherri Dupree’s band, Eisley, opened during Say Anything’s fall 2009 headlining tour, also joining her husband onstage to sing on “Cemetery,” a mellow number the couple wrote together.
“The song title sounds morbid, but it’s definitely a love song,” says Jake Turner. “It’s more of a spiritual outlook to love. That’s a big thing now; Max has found religion and has become spiritual, and that song hits on it hard.”
Apparently Bemis has also finally embraced the essential plotline of the comic books he so fervently collects—that even the most unsuspecting characters have great power within. Depicted on the cover of the band’s fourth album is a young boy outfitted in superhero gear, striking a defiant and conquering pose at the edge of his bed as if to say he has no fear of whatever bad things might be lurking around the corner.
“The whole record is about finding your inner superhero,” explains Jake Turner. “It’s related to all of Max’s struggles through so many years and finally believing in himself and feeling secure with who he is and what he has to offer.”
In poppy synth-heavy single “Do Better,” Bemis sings, “You burn so brightly, you burn so brightly in the dark, you could do better, you could do better, you could be the greatest man in the world.”
Fitting lyrics for a band that lights up the stage with intense and inspired performances, and for a lyricist who continues to raise the songwriting bar with Say Anything—an album deemed by many critics as the band’s most mature work to date.
Visit Say Anything’s website for more info.