In Defense of Max Bemis

1

June 3, 2014 by Roe

Photo Credit: Neil Visel

Photo Credit: Neil Visel

Introduction

As I’ve said before, long-time fans of bands/artists tend to get very upset by change. So much so that (via the perspective of Internet and the occasional face-to-face conversation) many seem to take it personal. A handful of bands I can recall this happening to include Saves The Day, MGMT, Tokyo Police Club, The Beatles, Green Day, and Tom DeLonge’s Angels and Airwaves when blink-182 was on hiatus. (To the perspective of the diehard, now newly disgruntled fan) The music is suddenly no longer about “art” or “creation” or “artist’s self-expression”, but becomes a subject of ridicule and is dismissed simply because it is “different” from their previous material.

Here’s the deal:

As fans, it’s not fair to the artist to be so thoughtlessly critical. Stop acting so spoiled and self-centered. People grow and change. It’s a fact of Life. It’s happening to you right now. Everyone goes through different things, good times, rough patches. We meet people, maybe fall in/out of love and while involved in that thing called Life, we evolve; Ideologies blossom, maybe we develop food, drinking, and drug habits – for better or worse. Families are started or ripped apart, feelings and sentiments change. Thoughts never stop, just the subject matter changes. We stumble upon realizations, become more self-aware of beauty Life brings, or the feel the misery that accompanies it. Why should any of that ever prevent an artist (a person) for expressing themselves in any lyrical, artistic, or creative way they see fit?

Don’t you see? You’re the first to rile against the mainstream, denounce the overly controlling major labels, but when something different and unique comes to be, you reject it, demean it, ridicule it. Why? Get past your own preconceived notions and forget your friends and their opinions. Honestly come face-to-face yourself and confront the feelings said art/creation does to you? Let go of your assumptions that you “know” the singer and/or songwriter and stop hypothesizing reason why their latest work is “bad” or “not up to par” with their earlier material. What is happening inside you? Are you even mature enough to honestly confront those feelings within yourself?

What’s popular opinion isn’t always right.

If you are a true fan of any artist, you will at least give them/him/her a chance. Sorry they can’t recreate a nostalgic soundtrack to accompany your teenage high school angst. Those days have come and gone. Grow up. Look at the world around you. The thing is, it’s easy to admit you hate something. It takes real guts to admit you like something, especially something that may be considered unpopular or unworthy to others. So make sure you’re not just being a sheep and following the herd.

And I get it. I understand where fans are coming from when they say they only like a band’s “older material”. Listen to any band or artist and you can feel an huge presence of energy there. And I bet you that’s a combination of youth, the excitement of having nothing to lose and everything to gain, and the thrill of creating something for the first time. But bands can’t write about the same things for their entire career. In any business, hell – even in Nature you have to constantly change, adapt, and evolve if you want to survive.


With all that said, Max Bemis has been one of my favorite songwriters since about 2005, which was right around my freshman year of high school. I saw the music video to “Alive With The Glory Of Love” and was sucked in immediately.

Max’s lyrics and perspective have always been golden to me. I think he is the most unique songwriter and musician of I can think of. Say Anything’s discography is rife with key changes, time signature changes, and emotional dynamism ranging from screams to croons. Max has always had a very theatrical element about him in his vocal performance. His diction, emotion, and word choices have always had a Broadway musical-like quality about it (I mean that in the best way possible).

Say Anything’s latest album, Hebrews, was released to stream exclusively through Spotify around late last night/early morning. I’ve been following all the Hebrews related press probably since the album art came out. Hebrews does not have any guitars but is mostly an amalgamation of drums, live strings, and computer programming. I like that Bemis chose to do this because it was ballsy, risky, and (dare I say?) punk? By my definition it is. To me, something that is “punk” is something or someone that goes against the grain for a righteous purpose. The construct of Hebrews accomplishes this, IMO. I also think it totally works. Listening to it even inspires me as a musician to keep playing around with Pro Tools and Logic in my own musical endeavors and just create and write, no matter what the hell it is or how it’s made. It’s fun to play around with those programs and I can honestly say from a firsthand perspective that it’s fun. Also, sometimes a lot of ideas come to fruition by electronic/computer means that would not be possible to discover through writing songs with only a guitar.

In the words of Brittany Moseley from Alternative Press, the lyrical content of Hebrews ranges from “fatherhood and self-doubt to finding your religion”. Bemis also acknowledges the fans (discussed above) who think since becoming a more family-oriented individual, he isn’t the same angsty, bipolar struggling twenty-something on his previous records (spoiler alert: He’s not…and that’s okay). As a husband and now father, I believe he is coming to terms with how to view himself in these roles, not wanting to let his family down but love, protect, and be there for them. I also noticed a theme of birth/rebirth – Parallels between the birth of his daughter Lucy and perhaps the rebirth/changing of his musical-self. (Listen to “Push“).

The content of Hebrews is not only exceptional but more valuable than ever. In fact, what may be happening here is a disjuncture; A fork in the road. Though Bemis and his fanbase are getting older together (myself included), many fans are not where Bemis is right now: A new family man with self-doubt and still unanswered questions about Life, Love, and God. Those diehards you hear in the crowd shouting, “IS A REAL BOY! IS A REAL BOY!” are not in that headspace yet. They find it difficult to relate because they’re still at “misery loves company”…and they’re lonely now more than ever. Maybe they’ll get there eventually.

I’ve always viewed songs as having a mythological quality. Lyrics are essential for us as listeners to absorb so we may find ourselves in the world. Do you remember the first time music hit you the hardest? it was probably in your early teen years, right? And that makes sense because you were in such a early developmental stage and something came along and it just got you. Music contains messages that are waiting to be released into our minds so we may have a point of reference of emotion, feeling, sentiment, storytelling. At the end of the day, we must hold on the realization that we’re all cut from the same cloth and it’s the beauty of music that unites us and in a strange way, seems to understand us. So next time your favorite band puts out an album and it goes against the grain, don’t be so quick to judge the unfamiliar. Embrace it for all it’s worth.

Hebrews by Say Anything is officially available June 10th via Equal Vision Records.

Stream it on Spotify here:

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One thought on “In Defense of Max Bemis

  1. […] already written about this album somewhat at length, and I’m not sure if there’s much left for me to say other than I believe this it was […]

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