Say Anything’s Max Bemis on Kanye’s Influence, ‘Is a Real Boy’ Legacy
In early February, Say Anything frontman Max Bemis invoked Beyoncé and Kanye West when he announced his band’s new surprise album, I Don’t Think It Is. Name-checking Bey and Ye as inspirations could be considered confounding for a man who’s long experimented with a mixture of pop-punk, emo and indie rock, but Bemis has never been one to bend to what’s expected. Say Anything recently landed on Rolling Stone‘s list of the “40 Greatest Emo Albums of All Time” with their 2004 debut, … Is a Real Boy, an enthralling rock opera that mutates cynicism into life-affirming anthems.
For the predecessor to I Don’t Think It Is, 2014’s Hebrews, Bemis ditched guitars and embraced a cornucopia of orchestral instruments. In the case of I Don’t Think It Is, Bemis dropped the news of its existence days before it arrived — hence the Beyoncé reference — and in a lengthy note to fans, he revealed that some of the new material grew out of a studio session with West himself.
Kanye isn’t the only one who helped Bemis on I Don’t Think It Is. The 31-year-old frontman first began kicking around ideas with Mutemath drummer Darren King. King became an equal partner in making the new album — a shift from Bemis’s auteur-style approach to previous Say Anything albums. But Bemis has long been keen on shifting ideas of how to approach making music. Before setting off on a nationwide Say Anything tour, beginning April 20th, Bemis talked to Rolling Stone about embracing collaboration, Kanye’s contribution to I Don’t Think It Is and his position in the broader punk scene.
In the introduction for I Don’t Think It Is, you mentioned that Kanye inspired the album’s collaborative element. What about his approach to collaboration and his music resonates with you?
The difference between someone like Kanye and someone like the Beatles is that so much of what he does is in debt to his collaborations. He started out as a producer — and I still think he thinks of himself more as a producer. I loved making our first few records where I would play most of the instruments and have all this stuff that was so much in my control that I knew if I screwed it up, it was all down to me. But on the past couple, and especially this one, I was really glad to hand the baton to other people. It felt more like being in a band, or being someone like Dr. Dre or someone like that who works with other people, who works with other artists. So much of the music I love is created that way that I thought it would be kind of a disservice to never really try or not trust other people to understand what I’m trying to get across enough to put their own stamp on it and still achieve what I’m trying.
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