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By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
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By Araceli Cruz
The last time we heard from Max Bemis of Say Anything, on the Los Angeles emo band's 2007 double-album doozy In Defense of the Genre, dude was giving all his Hot Topic homies a master class in emotional blackmail. "Cater to me, or I'll punch myself until my face is blue," Bemis demanded on "Spay Me," some kind of fucked-up mash note from "an arrogant prick shitting out heart attacks" to "the queen of the damned—feelingless, devoid of tact."
Two years later, on a perfectly lovely Saturday afternoon, Bemis and I are hanging out in the garden behind his mom's house in L.A. while his wife, Sherri (a member of the pop group Eisley), pages through a Harry Potter book nearby. The frontman and his bandmates are currently in rehearsals for Say Anything's upcoming North American tour, but tonight, Mr. and Mrs. Bemis are driving up to Santa Barbara so Max can show Sherri where he made the decision to ask her out.
Some things, you might have gathered, have changed.
"I was very isolated at the time of the last record, and the closest relationship I had was this horrible, abusive relationship I was in," says Bemis, who has also been very public about his struggle with bipolar disorder. "Now I have more human relationships: I've become a lot closer with my friends and my bandmates, and I just got married." He's enjoying some hard-won psychological stability, as well. "I'm basically going through this human drama on a daily basis that's generally very positive."
You can hear that improved mindset all over Say Anything's new self-titled album, which the singer calls "an average-guy-writing-songs-about-his-experiences-in-life record as opposed to a me-feeling-like-I-have-to-save-the-world record." (According to Bemis, In Defense was motivated by this question: "What right do the intellectual elite have to bash some poor goth girl who listens to My Chemical Romance just because she may not be as educated or with-it as someone who at the time was into Arcade Fire?") Yet Say Anything hardly reflects a downgrade in Bemis's trademark caustic wit: We're talking, after all, about a disc whose lead single is titled, "Hate Everyone" and whose catchiest track finds one young lady settling for "a less cute version of you." Think of it as you would recent stuff by Weezer, one of Bemis's biggest influences: serious and jokey in equal measure, sentimental and allergic to sentiment at the same time.
"I remember getting the demos for this record from Max, and the first thing I noticed was that there was no more cursing," says drummer Coby Linder, whom Bemis has been playing music with since they met at Jewish summer camp early in their high school years. (Oh, yeah, another thing: Bemis recently became a Christian.) "I didn't wanna attribute it to the fact that Max is religious now, though I know that's part of it. But it's also the fact that we're older now, and we wanted to show how much we've grown." The drummer says Say Anything represents "the most straightforward, optimistic vision" of any of the band's records. That vision's always been there, he insists, but "it used to be covered in shit, whereas there's a straight-up love song on this one." Linder laughs. "Sure, it's called 'Cemetery,' but it's more beautiful than it is dark."
"After In Defense, I had a feeling that we were gonna make a poppier, more concise record," says Bemis. "But how it actually evolved, I didn't know. I thought I was being idealistic for even thinking that I could get out of my early twenties, when you're so miserable and crazy. I was like, 'This'll never happen.' But it did."