If the line between genius and insanity is thin, Say Anything's Max Bemis is walking it like a tightrope. He's seen his opus, 2004's Say Anything...Is a Real Boy, simultaneously catapult him onto a major label and give him a multiple-tour-canceling nervous breakdown.
So Bemis yells. Not a tearful emo yelp or a guttural hardcore scream, but the kind of bitter, top-of-the-lungs yell you make only when you're alone in the car with the radio at full blast. It's that of a singer who's still trying to get comfortable with his own voice. We recently got him to sit down and talk for a change.
Westword: You had to cancel your last two tours for health reasons. What happened?
Max Bemis: I'm bipolar, so I had a couple of episodes where I couldn't take going on tour. It was stress and anxiety, and it led to me pretty much losing my mind.
What's different this time around?
Well, I went to an institute for a couple of months. I've gone to therapy, and I've been away from playing shows for four or five months, preparing myself mentally for it.
How did what you were going through influence the recording of Real Boy?
We had to postpone the ending of the recording because I had my first episode during that time. I was writing about myself during that period when I was recording the album, so it made it a really personal album. I think that's why I really wanted people to like the album, because it's so personal. It's exactly what I was going through when I was writing it -- it's very autobiographical.
I read that you head-butted a guy on the street in New York. How much written about you is truth and how much is fiction?
A lot of the rumors are true, but a lot of them are blown out of proportion and false. I basically was hallucinating that I was in a movie, that I was being filmed, and that's pretty much it. I was, like, accosting people like they were actors in the film, so some guy just got threatened and punched me in the face.
Where did you come up with the whole yelling-singing thing?
I've always had punk and hardcore influences in my band, so you take that and add all the indie-rock and classic-rock and whatever other influences, and it sort of becomes this fusion of, say, Queen and Fugazi. That's what I was going for musically, and the voice sort of just follows. It's got that intensity, but these are obviously pop songs.
In retrospect, how much do you hate the name you picked for your band?
[Laughs] I don't hate it, but it definitely represents the music we were making when we were younger more than the music we're making now. The thing about it that I like is that the character in the movie [Lloyd Dobler, played by John Cusack in Cameron Crowe's 1989 film Say Anything] is a lot like the character who I write about in the songs. I think the ideals of the band are still there. No matter how much we hate it, the music just wouldn't be how it is without the underlying character.
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