At the age of 19, American rock band Say Anything’s frontman Max Bemis was writing songs about his bipolar disorder and his issues with drugs and unhealthy relationships. Now 30, Bemis has channeled a much different set of life’s challenges into Say Anything’s sixth studio album Hebrews. Released on June 10 by Equal Vision Records, the album is available on iTunes, on Spotify and in stores. Story by Samantha Grasso
Although known for rebellious behavior, Bemis wrote Hebrews' 12 tracks to explore the journey of fatherhood and the birth of his daughter Lucy. “I needed to write that music and live that life at , but when I was 29 and happy, and a homeowner living in Texas with my beautiful wife, and about to have a kid, the problems were a different set of problems,” Bemis says. “I actually think they’re a little more relatable to the average person, because the average person isn’t some 19-year-old college dropout who smoked weed all day and then joined a band, and then the band went on tour and all this craziness happened.”
While faithful fans may question Bemis’ topical deviation, they can be assured that Hebrews is no lighter than albums past. Beyond the surface of parenthood, Bemis tells ORANGE that the album explores a world that is less openly chaotic, but by no means trivial:
“I think I was ready to write what it’s like to live a more seemingly normal life, but actually your problems are a lot more substantial than late-teens, early-20’s behavior — not to downplay how hard that can be to get through. I think a lot of what I was talking about on Hebrews is. It’s pretty disastrous. Those demons are the kinds of things that make people lose what they really love. Push away the people you love, and you can really screw yourself. It isn’t as equally forgiven. You can’t really grow out of those problems. You really have to face them down and figure them out, and I think that’s kind of what I’ve been trying to [do].”
Digging into Hebrews' thematic departure from Say Anything’s fifth album Anarchy, My Dear, Bemis says the new album is not as stripped down and subdued as Anarchy. He adds that Hebrews isn’t too radical a change from the sum of Say Anything’s discography, except for one thing: The album was recorded with symphonic strings instead of guitars. One of Bemis’ friends had suggested including the strings, and, though a gamble, the sound fit Bemis’ vision for the album.
Listening to the preview online, it is clear that the title Hebrews is an incorporation of Bemis’ Jewish heritage and religion. Bemis says he wrote about his heritage to connect to his roots, and that while he is a self-proclaimed “proud Jew,” there are difficult aspects of the Jewish identity. “There’s a very awesome, amazing thing about identifying with a culture, religion or people, and I think those differences are really important and should be cherished. But then there’s also the fact that the way society has bred us based on these conflicting ideologies. It’s provoked all these events and history and genocides and racism and homophobia, and it affects you,” he explains.
The band’s past albums have been about finding love, peace or challenging society, but Bemis says it had been years since he dug into his mind, motivations and demons during the writing process. “I started writing the songs and they really just came so organically. As I wrote them, I was even like, ‘Whoa, this is a therapy session,’ and it just hadn’t been like that in a really long time,” Bemis says.
On June 13, Say Anything will go on a nationwide tour with The Front Bottoms, The So So Glos and You Blew It!. The band is also scheduled to play in Austin at Emo’s East on June 14. After being off-tour for some time, Bemis says he is eager to reunite with Say Anything fans and play the new album live. "In this instance, people are actually really excited to hear the new songs, and that makes me happy," he adds.