Say Anything Unleash Early Rarities, Gritty Warts and All

"The idea that we have this kind of semi-embarrassing material, that just makes us more interesting"

At the outset of 2012, Say Anything bandleader Max Bemis was thrilled to release "Anarchy, My Dear," one of the least noisy albums his band had ever crafted. A year later, he's presenting a definitive compendium of Say Anything's grittiest, most distortion-drenched work with "All My Friends Are Enemies: Early Rarities," out this week on Equal Vision Records.

Featuring 45 songs, the collection comprises essentially every Say Anything recording made prior to 2004's indie-punk touchstone "…Is a Real Boy." Bemis, in an effort to go beyond a straightforward chest of songs, wrote an essay to introduce each of the three discs on "Early Rarities." There's a slew of archival imagery to sift through while spinning several hours of music.

Of the decision to release even the most warty demos, Bemis credits his band's new place of peace found in the transition from Sony's RCA Records to indie label Equal Vision prior to the most recent record.

"The more I had to prove, the cooler I had to feel at certain points in my career, the harder it was to listen to stuff that wasn't perfect or wasn't exactly what I wanted it to be," Bemis tells Billboard. "Then I sort of hit a wall where I realized I cared so much less about pleasing people who don't like my band, because the people that do really like the band usually stick by us and are open-minded to whatever we put out. The idea that we have this kind of semi-embarrassing material, that just makes us more interesting."

Bemis imagines the release will be akin to a musical equivalent of a coffee table book -- fans can dabble a little, skip around, occasionally listen through long chunks or full discs at a time -- but he guesses there will be "people [who] might want to just put the whole thing on and graze the unknown."

Max Made Billboard a Playlist of Songs From the Archives:

Formative material hasn't always been something Bemis embraced. For a long stretch, he barely acknowledged the existence of "Baseball," a full-length recording made by his 17-year-old self. Bemis is now 28, married to Sherri DuPree-Bemis (vocalist and guitarist of the rock band Eisley), expecting his first child shortly, and on the bright end of a dark mental health tunnel that would lend anyone the air of an old soul. In his wizened age, he's grown fonder of "Baseball" and its oddball brethren. "I've found myself becoming more and more proud of it, and impressed I put that together at the age that I did," he says.

The oldest demos still give Bemis pause -- they're likely sequenced at the tail end of "Early Rarities" for a reason. "It's not like I don't want them out in the world -- I think it'll be very interesting for people who are so dedicated to the band, to have those songs and understand the context of where we came from," he says. "When you're obsessed with a band, knowing their roots sort of helps you enjoy their later stuff more. Sometimes you end up enjoying the old, crappy stuff just because you know where it lead." As a music fan, Bemis has appreciated collections of rarities by Saves the Day and the Foo Fighters. He'd like to see one from Japandroids.

Bemis is heartened by his songwriting personality shining distinctly through much of the formative material. The singular wit, the outrage packaged in catchiness, the playful instrumentation that has characterized all of Say Anything's discography is present and accounted for. Bemis sees his dark sense of humor in his younger self, matched by his penchant to take his art intensely seriously. "There's this sort of balance I've always tried to uphold, of irony or levity and then also this dark, angsty or uplifting and soulful thing. But you can't really have one without the other, in the context of Say Anything," he says. "And I see that all the way back, literally to those first truly embarrassing acoustic songs. It makes me happy these songs exist and that I do have a style of writing -- it wasn't like I was just fumbling in the dark for some kind of direction for a band and found it ten years later."

"Early Rarities" also offers new gems for the more obsessive collectors who may have already acquired the likes of the "Menorah/Majora" EP and "Junior Varsity" -- Bemis re-recorded an acoustic version of "Baseball, but Better" in 2012 and added new vocals to an ancient unused instrumental track.

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