Bayside have steadily become one of the preeminent forces in alternative music by simply being themselves throughout their entire career. The band has a unique sense of self which displays itself every time they release new music. The band’s seventh full-length record, Vacancy, just dropped last week, and to celebrate, they hit the road with some incredible bands supporting them: The Menzingers and Sorority Noise. I’ll have more on that tour a little later this week, but for now, enjoy my conversation with Anthony Raneri and Nick Ghanbarian about managing fan expectations, what they feel their responsibility is as a band with a platform, and how you continue to write the most honest music of your career seven albums deep.
So starting off, we’re here at the Starland Ballroom in New Jersey, at the beginning of your current tour. You guys just released your new record, Vacancy, yesterday, which we can discuss in depth in a little bit, but first, I know you guys took a long time off from touring the last eight or nine months since the self-titled album tour. Has it been difficult getting back into the daily touring grind after a, for you at least, longer break?
Anthony: It honestly was, surprisingly. We’ve taken breaks in between tours, and there’s always a little rust. But, yeah, we usually take one day for rehearsals for a tour. And for this tour, we practice for a few days, and even did a warm-up show before the tour started, and even so it still took a few days before I felt like we were running on all cylinders for this tour.
Nick: And it’s weird. This is the first tour that started in Nashville and worked its way around. Usually we would start in New York and work our way around from there. So I kind of feel like after tomorrow (when they’re out of the tri-state area), I can settle in to being on tour. Because we’ll have a week worth of getting used to tour. And now we’re in our home area which is wild for so many reasons. And we kind of compounded everything yesterday with being home and it’s our album release, so it was insane.
Anthony: Yeah, we had press all over town yesterday, so it was a pretty busy day, it’s been a busy week.
Yeah, as I was saying before we began, even though it’s just past release day now, it feels like you guys have probably tired yourselves out a bit with the press you’ve been doing leading up to the release of the album, so I appreciate you giving us the time. It seems like kind of a long time coming for you and Menzingers to tour together since you’ve sort of traveled in the same musical circles for a bit now, you know bands you’ve toured with are bands they’ve toured with.
Anthony: It’s come up a lot of times between us personally. We’ll text each other and talk about it, but the schedules have never lined up in the past. Like we’re either doing a tour while they’re in the studio or vice versa, or they already have something going on. So, yeah, it has been a long time coming but it finally worked out.
Nick: There are very few bands that all four of us love, and they’re definitely one of them.
They get better with every album too. I know a lot of people say that about you guys as well, especially with the new record, but it’s true with The Menzingers as well. It must be cool to take out a band like that that feels like they’re on the cusp of something big.
Nick: Yeah, I want to watch them every night personally, and I do. And I get pumped to play because of them.
Anthony: Yeah, they bring it. They get the crowd going, and that makes us raise our game.
Nick: I think in some ways, maybe not musically, but in some ways, they remind me of us.
Anthony: In attitude, I think, no doubt. They’re just no bullshit, four dudes who get on stage and play loud and tight.
Nick: And I think our fans appreciate that, so hopefully we get to expose some people to a band they may not have heard before.
And you guys are sympaticos in terms of the area. You guys both now get to reset, being out of your hometown areas after tonight.
Anthony: Yeah, we were in Philly a few days ago and they had all their friends and family out which was crazy. And then last night (in New York) we had a hundred people on the guest list last night. So the backstage area was insane yesterday.
Now, I know it’s just after release day but you’ve probably had to tell this story a hundred times. But for people who aren’t aware, do you want to just go into detail about the circumstances about how Vacancy came together, like what the recurring theme of the record is?
Anthony: I mean, the short version basically is that I moved to Tennessee with my wife and my daughter. And then after that I split up with my wife, and I decided I needed to stay in Tennessee to be close to my daughter, and raise her. So I just kind of found myself in a new place, alone, trying to find my footing. And the record is really… I mean, it does touch upon my breakup and stuff like that, but I really wanted the record to be about the aftermath of that, of picking of the pieces and figuring my life out, moreso than a traditional breakup record.
And it seems like there is a kind of immediacy to the record, like it’s not so much looking back at the past like perhaps some of the older Bayside records feel. Was that a conscious decision?
Anthony: Definitely. Usually I write in hindsight. More so than any other record, this record I was writing it while I was living.
As a result of that, did it take a long time for the music to come together after you were writing and had written the lyrics? Or was there a song specifically that took a long time in the studio to come together?
Anthony: Different things kind of took a long time. “I’ve Been Dead All Day” I’ve probably been working on for two years. That one took a long time. Even after I brought it to the band, it took a while. We rewrote the verses, and we were demoing, and we changed the verses in the studio. Yeah, “Dead All Day” was a big one. That was like our “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Nick: Yeah, on this album especially, there were a few songs that were not really done at all until they were done. Like we never finished writing them and just went in and recorded them. Songs like “Mary” and “Doesn’t Make It True” were like that. We didn’t know what Jack was going to do until he did it. A lot of times when we bring songs to the table, they’re pretty much done. I have an idea of what the vocal is or what Jack’s doing, and therefore I’ll know what to add to the song. But with a song like “Mary,” I just tracked it to the drums, I knew what the notes were, kind of vaguely knew what the vocal hooks sounded like, and had no idea what Jack was going to do. And it came out great.
I was at the acoustic session earlier at Vintage Vinyl, and it was so cool to see you guys put that together sort of on the spot.
Anthony: Yeah, we had never even ran it, not even in soundcheck or on the bus. That was the first time me and Jack ever played it together. And then we just did it now full band at soundcheck and we’ll probably play it tonight.
That’s awesome, yeah. That’s one of my favorite songs on the new record.
Anthony: Yeah, it’s interesting. We usually try not to start the tour until the record is out, but with this tour it just kind of worked that the tour started before the record was out, and so we just kind of picked four songs from the record to play on the tour. But now that it’s out, we’re just following people’s feedback, what their favorite songs on it are, and we’re just trying to work in what people want us to play. And “Mary” is definitely one of those fan favorites.
So one of the singles on the record, “I’ve Been Dead All Day,” which you described earlier as your “Bohemian Rhapsody,” what really struck me about that song is this call to faith in the bridge of the song, where you confront God pretty directly (“That night I actually prayed but I think God’s forgotten my name / Cause I’d point the blame every time I got mad/ So we kind of lost touch and now we’ve been playing phone tag”). Was there a role played perhaps in terms of religious themes on the album?
Anthony: You know, I have sort of a funny relationship with faith. I mean, going back to The Walking Wounded, I’ve been writing about religion. And I’ve gone between feeling religious and not feeling religious, and believing in a God and not believing in a God, and I realized how often I was talking to God. And I realized, “Well, for someone who doesn’t believe, you certainly seem to be speaking to them a lot.” And that’s kind of what “Dead All Day” especially the bridge as you said, is about. It’s about what I feel my connection is, and the looseness almost of that connection.
For sure, and I know in times of crisis people kind of turn to that.
Anthony: Exactly, and I’ve found myself in that moment, with what I was going through, and through the writing of that record, speaking to…
Anthony: Exactly, and asking the Universe questions.
It’s hard sometimes to confront that, to feel like you’re shouting into the void and not sure if you’re getting any response back.
Anthony: And that’s going back all the way to “Dear Your Holiness,” which was also like a direct call-out to God, like, “Now would be a good time.”
So do you guys feel like you’re at point where you’re still worried about how fans might react to an album?
Anthony: We try really hard to give fans what they want. You know, we do a lot of market research.
How exactly do you mean? Like Twitter or…?
Anthony: All of the social media stuff. We read basically all of it. We read message boards, we read reviews, we read it all.
I feel like that would get exhausting.
Nick: It’s interesting.
Anthony: We’re good at not taking it to heart. We can read negative things and just say, “well, okay you’re just wrong. You just don’t actually know what you’re talking about.” And then sometimes we’ll read negative things, and say, “Well, that’s actually a really good point.” We try to be that way. Like, when we released “Dancing Like an Idiot,” some people had some negative things to say, and I think some of it, I would say, had a good point. But when it comes to setlists, or when it comes to making our records, we try to do what will make our fans happy while also doing things that we love.
The setlists are so hard because you get to a point as a band where if you get a certain size, you have those diehard fans who have seen us thirty times, and they want to see us play guardrail, and they want to see us play these deep cuts, but when there’s 2000 people at the show, 75% of them at least want to hear Devotion and Desire and Blame it on Bad Luck and Sick, Sick, Sick. That’s just what happens when you get to that size. So we do struggle a lot, like you would not believe how long the conversations about setlists are between all of us, of trying to give that 75% of people who only know the hits what they came to see, while at the same time keeping those people who are seeing us for the thirtieth time happy. It’s fucking impossible.
Nick: People enjoy different things about it. We right different kinds of songs. People may like the faster stuff, the heavier stuff, the slower stuff. We have all these different songs which still sound like us, but they may be looking for that one type of sound from us. People enjoy different things about us. Going back to reading the comments on Twitter, there could be back to back comments where one person says, “Your new album sounds so different,” and then the next comment will say, “This sounds like every Bayside album ever.”
And so how do you please everyone?
Anthony: It’s crazy. I obviously don’t follow anyone else’s career as closely as I follow ours, so I don’t know how common it is. But I feel like we’re such a divisive band in that way. So many reviews I’m reading on the album will say, “There’s so much experimentation. They tried a lot of new stuff.” And then I’ll go look at a Chorus.fm thread and someone will say, “This is the same record again.”
Nick: And we read that stuff. We don’t take it to heart, like I said, but it’s funny how you can read two opinions that are so opposite. You can’t make everybody happy, so we just do something that we’re proud of and that’s the best that we can do.
For sure. So you mentioned the song “Dancing Like an Idiot.” I thought it was really interesting, after you had that, I guess you could call it, negative feedback, or people pointing out certain things about your discography, I thought it was pretty interesting how you took it to heart and wrote that pretty heartfelt note about the song and the response, and then “Dear Tragedy” (the song that was the target of much of that criticism) ended up in the setlist a lot not long after that. I feel like people maybe thought you were trying to downplay your past by bringing up all these new artists that have messages like that in their songs, but when you played “Dear Tragedy” it was an indication you weren’t trying to silence anything.
Anthony: Yeah, absolutely. My goal with that note was just to own up to it. It happened, and those songs exist. I’m a bigger person now. I try, I struggle with it. I think everybody does. I think anybody that would go and tell the public that they’re perfect and that they never say anything offensive, that they never offend anybody, is either lying or completely not self-aware.
And I think owning up to that is important.
Anthony: Yeah, sometimes the best you can do is say, “I’m flawed.” Maybe I’m less flawed than I was ten years ago, but I’m trying my best.
Yeah, I thought it was an interesting message to send out there to other bands, to understand that this platform we have has responsibility, and when you sing a song like that, there needs to some kind of conversation there.
Anthony: The one thing I didn’t want to do was to point out how “Dear Tragedy” lyrics, or any of my older lyrics, differed from what I was complaining about. Although I do think it’s different, and dark imagery is different than lyrics telling young girls in the audience to take their shirts off. But that’s not the point. The point was that if what you’re writing offends anybody, own it. Own up to that responsibility. The point is not that I didn’t mean to offend anybody. That doesn’t matter.
Nick: And not every band has to have a responsibility, you know, a social consciousness. Some bands are just fun, some bands are pretty just down the middle of the road lyrically. We are socially conscious people, and as you said we have a platform, and without shoving it down people’s throats, we want to stand up for what we believe in. And when we’re on a tour where someone who is the exact opposite of that, the stage over, is doing damage to young children, lyrically, we’re going to be the ones who are going to say something about it. You know, that’s our scene. Those children are children who need to grow up to listen to good music and feel good about themselves.
To feel safe at their shows.
Anthony: Exactly. And I don’t think we need to preach to be good role models. I think we mostly just want to lead by example. I think that we get that from a lot of the stuff that we grew up on, the punk and the hardcore, and even stuff like The Smiths, you know, the desire to be role models. So we try to lead by example. And also we’re four straight white guys, you know, so it’s not our place to be the voice of the persecuted. We can’t speak for them. We just have to be the best examples of ourselves we can be. And that might not work for everybody. Maybe some people believe we have to stand up on a soapbox and exclaim it, and that’s what works for them. But we just try to be the best people we can, and maybe people learn from it. We also try to give those people a platform to speak for themselves. We try to take women out on on tour as often as we can (ed. Note: Most recently it was Petal, who opened up on Bayside’s self-titled album anniversary tour last winter).
One more thing I wanted to bring up about Vacancy which I though was really interesting. There is definitely a bombast to songs like “I’ve Been Dead All Day,” which I suppose we’ve been bringing up a lot, which is reminiscent of Broadway to me, a sort of genre blend that is not seen particularly often in what could loosely be defined as alternative rock. How has the genre of show tunes had an affect on your songwriting and on Bayside’s career?
Anthony: It’s always been a big influence for me.
Killing Time had a lot of it, I remember.
Anthony: The Walking Wounded definitely did as well. But it’s never been as in the forefront as it was on this record. On this record I really think we just said, “Let’s write show tunes with distortion.” I think having Tim O’Heir involved, he was the producer on the record and he worked on Hedwig and the Angry Inch, he really got it and I think he really helped that come to life. So the influence has always been there for me, but it’s been a lot more subtle on the actual records. You know, I know where it is, but it might not be as obvious as we made it on this record. But we’ve always striven to make really dramatic music, and I think that comes from all the sweeping drama of showtunes.
Is there a song to you that is the sort of quintessential pop song? Perhaps a song that is just so perfectly written that you wish you had written it yourself?
Anthony: I think any Max Martin song, like “Since You Been Gone.”
It’s funny, I saw you guys were covering “Mr. Brightside” on this tour, and I’ve brought that song up in the past as one of the possible choices for this award.
Nick: I mean it is, but it isn’t. You know once we had the song figured out, it’s such a hit but there’s some weird things in there.
It’s crazy, the verses are all just one melody note through the whole verse. Like, he doesn’t change the melody at any point through almost the whole verse.
Anthony: Yeah, it is weird.
Nick: It’s just three notes in the verse, over and over.
Anthony: There’s no bridge. It doesn’t end on the chorus. You know, there’s a lot of rules in pop music, and these guys like Max Martin or like the pros, they follow those rules to the T. There is a “correct” way to write a pop song, and “Mr. Brightside” doesn’t follow any of them. And it’s a smash hit.
The Killers, like we said about The Menzingers, are one of those bands that we all just worship.
I love that they just do whatever they want. They did a synth pop record with Day and Age and came back with an arena rock record like Battle Born, and it worked.
Anthony: What’s great is that they make really interesting music that is still accessible. That’s what we have always been trying to do. We’ve always tried to make technically complicated, interesting music that is accesible, and is not alienating, and they’re masters of that.
Nick: And they’re great live. I talk about them a lot because they are truly one of my favorite bands that is not a scene band or a punk band. They’re really, in some strange way, like my Stones, you know that unattainable rock star.
I said this to a friend recently, but The Killers are the only band post-2000 who made arena rock look cool.
Anthony: Them and, like, Coldplay. Whether you like either of those bands or not, they’re our generation’s Stones. They’re our generations stadium rock bands. Even if you hate both of them, they’re our U2.
So, since Fantasy Football season is coming up let me ask you, if you had to build a fantasy band, a drummer, a bassist a guitarist and a singer, of any artist, living or dead, who would you pick?
Anthony: Well, clearly I’m the singer.
Nick: I would say Matt Freeman of Rancid. So we’d have to go in a certain direction.
Anthony: So do we just pick the best musicians, or does it all have to make sense?
You can do whatever you want. I’ve had people put Aretha Franklin with like John Bonham. It doesn’t have to make any sense, it’s just a fun thought experiment.
Anthony: I mean, I really love Dave Grohl on drums. He’s probably my favorite drummer, and I wish he would play more drums.
Nick: You’re singing.
Anthony: I’m not signing, I was just kidding.
Nick: Alright, then, Brandon Flowers.
Anthony: And then we need a guitar player.
Nick and Anthony, at the same time: Jack? (O’Shea, Bayside’s guitarist)
Nick: Why not? We didn’t pick anyone from Bayside right?
I like how you guys didn’t pick yourselves, but you picked Jack.
Anthony: Yeah, Jack’s fucking awesome. Jack’s amazing.
Anything else you guys wanted to get out there?
Nick: Buy a ticket to a show, buy a record.
Anthony: Any opportunity you have to send us money, just send us money.