Aaron Gillespie, Backwards Dancer
Wed, January 31, 2018
Doors: 6:30 pm / Show: 7:30 pmTrees
This event is all ages
1/31: Self-Titled + In Defense of the Genre (Disc 2)
To purchase tickets to the 1/30/17 show, click here.https://www.treesdallas.com/event/1502181/
Over the years of Say Anything, Bemis has become both a devout and mythic character in the alt-rock scene. He’s always strived to find a balance between truth and fantasy. Though, when he starts to lean too far to one side, the band’s ethos always brings him back to center: Do better. Be better. Or at least have the hope that better exists for you. “It’s a cycle of rebirth, renewal and destruction,” Max says about his life, musically and personally. “I do believe in hope and I do believe, at the core of everything, there’s a truth and a hope to our existence. At the same time, we’re only human. We’re animals and we’re going to constantly try to re-evaluate.”
Hebrews is a collection of songs that examine, analyze and test that truth — and all without picking up a single guitar. Yes, all 12 songs trade traditional rock-band instrumentation for more refined string arrangements. But that doesn’t mean it sacrifices any spit or spirit. The album’s mission statement is set from the opening notes of “John McClane,” which is drenched with analog-sounding keyboards and Bemis’ dramatic vocals, welcoming the listener into his head and his heart, singing there’s “no need for ambivalent music.”
“I think there’s a journey every human being goes on and if you can tap into that, you can speak to personal experiences,” Max says about his outlook on songwriting. “That’s what fables are, tapping into the shared experience. I’ve been through a lot in the past couple years and, although the record can be dense and specific, I tried to speak of the cyclical journey we all go on to better understand ourselves.”
One of the major life events Bemis experienced while writing, recording and producing this record was the birth of his first daughter, Lucy. Though tickled by impending fatherhood, Max was soon plagued by past demons he’d spent years working hard to bury. The same destructive and deprecating thoughts that inspired some of his greatest songs were now starting to reemerge. But Max, now older and stronger, wasn’t going to let them take over without a fight.
“People, in general, kind of assumed that all my problems got solved, which, on some level, they did,” Max says of the years he spent working on his inner peace, which improved immensely when he met and later married Eisley’s Sherri DuPree. “I’m happy most of the time. But there’s no ending until you’re dead. The human condition is like a disease and that’s what makes life so cool. Life is never perfect and you’re going to have moments of doubt. A lot of things were solved, but I moved to a different stage of self-examination.”
This musical (and mental) voyage is explored on songs like “Six Six Six,” the first single off Hebrews, which features additional vocals from Max’s wife, Balance & Composure singer Jon Simmons and more. Backed by a beautiful string section, Max sings about how the Devil exists inside all of us and, sometimes, it feels like we’ve fooled everyone around us into thinking we’re better than we actually are. The result is a fist-pumping rock song that’s also deeply personal. Another example of turning the magnifying glass inward can be heard on “Judas Decapitation,” which features guest appearances from British indie-pop imports Gareth and Kim Campensinos (Los Campensinos!). “It’s half about my anger towards people for their opinions about me and the band,” Max admits, “and then it’s half about the anger towards myself, for being such a brat about it.”
A theme that blankets the entire album is that of religious identity, which is something Max has been singing about since the early days of Say Anything and the band’s 2002 Menorah/Majora EP. “A big part of the journey was also understanding my lineage and my culture,” Max expounds. “That’s why the record’s called Hebrews. Whether you’re Jewish, Catholic or whatever, you come from a [larger] culture. It’s not a record about being Jewish; it’s about understanding where my neuroses come from. Is it from society, my parents or from the dawn of man?”
Thankfully, Max doesn’t have to go through the journey alone. Over 16 artists provided guest vocals to Hebrews, which include Chris Conley (Saves The Day), Matt Pryor (The Get Up Kids), Chauntelle DuPree-D’Agostino (Eisley), Keith Buckley (Every Time I Die), Brian Sella (The Front Bottoms), Aaron Weiss (mewithoutYou), Stacy King (Eisley), Bob Nanna (Braid), Christie DuPree (Merriment), Jeremy Bolm (Touché Amoré), Tom DeLonge (blink-182), Andy Hull (Manchester Orchestra), and the aforementioned Gareth and Kim Campesinos, Jon Simmons and Sherri DuPree-Bemis.
For Max, music stands alongside Sherri and Lucy on his list of great loves, and he’ll be able to conquer anything with all three there to support and encourage him. “Sure, there’s a part of me that craves attention. There’s a part of me that needs to be validated. But I really do think I wouldn’t have been able to write a single song if it wasn’t for the drive to make things better,” Max admits.
“As much as my music has always been dark, I could never sit down and write a song about how the world is cruel and nothing matters. As much as I’ve been through so much pain, I’ve never truly believed that life is pointless, there’s no hope and you should just give up.
That’s the point of Say Anything, under all the layers… To fix things.”
In the early months of 2016, when the mire was thick, Gillespie spent four days in his studio recording. Although he’s been a successful musician for years (playing with musical outfits Underoath and The Almost), his newest solo pursuit showcases his musicianship in a new light. When you listen to Out Of The Badlands, you’ll be listening to Aaron Gillespie’s most vulnerable project to date.
The record is a compilation of reworked past releases, covers, and original songs, all of which were recorded and produced by Gillespie himself. “The production shows where I was at the time. I didn’t need any noise in my life, I didn’t need anything fake. There’s no programming,” he explains. “I did it all myself. It’s as naked as I could get it to be. It’s raw and honest—it’s what I sound like at my worst, with a broken heart.”
The covered tracks from Underoath—“A Boy Brushed Red” and “Reinventing Your Exit”—are, to Gillespie, sacred and nostalgic. His other songs, like the cover of The Almost’s “Say This Sooner,” include honest lyrics he still needs to sing. His original songs, however, are too sentimental to discuss. “‘Raspberry Layer Cake’ is the most honest song I’ve ever written,” he confesses, “and I won’t talk about it.”
To Gillespie, life is about what you do with the negative. Although sometimes things go wrong, and some paths end up in a place you never wished to travel, it’s up to you what to do when you get there. “When you’re really going through something,” he notes, “when you’re really being wrung over the washboard, you can find beautiful art inside yourself.” Out Of The Badlands, out August 19th on Tooth & Nail Records, is the result of that wringing.
“Growing up and through much of my formative years, the music of Say Anything and Saves the Day were integral for me in sorting out my own path and I found solidarity in their passion and prolific work. The opportunity to be seen on the same plane and exist in the same realm as these bands was something incredible and surreal, (still is…) but felt extremely natural,” notes vocalist/guitarist Zack Shaw of the signing. “The support and confidence that Max and the entire EVR/Rory team has shown us has been incredible, so working with them seemed like the perfect place for our music to live. We are looking forward to making our best art to contribute to this culture we have grown up around.”
Formed in 2014, following Shaw’s departure from The Hotelier (which he helped founded, under the original moniker The Hotel Year), Backwards Dancer has quickly developed their unique style that navigates deep intrapersonal emotion into thoughtfully orchestrated compositions. The new album explores the concept of dependence, and the human condition in general, in a raw and dynamic way, in the context of relationships, use of substances, money, overall mental health and more.
“I hope people will gain a sense of comfort and hopefully a new sonic world to get lost in,” reveals Shaw. “Most of my favorite artists have a way of crafting this atmosphere and giving the listener this sense that the record is taking place in some real place that feels familiar yet is detached enough that it doesn’t feel invasive. At least that’s the way I see it, so I hope people get the same feels that I get when I listen to it.”
Backwards Dancer is the follow-up to a stunning EP, Old Life in New Shoes, which is available now on Bandcamp and Spotify. Backwards Dancer is comprised of vocalist/guitarist Zack Shaw, guitarist Ryan Kelleher, drummer Andy Underwood, and bassist Sam Creager.
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