Keyboardist Chris Freeman, guitarist Robert McDowell and bassist Jonathan Corley talk about the acclaimed response to their debut I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child, preparing for their second record, playing late night TV, and pulling pranks on the road.
So this is the last night of the tour. How did it go?
Robert McDowell: The tour’s been easy and fun, but we’re definitely ready to go home.
I was reading online about how you’ve been receiving some interesting responses from a few Say Anything fans. Has that been true?
Chris Freeman: I’ve heard all good things.
Robert: You know, there’s definitely some different types of Say Anything fans. There’s definitely ones that are there to see a show and jump around, who have a lot energy and just mosh. We don’t go over as well with that because we’ll call them out sometimes.
Chris: Moshing’s dangerous, man. It’s not even a sport. It’s just dangerous.
Robert: Somebody’s going to get hurt. You don’t see people at a golf match just punching each other.
Chris: Exactly. I’m pumped at golf, but I don’t punch people at golf. Or basketball.
Robert: You have to make decisions, and I don’t feel like punching things at a concert is the way to do it. I feel like spending money at the merch table is.
Chris: Now that’s a good sport.
In addition to Say Anything, you’ve toured with a ton of other amazing bands, such as Brand New and Kevin Devine. What have you been able to learn from those experiences?
Chris: A lot of the bands have really taught us how to live on the road, how to keep yourself sane, and realize you need your own personal space sometimes. Just how to be respectable human beings on the road, you know?
Robert: It’s very easy to get fed up with people. You just have to learn to disconnect yourself at times.
Are there any plans to collaborate with anyone in the future?
Chris: Not that I know of.
Robert: Not for like a project. Not for like a Manchester thing. There’s always like friends who’re musicians. Like, I have friends back home who I’ll just mess around with and record weird demos, but nothing official.
Coming up you’re going to be playing both Coachella and Lollapalooza. Are you excited for that?
Chris: Of course, yeah.
Robert: We’re super stoked about the Lollapalooza lineup. It’s pretty insane.
Chris: You didn’t even go last year, or the last time we went there. So it’ll be Robert’s first Lollapalooza and all of our first Coachellas. We’ve never even been before. I’m very excited.
Robert: I’m not a huge festival go-er, but if I have a pass and I can get free water and food and watch bands for free, I love it.
After the tour, you guys are going to be working on a new album. What’s the latest on that?
Chris: Just working on it.
Robert: We’re playing a few songs on this tour that will probably be on it. It’s just we haven’t had any time to actually work out the songs as a full band, so we just got to get in the practice space.
Are you going to be recording that in Atlanta?
Chris: Yeah. We kind of had dreams of doing it in like some far-off land, making a record in this beautiful place, and then we’re like, screw it.
Robert: I’m eating dinner at my parent’s house.
Chris: I want to go home after I sit in the dark studio for eight hours a day.
Do you have any ideas for a producer?
Chris: Andy’s been talking to a lot of people.
Robert: It’s a very open book right now. There’s no one who we don’t want to do it with, so we just have to decide.
Stylistically, where will you be heading?
Robert: No idea.
Chris: Probably louder.
Robert: Yeah, we’ve been jamming a lot on this tour. Maybe straight up like Widespread Panic.
Chris: It’s going to be like the next O.A.R. record [laughs]. That’s really what we’re going for.
You have a very passionate live show and you’ve been on the road now for two years. Do you think that’s going to show up on this new record?
Chris: The passion, or the fact that we’re tired? [Laughter]
Both the passion and how I’m sure over the last two years you’ve been able to grow tighter and get a better feel for things.
Chris: I think the passion, especially. We have new things that have happened in our lives and changes that weren’t there when we were making the first record. The things we’ve learned on the road in the last two years I think will definitely show up.
Do you have any idea when you want the new album to come out?
Robert: Probably in the winter.
Jonathan Corley: Early next year.
Chris: I’m thinking. What’s the year the Aztecs take the world?
Jonathan: But we have to wait until we know that the earth is going to explode. The second it explodes, we’re going to put it out.
Chris: No, yeah, probably next winter.
I’m Like a Virgin seemed to be one of those rare records where it was both critically acclaimed and fans really seemed to love it. Did you anticipate that at all?
Chris: We didn’t anticipate anything. We didn’t have anything, so we didn’t expect anything.
Jonathan: It’s the same record that was out when we were playing in front of five people at W.C. Don’s in Jackson, Mississippi. Things just kind of happened in an exciting way.
Through this whole process you guys have played on late night TV a couple times. I know that’s always kind of an interesting thing for bands to do. How was it like for you?
Chris: It’s great.
Alex Kent [Say Anything bassist]: It’s nerve-wracking at first, but with enough chemical drugs and enough hours in advance, you’ll be fine.
Chris: This is not from us. I don’t know what he’s talking about! With enough Nyquil, you can do anything. No, yeah, it was really nerve-wracking, and scary and cold.
Robert: It was cool, though, because we did Letterman first so everything else didn’t seem as intimidating. At Conan, everybody there was nice.
Jonathan: Both of them were also very surreal because it almost seemed like it didn’t happen. It’s only three minutes, so it’s not a full show. You play one song, and then you’re done. That’s it forever.
Alex: And then you have nothing to be excited about.
Jonathan: It’s such a buildup, and then it just happens and it’s done.
Alex: It’s just like there’s so many rules, and you buildup and waiting, and then it’s live TV. Blah blah, actresses, or whoever. Then you play, and it’s like, “OK, that went by pretty quickly.”
Jonathan: Conan’s crew was hysterical.
Chris: Yeah, very funny people.
Jonathan: All of them are just sharp and witty. What you don’t see is the crew actually wears clown wigs to loosen Conan up. It’s crazy.
You guys have that documentary What’s Going On, which I understand has been done for a while now and will be in some festivals. When is that going to be released?
Jonathan: 2012 [laughs].
Chris: No, we don’t know yet.
Jonathan: It’s going to be a three-dimensional flipbook that we’re going to project on the world.
Alex: It’s up to Sam, really. He owns the rights to it. He owns the band [laughs].
Robert: It’s going to come out toward the end of this year. It’s something that’s going to bridge between now and the new album.
What’s the length like on that?
Robert: I think it’s like 47 or 48 minutes.
In addition to Manchester, I know Andy has his side project. Do you know if his next record is going to be coming out before the next Manchester one?
Chris: I have no idea. I think he’s written most of it already, so probably.
Jonathan: He’s planning on recording another one soon, probably in another log cabin.
So on your first record, there seemed to be a lot of spiritual turmoil throughout it. What’s the story on that?
Chris: Well, we all grew up very religious. One of our dad’s a pastor, missions work, all that kind of stuff. So it’s just a part of our lives. People always ask us if we’re a Christian band. We’re Christians and it’s a part of our lives, so it’s going to seep into the music like anything else.
It seems like you guys have a lot of darkness and doubting that isn’t too common in most “Christian music” type stuff. What’s your response to that?
Jonathan: Andy is the lyricist in the band, and as he said things in your life just seep into the music. Listening to the record there’s definitely a lot of searching, and you did pick up on some of the spiritual elements.
Do you think that’s going to continue to play a part in the next record?
Chris: As long as God’s a part of our lives, I’m sure it will be in our records.
Switching to more of the business side of things, would you ever consider signing to a major label?
Chris: We just want the control. If we could sign to a major record label and have all the control in the world and they wouldn’t put their symbol on our records, then we’d totally do it. But that’s not up to me, either, so I can’t really answer that.
As the industry is struggling with sales and everything, do you have any plans on how to avoid falling into that?
Chris: Just keep touring. Record sales haven’t been the focus of the industry for a long time. As long as people are still playing live music, I think that’s where bands are making their money anyways.
Jonathan: If you win over an audience in a way where your music matters to that audience, you’re going to be a band whose music matters, regardless of whether CDs are selling.
Chris: It’s the industry that’s freaking out, not the bands I don’t think. We’re all seeing the effects of everything, with like what Radiohead did this last year and the digital stuff, but I feel it’s more like the industry freaking out than us. I feel like we’re doing just fine.
Jonathan: It’d be awesome, though, if we could just sit at home and sell records.
Alex: Yeah, it’d be good to be the Beatles and not tour. Just make a record and then be like, “Here you go.”
The band started back when you guys were in high school, right?
Chris: Yeah, Andy started the band and then Jay joined. We were in a band together growing up and then we all split. I moved to Ohio and Andy started the band by himself, and then Jay and this guy named Andrew joined. That was a long time ago.
Jonathan: Then a few months later everyone came together and formed what actually is the band now. The lineup solidified.
Since you started out really young, have you found out that you’ve grown up kind of fast over these last couple years?
Alex: We’re all pretty grown up already. We’re all pretty mature.
Chris: Except for when it comes to talking to each other.
Jonathan: Except for interviews.
Chris: And being adults in any way, shape or form.
Jonathan: It’s all in the air today. I wonder who’s going to screw with our set tonight, you know?
At the end of tours, do you guys pull a lot of pranks?
Alex: On the last full-length tour we did.
Jonathan: We got some plans tonight. Have I told you yet?
Chris: Don’t tell him.
Jonathan: No, I’m not, but we have something awesome planned.
What’s the craziest thing that’s happened on tour to you guys?
Robert: Umm… We threw a birthday party onstage during Say Anything’s set. We brought out a table and had cake and threw cake in the crowd. I nailed some girl in the face on accident.
Alex: I shot fireworks one time.
Jonathan: That’s not really a prank. That’s just mean-spirited.
In the venue?
Alex: No, it was outside. I did throw a firecracker one time in a venue and got in a lot of trouble.
Jonathan: Where were we? We were in Portland and we printed out a fake parking ticket for the city that we were in for like $600, and put it on the Snake the Cross the Crown’s van. We left the actual city’s number for the towing company and for who to pay, and then went onstage. They freaked out and called the city, and it kind of went wrong.
Did they find out it was you guys?
Chris: They spent like 45 minutes on the phone trying to figure it out.
Jonathan: But the day before they had written “go home you rednecks” as a joke on our van, which is why we did that.
Looking ahead to this next record, what kind of career do you see yourselves having, or want to have?
Chris: We’d obviously like to have a long-lasting career, being able to do this as our jobs. We just want to make good music, and hang out with our friends, and be with our families. If we can do that forever, then that’d be awesome. I don’t know. I don’t want to be the biggest band in the world. I don’t know if we ever will be, but as long as we can make records, we’ll be happy.