Frontman Anthony Raneri and bassist Nick Ghanbarian discuss their latest record Shudder, living in L.A., today’s fake music scene, supporting worthy causes, and playing acoustically.
How does it feel to be on album number four at this point?
Anthony Raneri: It makes me feel old [laughs], but we’re not, though. We’re really not old at all. We just got started really early.
Nick Ghanbarian: We’ve just been prolific for the last four years.
You guys have been churning out records about every year and a half, which is pretty unusual these days.
Nick: We try.
Anthony: We like making music, you know? That’s the point.
The new album is called Shudder. What led you to choosing that title?
Anthony: We wanted to try and come up with a one-word title that was going to be powerful and timeless, kind of reminiscent of the ‘90s indie rock stuff like the R.E.M. records and the Nirvana records. Murmur and Nevermind and stuff like that, you just kind of see it in lights. It’s like a big, powerful thing.
So the new album comes out at the end of September, which is in two months. What are you going to be doing in that time to finish things up?
Anthony: We start mixing next week. We’re going to be mixing the record for a couple of weeks, and then we’ll be hanging out at home. We’re going to be doing a bunch of in-stores around the release, tons of press, some TV and stuff, just getting ready to start the cycle.
When does your new tour kick off?
Nick: The first week in October.
You’re with the Matches, Valencia and the Status, which is a pretty sweet lineup.
Nick: Yeah, we’re excited. We always try to bring a different batch of different sounding bands all the time, and I think we’re continuing with that. We’ve toured with all of them before, the Matches on Warped Tour and Valencia and Status we’ve brought out before, so we know it’ll be a good time already. Us, the Status and Valencia all have new albums out, and the Matches’ new album is awesome. It’ll be cool.
Back to the new record. Did you have everything pretty much written before you came into the studio?
Anthony: Pretty much, yeah. A lot of stuff, leads and solos and lyrics, some stuff kind of took shape while we were here, but this was by far the most prepared we’ve ever come in for a record.
How do you compare this recording process to your previous ones?
Nick: It’s been smoother. We’ve been out here since June 31st, and we were so anxious that we worked quickly. I feel that we’ve always tried to work quick with every album, but something just rolled so much smoother out here. Maybe it was the sun, I’m not sure, but we have so much space in the studio and everyone was just so prepared that the experience has been almost easy, I want to say. It’s really adding to us and how we all performed on the album. It was kind of carefree, you know? So far, it’s our tightest album and the performances are probably our best, most energetic performances. Everything’s coming through on the album and that’s like a dream for us.
Anthony: So much of the record is done in like two or three takes, so it was awesome to really keep that attitude and everything very fresh and not fucking so sick of playing the same thing. We really wanted it to have a very youthful, excited kind of energy in the record.
Is this the longest time you’ve had to work on a record?
Anthony: The crazy thing is this is definitely the longest we’ve had to work on one and probably the shortest we’ve ever made one. We’re just so ahead of schedule, it’s awesome.
How do you like living here in L.A.?
Nick: Coming out here, I was definitely skeptical because we always passed through on tour for a day, maybe a day and a half. I always knew there was something I was interested in, and now being out here for six weeks, I definitely understand it and found my place here. I think everyone has, too.
Anthony: Yeah, we don’t hate it as much as we thought we would.
Nick: [laughs] We’ve always thought it was like the antithesis of New York. Most of it is, you know. But at the same time, there’s plenty of similar things. Just like anywhere else, if you find your niche no matter where you are, you’ll be happy. The weather is absolutely amazing, so that makes everything worthwhile.
Anthony: The traffic is out of fucking control, though.
Have you guys been doing anything fun while you’re out here?
Nick: We try and go out as much as possible, which is expensive. We’ve gone out to the Sunset Strip as much as possible. We’ve made fun of people at the Rainbow Room.
Anthony: I go to the Rainbow Room four nights a week pretty much. I live there. I go by myself and shit. I just go and get food. I love it there.
Nick: We’re a rock band in L.A. We try and do rock band things [laughs].
Now I know there’s always that whole thing about being on Victory and Tony Brummel and whatnot. What has that experience been like for you guys? Is it as bad as people make it out to be?
Nick: I think we’ve always kept good report with Victory. We’ve done everything that we could to always be a successful band, and they’ve done everything they could to help us along the way.
Anthony: I think we’ve always had one of the better relationships with Tony and the label since day one, and I really think we just kind of learned to work within it. I think we understand Tony, and he understands us. It’s kind of about blurring the lines between a label and a band and kind of making it one thing. We have such a good relationship with them, and we’ve really brought it to the point where we’re friends and working together on things. I think that’s where a lot of bands will go wrong with their label, regardless of what label it is. A lot of bands will go wrong if the label’s treating you like a product and if you’re treating the label like a bank. You really got to learn that you’re one team and how to work together on a common goal.
Is this your last album for Victory?
Anthony: This is actually the last album in our contract. We’ve been talking about what’s going to happen next, but it’s still really early for us. We’re just really focused on doing this record, you know? The business thing has never been much of our concern.
That’s kind of like the non-fun part of being in a band.
Anthony: Yeah. We just want to have a good time, you know? Fuck it all. Who gives a shit? I don’t really care who’s putting out our records anymore as long as people are hearing them and we’re having a good time making them.
So this record sounds a little bit faster paced with more energetic type stuff than your last one at least. What was that process like? Did you want to do anything differently this time?
Anthony: Well, that was definitely a conscious decision.
Nick: I think that’s how our live sets are. We concentrate on the energetic songs that we have and the crowd feeds off that. We want to continue having fun, so we wrote more songs like that. I mean, it’s mostly what we all grew up on is the energy of punk rock. Once we figured that out, we were excited to put that energy into songs. I’m extremely excited about it.
Anthony: You’re really influenced by the music that you’re listening to, not just lyrically but also the vibe of it. You’re influenced by what it sounds like. For us, we’re extremely influenced by what we’re playing. I feel like it’s better for your life to play music like this. We’ve all been just so positive and having such a good time making this record that I know that the next year and a half of touring on it and talking about it is going to keep us just as excited and just as happy as it was to write it and make it. If we can put some of that excitement and happiness into the people that are listening to it, we’ve succeeded.
I saw the blog you wrote a little bit ago about Metro Station. There’s that whole popularity thing with those types of bands, while you guys are maintaining more of the old school punk feel, which is a lot more real.
Anthony: I don’t see it as new school dance, whatever-you-call-that-stuff, versus old school punk. It’s like real versus not real. You know what I mean? To me, Miley Cyrus is real because she’s not pretending to be something she isn’t. That’s a pop singer, which is perfectly fine. Britney Spears is perfectly fine. She’s a fucking pop singer, and everybody knows it. People write her songs for her, people play the instruments, she shows up for a day and sings, and then a bunch of people in lab coats make it sound like she’s actually singing. That’s totally fine, but there’s a stigma on things like that now.
A dude gets signed to a record label and he’s just a singer. They can’t market him like Justin Timberlake because there’s a stigma against that now. There’s a backlash from what happened with *NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys. It’s like pop isn’t cool anymore, but punk rock is cool. We have this Fall Out Boy band, and Green Day is back. We have all these cool things that are selling all these records. That’s where it is right now. So let’s get this guy or these guys, let’s get them a couple of other guys and put them on the Warped Tour, and then everybody will think they’re one of them. Then we can sell records and everybody will think they’re cool also, so we killed two birds with one stone. That’s what’s offensive to me.
If that’s your vibe then just be a fucking pop singer and stay out of my scene. You’re just using everything that bands and people way before my time have spent all their time and effort building up this scene. Bands like Fall Out Boy and My Chem, and all these bands that paved the way for bands like us to have actually lucrative careers playing punk music. Then you get bands like that on major labels, who are just getting the money and the songwriters and all this shit pretending to be punk bands because they don’t want to be called Justin Timberlake. It’s all fake. Katy Perry, all that shit, it’s like stay the fuck out. Just be a pop singer.
Nick: I think that every once in a while the industry dips into the scene for ideas. After Green Day, people tried to sign a bunch of Green Day bands. Then a couple years later Blink hit, and they tried to do that. It’s the same thing that’s going on now. They see that that type of stuff is always cool and reputable and actually has an image, which is pretty important with pop music. Then a bunch of those false bands try to portray that. What can you do? I’m sure it’s happened on many levels for forever, but we certainly want to distance ourselves from that.
Anthony: Like all these bands don’t even write their own songs. How are you going to masquerade as a punk band? There’s nothing real about it, you know? They don’t play their fucking instruments. It’s a joke.
How do you feel about a show like American Idol, where they aren’t expected to write their own material?
Anthony: To me, American Idol isn’t that bad because those people win contests that say they’re pretty good singers and then they go on to be pop singers. Kelly Clarkson’s not going around pretending that she writes her own songs. Everyone knows the deal. They’re pop singers. I don’t mind American Idol, in theory. I don’t watch it because I can’t get down with the whole reality TV culture of I watch this because I hate it. I watch it because I hate the people and I can’t wait to hear what they say next. I don’t have fun doing that.
Lyrically with this album was there anything you wanted to address that you hadn’t been able to before?
Anthony: I really wanted to try and let kids know that it’s all right to think for yourself. Basically, that main idea takes shape in all the songs in different ways. There’s songs about having sex, when it’s right to do it and when it’s not right, and whether you should or shouldn’t. There’s songs about the way you dress, and how you should dress to express yourself and do what you want and not what’s cool to do. There’s songs about hypocrisy in music. Different scenes that I think are a joke, exploiting things, exploiting God, exploiting punk. Stuff like that.
How do you guys usually write a song? Are you the one that kind of brings the general idea to the table?
Anthony: Yeah, I’ll write on an acoustic guitar a chord progression and a vocal melody. Basically when we do our acoustic stuff, that’s where the songs start. Here are the parts, here are the chords, here are the melodies, here are the lyrics. The songs from there can go anywhere and can go in any direction because I keep them really bare at first. Then Nick and Jack and Chris take those melodies and chord progressions and we make them what the song’s really going to be about. From where they start, it could be a country song or it could be a metal song, and then it’s a collaboration on where the song goes.
Nick: I think we all certainly listen to different stuff, but at the same time we know what we want Bayside to sound like. It’s not going to venture off too far to the left or right, but this album specifically has a lot of different moments where there’s different styles of music that we haven’t really ventured off into. It still sounds like us and it’s exciting for us. The energy and overall feeling of Bayside is still in those parts. It’s a great thing to be in a band that can do that. It’s like if we want to write a verse with a ska part, it still sounds like us somehow, or Operation Ivy or Rancid and us. That type of thing. It’s cool and it’s good to have the freedom to do that and hopefully not piss people off.
I think obviously you’re able to do the loud rock stuff well, but when you do acoustic versions and stuff it’s really good too.
Anthony: Cool, thank you.
Nick: Like Anthony said, that’s where everything starts, so it’s got to sound good there first.
Anthony: A great song is something that’s a great song no matter how it’s dressed up. If you can take one song and play it country, and then a punk band can cover it and it’s still an awesome song, or you can make it a disco song or whatever. A good song should be a good song, no matter how it’s dressed up.
You’ve been doing some solo acoustic shows here and there. How have those been going?
Anthony: They’re a lot of fun. I really just do them for fun. It’s not something I take super seriously right now. I play mostly Bayside songs. I think people enjoy hearing the songs where they started, just really stripped down. Especially when I play completely solo, that’s exactly what the song sounded like when I wrote it sitting on my bed.
So there’s that, and then I play a bunch of covers of songs I wish I wrote. Stuff like that. It’s really as if I was going into coffee shops and playing an open mic, just playing for the love of playing and nothing more. People just happen to want to come and see it, but it’s really no different if I was playing at a bar in a corner somewhere.
It seems like a lot of frontmen are doing solo, acoustic-based stuff these days. Have you ever thought about doing a solo thing at some point down the road?
Anthony: I don’t really give it much thought. For me, doing the solo stuff right now is really just playing music for the love of playing music and not having to think about business or think about doing anything. If I write a song that I know isn’t right for Bayside, then I’ll play it. You know what I mean? But I don’t write songs specifically for my solo stuff. I don’t section off time where I can go off and do a solo record or do a solo tour because I don’t want that kind of headache.
For me, it’s really bringing it back to when I was twelve years old and playing in bands. Oh, this place wants me to play. Sweet, I got to go play. I got a show tonight. The excitement of, I don’t know what I’m going to play. I don’t know if I’m going to mess up. I don’t know if they’re going to like me. I don’t know if anybody’s going to be there. It’s like that excitement of when you were a little kid just starting to play.
I have a fucking blast of course being in Bayside, but it’s a different kind of fun. It’s like a sweet, let’s go play this huge show and have everybody sing along. Then we’ll go back to our tour bus afterwards and it’s going to be fucking sweet, which is amazing. It’s an amazing life. So the solo stuff for me is to get back to the roots and be nervous and be on the spot again, like I don’t know what I’m going to say between songs and stuff like that.
In addition to music I know you are big supporters of To Write Love on Her Arms, which is really cool for bands to get involved in that kind of stuff. Is there anything else out there that you guys support? What are your thoughts on that whole aspect?
Nick: We definitely got involved on that because we got to meet Jamie on a tour we did with Anberlin about a year and a half ago. That was the first person who approached us with some sort of charity that wasn’t force fed down our throats. He really seemed to genuinely care and have a first hand experience with something that happened, which I think is where a lot of his passion came from and the time he spent with his friend, which is what the whole story is based off of. I think a lot of other charities have come up to us, and it’s not that we don’t necessarily want to support or don’t believe in their causes, but I think that it needs to be presented to us like Jamie did with his passion and story. A lot of places just say, “Hey, here’s this. Support us just because we’re a charity.” We could have never worn a shirt in our life from To Write Love on Her Arms, but we would have somehow figured out a way to support it.
I think that culture today is making people think that they’re depressed when they’re not depressed and making people think that it’s OK to embrace that. I think a lot of things that Jamie does, and what his cause is good for, is to enlighten people on the subject and get people on the right foot. It’s really easy to think something’s wrong with you, and then make your life a downward spiral from that, when in all actuality maybe all you need is a couple of friends or some good music, or something like that. I think with reality TV and all that type of stuff, that stuff emphasizes not thinking for yourself or not being proud of yourself. It’s all just spoon-fed bullshit, basically. People get so far into that, where they’re upset and depressed and they don’t know why.
Things like To Write Love on Her Arms I think sheds light on that, and it has a big focus on music, too, which is obviously something we can stand behind. Music has been such a huge impact on all of our lives and we want to show people that that’s a possible way out from outcasting yourself from life. That’s our main focus when we do deal with To Write Love on Her Arms – the music part of it. Music can help you. Your favorite song or hey, this song really helped me. I think you guys should listen. Something like that.
We took them out on tour after the Anberlin tour and have kept in touch since. It’s still going great for them. I know they’re doing something with a hotline now, which he’s always talked about getting enough money to do something like that. It’s great that it’s still evolving into something for him. I’m excited. I just sent him an email yesterday saying hi and just keeping in touch. I think I sent him a comment the other day on MySpace, just saying I missed him, and a couple hours later he said, “Hey, I was just thinking about you.” It’s cool that with as much as I’m sure he has going on, he’s still reading comments and even commented us back. He’s a good, down-to-earth dude.
Anthony: And they have the incredible Josh Hartzler working for them now, who’s one of my best friends. He’s a counselor and he’s kind of heading up the hotline and stuff. They’re also actually thinking of opening a whole treatment center down in Florida.
So what kind of stuff have you guys liked so far this year? Have there been any bands or CDs that have caught your ear?
Anthony: I don’t know. I’ve been pretty disappointed all year, to be honest with you. I’ve gone back to 1997. The new Trio record’s amazing.
Nick: I thought the new Weezer is different for Weezer. There’s definitely some cool songs on it. I don’t know if it’s this year or not but all I’ve listened to for a good solid year, year and a half, is like Rilo Kiley and the latest Cardigans. That type of stuff. None of that stuff really came out this year, but I play that stuff out so much. It’s so good. It’s uplifting to me, and then it’s also I want to lie in bed and listen to music. It’s both to me. I think the older I’m getting I’m starting to get more into girls with pretty voices who are sweet and have a good outlook on life. So I’m trying to find those types of singers in my life.
Anthony: I’m going in the opposite direction [laughs]. I listened to an Oxymoron record on the way here.
Nick: Yeah, I still listen to Bad Religion more than anything else [laughs].
Do you have any favorite songs from the new record?
Anthony: It’s so hard to pick. Right now, I think it’s a song called “Boy.” It’s probably my favorite one.
Which was originally called “Learn to Swim.”
Have you started working on the track listing process at all?
Nick: Not at all. I said earlier that I feel like when I hear a song I’m like, “That’s a good first song on the album.” Then I hear a song and I’m like, “That’s a good last song on the album.” I kind of feel like we have six ways to start it and six ways to end it. We got to figure out what makes sense. It’s definitely a big deal to us. Things have to make sense.
When I make a mixtape for my girlfriend, I sit there like it’s a track listing of an album I just did to make sure it flows. That’s a big deal. How you end a song and introduce the next one, and what people are thinking at the end of that song and what would be cool to go into from there. It’s definitely a big deal to us. We still write complete albums, so it’s not just here’s the single, put it second, and everything else is fine.
Anthony: Yeah, we’re trying to make a whole album here.
Nick: The days of the single are back and we’re still trying to make an album. Not that there aren’t singles on our album, but we want people to sit down and listen to our album for 40-45 minutes. That’s something we’re fans of. When we listen to the new Alkaline Trio album, we listen to the whole thing. Bands like that – they’re bands. They write complete albums, and every part of every song is good. Maybe that’ll be outdated or whatever and the single will live on forever. I don’t know. It’s way more fulfilling for us, and maybe half the people understand that it’s a full album and not just one song. That’s the type of band we want to be, definitely.
On picking the single, do you guys get to do that or does the label?
Anthony: Everybody. Us, Tony, our manager.
Nick: We kind of pick the four or five that we thought were awesome, and it turns out there’s probably two or three more now that they’re more done that should have been on that list. But we said these are the ones we’re thinking of, and we sent them to everyone. From there, we take an objective opinion from everyone because we’ve been playing these songs for 10 months now. It’s easier said than done to step back and really think about a song. Do I just like this song? Is a 15-year-old girl or a 35-year-old guy going to like this song as much as I do? So it’s good to get within our own camp different demographics of people.
Didn’t your last video get some TV play and then some fans got mad, or something like that?
Anthony: People just get mad. People are mad that I bleached my head. You can’t make everybody happy all the time.
Nick: They can say whatever they want in an email, or on MySpace or whatever, and if I wrote back to them asking them what they’re really mad about they would have been complete nonsense. People speak on their first reaction way too many times, but I can’t possibly have a good argument with a 15-year-old person saying we sold out. We didn’t go to them and ask TRL to put our song on for twelve seconds. They wanted to do that, and I was born the same year MTV came out. You know what? I want to make my parents proud once in a while and let them tell their friends that their son was on MTV [laughs]. It’s not like we all went out and bought fucking BMWs after that. It didn’t do anything, basically.
Anthony: It really didn’t do anything except stir up the interest of people.
You guys obviously haven’t changed at all. You’re still the exact same as you were before.
Nick: It’s not a hard thing to do, to not change. Hopefully we’re getting better, and that’s how we’re changing.
Anthony: I actually do think that it’s a conscious decision to not change, though.
Nick: Yeah, definitely. We’re not putting out the next Guns N’ Roses album, you know? Like I said earlier, we have a way we want us to sound.
I noticed yesterday there was a thing online of you guys playing some new songs and the comments were like, “This sounds like Bayside, but that’s a really good thing.”
Anthony: We just want to get better at being Bayside. The way I always describe it is so many bands keep taking steps up, which is really important to take steps up. But then you start thinking way too much of yourself and you just miss that next step. You wind up over here, and it seems you’re dodging your fans because your fans are coming with you. Everyone’s coming with you with every step you take.
Now, all of a sudden you’re over here and your fans are like, “Where did they go?” You know what I mean? You can’t do that. People start listening to the Beach Boys and Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper’s, and all of a sudden they think that’s what their band is supposed to sound like. That’s not the case. You’re not John Lennon, so don’t try.
Nick: There’s definitely a band out there who openly admitted to not listening to the Beatles within the past two years, and then their new album sounds like the Beatles. It’s like, c’mon.
Originally appeared on Mammoth Press