Vocalist/guitarist Sherri DuPree-Bemis shares the highs and lows inside the band’s third record The Valley, the cathartic nature of songwriting, and how having the right people around can help you make it through anything.
Is it pretty cold over there in Ohio?
It’s actually warmer than it’s been in the last few days. We just came from Chicago and it was crazy. It was so cold it felt like you were burning if you went outside.
Ouch. Well, I’m here in Southern California, so we don’t get that too often.
Oh God, I envy you so much.
So the tour’s been going well with Rooney other than the weather?
Yeah, it’s been really fun. Rooney, they’re such cool guys. We’ve had a lot of our fans come out to the shows, which we didn’t really know what to expect. We made a lot of fans as well, so it’s been a really fun tour despite the weather.
How long have you actually been sitting on this album?
Oh God, probably coming up on a year and a half. Too long. It’s way too damn long.
Was this album all done while you were still under contract with Warner?
Yeah, we were going to release it on Warner originally. After we got it done, our A&R guy loved it. He was always really supportive. I guess he played it for the label and they weren’t really digging it. Then he kind of told us, “I don’t think this label is going to do what you guys want and what you guys need with this record, so you guys should feel free to find a new label to put this out.”
It was a long process, getting off Warner Bros. Once we tried, they were like, “No, we want to keep the record. You can leave, but we want to keep the record so we can put it out if we want to.” We’re like, “What?!” It was just a big stupid battle, but it’s all good now.
What is like being on Equal Vision?
They’re cool. This tour has been the first tour we’ve really gotten to hang out with them. We have a new guy helping us get on the radio, so we’ve been doing a lot of radio shows. They’re just so freaking cool. I love them. They’re so personable. They’re very accommodating and hands on, but they also let us be very hands on, which is what kind of band we are. That was very important when we were looking for a label. They’re very passionate too, which is a plus.
Since the album’s been done for a while have you been writing in the meantime?
Not really. Since we knew ultimately we were going to be putting out this record, that was our goal, we haven’t been writing much. Knowing that we were going to put it out, we knew that we would have to be playing these songs for so long it would be a while before we would need to write a new record. After we kind of wind down on this touring cycle, we’ll start writing again for the next record.
The song “The Valley” was originally off the Fire Kite EP from ’09. Has that title been in place for a while then?
Yeah, I think we started referring to it as The Valley early on. It seemed fitting. It kind of embodies what the album is about, and I think it just works.
That song and “Ambulance” were both on the EP. Are there differences between those earlier versions and the ones that ended up on the album?
Subtle things. We remixed and remastered them, so they just sound better sonically.
Those two songs are also the opening and closing of the album. Do you feel like they’re some sort of cornerstone for the record then?
Yeah, I think definitely this record is very conceptual. It wasn’t intentional that it ended up like that. We just wrote these very pivotal songs about our lives and what we were going through the last couple years. Since there’s two songwriters, it was cool because we both wrote things from our own perspectives. When we brought it together, it kind of made this story. I’m really proud of how it turned out. It’s really cool getting to write with another songwriter. I always have Stacy. If I’m struggling, she’ll always pull through. We help each other out.
How much of the songwriting is done by yourselves, versus more of a collaborative thing?
When we first started out, it was always collaborative. As we’ve gotten older, we write on our own now. Some of the songs on the record, like “I Wish,” we worked on that one together lyrically. It just depends really on how a song’s feeling and if we think that it needs the other person’s hand in it. I wouldn’t want to listen to a whole record of my songs, so it’s good having both. The whole band, too. Everyone weighs in in the studio. I think it’s really important and it really shapes the songs into what they are.
Is there a specific way you divide up the vocals?
Whoever writes the song basically will sing it. It’s easier. You have the most passion about the song. You’re the one that wrote it, to be honest, so we kind of keep it that way. We’ll split them up. We’ll trade off on choruses or bridges to mix things up.
You’ve talked about how this record might be your most personal to date, while in the past you’ve drawn influences from literature and stuff like that. Can you talk about what the differences were on this record?
Yeah. Definitely I think when we were younger there wasn’t a lot of life experience to draw from. We were just these kids who grew up in Texas, and we hadn’t really had any life experiences. A lot of our first songs ended up being fictional or just simple love songs. I like that there’s always been that kind of whimsical aspect to our lyrics.
We try to retain that on this record but still make it a lot more relatable to the fans. It’s about heartbreak in life, and coming away on the other side of that empowered and happier. I think that’s something everyone understands or goes through.
You’ve also talked about before how it’s easier for you to write about sad or melancholy things than it is happier things because it’s kind of a cathartic type experience. Can you talk about that a little bit?
It’s definitely true for every songwriter. It’s very cathartic to be able to put what you’re feeling into a song. If it’s pain or something you’re passionate about, it makes the song so much stronger.
I think our next record will be brighter because everyone’s in a really good place now in our lives. It’s not all angst and bitterness on this record, by any means. It’s got two sides. I’m looking forward to writing a refreshing, completely positive album with our next one.
Would you consider this the darkest album that you’ve done so far?
Yeah, I think so. We were each individually going through these lows in our lives. It was what we had to write about at that time. It had its place, and I love the songs. I’m very proud of them.
It’s cool getting to sing them live now. If we had put the record out right away, it would have been I think really hard to sing some of these songs. Now that we’re very far removed from these situations we went through, it’s just fun to play these songs live.
A lot of people are probably going to want to directly interpret this album to actual events, whether it be your divorce or something like that. How much of that would be accurate, versus how much artistic license was there?
I think in the grand scheme of things it’s probably a small amount of people who actually know the details about how I went through a divorce and all that stuff. I don’t know. I’m very open about it. We never talk bad about anybody.
The songs are so blatantly personal that you can’t go into an interview, or talk to fans even afterwards at the merch booth about the songs, and not be open about them. They’ll ask questions or share their experiences, and unless you’re open you can’t really do any good. That doesn’t help. It’s fine, either way, whether they know or don’t know. It’s all good.
You mentioned how this record is kind of conceptual on some level and seems to be coming from a singular vision. Does that have any relation to the girl on the cover?
Yeah, I found the picture of the girl when we started trying to put the record cover together. I just thought she really embodied an innocence that maybe had been taken away. It just seemed to fit the whole vibe. We actually put her in a bunch of different settings before we decided on the final cover. It was cool. She was the one thing that stuck from the design concepts from early on. That was really cool that we got to use that image.
As far as musically, this album seems to be very guitar driven. Is that how you wrote most of it?
A lot of the guitar stuff actually just happens in the studio for us. Whenever Stacy and I write, it’s usually just Garage Band in our house with an acoustic guitar or keyboard. Once we get in the studio, it really shapes itself because we have Chauntelle. She’ll come in and write all these amazing guitar parts.
Garron as well, our bass player, is a really great guitarist, and it was the first time he got to be involved with writing some of the guitar stuff. My husband as well plays guitar. We’ll have anyone who has got something to offer come in there. Stuff shifts around a lot, but it’s really fun that way.
Is it more fun to play that type of stuff live?
Oh, completely. Anytime you have more guitar stuff, loud guitar, it’s always fun.
I’m sure you’re aware that Say Anything is one of the most popular bands on AP, so what is it like being married to Max?
[laughs] Every day is an inspiring adventure. He’s the most creative person that I’ve ever been around. His brain just works as this crazy, creative, productive machine. He’s always pumping out new stuff. He’s very inspiring. He’s the sweetest, most caring person in the world. He inspires me to be a better person every day. He’s so much fun.
I’ve talked to a lot of musicians who say how difficult it is to maintain relationships when you’re on the road a lot. How do you do it when you’re both touring much the time?
You just have to go with it. It’s hard. It definitely sucks. It’s not fun, by any means. You get a couple days off, and you fly out and spend the weekend together. It’s all you can do, but it’s bearable.
When you have such a rewarding, fun job like we do, being musicians, it’s our dream. It helps each other because we both understand how it is. We do get to spend a lot of time together because whenever you’re off the road and not touring you just get to hang out. It couldn’t be better. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.
I think last year you guys started that Perma thing. Will there be more of that in the future?
Yeah, I’m really excited about getting to do that. He’s working on the next Say Anything record right now, so after things wind down he’s going to start recording, and I’ve got this album and touring cycle. We definitely want to put full time into doing a really great record. Putting it out together is definitely a goal, and we’ll definitely have that happen.
Eisley is a very close-knit family, and I even think you all still live in Tyler. How important has that been to the band over the years with everything you’ve gone through?
It’s everything to me. I definitely couldn’t live away from these guys. They’re my life. They get me through every day. That’s why we can tour together in this crappy little van for so many months out of the year and still be sane. They’re fun and I love them. Even if anyone moved away, or had to move away for any reason, nothing would change but everybody would miss that person. It’s fun and I have a blast with them.
Since it’s been three or four years since your last record, did you have to pick up odd jobs here and there?
Yeah. My brother, Weston, fully taught himself how to be an electrician. He’s like this amazing electrician who can do anything. He’s done that. I did a lot of art, and sold illustrations and drawings for fans. That was really cool.
It’s hard if you’re a creative person and that’s kind of how you survive. You have to find other ways to do creative stuff if you’re not doing the main one you care about most of the time. We just found stuff like that to get by. It’s always kind of a struggle, but we’re not very materialistic people. Our lifestyle doesn’t demand that we have gobs of cash to blow on stuff all the time, so it works.
Do you do any writing outside of songwriting?
No, not really. I would love to do a children’s book, though. I’m always begging Max to write a children’s book so I can illustrate it. I think his brain is much more creative and he could do a better job. I would love to do that. I don’t know. I definitely want to do that. I’m not smart enough to write anything deeper than a children’s book [laughs].
So what does the rest of the year look like for you guys?
Just a lot of touring. After this tour we have a couple weeks off, and then we have SXSW and Bamboozle. Then we have a headlining tour, and we’re setting up another tour with some other bands that’s not confirmed yet. So just nonstop touring until fall or winter, whenever everyone’s sick of seeing us play in the country and then we have to go into hiding.
When does the headlining tour start?
The dates are still not nailed down, so I’m not exactly sure of the dates, but it will be March and April. It’s like a 40-date, massive U.S. tour.
I saw something on Twitter this morning that I thought would be good to end with. Jon Foreman of Switchfoot posted a quote from C.H. Spurgeon that said, “Great hearts can only be made by great troubles.” I thought that seemed to be an apt description of this record for you.
Yeah, that’s amazing. Jon is cool and one of the most inspiring people we know. We got to tour with them and that was so fun. That definitely embodies this record. It’s true. Life has so much crap in it that you literally can’t avoid, and you have to go through it. If you have the right people around you, and surround yourself with positive people and people that will have your back, then you can make it through and you’ll ultimately be in a better situation. That’s where we’re at.
Originally appeared on Absolute Punk