Over the course of four emo-tinged rock albums, Say Anything singer/songwriter Max Bemis has explored love's harsher realities.
The 29-year-old has penned songs with titles such as "I Used to Have a Heart," "Hate Everyone" and the tongue-in-cheek "I Will Never Write an Obligatory Song About Being on the Road and Missing Someone," which includes the chorus, "I want my baby back."
So when Bemis married another singer, Sherri DuPree-Bemis of the band Eisley, in 2009, he faced a new kind of dilemma.
"I have no issues in my love life at all, literally, and that encompassed a decent chunk of what I was writing about in Say Anything," Bemis, who plays a solo acoustic set at the Ottobar on Sunday, said on the phone from his Tyler, Texas, home last week. "In order to supplicate that, I would have had to keep writing really nice, sweet songs about Sherri, which is great ... but I didn't think necessarily every Say Anything record should be that from now on."
The timing, Bemis says, was perfect for Perma, the married couple's side project that released its first album, "Two of a Crime," in October. It's a sweet, jarringly earnest record that repels cynicism and wholly embraces the "aww-shucks" feeling of being in love.
Bemis says he was partly motivated to finish the record so he could create something tangible to represent the bond between he and his wife.
"It's been a blessing for me," he said. "It's so on the other end of what I do that it's been wonderfully gratifying to be able to express that part of myself, which is arguably the most important aspect of myself: My relationship with Sherri."
While Bemis is on tour to perform as Perma and by himself, his mind is on the next Say Anything album. He describes the record, which follows last year's "Anarchy, My Dear," as "a concept record that's semi-autobiographical." Bemis became a father in February, and he says his main source of inspiration has been the birth of his daughter, Lucy. Her arrival quickly changed Bemis' outlook from top-to-bottom, he says.
"You start to feel dumb when you're actually caring about something [trivial] and you look down on the ground, and your baby is just sitting there all innocent," Bemis said. "She doesn't know anything about Miley Cyrus being annoying. I'm like, 'What does any of this stuff matter really when I have this awesome little girl?"
Even as Say Anything continues to evolve, Bemis remains the group's center. The band's 2005 debut, "...Is a Real Boy," is still Bemis' most beloved work to date, a sentiment he refuses to resent. He says the instant success of "Boy" gave way to opportunities he'd always dreamt of, which included his own comic book ("Polarity") and culminated in the 2009 release of Say Anything's self-titled, "big, shimmery pop-rock record" on major-label RCA.
Although he's now more comfortable now on independent label Equal Vision, Bemis says he has no regrets about his RCA experience. Still, he sounds more confident discussing the future than the past. Riding the positive waves of Perma, an expanding family life and his alliance with Equal Vision, Bemis says the next Say Anything album, due sometime next year, is the result of "complete artistic freedom."
On a major label, "you're trying to please essentially the CEO of this giant bank that's lending you money, and there's none of that [now] because ... Equal Vision are just dudes like me, and they're much more focused on the music itself being good than 'Is there a hit single?'" Bemis said. "That's why I'm so stoked about this next record. It's a whole other deal. It exists only to be art."
If you go
Max Bemis performs Sunday at the Ottobar, 2549 N. Howard St. in Charles Village. Matt Pryor, Sherri DuPree-Bemis, Perma and Merriment will also perform. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. $13.50. Call 410-662-0069 or go to theottobar.com.