About a month ago, about a week before his band's new album "Lost At Seventeen" was released in stores, I had the opportunity to speak with Max Becker, bassist and co-vocalist for Bay Area punk outfit Emily's Army. Check out the interview and live show review I did with the band below.
1. After you guys released “Don’t Be A Dick”, how soon after did you guys begin writing for the new record?
Right away, actually. We started during our last tour for “Don’t Be A Dick”. We wanted to make sure we kept our momentum going.
2. How long have you guys collectively known each other, and been playing together?
Cole (vocals, guitar) and I are brothers, and we actually met Joey (drums) when he and Cole were about 3 or 4 years old. It was 1998. Joey and Cole started playing together in third grade, and they needed a bassist, so they asked me to play with them. I was actually third to join the band, and then Travis (guitar) joined when Cole broke his finger right before our very first show. He’s been with us ever since!
3. Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day was the one who produced the record. Since Billie Joe is Joey’s father, and since you guys have all known each other for so long, what was the atmosphere like when recording the record? Was it a bit more comfortable and laid back since you were working with someone you have known for so long?
It was awesome. He was really good to us and he made sure that he acted the same way he did in a studio that he did at home, ya know? He wanted to push us to be the best that we could be, which was really interesting because we got to see him in his element firsthand. Usually we just watch him, so being there with him was a really cool experience. He brought a lot of new light on our music. He was awesome, one-of-a-kind.
4. “Lost At Seventeen”, at least to me, had this day-at-the-beach meets punk-rock-club feel to it. It’s one of the most interesting definitions I’ve ever given for an album, but it was really unique. What kinds of genres do you specifically draw inspiration from?
In terms of musicality, it is a lot of Green Day, but there’s definitely some Social Distortion in there. We’ve been drawn more now to a lot of surf-punk bands, like Waaves and this band called Meat Market. It’s like this new thing that’s coming in, but it’s something that we’ve been influenced by for a long time. In terms of this new album, we really didn’t go for a specific sound. It was more uniform in the actual topic [of the record].
5. What is the meaning behind the album title “Lost At Seventeen”? With that meaning, would you say that it is a theme that is largely present on the record?
Yes, it is actually the theme of the entire record. When I wrote the song two years ago when I was seventeen (now I’m nineteen), it’s literally about being in limbo between two stages of life. You grew up, and it’s your junior or senior year of high school, and now you’re trying to figure out what you’re going to do. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You’re sitting there waiting. You’re trying so hard to get into college. You’re doing sports, you’re doing music, you’re doing all of these different things. It’s about this anxiety, about waiting there. A lot of people will relate to it.
6. There was a lyric in the song “Gubermensch” that goes “I disagree with Nietzsche. Are we referring to Nietzsche, the radical philosophical thinker?
Yeah! (laughs) It comes from our friend Henry. He and Cole will always have these big conversations. The song is actually about Henry. The line after that goes “I disagree with Nietzsche about those dickheads on the beach-a/because being kind isn’t weakness/it’s the ability to see that you’re not just a fucking animal”. So that line is Cole saying “you know, fuck Nietzsche. You’re not supposed to be the ‘Ubermensch’. You’re going to be the ‘Gubermensch’ because being kind is something that you can actually take far.” It’s totally about Nietzsche (laughs). I’m really glad you caught that lyric!
7. On the song “I Am The President”, it’s very clearly a political song, just by listening to the lyrics. What kind of political events inspired you to write that song?
That’s a bit hard to answer, because it’s one of those songs that Cole wrote. We were watching The Kennedys one summer on tour, and he just got really into it. Even though that show is not necessarily true, it brings to light a lot of things that the President has the ability to do. It’s really just about that “I’m going to do what I want” idea.
8. What was the song “Digital Drugs” specifically about?
“Digital Drugs” is about being on the computer and being stuck there. I’m in the dorms right at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and I think that I’m the only one that goes outside for more than an hour everyday. I’m not kidding (laughs). I look in one room, and there’s two guys playing League of Legends. In the other room, they’re playing World Of Warcraft, in another they’re playing Mario Kart. In the other room they’re watching Game Of Thrones. The new fad isn’t cocaine or weed or anything. It’s sitting in front of your computer. I think that may be a good thing since you’re not doing real drugs, but at the same time you’re still dementing your brain.
9. You guys put out the new song “Avenue” as your first single for the new record. What made you guys gravitate towards putting out that song as the new single?
I actually really wanted “Lost At Seventeen” to be the first single, or “The Rescuers”. I talked about it with a lot of people, my parents, my friends, the rest of the band, the label, Billie Joe, everyone. They all said for your first song, you don’t want to overwhelm them (the audience), you want to keep it simple. A lot of people think that the song is so obscure, but it’s literally about “your avenue”. It’s repetitive and it sticks in your head. It’s literally about my street, there’s not much to read between the lines there.
10. You guys signed with Rise Records recently. What made you guys gravitate towards Rise more than any other label out there?
We have an awesome press team (BB Gun Press) who is actually in contact with Rise Records a lot. They actually threw our name out to Rise, because we were looking around at a new label. I mean Adeline Records (former label) is great, we have the ties to it and the family. But right now, we wanted a label that had… a little bit more attention, because we’re growing up and we want to break out and do our thing. We were talking to Rise and a few other labels. We received an offer while I was away at college. All of a sudden we’re on Rise Records!
11. What kind of message would you like fans to walk away with after listening to your music?
Our goal is to relate to them in an easy and simple way. We want them to know that we’re the same as them. We’re just trying to make them feel more comfortable. Kind of like the “It Gets Better” campaign. Everyone is out there, feeling the same way that you are. You’re not alone. We want to stick together. And hang out with your best friends. We’re all best friends in our band, so I’ve always thought that was a really cool thing.
12. Last question: what are the future plans for the band right now?
After Warped Tour, we’re also going to be playing in the UK. We’re going to be taking things one step at a time. In the future, we might be touring at a time other than summer. We might take a year off or something, you never know! Look forward to us being around, and us keeping rocking and rolling.
A few weeks after I conducted this interview, I had the absolute pleasure of meeting the guys of Emily’s Army during the 2013 Vans Warped Tour. I caught their set during my four days on the tour, and I was not disappointed. Having seen a lot of metalcore bands that day, (not that I’m complaining, I love the genre) it was nice to see a punk band. A true back-to-the-roots punk band. Emily’s Army hammered through a six song, thirty-minute set like a finely tuned machine. By that, I mean that they had their sound down perfectly. They’re one of the tightest sounding live bands I’ve heard in a while, speaking verses and lyrics that most bands choose to venture away from in today’s scene.
Another element of their show that I found to be captivating was how well they interacted with each other. Referring back to something that Max said in the interview, they’re all best friends. They’ve known each other since grade school. They truly look like they’re having the time of their lives performing onstage, not just because they’re doing what they love, but because they’re doing what they love as friends. It really does wonders for your craft when you’re working on a daily basis with people that you enjoy being around, and this element is very evident in both the music and live performance of the band.
If you’re at Warped Tour this summer, particularly any of the shows between now and July 11, check this band out. They’ll be playing on the Kevin Says Stage, and they’re an act that you don’t want to miss. After that, go swing by their merch tent, pick up a copy of the new CD (if you don’t already have it) and say hi to the band. If you’re in the UK, check out their website for all of their upcoming tour dates and make your way out to one of their shows this summer.
This is just the beginning of many great things for Emily’s Army.