An interview with Anthony Raneri

This was a big one for me. As a long-time Bayside fan, getting to sit one-on-one with Anthony in the Grog Shop green room was really cool. We got coffee after.

In December, I had a last-minute opportunity to interview Anthony Raneri, singer and songwriter for Bayside.

As a fan of the band for over nearly a decade, I was glad for the opportunity to pick his brain. After confirming the night before, I scrambled to assemble an interview that 1. would provide insight into aspects of the artist’s life and career unexplored and 2. wouldn’t embarrass me in front of a long-time idol.

I think it turned out very well.

In our 30 minute discussion, we touched on Anthony’s life away from home, his wife, and his new baby girl. We talked about Cult, Bayside’s upcoming album on Hopeless Records. Anthony gives advice to young bands looking for success, ranks Bayside’s discography, and the ponders the legacy he’ll leave behind.

I’m sitting in the green room of the Grog Shop with Anthony Raneri, lead singer of Bayside. Anthony is now on a short solo acoustic tour with Nina Diaz which has stopped today in Cleveland. How are you doing today, Anthony?

I’m good, thank you.

You recently become a father, welcoming a child of your own into the world. How are baby and momma doing?

Yea about 6 weeks ago now. They’re doing excellent. We’re not sleeping much, especially now. This is my first time away since we had the baby, so my wife is doing 24 hour baby duty this weekend. Unfortunately that’s something she’ll have to get used to, you know? But the baby is doing great and everything’s good.

What is it like being a father making a living on the road?

You know, it’s tough. It’s tough. But it’s funny because touring is like my job, so it’s funny that I come to work and I actually get more rest than when I’m at home. It didn’t used to be that way, haha. My wife is jealous. She wishes she could go to work too.

Does having a family at home change your mindset when you’re out on tour?

For the past few years- definitely right now for this weekend, it’s pretty tough. You know what I mean? I’m on the phone constantly with my wife, she’s sending pictures constantly, I’m constantly thinking of what’s going on back home. But for the past few years, with touring and stuff I’m a lot less here when I’m on tour than I was when I was younger. I always half of my brain at home.

How do you think that will change on the bigger tours, with the band?

It’s just something my family and I are going to have to get used to, unfortunately. It’s made a lot easier by getting to play shows and do what I love and meet new people.

You recently wrote a letter to your younger self for Rock Sound. Apart from being a thoughtful and humorous read, there was a great bit in there about bands who come and go. Bayside is over a decade old now and still, consistently, putting out quality records. What advice do you have to younger bands who are in it for the long haul?

There are two paths you can take when you’re playing in a band and you want to make a living out of it. Every decision you make goes towards which path you’re going to be on. You could take the path of following the trend. You know, making the merch you know is popular right now. A few years ago everyone was making the cartoon shirts. Very colorful, bubbly, cartoon shirts. You can make the cartoon shirts if that’s what’s cool. You can have breakdowns in your songs if that’s what’s cool. You can follow what’s cool and get yourself on the fast track or you can be honest and cool. Every photo shoot that we’ve done, every album cover, every song, every lyric, we look at and ask “is this timeless? In a few years will we be embarrassed by this?” So you have to keep those things in mind in every decision that you make.

The best of advice that I always give young musicians is to really concentrate on your music, because it really just speaks for itself. I use Panic! at the Disco as an example of a band who wasn’t a band for very long and got very popular very very quick. Their second tour ever, they were selling out clubs this size (~250cap). They’d go out with Fall Out Boy and they were on the radio and cover of Rolling Stone within a year or two. That’s a perfect example of a band who just wrote really cool songs that people really loved. That’s a prime example that if you focus on your music and your songs, you can do it in a year. Whereas other people start a band and they throw some songs together and they think they need to go on tour. They think they need to promote online and get a record deal or a manager… All of that stuff comes later and it will be so much easier if you put some time into your songs.

So in Bayside’s career, is there anything you look back on and wish you would have done a bit differently?

Not really… There is one thing, in particular, that we laugh about all the time. It was one photo shoot we did with these targets. Shooting range targets, I think. They were behind us and Chris had some weird faux-hawk thing in the picture. We always laugh about how silly he looked in that picture and it sort of haunts him when it pops up.

But for the most part, no. Because when we do make records, album covers, or photo shoots, we try to ask “is that timeless?” and we go from there.

I just got my copy of Our Voices the other day. On it are songs by Chris Conley, Vinnie Caruana, Adam Lazzara, and yourself. The music video for your song, “String Me Along,” is really well done. How much of the creative process did you have a part in for that?

Little to none. Less than usual. With Bayside, we’re all very hands-on with everything. With that one. I met Tom Colella, who directed the video, through Rob Hitt from Midtown who put the record out. The two of them were talking about doing a video and Tom had an idea. We all hopped on a conference call and they laid out the concept of the little kids and everything and I loved it. I loved everything Tom had done, so I told him to run with it and to do his thing and to let me know what he needed from me. And that’s very rare, that’s not me or my style or my way of doing things. I really put my faith in him on that one.

The boy in the video was in Cam Newton’s Play 60 commercial wasn’t he? Where did you find the young talent?

Yea, you know I saw him the other day in another commercial too. I was like, “hey, I know that kid.” And the girl is doing more like movie stuff. She’s going to be a pretty big star, I hear. I only shot [the video] one day for like six hours. Those kids worked for like 4 days, shooting the video. One of the days I was there though, the girl (Nicolette Pierini) had just left her third callback for something and apparently she’d just gotten a role for the remake of Annie. So those kids are on their way!

Cult. Once the calling card for Bayside’s dedicated fandom, now an album title. Why did you choose ‘Cult’ as the name for this record?

When we finished the record and we listened back on it, we sort of felt like it was a discography without using any of our old songs. We felt it was a good example of where we started and where we wound up with Killing Time and everything in between. It’s almost a record where if people say “I’ve never heard Bayside before, where should I start?,” we feel like they should start here. It’s a prime example of everything we’re about. So ‘Cult’ is something that’s been with us all along. ‘Cult’ could have been something we named our discography, but I don’t see us doing a greatest hits. That’s really not our style. So we used it for this.

If notice the cover art, there are all of these little symbols which are like these little homages to our old records and stuff.

I think you had a lot of people thinking there was a greatest hits coming with those symbols. Everyone was guessing.

I’m not going to say that we’ll never do a ‘greatest hits,’ because it’s probably above my pay-grade and I don’t know if we’re in control of that or not. It might just happen one day without anyone knowing about it beforehand.

It’ll just pop up on Hot Topic one afternoon.

Right. But as far as I know, that’s not something we’re looking to do.

For a time, you could find ‘cult’ surrounding everything Bayside such as the band’s twitter handle and numerous pieces of merchandise. Then it disappeared. It almost seemed like the band abandoned the word. Was this a management call?

No, it wasn’t any sort of management call. Everyone who works for us, whether it’s management or label or agent, we’re a team. We don’t really get into business with anybody who thinks that they have any say in anything. Everything comes from the four of us, you know? Nick handles most of our merch. He’s sort of the Merch Baron. I think he just wanted to change it up, try not to do too much of the same thing. It’s a hard thing for us. We walk a delicate line whether it’s with our imagery or our music. We walk the line between knowing what Bayside is and how we never want to change that and keeping it fresh. That’s a difficult thing to do.

Tell me about the recording process. Where did you record? Who produced? What was different this time around?

We recorded the record in Woodstock, NY which is about an hour and a half north of the city. We spent a really long time working on the record, as far as writing. We wrote for a really long time. We kept fine-tuning and fine-tuning songs more than we ever have before. We’ll usually write a lot and when we get into the studio it becomes really organic. For this one, we questioned every lyric, every chord change, the length of every verse. And we did a lot of that work before hand, because it’s been three years since we put a record out. That’s a really long time for us. We’ve really been working on this record for all three of those years, as far as writing goes. Once we actually went to the studio, we only spent about fourteen days there. We recorded the record in 2 weeks.

Shep Goodman produced the record. He produced our Self-Titled record and The Walking Wounded. To us, all of the songs were playing out in a classic Bayside style. So figured it made sense to go back to Shep.

“Stuttering.” I think this will be the most universally liked on the record for many of your tenured fans.

Oh cool, thanks! For that one, I wrote it in between preproduction and the actual recording. Out of three years of writing song after song, I wrote that two days before we started recording the record. It was a really last-minute thing. We’re really nervous about that one. It’s got the ska stuff in it, which is definitely something different for us. Lyrically, it’s honest. Everything we write is honest, but maybe it’s a little bit abrasive. I hope that other people get the point.

Where did it come from?

Just the frustration of writing. Anyone who plays music- short of like Paul McCartney or somebody who’s so comfortable in their skin and is given all the lee-way he wants to write whatever he wants. He’s genius and everyone gives him praise and cuts him slack. He can play anything he wants and write about anything. But for bands like ours and for a lot of other people, sometimes you feel a little restricted by expectations. So that song is partly about feeling restricted  by expectations, but mainly it asks if I’m putting those expectations on myself and if I have more leeway than I think I do.

In the song, you talk about being “the voice of the depressed.”

That’s supposed to be sarcastic. That’s the sort of thing I come across correctly, you know? Because I don’t really think that. It’s supposed to be sort of tongue-in-cheek.

Apart from the expectations, you touch on the legacy you’ll leave behind. Let’s dig into that. Where do you see your legacy 10 years from now?

I really don’t know. I’m glad that you brought that up because that’s really the theme of the record. Killing Time came at a point where I was dealing with a lot of heartache and change in my life. That’s where a lot of our records come from. Heartache and searching for hope. This record, and through the writing of it, I lost a lot of family members. I had 3 very close family members all pass away within four months of making the album. I was sitting at my grandfather’s funeral listening to people tell stories and I was thinking of the stories I knew of him and I thought about my friends and their grandparents. You could walk into the funeral of any 80 or 90 year old man or women and hear great stories of great men who did great things. Gentlemen and veterans and heroes and great fathers, great grandfathers. And that made me think a lot about my generation and what our legacy. Are people going to talk at our funerals the way they do for that generation? So it made me think a lot. “Big Cheese” is a lot of the record is about that and so is “Time Has Come.” Even “Stuttering.” So to answer your question, I don’t know. I don’t know what my legacy is going to be, but it’s worked its way into my consciousness and I hope to build a life that’s worth talking about.

I was an avid listener to Gumshoe Radio. I really enjoyed the conversations you and Nick gave to music. The show ended sort of quietly. Why did it disappear? Will it come back?

Awesome. It was so much fun to do, but there are two pretty big problems with doing the show. One, it was like a weekly thing. We had to do a lot of research to talk about 4 or 5 different topics every week. Idobi Radio already had a bunch of shows that were doing interviews and they wanted us to stray away from just interviewing our friends. So we made it more like an NPR style show where we’re just talking. So we had to do a lot of research to talk about things for an hour. We had an hour of conversation and an hour of music. That’s a lot of work to do every week. Especially when we’re on the road. Secondly, we couldn’t put it into podcasting form because it was hard to get the licensing for the music. If it could have been in podcast form, we could have just recorded whenever we had the time to and just rolled them out. Maybe record 3 in a week and roll them out one at a time, but just doing a show almost live every week is just a lot of work, especially when it’s like you’re 5th job, you know? We’re such a DIY band, we’re involved in every aspect of our band. So we’re running everything, Nick has Born & Bred, and I have my solo career which gives me twice as much of everything (touring, merch, writing, etc.).

If there was ever a way we could do it monthly of put it in podcast form, I’d love to do it again.

Hopeless Records, the new home for Bayside, recently celebrated their 20th birthday. What are some of your favorite Hopeless releases?

My very favorite I got in 1996, and I’m dating myself now, I bought Hopelessly Devoted To You, Vol 1. I love that and I still have it. Thrice’ The Illusion of Safety was and still is awesome.

It’s been nearly 10 years since the release of Sirens & Condolences. Seeing that anniversary shows are so popular, could we see one from Bayside?

I doubt it. We’re going to be so busy all year promoting the new record, it’s not really a good time to go and do that. I also don’t know if Sirens & Condolences is the record to do that with. It’s a little self-important to decide to do an anniversary tour for all of your records, right? There are records that are important, I’m not saying that any band that does a 10 year anniversary tour is being self-important. There are definitely records that deserve that sort of celebration. I could see us maybe doing it for Self-Titled or Walking Wounded when the time comes. Those are really important records in our career and more important as far as in our community and scene goes.

I’m definitely not saying this is going to happen, but we will be off-cycle when Self-Titled anniversary happens. It’s more likely.

So, are you saying that artists shouldn’t critique their own albums?

I think you can. I critique our albums and our songs as were I rank them.

That’s interesting. Jay-Z recently surprised everyone by ranking all of his albums in order of best to worst.

Yea and that’s really cool. Isn’t that cool? I think that was awesome. It shows humility. Every artist thinks the last song they wrote was the best. I think that’s fucking naïve. It’s ridiculous. I don’t think every record is the best one. There have been times where we’re working on records and- There are songs I wrote 8 or 9 years ago that I think are the best I’ve ever written and may not have even topped yet.

Could you rank Bayside’s albums?

Yea, I could do it. I guess it would be pretty close to chronological. I do think Cult is the best. And again, I don’t always think that. I think Cult is the best. I think The Walking Wounded is the second best. I think Killing Time comes third. Then Self-Titled, Sirens & Condolences, and then Shudder. That’s how I’d rank them.

I don’t think it’s self-important to rank them. I rank them for myself because I’m human and I have an opinion. To have an opinion is one thing, but to go and celebrate it… Now you’re deciding everyone else’s opinion is your opinion. I’m not going to go throw myself an anniversary party.

Have you been to any of these 2003-2004 anniversary shows?

I don’t know if it was an anniversary or just something they did, but I saw Weezer when they were doing Blue Album / Pinkerton. That was awesome. I saw them on the Pinkerton tour the first time. It took me back. Same venue as well. I was in 9th grade when I saw it the first time. I played in New Found Glory for the first week of the Self-Titled NFG anniversary tour. Because Chad was sick, so I filled in for him that first week. I think I went to the Sticks and Stones anniversary also. As a fan, I think they are cool. When bands do them and I’m psyched on that record, I’m very happy to relive that.

Let’s cap this off with some recommendations. What have you been listening to lately? Who put out some of 2013’s best albums?

It’s tough. Nothing really came out in 2013 that blew my mind. 2012 was a better year. There were definitely records I got into this year. The Chvrches record I liked a lot and that’s really not my style at all. That’s really Nick’s style. I’m not big on that stuff. I don’t think I would like any of the bands that they are associated with, but I am kind of into that record. Like half of it. And now-a-days that’s a good record. If you like half of a record, it’s good. Last year there were records I liked front to back, but not this year.

I think the 1975 record has a some good songs on it. Also not my style, but it was good. The Ghost record was really cool. I’m a huge Michael Bublé fan as well. His record was awesome.

Thank you for your time.