Bayside: “I don’t care whether we get any bigger or not.”

Bayside: “I don’t care whether we get any bigger or not.”

By Rob Barbour

Sep 13, 2016 16:49

Bayside don’t play the press game. “We turn down a lot of big interviews because we think it’s gonna be stupid. No matter how many people might visit a certain website, I’m not going to do an interview where they ask me what my favourite ice cream flavour is.”

Bayside have just released their seventh album, ‘Vacancy’, and I’m speaking to vocalist, guitarist and principle songwriter Anthony Raneri, who’s several dates into its US  promotional tour with The Menzingers. Today finds the singer in Cleveland, where I’ve rudely interrupted the daily post-soundcheck, pre-show search for sustenance.

We run well past our allotted time, but in my defence, Raneri’s enthusiasm drives the conversation, which pivots around what exactly it means to be more than one and half decades into a career as a punk band. And it’s clear that at this stage, the Long Island band’s priorities are their fans and what interests them. Steeped in the New York punk rock scene and influenced by forerunners and peers whose success came thanks to – or perhaps in spite of – DIY ethics and artistic integrity, you won’t find Bayside expressing any ambitions to conquer the globe, or calibrating their career moves around a target trajectory.

Not that Raneri has given up, or feels hard done by compared to some of Bayside’s arena-bothering peers. Quite the opposite. There’s a refreshing sense of gratitude and humility to the way the 34-year-old describes his satisfaction with his lot, and the lack of pressure – particularly media-related – that comes with it.

“We’re are at a point in our career where our shows are big enough, and our records sell enough, that we can support ourselves and our families. So I guess we have the luxury of saying ‘I don’t care whether we get any bigger or not.’”

Since the release of their 2003 début, ‘Sirens & Condolences’, Bayside have just about seen it all. Beginning as a hotly-tipped act on the controversial but undeniably influential Chicago label, Victory Records, via the major-label dalliance that spurred 2011’s Gil Norton-produced (and eye-wateringly expensive) ’Killing Time’, 2016 finds Raneri, guitarist Jack O’Shea, Bassist Nick Ghanbarian and drummer Chris Guiglielmo touring their second album for Hopeless Records – appropriately enough, a label that’s making something of a name for itself facilitating the next stages of careers for many of their major-label survivor peers, including New Found Glory, Taking Back Sunday and The Used. But their sights have always been trained on more modest achievements.

Raneri talks with good humour and more bewilderment than envy of their early days as a band, when New Found Glory and Good Charlotte were all over US radio and MTV, and tracks Bayside’s career in conjunction with the punk rock scene’s more notable stars – Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance – in terms of bands whose music, rather than any cynical fan-baiting, led to huge success.

“Different things work for everybody. We toured with Fall Out Boy right before ‘From Under the Cork Tree’ came out; they were right on the cusp, and they were a real band. They cared about their fans and they cared about their music. They didn’t say ‘We want to get huge by any means necessary’ – they just happened to get huge.”

This authenticity is clearly important to Raneri, and it’s a recurring topic during our conversation. Bayside, he tells me, don’t do tours because they might make more fans. They don’t do press because it might make them more fans. His passion is genuine, and it’s not borne solely of an interest to avoid answering asinine questions about frozen confectionery.

“Every decision we make is based around: do we want to do it? Is it fun? And are our fans going to enjoy it?”

Even our relatively brief conversation reveals a man who’s passionate about music: writing it, performing it and talking about it. He’s a regular on podcasts – particularly the excellent Going Off Track – “for me, that’s something our fans can listen to and get some cool information from” – and proud that Bayside can look back on their career without any cause to cringe. “Every decision we make”, he reiterates “We always ask ourselves: ‘are we going to be embarrassed by this in ten years?’”

The two most notable things about Raneri, other than the enthusiasm which cuts through his voice as he talks about his favourite bands, despite my having interrupted his search for a decent dinner, are his continuing passion for the bands who made him want to play music, and a remarkable self-awareness as regards Bayside’s place in the world.

Though generally mellow about the prospect of fan reaction to the new record – “Some people might think it’s our best record; some people might think it’s our worst record. And that’s all perfectly fine” – it’s interesting how frustrated he gets at the way fans judge new releases by older bands in direct comparison to their earliest records.

He draws a parallel between the band’s situation and those of the “legacy bands” he grew up listening to: Bad Religion, NOFX, Green Day. “I listen to their new records and sometimes I love it, sometimes I don’t. But I’ll always love those bands.”

I suggest that for many fans of a certain age, those albums represent something more than just music: they represent youth, adolescence, young adulthood. Times and places. That when someone says “Bayside’s new album isn’t as good as ‘The Walking Wounded’”, what they’re often saying is really, “I’m not 19 years old anymore.”

“I don’t go to eat a meal in a nice restaurant,” he counters, “and say, ‘I kinda think their use of basil is a little uninspired; it’s not as good as this meal I had in 2007’. You don’t say that! You either liked it, or you didn’t like it.”

It’s a telling analogy: one could argue that when it comes to food, we’re less likely to seek surprise and experimentation than we are with performance arts. Nandos, for example, succeeds precisely because it gives people exactly what they want, every time. But is that what fans want from their favourite bands?

“We’re not going to be Brand New. We’re not going to reinvent the sound.” He describes the band’s writing process, allowing themselves an element of experimentation on a few songs per record, but never wanting “to sound like a different band”. Ironically enough, it’s this flirtation with other genres which led to one of the stand-out tracks on ‘Vacancy’, the folk-tinged ‘Mary’, which was co-written with Chris Carrabba (AKA Dashboard Confessional).

Raneri and Carrabba live in the same neighbourhood and frequently get together to jam for fun, occasionally banking tracks they think their publishers might be interested in for other artists. But fundamentally, Raneri says, “We want to be a punk band.”

That may be so, but there are certain elements of the punk lifestyle which have lost their appeal for the now 16-year-old band. Though Bayside play to 2,000 people a night on their home turf – Kentish Town Forum-sized venues, basically – and 800-1,000 people in Australia, it’s a different story in the UK: their last headline tour saw them play to perhaps 200 people a night in undersold venues like Southampton’s tiny Joiners Arms. “For whatever reason, it’s never really clicked for us there. We love being there, but we’ve been running a deficit for over a decade, so each time it gets harder and harder to make that decision.”

It’s hard to hold it against them. In the US, the band have reached the point that paying dues is meant to take you, and just as Raneri’s lyrics have moved from catharsis to introspection with age – “When you’re 22 and someone breaks your heart, you hate that person. When you’re 34 and somebody breaks your heart, it’s not as simple as saying ‘Well, fuck you.’” – so Bayside’s considerations for tours have changed too. As life becomes about more than just touring – families, children and mortgages being a reality of life for even the most hardened professional punk – “taking money from other tours and losing it in the UK… gets harder and harder to do. But we’re trying to work it out.” For those of us who’ve followed Bayside’s progress since the mid-00s, who’ve grown up with them, it’s a shame – but not a surprise – to learn that this is the case. Their trips to the UK can be counted on mere fingers, and their headline tours don’t even require a full hand.

It might be usual, at this point, to suggest that ‘Vacancy’ could be the record to change all that; to hail it as the best thing the band have ever done, and urge you to rush out and buy it so that those 200-capacity clubs become 2,000-capacity theatres. But as it happens, I selfishly rather enjoy watching one of my favourite bands – and one of the best live bands in punk rock right now – in dingy little pubs.

Bayside’s motto has always been “Bayside is a cult.” And nowhere is that more true than here in the UK. And besides, as Raneri himself acknowledges, with far less resignation than it seems when written down, “Seven records in, the best we can hope to do for Bayside fans is to add one more to their collection, and I think it’s a great addition.”