Vocalist/guitarist Sherri DuPree-Bemis shares the highs and lows inside the bandís 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?
Itís actually warmer than itís 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, Iím here in Southern California, so we donít get that too often.
Oh God, I envy you so much.
So the tourís been going well with Rooney other than the weather?
Yeah, itís been really fun. Rooney, theyíre such cool guys. Weíve had a lot of our fans come out to the shows, which we didnít really know what to expect. We made a lot of fans as well, so itís 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. Itís 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 werenít really digging it. Then he kind of told us, ďI donít 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.Ē
It was a long process, getting off Warner Bros. Once we tried, they were like, ďNo, 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.Ē Weíre like, ďWhat?!Ē It was just a big stupid battle, but itís all good now.
What is like being on Equal Vision?
Theyíre cool. This tour has been the first tour weíve really gotten to hang out with them. We have a new guy helping us get on the radio, so weíve been doing a lot of radio shows. Theyíre just so freaking cool. I love them. Theyíre so personable. Theyíre 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. Theyíre very passionate too, which is a plus.
Since the albumís 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 havenít 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, weíll start writing again for the next record.
The song ďThe ValleyĒ was originally off the Fire Kite EP from í09. 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 ďAmbulanceĒ 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 theyíre some sort of cornerstone for the record then?
Yeah, I think definitely this record is very conceptual. It wasnít 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 thereís 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. Iím really proud of how it turned out. Itís really cool getting to write with another songwriter. I always have Stacy. If Iím struggling, sheíll 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 weíve gotten older, we write on our own now. Some of the songs on the record, like ďI Wish,Ē we worked on that one together lyrically. It just depends really on how a songís feeling and if we think that it needs the other personís hand in it. I wouldnít want to listen to a whole record of my songs, so itís good having both. The whole band, too. Everyone weighs in in the studio. I think itís 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. Itís easier. You have the most passion about the song. Youíre the one that wrote it, to be honest, so we kind of keep it that way. Weíll split them up. Weíll trade off on choruses or bridges to mix things up.
Youíve talked about how this record might be your most personal to date, while in the past youíve 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 wasnít a lot of life experience to draw from. We were just these kids who grew up in Texas, and we hadnít really had any life experiences. A lot of our first songs ended up being fictional or just simple love songs. I like that thereís 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. Itís about heartbreak in life, and coming away on the other side of that empowered and happier. I think thatís something everyone understands or goes through.
Youíve also talked about before how itís easier for you to write about sad or melancholy things than it is happier things because itís kind of a cathartic type experience. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Itís definitely true for every songwriter. Itís very cathartic to be able to put what youíre feeling into a song. If itís pain or something youíre passionate about, it makes the song so much stronger.
I think our next record will be brighter because everyoneís in a really good place now in our lives. Itís not all angst and bitterness on this record, by any means. Itís got two sides. Iím looking forward to writing a refreshing, completely positive album with our next one.
Would you consider this the darkest album that youíve 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. Iím very proud of them.
Itís 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 weíre very far removed from these situations we went through, itís 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 itís probably a small amount of people who actually know the details about how I went through a divorce and all that stuff. I donít know. Iím very open about it. We never talk bad about anybody.
The songs are so blatantly personal that you canít go into an interview, or talk to fans even afterwards at the merch booth about the songs, and not be open about them. Theyíll ask questions or share their experiences, and unless youíre open you canít really do any good. That doesnít help. Itís fine, either way, whether they know or donít know. Itís 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, itís 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. Sheíll 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. Weíll have anyone who has got something to offer come in there. Stuff shifts around a lot, but itís 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, itís always fun.
Iím sure youíre 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. Heís the most creative person that Iíve ever been around. His brain just works as this crazy, creative, productive machine. Heís always pumping out new stuff. Heís very inspiring. Heís the sweetest, most caring person in the world. He inspires me to be a better person every day. Heís so much fun.
Iíve talked to a lot of musicians who say how difficult it is to maintain relationships when youíre on the road a lot. How do you do it when youíre both touring much the time?
You just have to go with it. Itís hard. It definitely sucks. Itís not fun, by any means. You get a couple days off, and you fly out and spend the weekend together. Itís all you can do, but itís bearable.
When you have such a rewarding, fun job like we do, being musicians, itís 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 youíre off the road and not touring you just get to hang out. It couldnít be better. Itís hard, but itís worth it.
I think last year you guys started that Perma thing. Will there be more of that in the future?
Yeah, Iím really excited about getting to do that. Heís working on the next Say Anything record right now, so after things wind down heís going to start recording, and Iíve 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 weíll 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 youíve gone through?
Itís everything to me. I definitely couldnít live away from these guys. Theyíre my life. They get me through every day. Thatís why we can tour together in this crappy little van for so many months out of the year and still be sane. Theyíre 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. Itís fun and I have a blast with them.
Since itís 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. Heís like this amazing electrician who can do anything. Heís done that. I did a lot of art, and sold illustrations and drawings for fans. That was really cool.
Itís hard if youíre a creative person and thatís kind of how you survive. You have to find other ways to do creative stuff if youíre not doing the main one you care about most of the time. We just found stuff like that to get by. Itís always kind of a struggle, but weíre not very materialistic people. Our lifestyle doesnít 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 childrenís book, though. Iím always begging Max to write a childrenís 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 donít know. I definitely want to do that. Iím not smart enough to write anything deeper than a childrenís 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 weíre setting up another tour with some other bands thatís not confirmed yet. So just nonstop touring until fall or winter, whenever everyoneís 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 Iím not exactly sure of the dates, but it will be March and April. Itís 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, ďGreat hearts can only be made by great troubles.Ē I thought that seemed to be an apt description of this record for you.
Yeah, thatís 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. Itís true. Life has so much crap in it that you literally canít 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 youíll ultimately be in a better situation. Thatís where weíre at.
11:23 AM on 03/02/11
Good interview, awesome band. I hope they stay strong, they put out an awesome record!
12:00 PM on 03/02/11
Brilliant interview. Love the quote at the end. Spurgeon on ap.net, what a day!
12:30 PM on 03/02/11
I believe. Help my unbelief.
That was my exact thought!
01:06 PM on 03/02/11
Hands down my favorite band I've gotten to interview for my radio show this year. Such a nice band and such a great record. I asked a lot of similar things, but still a cool read and good interview.
02:48 PM on 03/02/11
"I'm not smart enough..." ? Come on Sherri, you could write a book. You're smarter than you think
03:06 PM on 03/02/11
Man oh man do I adore that girl... Sherri seems like such an inspiring woman, I envy max.
05:54 PM on 03/02/11
Really enjoyed this interview. The new album is great and my favorite.
09:45 PM on 03/02/11
Great interview and I just adore this album, I haven't stopped playing it. I hope they put out their headlining tour dates soon I really want to see them. They were so good when I saw them with Say Anything in 09.
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