It's hard to believe it's been seven years since Two Tongues, the musical collaboration between Say Anything's Max Bemis and Saves The Day's Chris Conley, released their debut album. In that time, both artists have put out albums with their respective bands, helped raise families, and watched the world shift from awe-inspiring to vaguely apocalyptic. Somewhere along the way, they also discovered that Two Tongues is less of a musical side-project than it is a creative collaboration between two musicians who are sharing ideas even when they can't physically be in the studio together.
For that reason, and since it's the first time the two of them have been interviewed together about the band, we decided to eschew the typical rock fodder and not ask questions about, say, where the album was made. (Note: If you really need to know this type of stuff, the album was recorded in Bemis' converted pink garage/studio "with tons of Eisley memorabilia strung about," according to him.) Instead, we focused more on the connection between Bemis and Conley, why the duo finds Two Tongues so inspiring, and how they learned to accept the chaos and lean into their second album.
Watch their new video for "Azalea" from their new album below.
Noisey: Would you say that making this album was a spiritual experience?
Chris Conley: I think that Max and I are both out there as individuals in general, so when we get together, we talk deep. We're able to challenge ourselves in ways, psychologically, that are really interesting. We basically had permission with this record to not think and just trust the flow, and that was really cool because it was almost like musical yoga.
Max Bemis: The process of making this record was so meta and trippy because everything we did sort of bled into the record, like building trust and learning more about each other's personalities. We had already been friends for ten years, but this was like boot camp in getting to the next level, and I think that totally comes across in the record. For example, us trying to find this transcendent place together is completely referenced within the lyrics.
It seems sort of like the world is ending, though. Does that make it hard to be spiritual?
Conley: It's kind of perfect how it worked out because we weren't sitting there over the late summer or spring talking about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or how crazy things seemed in the world. So the record coming out a month before the election and being a pretty aggressive album that's about friendship becoming fractured and being divided, it's perfect timing.
Bemis: Wow. I hadn't even thought of that up until now.
Conley: At least we didn't make a party record. [Laughs.]
When you say the record is about division, do you mean that in regards to the relationship to each other or in a more symbolic sense?
Bemis: It's definitely symbolic, but the only way this record relates to me and Chris is the back-and-forth and push-and-pull of the dynamic. The two of us have never had a fractured relationship, but with anyone you're close to—for instance my wife [Eisley singer/guitarist] Sherri [DuPree-Bemis]—I'll have some push-and-pull, too. But this record was about the more final severing or walking away from a part of yourself or a relationship, which we both experienced at some point in our lives. Both of our records have a narrative and this is basically the opposite of the first one which was about finding love and being able to trust. But like I said, it's symbolic, this isn't a break-up record.
Conley: The first record is about coming together, and this one is about falling apart. We all live in a world together but we're also fundamentally individuals… but we wouldn't be who we are as individuals without the people in our lives. It's a really bizarre—as Max said—push-and-pull. These two records really lead into each other: We keep talking about how this album is more of a prequel to the first album. For example, the lyrics at the end of album two lead back into the lyrics for the first song on album one.
You're both so busy with your other musical projects and families. Why do you feel like it's important to keep Two Tongues going?
Bemis: Definitely for me—and I imagine it's the same for Chris—it's one of those situations in both of our bands where we are the principal songwriter and singer. To be able to have this 50/50 everything as part of the process is more collaborative than anything else I've ever done regarding the writing, so in a way it's even more fun because I don't feel like it's all on me. I've worked with producers and collaborators throughout my whole career, but when it comes down to Say Anything it's basically all down to me.
When you're used to having that much freedom, is it ever difficult to compromise with this band?
Conley: I love writing my songs and getting them to sound the way I want, and in Saves The Day there is so much collaboration because I love to see the way the guys bring my ideas to life, that's part of the joy and the process. With Max, we had this idea about the project that, when we started writing songs individually, we weren't going to finish them until we showed them to the other person. I had never done that before, but Max is a songwriter, so I think our point of views were in sync. I rely on the other guys in Saves The Day to do what they do with the instrumental track and they come up with things I would not have been able to think of, but there's not another troubadour so to speak in the band.
How much did you guys get sidetracked talking about life or art when you were supposed to be finishing the album together?
Bemis: That happened a lot. We both like to work long hours and are perfectionists when it comes to music, but because of our relationship and friendship, there was a lot of time spent talking about the meaning of life and mostly just our lives. That for me was a huge part of why it was so fun, and again, something that I'm sure I've had to some degree with people in other recording situations. But if you're asking if it was meta, it was way fucking meta. [Laughs] We really got into it through talking about the world and reality and that type of stuff… but that's something that me and Chris talk about a lot.
Conley: Yeah, and it all gets filtered into the music. We showed up to the sessions already having written the music and melodies but we did all the lyrics in Tyler, Texas, together and assembled the recordings side by side. I think the safe space that we had together where we felt comfortable being vulnerable and open made us unafraid to try any idea. The creativity just kind of flowed, so when I listen to the record, it doesn't feel self-conscious to me. It feels really effortless, which is how we felt. We were just going out there and taking the time to be Max and Chris, not Max and Chris the songwriters.
Was there ever a point where you got into talking about existence and the idea of even making a record seeming futile?
Bemis: No, but there would be times where we would talk about our roles in the music industry or society and what it means to be a human being. There were certainly moments of "Man, things are really messed up in the world." But we always ended up bringing each other back and ending up in the frame of mind of "at least we are making this record and having fun and we love it."
Conley: For people who have their heads on their shoulders, you can't help but think, "Why are we spending money on a microphone when there is all this awful stuff happening in the world?" But there is a point where you have to accept the chaos, and if you're not making it worse, you can go about your business: Have a great day with your friend, do 13 hours of recording in a night, and then you walk out and you can't believe the sun is shining because you thought you'd be seeing the moon and Jupiter. We just allowed ourselves to lose track of time, and I think it's important for healthy people to not drift into the overwhelming anxiety of the world anyway. Max and I are both comfortably aware of all that, it's just like an agreement: The world is crazy, let's do our best to make it better.
Bemis: That's something Chris helped me learn early on, especially the idea that you can let yourself feel emotions but at the same time not judge yourself for them and not feel trapped. It's all about trying to take things to a more positive place with your reaction, no matter how dark it can get.
What advice would you have for people who are going through existential freak-outs who don't have an outlet like Two Tongues to help work through it?
Conley: I just understand what you're going through if you're freaking out right now. Music is really helpful because it's emotional and it's cathartic and you can feel someone else's truth and know that you're not alone in your truth of how you feel. Max and I have really great fans that are just like us; they identify with how we are because we're all like-minded and I think Max and I are both huge optimists and are also aware of the complex reality of the world. We're here to help everybody feel psyched.
Bemis: I'd convey that if there's some kind of moral standpoint behind our music, it's that even though we probably have a similar viewpoint to a lot of our listeners, even within that there are factions of people fighting. I think the more we try to explore other people's experiences and love each other, that spreads love and understanding which is pretty much the goal of Two Tongues' songs.