Many great musicians have been plagued with mental illness: Roky Erickson, Brian Wilson, Daniel Johnston, and now Max Bemis, the 22-year-old singer, guitarist, and mastermind behind the Los Angeles collective Say Anything. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder and paranoid schizophrenia, Bemis has experienced multiple breakdowns and been institutionalized, yet he has also constructed some of the most innovative indie rock around.
Produced by Stephen Trask (Hedwig and the Angry Inch), 2004's . . . Is a Real Boy is simultaneously giddy, self-pitying, and despairing. Bemis' music is more introspective than the "emo" tag can indicate, as it vacillates between his unbridled bravado and sexual insecurities. Due to an ever-shifting lineup, Bemis and his longtime drummer and co-conspirator Coby Linder have toured only sporadically. But when they do take the stage, Bemis' frantic presence is a sight to behold.