Bayside Singer Anthony Raneri Gets Self-Reflective on the Band’s New Album, ‘Vacancy’


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  • Megan Thompson
Bayside singer Anthony Raneri was on Warped Tour when he got the idea for “Dancing Like an Idiot,” one of the songs featured on the expanded edition of the band’s reissue of 2014’s Cult.

“We’ve been outspoken about anything we think is bullshit, especially bands and trends,” he told us in an interview shortly after the song came out. “‘Dancing Like an Idiot’ is [not just about] being a bad band. You’re allowed to be a bad band. There are lots of bad bands that speak to people and they find a fan base and that’s fine. Bad music doesn’t offend me but what offends me and what I think is a real problem is bad messages. I think that anybody who has seen [the 2006 film] Idiocracy or follows along with tech speech or things like that can see that the world is screwed. Idiocracy is coming true. The world is getting dumber.”

Given that perspective, how does Raneri feel about the upcoming presidential election?

“I don’t have anything to say that hasn’t already been said,” he says via phone from his Nashville home. “All the interviews [with the candidates] play out like pre-fight wrestling interviews. I think that most people vote based on their gut instinct. I don’t think most people follow that closely to the details. They vote for someone because he seems like a nice guy or because he seems honest or because he’s a good public speaker. None of us are qualified to run a multi-trillion dollar business, which is basically what the United States is so how are we able to break down their plans? At the end of the day, people go with their gut. Bernie Sanders seems like a really nice guy. [President] Obama is a really good public speaker. People who support Trump think he says what he means, and they love that. The context, I guess, doesn’t matter.”

Since forming in Queens in 2000 when members responded to an ad for bands to submit songs for a tribute album to the seminal ska band Operation Ivy, Bayside has stayed true to an ethos that it developed during a time period when bands like Minor Threat/Fugazi and Bad Religion addressed political and social issues in their lyrics.

Many punk bands don’t last past a gig or two. So it’s all the more remarkable that Bayside has persevered for 15 years now. The group’s style of punk rock, which often borders on pop, features introspective lyrics and catchy hooks.

In the early days, the practiced in a Long Island basement before playing shows in the Tri-State area.

“We were really driven at the time, says Raneri when asked about the band’s humble beginnings. “We wanted to do nothing but practice everyday and go on tour and dedicate our lives to that. We were 17 at the time. I was just thinking about it this morning. I was thinking of the difference between me now and me then and bands that make it and bands that don’t. There’s something like 1 percent of all records that come sell 1,000 copies. Most records sell less than that. I think of how many musicians there are in the world and how many will even make a record. It’s the 1 percent of the 1 percent. The difference is that I had no social life. I made a conscious decision to not have a life. I just wanted to work on my music until I felt like I could let my foot off the gas.”

The band had to hurdle the tragic death of its original drummer, John “Beatz” Holohan, in 2005. The guys wrote the song “Winter” in his memory but have never played it live. They never intend to play it live either. Though Holohan’s death is well in the past, more recent deaths inspired the lyrical content of Cult.

“I lost my stepfather and grandfather while I was writing that record,” says Raneri. “I also had my daughter. All of that made me see the world as a bigger place. It got me out of myself. It became harder to write songs about how I had a bad day. That’s what I’ve written about for years because that’s what mattered. You realize that other things matter and it’s hard to keep writing about having a bad day or getting into a fight with your girlfriend. It was time to change things up. I was nervous that my fans might not follow along. They have come to know me after all these years as this brooding and repressed guy and I’m not that.”

Raneri also gets personal on the band’s new album, Vacancy. On songs such as the poppy “I’ve Been Dead All Day,” he adopts an operatic vocal style as he sings about his issues, and in “Enemy Lines,” a song with driving guitars and cooing backing vocals, he really wails “I am the last of my kind.” With their introspective and self-loathing lyrics, the songs sound recall the Smiths at their prime.

Raneri wrote the songs while living in a little apartment in Tennessee in the wake of his divorce.

“There were things I needed to figure out,” he says. “I was living in this apartment for a couple of months. I didn’t unpack or hang anything on the walls. It was just a place where I was crashing for a few months. I had a bed and a computer and my guitar and a suitcase. I wrote the record in five months.”

Raneri says the band usually continually revises its songs before going into the studio to record them. But for Vacancy, the process changed.

“It’s interesting that the best records are often the ones you feel uncomfortable with,” he says. “That’s really how we felt. With this record, we argued and fought and went back and forth more than ever. All the way to the end, we didn’t know about it. When it was finally done and we did the sequencing and mastering and listened to it in full, we finally decided we liked it.”

On the mid-tempo tune “Pretty Vacant,” Raneri croons, “I’m pretty vacant all the time.” The observation certainly clashes with the way the articulate, thoughtful singer expresses himself in interviews. 

“The whole record is about myself,” he says, adding that it’s the most “uniquely personal record” he’s ever made. “It’s a double meaning. It’s an emotional state and also a physical state. I didn’t know where I was going to live. It was a strange moment in my life and the hugest hit on my pride and sense of self. I pride myself on having my shit together. At that moment, I didn’t. It was like everything I thought was going to according to plan got taken away, and I couldn’t control it.”

Raneri doesn’t imagine it’ll be difficult to play the highly personal songs live.

“I think it will be like most other songs,” he says when asked about adding new tracks to the set list. “I don’t think it will take me back to where I was when I wrote them the same way a break-up song that I wrote 14 years ago doesn’t remind me of the person. It’s taken on its own life now. We’ll play a handful of the new songs. I’m a music fan, so I take that into consideration when I put the set list together. I go see bands that I’ve listened to for 20 years. Even if I like the new songs, I don’t want to just hear them, so we try not to jam the new material down everyone’s throat. ”

Bayside, the Menzingers, Sorority Noise, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 24, Agora Ballroom, 5000 Euclid Ave., 216-881-2221. Tickets: $18.50 ADV, $23 DOS,

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