How has signing to an independent record label changed your artistic process?
Well, I would like to think that since we spent so much time on a major, we really did settle into a nice rhythm in terms of writing. We had a pretty great experience on that label, so I can't complain and say that it changed things too much. But you can't deny that when you're writing a record that's intended to really build your audience and reach people, as opposed to sell millions of records and get on pop radio, the internal pressure, the self-imposed pressure is minimized.
I ended up writing music that was just music I wanted to hear and felt would move people, as opposed to what I thought would blow us up. It's funny -- I didn't feel the pressure to try to be current. I just wrote what I felt would be fun to play live and what would be indicative of my tastes as a music listener right now. What I felt would be influenced by what I was listening to. It felt like such a pure creative process. The last time I had that I was 18 or 19. Then we'd been signed and ever since then it had been this kind of roller coaster. This was kind of a breather.
The last time you felt this creatively free was when you were 18?
It was around when I was writing '...Is a Real Boy' and I was in the process of dropping out of college. I was really living the prototypical 19-year-old bohemian "trying to find myself" experience. It was great. Obviously, I wouldn't go back to that time and the things I had to go through for any amount of money. It was definitely a freeing time -- I was expanding my understanding of life and who I was through a lot of pain and suffering, but there were good times as well. I went through this large experience of growing up which involved my first love, my first this, my first that. Now I'm married and settled into a wonderful life. I've resolved one part of my life and now I've moved on to the conflicts and the beginning of a second phase where I'm no longer worrying about stupid angst that doesn't really mean much. I'm no longer worrying about trying to find love or being single.
What was it like working with Tim O'Heir again?
In that regard it really is fitting. He has kind of been the guy to guide me into these new ways of living. He, in addition, is also married with a kid right now and he was kind of a wild man when he was younger as well. I think we found that we both still have conflict in our lives but it's mostly this conflict of the soul. Remaining true to yourself and having your priorities now that we are grown-ups in the real world, it's almost a larger issue and is the one we are going to be dealing with until we're dead. We were both able to tap into that for the creative experience. The concept of the record kind of came about because I feel like every person who exists right now is entered into this conflict of retaining what's important about you through the onslaught of crap that society places upon you. That's why the record is called 'Anarchy, My Dear' because it is about the idea of injecting some chaos and rebellion into your life so that you can stay true to yourself. Not letting yourself become too comfortable or letting your priorities be changed by the way our government and the way society works.
Yeah, I wanted to talk about that. The album name has such a good duality to it -- it's such a formal way to state a chaotic concept.
[Laughs] Yeah. It's also the name of a song on the record and it's interesting you present it that way. That's funny, I haven't specifically thought of it in that way where it's this formal declaration of this chaotic idea, which is really funny. It's interesting because the song that it's named after is also a very formal classic love song but it happens to be written about anarchy. It's a love song for anarchy and my love of it but it sounds almost like an Aerosmith power ballad written about anarchy. There is that duality to the entire record where we want to present it in this aesthetically pleasing, catchy package. It's almost like propaganda. It's not dissonant, it's not hard to listen to and hopefully it's catchy. Yet at the same time it's communicating ideas that I hope, or I intended to be pretty subversive.
How have the changes in your religious beliefs affected your songwriting?
A lot actually, to be honest. When I was writing our first material I was in a very, very, violently agnostic phase. I still would consider myself an agnostic to some degree. But I was defiant to the idea of god. I had been brought up in a traditional Jewish background. I had to reconcile my idea of what God is over a long period of time and come to understand it again as something that a grown man can believe in and comprehend if he chooses to. Now my idea of God is a lot more weird and metaphysical and grounded in science. The Christian end of my beliefs as well is a little bit different than my Jewish background. I still have both and when I say that I see myself as a form of agnostic, as I develop I place less and less boundaries on what god is, or what he could be, or how he should be worshipped.
But it is very pertinent to my writing because the past couple records have dealt a lot with this sort of spiritual oneness that I believe that people should be aiming towards, and that the universe is an entity beyond even the universe: All things that exist are one entity that has a purpose, even if it's just its own purpose. To me, that's an idea of God that isn't hard to latch on to even for an atheist. A lot of the stuff that I write that is purposeful and angry and wants to make a change in the world. I'd like to think I'm doing it on behalf of my role in that greater thing that unites us all, as opposed to my own selfish beliefs and wants for my own life. So if anything my understanding of the unity of all things sort of drives my need to make changes in the world as it is.
Do you feel any obligation to your fans to be "dark" being that people responded so strongly to your "darker periods"?
It's funny. No, I don't but only because based on the sort of flawed, messed-up guy I am and always will be. Despite all the things in my life that are great right now -- my marriage, my home life and my family -- I will always be really jacked up and weird. I've come to understand that that's what people respond to, it isn't my suffering. No true fan of my music wants to see me die or end up in a mental hospital for months at a time. That would just take a sick twisted person. All they want is to have their fears and their neurotic joys echoed by me. I still have that, none of that has gone away. I still have a really dark internal monologue and a sick sense of humor, and I think that's what kids respond to.