Rank Your Records: Bayside's Anthony Raneri Says He'd Like to Redo Some Things on 'Shudder'
The guitarist/singer ranks all six of the band's albums.
In Rank Your Records, we talk to members of bands who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.
Queens-based Bayside may pull songwriting cues from the likes of Smoking Popes and Alkaline Trio, but over the course of six albums the quartet has developed a sound that is truly its own, featuring shredding guitar work, punk ferocity, offbeat melodies, and even showtunes. The pieces have come together over the course of Bayside’s career, tweaked by a few notable lineup changes, and amalgamated most on the band’s latest, Cult, released last year.
Fans have picked their favorites along the way, but we wanted to know where singer/guitarist Anthony Raneri stands on the matter, so we asked him to rank Bayside’s records from his least favorite to the best, and this is what he gave us...
6. Shudder (2008)
Noisey: We’re starting at the bottom with Shudder. Why is this your worst album?
Anthony Raneri: I should start by saying something had to be my least favorite. [Laughs] It’s not that I don’t like it. The main thing with Shudder is, it’s the Bayside record that when I listen to [it], there are the most things I wish I did differently. The reason for that is we were coming off a really busy record cycle. Walking Wounded was a really big record for us. It was a really long, really busy record cycle. We had to get that record out quick. We wrote most of it, all of it, on the road. We didn’t take any time between tours to bear down and focus on the record. With time, I think, comes those ideas of changing things. I think there are great songs on it. Every song I liked, but there are things that if I had more time to think about it, I probably would have done certain things differently.
Any major redeeming qualities?
Definitely. I feel we took a lot of risks on that record. I thought my voice, in particular, really started to take shape. While I like a lot of the songs better [before that album], I’m not crazy when I hear my voice on some of the older stuff. [Laughs] Shudder’s where I hit my stride, vocally. And I think we took a lot of chances on that record, which I’m very proud of. We experimented with putting some ska stuff on the record, some Latin grooves on the record. I’m pretty proud that we took those chances.
5. Sirens and Condolences (2004)
Then we go all the way back to Bayside’s first album. Why is this one so far down the list?
Going back to hitting strides. I hear a lot of fans say a lot of band’s first records are their best. You have a lifetime to write your first record, and you have a limited amount of time to write your next one—the sophomore slump. For me, when I was at that point writing songs, I didn’t know how to write songs. I’d just sit down with a guitar and write whatever came out. I didn’t understand the idea of getting into the mind of the listener and what draws them in—when to do certain things, when not to do certain things. Just knowing what I know now about songwriting and having a much better grasp of how to draw a listener in and how to excite a listener, listening back to that record, I was 20 to 21 years old when we made that record. To me, it’s a little immature. I still love those songs. I still play some of those songs on tour. Just going back, there’s a lot of things I’d do differently, knowing what I know now. And I cringe hearing my voice. I can hear how improperly I was singing and how bad I must have been hurting my throat.
How different was the writing process back then, compared to how it is for you now?
The writing process changed a few times. For the first record, we had time. We weren’t a working band at that point. We were touring for three or four years at that point, constantly, but we were all living with our parents, so we didn’t have bills. We didn’t even have cell phones yet. So we were able to come off tour, spend some time at home and concentrate on making our first record. Then, once things ramped up, we had to be on tour all the time. There’s a lot more demand, and there’s a lot more to gain from being on tour after that, so we started getting less and less time to make records. And now, we’re luckily at a point where we can afford, financially, to take time off the road and just concentrate on writing records. So the writing process has changed a few times over the course of our career.
4. Self-Titled (2005)
On to the middle of the pack, but still on the lesser half. Why did you put the self-titled release at number four?
These next four, I just love them all. I love some of the songs on the self-titled. There are still some songs off that record that we play every night. “Devotion and Desire” is one of my favorite songs to play live. “Montauk” is one of my favorite songs to play live. These next four are where they all start to get real close, and it’s almost arbitrary. But again, my voice just wasn’t where it was going to go years after that. My songwriting chops just weren’t where they were going to go years after that. But I love that record. We play at least half of that record at every show, and it’s ten years later.
Why did you give this one the self-titled treatment?
We had a big lineup change. On Sirens and Condolences, our bass player at the time was writing the lyrics for the band, which is another reason I put that record lower. I don’t love the lyrics as much as the ones I wrote myself afterwards. I have less of an attachment to them. We self-titled that one because the bassist who was our lyricist then left, which was a pretty big deal. Our drummer left also, which is half the band. And they left in a way that they figured the band was going to be over because they were leaving. We had just toured with Fall Out Boy. It was the last day of the tour with Fall Out Boy, and the four of us were sitting down, having a meal, about to go home from this tour. Mind you, we were touring with Fall Out Boy in 300, 400 capacity clubs; Fall Out Boy had not become nearly what they were going to become, but all the shows were sold out and stuff. At that point in our career, those guys were like, “This is probably the biggest tour we’ll ever do, and it still wasn’t good enough; it wasn’t fun, so it’s time to call it.” And we were like, “If you guys want to call it, call it. But we’re going to get two more guys, because we don’t think this is it. We’re going to do more.” So when we put John “Beatz” [Holohan] and Nick [Ghanbarian] in the band, it was, in a way, a reinvention of the band. With the self-titled record, we felt like we really hit our stride as far as songwriting, as far as our live shows. Everything was really starting to come together then. We went from a band who was just writing whatever sounded cool to a band who really knew what they were doing. So that’s why we thought that one should be our self-titled record.
This is probably a good time to ask, because it started to shine through on this album: You guys do a lot of songs either inspired by or at least name tracks after movies, don’t you?
Yeah. That’s where that started, and a lot of it came out of having a conversation. We did some shows with Smoking Popes. Smoking Popes are one of my favorite bands, and Josh [Caterer], the singer and songwriter, has been a huge influence. I had a conversation with him about songwriting, in general. I said, “What do you write when you have nothing to write? If you have nothing to say at that moment, if life is good, what do you write? How do you spare yourself from writing a record about rainbows?” He said what he did when he was running low on inspiration, he would watch a movie that was inspiring and touching, and he would put himself in the shoes of the protagonist in the movie. And he would write lyrics, as if he was that person. That always stuck with me as a piece of advice I took with me for a long time. In self-titled, “Montauk” was a song, in particular, that I did that with—the movie was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I put myself in the shoes of Jim Carrey in that movie.
3. Killing Time (2011)
Interestingly, at number three, you’ve got an album that fell between your self-proclaimed best and worst. Why is it here?
After Shudder came out, we had a big regrouping process. We also had a long time. We were doing a record every 12 to 18 months up until Killing Time. We were just cranking records out, writing them while on tour. Records were coming out two months after we recorded them, which was unheard of. After Shudder, we weren’t completely happy with how it came out. We were pretty bummed about that, coming off self-titled and Walking Wounded, which were both fantastic records. We weren’t too happy with how it came out, and so we regrouped and said, “The next record has to be awesome. No matter how much time it takes to record this, let’s not rush this; let’s make an awesome record.” We spent a long time on that record. We spent about a year on that record, between writing, demoing. We actually recorded that record in different studios at different times. We would write a bunch of songs and record them, then go back and write a bunch of songs, record them, go back. Making Killing Time was a huge process for us. I think that accounts for the jump from my least favorite record to my third favorite record.
Do you think the label change here made any difference here, too?
Definitely. Nobody ever wants to hear about money, but we went from Victory to Wind-Up with those records. Wind-Up, obviously we were spending all of Creed’s money. So the budget was a whole other thing. So we were able to say, “We’re going to take a year off. We’re not going to tour for the whole year. The whole year, we’re just going to stay home and write this record and record this record, however long it takes.” You can’t usually say that. But for that record in particular, because of the label situation, we were able to say, “We’re going to work on this for as long as it takes.”
2. The Walking Wounded (2007)
At number two, I think the best-selling and arguably fan favorite Walking Wounded. Why number two?
Walking Wounded was a grind. But that’s really sentimental record for me. Beatz had just died. We put Chris [Guglielmo] in the band. It was the first record we made with Chris. We just felt really, really charged up to make Beatz proud and also to show the world that we were still a band, we were strong, we still had it after all the stuff we had just gone through. And I think that challenge that we put on ourselves really came out making Walking Wounded just a fantastic record. And it’s a lot of the fans’ favorite record, which means we did our job, because that matters. I’d be lying if I said I could do whatever I want. We’ve been a band this long because we look at ourselves like we’re always moving forward, and people can join us. If you don’t join us, that’s fine. If you’re with us, we’re here for you. It definitely makes me proud. It tells me that we did our job that that’s probably the most liked record. As far as the music and lyrics go, the opening of the record, where it goes right into a time signature change to a klezmer traditional Jewish folk music style thing, right to open the record. Screaming guitar solos throughout that record. We feel like we took a lot of chances on it. There’s some reggae on that record. Our first love song is on that record. All of those chances paid off. The songs that have the big chances—the love song, the klezmer song, stuff like that—those are just the most popular Bayside songs ever.
1. Cult (2014)
Finally, you named your newest your best. Why?
Because, this is going to sound cliché, but it wrote itself. As we were writing that record, every song became self-obvious. It was the most natural record for us to write. Any songwriter can tell you there are songs you labor over for a long time—that you keep going back to, and you rewrite it and you rewrite it—and there’s the song that you sit down and write in one sitting. And the one that you write in one sitting, that’s the most special one. With Cult, we recorded the record in 14 days. It wrote itself. I love it. I think it’s a great culmination of everything that we’ve done. I think the lyrics, also, are my best lyrics, for sure, throughout my career. I think it’s just a great example of everything we’ve done. Shudder, we took some risks. Walking Wounded we always look at it as our whimsical record, where we really started incorporating showtunes into our music, which we do a lot now. Self-titled was the straightforward, really catchy punk record. All of our records have characteristics that make them unique, and Cult we thought embodied all of the characteristics. It had a little bit of all of that.
Do you think there’s any chance it’s just a newness thing? I’m wondering, for instance, if there’s any chance Shudder may have been your top album when it came out, too?
I don’t think it was. Shudder wasn’t the top album in my mind, at that point. I thought it was a good album; I still think it’s a good album. But Bayside’s a band [in which] we don’t have landmarks; we’re always just moving forward. We’re always growing; at least that’s what we think. Every Bayside record is just the next Bayside record. Every one is not the best; every one is not the most special; every one is not the most interesting. Everyone thinks the new record is the best. “It’s darker and more mature.” You probably hear that every day when you ask, “Well, what does your new record sound like?” And it’s not what we do. When we first started this band, we were in it for the long haul. When we first signed our first real record deal and made our first real record, we didn’t say, “We’ve arrived. This is our chance to really turn heads.” We said, “Hey, we’re going to make a record. Maybe next year we’ll make another record. Then, maybe we’ll make another record.” That’s how we’ve always approached it. All we want to do is, for the people who are on the train with us, keep them happy. If more people get on the train, that’s cool. We try to do better, and sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t.
As far as this following goes, this album’s name comes from the name the Bayside following has adopted. How did that come about?
The fans started it. People just started saying, “Bayside is a cult.” People were wearing Bayside merch, and in the early days nobody knew who we were, so people would ask them what Bayside was. Fans started making stickers and distributing them that said, “Bayside is a cult.” We took it and went with it. We did a belt once that said, “Bayside is a belt,” started playing around with it. We don’t want to take ourselves too seriously.