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"I can't believe this is my life. I'm pretty vacant all the time."
First things first: Vacancy isn't a breakup album.
Although this collection of songs was born out of the loss of a relationship, that experience launched Bayside frontman Anthony Raneri on a mission of reflection and self-examination that makes the band's seventh full-length a case study in acceptance. "I wanted this record to be more about what's happening to me as opposed to having it be all about a disintegrating relationship," he explains. "When I was writing this record I felt like a transient and I think writing Vacancy really helped me work through an experience that I had never prepared for, let alone planned on."
Raneri is referring specifically to the fact that he left the security of Queens to move to Tennessee for two years with his former wife and their child to make some investments and open a business. However soon afterward he was informed that she didn't want to return to Raneri's longtime home and mounting domestic tension eventually lead to the couple splitting up. "I came here thinking it was a very temporary stopover and eventually decided I had to stay here so I could be close to my daughter and that hit me really hard," he explains. "I was living in an apartment in Franklin and I was calling it the Franklin Hotel because I didn't know how long I was going to be here. I didn't unpack, I didn't hang anything on the walls. I didn't know what I was supposed to do with myself." During this uncertain time, Raneri kept himself from going off the deep end by writing songs. Raneri admits these twelve compositions are especially cathartic because he was literally "coming to terms with what my life was becoming." From there Raneri worked out the arrangements with guitarist Jack O'Shea (who also relocated to Nashville where Raneri settled) as well as drummer Chris Guglielmo and bassist Nick Ghanbarian to make sure the music was as fully formed as the concept behind it. Finally, the band enlisted producer Tim O'Heir—whose résumé includes producing albums by everyone from Sebadoh to Say Anything and was nominated for a Tony Award for Hedwig And The Angry Inch—who recorded the album at Kings Of Leon's personal studio.
The result is an album that's undeniably Bayside and is incontestably catchy without relying on three-chord punk progressions or pandering to their audience. "It's always been my goal to write songs that are technically complicated but aren’t off-putting to someone who just wants to sing along," Raneri explains. In that spirit the album features shredding guitar solos on "Rumspringa (Heartbreak Road)" and vocal acrobatics on "Not Fair" as well as saccharine pop numbers like the infectious ballad "Mary" and palm-muted perfection of "The Ghost." "Say this isn't real, say this was a joke, say there's still space for me in bed because I can't live alone" Raneri sings on the latter track—and it isn't dramatics but rather the sound of him searching for his own identity in the face of domestic chaos. "We were never part of a scene or trend, we never looked or sounded the way everyone else did and we never partnered up with companies or brands and that was totally by design," Raneri explains when asked how Bayside have managed to maintain their relevance for nearly two decades—and in many ways Vacancy is also his own personal battle cry. This sentiment is especially evident on the driving, melodic anthem "Enemy Lines" where Raneri compares his emotional journey to a war where the dust has yet to settle. "I am the last of my kind, just a Yank in Southern battlefields, behind enemy lines and alone to find out how I wound up here," he sings with the visceral emotion of a solider steeped in the trenches yet refusing to surrender. Honesty isn't just a character trait for Raneri, it's his strategy to stay alive.
Admittedly the emotional stakes here are high but instead of wallowing in selfpity, Vacancy is evidence that the human spirit can eventually triumph if you want it bad enough. While the album's final track "It's Not As Depressing As It Sounds" isn't exactly hopeful, it isn't bleak either. In fact it's as messy and layered as most human relationships are and embraces that duality instead of running away from it. "I've messed with confidence and ever understood if you're not afraid than you're not doing all you could," he intones on the album's inspiring closer before adding, "I know that there's love because I've seen it myself and I'll be damned if I can't move because I'm too scared to cross the road." Sometimes you need adversity to realize that some things are worth fighting for. Vacancy is the soundtrack to that struggle.