Bayside Looks Back At 10 Years of Being The Walking Wounded
Finally, Anthony Raneri has free time. His band, Bayside, is spending the summer off the road for the first time in more than a decade, so to fill the space usually reserved for Warped Tour parking lots or various Houses Of Blues, Raneri is working through his to-do list, including rebuilding the deck and installing hardwood floors in his Nashville home, getting some overdue dental work done, taking speech therapy lessons—oh, and raising his young daughter at the same time.
It’s an odd way for Raneri to spend his summer, seeing as how 2017 is the 10th anniversary of The Walking Wounded, not only one of Bayside’s most commercially successful records, but also its most beloved among fans. Given the current trend of bands embarking on massive full-album nostalgia tours, no one would fault Bayside for jumping on the bandwagon. While Raneri and his bandmates—guitarist Jack O’Shea, bassist Nick Ghanbarian and drummer Chris Guglielmo—will bring The Walking Wounded in its entirety to life for the first time ever this fall, including a performance at Riot Fest, the tour is limited in size and scope.
“We’re only doing seven or eight shows, and we’re playing smaller venues than we usually do,” Raneri explains. “It’s a celebration of the record. We want to be absolutely clear that we’re not cashing in on nostalgia. We haven’t needed to. We’re really proud of that fact.”
While Bayside’s catalog has been the model for freakish consistency, The Walking Wounded is definitely a diamond in a field of gems. Not only is it the agreed-upon fan-favorite album, it also tops Raneri’s personal list.
“It’s still my favorite Bayside record,” he admits. “It’s still the record I put on and think, ‘Man, how the fuck did I think of that?’ There are songs where I wish I could think like that now. At the time, that was the most experimental we ever felt, but now, that’s our ‘old sound.’ Usually, bands get experimental as they move forward. They make two punk records but then discover Pet Sounds. We kinda did that, but our ‘experimental’ record became our sound.”
Loaded with catchy sing-alongs about love, death, religion and scene politics, The Walking Wounded is a deceptively complex punk record that had a lot of eyes affixed to it for a truly terrible reason: On October 31, 2005, as Bayside was in the midst of a tour supporting that year’s self-titled release, the band got into an horrific van accident that resulted in the death of their drummer, John “Beatz” Holohan. It was a devastating event not just for the band and those tied to them, but for the scene as a whole.
“There were a lot of tears in the office that day—it was a really solemn environment,” recalls Aubrey Welbers, who worked in promotions at Victory Records from 2005 to 2007. “Anthony and Jack carried on for the rest of the tour acoustic. I don’t even know how they were able to do that. Everyone at Victory had so much respect for the band.
“I remember when we first received the master for The Walking Wounded, in late 2006—it was like Christmas that day,” she continues. “We were all waiting for it and we were all really excited for it. I remember listening to it on repeat at my desk for weeks. I was so in love with it.”
“As The Walking Wounded was coming out, the office was like, ‘This one needs to be a win. We need to win one for this team,’” remembers Monika Ebly, former Victory Records licensing manager and later, Bayside’s day-to-day manager. “I was really going to focus my energies on this one, because it felt earned and deserved by the band.”
While The Walking Wounded was not released until February 2007, its title and concept were accidentally created that fateful October evening.
“It was Nick’s idea,” Raneri says. “The night of our accident, getting put into ambulances and stuff, [paramedics] had referred to a couple of us as ‘the walking wounded’—the people who needed attention but weren’t on stretchers. It’s a literal reference to the situation, but to him, and the way he pitched it to us, was the survivor idea, that we were still here, we still had our heart, and we still had our strength.”
That feeling of resilience, of the will to keep fighting no matter what might befall you, resonates throughout every part of The Walking Wounded, starting with its iconic cover art. Pictured is a white flag adorned with Bayside’s logo—a drawing of a bird taken from a Japanese book—that has yellowed and tattered over time. While some associate white flags with surrender, Raneri sees it differently: “It’s a reference to soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima—raising the colors in ruins.”
The album art’s original concept was even more vibrant, explains Jason “DoubleJ” Link, who served as Victory Records’ art director from 2002 to 2013, and still designs many of the band’s albums, T-shirts and tour materials.
“One idea I really wanted to do was a renaissance painting of this warrior with arrows stuck in his back,” Link says. “Unfortunately, we had a budget of maybe $500, which is normal for an indie label. We had to scale back the idea. The bird itself is pretty iconic, so how cool would it be to put the bird on the cover, but with a little more meaning? Enter the flag. The tattered flag is meant to indicate ‘We’ve gone through some shit. Even though our flag’s torn to shreds, we’re not gonna stop.’ That was their attitude at the time.”
Of course, flags don’t come pre-yellowed and pre-burned, so Link had to get creative.
“I remember dyeing the flag, but I didn’t know how to dye fabrics, so I [threw a bunch of teabags into the bathtub in my shitty apartment], then put the flag in and let it sit overnight. The next day, I pulled it out and it had this cool yellow tint to it, then we took some matches and burned it.”
Link and photographer Matt Wysocki headed to Chicago’s Belmont Harbor early one morning in November of 2006 to capture the image, though in the end, only the flag itself remains from the photo.
“It was really difficult getting [the right shot] because we wanted the bird to be noticeable, but there was so much post work that needed to be done,” Link says. “The flagpole it sits on is fake; the sky is composed.”
As to the flag’s whereabouts? Sadly, no one knows. “The photographer kept it and later auctioned it off online,” Raneri says. “I wish I had that flag.”
While Raneri might not own that talisman, he can take ownership of The Walking Wounded’s 12 songs, many of which took months to write—one, even longer.
“I spent an entire year writing the title track,” the singer recalls. “I wrote the klezmer part on its own. Then I wrote the chorus, which had nothing to do with the verse, and eventually, it fit together. That one has a double key change at the end of the song—I got that idea from ‘Stand’ by R.E.M.”
A big fan favorite is “Landing Feet First,” Raneri’s first-ever honest-to-God love song, a track that has taken on a surprising role as a wedding song for hundreds of lovestruck punks. Funnily enough, that’s how it started, too.
“Anthony played that song at his wedding,” Link recalls. “He wrote it for his wife. I’ll never forget him playing that song.”
“I got married the week The Walking Wounded came out,” Raneri says. “I got married on a Saturday, the record came out on Tuesday and we left for tour that Friday. We were writing the record while I was planning the wedding, and I thought that song would be nice to play at the wedding. Now, that was two wives ago, so clearly that song has a different meaning for me now. But it’s a pretty song, and a lot of people write to us and say they use it as their wedding song, which is so fucking cool. I grew up with music meaning everything to me, and now I’m part of that.”
A few songs on The Walking Wounded have never been played live before: “Thankfully,” “A Rite Of Passage” and “Head On A Plate.” Raneri singles out “Head On A Plate” specifically as one he’s looking most forward to playing this fall, due to its timeless message of pushing substance over style as heard in the chorus: “I’m really, really not that conceited, I swear I’m not/I’m just trying to bring music back to music/I define up and coming/They already came and went.” He’s not the only one who’s excited to hear that song.
“I felt like ‘Head On A Plate’ was overlooked,” Link says. “Bayside were never the cool kids. All these bands were zooming right past them, and it was like, ‘What the fuck? They’re way better!’ That song is very telling to what Bayside is about. Anthony has no agenda other than playing music. This is his life. I don’t even think he graduated high school. This is all he has.”
With the release of The Walking Wounded came a slew of new opportunities. The band played Late Night With Conan O’Brien; the music video for “Duality” was added to MTV2, mtvU and Fuse; Anthony Raneri graced Alternative Press’ annual Warped Tour cover that summer and his band was one of the top-billed artists on the tour; “Duality” even landed in Guitar Hero III. Yet somehow, Bayside didn’t have the same breakthrough success as many of their peers did at that time.
“Two-thousand-seven was a big time for our scene,” Raneri says. “We weren’t a part of that. We got bigger than we were before, but we didn’t go the way My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy and Paramore went. All those bands became massive, massive, massive crossover rock bands. Even to a lesser extent Motion City Soundtrack, Matchbook Romance, Anberlin—all those bands were way bigger than us. The fact that we kept the music interesting for us first and foremost is what stopped us from being as big as any of those bands. It’s what kept us as a second-tier band.”
“We were getting strong feedback from radio program directors,” Ebly recalls. “We thought it was going to be the next Taking Back Sunday. We thought it was gonna happen, and it didn’t. It felt like this train was moving, and then all of the sudden it wasn’t. But we were not gonna give up on this record. We thought it was gonna be a slow burn, and you know what? It has been. Here they are 10 years later, still touring, still relevant.”
Any potential animosity Raneri may have held for not breaking through the scene’s glass ceiling alongside so many of his then-peers has long since subsided, revealing a more introspective, mature person who is content with the way his career has played out thus far.
“Early on as a frontman and a writer, I realized I’m not clever enough for this,” Raneri says. “The only thing I can do is be myself and be brutally honest. It’s why so many people connected with us. Maybe we didn’t have the look or the image. Maybe our music was not right for it. We had realistic expectations; we still do. At the end of the first tour we did for The Walking Wounded was when we all moved out of our parents’ houses. That record was when we could all afford to begin supporting ourselves from our band. It made us a professional band. We’ve never had to do anything but play in a band ever since then.”
This summer notwithstanding, Bayside shows no signs of slowing down. The band’s most recent album, 2016’s Vacancy, is as strong as any that preceded it, and many of their shows continue to sell out worldwide. They may not have a Gold record hanging on their wall, but they’ve achieved success on their own terms, and it all started with the band’s unwillingness to stay down. Consider this: Only 15 months passed between the release of Bayside and The Walking Wounded, and large chunk of that time was spent both physically and emotionally recovering from their van accident.
“We turned The Walking Wounded around so quickly because we were so hungry,” Raneri says. “We got knocked down and it took us a while to get back up, but once we were up, it was like, ‘Let’s go.’ From a mental space, it’s what we needed to do—I needed to get it all on paper. We needed to go back to creating.
“From a career perspective, we got lucky, because a lot of bands have a moment where all eyes are on them. We had everybody’s attention after our self-titled album and after the accident. We were kind of blessed in a way that we made a good record,” the frontman concludes. “We made what I still think is our best record while everybody was watching us. That was our moment.”