After signing with the label, Bemis began writing songs for his band's Doghouse debut. With tremendous self-created pressure, he threw himself into pushing the sonic boundaries of the band and maturing their sound, incorporating elements of math-rock, indie-pop and theatrical pomp. He and Linder also started the search for a producer. The two met several producers but eventually decided on Tim O'Heir and Stephen Trask. Bemis struggled with different ideas for the record and decided the album should focus on "the artistic struggle, the fact that every creative person has this sick ambition to affect some sort of change in society with their art, to be more than just a guy in a band or a poet or a sculptor." According to the album's liner notes, ...Is a Real Boy was originally intended to be a rock opera, complete with a full narrative, cast of characters and spoken word interludes between each song. One tentative title for the album was Zona! Zona! However, Bemis became overwhelmed by the entire process of writing and playing most of the instruments and had a breakdown.
"I literally lost my mind while we were recording," stated Bemis regarding the breakdown. The breakdown was precipitated by a mockumentary discussed by Bemis and O'Heir. Bemis' condition led him to believe he was being secretly filmed for the mockumentary; the situation culminated in him walking the streets of Brooklyn thinking he was being filmed while encountering friends (who were actually strangers). After recovering, Bemis decided to focus solely on the music and dropped the idea of a script. Around July 2003, the band began recording ...Is a Real Boy, their first album with Doghouse Records. Bemis said the two people he wanted to "outdo with ...Is a Real Boy were Andy Warhol and Jesus." In addition to working with O'Heir and Trask, Say Anything worked with Forrest Kline (of power pop band Hellogoodbye) to record the For Sale... EP, released in 2004. The band also worked with ECA Records to record a promotional album that was never released.
In October and November 2004, the band went on tour with Hot Rod Circuit, Northstar and Straylight Run. In February 2005, the group toured with Recover, Armor for Sleep, and Case Pagan. Between October and December, the band toured alongside Senses Fail, The Early November and Saves the Day.
"Alive with the Glory of Love" and "Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too" were the album's singles, released on September 11, 2006 and January 30, 2007, respectively. Several songs from ...Is a Real Boy and their corresponding demos—including "Belt," "Every Man Has a Molly," "Spidersong," and "Alive with the Glory of Love"—have been released on compilations.
A promotional 7" vinyl to be released via ECA Records (originally on July 15, 2003) and a split EP were planned. However, the promotional vinyl and split were never released, although both tracks from the vinyl, an acoustic version of "Belt" (complete with alternate lyrics and a tirade about indie labels by Bemis at the end of the song) along with "You Help Them" (from Menorah/Majora) can be downloaded from Anything's online forum.
"Alive with the Glory of Love" was released to radio on June 20, 2006. In October and November 2006, the band went on tour with MewithoutYou and Piebald. "Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too" was released to radio on January 30, 2007.
During the initial release of the album, ...Is a Real Boy managed to sell 20,000 copies independently, attracting major label attention. J Records, then owned and operated by Sony Music Entertainment and distributed by the RCA Music Group signed the band and reissued the album on February 28, 2006. The bonus disc included with the reissue, ...Was a Real Boy, features seven tracks that were originally from an eight-track EP known unofficially as the Say Anything vs. AIDS demos. As noted in the reissue's liner notes, the EP, which was recorded in Kevin Seaton's garage, was scrapped by Bemis as he did not feel the band was popular enough to sufficiently support such a cause.
A second reissue came in the form of a "double gatefold 12-inch LP" released by Doghouse Records on October 23, 2007, which included all tracks from the original reissue plus an extra track, "Walk Through Hell," originally from the Menorah/Majora EP. This release included a green record and a black record. Only 1,000 copies of the album were printed.
Doghouse Records released the third re-issue of the album on October 7, 2008. Like the previous release, the version was on vinyl only and was limited to 1,000 copies.
A fourth re-issue was made available for pre-order on February 22, 2012 through Doghouse Records in the form of a "gatefold double LP on opaque white and olive green splattered vinyl." Only 250 copies were made for preorder, 10 of them coming with the test pressings used in production of the LP. Both versions were sold out within two hours of being made available for preorder.
...Is a Real Boy has received almost universally positive reviews from music critics. AbsolutePunk.net reviewer Jason Tate awarded the album a 99% rating and praised the band's writing, saying "By the second song it is perceptible that the band has a grasp on crafting songs that do not follow a formula, or insult the listener by maintaining a hold on one particular style or sound." Allmusic's Corey Apar also gave the album a glowing review, writing "...Is a Real Boy comes off as an impressively well-done, multifaceted effort that deserves multiple spins and makes Say Anything truly a band to watch." Punk News noted that the album seems to be commenting in the over-use of irony in the emo scene, writing "Yes, this album is highly ironic in that it's critical of the scene it's categorized in and it's an album about a band and there are songs in here that are about songs. But, Bemis's overall quirkiness makes it work." Entertainment Weekly wrote that, "Say Anything, an emo act based in L.A., has a new disc that proves that the genre can be artful and intriguing." BuzzFeed included the album at number 19 on their "36 Pop Punk Albums You Need To Hear Before You F——ing Die" list.
All tracks written by Max Bemis with the exception of "Metal Now," which was written and composed by Bemis and Kevin Sachs (Casper Adams), according to the album's liner notes.This is a rerecording of an earlier version appearing on Menorah/Majora, and it also appears on the various artists compilations Punk the Clock 3 and Alternative Press Play, Vol. 1: Back to School.
...Is A Real Boy has four vinyl pressings, the first being released October 23, 2007. The second pressing was released October 7, 2008 and a third pressing in 2008. The fourth pressing was released May 29, 2012.
+United Kingdom release on Doghouse RecordsBanquet Records
According to the liner notes:Max Bemis – vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards
Coby Linder – percussion, drums
Additional credits, also from the liner notes:Stephen Trask: additional keyboard and piano on ...Is a Real Boy
Casey Prestwood – additional guitar and slide guitar on ...Is a Real Boy
Casper Adams – vocals and guitar on "Metal Now"
Ariel Rechtshaid: keyboard and programming on "Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too"
Additional Vocals on ...Is a Real Boy: Caitlin Broderick, Patrick Carrie, Kyle Fischer, Robb MacLean, Robert Mann, Adrienne Pearson, Vanessa Peters, Blair Shehan, and Sierra Swan
Gang vocals on ...Is a Real Boy: Casper Adams, Dan DeLauro, Aaron Farley, Carrick Moore Garety, Morgan Silver Greenberg, Paul Jeffrey, Tim O'Heir, Nick Panama, Austin Peters, Matt Rubin, Kevin Seaton, Bryan Sheffield, Claire Weiss, and Jeremy Weiss