jason stives speaks with Saves The Day singer Chris Conley …
Saves The Day lead singer Chris Conley is not one to hide the fact that the world can be a miserable place, and as an artist, it makes it important to address these things. In a music industry marred by a lack of rock-oriented music on Top 40 radio and dwindling album sales, it’s that drive to write and perform that keeps most musicians and their fans happy in the 21st century. For almost 15 years, Chris Conley has watched friends come and go from his band, which started as a small punk group in Princeton, N.J. Seven albums, multiple labels, and a dozen lineups later, Conley is very proud of the work he has done and maintains a certain love for his creations in the same way his fan base does. Saves The Day’s latest album, Daybreak, concludes a loose trilogy that Conley describes as a way to deal with and conquer the hardships of life and the world around us. Through it all, he still loves the raw energy of playing fan favorites and introducing new ones to an eager audience.
Pop-Break senior writer Jason Stives chatted with Conley about his latest work and how fan generosity and personal fulfillment makes a happy musician.
Pop-Break: You guys just got back from Europe, correct?
Chris Conley: Yeah, we just finished an overseas tour with Yellowcard, and those guys are a solid band and phenomenal to work with. Very generous and it was a real special tour for us.
PB: I always find it interesting the bands you guys tour with. They normally seem to be of the same kind of group of bands. Like, here you are with Yellowcard, you guys are doing the holiday show with Senses Fail and about a year and a half ago I saw you guys play with New Found Glory on their self-titled 10th anniversary tour.
CC: Yeah, and then we toured with Motion City Soundtrack and Say Anything, and we try to make sure we go on tour with bands who are fun to be with and can put on the best show they possibly can, so it’s a great process in finding great bands to tour with.
PB: Well, first I just want to say congratulations on Daybreak — it’s a solid album and has been receiving a warm welcome by fans. Now it’s been out almost three months and you guys have been touring for the majority of that time. Looking back on its release, what are your feelings on the final result and response?
CC: Well, I just want to say thank you for saying that — it means a lot. I think we have been getting a great response, and even overseas it’s been so warmly received. I think that the energy is great on the record and translates well live so that the songs feel really exciting. I think it’s the most upbeat album I have made in awhile, hence the energy, and also for our diehard fans, it’s great to hear lyrics that are more optimistic. In the past, I have been trying to get to the bottom of whatever darkness is in the depth of my mind. Now that I have found that and dug it out and seen the light, I think our fans are really responding to that acceptance and the new sound is at peace abit. I see it on their faces when we perform, it it’s a sense of liberation and relief.
PB: I had been wondering about a lot of that lyrical content you had been producing on Sound The Alarm and Under The Boards. I mean, it was a lot darker. Where exactly was that coming from? I know in the past year or two, you had turn 30 so you were getting older, so it’s kind of coming out of that adolescence era in life.
CC: Well, even if you go back to the first album, there is a melancholy feel to those records and there is definitely a guy in there searching for peace in himself so that undercurrent comes with every single Saves The Day album, dating back to Can’t Slow Down. It’s not so much coming of age, it’s that, well, I believe you would agree we live in a complicated world, right?
PB: Of course.
CC: I’ve gone through my ups and downs responding to the challenges of life and just the overall outlook of the world. That there are so many people struggling and there are just a small few getting the juice of the fruit in life. I believe I am a peacemaker in life and my heart always wants to reach out and get the most satisfying part in life, not just personally but to others. It seems like it’s not that way for the vast majority of people. So that’s on the surface of life, and underneath there are more incredibly challenging themes in dealing with life and death. I don’t think we talk about it that much in our culture, we just are told to go out and get a job. Underneath my surface, there has always been that tension and just wondering what is this all about and why is it so difficult. Like, why do people get teased in school or get judged on their external appearance instead of being judged for who they are? I had a hard time finding that and struggling with it in the midst of the turmoil. So the last three albums have been my own personal therapy while going through these parts of life. Like, Sound The Alarm was my way of seizing the severity of the hate and the fascism and Under The Boards was the realization of just having to learn how to change and move on in the world without tearing it apart. So Daybreak was me finding peace and bringing myself back to life, which means not approving of injustice but just learning to love life and show the world a sense of compassion.
PB: I was definitely getting that from listening to the album, but I mean, it’s a shift in the overall tone. It was nice to hear something that uplifting. As a writer who is constantly viewing the world through his words, I can definitely see those themes looking back over those past few albums.
CC: Right, and you got to face that stuff — it’s always there the anger, the sadness and the confusion. It’s always there, but I never looked directly at it. I was always trying to find some way to feel better than acknowledging it. Like, I had to face the darkest parts of my mind so that I could live with the world and my life and that works. Well, it’s worked for me at least. [laughs]
PB: I think that kind of shows with Daybreak and the songs outside of being lyrically more simple the songs themselves were a back-to-basics feel. But the one thing I did notice obviously right off the bat was the title track. How did that suddenly turn into a 10-minute linking narration?
CC: Well I have always been fascinated with irregular song structure in pop music, whether it’s the second side of Abbey Road, the Paul McCartney song “Band On The Run,” and even “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It all happened in one moment really — I was sitting at my house playing guitar and playing these songs I had been working on over the course of months and years. Somehow they managed to fuse together without them being premeditated. I suddenly started playing the intro to that song “Somehow You Love Me” and I went right into the second of those tracks. I thought well that would be cool to be one whole song. As soon as the second part was done, I went right into the third part without thinking about it. If you read a lot of interviews with songwriters they talk about songs just finding themselves and this was definitely a case of that. These parts just became one, and at the end of 11 minutes of playing these songs, I looked at it and said that is what these five songs want to be. So it was really a magical moment, and I have no other explanation other than that. [laughs]
PB: It’s been kind of nice because it seemed like fans were not put off by that and really embracing that notion.
CC: Which is great! Some of the guys I had in the band at the time were kind of scratching their heads wondering if this was the right idea, and that’s why I am grateful for the lineup I have now because they totally got the idea and I felt relieved that they were inspired by this strange focus. The fans’ excitement really reinforced that and showed that it was the right move when like I said the people who were in the group at the time weren’t feeling it. Things change for good reasons and I’m glad I have the lineup I do right now who embrace that notion.
PB: Remembering some interviews with you back around the release of Under The Boards, it sounded like Daybreak was suppose to come out in 2008, but sadly it didn’t. Were there more obstacles in writing the final part of this trilogy, and did the overall change in the bands line up have a lot to do with it?
CC: No, it was because we had a guitar player who didn’t want to tour anymore and without him we didn’t have a full lineup to complete it that year. Fortunately, I had a side project with Max Bemis [Two Tongues], and we released a record in 2008 so that took up a lot of my time for that year. So by year’s end, when I went to go make the demos with that lineup, our guitarist was like, ‘I don’t want to tour anymore,’ so we had to put that on hold while we searched for a new guitarist. It was just logistical and we could have probably made it in then with that lineup, but I think the wait for the right group really helped what has come out of it.
PB: That lineup you have now is fantastic. I saw you guys not too long after that lineup took shape, and I was quite impressed with how well you guys worked together.
CC: Thanks, man! Yeah, musically everyone is on point professionally and personally we get along so well, and I think it’s the best we have been. We definitely have a lot of admiration for each other, and it works so well.
PB: Were you worried with the new lineup coming into a project you had basically been working on for awhile?
CC: No actually, I mean with every release it’s a new lineup, and that goes back to day one because each album has had different members introduced. So it’s always been a way to introduce new material, and I have been grateful to have had amazing musicians all along the way to introduce this music and to tour from album to album. But I have been accustomed to change and I have never been fretted by that because I believe something good will always come along with having a loyal fan base and love for my music the way I do. So it’s really just keeping the faith. [laughs]
PB: For me being a fan, I had really gotten into you guys, and right after 2003 when In Reverie came out, it seemed like you guys had disappeared and you came back with this new sound and basically what you were describing as a loose trilogy of albums with a different sound. Was there a point post-In Reverie with all the label issues that you realized you wanted to go somewhere different with your music?
CC: I have always felt each album is different. Like, if you go back to our demo, that sounds much different from our first album Can’t Slow Down, and subsequently Can’t Slow Down sounds much different from Through Being Cool and so on. It’s just the way that my music works, I never got into it for success or to maximize a potential for that. I really just love music, so I am constantly inspired by new music I find and new chords and I am always jotting down lyric ideas. I don’t think about it past that point so I just love the music and it changes from year to year with both my evolution as a musician AND as a person. The music grows as a reflection of what is going on inside me at that point. Like Sound The Alarm is angry0sounding because that is what I felt then, whereas Through Being Cool is bouncy but lyrically in turmoil because that was how I felt going out on the road for the first time and being in a band. Can’t Slow Down is the same way, it’s a very angry record because I was in high school and didn’t feel like I belonged or comfortable in my own skin so the music reflects that.
PB: When you were discussing Sound The Alarm and Through Being Cool in the same breath, it made me think back to high school and how my friends who grew up with your music reacted to something like Sound The Alarm. At first, even I wasn’t too sure, but it became very well received and well-liked even though I feel they were expecting something more like In Reverie or even Stay What You Are.
CC: It’s funny because through every lineup I have been in with Saves The Day, the reception is always something different. Like, initial reaction to things like Sound The Alarm are mute and I have noticed it takes about five years for people to catch up and see the albums for what they are and they love them for that. Their own expectations sometimes cloud their initial reaction of the albums, but I am glad that your friends dug it. [laughs[
PB: I had some friends like a few weeks ago play a holiday benefit show as like a super group of the bands from the Philly punk area and they played Through Being Cool in its entirety.
CC: I saw that! Yeah, they sent me a message on Twitter about it. That is just so rewarding for me, and I feel so honored for that.
PB: With that in mind, it’s funny how much you guys seem to balance out your shows material wise. You always seem to cover all the albums in your sets somehow.
CC: A lot of the time, we don’t play a lot of material from Can’t Slow Down because newer fans probably don’t know it as well, but I still play like “Three Miles Down” acoustically. But we always keep a good balance for every single record when we perform, and that is because that music was honest when I wrote it and I still feel its sincere for that reason. I love the songs and love playing them, so we try to play three songs from every single record each night, and I think our fans really appreciate us doing that.
PB: Now that Daybreak is out, and I guess this kind of completes that loose trilogy we talked about, have you started thinking about what is next for you guys?
CC: Oh absolutely. I’m constantly writing songs, and sometimes they come to me in my sleep and I will immediately have to sing them into a recorder. When we decide to make a new album, it starts with sifting through those ideas and finding the ones that are surprising and exciting. We throw away a lot of songs for every album that has 12 song –s there are at least 30 or 40 that get tossed, and that’s because I want them to be the best they can be. I don’t want them to be just okay, I want them to be jaw-dropping. We will probably start that process probably in the next four or five months. Late spring we can probably start demoing the next album, and with this great lineup, I can’t wait really. [laughs] We could make an album every single year if we wanted to.
PB: But would you do that?
CC: Yeah! Heck yeah! The more music, the better! [laughs]
PB: It’s funny because back in the day, it was a contractual thing for artists to release two or three albums a year, and now it’s like three to four years depending. Most don’t like to release a new album that frequent, and you hear more about the process before the album even starts demoing.
CC: To be frank, most artists have a hard time writing new songs. One of my curses is that they keep falling into my mind, like a faucet I can’t turn off. It really is a curse sometimes because I just want to go to sleep and I can’t get this song out of my head. [laughs] It’s also a blessing because I love writing songs and it’s the most fun thing in the world. The more I get to work on songs and in the studio, the more happy I am as a musician.
PB: A few months ago, I saw New Found Glory play here in New Jersey and one of the things they said on stage was how it seems so unreal to even reach seven albums anymore as a band. You guys have done that and have been going strong under the Saves The Day name now for almost 15 years. How do you keep that train going and maintain that kind of longevity in such a struggling business?
CC: It’s really that love of music, and if someone told me I had to stop touring and making music, I would still do it on the side. People still want to hear new music as much as the old, so that is a gift for me and it’s a rare experience as a musician. Most musicians can’t even get to perform live because they have to work a regular job to support themselves so they work as close to the music as they can by, like, working at a Guitar Center or something. But I’m fortunate enough where I can write and record my own songs and bring them on tour for people to hear. I have fans all over the world that are changed by that music, and I couldn’t be the more prouder for having that.