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Interview: Saves The Day

As I near 40, staring down the barrel of my mortality and realizing the limitations inherent in getting older, I’ve been doing my best to look forward as much as thinking about and appreciating all of the things that made me the person who I am today. A lot of that looking forward has to do with the media I consume - films, books, music, etc. An even bigger portion of that is thinking about my kids and what they’re consuming, for sure, but also what I can share with them, now or… eventually. 

Saves The Day has been a part of my sonic makeup since 2001. I had just moved to New Jersey, where it was hard to ignore all of the incredible music coming out of the area at the time. Vagrant Records and Equal Vision Records, among others, were in the midst of transforming the emo-tinged indie scene of the late 90’s into a true cultural behemoth. By that point, Saves the Day already had several albums under their belts, Can’t Slow Down, I’m Sorry I’m Leaving, and Through Being Cool were part of the musical lexicon, and Stay What You Are - an album that would completely and totally reshape how I listened to and understood what music could mean, and be, and do - was on the horizon. 

I can’t overstate what so many of Saves The Day’s albums mean to me, and how excited I am to share them with my kids when the time comes.

There are only a few musicians today that I’ve had on a “If the opportunity ever comes up” kind of list, and Chris Conley, founding member, vocalist, and principal songwriter of Saves The Day has always been one of them. My sincere thanks to Chris for taking the time to answer my questions, which you can read below. They’ve been slightly edited for clarity. 

It’s tempting to start at the beginning, but I’m really curious about where the band is now - what has it been like to record and tour with this newest version of Saves The Day? 

The newest version of Saves isn’t so new! In fact, our guitar player, Arun, and our bassist, Rodrigo, have been with the band for over 10 years now, and our drummer, Dennis, has been with the band for over 5 years, so it’s a solid team and we love playing together and making music in the studio. We added a new guitar player, Chris Keene, about a year ago so I could go back to just singing on stage and it’s been a total blast touring as a five-piece.

This is your second time through the Cincinnati area in less than a year - so it seems like you’re really trying to come through markets that maybe hadn’t seen you in a while. What’s it feel like to be back on the road and touring a bit more consistently?

I absolutely love to sing and I love being in this band so it’s a dream, to be sure. I can’t believe we still get to play our music for people who care after all these years. Who knew way back in 1997 that a thousand years later we would still be touring and making records? I feel like the luckiest guy in the world!

Last year you released your 9th album, 9 -  it’s definitely a more contemporary, rock-oriented version of the band. How has yours and the bands evolution gotten you here? Where do you want to go next?

I’ve been learning about music and studying for so long now it’s nice to put all that knowledge into our records and live shows. The journey has been incredibly rewarding all along the way. For the last few records with Arun and Rodrigo as part of the team, it has been beyond fun to create music and bring it to life in the studio — they are both so accomplished at their instruments and so gifted as musicians. Before they were in the band, communicating the ideas I heard in my head could be a bit of a struggle, but since they’ve been in the band it has been a genuine joy. From here on it’s onward and upward and I can’t wait to see what’s next.

With the return of The Bug Sessions, this seems like a good way to segue to the 3 album trilogy and what came before it. But before we get to that, can you talk a little bit about bringing back The Bug Sessions and what that means to you and the current iteration of Saves The Day?

The Bug Sessions are a cool way for us to reimagine classic Saves songs and to approach the older compositions in the way that we would treat them if they were written today. It’s also a fun way to offer our fans something cool at our concerts that they wouldn’t be able to find online. We grew up playing shows back when you could almost only find a band’s demos or records at their shows, so it’s a bit of a blast from the past as well.

So, looking back a little bit - Through Being Cool, Stay What You Are, and I’m Sorry I’m Leaving made an impact on indie music, and on the fans who cherish those records, that’s still felt today. What has it been like to bring some of those tracks back out on the road, especially in contrast to what the band is doing now?

Well, to be fair, we never stopped playing those songs because they’re so fun to play! In fact, we play music from every single Saves album almost every night, even songs from our first album Can’t Slow Down. We have even been playing a song from the Saves The Day demo tape recorded way back in April 1997 on this tour with Joyce Manor. It’s fun to play the older songs in a way that makes sense to us as older musicians and we try to approach the music as if we had just written the songs so they sound fresh and new all over again. It is beyond an honor to be a band whose music can still connect with people even decades after it’s released, and since the songs are still so fun and engaging live, every show is exciting and fun.

As a follow-up, are you surprised at all by what those albums have become to your fans? Then, just as much as now? 

Absolutely, it is beyond my wildest dreams to have this music mean so much to people after all these years. It was wild back then when people were getting into Saves and coming to see shows and singing along, and it’s a gift to get to keep making records and playing shows so many years later. Truly blessed!

Also - a friend of mine was at an acoustic show of yours back in ‘99, at the Palladium - he mentioned headwalking and a much more… excited atmosphere than would have normally been expected at a show like that. Do you remember that show? And, why do you think Through Being Cool, and even I’m Sorry I’m Leaving, have been and continue to be so popular with the hardcore community?

I remember that show! It has always blown me away that the acoustic music and the more mid-tempo songs have connected with people who love hardcore. I think the reason the music works so well in that world is that we come from the same place — We were just kids who loved hardcore and punk and we shared the same spirit and the same beliefs. 

We recently headlined the Saturday night show for This Is Hardcore festival in Philadelphia and it was insane how outrageous the response was. There were hundreds of people on stage flying around finger pointing and stage diving and singing along. The hardcore community was the first home for Saves The Day, and without that underground support and encouragement there is no way we would have made it as a band. 

The reason that we started doing acoustic songs in the first place was because we loved the Project Kate album by Kate Reddy from 108 released by Equal Vision Records. The record is fantastic and the acoustic songs sounded so cool coming from someone who we associated primarily with aggressive hardcore guitar rock, so we loved the contrast that created and we decided to try to pull it off as well to have a more well-rounded sound as opposed to just buzzsaw guitars and blast beats. When hardcore fans wound up loving it and headwalking to our acoustic songs we were as surprised as anyone. Thank God for hardcore.

Can you talk a bit about the Princeton scene when Saves the Day was first coming up? Any especially fond memories? Any bands that you held near and dear to your heart from that time?

Princeton is a cool college town with an amazing college radio station and a phenomenal record store, The Princeton Record Exchange, so the knowledge of underground music was vast and people appreciated punk, indie-rock, alternative, and hardcore, which meant there were tons of shows around town in basements and banquet halls and sidewalks and parking lots. We used to set up and play wherever you could find an outlet, and the police would inevitably shut down most shows but they were always cool about it because it was apparent that there were a lot of eager musicians around and it was a healthy outlet for a bunch of disenfranchised young punks. 

People would band together to put on shows and host incoming touring acts all the time and I remember seeing some of the earliest emo bands come through town and play to ten people at The Princeton Arts Council. It changed my life! I have been a fan of underground music for 25 years because bands like Shades Apart and H20 and Mouthpiece would come to town and play, and we used to have massive Krishna gatherings where Ray Cappo would come and talk to hundreds of kids who came in off the street. It was welcoming and inclusive to be a part of that world and for a kid who felt out of place in his own skin it was and is a home for which I am eternally grateful.

A bit more about your early albums - are you at all surprised, or are you still surprised, by the response fans had and still have? Do you feel like you’re battling that legacy, or are you happy that fans still have such a visceral connection to it?

I’m amazed that this is all happening to begin with! I can’t say it enough, I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to live this dream of a life. The fact that the music connects with people and helps them feel less alone in this crazy world is a gift. I am genuinely in awe of it all and I feel nothing but gratitude to be part of this bizarre and beautiful experience. I am honored to be able to continue our legacy and to keep making music and singing along with our amazing fans all over the world.

What’s the biggest, or most noticeable change, you’ve seen in the 20+ years you’ve been making and releasing music? What’s good, and what’s not so good?

I suppose the biggest change is the fact that people used to have to buy albums in order to hear bands and now they can listen for free. It’s both good and bad because while more and more people can hear your music from anywhere across the world there are less and less resources for working bands to ensure that they can continue creating their art. However, we all know there are many, many more problems in this world and it’s nothing close to a catastrophe that musicians have a harder time making ends meet. We’re all in this together after all.

One thing that came up when I was talking to some friends about sending you some questions was In Reverie, and how it’s come back around recently and is quite fondly remembered. That felt like such a shift for the band at the time, and still stands out as one of the bigger risks the band took. Can you talk about what that was like and how opinions of shifted the way that they have over time?

In Reverie was a blast to write and record! If you go back to our first album and listen to songs like “Three Miles Down”, “The Choke”, “Jodie”, and “Always Ten Feet Tall” you can hear the band beginning to evolve already which lead to the sound of Through Being Cool, and songs from that record like “My Sweet Fracture” and “The Last Lie I Told” are a precursor to the intro for “At Your Funeral" from Stay What You Are and “Nightingale”, “Freakish”, and “This Is Not An Exit” so in my eyes In Reverie is clearly the next step in the evolution of the band. 

At the time, I was learning a lot about guitar and growing in leaps and bounds as a songwriter, and I was also learning about how to properly sing after years of thrashing my throat on stage yelling like a punk singer and losing my voice from time to time. Saves has always continued to grow as a band from day one and the thread that connects all the albums is clear to me so I’m glad people are beginning to come around to some of the more bizarre sounding songs and albums.

With this tour, you’re closing in on 25 years of making music, releasing albums, and touring. As someone who has been creating for so long, and who is obviously passionate about what you do, what keeps you engaged? And, of course, what comes next?

I love music! I genuinely love, love, love to sing. It is so much fun to grow as a performer and to work hard at my craft. I enjoy singing when I’m home to make sure my voice stays in shape for touring, and I love trying new things and challenging myself to keep getting better. On top of that, I can’t believe I get to write music and lyrics for a living, and getting to write albums is just too, too much fun. Whenever the muses strike and I suddenly notice a melody swirling around my head, I feel humbled and grateful all in the same breath. It’s exciting! It’s such a thrill to get to bring the songs to life and to work hard with my bandmates to make sure the music is as good as it can be. So we look forward to the years to come and can’t wait to see and hear what’s next.

I have a dozen more questions to ask, but I’ll end it here for now… Is there anything else you would like to add or mention?

Psyched for the show in Cincinnati!

Thanks again to Chris for his passion and sincerity, both in answering my questions and, more importantly, in the music that he and Saves The Day have created.

Catch them live at The Woodward Theater tonight, along with awakebutstillinbed and Joyce Manor. Catch me somewhere in the building, singing along. 

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