Saves The Day have been a longstanding powerhouse of alternative rock, constantly evolving their sound across a widespread discography. Spearheaded by the songwriting genius of Chris Conley, the band released ‘Daybreak’ last year to rapturous appraisal, concluding the band’s highly ambitious trilogy of introspective concept albums. Chris Conley recently spoke with Kill Your Stereo about ‘Daybreak’, the band’s upcoming appearance at Soundwave 2012, and his journey towards finding acceptance in his life.
Tell me a bit about yourself and your role in the band?
I write all the lyrics and all the songs, and I play guitar and I sing. I’m a simple guy, I like to read and I like to be outside and spend time with my family. I’m a nice person and I care about people.
How did the writing and recording process for Daybreak differ from previous releases?
Well I guess I have to include it in the whole trilogy, because it was all a conceptual work, and I started that in 2004. The writing of the trilogy differed from the other albums because in the past, I’d just write a collection of songs, and they weren’t linking together with any theme. The trilogy was united under an ark, and the idea of the trilogy was to bring myself back to life and rescue myself from a dark place. Whereas in the past, I’d write songs and just set aside the ones I liked, for the trilogy I had to be writing songs and setting them aside for the certain albums within the trilogy that matched up with the theme of each section. So, if I wrote a song that was uplifting, I knew it was for ‘Daybreak’, and I would just put it aside, and then when I found a song that was more aggressive I knew I could include it on the first album. If I wrote material that was more twisting and turning, I knew that was part of the second album of the trilogy. Lyrically it was the same. I kept a chart of all the lyrics and organised them by album, and I had a huge poster board in my studio where I was making notes in the margins and highlighting important themes and drawing conclusions, and it was a lot of fun to work like that. It was more like working on a movie or a novel than any albums that I had worked on in the past.
Why was there such a lengthy gap between the releases of ‘Daybreak’ and ‘Under The Boards’?
Well, ‘Under The Boards’ came out in 2007 and we toured for a year, and then in 2008 we had a guitarist leave the band who didn’t want to tour any longer. We were just about to start demoing for ‘Daybreak’, but we had to put that off until we found a new guitar player. By the time we found a new guitar player, it was late 2008-early 2009 and we had a lot of touring to do, so we couldn’t get back into the studio until later on that year in the summer. When we were about ready to start working in earnest on the album, the rhythm section of the band departed to return to their original band Glassjaw, who had a world tour set up, and so we had to put it off again and we needed to look for a rhythm section. By the time we found a rhythm section it was already early 2010, and then we had another tour booked, so it wasn’t until April of that year that we were able to get into the studio and start work on ‘Daybreak’. It was just logistics.
What were some of the influences behind the album, musical or otherwise?
Musically, I was listening to a lot of 90s music, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Stone Temple Pilots, things like that. Lyrically, I was pulling from my own hard experience and just trying to be truthful in how I felt and the things I think about, like I always do. A lot of times, the lyrics will be something I work on over time and make revisions as I go. They’re not necessarily inspired by someone else’s work, they just sort of come from my subconscious and I try to mould them as I go.
The album utilises a great deal of experimentation with genre and instrumentation. Was this a conscious decision?
Yeah, we wanted to have fun in the studio. I think the songs are a little bit more spacious than the last two albums, so there was room to explore more and we certainly had a lot of fun approaching the songs in that way and it left us with a few surprises. It was really great working on the album with Arun and Rodrigo, the new guitarist and bass player, because they had great ideas for tones and they had ideas of how to push the sound. Those guys are such mature musicians and I’ve never really worked with anybody like that. It felt like making a record with guys that have done this before and really know what they want their instrument to sound like, and they had creative ideas that were more of an inspiration to us to try and make the most of the sonic texture on the album.
You describe the album as being about acceptance. Do you feel that you have found acceptance in your life?
Yeah, absolutely. I think a few years ago I was definitely at war with myself and the world, and I was just sort of angry at how things were, you know, all the injustice. I think anybody would be hard-pressed to not look closely at the world and not feel some form of discomfort or think that there’s something not quite right with the world. I think everybody feels that, but we make do as best we can. I guess I’m just trying to make my way through it all with everyone else. Having a family has been important to me because I’ve had to learn how to make my way through the world without being at war with it. Honestly, the only way to do that for me was to explore the truth of the emotions that I was having, whether they were depression or cynicism or anger. Once I started to explore those feelings, instead of storing them away; most people say, “Well, why do you feel that way? You’ve got nothing to be upset about,” but sometimes it’s life itself that’s tough, you look at people and you care about them and you’re concerned about them and the world. I found that underneath the anger and the cynicism was just a depth of caring, and once I reached that level where I could really touch that tender family, I realised that I was in this life with everyone and that we were all struggling. The war was over within me, and it was taken over by a new experience of a new relationship to life, by responding to the world with compassion and not out of anger, just caring for it rather than tearing the walls down. For me, ‘Daybreak’ is not a happy ending. Acceptance just means breathing it in and taking things as they come and knowing that things aren’t going to be perfect, but that we’re going to be here together to get through it.
Has the band begun work on a new album?
Not yet, but I’m eager to look into the material that’s been gathering over the years. Every time I have a melody stuck into my head I stream it into a recorder, and while working on the trilogy, I was so focused on that that I was just sifting out the ideas that worked with the concept. There were hundreds of ideas that were set aside that weren’t appropriate for the trilogy, so the first step will be sifting through all of those and looking at what we’ve got, and then we’ll get together as a band and try to bring some of the best ideas to life and see what happens with that.
Being the only original member, would you say that you are the defining element of Saves The Day at this point?
Well, “at this point” is a funny term since I’ve been the only original member since 2001, so it’s been over ten years now. I think it’s clear to our fans and most people that Saves The Day is the name for Chris Conley’s music, and while it’s brought to life by my wonderful bandmates who flesh it out together, every song begins in my heart and mind. I finally have a band now that I think will stick with me, and these guys are just incredible musicians and I look up to them. When we’re in the studio together, I get to be surprised by what they contribute. There’s a lot less work for me to do because I can get to sit back and show them the song and say, “What would you do with this?” Straight away, Rodrigo will know what notes to play over a diminished chord, whereas in the past, that could be a tricky conversation. They’re so skilled at what they do that it’s fun for me to watch them respond to my compositions, and Arun is such an incredible guitar player. He always has a way of taking the song somewhere that you wouldn’t expect, and that is so much fun for me as a musician and as a fan of music. He takes the songs to outer space. The band is now more of a band than it ever was, but the songs will always begin in my heart and then I will bring them to the band.
The band is set to play Soundwave for the second time next month. Are you excited for the festival?
Yeah, I can’t wait! The first time in 2009 was a lot of fun, we got to see a lot of friends and a lot bands, and we got to play with a lot of people that we’d never played with before. Soundwave is set up in a great way so that there’s a lot of comradery and togetherness backstage, so I’m really looking forward to coming back and I think it’s going to be a great experience for the fans as well.
How do you feel about being a part of the last headline shows that Thursday will ever play as a band?
I feel honoured in a way, although it’s a bit mixed because it’s sad as well. In a way it’s kind of fitting, because we’re both old New Jersey bands and we grew up in really close towns and they’re just wonderful friends. I’m proud to share the stage with them as they celebrate their legacy and what they’ve accomplished. I think those shows will be filled with tears and laughter.
Tell us about the craziest thing you’ve ever done with the band?
Back in the day, it was crazy when record labels would fly us out in private jets to play radio shows, and then fly us back to wherever we had been performing on the tour we were on. That’s just kind of high flying stuff, but things don’t really get too crazy with Saves The Day. We’re really normal guys, but I think the most interesting thing that happened on tour is that Rodrigo had to break up a fight between bikers and our fans in Ohio, and he got his nose smashed in and spent the night in an emergency room getting stitches just because he was defending our fans. That’s about as wild as it will get for us.
Is there another Two Tongues release on the cards?
We’re actually gonna work on new stuff this year. Max (Bemis) and I have been talking about it more and more frequently, and hopefully we have the time to sit down together and actually work on a new album. We definitely will make a new album, and once we have a new album recorded and released we’re going to do a full Two Tongues tour.
What does the future hold for Saves The Day?
You know, I never know what the music is gonna sound like before I make it, but I’m excited to explore the musical ideas that have been gathered over the years and continue to stream into my mind. I imagine it will be pretty musical and upbeat, and I don’t imagine we’ll be all that morose, as I’ve done all the soul-searching I could possibly do. I’ll probably turn my powers of observation to the outer world, rather than focusing on my own emotions within the lyrics.
Are there any comments you’d like to finish on?
We’re really excited for Soundwave and you guys should come check it out! We’re playing two set per day.