New Jersey’s emo pop-punk pioneers Saves The Day make their long-awaited return this month with album #9 via Rude Records and Equal Vision Records (North America). Since releasing their debut album Can’t Slow Down back in 1998, Saves The Day have embarked on an epic journey of global success, whilst battling member changes, van accidents, record label movements, and much more. One thing has remained constant, however, and that is founding member and songwriter Chris Conley. By his own account, “This album is the story of Saves The Day and my own personal journey through life, which all unfolded as my relationship with music progressed.” I was lucky enough to catch up with Chris to discuss the album in more depth…
It’s been five years now since your self-titled album, which at the time was billed as a reinvention of your sound. What have you been doing in that time, and how did this record develop?
Chris Conley: Yeah, it’s funny that it took so long, it didn’t feel like five years but time just goes quicker as you get older. But we were just touring and touring and playing festival after festival and having a blast doing it, and I really didn’t realize the years were going by so quickly. It was only when starting to do interviews for the new album that somebody even brought that to my attention, so that’s bizarre! It certainly didn’t feel like the longest gap we’ve had between records, but sure enough, it is. But we were also doing other musical projects. I’ve got a couple of other bands on the side, and Saves The Day kept getting offered tours and we kept wanting to tour, so by the time it was last summer and we had six months off we thought, “This is perfect, let’s make a new record.”
So you took those six months to write the songs for this record?
Conley: Actually, I kind of write songs all the time. Whenever the songs come into my head, I just grab my phone and sing them into a voice memo, then grab a guitar and figure out what’s going on. So once we had this period of six months off, I just sat down in my studio and started to sift through all those ideas that had come off over the last few years, and I picked out my favourite songs to work on. So then I just started putting them together and writing the lyrics and whatnot. I then flew to Nashville, and we learned all the songs in the studio and recorded them, and on the other side, we had a brand new Saves The Day record.
Ready for a “Rendezvous” with Saves The Day? This song also comes from the new album 9.
How long did recording the album actually take?
Conley: We spent about a month recording and about two weeks doing pre-production. I just flew to Nashville with the songs and hadn’t shown anyone the music ahead of time, so I thought it would be really fun and exciting to work on them and bring them to life in the studio, instead of going to a rehearsal space, working on them for a month and then going in and recording. So we did it fairly quickly, and I think the outcome is that the record has a very cool, exciting energy.
You always seem to have a good relationship with guitarists you work with. I know Arun (Bali) was credited as producer on this record. How much does he bring to the songwriting process?
Conley: The songwriting is my terrain, so I come up with all the songs and lyrics and whatnot, but the guys really bring the songs to life and without them, they wouldn’t be as exciting or interesting. So, when I show them the basic skeleton of the song, it’s really fun for me to hear what they do on top of that basic structure to make it even more interesting. Also, the string players Rodrigo (Palma) and Arun are so smart, they’re really really intelligent musicians and they really know music inside and out, so when I throw something quirky at them they’re really excited about that.
It’s not a challenge, so that’s really fun for me. I’ve had this line up of the band for ten years, now which is a long time for me; usually, I have people coming and going every couple of years, but they’ve been with me for ten years now which is amazing. We got our drummer Dennis (Wilson) five years ago, so it’s just a real joy to bring the songs to those guys and say, “Hey, what would you do on top of this?” I’m always amazed and always surprised. Pleasantly surprised.
Saves The Day’s latest record 9 will be released on October 26th via Equal Vision Records.
That definitely comes across with this record. So… I guess we have to talk about the song “29!” It’s quite unusual having a 21-and-a-half minute song on a record. Where did the idea behind that come from? Tell me a bit more about it.
Conley: Well, my favourite piece of music ever is the second half of (The Beatles) Abbey Road, which is 17 minutes of consecutive music. I also grew up loving Led Zeppelin and they have songs that just go on and on and on, like “Achilles Last Stand” or “The Song Remains The Same” and I grew up playing classical music in an orchestra playing the cello. So I think it’s just something I always really enjoy, just a long-running river of sounds, a river of music. I just love that journey and when we play live, just going from one song to another without stopping.
Sometimes it’s fun to play with the key changes between songs. You can make songs relate to one another; even if they’re on different albums, they somehow work when you put them back to back. So it’s just been a real fascination of mine for a long time. I tried it once before on the first song of our album Daybreak, and that song was eleven minutes which was five songs in one, and that was just so much fun that I always have in the back of my mind I wanna outdo myself, I wanna make a really really long song! What’s fun about “29” is that on the vinyl the first eight songs of the record are on side A and “29” is the entirety of Side B.
Being the pioneers of that snappy emo pop-punk sound, do people’s reactions to something like “29” worry you?
Conley: No. What’s really cool is that people seem to like it a lot, so that certainly makes it a little easier. But I’ve always been really fortunate not having to worry about people’s reactions because of our loyal fanbase, and because we’ve always been able to work with incredible record labels that are just dedicated to making good music and working with good artists. I’ve just been the luckiest guy in the world, so I’ve been able to just focus on my craft, focus on writing songs that I like. Focusing on making music with people I like. And really I can’t thank our fans enough for that gift.
“Kerouac & Cassady” sounds good right about now. Here’s the lyric video for the new song, also off of 9.
Do you have a favourite song on this record and why?
Conley: “Suzuki,” the second song, is my favourite song. It’s the total opposite of “29” in terms of length, that song is only one minute and 19 seconds long, and the reason that that song is so exciting for me is that it took the same amount of time to write it as it took to listen to it! I was driving home one night and the song just appeared in my head, and the melody was so brilliant to me. I put the pedal to the metal and raced home as quickly as I could, grabbed the song, sung the melody into the voice memo, grabbed the guitar, learned the chords, and the words started coming out, whilst sitting there writing the song on this black and red couch in my studio.
It was just a real thrill to watch it happen, and I really enjoy the process so much. I feel so lucky that I get to catch these songs when they float into my head, and so it’s a really weird little song. It’s basically three verses with a guitar solo in between verse one and two and a bass solo in between verses two and three. It’s just a really short song! And for me, it reminds me of early Saves The Day songs that didn’t follow a typical pop song structure. What’s exciting as well, it just reminded me of the old days and the lyrics wound up being about sitting there writing the song, playing a burgundy Les Paul I played on Can’t Slow Down so long ago, writing album #9. So it was a fun song to get to grab outta the air.
So you’ve announced some U.S. dates for early next year. Any plans for the UK and Europe? What are your touring plans on this record?
Conley: Yes, we absolutely do, I can’t talk about it just yet but I’m so excited we’re going to be coming over next year for sure. Looks like late spring (2019). Keeping our fingers crossed the plans that have been set in motion come to life because I think everyone who’s going to be able to come to these shows are going to be more than pleasantly excited and surprised.
Check out the video for “Side By Side” taken from the new album 9.
With nine albums now under your belt, have you thought about a set list yet?
Conley: Yes! Actually, we were talking about a set list this week and were ticking about an average of three songs from each record, give or take a couple, and then a bunch of new songs. So it’s going to be a little bit of everything.
With this record and the previous few feeling very positive, compared to the older more darker material. Do you find it difficult singing the older material now?
Conley: No, what’s amazing is that the songs change over time. So I could wind up singing a song that I wrote when I was 17, and realizing that that kid was dealing with stuff that was pretty deep. I’m just proud that he made it through that stuff, so for me, the songs are so much about survival and learning how to get through the ups and downs. I’m also really proud of the lyrics going all the way back to the start, and grateful I had a lot of really good training in creative writing. I was taught early on how to actually be a poet, so my craft was starting at such a young age. I’m really just a fan of it all…
I’m going to ask a question which I think I know the answer to but because this album feels very reflective, is this going to be the last Saves The Day record?
Conley: No way! I’m never going to stop. It’s just that time of life where you start to look back and go, “Oh my gosh, I’ve been doing this for over twenty years!” This is wild! So it’s just where I am in life right now, but I cannot wait until the next album. I’ve already got the first two songs written.
Just finally, I’m a huge fan of The Bug Sessions series you released between 2006-2008. Have you any plans to bring that back, or any other acoustic plans in the works?
Conley: Oh! That would be cool! You know I hadn’t thought of that in a while but that would be really fun. I think that’s a good idea. I’d like to do a tour that’s like The Bug Sessions, and reimagine some of the songs and bring out like a cello or section of flutes!