On September 17, three weeks into their nationwide headline tour with Into it Over it and Hostage Calm, Saves the Day released their long-awaited eighth studio album. This fact, in itself, is an amazing accomplishment for any band of this or any generation of American music. However, for Chris Conley, lead singer, songwriter, and always front man for the iconic New Jersey indie punk rock band, it is only the tip of the iceberg.
The new album, affectionately nicknamed “Grapefruit” among fans, was partially crowdfunded via Pledge Music, and marks a return to Equal Vision Records, the label that gave Saves the Day their first record deal more than 15 years ago. It is a new beginning for Conley and Co. after the 2011 completion of his three-album epic trilogy (Sound The Alarm, Under the Boards, and Daybreak) that portrayed a decade of hate, anger, pain, love, hope and then finally, redemption.
“Grapefruit” is an album that will present a pleasant quandary for notoriously loyal Saves the Day fans. Gone is most of the upbeat violent imagery and reflective emotional upheaval that has so endured Conley to the masses. What has replaced it is a pleasant, upbeat journey through various expressions of happiness, love, acceptance and hope. The freedom from morose demons that has haunted the band rings loud and true from such radio friendly melodies as “Ring Pop,” the first single of the album. Also, “Supernova,” a hauntingly edgy slow jam that can only be experienced in its full expression at 2 am on an empty freeway somewhere deep in the American landscape, with the windows down and the speedometer approaching 90.
I sat down with Chris minutes after Saves the Day finished playing to a sold-out house at Boston’s iconic Paradise Rock Club – an incredible 30-plus song set that saw the 1,000-person crowd swaying, sweating and singing along with their heroes like an old timey church revival.
Adam J Schirling: Chris, that was an amazing set. Great to hear so many old hits along with new ones. I’m surprised you didn’t play “Xenophobic Blind Left Hook.” That seems like it’s meant to be a venue jam.
Chris Conley: Oh yea, I love that song so much so we do it every other night. But we just put out the new album and we don’t want to bombard everyone with new stuff, you know? We like to show them what it’s all about and then hope that they buy it on their own.
AJS: It seems fans a lot of times can become critical if they come to a show and a band plays too many new songs.
CC: I think that’s probably true for most bands. It’s not true for me. Like if I were to go see my favorite band Sunny Day Real Estate do a show — if they played a new song I would be so excited. But you know I’m a musician who makes my own music and I’m constantly wanting to make the new stuff, so I want to hear new music that’s fresh. But I get it from the fan’s point of view because I’m a fan, too. If I went to go see the Rolling Stones, it would be great to hear “Paint it Black.” I don’t know if they even do that, but I know it would be great to hear it.
AJS: It’s been a little over a week since the new album came out. How has the response from the fans been?
CC: It’s been really cool. Each record is kind of different, so when we put out the first album, people were just starting to get to know us as a band. So at first they would listen and be like, “Oh, this is too chaotic,” or “It sounds like this other band,” or they really liked it. We put out our second album, and people were responding to us based off their expectations that had been generated from the first album. So they were saying, “Hey it slowed down,” or “This album is less hardcore.” So, you know, I kind of get prepared for that each time. I know people have their own experience with the music and I really have nothing to do with their experience of the music. But with this album, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with people’s reactions.
AJS: Speaking of fan reaction, was there any apprehension at any point to be doing such a drastic style change when you have a fan base so loyal to the old style?
CC: I think to change your music for people is wrong. I think it’s straight up wrong. I think bands need to play exactly what they want to play, and not worry about what the reaction is going to be. I mean, people are going to have their own responses naturally, but if you are trying to please them with your music and then they fall in love with your music, well they have fallen in love with an inauthentic version of you.
AJS: If albums like In Reverie (2003) had been better handled by the label and a little more openly embraced by fans, do you think that would have changed how your next few years went artistically? As in, the deeper turmoil and anger you explored in the trilogy?
CC: I think if we put out In Reverie at this point in our career, people would maybe be a little more open to it, but when it came out, we were an up-and-coming band and we were playing a style of music that the mainstream didn’t know about. I think it was jarring for people at that time for us to change. And in hindsight, I would not change a thing, but I understand what happened. And also to really backtrack going from the first Saves the Day album Can’t Slow Down and the second Saves the Day album Through Being Cool, there is a dramatic change and at the time – people say now Through Being Cool is a great record – but at the time, at the shows, the criticism that we heard was, “You guys changed and you don’t sound like those bands you used to sound like anymore.” You know, amazingly, the criticism from the first album was that we sounded like these other bands. So when In Reverie happened, at the time it was painful, but I was accustomed to people sharing their feelings as our music evolved. But to simplify just as a human being it was painful going through that time when people were overly critical. But also, it really helped me to feel confident in what I do despite criticism, because I’m gonna keep doing it no matter what. Because I’m either going to play music that people want to hear or I’m going to play music that I want to play and it was very clear what the right thing to do was … and I’m gonna just jam out!
AJS: You’re very interactive with the fans, and you have quite the active social media presence. Saves the Day also famously offered five private home shows as potential perks to contributors for your Pledge Music campaign. How has this approachability with the fans helped you as a singer/songwriter?
CC: Oh, it’s been great. You know, it’s reminded me that it’s the simple connection between a band and their fans is all that matters. You make your songs, you record an album, you put it out and there are a number of people who like it or don’t, and if you’re lucky, you get to keep playing shows. And with this pledge experience, it’s been eye-opening because they are literally the people who are allowing us to continue making music. They are actually the people who said they would give us x amount of dollars because I want to hear your new album. You know that’s as close as you get to the spirit of the 90s, because before there were record labels involved, all it was were kids in bands playing shows for kids at the show, and everybody loved it, and it was like, “This was great. See you next weekend.” This pledge experience has been like that.
(Bassist Rodrigo Palma enters the room and hears the question)
Rodrigo: Everyone who was there (at the home pledge shows) were cool as shit and very pumped, which was great because for us, they were just neat fans. We were there to celebrate the music, and they were there to celebrate the music with us. It was mutual.
CC: I don’t know the experience of going to church with a bunch of other people who just love it, but it felt like that, just this communion. It was a spiritual experience. We need a new word other than communion for the raw cosmic musical awe … that vibe …
AJS: You’re a frequent collaborator with other musicians. You did the Where’s the Band tour in 2010 with Dustin Kensrue (Thrice), Anthony Raneri (Bayside), and Matt Pryor (The Get Up Kids). Also, there’s your ongoing partnership with Max Bemis from Say Anything. Are there any other musicians who you’d like to be working with, but haven’t had the chance yet?
CC: Good question. I would love to work with Blake Schwarzenbach from Jawbreaker, or Jeremy Enigk from Sunny Day Real Estate, or Billy Corgan from Smashing Pumpkins or Paul McCartney from various ensembles, but I’m really thankful for the opportunities I’ve had and the other musicians who felt like they wanted to make music with me.
AJS: Saves The Day’s influential trilogy years albums were famously filled with deep anguish and biting anger. Was the completion of Daybreak really that cathartic of an experience that allowed you to go forward, now freehearted to create something different?
CC: Absolutely. The whole purpose of the trilogy was to get to the bottom of my suffering. To get to the root, figure out what was the problem or is there a problem. The problem was the world I live in – a world that has everything to do with competition. And as a sensitive human being, I felt alienated. I didn’t feel part of it and I craved togetherness. The whole process of writing the trilogy was conscious therapy. The first album was about diving into the darkness, into the real fact of the darkness, and the feeling like there was no point. What is the purpose of all this? But I was starting a family and knew in my heart there was a reason for all this. I was desperately searching for a sense of peace. The second album was about the realization that I have to change, that I have to deal with what this world is. And Daybreak, the third album, was about understanding why we get to be the way we are. And that the reason we are the way we are is because it’s tough, so we get lost, pissed off and sad. That’s when we start to blame things.
AJS: So, would you say the new album is the first album to be about true happiness?
CC: The new album is the first album I’ve written on the other side of feeling alienated. That I’m just ok to be alive in the world, to be in the world as it is, and I welcome it as it is.
AJS: This is the first Saves the Day self-titled album, and the fans have already affectionately nicknamed the album “Grapefruit.” Does this bother you?
CC: No, you know The Beatles put out The Beatles and everyone calls it “The White Album.” I am in no way comparing on any level (laughs), but just a way of recognizing the trend of people categorizing an album. It’s ok. It’s cool.
AJS: Hunter Thompson once said, “On some nights, I still believe that a car with the gasoline on empty could go 50 more miles with the right music very loud on the radio.” What music would make your car go 50 more miles?
CC: Oh that’s great. Led Zeppelin, the Aerosmith album rocks from the ‘70s and fucking Jimmy Hendrix, and then we’ll set the car on fire!
It has been a tumultuous run for Saves the Day, full of peaks and valleys of some magnitude. But what has emerged from the chaos is a modern indie rock band with a vast diehard fan base, an incredible new album that shows maturity and transcendence, and a tour that will ensure long memories from those same fans who will one day fondly recall that night in 2013 that they saw one of their favorite bands play an incredible set that just seemed to last forever into the night.