We brand our favorite musicians as heroes. We look up to them as they play their hearts out on stage, while we stand below them. The respect we hold for them and their ability to share their talents with us is justified. They sing the perfect words while they sing our perfect songs. But they are human, just like you and I. And sometimes, they hurt too.
Chris Conley, vocalist and guitarist of New Jersey’s Saves the Day, is twenty-four years of age, but he is a man far ahead of his number. When talking to him, it is as if you are talking to a man who has seen it all and lived it all; the good, the bad, and everything in between.
Having just released, Ups & Downs: Early Recordings and B-Sides, chronicling the history of the band, and preparing to record their next full-length, Conley gets personal and nostalgic with me about the individual hardships he faced during the early days of the band, the business, and the negativity surrounding some of his recent work and how the next album will be different.
As you are writing the lyrics and music for your next full-length, does staying current or hip with what other bands are doing at that time ever play into your mind and how do you exactly go about dealing with tempting trends so to speak in music?
Chris: Well you know what; I’ve never once deliberately tried to change the style of music. It all just happens as we evolve as people, and as our musical tastes have evolved, and as our musical abilities have evolved. It’s all been a very natural, gradual process. It all really has just flowed in a natural evolution. There isn’t any deliberate attempt to achieve anything or create anything. It’s just never been like that for me. I’m just writing these songs to get shit off my chest. Its just for me, it’s not for anybody else. I love sharing it with other people but when I’m creating it, it’s not for a single other person. It’s very cathartic. It’s not like I’m trying to create a craft or commodity or something that I want to sell a lot of records. In that moment when I’m creating the song, I’m just venting and honestly getting out my feelings.
You were able to hit some mainstream success after the release of Stay What You Are and played on the Pop Disaster Tour with Green Day and Blink 182. Were there any moments you felt out of place or awkward in any regard?
Chris: At times I would feel like “what I’m I doing here?” Why am I eating lunch in the same room as Blink 182 and Green Day every day? It was really fun and that was an amazing experience being on that tour. The bands were all sweethearts and the most genuine, down to earth guys. It was neat seeing how these guys can be these huge rock stars, and then not be rock stars.
With mainstream success come the people who criticize, and the message boards were filled with the outcry that you guys sold out by playing on that tour. How does one deal with that type of reaction?
Chris: I’ve learned a long time ago that you have to let other people’s hang-ups, be other people’s hang-ups, because if you start living by other people’s expectations, then you never find yourself in the whole mess of it all. So you just have to put the blinders on.
There was also quite a negative response to In Reverie as well.
Chris: Yeah, I know people talk so much shit about In Reverie, but there are some other people that like it, but in the end, it’s all just got to be a personal journey, and it can’t be for anybody else. If you’re making it for other people, then you’re sacrificing your true expression and your true voice. I just can’t … I mean I have in the past gone through phases, and I’ve gotten to a point where I just physically can’t allow myself to think about what that person and that person think. It doesn’t matter what other people think, it’s only for us. If we spent our lives living for other people we would be empty in the end.
How difficult was it getting to that point where you can just let go of all that and move on with life?
Chris: I have to tell you, when we first started out and put out Can’t Slow Down, and we were first playing shows to people who weren’t our friends, like we came up just playing for our friends or with friends so it was like a party… But then shows with strangers that didn’t know us… they just started saying the meanest things, because people do that to strangers almost as an excuse because they aren’t connected to your emotional sensitivity. So they just said the most horrible things, like really personal, terrible things, and I just barely turned eighteen and that’s really fucking young, I’m still young and I’m twenty-four and people were just saying things to specifically hurt my feelings. People were saying evil, mean things like how ugly I am, how I’m fat, and all these things centered on me and that was really, really, really hard and really painful and I took those things personally… So the only way I’ve come to where I am right now, where I just know that I can’t allow myself to dwell on what other people think about me is because I know that when your hung up on what someone else is hung up on, then it just eats away at you. So in order to keep going on and keep putting out music is something that I need to do, it’s not even a choice, and I can’t allow myself to dwell on what other people think.
I can tell those times were really harsh times for you, but looking back, are you kind of thankful you were able to learn things and grow from them not so happy moments and experiences?
Chris: I feel so fortunate that people said such mean things and people continue to say mean things, because you know, it puts me in my place and reminds me that I’m the only person that validates my existence and I can’t need other people to validate my existence to give me positive reinforcement all the time because the world doesn’t work like that, the world constantly is trying to beat you down and it’s just unhealthy.
Are there times when you have or you do take those moments and use them to fuel your fire to succeed musically and in everyday life as well?
Chris: It’s grown to really be a part of me. I live with a little thicker skin then I did in the past and I don’t view that as a negative thing. I’m just more able to live my life without constantly being wounded by other people’s words and that feels good. Thank God life allowed me to learn these lessons because I wouldn’t be able to keep playing music, I don’t even think I would be able to be a functioning human being. So I feel very blessed to have gone through those things.
Staying with the topic of negativity, being involved with music for several years, has the business side of music irritated you or turned you off in any ways?
Chris: At the moment, we’re not on a label, so its not hard to not worry right now because we are very fortunate and blessed to have a great fan base where we can tour on our own independently, which is really nice because we can just be a band and go about our own business. So now, we are going to wait till we have enough songs to record an album, and then were going to record it by ourselves and then explore our options. We might give it to a label to put out, or we might decide to put it out ourselves, we’re just leaving all the options open. But it’s very important to remember that while we are musicians we do work in the music business, and the music business has nothing to do with music and everything to do with business. In order to continue being a band for longevity sake, you have to abide by the rules and do the dance to a certain extent and its up to each band to choose for themselves how much of the dance they’re willing to do and still feel comfortable going to sleep at night… comfortable with all the things they’ve done and all the compromises they’ve had to make in order to try to get to the top.
Did the business side of things get in the way of In Reverie at all and was the whole process of recording that album to releasing it, a new challenge and learning experience for you?
Chris: After going through In Reverie and having it not do as well as Stay What You Arein the industry standards, at first it was devastating but yet again, it was a real hard time that now I feel I’m very fortunate to have gone through because now I realize, no matter what label your on, people are going to like your music or they’re not going to like it. So having gone through In Reverie and having it crash and burn, it kind of allowed me space from the industry because all of a sudden we had an album that was dead in the water and no one was really doing anything about it … none of the labels that promised us they would do things … that showed me it’s kind of left up to us to just make our records and continue to tour on them and go with the punches and go with the flow.
You have a chance to go back and change the past here Chris. Along your musical journey with Saves the Day, is there anything you would have approached or done differently based on what you know now?
Chris: I would have done the layout to Through Being Cool different [laughter]. Oh god, we didn’t pull off the joke appropriately and everyone thought we were being serious and it was supposed to be totally sarcastic and really campy, so it wasn’t executed properly… much like the songs on In Reverie… I would also put a little bit more “oomph” into the vocals of In Reverie.
So what is going to change in terms of style and substance for the next album; will there be more of a return of that aggressive rock from the early days?
Chris: Well, it won’t be as fast as Can’t Slow Down, because we don’t have that in our blood anymore or the desire to play that fast. It just doesn’t feel as natural. I think the thing that made In Reverie seem less powerful was just the performance. We didn’t deliver as a band. I don’t think the songs alone would have made people think twice about the record if the delivery would have been there with a lot of power behind it. I think that’s what’s going to come back on the new record: a little bit more fire.
With the general, negative response to In Reverie, are you hoping your fans and the masses accept the new album in a more positive aspect?Chris: If people don’t love our next record, that’s okay. Hopefully we will get to make another one, and if we get to make another one, we will just continue to make music… but we can’t allow ourselves to worry about having a hit single that’s going to sell a million records, because that ultimately is unfulfilling and at the end of the road and at the end of the day, the music is what’s going to last.