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.
The Down and Dirty: An interview with The Aggrolites
We chat to “dirty reggae” kings The Aggrolites about their new record Reggae Now!
It’s been a long time between records for Los Angeles reggae band The Aggrolites. 8 years to be exact. After countless albums and endless days on the road, the band felt like it was the right time to step away from the grind of writing, recording, touring. But the extended break between records meant the band just had time to get some air, recuperate and find the charge that would ignite that next spark. That next spark ended up becoming Reggae Now!, a collection of the band’s signature “dirty reggae” sound, packed with life-affirming songs about hope and positivity. And while the album isn’t afraid to challenge and question the current landscape we find ourselves in, it doesn’t shy away from having a good time.
The record has received some lavish praise, with noted filmmaker, DJ, and Big Audio Dynamite co-founder Don Letts saying; “Their tunes perfectly echo the human chemistry you can hear in those early Jamaican productions. The band’s old-school analog sound totally captures the spirit of the music I grew up on“. While Specials vocalist/guitarist Lynval Golding has said; “This is THE album.“
It’s easy to say that one of the most influential bands of modern American reggae is back. But the truth is, they never left. In between stops of their current North American tour, we had a chance to chat with vocalist and guitarist Jesse Wagner about Reggae Now!, how it feels to have written the record on their own time, and the significance of reggae music in America.
Congrats on the new record; how does feel now that it’s out?
It feels awesome. We are beyond stoked to see how positive the vibes are coming from all the fans old and new.
It was a long time between records- 8 years. It was the right time to take a break after 2011?
We felt so. We were going hard on the road for a good decade. I think 250 days a year can wear anyone out. We never quit though. We just needed some time to do our own thing with our families and friends back at home.
How did Reggae Now! come together- was there a spark that got you guys back into the writing process?
It just felt like the right time. We had talked about it for a while and when it happened it just worked.
Was this the first time you had the chance to write and record an album without the pressure of label deadlines? How did it feel that you could just write Reggae Now! on your own time- the way you want to 100%?
Yes it was. And it felt really chill and relaxing knowing that time was on our side. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
How did you connect and end up working with Pirates Press Records? It seems like a great fit- plus their roster of artists is incredible.
I’ve known Skippy for a long time now and have been a fan of what he has been doing with Pirates Press for years. Playing the style of music we play isn’t necessarily an easy target to market. We knew Skippy and Pirates Press would know exactly what to do with our album and are all grateful for them.
For those who may not be too familiar with the Aggrolites- share with us a little bit of your history and how the band came to be?
We’ve been around since 2002. We all pretty much come from the same scene in Los Angeles and all have the same love and passion for old school Jamaican music. With that passion, the band has managed to keep it going ever since.
How has the tour been so far? You guys are hitting cities all across the US until August; how is touring and getting to meet and perform for the fans now than, say, back in 2002?
It’s been an amazing run so far. If anything, things are getting better. I think with the internet it’s easier for people to find out about certain genres of music. We’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback.
I love the video for “Pound for Pound”- where did you shoot it? How was it?
It was filmed in the San Fernando Valley at an equipment rental spot called Zio. Our friend Josh Rousch was the director and mastermind behind the whole thing. We had a blast filming it. So much fun and we were stoked to have some Aggro fans involved in the video also. That was a first.
Let’s talk about reggae- because it’s such an important genre of music (in my view) and I think some people only see it in one color. But there’s a lot of history and culture- how did you discover reggae and what are some of the most important aspects of the music and culture to you and the band?
I found out about reggae probably like the majority of the American youth from the early 1990s; punk rock and Two-Tone. The thing that got me stuck on it was how tuff of a sound it is, but at the same time so beautiful. It is by far the most interesting music I’ve ever gotten into. I love how they sang about social issues going down on their small Island, but how powerful the lyrics would be in relating to people all over the world.
Reggae, and ska and rocksteady seem to have a close relationship with punk. You guys have toured with and are close to many punk bands; what is it about the two genres that make sense and connects?
I believed it all goes back to the late 1960s when reggae became popular with the working class in the UK. It’s music for the people. Songs about struggle and overcoming it. Very rebellious music also. I believe Don Letts said it best that reggae was the soundtrack to the punk rock scene throughout the late 1970s.
How important do you think music of good vibes is in today’s world? I think maybe the world could use a little more Reggae Now.
I thank you for saying that and agree 100%. We’ve always said we are “Feel Good” music. Sometimes it’s nice to just play a record and have a good time. Especially in this day and age. There is a lot of corruption going on and hopefully, we can ease people’s minds from negativity with our album.
The Aggrolites’ new album, Reggae Now!, is available via Pirates Press Records.
Everything Will Be Alright: An interview with Ogikubo Station
There is great joy in simple chords and simple melodies. It is, after all, the feeling of comfort that these things often bring. Comfort from the day’s burdens, comfort from the issues that disappoint us, comfort when the sunsets bring us joy. Ogikubo Station, the music project of Maura Weaver (of Ohio punks Mixtapes) and Mike Park (of Asian Man Records), is that kind of comfort. It is music that makes us think of the week we’ve just had, music that makes us want to do better in our every day, and music that makes us laugh, cry, and sing-a-long.
Fresh off the release of a new 7” EP Okinawan Love Songs, we chat to Maura and Mike about the new songs, making music from distances, and how Ogikubo Station came to be. The chat was a reminder that music can be the result of many things and many reasons. Some simple, some more complicated. It was also a reminder that if we’ve got the music, then maybe, just maybe, everything will be alright in the end.
You released your full length We Can Pretend Like last year- was there a catalyst that sparked getting back into the writing and recording again so quickly?
Maura: I think Mike just called me and said do you want to come out to California and do some songwriting, and then while I was out there he booked two days in the studio and said “Guess what? We’re gonna record a 7 inch.”
Mike: Is that what happened? Haha. I can’t remember. I know we had “Would I Break My Heart Enough For You” written and we were playing it live, so I thought “let’s just add a couple more songs and release a fun 7 inch.”
Did you write these songs the same way you’ve written in the past; from a distance?
Mike: Not this time. Since it was only a few songs we just rehearsed for a day and then recorded.
Does that process ever get easier, being quite far apart?
Maura: Not really. I prefer being able to collaborate in person and I believe that’s the plan for the next record. We started writing 4 new songs aside from what’s on this 7 inch to go towards the next Ogikubo full length.
Mike: Yeah, it’s not the best case scenario, but I’ve been doing with a lot of different projects over the years. Sending mixes and vocal parts and asking various friends to guest on records, so it’s not that bad actually.
How was having Dan (Andriano) play bass on this EP? Will you be working with him again in the future?
Mike: I’ve known Dan since he was a teenager, so I just called him and said “Dan, I’m gonna send you a couple of songs for you to play bass on” and he was like “okay”. He has his own home studio and he’s kind of a gear head, so I knew it would be easy for him to do. I’d love to do more stuff with him, but I guess we’ll see.
Maura: Heck yes! I’ve been an Alkaline Trio fan since I was 14, so this is all kind of geeking out excitement for me.
For those who are new to Ogikubo Station – tell us how you ended up collaborating together?
Mike: Maura, you want to tell it?
Maura: Sure. So I was visiting the San Francisco/Oakland area where my sister lives and we were hanging out with my friend Danielle Bailey who is also friends with Mike. Danny had posted some photos of us hanging and Mike called Danny and said: “ask Maura if she would record a song with me”. So we drove to San Jose and we recorded a song called “Weak Souls Walk Around Here” and that was it. Just a one-time thing.
Mike: And at that time I believe I told Maura I’d like to put out her solo album and so for the next 2 years I would bug her every couple months to see how it was going and she would say “oh, I’m still working on it”. And then I finally said “hey, let’s start a project together” and thus Ogikubo Station was born.
How many bands are you in now Mike?
Mike: Kitty Kat Fan Club, Ogikubo Station, Bruce Lee Band …are the only ones that play, but I’m working on a couple of new projects. Always doing music.
Maura, how different has it been with Ogikubo Station than say, writing and recording with Mixtapes? Do the different processes give you new ways to write and approach songwriting?
Maura: I guess the biggest difference is the distance factor and that Ogikubo is not a full-time band. Mixtapes was my first real band and it was at a time in my life when everything was a first. First tour, first record, first van, the first van breaking down. I was still in my teens with Mixtapes and we all lived in Cincinnati. So it’s very different with Ogikubo. It’s hard to explain fully, but both bands have definitely been influential in different ways. But the basic idea of writing a melody over a strummed guitar chord is the same no matter the situation.
I love the TMBG cover on the new EP, and the fact that you chose to keep it lo-fi—what are some of the other bands you say would have directly led to the music and songwriting of Ogikubo Station?
Mike: I guess I’ve been listening to a lot of 80’s bands as of late and just kind of falling in love again with bands like Hoodoo Gurus, the Replacements, REM, and then newer bands like ALVVAYS, PUP, and Laura Stevenson. I’m always just looking for a good melody and some lyrics that aren’t filler bullshit.
Maura: I listen to so much music. From Kate Bush, TMBG, Desmond Dekker, Operation Ivy, to Beyonce and Taylor Swift. It’s hard to say what influences Ogikubo Station, but those are some bands I’ve been listening to lately.
Mike, I know on Twitter recently you’ve expressed your frustration and anger at a lot of the political things that are happening in the US (hopefully that’s not the cause of those grey hairs!) – but as songwriters, do you feel that it’s more important than ever to provide listeners with fuel to fight for equality and kindness, or do you feel that its just as important to provide an escape through music?
Mike: I’ve always felt music is political even when you aren’t trying to make it political. The sounds fuel the soul, creates the body to move and puts you in moods that you may not even realise are happening. Music has been my solace when it comes to expression and emotion. An outlet to get my ideas across in an artistic and productive manner. I don’t feel it’s imperative to be overtly political. I try not to shove politics down your throat, but if something comes to mind and I write about it and it happens to be classified as political, so be it.
Maura, you did the artwork for the new EP, an illustration of your Okinawan grandmother. The art is beautiful, can you tell us a little bit about your art and how you came into illustrating?
Maura: I’ve always enjoyed illustrating and painting. Creating art: With a guitar or a brush or a pen/ pencil. I wanted to draw my grandmother and give it to her as a present. When Mike saw the drawing he asked if we could use it for the 7-inch cover. It wasn’t meant to be the cover, but after mike brought it up I said of course.
What are some of the things you’re looking forward to on this UK tour? You guys are going all over England, and then to Wales, and then Scotland.
Mike: Sadly I’m not going on the tour this time due to some hearing damage I have sustained, but I’m still going to Brighton for a wedding, so I will be there for 3 days. And I’ll try to do every stereotypical British thing. TEA/MILK/FISH/CHIPS/MUSHY PEAS.
Maura: Getting to travel with my best friend Megan is the most exciting part of this UK tour. She’s never been before and that makes it that much more special being able to share this experience together. We are both Vegan/Vegetarian and one of our favorite things to do is eat, so we’ll checking out the different vegan spots in every city. And just meeting new friends, seeing old friends, and Edinburgh. I can’t wait to go to Edinburgh.
Is there a new full length on the horizon?
Mike: I’d like to work on one next year. I’m tapped out for this year. I’m gonna work on some new Bruce Lee Band stuff next and then I have a couple of other collaborations, but hopefully sometime next year we can start the process for the next full length.
Maura: That sounds good to me. It will give me a chance to keep writing songs.