Since the initial explosion of emo in the late 1990s, New Jersey’s own Saves The Day has made their mark on the alternative music scene. Led by Princeton-native Chris Conley, Saves The Day produced an extensive discography, including eight full-length records, that constitutes a significant and influential part of the history of Jersey rock music.
Their last release (a self-titled record in 2013) offered up spritely pop songs that seem to stick out within the band’s previous discography that includes the teenage aggression of Through Being Cool and the darker introspections from Stay What You Are and Sound The Alarm. According to a few of the members’ social media accounts, their ninth full-length is finally in the works.
In Saves The Day’s almost 20-year existence, Conley has been their main creative energy and only consistent member. And while at first glance he may appear to be a “last man standing” from the band’s original lineup in 1997, he says that there never really was such a thing since the band rotated members so constantly.
Here I spoke with Conley about growing up in New Jersey, the future of Saves The Day and the band’s upcoming release.
What was it like growing up in Princeton and entering the punk scene?
Surprisingly Princeton had an amazing punk scene despite it being so affluent. You almost wouldn’t expect that, but I suppose in any area where there’s affluence there’s also people who don’t have as much and so that creates a little bit of tension. So we were very lucky to have a community of artists and like-minded freaks to grow up with. And it very much became a part of who we were then and who I still am now.
Was Princeton Record Exchange still around when you were growing up?
The Record Exchange was almost like going to church for me because I would go every day after school… And this was before I was even old enough to have a job, I would just beg them to give me a job. And I didn’t want to be paid; I just wanted to be around the Record Exchange and I used to say, “I will alphabetize your tapes” and things like that. But regardless, I would hang out there every afternoon and they could tell I was kind of a different kid—I had safety pins in my ears and whatnot—and they would point me to these really cool bands—and not all of them punk bands. I got into indie rock through the people that worked at the Record Exchange. They’d turn me onto bands like Jawbox and The Swirlees and Archers Of Loaf. And that was a really, really great thing for me in my life because I don’t think I had a lot of people in my life that could’ve exposed me to such cool music except for 120 minutes on MTV back then.
What was it like getting exposed to music while being in NJ and in the scene then?
Oh man, that was so awesome because down in New Brunswick, which was about 20 minutes down the freeway, [they] were putting on shows because it’s more a college town and less an Ivy School town. They had shows in basements and punk rock venues and dilapidated bars and you could go and see underage shows. You could be 15 years old and at a packed punk show and in Princeton you just really have the Princeton Art Council where bands would come and play. In New Brunswick you have a lot of venues where you could actually see four or five bands play that were national touring acts but were [playing] underground. It was really important. And also there were record stores there as well.
So how is LP9 going so far?
Oh it’s going great. So the band came out to my town where I live in northern California where I have a studio and we just spent a week hanging out and we really had fun hanging out as friends. We knew it was going to be about a year from then that we were going to make the album so we weren’t under any sort of time restrictions or anything, so we really just had fun hanging out. What we did was we listened through a few hundred of my voice-memos which are my ideas as I’m out there in the world. A melody might filter into my brain, I’ll sing it into a voice memo and then… once I get home from tour I listen back through my voice-memos and pick out songs that seem interesting to me that I want to develop into actual songs.
And this time since we have so much time together we said, “Let’s go through those voice-memos together,” which was really fun since I usually do that process on my own. But this time I just really opened up the vault and we were just sitting around listening to all these fragments of song ideas and we pulled aside 63 that we really, really like. So right now I started to flesh some of those out on my own while working on other projects. But when we get together in August to rehearse for the FYF Fest, we’re going to really start turning those songs into living and breathing Saves The Day songs. So there’s a whole lot of material to work with and we’re really excited to see where it goes.
Do you think it’s going to follow the same change in tone as the last record with it being more upbeat and pop-oriented?
It’s definitely upbeat. I like hearing you say that the last one was pop-oriented. That definitely wasn’t conscious, but it’s a reflection of where I am in my life. I feel good and I’ve gone through a lot of years of growing and I’m a happy guy. I feel very lucky. So the songs that come through now are just a reflection of my heart and so the songs are definitely upbeat, a little quirky (laughs) and definitely very rock ‘n’ roll and I think it’s going to be simultaneously strange and awesome.
Has your perspective on music changed over the course of your career especially considering how critics only seem to talk about or enjoy your earliest albums?
No I think the odd thing is that people might not have this historical perspective of us [but] Saves The Day was never critically darlings. We were always the band that somebody said sounded a little weird or my voice was funny or whatever these opinions were that at the time might’ve been sort of disconcerting. But we never really cared at the same time because I’ve always made it a rule not to read what people write about us for myself; I don’t think it’s helpful. But it was from day one [that] people were always sort of thumbing their nose at Saves The Day and I never really gave a shit. I really am psyched that I get to play music so my perspective has always been the same.
We’ve always had critics, we’ve always had people saying that we should be this or we should be that and my opinion typically has been, “Well, show me what you got. I want to see your band.” You know, I like Saves The Day. I think everything we do is seriously awesome and in time you see that people catch up with that… I’m very proud of our trajectory and our evolution and I never stop to think what people are saying.
Most bands in from your original era have finished their careers or have gone on lengthy hiatus, why do you think Saves the Day hasn’t done this?
Well it’s something I can’t stop doing. I love it so, so, so, so much that I would literally do this even if I couldn’t do it anymore. I would be that guy that is somewhere at a commune playing songs in a field. Like that is actually who I am—a really simple person. I like music, I like life and I like people. And I don’t care about being like an emo star. I don’t care about selling a million records. I have no idea how many records we’ve sold. I definitely know it would be nice to make ends meet more predictably [like] the way that some of my friends who went to Princeton Day School have these jobs and have these guaranteed incomes and I think that’s just awesome, but that’s just not me. I’m an actual living and breathing artist.
Saves The Day will be playing at the Taste of Chaos show at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ on June 17. For more information, go to savestheday.com.