Saves the Day—A Full Circle Moment

From Bon Jovi to My Chemical Romance, New Jersey has had the privilege of being the old stomping ground of many extraordinary bands. Saves The Day just so happens to be one of them. With a hometown of Princeton and a deep-rooted history with Sayreville, the memorable and melodic pop punk group is as Jersey as it gets—and they’re proud of it! Chris Conley, the front man and one of the band’s original members, sat down with me for a chat about his appreciation for his hometown, the continuously flourishing NJ underground scene, and how one producer, one album, and one band can make a difference. 

How has the New Jersey music scene shaped you guys as a whole and the music that you make?

I think growing up in New Jersey was a huge reason that we even became a band, because there was such a great scene of a local music and touring bands that would come through our area in Princeton and nearby New Brunswick. We were incredibly lucky to be able to see bands, real bands—not just, you know, massive arena rock shows. We’re able to see punk rock bands and hardcore bands and emo bands playing in venues that felt like somebody’s basement. It was a very intimate scene and it was also very communal. So if you had a band and somebody else had a band, it was really easy to put shows together because everybody really stuck together and looked out for each other. We were just incredibly lucky to grow up in Princeton.

When you were setting out to make music and actually be a band, rather than just friends who would jam and go to shows together, did you see yourself becoming a full-fledged artist and being in a band that became such a force to be reckoned with, both in the emo/pop punk genre and the New Jersey music scene as a whole?

No, I don’t think there was any way to tell what was going to happen. We were just kids going to shows along with all these other kids, as well. Everybody was very much on the same ground. I mean they weren’t even stages at a lot of the venues. So quite literally everyone was on the same grounds and nobody was a towering over anyone else. And I’m really proud to have grown up in that sort of climate because it definitely influenced how I am as a musician and how I am as someone in the scene of underground music. Because everybody really took care of each other and was extremely supportive, there was never any notion that anybody was above anybody else. When the touring bands would come through, even coming from New York City, there was a feeling that we were just so lucky to be getting to see them and be in their presence. It was like larger than life. But we had no way of knowing that we would become part of that world of music, or eventually someday play Madison Square Garden with Green Day and Blink-182. So, it’s totally surreal to look back on that time and to think that we had no idea of what was about to happen. Yet, here we are 20 years later talking about all of it.

You just mentioned a couple of really special moments in your career over 20-plus years of touring, writing, and recording. Do you have any favorite memory of being a part of this band?

There’s so many that it’s hard to pick out any one single moment. I mean, the whole thing has been like a dream and it’s been incredible. I’ve learned so much and I’ve seen so much, and I’ve met so many incredible musicians and wonderful fans. But I do think that playing Madison Square Garden—a sold out Madison Square Garden, at that—with Green Day and Blink-182 has got to be one of the most surreal moments. I grew up watching this Led Zeppelin concert movie (The Song Remains the Same) every day when I was a kid and that was filmed in Madison Square Garden. So when we were there that day and we were about to play, it all just became so surreal and much more like a dream.

How do you think that the music industry has changed—or not—since you started out?

It’s definitely changed a ton. I think at the beginning it was almost out of the question that you could get a record deal. That seemed like it would never happen. So when we got signed to a label, you know, we were jumping up and down, we couldn’t believe it. We were so excited. And back then, you had to really sell records to make another record. Fortunately, we were on an independent label, so they just wanted to nurture us from the start. They gave us a shot. And this is before the Internet, you know, so it was before people could download music. People really bought the albums we made, and they came out to the shows we put on. They knew every word. I think once you get to streaming music or downloading music, that changed everything because it made it harder for bands just to make ends meet, because there was no economy in the interim. You used to sell records and you’d get paid royalties…. Then all of a sudden that went away. But thank God we are lucky enough that we got to continue to have a career because of these incredible record labels like Equal Vision and Vagrant Records that kept supporting us and our awesome fans that come to see us play. We’ve been lucky to have this extremely long career and to get to see the highs and the lows in the industry itself. I think for the last 10 years or so, everything has been changing so drastically because of streaming. I think that labels are trying to figure out the shape of what’s to come—and the bands as well. It really has changed what it’s like for young bands. You know, a band like us, we were so lucky to come up at a time when the industry was still sort of in that classic case. We were lucky enough to be supported by that sort of machinery. But I think it’s gotta be really, really tough nowadays. You know, there’s probably a million bands on the Internet, and there are 10 million singles, and people aren’t listening to albums as much. I don’t personally worry about that stuff, but it definitely is a sign of how it’s all changed.

A lot of bands are becoming more single or EP based, because that’s how platforms are made these days. So, if an album like Through Being Cool was released now, which song do you think would be the single for your band at this stage?

Oh, wow. That’s a great question! I think it would probably be “Shoulder to the Wheel.” We made a video for it back then, I think that was clearly a standout track and it feels sort of like a pop radio song, like melodic pop rock. So I think that’s probably the one. But what’s also cool nowadays is that people will have like four or five songs that they really love on a record. I think other songs like “Holly Hox, Forget Me Nots” would probably make it into people’s playlists, too, and “Rocks Tonic Juice Magic” and “You Vandal,” would find their way into a playlist, probably. “My Sweet Fracture,” even?

Awesome. I agree with actually a lot of those. So, speaking about Through Being Cool and these fantastic 12 tracks, a lot of them, if not all of them, truly hold up to this day. Why do you think that is?

I think it’s just a really good record and we were super-lucky to be at the right place at the right time with the right producer, with the right songs. And we had already been a band for quite a while. Brian and I, the other original member of Saves The Day, who was the drummer for the first three albums, we had been playing together at that point since 1993. So we were pretty good together. We really knew one another, and we were able to listen to each other and the band was really creative coming up with drum parts around my guitar riffs. Brian and I were getting good at what we were doing. So we were just sort of growing and learning a lot and I was getting a lot better as a guitar player, so I was able to write more interesting guitar riffs, and Brian was really encouraging [of that]. And also the producer, Steve Evetts, was always very encouraging. He did the very first Saves The Day demo! I would send him tapes of the songs I was working on and he was just so excited about it. By the time we went into recording the record, we were actually ready to record. We were pretty good. We were pretty tight. The songs were good. The lyrics were cool. I still think it’s a good record. It was produced really well and recorded really, really well. 

Steve Evetts has actually worked with a lot of bands out of this area such as The Wonder Years, Catch 22, and Frank Iero. So with you guys, early on in both of your careers, what did he bring to the table for those writing and recording processes?

Well, we learned a lot recording with him. We learned that you had to be really good at what you were doing. When you’re in the studio, you’re under the microscope. Every last wrong note is seen and heard, and you know, every last beat of the drums that isn’t perfectly in time is noticed. You can feel it. So right away, early on when we were juniors in high school, we made this first demo tape with Steve and right away we got to start learning about what it takes to be a recording artist. I think that’s something I’m most grateful for and feel very lucky that I got to experience in my career as a recording artist. I think it’s really rare for musicians to get to make tons of records. It’s one thing to play 10,000 hours on stage—you learn a lot and you can become really good. But to get to have 10,000 hours in a studio is a real gift. And so Steve was the one that was showing us pretty much how to be tight, where to pay attention to certain changes, and overall, he was really helpful for me as a singer, as I was learning how to sing then and there. I really was not a singer. I didn’t ever take lessons or anything. I was just a punk rock kid and I was basically yelling melodies before working with him. He’s a massive fan of The Beatles. So he turned me on to The Beatles and Jellyfish—real singers. And then I got really interested in learning how to sing. If you listen to the demos for Through Being Cool, which are coming out on the double album re-release for the 20th anniversary record, you can hear the basement demos where it was probably six months to a year before we recorded what became the album. I sounded a lot more rough and angry on those tapes. It’s kind of amazing for me to listen to the album and see how far I grew as a singer. I learned all that through Steve…. He really pushed me to keep going and not be afraid to change and try new things.

Switching gears a bit, you’re playing this sold out show at Starland Ballroom, which is an infamous alt-rock haven for East Coast bands. Not only does it fall exactly on the 20th anniversary of Through Being Cool’s original release, but you’re also playing the album itself in full!

It’s going to be so cool. Actually, the studio where we worked with Steve is really close to there. Right at the end of that road there’s a Wawa and that was the place where we would go for coffee breaks while we were recording Through Being Cool. Starland is literally around the corner from the studio where we made the album. And it’s so cool to me that we’re playing on the exact day that the album out. Truly 20 years to the day. It’s really incredibly special and we’ve had so many good shows there. We love Starland Ballroom and we love our fans in New Jersey. We love all our fans, but it’s really special to play in New Jersey. It’s going to be an incredible night.