A respected artistic mind, SAVES THE DAY’s Chris Conley has seen a lot since the band’s emergence with Can’t Slow Down in 1998. Though his career hasn’t been a perfect Polaroid picture, the love Conley shares with music itself and the support he’s been given by those close to him has pushed him and the rest of the group to keep creating. With the highly-anticipated album titled Daybreak set to be released, the outspoken frontman took some time to comment on the group’s new music, how his songwriting has amplified and the importance of role models.
Does art reflect life, or does life reflect art?
Good question. I would say that art reflects life but there have been a few pieces of art that have changed my life so much that it changed the way I lived; like there are different albums or books that have touched me over the years. In general, art is just trying to describe life.
How do you find a balance between writing music that is catharsis for yourself, but will still keep fans hooked?
I realized that there was a choice I had to make: do I want to have a popular band or do I want to make music that I love? I decided to just make music that I love, but the trick is I write down everything that occurs to me and record it straight away and then if it doesn’t sound like it could be a Saves The Day song, I just keep it on a hard drive somewhere where nobody will ever hear it (laughs). I continue making the music that I want everyday, even if it might sound like really, really strange experimental jazz because I’ll continue to satisfy the creative impulses. When it comes time to making an album, I’m aware of which songs are going to sound right on a record and which will not.
It sounds like there’s a tough screening process for songs.
Yes, but it has become obvious after all these years. For example, I’ll be working on songs and I’ll write ten of them, and then all of a sudden one of them will just immediately sound like the band. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s as if I just know which ones are Saves The Day songs now. They come out of that natural process where I’m just allowing every last idea to come to life.
With so many ups and downs, in regards to your musical career and personally, how do you stay motivated?
I really like music. I’m sort of obsessed with it. I listen to music constantly. I’m out there in my studio everyday playing music just for fun, even when I’m home. So really for me, it’s just a gift to be able to work in my hobby; I would be doing it even if nobody listened. On a practical level, my wife is also really supportive. She knows this is what I’m supposed to be doing and she believes I should continue doing it. Even though some years are better than others, I have an internal drive and I have support. I’m probably the luckiest dude ever.
“Sometimes things are going to go your way and sometimes they aren’t. I think it’s important that people take their lives seriously because life is a precious thing..”
Is there something about your songwriting that gives you guys a sound that’s almost impossible to imitate?
I certainly write whatever makes me happy and I’m sure, just like anyone else, I’m imitating my heroes so to speak. I’d say every musician is a bit of a sponge where they soak up all the stuff they like about music and they squeeze it out into their own songs. I don’t know what’s different about Saves The Day, but I do know one thing – I don’t make music to try to be successful. That’s one thing I hear in other bands; they try to write music that will maintain their level of popularity. That might be one of the secrets for Saves The Day because I’ve never written songs to be mainstream. There’s definitely a unique sense of sincerity that will always be there no matter what.
Do you think fans have picked up and identified with this sincerity?
It’s the strongest connection that we have with our fans. We all unite around honest music that’s spoken straight from the heart. I think if you identify with our lyrics, it almost feels as if you’re not alone because the words are so honest and it’s as if you know what that person is feeling. If you feel anything close to that, it’s very comforting to know you’re not the first one that has felt like that. I think that’s part of our longevity; the honesty and the fact that people connect so strongly with the lyrics plays a large part.
As the lyricist, does this give you a special connection with fans because they relate with such an intimate part of yourself?
It does. It’s wild as I meet fans that really identify with the lyrics and I feel a kinship with them as if they’re a younger version of myself, or somebody that has gone through something that I really understand. It’s sort of like having that family connection but with a complete stranger. I feel really blessed to have fans out there because I know that they’re going to appreciate whatever we put out. As long as it’s honest, they’ll continue to be there with us.
Has this process changed at all since the conception of the band?
I’ve always written straight from the heart, I’ve definitely never censored myself. I was also never interested in figuring out a formula to create pop songs. The musical style has changed drastically over the years, but that’s just because I keep discovering new music that excites me. Early on, I would write whatever it was I wanted to write but it usually sounded like punk music because that was all I was listening to. Much like the sponge analogy, as I got older I started listening to different music – the Beatles, Foo Fighters even – and that music pretty much got squeezed out into songs.
Do you approach each new album with a similar attitude?
I like to write whatever comes to mind even if I’m not working on an album. For example, the other night I was laying in bed reading a book and I had a melody creep up into the back of my mind. I couldn’t ignore it so I just sang it into my recorder and the next day I worked on it on the guitar. It definitely didn’t seem like a Saves The Day song but it seemed like an interesting piece of music so I worked on it because I liked it. That’s basically how the process works. It’s all just sort of in the moment and not premeditated.
In your opinion, what does it mean to be a “role model”?
I take that seriously because I know that when I was young, I looked up to people in bands that inspired me. It was a good thing they were all decent human beings because if I had grown up in a part of the world where all my heroes were taking drugs and disregarding their responsibilities, I would have wound up being a different person. If I’m a role model to somebody, I want to show them they don’t have to get angry at the process. Sometimes things are going to go your way and sometimes they aren’t. I think it’s important that people take their lives seriously because life is a precious and valuable thing and I want to be the best example that I can be so that people have positive role models as opposed to ones that just go to parties.
How do you feel about other bands that are around now and look up to Saves The Day? Do you deserve the responsibility?
I don’t know what “responsibility” entails because we just do what we do. I think because were a band with integrity we will be a positive example. I would be proud to be a role model to a whole new generation of bands that just believe in their own artistic ability. I think Saves The Day is a great example of doing it your way instead of just simply trying to become famous. I can attest that it’s not always easy, but it’s worth it.
How do younger musicians get caught up with trying to become famous? It seems obvious putting passion into your music to connect with fans would bring fame, but why do some musicians try a different approach?
A few years ago there was this huge swell of bands that got popular through MySpace and to a lot of younger kids at that time, it looked like in order to make your band famous, you just had to get a MySpace page, get 100,000 friends and then you were ready to record your first album – sometimes even before recording your first demo. With the right tools you can make anybody sound good, but you didn’t always have to practice your art.
I think for a while it worked but now that it has been around for six or seven years, people are starting to get tired of that “hollow sound”. When those bands are trying to write popular songs, they’re not speaking from their heart; they’re thinking with their heads, asking themselves, “What’s going to be popular?” or “What do people want to hear?”. As a result, their music is hollow. In order to have meaning, a song has to come from your heart. People now have just stopped buying those hollow albums some artists release.
I think at any point it starts to get a little old. I remember when I was young we had the New Kids On The Block and cheesy late 80s’ and 90s’ dance music and that was really popular for years and years. Then all of a sudden you had the grunge bands who didn’t care and they came in and tore that all down because people had gotten tired of the hollow sound of dance beats. It looks to me like that happens in cycles. For the last five or six years it’s been pretty much pop music, like even the emo bands were going pop.
That happened around 2003; all of the emo bands tried to be famous all of a sudden and since then the songs have become more dance-like. People need more honest content; it’s what creates the cycle, the waves of honest music and dishonest music. But I’m not a scientist, I don’t know the real reason.
It seems to me like that’s a pretty decent hypothesis. Do you think musicians should be able to create without looking towards the past?
Say you had someone that grew up in a room with just a piano – what would they play? I imagine they’d start with something that resembled their heartbeat, like just the rhythm. There are studies out there that show our brain is tuned to different intervals so it appreciates different relationships of notes. It could be that it’s hardwired into our brain to appreciate different patterns and sounds, however, I think that’s a bit of an irregular circumstance because it would be impossible. I don’t know if there even is a situation where someone doesn’t have any influences, unless you’re talking about a musician that stops listening to records and just writes what they hear in their own head.
It would be interesting to hear what that person would come up with, but I bet there would be reflections of their childhood and reflections of yesterday so it would be impossible for an artist to work without influences. If we removed it from logic, I think the question would be, “Is it better to have conscious influences, knowing that you’re trying to borrow from your heroes, or if its better to just do it intuitively?”. Personally, I really do like listening to records from different artists so I’d have to say I think it’s important to have influences because it’s great to be pushed into new territories where you haven’t traveled creatively. Having influences is what helps us get there.
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