Despite his lyrics on fallen friendships, broken hearts, pain and suffering, Chris Conley, singer and songwriter for the New Jersey-based punk act Saves the Day, believes he is “probably the luckiest kid you’ll ever meet.” Given the rising popularity of his band, its ever-expanding fan base and a successful new album, his statement bears some truth.
Conley spoke with The Hatchet Sunday night in Baltimore, before a Saves the Day performance with fellow punk/hardcore acts including Thursday and Hey Mercedes.
“My upbringing and relationships with people are incredible,” Conley said. “I’ve been with the same person ever since the band has been around. It just keeps getting better and better.”
These statements might surprise fans who focus in on the band’s emotional, sometimes depressing and often heartbreaking lyrics. Saves the Day lyrics, written solely by Conley, span the spectrum, ranging topically from simple teenage love songs to stories employing deep metaphors about life and beauty.
“Our lyrics are so important,” Conley said. “We would just sound like any other band without them.”
While many bands claim that their lyrics stem from deeply personal experiences, Conley admits that “maybe 5 percent of the songs are actual fact.” Inspiration for his songs comes more from emotions he feels rather than experiences.
“It is usually a feeling that will come over me and has to find its way out,” he said.
Some songs might shock listeners with their violent imagery. But Conley said his songs are metaphors and exist on a deeper level not to be taken literally.
Off the band’s most recent album, Stay What You Are (Vagrant), the song “As Your Ghost Takes Flight” describes a gruesome murder.
“I’m sure most people see it as the surface, this image of me wanting to kill someone. It has nothing to do with that for me,” Conley said. “(It’s) about loving somebody so much that you would almost kill them to get them to see that they are this beautiful thing, instead of letting them run away from themselves.”
While Conley’s mannerisms and lyrics appear eccentric, the band’s fans have little trouble relating to the emotions that fuel the songs. Conley uses his lyrics to express these emotions, as with the intense anger felt in the track “As Your Ghost Takes Flight.”
“I was so angry with this friend of mine, but I wasn’t about to yell at him or kick him or anything,” Conley said. “I think the best thing to do when you’re angry is grab for a pen.”
The band’s style has gained attention within the underground music community. With each release since the 1997 debut album Can’t Slow Down (Equal Vision), Saves the Day has gained legions of fans and generally favorable press. But the band’s fan base has changed since its humble beginnings in the New Jersey hardcore scene.
“We used to play to hardcore kids,” Conley said. “Now we play for 11-year-olds.”
While some punk bands might consider the appearance of younger audiences to signify “selling out,” Saves the Day has avoided overtly pushing into the world of MTV and major record labels.
“I am terrified by the idea of a major label,” Conley said. “They manipulate you, your image and your sound. Our image is us, and our sound is us. I don’t want anything to change us.”
Saves the Day received major label offers after sophomore album Through Being Cool was released, but the group moved to underground label Vagrant Records instead.
“We decided we wanted to stay independent so that we could make the album we wanted to make,” Conley said.
Stay What You Are has several tracks that could easily extend the band into mainstream circuits. The group recently shot a music video for the single “At Your Funeral,” which is set to premiere on MTV2 Thursday night.
Conley says that Saves the Day does not intend to force the video onto MTV and TRL. Instead, they are just writing songs and watching things unfold.
“I’ve been watching this thing happen since we started,” he said. “We’ve never done anything but try to play and things have happened for us.”
The band recently faced the loss of drummer Bryan Newman, who left after the group’s summer tour. Conley feels confident that the loss will not stop the band, which plans to audition new drummers early next year.
As for its future, Saves the Day continues to tour, write new songs and watch as its fan base grows and its music reaches more enthusiastic crowds. Conley said the band is also hoping to launch a European tour.
One area where Saves the Day remains enigmatic is in terms of its genre. Audiences that feel the need to categorize the style of bands will be disappointed – Saves the Day has songs with hints of hardcore aggression and others with pop sensibility. The lyrics often fall into the realm of “emo,” but the music does not always follow suit.
The band is weary of these classifications. Instead of labeling his band, Conley said only: “The songs happen by themselves. We’re not going to do anything deliberate … If I had it my way, I wouldn’t call it anything. It would just be something floating around.”