Chris Conley, vocalist, guitarist, and chief songwriter for emo stalwarts Saves the Day, has never quite left the couch iconically depicted on the cover of his band's 1999 indie breakthrough, Through Being Cool.
That isn't to say Conley hasn't gleaned a little life experience in the decade-plus (!) since that album was released by, of all labels, tough-guy hardcore imprint Equal Vision. From a pop-punk band among a sea of West Coast straight-edge youth crew to the flagship band of the early 2000s emo bubble led by Vagrant Records to the band's current niche demographic of die-hard fans, Chris Conley has seen all shades of the DIY-indie-mainstream spectrum.
And no matter the audience, his project has always been an "on the couch" rumination on the adolescent ennui that leads to young adult depression and blossoms into the existential panic inherent to human existence.
In the buildup to Saves the Day's performance tonight at Revolution, County Grind spoke with Conley via telephone to get some insight into the psychological profile of one of punk-and-indie's most emotionally confessional songwriters.
County Grind: You guys have long graduated from the microcosm punk scene that spawned you. How do you reflect on the Equal Vision/West Coast hardcore community that you came out of?
Well, it was all hardcore bands [laughs]. We were always the odd band out. We were one of the bands that helped Equal Vision expand into a farther-reaching operation, and they did the same for us. We appreciate that about each other.
Did Saves the Day start out as a hardcore band? What bands or performers influence your sound the most?
Dag Nasty, Jawbreaker, Sunny Day Real Estate, Smashing Pumpkins. I never got into Youth Crew. We sounded so much like Lifetime. I would go to their shows, hang out, and talk to them. I emulated them all the time. The other band I was emulating was Gorilla Biscuits. If you listen to Start Today, you hear so much [of Saves the Day] in that.
Tell us about your recently concluded trilogy of concept albums.
I was wrestling with anger and cynicism in a big way. I was angry at humanity. But I was also a new father. It was a conflict. I have this beautiful angel in my life, yet I was furious at how people treated one another, politics and economics. I was not living in the world in a peaceful way, and I recognized it was important for me to learn how. I didn't want to set a bad example for my daughter. I don't want to raise another angry person.
Sound the Alarm is the anger. Under the Boards is the transition, knowing you have to make a change. Daybreak is the change.
Is everything from your perspective? Or do the songs have no perspective at all?
There are different voices. I use someone else's voice a lot on Daybreak. If you read the lyrics, you'll see there a lot of quotations. Those were actual conversations, entirely someone else talking to me.
So is there a narrative throughout the records?
The arc is my own personal fall and redemption.
So are the lyrics like excerpts from your private journal?
It's not a diary. I don't live a strange, overdramatic life. The lyrics become melodramatic because that's how I vent, instead of breaking a window. Sometimes if I have strange feelings of an overwhelming nature, the words come out like that.
Would you say Saves the Day embraces melodrama?
It's my way of coping. When I look back at the old albums, I'm really proud that it's so honest. People that know me think that it's pretty bizarre, because I'm pretty shy. I don't talk that much, but I put it in the music. It was brave to say it at the time. I was getting things off my chest. When I sing those songs now, they feel like survival songs. "I got through this time."
What was it like being front and center of the early 2000s emo explosion?
For a while, bands were focused on success. There were all these bands selling records and making money. A lot of bands were convinced that they were going to be platinum; some bands thought [emo] would be the next "alternative music" and then got angry and disappointed when they didn't do well.
Now, we're back to ground zero. We hung out with Taking Back Sunday a couple of weeks ago, and we were talking about playing music for dedicated fans. We're lucky to have survived that whole period. To still be around is a gift.
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How has Saves the Day's audience changed over time?
We definitely have people growing with us. People at the shows that are our age and have kids, that liked us when they were in high school, have grown up listening to all the new material, but their younger brother or sister loves Through Being Cool. Then we see the next generation, and they like the music I was writing at their age. Each album was so honest at the time that somebody else at that age might really connect.
Saves the Day. With Bayside. 6 p.m. Tuesday, November 8, at Revolution, 200 W. Broward Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Click here.