[5 January 2012]
PopMatters Music Reviews Editor
The year was 1999. The month was November. A group of relatively unknown New Jersey outcasts combined forces to release a sophomore record that lacked the luxury of a hit single, music videos to support its release, and a sense of maturity that ran so deep, most of the musicians behind the record had barely finished high school at the time of recording.
But there it stood. On November 2, 1999, Saves The Day released Through Being Cool, an album as quick was it was heavy. As smart as it was short. As honest as it was accessible. As biting as it was sweet. And unbeknownst to anyone at the time, as legendary as it was innovative.
The album paved the way for such powerhouse superstars as Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, and All Time Low. Its combination of raw power and quick-witted writing still stands today as one of the most influential albums behind the pop-punk boom if the mid-2000s.
You didn’t really like the genre if you didn’t at one point live and breathe Through Being Cool. And if you couldn’t recite the line “Let me take this awkward saw / Run it against your thighs / Cut some flesh away / I’ll carry this piece of you with me” in your sleep, you might as well have traded your copy of New Found Glory’s Nothing Gold Can Stay for 3 Doors Down’s The Better Life.
Through Being Cool wasn’t just a great album because of its aggression or angst. It was great because it was polarizing. It drew a line in the sand and it brought like-minded Xanax-popping pimple-faced kids together. It made friends start bands and led to bands forming side projects. Saves The Day didn’t just start a movement with that record. They kept countless broken-hearted teenage sad faces alive. For the first time in a generation, losers stopped feeling alone and started feeling accepted.
But little did any Saves The Day fan know that the trick behind the band’s success and subsequent relatability was the fact that its leader, Chris Conley, was actually, truly, no-doubt-about-it one of them. He wasn’t writing about anger and sadness because it was fashionable. He wrote about it because he was just as angry and sad as each member of his wide array of admirers.
And while he was able to channel those feelings into a string of what some consider a legendary three-album stretch (Can’t Slow Down, Through Being Cool and Stay What You Are), it soon became clear to Conley that those emotions were taking over his life. The cynical, sometimes-gruesome and always-spite-filled lyrics that painted his band’s songs were a reflection of a person he had grown into. It was a person he grew to resent. And it was a person he’s glad to say he’s not today.
“I consider a lot of those songs survival songs,” the singer says when asked about playing a lot of the early-era Saves The Day songs live. “It feels cathartic to play them. Growing older, I’ve become a lot more comfortable with those songs. Now, I’m proud when I sing them. I’m proud that I didn’t turn my back on them. I’m proud that I didn’t turn my back on life. I don’t think about the pain anymore. I think about how I was able to transcend that pain and get through everything.
“Through Being Cool was a fun album,” he continues. “I was just a kid then. Every time I listen to it now, I’m reminded of how excited I was. But every album is basically me going through different evolutions. On Stay What You Are, I was asking myself ‘What does it all mean?’ On In Reverie, I was basically saying ‘I know that life is a gift, but I don’t feel at ease about anything going on.’ And now with this trilogy, it was about me knowing and accepting that life is a gift.”
That trilogy he’s talking about was only recently completed with the release of Daybeak, the third installment of a trifecta that featured 2006’s Sound The Alarm and 2007’s Under The Boards. The album is the band’s first on the Razor & Tie record label after releasing the majority of their albums on the Vagrant and Equal Vision imprints in the past. After taking only one year between the release of the first and second parts of the series, Conley is quick to point out how happy he is to have Daybreak finally see the light of day, regardless of the amount of time it took to get it in stores.
“It’s exciting,” he says. “It took four years—three years to record it and then nine months to get it out. It’s a relief to finally be on the other side of it.”
Conley notes how he spent time going through Sound The Alarm and Under The Boards to look for similar words to form a chart he used as a reference when penning the songs that appear on Daybreak. The exercise, he says, was aimed at making the album seem as though it was the final chapter in the trilogy. The notion of continuity was imperative for him during the songwriting process, he insists, and being able to view certain lyrics on paper helped him craft the ending of the set.
But the ending of one thing most always means the beginning of another, and the singer says that he is ready to move forward after taking this three-album set as an opportunity to deal with those aforementioned negative feelings and emotions he has been wrestling with for years. In fact, the singer may even argue he’s never felt better.
“The first two albums were exploring my pain, anger and cynicism toward the world,” he says with a sigh. “But this part is about accepting who I am and realizing that there is nothing wrong with me. There is nothing wrong with me being an angry person sometimes and it’s OK to feel confused. I never accepted feeling sad about things, but now I accept how I feel and I care about the world. I feel for it. This album isn’t necessarily a happy ending, but it’s an ending that shows acceptance, and it was something that I needed to do.
“I was a very miserable, judgmental person,” he continues with reflection. “I was a miserable person to be around, and I needed to bring my heart back to life. I realized it was time to pull myself up and get comfortable with life.”
Part of that epiphany came with the birth of Conley’s daughter. According to the singer, his journey to acceptance would have been impossible without the help of the perspective he gained simply by helping bring her into the world.
“She taught me that life is not just a waste of time,” he says. “She also brought me the promise of future generations. Life can be brutal and nasty sometimes, but she helps me put up with it. It’s such a special experience to be a father. It forced me to refocus my attention and experience the joy of raising a daughter. It was a turning point for me.”
A turning point, indeed. Since she came into this world five years ago, the singer insists that his attitude toward life as a whole has changed immeasurably. And with the release of his band’s new album—an album aimed at putting the preverbal nail in the coffin that holds his most emotionally tumultuous times—who could argue with him? Life, as it seems, is pretty OK for the Saves The Day frontman and at this point, even Conley himself would admit that sometimes being OK is so much better than simply being.
“Saves The Day turns 15 in April,” the singer says with optimistic reflection in his voice. “So we are hopefully going to be able to do something really special for that. We are planning something.”
Then, after a question about his legacy and the amount of enormous influence he has had on so many outcasts who gravitated toward his music, his words and his vision, he quickly becomes grateful.
“I feel so lucky to be a musician for a living,” he says. “It’s rare to be a musician, but being an influential musician is rare in and of itself. It’s rare to have success in the music business. I just feel so thankful and so lucky. I feel so lucky to do what I love every day for a living. I just want to keep making music and keep touring. It’s surreal, really. It’s a miracle that I’m here. It’s a miracle to be able to make music. To hear other musician’s praise is so special for me. It’s mind-boggling, really.”
But what about those vicious lyrics and that dark attitude toward the world around him? Will those feelings come back? Could those feelings come back? Does he want those feelings to come back? Could a band as influential and popular as Saves The Day really turn its back on an outlook that helped get them to prominence?
“Well, I’m not a Hallmark card writer,” he says with a chuckle. “But I do feel better about the world. Music has always been and always will be my way to vent. I know now that life is a gift. I just feel very thankful and very lucky to be doing what I do today.
“It’s wild,” he adds before pausing for a quick second. “I think it’s neat.”