Days of Future Past: Longtime emo heroes Saves The Day look back to move forward with latest album

Chris Conley never intended to write a theme song for his band. But when the muse came to visit the Saves The Day frontman as he worked on the band’s latest LP, 9, it just came pouring out of him like it’s always been there.

“I had heard it in the back of my head, and I just grabbed a guitar and I started playing it, and when I got to the part right before the chorus where I go, ‘So turn it up, we’re Saves The Day,’ I thought, ‘Wow, OK, so I’m writing our theme song,” Conley told Revue about the album’s opening track, Saves The Day.

“One of my favorite songs ever is Wilco’s song Wilco from their (2009) album Wilco,” he added. “So right away, I knew that I was writing a song like that. And if you’ve never heard that song … the basic mood of it is: if you’re having a hard day, just put on the headphones and we’ll be here.”

The album plays out as both a chronicle and celebration of Saves The Day and its music. Conley opens the book on his 20-plus year career with the band, penning songs that touch on everything from his teenage days in the ’90s New Jersey hardcore scene to the band’s sudden success with 2001’s Stay What You Are, as well as his immense gratitude for continuing to do what he loves now. 

“If (this album) inspires people to think, like, ‘Wow, I am psyched that Saves The Day has been in my life for so long,’and if they go back and start from the beginning and listen all the way through, I think it will be wild to do that chronologically,” Conley said. “Like, once you’re older and you’ve had different life experiences, you can kind of see it with a different eye. I know that’s been really fun for me over the years, listening to The Beatles. Continually I find more and more things (in the band’s music) as I get older.”

Growing up with his fan base and sharing many of the same quarter-life crises as his listeners, Conley still bears his heart on his sleeve. His completely candid lyrics culminate in the album’s closing track, 29, a 21-minute song-suite that makes up the entirety of the album’s second half.

“It’s basically the story of my life told through my relationship with music,” he said of the epic song.

Having studied creative writing at NYU and the College of New Jersey, Conley described writing the song as more like working on a screenplay. Easily the band’s longest song to date (doubling the runtime of 2010’s Daybreak), 29 also touches on Conley’s earliest days in music, having learned classical cello as a wide-eyed elementary schooler, before discovering The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and the punk rock scene coming up around him.

“My first memory of being alive, I was listening to my heartbeat in my temple against my pillow when I was trying to fall asleep,” he said. “I’d hear this pulsing dream heartbeat, and I was mesmerized by it. Before I knew that it was music, I was obsessed with music. And then after that, it was the birds singing in the blue sky, and you start to wake up to life.” 

“My dad says one of my first words ever was ‘radio,’” he added. “So I was just obsessed with music and sound right from when I was born, and that has led me on this incredible journey. I have literally grown up through my relationship with music, and it’s been a wild ride.”

That ride has gotten a little calmer over the past decade, with Conley finding the first stable lineup Saves The Day has really ever had since he started playing side-by-side with original drummer Brian Neuman when the pair was just 13 years old. 

Now 39 with a teenage daughter of his own, Conley looks ahead at what the band’s future holds, while never forgetting the basement shows and garage gigs that got him to where he is today.

“I just feel incredibly grateful to be here,” Conley said. “On the album, I just keep referencing 20 years. I say it on a number of songs. To be here for 20 years in a world of music where it’s incredibly hard to have success at all, even once, I feel like the luckiest guy that ever got to play guitar and sing onstage. So I’m just incredibly honored. It’s all so surreal. The fact that it is all so real is mind-boggling and beautiful.”

Saves The Day / Joyce Manor
Wsg. awakebutstillinbed
Elevation (inside The Intersection)
133 Grandville Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
Aug. 4, 6:30 p.m., $22 advance, $25 day of show, (616) 451-8232