This year we finally got to see the light of Daybreak, the third installment of a trilogy songwriter Chris Conley has been working on and seventh studio album for Saves the Day. We also were presented with Manchester Orchestra's opus Simple Math, the follow-up to the band's sophomore hit. When I checked the site a few weeks ago, I noticed an ad for Daybreak contained a pull quote from MO's Andy Hull. It was a bold statement. So I sent some e-mails to get the two frontmen and songwriters together to talk. This is that 45 minute conversation.
So the first thing I'm going to throw out there, and the reason I've asked to bring you guys together on this is because something Andy said was used in the marketing for Daybreak. To quote "DAYBREAK MAKES SAVES THE DAY AND THEIR SEVEN PREVIOUS ALBUMS LOOK LIKE THEY WERE JUST GETTING STARTED…" It was amazing to hear that coming from someone like Andy. As a long time Saves the Day fan, this record is up there with Stay What You Are as my favorite Saves the Day album. Andy, can you sort of elaborate and talk about what you meant by that quote, and Chris how did you kind of feel about that?
Andy Hull: First of all, I've been saying this shit to Chris for years now. I think the night we met was at the Norva in Norfolk. I remember meeting you and Dave [Soloway] and Sound the Alarm just came out. We had been rocking that all summer. It was blowing my mind. Then we started talking about In Reverie. That's when I became a diehard Saves the Day fan. Where it goes from kind of a "high school band" to a "life-long" band. I kind of wanted to ask, I remember at that point, you guys had done all the demos for Under the Boards right?
Chris Conley: Yeah.
Hull: You had that first song for Daybreak? It was pretty close?
Conley: Yeah. It was already finished years ago. I knew where the third album was headed.
Hull: That song, sonically, really blew my mind the first time I heard it. When did that song end up being ten minutes?
Conley: Well, I have been working on all the pieces for that song for some years - just letting the ideas float around in the back of my mind. One night I was just sitting there and playing guitar and they all just sort of fused together. I don't think I could have sat there and planned out this epic ten minute long song. It was one of those moments of inspiration where all the ideas just flowed together. I immediately thought, "Wow, this would be so cool if we started an album with this really long song." Of course, my bandmates at the time said, "You're crazy." I said, "Clearly. Cool." We decided to produce each section of the song uniquely so that none of the drum tones or guitar tones are the same, so it's like five songs rolled into one.
Hull: Were all the melodies there?
Conley: All the melodies were there, as I was composing. I usually start with melody.
Hull: There's something pretty special I felt, like all the melodies on this record…it reminded me of the melodies on In Reverie where they were abstract, but catchy and sort of boil underneath your blood. The day I heard that record, I sort of texted you elaborately while I was on vacation. I was outside at the beach in Florida, and I just couldn't quite believe that this was - you know, because I'm sure you were feeling this type of pressure in some way. You had this record for so long. This had been written forever, is this still what you wanted to do?
Conley: I definitely had a clear vision the whole time. I never faltered. The fact that it took so long was difficult. I wanted this thing to come out years ago. So it's sort of hard in my mind because I was so excited about it, but it was also a relief to finally have it come out. I was just excited that it finally came out.
Hull: It's like you were talking earlier about that moment - that miraculous moment when, as songwriters, we have this moment where parts of things start to come together and you realize you have something special…
Conley: It's almost as if the song is writing itself in those moments.
Hull: That's kind of the coolest part, for me. You can always tell the difference in that moment, in that realization that you have something special that you couldn't come up with just sitting there. So, guitar tones is another thing I wanted to take to you about. It feels like the guitars are [pause] I don't know, dude. It feels like there's more work done - more labor than past records. Is that true?
Conley: We spent a lot of time getting the right sounds for each song. Part of that is because Arun [Bali] is skilled not only as a guitar player, but also with his pedals and gear. He has an actual skill with equipment. It's something I never really thought about that much. I just plug in and play. I'm just sort of "chords and melody" guy. He always knew how to close his eyes and listen to what the song needed…
Hull: When you find somebody like that, it's almost like they're a pilot or a job with a skill. It's different than just playing guitar and melody.
Conley: Exactly. It definitely benefited this process. In the past we had a lot of fun finding different amps in the process, but on this album we were hunting for tones for hours and hours.
Hull: It's different from when Dave was playing. Did the guitar parts change drastically?
Conley: Yeah, the guitar parts for this album were more interesting for me because Arun would play things that complimented my chords that I could never have envisioned. He does interesting tricks with his pedals and whammy bar. I'll be playing him a demo of a song and he would say, "This would be really cool if I just did this thing where I rolled off the tongue of my bridge pick-up and used two different delay pedals to make it sound like it's two organs floating under water." It was exciting for everyone involved.
Hull: The thing that people need to know is that, even though the band has been through so many line-up changes, this isn't a Chris Conley solo record. This sounds like a band.
Conley: It feels like that to me. I get excited when we're playing together, because I'm constantly surprised by the things the guys come up with.
Hull: I remember when I saw you open up for New Found Glory. That was the first time I saw you with the new line-up. I remember telling you, "Man, you have a band here that is awesome and really care." I've seen you like fifteen times over my life now.
Conley: You can tell that when you're watching. I feel like we really care about playing together. We respect the legacy of the band, but we're excited about doing new things together. I think for the first time in years, since Through Being Cool, it feels like a united group and everyone is on the same page.
Hull: For me, we've gone through a few drummers in the last few years. Going through some of the things my band has gone through with certain members - you lose some to college, you lose some to…
Conley: Real life.
Hull: [Laughs] Exactly. The shit we get to do for some reason. [Laughs] There's that unity that you find with those people. Do you think that playing those old songs with them and giving them new life, that had to help...
Conley: It did. We had already toured so much and shared that connection on stage that when we went into the studio together, we went in as a group. It wasn't me saying, "This is how the song is put together, and this is how the bass lines are put together." These guys are skilled. They know a lot more about music theory than I do…
Hull: That's what happens when you start a band really early. I found that the guys who started after are much better musicians.
Conley: Exactly. It lets the music breathe more. I sat back and showed them the melodies and watched Rodrigo [Palma] and Arun figure out how to compliment the songs instead of playing what was in [my] head. I would hear Rodrigo sort of harmonizing with the vocal melody, sort of bringing out the right relationships underneath chords. The bass line could sing, but it really enhances the chords and really hear the color notes there. You can hear when it's augmented and diminished, which is kind of neat and something we've never done.
Hull: This question is kind of abstract. What do you think a Saves the Day song is? You continue to take chances forever, which is always what I've admired the most - that you've never released the same thing. This a "Saves the Day" album, it's just that I happen to feel it's the best one. Is there anything there other than it just came initially from your brain and got that way?
Conley: I do think there's something that comes through my compositions, whether it's a punk song or sort of a more intellectual music idea. I think the connecting factor is natural melodies. I don't really think about the melodies. I just let them rattle around in my head. It's not as if the melodies are that labored over; it's just that I let them exist and if they don't work, they don't work. As a musician, I try to make the chords as interesting as possible for my own enjoyment so I'm not playing the same thing over and over again. That's sort of the Saves the Day template. Yeah. That's the Saves the Day mentality as well, "Let's make this as interesting as possible, but let's keep it simple as well."
Hull: Which is funny, because I don't think a lot of people realize a lot of musicians don't force melodies. It either works or you come up with another melody. There's not really a lot of labor in that either. That's something a lot of people don't understand really. Let's take a mutual friend, you know, Max [Bemis of Say Anything]. I'd say there's a lot of labor on his lyrics, but he writes all these different songs.
Conley: Max has a lot of natural melody. I feel like it's a gift that people really don't understand. That's why The Beatles were so great. Paul McCartney just had this natural melody flowing out of him. My opinion as a songwriter is that you can really tell when a song has been worked on too much.
Conley: I think there are few and far between of musicians that can write a song like that. I think there are fewer songwriters out there than a person who can play guitar really well.
Hull: There's also now the guy who thinks they can write a song that could be potentially big. It's a far different thing. A lot of times those people get big a whole lot faster.
Conley: You know, they do, but I don't think it last as long when it's consciously created like that. While I do think they'll have a lot more initial success, it's the music and honesty that's simple enough in its creation that lasts without it being contrived. I think people can feel that when it's written by a committee.
Hull: Right. Right. That's something that's frustrating to me, when I'm in the studio and there's too many people doing too many things at one time.
Conley: Too many cooks.
Hull: Too many cooks. It's interesting because there's a feeling for me thinking about it, have they been thinking about it for too long?
Conley: Thank God it was all because of logistics. Yeah, I can see why people think that. Dave wanted to leave in 2008 when we wanted to make the album. That threw it off for a year. We wanted to make it in 2009, but Manny [Carrero] and Durijah [Lang] went back to Glassjaw. I kept just wanting to wait until we had the right line-up.
Hull: Smart decision, dude. You would think that the first song that insane would have that feeling on it. I think the fact that you produced those sections separately too really…it's a difficult thing to accomplish is what I'm trying to say. [Laughs]
Conley: Yeah, it was really a fun to bring that thing to life. That song took so much work. It felt so good. I remember when Arun and I listened back to the final mix. I remember looking at each other and just felt that we had accomplished something special. We felt like we won. No matter how that album does in the label's eyes, I think we did a great job. -- I like that you and I are friends. I think we have a lot of mutual respect. We're both are sort of simple guys. We like to play music. We don't sit there and try to construct the hits. We just play what we want to play.
Hull: It's just our brains that are that simple. I think it's so cool to be friends with people who make records that challenge you…
Conley: I think that's important. It's like having a musical conversation.
Hull: Now I've heard this, and now I"m going to go make a response.
Conley: It's inspiring.
I do have a question I'm going to cut in here with. 2011 has been very nostalgic in a way for myself. Hearing sort of these veterans like Saves the Day and Thursday make records years later that are as amazing as a newer favorite band like Manchester Orchestra that would have sort of an inspiration off of them. How do you guys feel about that?
Hull: I think I probably grew up with more bands that Chris grew up with than you would think. Listening to stuff like Elliott Smith and Grandaddy. That was far more influential to me than a band like Thursday. Saves the Day got me into every other record. I don't try to sound like anything besides the old stuff like The Beatles and The Beach Boys. For me, that's kind of my stuff.
Conley: I know what you're saying too. There was a time about six years ago, seven years ago. There wasn't a lot of inspiring music or music that was inspiring to me. That was around the same time I heard Manchester. I remember thinking, "Oh wow. There is good music being made." I think it was around 2005 or 2006 or even 2007 is when we toured together, Andy.
Hull: Yeah, you were on a huge The Dear Hunter kick.
Conley: I love The Dear Hunter. That was one of those other bands that reminded me "Oh, there are definitely those talented, creative acts. There is definitely great music out there being made and isn't written to be successful but is written from the heart."
Hull: I think it goes to show what will stand the test of time. I never think of "top records of the year." When people ask for my favorite record of the year, it's usually not from that year. Last year my record of the year was [Pavement's] Wowee Zowee.
Well, I guess my question is more steered for Chris as how it feels to have that sort of withstanding longevity, and for Andy, I don't want to necessarily say "the new wave of bands," but I think I Chris hit the nail on the head, and I've babbled about this in my blog all year - there was a point in the later 2000s where it didn't seem like the majority of music being made was honest anymore. Chris, I won't forget that interview I did with you and Max and Kenny [Vasoli] where you said music moves in cycles - "This is what it is" and "I want to do that" - for bands like Manchester Orchestra to be that breath of fresh air. Andy, how do you feel about being praised for that?
Hull: For me, it's an honor. It's an honor. Everything that they were doing, I wanted to do. It's that simple. Honest music unfortunately doesn't stick to the walls at first. It's amazing feeling to call up someone who influenced your songwriting. I could have called Chris and had this same conversation without doing this interview.
Conley: Yeah. I feel proud that we get to continue to exist. Like Andy's saying, it's not always easy, because it's not an instant success. I remember deciding years and years ago that this is just going to be the way it is. If I get to make another album, that means that I'm doing the best that I can do. I'm not going to write music to try to be famous. I remember when we had that conversation, and I just kind of had my fingers crossed that honest music would come back after five and six years of feeling like things were really bleak and thinking that the only thing that would succeed is a pop song with a pretty face.
Hull: You and I certainly don't have that.
Conley: [Laughs] It's a relief that it's true with bands like Manchester [Orchestra] or The Dear Hunter. It's proof that it really does come in waves. It's not that the music goes away, it's what people are paying attention to.
Hull: It always comes back. It's just the kind of thing...we're in the situation of still laying the bricks to a career...
Conley: I think you have to have that mentality always...
Hull: We didn't make Simple Math to be the ticket to the top. For me and the band, we needed that there as a point to strive for. Seeing bands make seven records, nine records, ten records. That's something a lot of people can't say that they've done and still have people give a shit.
Conley: I think it's important to believe in yourself and continue to do what you need to do. I think both of us would rather put out albums that we believe in, rather than win the game commercially.
Hull: We just don't sort of fit the mold. I mean, you're pretty...
Hull: I look like a fucking terrorist. It's hard for a label to break us...and we don't have a lot of repeating choruses.
Conley: That's it! Write what you want, man. It's okay to not have that. It's okay for a song to go quiet for two minutes and then there's the children's choir. I think it's brave. I think it's inspiring to other musicians.
Chris, questions for Andy?
Conley: Yeah, man. [Andy,] you've told me before that you like to store all these ideas in your head from time to time and when you go out and make a record, you like to spew them all out at one time. You let the floodgates open and see what happens. I have always admired that about you. I was thinking about that this morning. I was wondering if you're going to continue to do that, and if so, I think that that's an incredibly inspiring way to go about music, and it scares me to death. I feel like I wouldn't want to go to well and find it dry when I'm in the studio. That's me being sort of neurotic.
Hull: When Kevin Devine and I did that Bad Books record, it's the perfect example of knowing I needed material. I didn't have anything. All the stuff I had were just kind of weird demos. There's something where you really believe that you can do it.
Conley: What do you do? Do you just go in there and let it fly?
Hull: Yeah. You just kind of like, when we start writing something - it's pretty much like we've never done this before...
Conley: You can feel that when listening to it. There's this spontaneity...
Hull: We never practiced those songs while we were writing until we recorded them and then we just recorded them live. The minute that we got one good take. I have a lot of lyrics and stuff written...
Conley: That was my next question. What about the words?
Hull: They often change.
Conley: Do you keep it in a journal where you're keeping ideas?
Hull: All on the computer. Just a lyrical...
Conley: Do you choose to write words every day, like a routine?
Hull: That's the whole going into the studio aspect, where you can make changes to it because there's not time to write every day. I go through these cycles of just watching, learning and growing and then six months of spewing it out.
Conley: That's something I feel like you're lucky you have. It's been difficult over the years trying to get a group of guys to believe in the vision instead of the anxiety of being a commercial hit. You're really lucky to have that.
Hull: All of them have the same mentality. For me, documenting a song is more than a guitar and a melody before we go in sounds presumptuous. I want it to feel like six dudes happening...
Conley: I don't like that...
Conley: I think that's awesome. I know I'm different and more compulsive about planning...
Hull: I mean, once I get in studio and the minute that the structure's there, I get a little more like "mad scientist" kind of. For us, when we're in a room, it's a big deal. They know I have some songs, but it'll change. Having dudes that don't think like me musically - like you were saying - having stuff that you'd never think of...[inaudible]
Conley: There's a solid weight in the song, and the production is awesome. I'm floored that you guys make it the way you do. When I hear it, there's so much thought put into the production. It's incredible that you can go into a room and let it fly and bring it to life in such a way.
Hull: It's about the way I learned about other dudes doing it, old school guys. The last two records was kind of the old, typical way of doing it. It's unheard of now. It's something like, I'm sure Max, which is a mutual friend we know, his brain works completely different from the way you and I work...
Conley: It's fascinating to know other people's process when I'm inspired when I hear the final product.
Hull: Me too. Another question I had is, the song on In Reverie - "Where Are You," I think it's called - how did you write that song? [Laughs]
Conley: That's my favorite song. I just feel like it came from outer space. I was in the back lounge of the bus just sort of playing guitar and the melodies from the verses just sort of popped into my head. For some reason my fingers were doing that strange chord pattern that doesn't really make sense. It's like the beginning note of the melody is a half step melody away from the first chord. I remember just sort of playing guitar and with the chords underneath the melody. For me, I always write songs sort of crawling around in the dark. That's just what my fingers like to do. It doesn't make any sense to play those chords under that melody.
Hull: Did you ever intentionally start singing differently?
Conley: I never chose to. It was just finding my voice over the years. In the beginning, I felt so urgent inside my skin. The vocals just exploded out of my throat. Then you take those songs on tour and realize you can sing some of it. It's just the process of figuring out what's a comfortable way to put the same amount of emotion behind the lyrics and also maintain my vocal chords. It took years and years to bring that together and have the same amount of urgency and be thinking about the lyrics.
Hull: It's record to record, and that's what is cool to me about it.
Conley: It's weird for me when listening to the stuff and it sounds like a different singer on every album. No, there was a never a moment when I was listening to the stuff and said, "Oh, I want to sing like this way." It was finding my way.
Hull: I love that each way you sing connects with the record.
Conley: Exactly. It was always the way it was supposed to be at that time.
I feel like this conversations could go on forever, so I'm going to throw out one last question. This question is split again. Chris, is it crazy that Saves the Day has survived with all the fandom up-and-down and member changes, and Andy, how do you feel about your success very early on and reflecting on a band like Saves the Day that has survived scrutiny and industry changes, among other things?
Hull: It's still kind of the same rules though. I think we've achieved the right kind of success. The rules are that you go tour and you never stop touring. That's how I think we stuck around. We got great tours. We got great bands that we attach to and that attach to us. To answer the question, it terrifies me. It terrifies me to continue to create better music.
Conley: I think the trick is ignoring the fear. It's about picking up the instruments and trusting this feeling.
Hull: I know you know the feeling we have.
Conley: Yeah, it's scary. You just have to trust yourself. You know what I do all the time is to remind myself that the worst case scenario could go away and that I could never make music for the rest of my life. Even that wouldn't be that bad. I have a wonderful life and a wonderful family. At the end of the day, we're just leaves on a tree and one day we're just going to turn into dust. For me, that's a scary idea as a reminder to get through it.
Hull: You go through times where you think it's going to get taken away.
Chris being a The Dear Hunter fan makes me happy. My whole arm is tattooed Saves the Day and The Dear Hunter, so it's nice to know my two favorite bands are fans of each other. Also, Andy is totally fanboy geeking for the first half of this interview, love it.