New Jersey’s SAVES THE DAY have been around, in one form or another, for the last 17 years. In that time, they’ve established a reputation as one of the most important bands of their generation, having been part of that first wave of emo-tinged indie that broke out in the late nineties. Chris Conley is now the only remaining member from that original line-up, as 2009 saw the addition of Arun Bali (guitar) and Rodrigo Palma (bass), and with Dennis Wilson’s official arrival in 2013, the band’s current line-up was complete.
With their critically acclaimed eighth studio album out now, and a UK-wide tour with live juggernauts Brand New already completed, it’s been a pretty great year so far for the band. We sat down to talk to them and find out all about their new album, life on the road, and why they love playing in the UK.
So Saves the Day has existed for 17 years now. When you all came into the band, did you ever see it lasting this long?
Arun Bali: I’ve been in the band now for five years, and it didn’t take me long to realize that it could go on for as long as we want it to, and that’s testament to our fan base, I think, and Chris, who’s just always coming up with cool songs. And our relationship with each other, too. I think that’s a really important driving force, because we love doing it, we love being around each other and we love making music together, and as long as that exists, there’s no reason to stop doing it.
Do you think the way you’ve written songs has changed as time’s gone one?
Arun: I don’t think so. The initial ideas always come from Chris. There’s a melody and then some chords will get written around it, and then obviously the lyrics are all his. But then we get into a room and jam on ideas and dress it up together, try different feels. We’ll talk about it and listen to different music and try to reference things. I think it’s always been kind of the same. It’s a good work flow for the band.
So what kinds of things were you referencing on the new album?
Rodrigo Palma: We like rock music. There’s one song on [the album] called ‘Xenophobic Blind Left Hook’ that I think is a sneaky reggae song; no one will notice, but it’s got a rockers beat to it. We also looked towards Radiohead, a little bit of Johnny Greenwood in one of the parts. We reference a lot of random things, and hopefully they make sense in the song. There was another song where we were referencing The Smiths, in terms of the guitar part and the vibe. We listen to Led Zeppelin. We like a lot of the punk we grew up on.
Arun: And it’s fun for us to find ways to throw in these influences that you wouldn’t expect in a Saves the Day song. That’s what makes it interesting.
Rodrigo: There’s a song on the new record called ‘Supernova’, and we tried a few things. Originally it started out as a Depeche Mode sort of thing, because the guitar part made us think of them. But then it took a different turn and it turned into a Motown, James Jamerson-meets-reggae sort of thing.
Arun: And when you start to go over songs that are going to comprise an album, you start to feel a sequence to it, and then you feel like maybe it needs something with this tempo. There are things that can reveal themselves later in the process, and we allow ourselves to be surprised by anything.
Why was your eighth album your self-titled record?
Arun: We’ve been together for quite a while now, and I think we all feel like ‘this is the band’. Getting out after the trilogy was written, it started to feel like there was this fresh start, that we were in control of our own destiny from here.
Rodrigo: There was almost a clean slate, but at the same time it was acknowledging the history of these past records. I think there’s a comfort between everybody – like ‘this is us’.
Arun: It felt right.
And why did you decide to put a grapefruit on the cover?
Rodrigo: I’m a big fan of album artwork. I’ve bought albums just based on the artwork. When we were talking about making something, we wanted something that felt as vibrant and psychedelic as the album sounded to us. So we were talking about colours, and we were into the colour of the orange earplugs you get at the store. And there’s been more than one Flaming Lips album that had a similar orange, bright colour scheme.
We met a guy who sent us some samples of his work, and it was really cool, he was really on top of his game. We started discussing art with him, and some things that came up were the Velvet Underground & Nico album cover, the very iconic Andy Warhol print of the Banana. We asked him – ‘What can we do that feels like that? So that the name Saves the Day exists as a symbol?’, and naturally the idea of grapefruit came along. So there it is. He made it happen. It’s a pretty stand-alone album cover. It looks like pop art. If you get it on the LP size, it’s pretty impressive.
We wanted an album cover that’s still going to look interesting and slightly insane ten years from now. The design that we chose was the one where we felt like people could be flipping through the store ten years from now and think ‘what is this? I don’t know what this is, but I hope that it sounds like this grapefruit. Kind of sweet. Tart. It pops.’
Saves the Day is the first you’ve done since returning to Equal Vision. How did that come about, and does the label you’re on affect the way that you’re writing?
Arun: I don’t think it has any influence on the writing. We crowd-funded this new record with a Pledge Music campaign, and after the fact Equal Vision got involved. Max Bemis (Say Anything) was one of the first people to hear the record. He was in LA when we were mixing it, and he started an imprint on EVR called Rory, and from the start he was really excited about it. Talking to EVR, it just seemed like they get where the band is now. Obviously the band started there, and it just seemed like a good fit for us again.
Rodrigo: I think there’s always been a relationship between Saves the Day, Chris, and EVR. When Saves the Day left EVR however many years ago, there was never any weirdness. It was always kind of like watching your kids go off to college. At this point it kind of felt right to go back to them. They come from the same world that we come from – there’s an emphasis on the music. They’re not trying to push anything else, other than that they really liked this album, and were happy to be a part of it. They wanted to be a part of us, so it becomes mutually beneficial.
Which songs from the new record are you particularly enjoying playing live?
Rodrigo: ‘Xenophobic’, for me, is a secret reggae song. It’s got so much more thrash about it, and it just rips. It’s so fun to play live. It’s heavy in a new way. It’s a song that, for the last month or so, feels like it’s taken on a life of its own. I like playing ‘Supernova’ because Dennis [Wilson, drums] and I can get that really locked in and really sticky and cool.
Arun: We’ve been rotating eight or nine songs, so every night we play a different set of songs. ‘Verona’ we started playing on this run, and from the first chord when we went into that, it was massive and visceral and awesome. ‘Tide of Our Times’ feels like The Kinks on steroids. In a good way. It’s just heavy, and catchy.
Would you say you have a least favourite song to play live?
Rodrigo: There are songs that we don’t play, because we haven’t figured out how to make them exciting right now. But that list comes and goes. Every song that we play is a song that we’re excited about, and that’s why we’re playing it. On other songs, you lose the fire in it, but that will come back in a while.
Arun: We find ways to reinvent them too, to make them more interesting. And sometimes, you put them away, and then come back to it, and it’s just awesome.
Do you feel any pressure from the new bands who look to you for inspiration?
Rodrigo: It’s incredibly humbling, because we all have bands that we were inspired by. To now be in that other position, that’s the way of life the way of art, it’s always a conversation. And in some ways, these new bands inspire us.
Arun: We have to do what’s right for us, and what’s true to ourselves. Those records will always be there, to go back to. We would be doing ourselves and everyone a disservice if we weren’t doing what was true and honest to ourselves.
Rodrigo: We would be doing those younger bands a disservice if we tried to cater to what anyone’s vision of Saves the Day might be.
Have you checked out any of the other bands at Hit the Deck?
Arun: We’ve been on tour with The Front Bottoms, along with Brand New. Yesterday it was a little difficult. We’ve seen Dinosaur Pile-up.
Rodrigo: The Excerts were awesome.
Arun: Typically when we’re at festivals, we try to make the most of being able to see bands that we’ve heard about, so we’re going to try our best. We have a bunch of festivals coming up in Europe, and a few of these bands are going to be there. So if we don’t do it this time, we’ll have another opportunity.
How’s the rest of the tour with Brand New been?
Arun: Incredible. It’s interesting that the bands have never toured together, given the where and the when that we came from. But it’s great to do it now, where we are, and it’s been really enjoyable. Those guys are sweethearts. I can’t say enough great things about it. I’m shocked that it took this long.
We played Riot Fest with them last year, and that’s where the conversation where we said ‘how come we’ve never done anything?’ started, and then it snowballed from there. It happened very quickly, and it’s great to be back here too, on top of that. It’s cool on many levels. We love touring Europe, and the UK is always fun for us.
Do you have any favourite UK show memories?
Arun: We were here with Yellowcard, and we played the Forum. We did an aftershow at the Macbeth, an acoustic show. We did all requests, and we played until two or three in the morning, and it was a drunken mess. I’ve never seen an acoustic show get that rowdy. It was awesome, so fun. Pretty special.
Rodrigo: It was bananas. We did another aftershow on this run too, and it became total madness. We didn’t really have a plan. We just knew that we were going to show up, there was going to be an after party. We played from about 1AM until 3AM, and we took all requests. People were climbing on each other, there was a guy hanging from the lighting rig. That part was kind of dangerous – we don’t recommend it. No one got hurt, but people were just complete animals. People were just climbing on the stage, the monitors kept getting pushed on us. It was awesome. A big sweaty mess.
Dennis Wilson: I got beer poured on me the first show of the set.
Arun: Poured. And he was behind us! I feel like every time we come over here, there’s always something cool, that’s very memorable. When we did that Electric Ballroom show in 2011, it was the band’s first time over here in six or seven years. It had been a long time, and that was a pretty special show. We played 27 or 30 songs. It was just us and Dinosaur Pile-up. The last time we were here we did Reading and Leeds with The Cure. I don’t even need to tell you how awesome that is.
Do you think there’s a difference between UK/European crowds and American crowds?
Arun: There might be some subtle differences, maybe because getting over here isn’t always so easy. We were here three times in a year and a half, and now we haven’t been here for two years, so I think there’s definitely a palpable excitement. Subtle differences, but they both have their things that are cool. It’s nice to play at home sometimes, but it’s also nice to play away from home.
What do you miss most about home when you’re in other countries?
Rodrigo: Hot sauce. I brought my own Sriracha. I packed it in my luggage. Take it everywhere. Because when we go out for breakfast and stuff, no one has it here. We swim in hot sauce at home. You go to a breakfast place, they’ll have either Cholula or Tabasco. Hot sauce is key.
Arun: We miss family, there are things we always miss, being away from home.
What are your favourite things about being on tour?
Rodrigo: Travelling, seeing new cities, meeting new people, playing rock and roll.
Arun: I still love touring. It gets hard after a while, with families as you get older, and you have more responsibilities. I still love it the same as I did when I was 16, and going and playing one state over was like ‘wow, that’s so cool’. It’s still exciting.
Would you consider yourself as more of a touring band or a studio band?
Arun: We treat each thing as separate. We don’t necessarily try to recreate everything live that we do in the studio, so we just treat the studio as a way to have fun and experiment with things. Live, it’s a different energy, so personally I like both. They fulfill different things for me. One is the creative aspect, and the other is the sweaty energy of playing a packed house, getting to hear what you created in the studio. I don’t know if I necessarily prefer one or the other. It depends on my mood that day.
Do you like to get a studio sound first, and then work out how to play the songs live?
Rodrigo: On this last record we definitely jammed a lot, so a lot of the textures came out of what we were playing together in a room. There are overdubs on the record, but they’re mostly intended to accentuate what we were doing between drums, bass, guitar and vocals.
Have there been more ambitious studio experimentations in the past? Sure. On the previous album we had a song called ‘Daybreak’, which was an 11-minute suite, which was definitely more of an Abbey Road-esque studio creation, and we had to figure out how to play it live later. It really depends on the song, and the spirit of what the album might be. We’re not afraid of the studio. We like to use it.
Arun: We don’t like to set any rules, in terms of things like that. It’ll tell us what it wants, what it needs. It reveals itself, like everything in the universe.
What kind of feeling do you hope people walk away from a Saves the Day show with?
Rodrigo: Fulfillment. Contentment.
Arun: People go to shows to find some release from whatever they’re going through. Music speaks to people differently. So whatever it is you’re looking to get from seeing us live, we hope we fulfill that.
Rodrigo: Some form of catharsis.
Saves the Day is out now.