Music: Back to Burning Rubber

After a tough go on a major label, Saves the Day returns to an indie more confident and wiser

Vagrant Records

For Saves the Day's latest album, the group shied away from "overproduction," instead making a record that was faithful to the band's live prowess.

Sept. 19, 2003, should have been a day of excitement and celebration for Saves The Day.

In Reverie, the band's major label debut on DreamWorks Records, had been released three days before and the band was waking up to a day that would be capped by a sold-out concert that evening.

The mood changed very quickly that morning for singer/guitarist Chris Conley and his bandmates.

"The album comes out on a Tuesday and three days later we've got a sold-out show in Asbury Park, New Jersey, to 4,000 people, Conley says. "It was Friday morning and I get a phone call from our A&R guy, Luke Wood, and he says 'Well, I've got some bad news. No one at radio is biting at the single and MTV doesn't want to play the video. We should consider the album dead and start thinking about the next record,' That was word for word."

To say the least, the news shocked the band. For Conley, in particular, it triggered a crisis of confidence that had him questioning his abilities as a songwriter, the quality of In Reverie and even if there was a future for Saves The Day.

The fallout from the failure of Reverie also contributed to a split with bassist Eben D'Amico, an original band member who grew to be at odds with Conley and bandmates David Soloway (guitar) and Pete Parada (drums) over the musical direction of Saves The Day.

"I think he was just afraid," Conley says of the conflict with D'Amico. "He was just as afraid as I was about what was going to happen with the band. He was just doing what he thought was right, steering the songs into a different kind of arena than they wound up being in. I think he wanted to make the music more middle of the road, just to play it safe. Dave and I just wanted to blaze, just wanted to burn rubber."

Conley said the second-guessing from D'Amico only exacerbated the blow his confidence had taken after Reverie bombed and the band's deal with DreamWorks fell apart.

"We thought (the) album would do well and it was dead on arrival," Conley says. "It was extremely devastating and it was really hard to start working on this new record because we couldn't really get our legs underneath us. It just felt shaky."

Once D'Amico was jettisoned, though, things gradually began to move forward as the band members decided to plow ahead with songwriting and record the current CD, Sound The Alarm, with their own funds.

Conley's confidence also got a boost after reading a book by Fred Goodman, Mansion On The Hill, which gave him a new understanding of the music business.

"I started to see the industry for what it was, where it's a business and the music is merely a commodity for the industry tycoons," he says. "They just want to please the stockholders because they want to keep their jobs, because they have to feed their families. All of a sudden that just made so much sense to me, where I thought, 'This isn't personal at all.' I thought, 'Oh, wow, this doesn't really mean that In Reverie wasn't a good album.' It means it was harder for them to sell, so they didn't know what to do with it because really the people in the music industry don't know how to sell records. The records sell themselves."

With Steve Evetts, who produced the first two Saves The Day CDs (1998's Can't Slow Down and 1999's Through Being Cool) reuniting to produce Sound The Alarm, the band finished the CD and then worked out a new contract with the independent label, Vagrant Records. Vagrant released the band's 2001 CD, Stay What You Are, and allowed Saves The Day to move to DreamWorks for Reverie.

Given the turmoil and emotional upheaval that surrounded Saves The Day, it's no surprise that Sound The Alarm's music, lyrics and emotional tenor reflect those tumultuous and unnerving circumstances, as the band blazes through 13 concise tracks, most of which rock loud and briskly.

Conley and his bandmates had to convince Evetts not to soften the sound of the new songs. The lean and lively production works mainly because the Pop hooks in songs "Shattered," "Eulogy" "Diseased" and "Head For The Hills" are strong enough to shine within the amped-up sound of Alarm.

"I just thought, these songs aren't asking for lush arrangements. They don't want to have that kind of overdone production," Conley says of his vision for the sonic personality of the current CD. "I really had to fight with Steve about that because I wanted the record to be faithful to the band. I wanted it to be my guitar on the left, David's guitar on the right, bass up the middle, drums and vocals and no knick-knacks.

"Steve really wanted to put keyboards on a lot of stuff and he wanted to do a lot of background vocals," Conley continues. "I just wasn't interested. I just wanted to burn rubber. So this record is the most raw. It's the most true to the band. This is the album where you can really hear what we sound like. When you come see us play live, you're going to hear the album because it's literally the same parts."

The band has launched a run of dates with Say Anything that figures to wrap up touring behind Sound The Alarm. STD has been working on material for a new CD, and a trip to the studio figures to be on the band's schedule later this year.

On earlier tours behind Alarm, Saves The Day has not only been doing material from the current album, but playing songs from the band's early days, as well songs from an EP featuring acoustic versions of their songs. That sort of variety figures to continue on the current tour.

"There's still lots of room (in the set) for old material," Conley says. "We just want to do a mix, a good mix."

SAVES THE DAY joins Say Anything Saturday for a show at Covington's Madison Theater.

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