Ask half the bands on Warped Tour who their biggest musical influences are, and Chris Conley’s name is bound to come up more than a few times. Ask those same up-and-comers who they’re most stoked to also be sharing the stage with that day, and you’ll likely hear Conley’s name just as frequently.

As the frontman for New Jersey-bred Saves the Day, Conley helped pioneer early emo into the mainstream spotlight, long before it took on any negative connotations with asymmetrical haircuts and neon clothing. Now as one of the icons of his scene, Conley’s going stronger than ever with well over a decade’s worth of experience under his belt to match his revered songwriting ability.

“It’s cool that this style of music is predominant in rock right now, that a lot of what you see is sort of distantly related to emo,” says Conley. “All these bands that came up in the late ’90s – like the Get Up Kids, Alkaline Trio, Dashboard Confessional – opened up a little awareness of this underground thing. Then further on down the line, you have bands like My Chemical Romance, who are offering misunderstood kids a whole new way to identify themselves.”

Though also very much a part of that early emergence, Conley remains humble about his band’s role in it, despite frequently being recognized by many modern acts as an influence on their sounds.

“It’s really surreal and awesome. It doesn’t really compute in my brain, I don’t totally get it,” Conley says, adding with a laugh, “It doesn’t really stick as much as people’s criticisms. I don’t know what that’s all about.”

Having been proverbially there and back in his musical career, however, it should be no surprise that Conley’s understanding of his impact on those who came after comes with humility.

“I think that moment of recognition happens continually, a little bit at a time,” he says. “It’s nothing that I or our band have done alone, because everyone listens to a million different bands. I wish I could say the Beatles were the only group that inspired me, but even though they’re the band I love the most, they’re only a little tiny bit of my influences. We came along emulating our heroes and just enjoyed writing songs and getting to play. It’s neat to see that it creates these chain reactions.”

With six full-length albums released in the last 11 years, Conley is also well versed in the nature of fan response to the constantly evolving sound of a band with a constantly evolving lineup.

“I never react from fear of other people’s opinions, it’s just trying to find that place where it feels right and satisfying that internal compass,” he says. “We’re lucky that we have fans that will just listen to the albums no matter how they change. I’m almost kind of excited to see what people think. I know you can’t please everybody. I know going into it that there are going to be people that aren’t sure about it, but I don’t really worry about it.”

According to Conley, the secret to that longevity boils down to perspective. While lesser bands might have crumbled under the music industry tribulations he has faced, Conley remains undeterred.

“Sometimes when things are good, you think they’ll be good forever, and when they’re bad, you think they’ll be bad forever, but it always changes,” he says. “I still feel like the 17-year-old dude who was lucky enough to get into all this, playing our first basement shows and recording demos. I’ve just had the experience now to understand it in a different way than when I was starting out.”

The one thing that hasn’t changed for Conley over the years is his songwriting ethic.

“I couldn’t write a fake song if I tried,” he says. “There are two kinds of musicians, the ones that would do it in their bedrooms for the rest of their lives, who are few and far between and tend to have less success, and then there are the ones who got that glimmer in their eye while doing poses in the mirror and dreaming of signing autographs.”

For Saves the Day’s forthcoming album, which Conley likens to the band’s 2003 release In Reverie, fans can expect to see exactly why Conley is cemented into the former category rather than the latter.

“The lyrics are sincere, sometimes a little too intense, but I think that level of honesty is really important for die hard Saves the Day fans,” he says.

Not that he’s worried about criticism or anything.

As he says, “I love this. I would do it even if nobody listened.”



Chris Conley will perform Jan. 7 at the Troubadour and Jan. 9 at House of Blues Anaheim as part of the Where’s the Band? Tour with Dustin Kensrue, Matt Pryor and Anthony Raneri. For more information, visit myspace.com/wheresthebandtour and savestheday.com.