Let’s pretend Taking Back Sunday’s albums are stages throughout a person’s life. Imagine Tell All Your Friends represents an infant, forever changing the lives of those lucky enough to be there from the beginning. Imagine Where You Want To Be representing childhood: full of so much promise that you love it to death. Imagine Louder Now and New Again as perhaps the awkward ’tween years, when that person is trying to figure out who they are. Imagine Taking Back Sunday represents adolescence, marked by a teenager slowly growing into their own. Imagine Happiness Is as the college years, when that person is beginning to make their mark on the world independently. Now imagine Tidal Wave—the newest album by Taking Back Sunday—as adulthood: the time when that same person not only realizes who they are, but most importantly, that they’re proud of who they’ve become. Unapologetically.
Most likely Taking Back Sunday has contributed to your own interpersonal soundtrack in some way or another throughout the years. Whether you blasted “There’s No I In Team” in high school or sought out lyrical revenge while listening to “MakeDamnSure” in college, Taking Back Sunday has probably played a role in your memories in the past decade—and just like you did, the band has changed throughout the course of its lifetime. And luckily (or unluckily?) they left such an everlasting impression that nostalgia doesn’t want to accept that they have changed.
But changed, they did. No longer singing about fistfights versus fences, Adam Lazzara, Eddie Reyes, Mark O’Connell, John Nolan and Shaun Cooper have grown up and now, they have families of their own. Thankfully, their individual growths resulted in each member perfecting their talents and skills, forming edgier, harder ROCK music when they join forces. When these five guys come together, the music Gods smile and magic is made within studio walls, resulting in great records that will never get old—even if we do. Tidal Wave is the perfect culmination of years spent evolving musically, personally, and every other way that there is.
We recently caught up with Lazzara to discuss all things Tidal Wave, their core lineup, touring, and more.
I had a chance to preview Tidal Wave and it sounds great. You can tell that the band went a different way with this album.
The thing with Tidal Wave is, we were very aware that this is our seventh record. Even as we were going into the writing process, we realized there was a kind of fork in the road and we could either go the easy way, and do what everyone would expect from us, like try to write another “Cute Without The E” or another “MakeDamnSure” or “Flicker Fade”. Or we could go down the other road, which would be a little bit more difficult, but where we could make something that speaks to who we are right now at this point in our lives.
The thing I’m so proud of with this record is, I think it speaks mountains for where we are and where our musical pace is because as you get older, you get introduced to new things and you’re more open to it. When I was younger, if it wasn’t fast and in this kind of a hardcore genre, I wouldn’t even listen to it. A really great example of that is, my dad had a Steppenwolf record and he was trying to get me to listen to it for years. It wasn’t until I was about 26, 27 that I finally said, “Fine, I’m going to listen to this thing.” And it blew my mind. And I just thought, had I not been so stubborn and identified so strongly with the hardcore thing, then I could have already been listening to this music. So I think that everyone has that going into writing, especially going into recording. You know, you listen to some of the playing [on Tidal Wave], and our drummer Mark and our bass player Shaun—it’s incredible.
It’s funny, my brother and I helped my mother move and we got stuck in traffic driving back. So my brother was like, “Hey, is it cool if we listen to the new record?” and I was like, “Yeah, I haven’t listened to it in a couple weeks.” So for me, I just listened to the bass and drums, just focusing on that, and the things that these guys were doing was just incredible to me. And I can’t believe I’m in the band with the guys who do that—but that’s how it is with everybody on this record. To sum it all up, I’m kind of rambling here, but I don’t think any of us feel that we’ve accomplished what we want to accomplish.
Yeah, you know, they pigeonholed us as an emo band for years and years, and I would like to think we’re more than that.
In my opinion, you guys are clearly more ‘rock’ now.
See, that’s what I think and that’s what I’ve always thought, but I understand everyone’s opinions are different. But I feel like with this record, we’re able to prove that to people. I feel like anyone who listens, you’d be hard pressed to write us off as “Oh, here’s this emo band,” or, “Here’s this pop punk band.” No, we’re better than that, and here’s proof.
But even with Happiness Is, you proved that.
Well I’d like to think so, but I wish everybody else thought like you.
Luckily, your fans grew up with you, so as the band got older, your fans have too. They’re still able to relate.
I’m so glad you say that—just doing these different interviews and talking to folks, there’s a thing that I say: the hope is that we can grow with people and people can grow with us. Sometimes your pasts are going to collide, but we’re hoping we can meet people in the middle again. So, you know, just you saying that means a lot to me. I hope a lot of other people feel that same way.
Do you feel a responsibility to your old-school fans to keeping your current music similar to your old stuff? For example, songs about heartbreak and shitty friends?
Well, you can be in your late twenties and still have shitty friends, so that’s universal. As far as lyrically, we try to write honestly about things that we’re going through. The hope is that maybe there is somebody out there who is going through the same thing and maybe this could help them in some way or maybe they’ll relate to it—or maybe WE’RE not alone in this.
If you can picture it, it’s like you’re on two separate paths and every now and again, those paths meet up. So I guess with everything we put out, we hope to meet up with people and get a conversation going. It’s the human experience. “Oh, your songs used to be about heartache”—the music is still about the same things, just through a different lens. You don’t look at things the same way you did when you’re 30 than when you were 20—you have seen and been through too much to have the same point of view.
“Tidal Wave” starts out sounding like classic Taking Back Sunday—but then it shifts into a song that sounds more punkish, like The Clash.
Funny thing about that song, here’s how it came about. We were sitting around: Mark, John and I. We were just talking about music and songs, and John was like, “Oh, I have this part: ‘What’s gonna happen when the old man goes?’” And Mark kind of lit up and his eyes got real big. He was like, “Man, we should make a song out of that,” and then we didn’t really talk about it for a month or two.
Then John came in one day and was like, “Hey, you know that part that I had? I made a song out of it.” And it was very singer- songwriter-y and folk-y, and he started to show it to everybody. Mark, immediately, it was like he was taken back to that place where he had first heard that little part. Then he had another vision for it and the end version sounds very Ramones, Clash-like. So when we listen back to it, I just remember that we were all sitting around like, “Well, this doesn’t sound like anything we’ve ever done before” and getting really excited about it.
After all these years, we’ve gotten to a place where we are very comfortable wearing our influences on our sleeves. When we were younger—and even now—like yeah, we wanted to be a band like The Clash, so why not be like, “Hey, here’s our interpretation of a song like that.” And it’s interesting too, I’m excited for the record to come out for a bunch of different reasons, but one of the things I’m excited for is that there’s no other song on the record that sounds like that, so I’m real curious to hear people’s reactions. Being that “Tidal Wave” is the first song we put out from this group of songs, I wonder if people are expecting more of that kind of thing. There are definitely songs with the same energy, but not with that sound and that thing that is heavily influenced by the punk rock world we grew up in. I’m curious to hear what people think about that.
“Tidal Wave” has instances where it seems as though the song is about the end of the world.
We’re living in a very strange time right now, even if you look at the election alone. The Avett Brothers have a song with a line that says, “When your life doesn’t change by the man whose elected,” and you think about that, like, I don’t know how much weight the presidential election is going to have on everyone’s personal life, but it’s a huge deal. It’s going to speak volumes for where the country is moving, whoever is chosen.
I think there is going to be a big re-evaluation at some point. Everyone will have to take a step back and think, “Alright, how do we get back on track here?” With everything that is going on in the world, I think it’s hard not to be affected by that, so of course those themes are going to come up with what we are writing. You know, anytime John and I, as far as lyrics go, anything we’ve put out or have written has been a reaction to just living every day, the world at large, or in our little world, our bubble. It’s a natural reaction because everything is a little crazy.
The overall album has many references to water. What’s the significance?
You know what’s funny? That was not an intentional thing. But that’s why we named the record Tidal Wave, because we sat back and listened to everything and we were talking about possible titles. It’s kind of like one of those things where you’re working on anything; it’s really hard to see the end or to see the bigger picture because you’re right inside of it. It’s when you take a step back that certain things become very clear and that’s something that happened with this record.
We didn’t go into it saying, “Oh, we’re going to title it Tidal Wave.” We had four or five working titles and none of them were that good. I think that was my fault. Anytime [you name a record], basically, you take a piece of paper and you write down all of the possibilities and you hang them on the wall and you step back and look at them. Tidal Wave wasn’t even an option but once we were able to take a step back, that’s when it was like, “Wait, there’s all these references to water…” and then just that phrase—those two words take on this whole new meaning. It just became this whole separate thing, a life of its own and we were like, “We have to name the record that”—and that’s what happened.
Tidal Wave could mean so many different things.
I think so too and my thing is, I love how music, or any kind of art, is like that phrase, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” One of the things I love about art in general is that once it’s out there in the world, it’s up to you as a person to make it your own. That’s another reason why Tidal Wave was such a good title. I want to know what people take away from it and hopefully it’ll mean a lot of different things. I know even within the band, that title means something different to Mark, as it means to Eddie, as it means to me, and so on. That’s what makes it so cool.
What was the process like, writing the lyrics and forming the songs?
Well the lyric-writing process for me…I lose sleep over it. Sometimes I get too crazy and there’s times I have to remind myself like, “Alright look, it’s a song, just do what you think is best for the song and hopefully nobody comes to your house and tries to kill you.” Mostly everything has about four or five different alternates and you just try everything until something clicks and is right.
One of the big things with this record that we did differently was, we would play and track everything, and immediately go and listen to it without our instruments. That way, it helped us look at things more objectively rather than playing a part all together in a room then talking about it. From there, we gave ourselves a point of reference that we could go back and listen to and that seemed to be a bit more productive for us. We’d go back and listen and think, “Well in this part, we were doing things that we’ve already done before and we’re approaching it like things in the past, so how can we take this part and push it into this space where it’s more in line with what we’re listening to, and how we’re feeling? How far can we push ourselves here?”
So that just made for an awesome record and great songs. It also made for a great platform for where, you know, Mark O’ Connell is one of the best rock and roll drummers, and this record he was able to show people that. In the past, we were kind of worried about stuff like that, because we were like, “Well, I guess people are expecting us to do this, so let’s stay on the safe side on the line.” Whereas with this record, we were like, “No, we’re not going to stay on the safe side of the line. We’re going to play the best we possibly can, we’re going to play to the point where we feel like we’re going to fall apart—and that’s what we’re going to put on the record.”
A good analogy would be, imagine you got a real sick boulder of a car and you get in the car and wanted see what it can do. So you get on the highway and you press down on the gas to see how fast you can go, see what the engine can do. That’s what we did with this record.
This album really does highlight Mark’s talents.
Yeah, absolutely. Also, a lot of people don’t pay attention to the bass playing, but if you listen to songs like “Fences” and look at the bass playing in that song, it’s just crazy some of the choices Shaun made. I would have never thought to go where he goes. It’s hard not to be in awe of his playing. Every time I hear it, I just want to find him and hug him and be like, “Holy shit man, this is great.”
Taking Back Sunday has gone through a few different lineups and now you’re back to the original core group. What is it about the five of you that works together so well?
This is the first time in the career of the band that we put out three consecutive records with the same lineup. I think with the five of us, we are so different, so there’s an inherent checks and balances in the band just because our personalities are so different. It’s the same thing with how “Tidal Wave” came about, if we were all the same person, it would have came out all folk-y but because we’re all so different, that’s why it ended up where it was and met on that common ground.
I also think that despite all of our differences, we all have the same goals and we all want the same thing. We want to be able to write songs and play music, and try to give back a lot of what our favorite bands and musicians give to us. Everyone has that same goal and also, we all have different experiences. We don’t have a lot of misconceptions between us about our expectations, or what we can or can’t do and that makes a really strong foundation.
We’ve also been through so much together. We’re way past friends, we’re brothers. Our kids, like, John isn’t our friend—that’s Uncle John. We’ve passed the point of being bandmates, we’re a family, so it’s an unspoken thing and everyone just kind of understands that.
When John and Shaun came back, how was that transition?
When they came back into the band, on a personal level, it was strange because we had all these years that we hadn’t talked. But as far as the music goes, it was like no time had passed. Yeah, there was a surge, because we had all done different things and our approach had changed over the years but as far as the style, it worked really well. It was an undeniable thing, even when we all got back together—the original five of us—we were all realistic about it, like “Hey, this might not work but it would be great to hang out.” It just ended up working so we were very lucky in that respect.
What does each member of Taking Back Sunday contribute to the soul of the band?
Man, that’s a tough question. It’s tough because I feel like I could give a long-winded answer for each guy, so it’s hard to narrow it down.
Eddie is the master of the rift. If you need a cool rift or cool guitar part, you can just put a guitar in Eddie’s hand, give him 10 minutes and he’s going to come back with something great. He has his own way of playing. I’ve seen a lot of other people play and I’ve played with a lot of other people and nobody does it like Eddie does it—he’s an enigma.
Shaun is the most reliable member of our band; you can always count on him. There’s so many times with his instinct, what he’s playing or where he thinks things should go, that when he has a vision, you know that nine times out of 10 it’s where the song should go.
Mark keeps us from getting soft because he always wants to push us to a place where he keeps us in that realm of a loud rock band. He’s this incredible drummer. If you just look at the way he plays, he’s a very forceful drummer. There are not many guys that do it like that. With him, when he gets an idea in his head, he cannot let it go until there is some kind of resolve and I think that’s something that has pushed our band to a better place. It makes us all better.
And then John, he’s a great guitar player, great songwriter, great lyricist. With him, he’s the most level headed out of everybody. You’d be hard-pressed to see him angry or if he was angry, you wouldn’t really know. Everybody has this joke that he’s the true hippie of our band, but with songwriting, he brings this level head that he’s able to step back and let everyone explore and get comfortable within the song while keeping a level head about it. The cool thing about John is that he loves being in the studio. He’s a lot like me: if I could just be in the studio tinkering on guitar every day—always—that would be the dream. Once he gets in that environment, he always surprises me.
And what about you?
Me, man, I don’t know. There are a lot of people who have said, “Oh, you’re the guy who throws the microphone around.” I just didn’t know what else to do with myself up there. I am aware of what everyone else brings to the band and I just feel like I’m kind of lucky to be there a lot of the time. Even when we are recording or even on the last tour, I caught myself looking around and being like, “I’m really lucky to be here.” To answer your question, I guess you’d just have to ask the other guys.
[This is the answer I received from Mark O’ Connell, written by John Nolan:
I think Adam has the clearest vision of what Taking Back Sunday can and should be. He also has a faith in himself and everyone in the band that is very inspiring. That was extremely clear during the making of the new album. He kept pushing to make every part of the song as good as it could be. His vision and drive pushed us to make an album that we never could have without him.]
How has the music making process changed as you’ve gotten older?
I’d like to think we’ve gotten better at it. As you get older, you’re taking in all your experiences whenever you’re met with a new challenge. For us, I think that after all these years, we’ve gotten to a place where we all understand how we operate and we all know how to navigate that—but we’ve gotten a lot more objective. I don’t know if that’s something that comes with time or experience of doing something over and over—you figure out a better way to do it. It becomes easier.
We’ve gotten to a place where it comes naturally and that’s something I’m real proud of. That’s something I admire about my favorite musicians, it just comes naturally to them. You look at Tom Petty and you’re like, “That guy was born to do that.” When I’m in the room with the four other guys, I feel like, “This is what we were all meant to do,” and, “This makes perfect sense.” That’s not a feeling I’ve always had, it’s something that’s come about over the years, and I’m happy and lucky to be in that position.
You guys were surrounded by family while recording this album. What was that experience like?
We were really happy about that. We recorded the album in Charlotte where John and I both live. Normally when we record an album, being that we all live in different places, there are hotels involved and you feel disconnected from your everyday lives. With this record, all the guys were staying between my house and John’s house, so we were all together and there was this great feeling of “home” throughout the record. I think that because we had that, that’s why the songs and the playing are so good. I’d like to think that nobody felt out of place because everyone felt at home and comfortable because we had our people around us. There is a confidence that comes with that, like when you get together with your family on the holidays. You know you’re in a safe place and you can just be who you are. Nobody is going to judge you because they are your family and you’re going to love them no matter what—and they’re going to love you no matter what.
That warm fuzzy feeling of being rooted.
Yeah. It’s freeing. That’s the environment that we recorded this record in and I think that was very important for the songs and just for the process because it really brought out the best in everybody.
“Holy Water” and “We Don’t Go In There” are two of my favorites off of Tidal Wave—what is your personal favorite?
It’s hard to pick a favorite. I’ll be listening to a song and then be like, “Man, wow, this is great. I’m really proud of us!” And then the next one will play and I’ll be like, “Holy shit, we got this one too!” so it’s hard to pinpoint one. We just made a video for “You Can’t Look Back” with our buddy Djai, so that’s the one I’ve been listening to the most. The video is really sick, I’m really happy with it.
When does that video come out?
Closer to the record, that’s all up to the adults. If it were up to me, I’d put it out right now. The tour we were just on ended in California and that’s where Djai lives. We did it about an hour and a half out of L.A. and it was basically in this desert/mountain-looking place. The timing of it all, it’s like the stars aligned: the opportunity of, “Well, everyone is here and we have the time, so let’s just do this.” That’s very rare when that happens, so we filmed it out there. It’s real weird and I love it.
I could imagine how that type of setting would be perfect for that song.
Yeah, that was one of the things I was worried about, shooting it out there, just because of what the song means to me. I have a visual but the visual for me is more of an East Coast-y, Southern thing because that’s where I live and what I’m familiar with. But Djai is great and he managed to keep that feeling that I was worried we would lose. He re-created that feeling there—he’s really good at what he does.
If you could share the stage with one band—living or dead—who would it be?
Woah, that’s tough. That’s really a hard one. When you say living or dead, that really opens the floodgates because there are so many bands that I would just like to see, like watching Led Zeppelin play with that lineup at that time. It’s kind of one of those things where I wouldn’t even want to play, I’d just like to watch them. Even going back, just to see Muddy Waters, back when he was really doing it, that would be great. I wouldn’t want to play, I’d rather just watch.
Is Led Zeppelin your favorite band?
No, Tom Petty is my favorite. I love everything that guy does—he hasn’t put anything out that I don’t like. And I don’t get it, like, how does somebody do that? Anytime I hear one of his new songs, there’s no adjustment period for me, I just automatically connect with it. It’s like this magical thing and I just don’t understand it. I love it.
My other favorite band would be Lifetime. I just love that band. We played Riot Fest with them a year or two ago and it was awesome. It was like the whole world around me shut off and it was just them and their songs and me. Just watching with thousands of other people there. But none of that mattered and I think that’s a pretty incredible thing, just that experience alone—to feel that and be that connected.
You guys have upcoming shows at Irving Plaza and Starland Ballroom.
Yeah, Irving Plaza is coming up soon. The holiday shows at Starland will be back to back and those are always great. We had this idea a couple of years ago, where we wanted to make an annual thing out of it, and we’re actually able to do it now. Just to see it happen is a sick thing, like, “Man, I can’t believe we’re making this annual thing that we get to do every year.” Modern Chemistry is from New Jersey and they’re great, and they’ll be there the first night. The second night Acceptance is playing, so both shows will be really fun.
Where do you see the band headed in five, 10, 20 years?
We’ve never been good at planning ahead, so it’s hard for me to say. There are certain times where I get this great anxiety where I’m just kind of like, laying in bed thinking about our lives, like where we go and what we could do and thinking, “Shit, I chose to be in a band and there’s no security in that.” And, “Oh my God, what am I going to be doing when I’m 50? Are people going to care?”
For us, you have to take all that worry away and live in the moment because that’s something that everybody worries about. Anybody that wants to be around for a while, you don’t know what the future holds so all you can do is your best and hope that it works out. We’re just going to do the best thing we can possibly do and hope it works out. And hopefully people will hear this record and feel the same way that we feel about it.
Check out Taking Back Sunday at Irving Plaza in NYC on Sept. 29 & 30, and at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ on Dec. 16 & 17. Tidal Wave is available now through Hopeless Records. For more information, go to takingbacksunday.com.