Straylight Run: Interview With John Nolan

With candy-coated American Idols shot through Vaseline-globbed lenses sporting ads for Coca-Cola on a weekly if not daily if not hourly or by the minute basis, to once in a while find a band that can work within the genre confines of pop and still create something meaningful and capable of having a more than 30-second commercial spot impact is not only rare, it’s damn near impossible.

Long Island’s Straylight Run, featuring Shaun Cooper (bass), Will Noon (drums) and John and Michelle Nolan (both multi-instrumentalists handling vocal duties), is the rare exception to the rule that somehow seems to slip by whatever sleeping guard generally filters out all of the artistic value from popular rock.

Although there is no doubt where they came from (John and Shaun used to be in Taking Back Sunday), the band has moved into position as an entity unto itself and has proven to be a stirring reminder of the power that pop has to move those willing to be swayed. Their self-titled Victory Records debut is a credit to the notion that not all songs with a rousing chorus are vacuous and shows well that it takes more than a budget and ProTools to craft lasting, significant songs.

The vibe I always got from Straylight Run was straight-up pop, but people seem to put you in the emo category. Where do you see yourselves fitting in?

I think that we’re more in the pop/rock area of things. I think that the only reason that we’ve been given the emo tag is because of Shaun and I coming out of Taking Back Sunday, and also probably being on Victory Records adds to it as well. But I think if you were just basing it on the music, I don’t think anyone would describe us as an emo band if it weren’t for those two factors.

How are you musically affected by your past in Taking Back Sunday?

It doesn’t really affect me very much. I look at what I did back then as where I was at musically and emotionally at that time, and there’s probably some connection to the way I write songs and some connection between what I used to do and what I do now, but I’ve kind of gotten older and my tastes have changed. I think I’ve matured and moved ahead since then in my musical life.

In what way have your tastes changed?

When Taking Back Sunday started, it started back probably five years ago almost, so the kind of music that I wanted to make when that band was starting was exactly the music that Taking Back Sunday was making.

And I think for most people, as you get older you start to change and you start to want to do different things, you start to listen to new music—not necessarily new bands or anything, just music that’s new to you that kind of opens up your mind and expands your horizons.

So over the years since that band, I’ve discovered a lot of new music and the kind of music I wanted to make started to change because of that.

How did you decide to bring Michelle in?

It was just me and Shaun and Will playing for a while and we knew we wanted to bring someone else in. I was living in an apartment with her at the time and she just happened to be writing all these songs, and she wasn’t necessarily doing anything with them, she wasn’t looking to be in a band or be a professional musician, but she was writing all these songs and learning the piano and guitar, mostly as a tool to help her write songs better. And I really started to see a lot of talent in her and a lot of potential for even better things and it just seemed to make sense to bring her in as the fourth member.

How is the relationship in the band affected by the fact that you’re related?

I’m not really sure. I don’t know if it affects much of anything. If anything, it’s maybe created a little more of a family-type of feeling in the whole band. She’s kind of looked at by Shaun and Will now as a sort of sister, so I think that’s the main way that it’s affected the relationship of the band.