Interview with John Nolan from Taking Back Sunday: There’s Still No ‘I’ In Team

When I first heard that John Nolan and Shaun Cooper were returning to Taking Back Sunday, my reaction was probably the same as everyone else’s: to search every legitimate Internet source I could find, and make sure this wasn’t some sort of cruel joke while simultaneously calling no fewer than 12 people to find out what they knew as well. Then celebrating with a ‘Hell yes!’ and a beer.

The band formed in 1999 in Amityville, NY with a lineup that changed and evolved until they released their first full-length record, Tell All Your Friends, in 2002 on the Victory Records label. Every single was well received by the alternative music world, and the record gained them quite a bit of recognition and success. But in 2003, Nolan and Cooper left the band on rocky terms to form Straylight Run, another endeavor that proved to be rewarding. “I feel like the work we did with Straylight Run helped us a lot as musicians,” Nolan says. “We learned, we grew and were much more mature coming back to TBS—all of us were. In that time apart, both bands had worked with different people and learned new things, and it’s all come together now.”

In April of 2010, after three more albums (including their major label debut Louder Now, released on Warner Bros. Records in 2006), 12 singles and several Bamboozles, Warped Tours and even 2007’s Projekt Revolution, it was announced that the original 2002 lineup would be reconvening and getting to work on a brand new record. A year later, we have them still working together, with a U.K. tour slated for May, and a self-titled fifth studio album due out in June. But are things really all good?

“Things are great,” Nolan says. “The first get-together was kind of surreal, but it was a really good feeling. Sort of like a family reunion.”

But how did the past, and how things were left when he and Cooper made their departures, effect the present? “It wasn’t at all tense at the beginning; it was more awkward sort of, having not seen each other in a while. But everyone loosened up after a few drinks, and it was all surprisingly natural… and at times also emotional. We talked about past issues and pulled together, all of us on the same page. We’re putting a lot of time, work and energy into this together and this time it feels better than it had in the past. We’ve grown up.”

They may be grown up, but their approach to music and performing is still very much the same. I’ve seen Taking Back Sunday at least eight times myself, and it is always a very high-energy show. They start playing, the crowd goes nuts, they feed off the crowd, the crowd feeds off them, and it gets bigger and bigger until it just erupts into a sort of frenzy. Night after night, all of that hard work and physical exertion—but John’s not complaining. When I asked him what the most difficult part of being on the road was, for him, it took him a while to think of an answer.

“I really don’t know. It’s all just fun for me. It’s kind of hard to point out something. I guess sometimes I tend to get too caught up in the atmosphere of a show, while we’re playing and I lost track of what I’m supposed to be doing to keep my playing and singing on point. You know, the technical aspect of it all. It’s hard for me to concentrate on that sometimes because I just get so caught up in it.” It’s refreshing to not hear pissing and moaning about tour life and how hard it is and this and that. And while we’re on the subject of passion and excitement, Nolan will be taking the stage with his bandmates at this year’s Bamboozle Festival, which they are headlining.

“I am very, very excited. I can’t believe it. We’re really going all out. We’re in the process now of putting together our set list and practicing hard; it’s getting closer and closer and we’re doing something different and special this year. Our stage setup, the lights, backdrop, everything—it’s all going to be new and it’s really exciting for us.”

And that same high, boisterous energy? “There’s nothing I do differently, personally, when I go from larger to smaller venues, or vice versa. Different feelings and energies effect the show in uncontrollable ways, different acoustics and how much space there is but the approach is always the same. The most rewarding thing about all of this for me is to look out into an audience and see them react immediately to what we’re doing. To play in front of so many people is a truly amazing feeling. Our first shows back together have been insane and emotional. Mind-blowing excitement, for sure.”

Seeing an opportunity to ask a question I had been wanting to ask for years, I jumped at it. Show after show I’d see lead singer Adam Lazzara bouncing off the walls, climbing things and swinging his mic all over the place; often whacking himself in the head with it. Do the guys ever worry about his safety? Are they concerned he’s going to severely injure himself? John laughed:

“Sometimes! He’s always finding a balcony or scaffolding to climb, and he’s hurt himself a few times but nothing ever too serious. He’s had his cuts and bruises. But to be honest… we worry about our own safety! It can be scary. In the early days we were all so scared of him hitting us. We’ve had to learn to kinda look out for ourselves!”

Taking Back Sunday drops officially on June 28, and a song from the album, titled “El Paso,” is available for your listening pleasure on both YouTube and the Taking Back Sunday website. Live footage shot at their April 6 show at Maxwell’s in Hoboken will soon be converted into a video for the song. They played it three times during their set and, if you were there, you were may have been recorded rocking out. Shortly after Bamboozle, the boys head to the U.K. for a tour in support of the new record. This will be their first time with Nolan and Cooper in tow. “It’s exciting. We had a U.K. tour planned way back when—before the split. And now, seven years later, we’re finally making it up to people.” They have also recently confirmed dates on both the Reading and Leeds music festivals, according to their website.

But what about Straylight Run? After two albums, four EPs, and four singles—Existentialism On Prom Night still being a mainstay on every Indie kid’s iPod—the band announced to it’s rather large alternative fan base that they were taking an indefinite hiatus in February of 2010. Nolan and Cooper would officially publicize their return to Taking Back Sunday the following month.

But what about the future of Straylight? Is there any foreseeable end to the hiatus? John doesn’t think so. “I feel like what I’m doing now is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. TBS is taking up all my time and energy right now and I couldn’t be happier.” One really never knows, though, and I’ll continue hoping along with the rest of the unbearably light school dance crowd.

Taking Back Sunday headlines Saturday, April 30 at the Bamboozle Festival. For more information, go to