Taking Back Sunday has been credited with creating a fusion genre of alternative rock and post-hardcore, formed out of the Long Island punk scene in 1999. Guitarist Eddie Reyes, formerly of Mind Over Matter, brought together a five-piece that would make waves and withstand lineup changes until finding the right fit. 10 years after the release of their debut album, Tell All Your Friends, the original lineup has come full circle.
Tell All Your Friends kick-started the band into full gear, earning their status as true trendsetters in music. The 2002 Victory Records release was a landmark in emo rock music, and brought together an innovatively charged group of musical perspective. Bassist Shaun Cooper, vocalist Adam Lazzara, guitarist/singer John Nolan, drummer Mark O’Connell, and the aforementioned Reyes weathered tumultuous times to find their groove. It’s a dash cliché, but what great rock story isn’t?
Cooper and Nolan left the band in 2003 to form Straylight Run, so the band continued with guitarist/vocalist Fred Mascherino and bassist Matt Rubano. But in 2010, Cooper and Nolan reunited with TBS.
Although the group endured years of instability and clashes, their bond was a close brotherhood. That said, now they’re somewhat “grown up” and have kicked the crazy, complacent antics. With life’s painful changes aside, they still sell out shows in a snap, and their people still care—because they care.
The reformed band released an aptly self-titled record in June 2011, and now, Taking Back Sunday are on tour with Bayside and Man Overboard playing the Tell All Your Friends 10th Anniversary Tour, performing the album in its entirety. In the conversation below, Cooper enthusiastically shares his perspective on growing up, going back to basics, and getting more out of music:
How is the tour going so far? Also, congratulations on selling out so rapidly! The response must feel so great!
We’ve been having a blast. We’ve always wanted to tour with our friends with Bayside for a lot of years, and it finally came together with scheduling and everything. And it’s really fun to play Tell All Your Friends from front to back; I know a lot of people have been wanting to hear that for a long time. Shows have been packed and sold out so it’s really great to see so many people support this thing.
It’s really cool to see how fast the band still sells out. It must be great to feel such support from your fans, particularly in your hometown area.
We didn’t really know what to expect. The record came out 10 years ago and the band has still done well and everything, but it’s a really busy touring season. There are a million other bands that people can go see and in this economy, people are trying to spend their money as wisely as they can, and it’s very gratifying that they’d do that for us.
Some of our fans have kids now, so they’re a little choosier about how they spend money. People are closer to our age now. It’s cool they stuck around all this time with us. We’re doing something right if they’re still with us, hanging on still.
How does it feel to be back with the band?
It feels fantastic. I didn’t really know what to expect when we first starting hanging out again and writing music together. But it was a pretty quick process of falling back into it. We write really well together and we get along so much better than we did in the old days because we’re older and wiser—the old cliché, but we understand each other a lot better. When someone is having a bad day, you leave him alone. We’ll figure it out, and we’ll talk it out. We all get moody from time to time and miss our families being away from home. We have a better sense of who we are, and know ourselves better as people, but we’re more respectful and understanding of everyone else as well.
How do you feel about your most recent album? Did it feel fluid to make, as if you picked up where you left off?
It was awkward for about the first 15 minutes and then everything after that was really cool. We just fell back into the old method of writing: The five of us start playing music, we’ll build off a guitar part—John and Adam get to work on the lyrics and vocal melodies—and we bounce ideas back off each other. It’s a very open working relationship. Adam suggests basslines for me, and Mark has a ton of guitar parts, which is rare because he’s a drummer. Everyone is bouncing ideas off each other. It felt so good writing together for the last record, getting the chance to work with [producer] Eric Valentine, who I was a fan of for a million years since I heard The Dwarves record, Come Clean. We were just so excited to get a chance to get into the studio.
I was a little bit envious when they were working with him before when I wasn’t in the band, so it was just shocking that the timing worked out and I was really glad we were able to get him again for the last record. We recorded in L.A. for about three months. We’d written in different parts of the country. We started in El Paso, Texas, hence the name of the song [“El Paso”]. We had a writing session up in Seattle—and wherever there was an open studio everyone could get to.
This is a homecoming of sorts for you, having been away from the band for so long. What is it like for you now? Do you feel like you’re picking up where you left off or do you feel like things have changed?
Everything is much better. There was always a lot of tension because none of us knew what we were doing. We were the young, dumb kids, and we didn’t know how to act. We hadn’t become adults yet. We were just five very different people and we’re a lot more alike now, personally and in writing music. I think that’s the big change, but it’s better and we’re writing better songs. We’ve been touring for a while now; a year and a half straight through and we’re all still getting along well, which is crazy. That’s why bands always spontaneously combust.
We had done so much touring back then in such close quarters and that’s why everything fell apart with us. Now we just feel like we’re getting things started. We’ve been on the road for a long time so now we’re getting that hunger to write more songs and to start focusing on the next record. It’s not like, “Oh, God, get me off the tour and away form these pricks for six months.” We just have that kind of fire and we’re building momentum. That energy is going to transfer to the next record. We did the whole Warped Tour—that’s a grueling thing to be away for two months. So we had a little less than two months at home and now we’re back out on the road for another two months. Everyone is downright giddy to be doing this thing. The shows are so good. We’ve done a lot of touring and we’ve played some great shows. I think the energy we have translates to the audience—they know this band cares again. The band kind of stopped caring and got complacent, and that’s why it fell apart. The whole reason why John and I ended up coming back is that we have that fire lit under us again and I think it’s going to lead to a great record in the next year.
How does it feel to play some material that you weren’t necessarily integral in composing?
It’s funny because we are playing more and more songs that I was a part of; the Tell All Your Friends songs. We’re playing a couple of B-sides, like “Your Own Disaster.” With the first record alone, that’s 12 songs right there that I was a big part of. We’re doing a separate set of crowd favorites and some from the new record. When I first came back we were playing stuff from Where You Want To Be, and it was a challenge to learn those songs because I’d been writing my own basslines forever. I’ve never been a guy to cover songs—I was always creating original music with my friends. So it was very challenging to learn Matt Rubano’s bass parts and to think about bass in a different way. It was very good for me to learn a different style of playing. He comes from a way more jazz, shredder background than I do. I’m a punk rock guy, you know. I think it was very educational for me and very helpful to make me write better stuff in the future. It was definitely a challenge but it was a fun one.
Taking Back Sunday came up in a time when piracy and digital sharing was not as rampant. How do you perceive the industry now and the band’s thriving strategy?
The record selling thing is really hard and it’s annoying. When we came up, though, the reason we got so big as quickly as we did is because Victory Records was doing great things with MTV2. We were getting our commercial on, which led to our video being played on tv—there used to be music videos on tv! It’s a weird thing. It’s a sad thing that people aren’t buying music, because we spend a lot of time working on those records and trying to perfect those songs, and it sucks. But that’s the way it is.
So we try to go out there and give our best live show and keep people entertained and coming back to that. That’s what made our careers lucrative and sustainable. We try not to think too much about how we’re going to sell records, because it we were of that mindset, we would try to change our style and do something weird—based on what’s selling big. Maybe we’ll get a DJ in the band? Add dubstep? No. We’re going to stick to doing what we know and trying to write the best songs we can and if that catches on and enough people buy these records we’ll just keep doing our thing, trying to make our videos accessible so people can have an awareness.
Who are you influences and favorite bass players?
Matt Freeman from Rancid was very influential in my early playing. Paul McCartney is my favorite bass player of all time—he’s so melodic and I was learning a lot of his stuff early on in my playing. I had this Beatles book that I would go through and try to learn every bassline I thought was cool. James Jamerson with all the Motown stuff. Anytime I hear that it just feels good; it connects with my soul. I know that sounds hippie cliché, and weird, but it just makes me feel so good.
Taking Back Sunday will play the Electric Factory Nov. 13 and 14, Starland Ballroom Nov. 16 and 25, The Paramount on Nov. 21, and Terminal 5 on Nov. 23 and 24. For more information, go to takingbacksunday.com.