To finish off my first official year as a Contributing Writer for The Aquarian Weekly on a really high note, I was graced with the opportunity of a lifetime to interview Taking Back Sunday frontman Adam Lazzara as the band was preparing for their first ever Holiday Spectacular at the Starland Ballroom last year. Featuring opening support from The Menzingers, Modern Baseball, Have Mercy and New Jersey’s own, Modern Chemistry, both sold-out dates were proven to be an overwhelming success. Not only were fans graced with two amazing shows of nostalgically-fueled live music, the band also organized an afternoon Pop-Up Merch Bonanza on the second day, highlighting food and merchandise from local vendors, as well as an arranged intimate acoustic performance with Lazzara and guitarist John Nolan.
Looking forward to this year’s lineup featuring Beach Slang, Frnkiero AndThe Cellabration, Modern Chemistry and The Superweaks, there’s no doubt in my mind that these shows will be just as exciting as last year’s. Long before the Thanksgiving holiday, I had the pleasure of catching up with Lazzara and discussed his personal highlights from last year’s shows, as well as his expectations for this year’s Holiday Spectacular. Music aside, he also shared with me some of his favorite holiday traditions. You heard it here folks, Lazzara is an excellent baker, and he can make a mean dish of pepperoni bread, especially during the holiday season.
There’s no question that last year’s Holiday Spectacular was an overwhelming success. What were some personal highlights that you really enjoyed about last year’s shows?
Well, last year, there was a lot of planning that went into it—you know, same as this year. Especially when it’s right around the holidays, you never really know how it’s going to go. Some of my personal highlights from last year… I guess just the turnout on the second day [with Modern Baseball and Have Mercy], or when we opened earlier, you know? When we played the acoustic show, and had a bunch of the local vendors up and everything, that was probably the most fun aside from actually playing. To be able to just kind of sit and talk with everybody, it was a cool way to spend the afternoon because it was much different than anything that we normally do on tour.
This year, you’ll have Beach Slang as well as Frnkiero AndThe Cellabration and Modern Chemistry as opening support. Personally and musically, what were defining qualities about these acts that made them the right fit to play these holiday shows this year?
For us this year, with Frank Iero—we did a tour, and we’ve done another handful of shows with him. Of course, we’ve been friends with them for years, and even the rest of the guys of The Cellabration. They are just such sweet guys, and I feel like there was this thing where everybody automatically got along. It just makes for a good night when everybody is on the same page.
Same with Modern Chemistry—we’ve been friends with them for a while, and with them being from New Jersey, it’s a cool thing that we could make work.
You’ve had the opportunity to briefly tour with Modern Chemistry earlier in the fall as well. Would you say that your relationship with this band has blossomed since sharing the stage with them at last year’s holiday shows?
We have met them a little bit before that. So it’s like, every time we get to see them, it’s kind of the same with Frankie and his guys.
Now music aside, what are some holiday traditions that you like to participate in? I’ve been told some things about your pepperoni bread. Would you care to elaborate?
Oh, yes! (Laughs) Yeah, it’s kind of a family recipe growing up from my dad’s side of the family. It was just kind of like, “It wasn’t a Christmas unless you had pepperoni bread out there.”
What we do every year is that I make just really… an obscene amount. Like, I’ll spend the day just baking and give it out as presents, because we can’t keep too much of it in the house ‘cause I’ll just eat. It’s so good and it’s so terrible for you (laughs) but in small doses, it’s great. That’s kind of the “Lazzara Family Gift” for our neighbors and friends around here every year. Like I said, it just carries on from my grandparents and aunts and uncles always making it.
Would you care to share the baking process, and how you usually prepare this dish?
Well, you know… you make everything from scratch. So, what takes the longest is the dough, just because you make it and then you got to let it sit so it can rise, and then you got to separate it into smaller balls so the size of the actual pepperoni bread will be low so you can let it rise again. So, that takes up most of the day. I mean, it’s mostly a lot of prep work after that, because then when you have that sitting in, I’m mostly stationed in my kitchen so I can kind of just “assembly line” them. Like, I guess it’s a good and a bad thing because it’s really the only thing I know how to make (laughs). So, I think that’s why I’ve stuck with it every year.
As you get older, I’m sure both you and the other members of Taking Back Sunday have your own family traditions each year. Are there any traditions that you uphold with your fellow bandmates during the holidays as well?
Well for us as a band, we all live in separate places, so it’s a little different as far as being able to get together and all that around the holidays, unless it’s for a show or something. So, I can’t say that there is anything within the band between the five of us that we all… or that we don’t really get around on Christmas. There’s like, a round of phone calls on Christmas Eve for sure. Mark O’Connell, our drummer, it’s his favorite holiday. I bet on Monday he already has Christmas decorations coming up. He probably put them up the day after Halloween (laughs).
I know usually around this time of year, my friends and I all have family obligations around the holidays as well.
Yeah, yeah. For me, we [my family and I] go down to Alabama, so that’s definitely kind of far away from the New York home base that the band has.
Now, is that the same for New Year’s as well? Or would you say that’s more of a wild and lively holiday for you personally?
New Year’s for us, we usually try to play it low-key. Because, I think I’ve spent enough New Year’s trying to go out and things like that. At least since I lived to Charlotte, we just have a couple friends over at the house, and then just celebrate that way. Kind of just a quiet evening, which is always nice.
I remember around the time when we spoke last year, I asked you what your tentative New Year’s resolution was going to be, and you said, “To be better,” as a general answer. Looking back on this past year, do you feel like you’ve achieved this resolution?
Yeah, for me, [“being better”] it’s always like a constant thing. Even from having that resolution last year, I can guarantee that will be my resolution this year too, you know? Because there’s always room for improvement; it’s part of the human condition. So, I kind of always have that.
From the standpoint of the band, what are some plans that you hope to accomplish to ring in 2016? Have you been working on new material recently to follow-up Happiness Is? Or are you still on the touring cycle for this record?
Well, Happiness Is… is winding down you, know? For us, we have a good amount of songs written, and I think after we do—like, there will be one more kind of, I guess writing session, like we do, and I think we will be ready to record. Some of these songs, I just can’t believe how they are coming out. Mark, our drummer, said the funniest thing. He said, “Man, I guess it just took us 16 years to write songs that are good.” And I just said, “Yeah, I think you’re right.” (laughs)
So yeah, we’ve been working on that. John Nolan is having a new baby any day now, so that’s kind of the focus there at his house. So, we’re giving them a little window, you know, to let that happen.
Nice, congratulations to John! It definitely sounds like once everything is set in motion, I’m sure a lot of fans will be excited to hear this new material.
Oh yeah man, that’s the hope. I would say, early, early next year, we’ll be getting into the studio.
Fantastic! Adam, it was definitely a pleasure to catch up. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
No man, just thanks for taking the time to interview. I’m really excited for the shows, you know? If it’s anything like last year, it’s going to be a really great time—I think it will be even better.
Taking Back Sunday will be playing their second annual Holiday Spectacular presented by The Aquarian Weekly at Starland Ballroom in Sayreville on Dec. 18 and Dec. 19. Happiness Is… is available now on Hopeless Records. For more information, go to takingbacksunday.com.