Adam Lazzara is the closest thing to an icon in the scene in which his band, Taking Back Sunday, has become legendary. But they’ve managed to do what most bands from their era have not been able to do: reinvent themselves while continuing to be really, really good. In fact, they’re better now than they’ve ever been, thanks to their ability to adopt a new musical style and find ways to elevate their sound in their own way. I was lucky enough to speak with Adam before the band embarks on their summer tour, when they’ll be playing Webster Hall on July 14 and 15.
When we last spoke, it was right ahead of the release of Tidal Wave. How was the reception? Did everyone acknowledge the new sound direction you guys were going in?
Yeah. One of the cool things for us with this record was right after it came out in the fall, we did a tour where we were just playing it from front to back, so we got to see in real time people catching onto the songs. I think the tour started the day after the record came out, so obviously everyone was just watching at first. Then a week goes by and everyone starts singing along to our songs and then another week goes by and it kept growing like that. It’s not something that we normally get to see happening in real time. With all that said, I think that we’re really lucky, because people were open to the direction we’re headed in.
Taking Back Sunday recently contributed to John Nolan’s compilation album, Music For Everyone, and on this upcoming tour, HeadCount will be there registering voters. How do you think music can impact people’s roles in today’s society?
Music has always been a good way to help raise awareness, going as far back as you can trace it. Since we have a bit of a platform, it’s nice to try to help raise awareness. We’re not out to try to push our ideas down anybody’s throat. We prefer to surround ourselves with open-minded people, so just being in a place where we can say, “Hey, there is this if you want to check it out…”
How did you guys go about recording “Just A Man” for Music For Everyone?
That was a song that John had, because when he had the idea to make the compilation, we wanted to have something that was new and original. We didn’t want to do an acoustic version of a song that everyone had already heard. We got to go to a studio here in Charlotte, which was where we recorded Tidal Wave, so that was really great. We just went in for the day and knocked it out.
You also covered “She” for Green Day: The Early Years – Covers & New Classics.
That one was a whole lot of fun. We were on tour and they had contacted us about being a part of that, so we started talking about the different songs we could do and different ways we could do them. One of the first things that came up was to take one of their songs and slow it down and strip it down, because they really don’t lend themselves to that kind of arrangement. We picked the song “She” because I remember when I was a kid, I had Dookie. Growing up, we had this black reflective refrigerator and it was the only full-length mirror in the house, so when nobody was home, I would blast that song in particular and dance in front this refrigerator. So for me to be able to cover that song and have it be part of an official compilation, that was really special.
This is your last weekend with your family before the band embarks on yet another tour. What are the highlights of touring and what are the pitfalls now that you all have families?
Obviously, it’s really hard. It used to be that I was the guy in the band that would tell our agent, “Keep us out on the road, we don’t need to be home” whereas now it’s like, “Let’s see if we can work out some more time at home”. But you know, we’re really lucky to be in the position we are in: to play music for people and have it be our work. So as hard as it is to be away, there is also that thought in the back of our minds like, “We’re some of the luckiest guys you’ll get to meet”.
It must be a complete 180 from when you were in your 20s to now, when you actually have something to go home to.
Yeah, you put that really well. I would go crazy whenever we had time off in between tours when I was in my early 20s. I would get real restless and itching to go out, whereas now, we still get restless and still really look forward to going out, but we’re still real happy to spend time with the family.
Are there certain dates when the families get to come out?
Yeah, we try to work that out as best we can. Normally when there is a string of shows when the drive isn’t too crazy and long, they come out. In a perfect world, we would just bring everybody all the time but then we would have to get more buses and that’s not really in the cards, so we try to work it out the best we can.
I’ve seen pictures of the kids on stage with you guys—do you think that’s an indication of them following your footsteps?
I don’t know. John’s son seems to gravitate towards the guitars and singing songs, and Keaton, my son, loves the drums. So it’s going to be interesting to see what they get into.
It would be funny if Adam Lazzara’s son ends up a drummer.
(Laughs) Yeah, that’s one of the cooler things with having kids because you’re watching their personalities develop and seeing what they get into. For instance, Keaton loves that song “Hallelujah” that Jeff Buckley covered and we listen to that a lot because it’s a beautiful song. One day I showed him the Leonard Cohen version, the original, and now anytime we put it on, he wants to hear the Leonard Cohen one because he likes that one so much better. And that’s a fun, interesting thing to see, “Oh, his taste leans more towards this Leonard Cohen version to where I prefer the Jeff Buckley version.”
Let’s talk about Taking Back Sunday’s last two videos. In “You Can’t Look Back”, the video mostly revolves around a good-looking couple that goes to the beach for a campfire party where the members of the band are hanging out. All of a sudden, you start spewing blood everywhere. Then in “Call Come Running”, the saga continues with you desperately running around looking for help while everyone ignores you, until some man helps you and throws you into a bath. You then emerge from a lake, clean, and stand before what one would assume to be your family. As a fan that has followed your career, I took that video to be an implication of your family saving you.
Well, I think that’s a good way to look at it. The guy who finally saw me in the “Call Come Running” video is my dad. He came down to be in the video which is funny because he comes to the house and I’m covered in blood and he’s like, “Oh no, what did I get myself into?” For us, I think it was more of a social commentary because there are a lot of distractions around and sometimes you can lose sight on what’s really important and that’s kind of the heart behind it.
I felt as though you were saying your family put everything in perspective. Did I read too much into that?
No, I like that. That’s the gist.
Did you film that video in Charlotte too?
For “Can’t Look Back”, we did that outside of Los Angeles and for “Call Come Running,” we did it here in my neighborhood. Another funny thing is, I’m wandering the streets covered in blood so my neighbors are looking out their windows like, “What is going on?”
So you just filmed those bloody scenes, walking down the street and nobody knew you were filming a video?
Yeah, I had to explain it to a bunch of our neighbors as I’m covered in blood. I felt awkward because you know, you see people walking around the neighborhood every day and all of a sudden you have to explain why you’re covered in blood and crawling around the neighborhood.
Taking Back Sunday is one of the few bands from your era that have stayed in tact. How do you guys continue putting out fresh music after all these years?
Well, I think we are real lucky, you know? When we go into write, we always try to approach it differently than the record before because we never want to do the same thing twice or put out the same record twice. All of us are such big music fans as it is, so I think that as we keep going, we’re taking in a lot of different influence from different things that we’re discovering through the years and it’s something that everyone applies to what we’re writing. We try to be really careful like, “This sounds like something we’ve already done, so let’s just try to strip it all down and change it to make it better.” For us, we just try to write the best songs we can and that’s the main thing we’re always focused on. There’s always the question of, “Okay, this is cool, but what would make it better?” I guess that mentality has been helpful to us over the years.
Tell us about the rest of this Tidal Wave tour.
I’m really excited that Every Time I Die is going to be on this tour. We’re all fans of their music and we’ve been trying to work something out with them for a long time. For us, we’re just excited to get out there and play. The last tour we did was focused real heavily on Tidal Wave. This one will be nice because a week ago, we all got on the phone and we were trying to figure out what songs we could play on this tour that we haven’t played in a while. So we came up with this pretty cool list that we’ll be able to switch up mostly every night. That’s the thing we’re looking the most forward to.
What’s next on the horizon for Taking Back Sunday, besides the tour? Are you thinking about your next album?
Yeah, we started to toss ideas back and forth. While we’re on the tour is probably when we’ll start working things together. We’re not so great at writing on the road but everyone is excited and has a good amount of ideas to bring to the table. After the tour, we have a bunch of flyaway type shows in September, then after that is probably when we’ll get together to start writing again. That will take us into December, when we’ll do the holiday shows at Starland Ballroom.
Bonus question. The last time we spoke you said that Tom Petty was your favorite musician. If you had to listen to one album for the rest of your life, which would it be and why?
Probably Full Moon Fever because there’s not a bad song on it. Even now, I always find myself going back to that record. My head doesn’t seem to get tired of it.
Check out Taking Back Sunday on July 14 and 15 at Webster Hall. You can also find John Nolan’s compilation, Music For Everyone, which benefits the ACLU, at www.musicforeveryone.us. For more on Taking Back Sunday, go to takingbacksunday.com.