Taking Back Sunday know all too well that a lot can change in 20 years: band lineups, location, musical direction. But for every change, there’s something that remains the same: mic-swinging, a hoard of dedicated fans, highly-anticipated new music, and overall appreciation for frontman Adam Lazzara’s lustrous locks.
Approaching two decades as a band, the Long Island-hailing rockers — a classic emo staple still permeating ‘Most Listened To’ Spotify lists all these years later — have much to be grateful for and look forward to. But, if they’ve learned one thing from 20 years of crafting irresistible jams and sold-out tours, it’s to appreciate the present moment and all that it brings. Today, for Lazzara, that moment entails finalizing Christmas plans with family, discussing an upcoming compilation album, two new singles, and a 20-year Anniversary tour. Taking Back Sunday are still here, and they’re going to “makedamnsure” you know.
The band has a lot of exciting stuff going on: the 20-year anniversary tour, new music, your holiday shows. But, let’s start with celebrating 20 years as a band. Did you ever think you’d make it this far when you first joined the band and were starting out?
No, I don’t think any of us thought that far ahead, and it’s hard to think that far ahead now. For us, we really wanted to be able to tour and have a record that you could buy in a store. And just the fact that looking back all these years later, you know, I think we’re just the luckiest guys I think you’ll ever meet. Through all the ups and downs and everything we’ve managed to keep going and persevere, and I’m very proud of that.
The music industry is obviously not an easy thing to navigate, so 20 years is quite the feat. I don’t know if you guys were on Twitter at all yesterday, but Spotify was showing their users all of their most listened to music of the year — these like Spotify Wrap Lists — and I saw Taking Back Sunday pop up on a lot of lists. The fans whose lists you were on were all like, “Yeah, I’m still listening after all these years, that sounds about right!”
[Laughs] That’s awesome! That makes me feel very good.
What stands out as some of the highlights of your career? Memories that really stood as milestones for you?
It’s crazy. Someone asked me that question the other day, and it’s hard to pinpoint a few, you know? Because we’ve been so fortunate over the years. I feel like there’s one for every year. But the few that really, really stick out…I remember the first time we played a show and people that we didn’t know were singing along, and the place just kind of exploded. We were at this place on Long Island called Ground Zero. And after the show I remember just sitting — John [Nolan] had this little red Honda Civic — and we were loading gear back into it, and after we did that we just kind of sat there and didn’t even know what to say to one another because we just couldn’t believe what happened and what we just did. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that.
Or the first time we played Roseland, that was a huge deal. And then, even the first time we played Birch Hill in Jersey, that’s when we met Big Brian and all those guys. Just to see that place at that time; we were just kids. I remember there was one show where I had broken — not broken — but I had dislocated my hip and we were playing acoustic because I had to sit down, and just the amount of people who were singing along and it just felt like just really unbelievable. It’s just really moments like that that really stick out, you know? Yeah, I could keep going!
What went into determining which songs were going to make the upcoming compilation album? With such a substantial catalog, how did you make that decision?
Well, I think the first thing I said was let’s put everything on. [Laughs] But, we do everything very democratically. So, pretty much everyone made their own lists and then we came back together and compared those lists. And surprisingly enough they were all very similar, and then that’s how the track-listing got figured out. There weren’t any big arguments or anything, which was really nice.
There were a few songs we were really going back and forth about, and so with the special packaging there like another 10-inch with some extra songs on it. And then with the ‘Artist Picks’ in the liner notes we all wrote a thing that explains why we picked that song. It’s pretty neat.
That’s a good way to make sure that everybody got their opinions in. It sounds like there was a lot of overlap, like you said. There are also two new songs on the album; one, “All Ready To Go” just came out yesterday. It definitely has a rock edge to it. Do you feel like your songwriting process has changed since when you guys first started out? How did the two new singles kind of come about?
Well, both of those songs came from our drummer Mark [O’Connell], actually. Like, “A Song For Dan” is one of the songs on there, and he had started working on that around the same time we started touring for Tidal Wave. It’s funny because you’ll see him on his phone all the time and you’ll think he’s on social media or something, but he really doesn’t have that many apps on his phone. More just like GarageBand on there.
So, he had just been working on this so when it came time to put our ideas together that one just really stood out. It was really just a matter, as far as finishing it goes, adding words and a melody to it. And John had another idea that he was kicking around, and it just really worked out.
“All Ready To Go” came from Mark. Mark and Shaun [Cooper] live in Manhattan, and John and I live in Charlotte, N.C. So, Mark and Shaun had gone to a studio on Long Island and laid down the barebones of the idea and then sent it down to Charlotte, and John and I added our input there.
We got a good idea of what we were going for, and then maybe a month or so later we got together at a studio down here and we worked all the details out. Cutting parts short, let’s have the drums here, this guitar part; just all the little details.
I guess to answer your second question, about how the songwriting process has changed, the biggest thing that’s changed is the distance between all of us. If we lived in the same place then we’d just meet at a rehearsal space and just play. So, now we have a little bit more time to iron out the smaller details. That’s really the only difference.
If you were to describe your two new songs in a single word, what word would it be?
Would you say that has a lot to do with the process and releasing them?
Both. You know, there’s absolutely love for the process. And this is the first time that I was able to engineer a good part of it — not the whole thing. And that was very, very exciting for me. And then, even just the process of writing in general is one of the things I look forward to the most — being able to be in the studio and working those ideas out.
I don’t know if you saw but there was also a lot of talk of the “All Ready To Go” music video. It’s animated and fans seem to really love how the animation got your hair. They were like, “Oh that’s really cool. His lustrous locks just transcend so well into this music video!” There were multiple comments about that specifically.
[Laughs] That’s amazing!
On this tour you you’ll also be playing Tell All Your Friends in its entirety. How do you prep for that?
Well, we listen to the record and then try to relearn all the songs, and then go out and do it. Because we’ll also be playing Where You Want To Be and Louder Now all the way through, and those two will actually be more of a challenge just because a lot of those songs this lineup of the band have never played together. So, those are the ones that we’ll have to spend more time getting everything just right in rehearsals, but I think it’ll be good.
At first, when the idea was being kicked around to put it together and then put it out and do a tour, and then play older records, at first, I wasn’t fully sold on the idea because I didn’t want to give anyone the impression that it was this nostalgic thing. And it was our manager Jillian, who has been with us since the very beginning, as we were talking about it she’s like, “Adam, I don’t look at it like that at all. The way I see it is look at what you guys have been doing, like what you’ve built, what you’ve accomplished, and been able to do it because of Taking Back Sunday. That’s something that I think should be celebrated. And even the fact that everyone is still passionate about it all these years later; it should be a celebration, and what better way to do that than to go to the people that made that happen and celebrate it with them.
Then a switch flipped in my brain and that’s how I’ve been looking at it since. It’s really exciting to be able to share these records in their entirety with everyone. I mean, it’s not something we always get the chance to do.
And vocally, how do you prepare? That’s a lot of music to play over.
Yeah, you know we’ll have to see what will happen. I think I’ll be okay, I just want to take a little better care. And then the touring that’s coming up, just trying to get more sleep and do warm ups and all that and I think I will be okay.
Taking Back Sunday also have their annual holiday shows at Starland Ballroom coming up. What keeps you wanting to do this year after year and coming back to New Jersey?
One is the tradition we’re trying to build and that fact that we get to do it every year. I think it’s really great.
Two, every year we donate a lot of that money to these different cancer charities, and this year specifically the money raised will be going to my cousin. He’s two years younger than me and has two daughters, but his 3-year-old daughter was diagnosed with cancer earlier in the year. So, they’re going through a tough time. The money we raise will go straight to a charity that was set up in her name. So yes, I’m really proud of that and just being able to help where we can. She’s this amazing little person and it’s just heartbreaking to watch her go through everything she’s having to go through.
And out of all my cousins you know, he’s my cousin Mark, and he’s the one that has it together the most. He’s the one everybody looks to like, “What’s Mark doing?” And even through all of this, he and his wife Stacy have just been really strong. Because I know if it were me I wouldn’t handle it quite as well as he has.
So anyway, that’s another reason why, because it gives us a chance to help out.
Absolutely. We’re wishing the best for your niece. It’s a really tough thing, but family and you know our outpouring of support like this make all the difference. Even the positivity. So that’s a great. Before I let you go, my last question is going to be bit of a loaded one, but if you could give yourself 20 years ago some advice, what would it be?
The first place my brain goes to with that is to try to give advice on a bunch of situations over the years that I could have handled differently. But I think the main thing I would tell that younger version of myself it to just take it easy. Everything’s going to be for. Just really appreciate the moment and the place where you are when you’re there.
See Taking Back Sunday performing live on Dec. 14 and 15 at Starland Ballroom.