Come On and Celebrate the Holidays with Taking Back Sunday

It’s hard to believe that it has been 20 years since Taking Back Sunday formed in Amityville, Long Island, dominated the New York City emo scene, and then quickly became an international sensation. Hampered during their first decade by a revolving door lineup, it’s even more difficult to believe the band didn’t fall apart like a rusty jalopy. Yet the band’s classic lineup—who reunited in and have remained together since 2010—celebrated their platinum anniversary with a huge world tour and a greatest hits set, Twenty (Craft Recordings). 

During the tour, which took the band to the far corners of the planet, the band played their classic debut, Tell All Your Friends (2002, Victory Records) in its entirety along with fan favorites. For two-night stands, band members flipped a specially minted coin to determine whether to play 2004’s Where You Want to Be (Victory Records) or 2006’s Louder Now (Warner Brothers) in its entirety the second night.

The band recently completed their exhaustive tour, which began early last January, with two stellar performances at New York City’s famed Terminal 5, but the icons’ year is not finished just yet. They still have a tradition that is now entering its sixth year. That’s right emo-elves! Taking Back Sunday is coming back to their home away home—Sayreville, New Jersey—for their annual Holiday Spectacular at the Starland Ballroom. To satisfy their salivating fan base, the band will be playing two shows (December 13th and 14th) and limited tickets, including two-day passes, are still available, so act now.

In addition to two shows, the weekend will include a holiday-themed acoustic set, food trucks, and an appearance by Santa Claus himself.

On the last day of their recent tour, lead guitarist John Nolan took a few minutes out to speak with The Aquarian about Taking Back Sunday’s past, present, and future, and their rolling holiday tradition.

Taking Back Sunday’s 20th Anniversary tour has come to an end. Did you ever envision the band lasting this long?

We have never thought that far ahead. We all knew we wanted to be in a band, but that is all we ever wanted. I guess, on some level, we knew we would be doing this for a long time, but it’s surprising that we are still here doing it; that it’s gone so well for so long.

The recent greatest hits compilation, Twenty, proves that, despite the revolving door membership the band once endured, Taking Back Sunday has maintained its sound, identity, and integrity.

It is a cool listening to Twenty all the way through, hearing different members on different songs. Yet, there is a consistency throughout. I think a lot of that has to do with (drummer) Mark (O’Connell) and (frontman) Adam (Lazzara). Their approach to songwriting and performing has really come through throughout the history of this band.

In addition to celebrating the band’s 20th birthday, what were other tour highlights?

There were a lot of great and interesting moments throughout the tour. We’ve been all over the world. From the start, it has been amazing and crazy. We went from Australia to Asia. We performed in the Philippines and Japan. We performed in Singapore before flying to Alaska. Then we traveled from Alaska to Hawaii.

That’s a drastic change in temperature and environment.

We went from below freezing temperatures to a warm, sunny, beautiful island.

And the final leg of the tour has come to an end.

It’s been amazing. Openers Red City Radio are a great band and so much fun to hang out with. Getting to know and then connect with them has certainly been a personal highlight of this entire tour. They brought an energy to the shows that was certainly needed; especially towards the end [of this cycle of shows]. It helped us keep going.

How long have the band been performing Tell All Your Friends in its entirety?

Since we began the tour on January 5th. 

And on the second of a two-night stand, the band’s members would flip a specially minted coin to determine between Where You Want to Be and Louder Now. Have replicas of the coin been made available to audiences?

We only made a couple for ourselves. We do have a keychain with a replica of the coin, however, that is available.

How did the band celebrate the end of the tour?

By going home to rest for a while [laughs]. The tour ended in New York City, so a lot of friends and family were present. The New York City shows are always among our best. Afterwards, we celebrated before going home and spending time with our families.

To me, Taking Back Sunday will always be a Long Island band that emerged from the same scene as Glassjaw and so many others. Does it bother you when critics compare your band to southern California, melodic punk bands?

A while ago, we stopped paying attention to the way critics described our band. The way people do it is always weird, but there is nothing we can do about it.

The band is ending the year with its sixth annual holiday extravaganza. How did it become an annual tradition?

The first time was so much fun. We really enjoyed it and our fans loved it. It’s something different for us; we had never done anything like that before. It was cool to branch out and try a different type of show. It became a tradition because of how much everyone enjoyed it. It has been great every year, so we just keep doing it.

What inspired these shows, which have become Taking Back Sunday two-day fan fests?

It has developed into that during the years. The original idea came from our manager, Jillian. Initially, it was just a fun idea; a way to try something different. [The Sunday afternoon] acoustic show where we play [classic] Christmas songs has also developed during the years into a fun [staple of the event]. At first, we didn’t know what to do with that [portion of the show]. Early on, we played Christmas carols, but didn’t really know what to do. Now, it’s become really fun. “(You’re a Mean One) Mr. Grinch” has since become a staple of the acoustic set. A lot of the show feels like a tradition now.

When are Taking Back Sunday going to release a Christmas record?

That would be fun. Perhaps, we can do a live recording of the acoustic show and release that.

Will the band be releasing anything from the 20th anniversary tour?

We don’t have any plans to do so at the moment. It would have probably been a good idea but we wasted it [laughs].

Why has the band held their annual Holiday Extravaganzas at Sayreville, New Jersey’s Starland Ballroom? 

We’ve been playing there since [the early days] of the band. There is that tradition. The people who work there and run the place are great and we have a great relationship with them. When [bassist] Shaun [Cooper] and I came back to the band in 2010, the first show we played was at Starland, so the venue has a special meaning for us.

Taking Back Sunday has a reputation for making any venue, of any size, feel intimate.

I don’t think it is something we have set out to do. A lot of it has to do with our fans, who have built a community around our band. They have a shared sensibility. That alone makes our shows feel intimate. There is a sense of people knowing each other [if they are fans], even when they’ve never met [previously]; that is a connection everyone has. Another reason [for the intimate feeling] is how Adam handles himself on stage. He has an ability to connect with the audience, which he can do on any level; it doesn’t matter if we are performing in front of one thousand people or ten thousand people. He might be more aware of that, but it is not something [the rest of the band] have ever thought about.

I think you are selling yourself short. As charismatic as Adam is, a Taking Back Sunday performance is a band effort; everyone is working in concert, pun intended.

We all enjoy that vibe at the shows we attend. No one [for instance,] enjoys being in an arena and feeling totally disconnected from a band. There are those bands that can even make an arena or stadium show feel intimate. I can’t explain what makes it feel that way. Maybe it is just [Taking Back Sunday] emulating what we like.

Is the community-like fan base that Taking Back Sunday enjoys mostly lost in today’s music? 

It is still there for certain bands, so I wouldn’t say it’s lost. You just have to find the right bands to find these communities.

Can you reveal anything about the Holiday Extravaganza stage set? Will there be a Christmas tree and wrapped gifts?

I believe so. We have in our standard Christmas decoration packed away in our storage space just waiting to be busted out. We may even add a little more to it this year.

Who are opening the shows?

Modern Chemistry [who share management with Taking Back Sunday] will be opening the show. We’ve known them for many years. They are a great band and great guys.

Given the tone of the two shows, how will the set lists differ from your most recent shows?

They will be the first shows where we are not playing the albums [in their entireties]. We will lean on some of the songs we haven’t played in a while.

Deep cuts?

We don’t like to go too far into the deep cuts—there are [Taking Back Sunday] standards people want to hear, but we will play a few more [rarely performed songs] this year.

Will the band’s friends in family be present at the shows?

Our families will be there, so we may bring our kids up on stage [as we have in the past]. It is the one time of the year where all of our kids end up together.

After a well-deserved break, what are Taking Back Sunday’s 2020 plans? A new album?

We are going to take a little bit of a break and then we are going to start working on new music. That is the plan.

After 20 years, how has the Taking Back Sunday songwriting method changed?

Our process has remained the same throughout [our time together]. Everyone works alone on ideas, whether it is a guitar part, a lyrical concept, or an entire piece of music. When the time is right, we get together and show everyone what we’ve come up with. We take the ideas we are all excited about and hammer them out.

Are the band currently a part of a record label?

Not at the moment.

In the current musical environment, perhaps the band can self-release new music?

We certainly have a lot of options, which we are keeping open. 

Catch Taking Back Sunday at their Sixth-Annual Holiday Spectacular on December 13 & 14 at Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, New Jersey