DJay Brawner

Everyone Is on the Same Page in Taking Back Sunday

Oh, Taking Back Sunday.. how deep our relationship continues to go.

What can be said about Taking Back Sunday that hasn’t already been said? They are friends of ours, consistently praised, and have helped bring an entire genre into the mainstream. This band is synonymous with the concrete summer heat of Warped Tour, and anytime someone takes a deep inhale, an entire generation of emo kids reflexively hear the opening guitar riff to “MakeDamnSure.”

Taking Back Sunday is headlining Sad Summer Fest all summer long, making stops in New Jersey on July 14 and Philadelphia on July 15. If any one of our readers even slightly enjoys guitar-driven music and have yet to catch TBS live, they have to go see them perform. Taking Back Sunday could play in a basement, theater, or arena and their performance would fill every single corner of whatever space they’re in. They’re really that good and that worthy of your time, summer trek, or even holiday season. (Our annual Holiday Spectacular with Taking Back Sunday is a staple.)

The Aquarian had the amazing chance to talk with Adam Lazzara, frontman for the band, to talk pop punk shows and summer fests. We also discussed new music (in the works), microphone swinging, working with The Maine, and so much more.

Sad Summer Fest 2023 has got to be really exciting for a band like yours because of your history with Warped Tour. 

Yeah! It’s a pretty wild thing. Since being aware of shows and things like that, it felt like Warped Tour was always a staple, so it was really sad to see it go. With Sad Summer, they’re trying to fill a little of that void. We’re happy to be part of it.

I’ve talked to a few artists about this – there needs to be that space somewhere. There needs to be this community for this scene. Do you notice that Sad Summer, from what you’ve witnessed, is doing that? 

You know, I’ve never been, but I’ll let you know come August once the tour’s over how it went! I think it’s cool that they’re still making the opportunity for people to experience more than just one band come through their city during the summer. That was a big thing for myself and most all of us growing up. I’m glad there is still that option there, and they are filling that. 

It’s how people discover newer bands in the scene, too. Back in the day with Warped, now with Sad Summer, you might only know half the bill, but you’re going to leave knowing way more bands that you showed up for.

Oh, for sure! I think that is great.

Obviously I want to talk about the song that has exploded in the last year:” Loved You A Little” with The Maine and Charlotte Sands. Is it cool to watch a song that you maybe didn’t have a ton of expectations for just bleed into the mainstream the way it has?

It’s very wild. They [The Maine] called and said, “Hey, we have this song. Would you like to sing on it?” It was kind of in the throws of the pandemic, so I was just so happy to have something to focus on. Here was something to work on, to break up the monotony of being at home all the time. On my end, I recorded all that stuff in my garage. I didn’t really think much of it. It was kind of a fun thing to do. Then, typically with things like that, when you’re doing a guest thing on anyone’s record, normally it ends up being one of the deep cuts. A few months later when they called again, it was, “Hey, we’re going to go to radio with it.” I just couldn’t believe it. I thought it was fantastic. Those guys are so sweet. They had a show in New York, it was at Webster Hall, and I went and they got this fuzz pedal for me because I’m really into gear and they know that about me – just as a gift! The show was this beautiful night and everyone was really nice and I’m just happy to know them and be in their world. The way they operate is really inspiring. They’re like a gang and I really like that. I feel fortunate to have them in my life and vice versa.

With Taking Back Sunday and The Maine, I’ve noticed a lot of similarities between you two in the candidness you talk to the crowd. 

I think John learned that from me [Laughs]. That’s one of those things I’ll say out loud and hope that it’s printed, and later I can go to him like, “Hey! Check this out! See, huh!”

That’s hysterical! Because your start was the early 2000s and The Maine’s was the mid-2000s, I just feel like it’s so important the way you guys don’t talk down to the crowd the way some bands do. It really feels like one big community when you go to one of your shows and I think that’s what makes it so special. 

Yeah! The whole reason for me to go to shows when I was younger was because I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. I hadn’t found my people. Then, once I discovered the hardcore scene, that just changed my whole world. It was just a place for… you know, the island of misfit toys. I feel really fortunate that I found that. If we can be a part of spreading that, and helping other people find that, that’s something I’m really proud of. 

With this scene, you talk to people and it’s like, “Oh, yeah – I’ve seen your band over 50 times in the last 20 years.” They are lifelong fans and it’s crazy! It’s really cool to see. Switching gears into a new direction, the last Taking Back Sunday album was in 2016 (Tidal Wave). This is the longest gap you guys have ever had. 

That’s wild, isn’t it?

It’s insane to think it’s been seven years. 

We think the same thing. 

Does it feel that long on your end? Do you have new music in the works? 

No, it doesn’t. Typically there isn’t more than two or three years between records for us, historically. Kind of what had happened was, we released Tidal Wave and toured around that. In 2019, that marked 20 years since the band started with this lineup. I think spending too much time with nosgalia or being in the past is a dangerous thing, so I went into 2019 kicking and screaming because we did this thing where we wanted to celebrate, “Wow, look! We’ve been able to do this for 20 years!” It wasn’t until I started looking at it like, “If you do anything for that long, it deserves celebrating,” that I accepted it. That’s what we did in 2019. 

The plan was that we would go right into the studio after that year because that tour took us all around the world. Iit was at the end of February in 2020 when we all got together into the studio to start writing. Then, actually John and I, went afterwards with our families – we took a vacation together. It was real nice! We never take vacations: that one of the first times I’ve ever done anything like that. It was during that vacation that all of the news started changing – lockdown, nobody leave your house, stuff like that. When that happened, because we all live in separate places, it was really difficult to just all meet up. There were a few times through that when we would try, but then new restrictions would come up. We would be watching how different cities were handling things. I think that part of that time was good for us because we needed that break. We’re kind of always in the mindset of “Keep moving!” I don’t think we would have taken a break like that on our own.

That’s a really good way to look at it. You’re right. Taking Back Sunday tours relentlessly.

That’s all we know how to do!

A forced slow down to take a minute for yourself was something you didn’t know you needed.

Exactly! Of course you’re riddled with anxiety, worry, and uncertainty the whole time during that as a lot of people were. To be pulled out of it for that amount of time… it’s the same thing with anything else in life: it gives you this beautiful gift of hindsight. We were really able to take a step back and see the whole thing for what it is. You know the saying about how it’s hard to see the forest through the trees? That’s a saying for a reason. For all of us, that was starting to become difficult. I feel like there was a lot we were taking for granted. That time, as difficult as it was for everyone, we were in the habit of trying to find the silver lining. The silver lining there was it gave us this new love for this thing we’ve been able to build. Taking that into writing changed the whole approach. We’re very excited to get out, especially this summer because we’ll be able to start playing these newer songs and they’re so sick and unlike anything we’ve done before! I watch and read a lot of interviews and when any artist has a new thing on the horizon it’s like, “It’s the best work ever! Unlike anything we’ve ever done!” and I’ve even said it in the past about our other records, but I’m telling you, man… there’s just something about this one.

I think that’s why a band like Taking Back Sunday has been able to stay around and stay so relevant for 20 years. You guys really do put your best foot forward. I look back to 2016’s Tidal Wave, “You Can’t Look Back” is one of the best songs you’ve ever written!

Thanks ,man! I appreciate you saying that. I think so, too.

It’s incredible, and seeing it live? It’s amazing. Happiness Is… in 2014, has the track “They Don’t Have Any Friends,” which blew my mind the first time I heard it. 

Oh, man! I think you and like 12 other people will say that. 

That’s the thing! I feel like there’s never been a Taking Back Sunday record that’s been phoned in, so when you say, “I think this is our best yet,” I firmly believe that. I know there are a lot of fans out there that are very excited to see what this sound will entail. Especially after you said you were finding this new inspiration. 

Yeah, I’m pumped. Getting ready for the summer, we’re talking more than ever. I was on the phone yesterday from 10:00 a.m. until three in the afternoon just talking about, “Oh! What if we did this? Here’s what we should bring for this tour! Oh, man, wouldn’t it be cool if…” [Laughs]. I feel like anything that you’re preparing for it’s like getting into a cold pool. You just go gradually. You get your foot in, then you get up to your knees, waist. This is just everybody’s all in, which is rare to have all of us on the same page. Normally it’s like two guys and you’re pulling the other guys along or vice versa. Everybody is all in. I don’t know a time in the history of the band where everybody has been so locked in like this.

That’s incredible! Is it almost… anxiety inducting? As we’ve said, it’s been seven years since you dropped new music. Is there a twinge of nervousness, as well?

Always. I would imagine if that wasn’t there that would mean it’s time to do something new. 

Well put! Going into a totally different direction, with your live performances, you are known for having incredible stage precision. Whenever anyone talks about Taking Back Sunday that’s the first thing they say, their stage presence is amazing.

We always hope people say that! That’s good to hear. I feel seen. 

You are seen. When I first saw you guys at the 25th anniversary of Warped Tour, watching those microphone swings you guys do? Have you ever had a microphone fail?  You try to catch the microphone and it drops or something like that? 

Oh, man – you don’t do something like that without having some stories. All that started because I was the bass player in the band when I first joined. Thank God Shaun [Cooper] is playing now, because I was not very good at it. Now I’m ok at it, but back then? So I went from having some kind of this instrument to hide behind, like a shield, until I started singing, and the first couple shows, I would face Mark [O’Connell, drummer] the whole time. As I started to become more comfortable, I was like, “I’ve got to do something.” At The Drive In is one of my favorite bands and, you know, Cedric Bixler-Zavala [vocalist] is the master. He’s the top three best frontman of all time. I looked up to him so much. That’s where it started. Then it just became this thing that I don’t really think too much about anymore. Yeah, there’s tons of stories. I’ve knocked teeth out. We were playing this festival in the UK and it was a really large stage so I got cocky. I tossed it, our old bass player, Matt Rubano, laid him out flat. I still feel terrible about it to this day. There’s been plenty of things like that. Now if I miss and drop it it’s like, “Oh… well, they can’t all be winners.” 

I love that mindset. Another question I want to ask you about is of course the Riot Fest partnership you have. Fans like myself that have been going to Riot Fest for three or four years now and the one consistent we can count on is Taking Back Sunday will be there. 

It’s really funny how it ended up that way, isn’t it? 

It is! It’s almost a sense of comfort. Even if I don’t like 90% of the bands on the bill this year, at least Taking Back Sunday will be there and I’ll have a good time. 

Wow, what a huge compliment. Thank you for saying that. Yeah, it’s like us and GWAR are the ones that have been the most consistent, which is fun company to be in.

How did that start? When did you play your first Riot Fest?

Don’t know! I would have to go back and look. Shoo, I’m trying to guess… probably like 2012 or 2013. We’ve been really lucky with that. Everyone that runs that festival is so sweet and they’re just so kind, such good people. It feels good to be a part of it. It’s not until recent years that festivals in the United States have gotten their shit together. You go to the UK and Europe and they have it down to a science. For years you would do festival shows in the US and it was always just… not figured out. Now it’s much different with Coachella, Bonnaroo, all that stuff. Riot Fest was one of the first in the US that really had it figured out. It’s just smooth sailing, it’s very well run, and it’s always a good time because the lineups they got are always so sick. There are so many bands that normally, for us, we wouldn’t be able to see because we’re touring at the same time. It’s awesome for us to not only be included in it, but just to go. 

I remember there was one year – there was a band called Lifetime. Once I heard them, it changed my world. They had been broken up for a long time and I never got to see them play. There was one year they were on and I remember we woke up so early. “Ok, we’re getting the first shuttle over there.” I’m just sitting at the front of house, the soundboard, and I’m waiting, it’s nine in the morning. They were nowhere near starting, but I was just so excited to be there, to be able to see them.

That’s so great to hear! Everybody at that festival just loves music. What other festival can we see Taking Back Sunday play Louder Now and Tell All Your Friends in full? Even so many other album anniversaries like Dashboard Confessional playing The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most, Senses Fail From The Depths of Dreams in full? Now, my last question is about your vocal charisma. When you’re recording these songs, you’re not just singing – you’re really performing. I want to ask, as a vocalist ,how did you get to that point?

Wow, what a question. I don’t even know how to answer it. Let me think for a second. The hope is people receive it that way, but you never know. It’s more just from being a fan of music and art. It’s the same thing be it with a painter or an actor – you can tell how much heart went into it. I don’t know how you can tell, but you can sniff it out when someone’s phoning something in or just trying to get through it. There are definitely records I’ve heard over the years, and I’m sure you’ve heard it, too, where you’re like, “This isn’t really that inspired.” I think our thing is to try and put all of ourselves into it. That’s just where it comes from. We’re so fortunate and lucky to be in the position that we’re in, so to not put everything we have towards this thing would just be squandering this beautiful opportunity. That’s how we look at it. 

One of the things I love so much about music in general – any genre, anybody – is that when the song is good and a performance is there, you can truly get lost in it; the kind of lost where an hour goes back and it feels like five or 10 minutes. When you’re younger and you’re talking to your first girlfriend on the phone and you’re up all night like, “Oh my God, it’s been three hours!” It never felt like that at all because you got lost together. That’s one of the things I’m most proud about with the band in general. When we’re playing live you can look out into the crowd and people from 13-15 to 50 and everyone in between. Everyone is at a different stage in their life. Everyone is going through their own shit, but then for that hour-and-a-half, for those two hours, everyone is getting lost together. It’s real world magic. That’s what we’re after: that feeling.