Djay Brawner

Taking Back Sunday’s Perfect Blend; Their Best of Both Worlds

Our history runs deep, but when it comes to bands who have a history that runs parallel to ours, few are as strong or as real as that of Taking Back Sunday.

Taking Back Sunday have returned with not only their first new music in seven years, but also their most unique and most outstanding record to date. This new album, titled 152, is out next week and consists of 10 tracks that play with pop elements, but still stays true to the band’s core rock and roll sound. (We can guarantee that even if you’ve been a fan of the band as long as we have, you’ve never heard them sound quite like this.) 

Tracks like “The One” and “Quit Trying” showcase just how far the band has come. They’re not teenagers with angst; rather, they are mature adults with new songs coming out that do not try to recapture feelings of youth (like many emo bands do), but instead reflect on the difficulties of adulthood. Don’t be afraid, though. There’s plenty of punk-leaning tracks like “S’old” and “Keep Going.” At the end of the day, Taking Back Sunday has been proudly swinging mics since 1999 and are just as enthralling of a band as ever. 

We had the incredible chance to chat with Shaun Cooper, the band’s bass player, regarding the upcoming record, tour, aesthetic, and more. They are also playing The Bowery Ballroom in New York City on November 13 and New Jersey’s Starland Ballroom for two days a month later. 

152 comes out on October 27. How are you and the band feeling? 

Great! It’s been a long time coming. We’ve worked on this record for a couple of years so it’s so exciting to finally have the thing out and to really share it with everyone. We worked on it pre-pandemic, we worked on it a little through the pandemic in our separate quarters and stuff, finally got back in the room in 2021, and then started writing and refining more. It’s such a nice relief and so exciting to finally share new music, especially since it’s been seven years since the Tidal Wave album.

Is this the longest you’ve spent writing music? I know it’s the longest record release gap for sure. 

Yeah! This was the longest span of time in between anything. It was pretty awesome to think about reinventing ourselves and have the time, so it was a luxury in a certain sense, but in another sense… I don’t think we’d want to do it that way again. We knew after Tidal Wave, in my head, it was plotted out. We were going to tour on Tidal Wave, then we knew the 20th anniversary of the band was coming, so we knew we were buying time because we really wanted to take time for this record. We didn’t think it would take this long and no one could have anticipated a pandemic wedged in the middle of it all. We’re really excited about the results and we think it’s going to be worth the wait.

Absolutely! I do want to ask as this is the first Taking Back Sunday record to have you guys as a band on the album cover. What went into that choice?

We were big fans of records from the sixties. A big inspiration was [The Beatles’] Rubber Soul. We thought that picture was cool. It’s just the Beatles chilling, hanging out there. That was a lot of the things we talked about; we said, “This record really represents us as people.” I mean, they all do, but as we’ve grown together, we’re very similar guys. We wanted to have our faces to represent us in this era of the band moving forward. Our faces are plastered all over everything, which we’ve never done before! We’re kind of excited to embrace that side of things and using The Beatles as inspiration. 

It is so cool because you’re right – Taking Back Sunday has been around for so long but you don’t have your faces on any of the work. It feels like a reinvented Taking Back Sunday. 

We wanted to make things fresh and we are constantly evolving as musicians and songwriters, constantly evolving the craft. We wanted to evolve the look, too – the styling behind everything and really think about the visuals moving forward. We thought that was very important. We think it represents a big change in us and part of the maturation process. I’m happy it is coming across.

It’s so interesting that you mentioned focusing on the visuals. Taking Back Sunday always has gorgeous album covers, but when you perform, you usually have on jeans and a band t-shirt. You have been sticking religiously to this brown suit aesthetic now. Tell me about that.  

We’re out in Long Island and we’re thinking about the look. We have talked about suits for a number of years, but we could never really get it together. We were hanging out and we said, “Let’s do something really cool and let’s redirect where we’re going with this thing,” so we took a shopping trip to the mall out in Long Island. We found some suits we all really liked and they happened to be carrying all of our sizes so we bought the suits that day right off the rack. I had to do a little hemming on mine, but otherwise they were basically perfect fits. We were like, “Let’s do it! This is where we’re going!”

It was just a spur of the moment thing! “Alright, this is the new image! We’re rolling with it.”

Yeah, we liked the suits! The fit was good on all of us. It had been something we had discussed. We wanted ourselves [to look] more as a gang, more as a unit or force. We didn’t want to have motorcycle jackets or anything – that doesn’t really represent us. “Let’s represent us coming of age. Let’s look like nicely dressed gentlemen.”

That is so great to hear! Last time I caught up with Adam right before Sad Summer Fest. I’m so excited to be talking to you now about post-Sad Summer Fest. You wore the suits on stage, debuted “S’old,” played “The One.” How was the response to all of that now that it’s done?

It was great! It was great to catch on as the tour went along. We had a lot of fun with it. Those guys in The Maine are just the best guys. They put on a great tour and they work so hard on organizing that whole thing. They couldn’t be a better band or better people. It was just so nice spending the summer with those guys and seeing them working their butts off every single day, making sure everybody has a good time. From all of the fans, to everyone who’s working backstage, to all of the bands and stuff… it just was a really nice summer. It was pretty short – 16/17 shows, something like that. We were just gone for the month of July, so it wasn’t too painful. 

The suits, when we played Texas and started off in Florida, those were very hot shows. We didn’t really anticipate that or think that through when we bought the suits, but we got through it. It was kind of bonding in our misery of sweating it out. It feels good to get hot and sweaty up there. 

Even with Four Chord Fest’s tornado warning, you guys have been through a lot this summer!

Yeah, that was one of the biggest bummers. We’re sitting there and had soundchecked the night before, getting ready to play, and a tornado rolls through. A tornado? Outside of Pittsburgh? Seems pretty insane! It had blown the subs, some of the speakers, and ruined some of the gear when all that weather hit. All of the people that were working the festival were hiding out in our dressing room. We were so afraid the tornado was going to rip through. It wrecked some gear, but ultimately it was fine. Mark and I did not get to play. Nathan, who plays guitar/keys and sings with us, John, and Adam went on and did an impromptu pulled-back set. They did a really amazing job. It was frustrating not being able to play, but, man, it was really fun watching those guys crush it and put on an awesome show. 

It’s interesting. I’ve seen shows where if it rains they’ll postpone or put everyone inside. Seeing Four Chord Fest where it was a stay in place order, stay put. It’s nuts. 

You get into your car and get to safety. Scary stuff. 

Definitely gives you some perspective. Diving back into the new record, this record has more pop and synth elements that you have never played with before. How did that happen?

That was a huge influence from our buddy, our producer, Tushar Apte. He is just such an amazingly talented guy. We met him through our friend Steve Aoki, the mega superstar DJ who we wrote a song with called, “Just Us Two.” Tushar engineered that, and as we were working on the song that day, we said, “Man, this guy Tushar is incredibly talented. I wonder if he’d be interested in producing our record.” We reached out to him and he said he’d been wanting to work with a rock band for a while. He had actually told his manager at the beginning of that year that he wanted to work with a real rock band because he was coming from the pop world, so we came along and we were just kind of kindred spirits! We really liked the things he had done to the song and how quickly he was working within the sessions to compile things and his ideas for arrangements, vocal melodies, harmonies, and the amazing musicality he brought to it. It was amazing that it worked out schedule wise and we could get it all together. 

We embrace pop music. I love Harry Styles, Taylor Swift, and Post Malone. All of those things, sonically, sound so good to me. Adam’s been listening to a lot of that, and so does Mark and John. We are fans of a lot of pop music. We thought it was important to incorporate that sound and Tushar was so good at it. He understood what we are as a band. He didn’t want to change what the band was or how we write songs. We thought we could add some really cool elements sonically to enhance our sound and we think he did an amazing job. We were really happy to embrace that side and we think he pulled it off without overdoing it, without changing what we do. It seems like a very natural progression for us and what we like to listen to. 

That makes sense because the pop and synth is sprinkled throughout so it’s not just that. I can still hear your bass lines, I can still hear drums and guitars. It just adds texture to it.

I think we felt strong enough in ourselves, in our playing, in our songwriting, too, that we weren’t going to get brought into a world we weren’t comfortable with. It was just a perfect blend, I think, of both those worlds.

That’s also so cool to hear about how the Steve Aoki feature you guys did basically helped mold this record and this whole album cycle stemmed from that. 

Yeah, it was just such a nice surprise. It was funny, too, because when we were doing that session, initially Steve thought he was just going to write something with Adam. Adam was like, “Well, the whole band writes songs together. If we’re going to do something, let’s bring the whole band in.” Steve was totally open to that. He happened to be a little bit late. He ended up being on a phone call with his lawyer so we pulled from a track that he had in one of his files – a very sparse sample that opens up the song. John and I were sitting there like, “Man, we can make a song from this,” and because Steve was late, we got to have a little more alone time with Tushar to see how he works. We started creating that song when Steve wasn’t there. Steve really liked what we were doing and then put his own touches on it and did so much to it. We all discussed it arrangement wise and the song built more when he was there. We had laid a really good foundation with just the four of us and Tushar. That was a huge spark for us to say, “Oh, we could do more together! That would be fun!”

It was almost like a trial run seeing how you work with him as a producer. 

It was just dumb luck. There was nothing planned about it. Steve planned to be at the session on-time and he was so apologetic about being late. It was just one of those moments; you can’t make these things happen. We just embraced it, started working, went with it, and wound up with a really good ally. 

Going through this tracklist now, for 152, which is a phenomenal record, and I am curious about something. Was “All Ready To Go,” as featured on the 20th anniversary record, going to be on this record? Or was that a totally separate writing process? 

Yeah, that was totally separate. That was Mark’s idea that he had. It was specially made for that. We didn’t know exactly where we were going after that and how the songs would work out, but that was specifically for that release. Then we wanted to have a whole new batch of songs. We knew it would be sometime between the 20 year release and this record, so that was always slated to just be for that. 

That makes sense! Still talking about this new record, I want to talk about the title, 152. It’s such a simple title of three numbers. What was the inspiration behind that?

That is a thing that was really close to Adam’s heart. He brought it to the band before Tell All Your Friends was even released. He was putting it on flyers and a lot of the artwork for Tell All Your Friends and a lot of the stickers and stuff. He was incorporating that into the band back then, 20-something years ago, and I didn’t really understand what it meant. It was a local exit that he and his friends from different parts of North Carolina would all meet up at to go to shows off of. He’s the guy that moved up from North Carolina to Long Island to join this band. He was initially playing bass, so he was really missing those friends and that camaraderie he had. He wanted to represent that with this band. He was writing 152 on all these things because that was that common exit. I didn’t really understand it at the time. As the band has evolved and grown I realize how important that was to him. I appreciated why. I thought that was really really nice.

Over the years it’s been on all of our releases as a little Easter egg, so we thought this was the perfect time to put it as the front and most forward thing you could see – titling the record that. It represents us so well. That number and that idea that’s been with us all along can now come to the forefront and show itself. I was really excited to name the record that. Adam was kind of hesitant to name the record that and I was the one pushing for it. It was cool to see. This is us now! This represents all of us! I think it’s the perfect thing.

I adore that! You talk about 152, the exit where Adam would see all these DIY shows. Taking Back Sunday, despite being one of the biggest bands, are still just guys in touch with their local DIY roots. You played a backyard show in Long Island around this record cycle that went viral and now you’re doing three very small rooms – one of which is the Bowery Ballroom in New York City. 

I mean… we just love that vibe! We remember where we came from and how important that Long Island scene was to us. We’ve gotten a little bit away from it being on the road for as much as we are, working on the record, having families, and responsibilities to take care of. Your passions like that do get put on the back burner, but we never forget. We never forgot where we came from. That’s why we thought it was important. That was Mark’s big idea – to have a backyard show for the “S’old” song. I thought that was just so cool; to know there’s a thriving Long Island scene still going and we’re friendly with a lot of the bands, even if we don’t get out to the shows as often as we’d like. 
That was such a big part of our early success. Our friends started responding to our songs. We had done stuff for years and no one cared. When we started demoing for Tell All Your Friends, people started really responding to those songs and the crowds got bigger and bigger. We were still playing in backyards, bowling alleys, and VFW halls around Long Island. That’s where it all grew. That gave us the faith that we could take our show on the road and book our own tours. That’s what brought the labels to start taking notice of what was going on here. This whole East Coast scene was so important to us being able to do this in the first place. It was such a cool place for us to grow up. Three out of the four of us grew up right here on Long Island. There’s a certain work ethic with the people here It’s similar in Jersey. There’s a certain access to music lessons. There’s a certain amount of time your parents can spend taking you around, and then there’s places to play, even if you’re not drawing a whole lot of money. There will be a bar on a Sunday afternoon that might not care that they got some kids on stage flailing about playing some horrible songs. There’s so much access we have and great communities that it was important to represent that on this record, too, and play these small places and play this record in full.

So at these three small shows, are you going to play the record front to back?

Yeah! They will be full-album plays. That’s why we also chose the smaller spots. “This is what we’re doing, so you might hear a whole bunch of songs you’re not familiar with yet, but we really believe in this record, so we want to showcase every single song from it.”

That’s amazing! I give you guys a lot of credit. When a band is away for seven years, it’s almost too easy to come back with a throwback record, but you really pushed the band forward with this. It sounds like a totally new iteration of Taking Back Sunday. Speaking of, we’ve talked about Tell All Your Friends. I want to personally congratulate you on Tell All Your Friends going platinum. 

It’s very difficult for me to wrap my head around one million people listening to that album. That’s a number that just doesn’t make any sense to me.

What was it like to get that platinum record in your hands? 

It was so cool. We signed to Fantasy Records, which is a division of Concord Music Group, which owns the Victory catalog. They own everything except for our releases on Hopeless Records. They’ve been so kind to us and so generous for a lot of years. They put out the 20 year release and we’ve really enjoyed working with them. We were so excited when Fantasy came to us and made us this offer with this record. It was a no-brainer to sign with them. We went in there for our first meeting with them after we signed and after the record was done and immediately the deal was done. We just thought we were just going to go hang out. We were in Los Angeles for Sad Summer in Irvine. We had the day off and were like, “Hey, we’ve got to do some work with the label. We’ve got to sign some things, we’ve got to do this and that. You meet everybody and hang out.” That sounded fun! We’ve been in that building before so we were excited to get back there. We walk in and everyone’s kind of standing around like they’ve been waiting for us. Our flight was a little bit delayed. I’m like, “This is interesting. All these people are looking at us. This isn’t a typical…. Ok, let’s get to work.” Then they presented us with the platinum plaque. “Oh my goodness, this is mind blowing!” We knew it was coming. We knew we had the official certification. We had no idea when we would actually get plaques. We figured they’d just mail it to the house. They had a whole ceremony and were giving speeches and talking about what the record meant and how happy they are to move into the future. “Here’s a bit of the past and now we’re so excited to go into the future with you guys.” It was incredibly rewarding and I was incredibly touched.

It’s still amazing to me because I thought we would put that record out in March 2002, I thought we would tour through the summer, and then that was going to be it. Back to work, back to school, figure out your life. To me, this is the dream come true. We’re still doing it all these years later. That record created this juggernaut of a band that none of us had expected. A million copies sold and it’s still touching people? That’s why we’re still happy. We’re embracing 152 and we’re going to play those songs, all of the songs, but we’re never going to forget where we came from. We’re always going to play songs off of Tell All Your Friends. They’re always going to be sprinkled in the set somewhere because we really appreciate that people still care about that and those songs mean so much to all these people. It makes us appreciate the hell out of it.