Taking Back Sunday

author TL date 01/12/14

American emo-rock veterans Taking Back Sunday have been around since 1999, and their seminal records "Tell All Your Friends" and "Where You Want To Be" are not only held in almost religious esteem in many corners of the internet, they are also crucial stones in the path to this very article existing today. Despite such a long period of activity however, the group had never been to Denmark prior to the show on November 30th, 2014, which meant that not only were we going to review the show, we also jumped at the opportunity to sit down for an interview with bassist Shaun Cooper and drummer Mark O'Connell, in which we spoke about stuff like the band's approach to songwriting and to honing setlists, as well as many other things. Read on to find out, or listen to the whole thing via this soundcloud player:

RF.net: To start out, since we don't necessarily get all the news about your band over here, can you fill us in on what you've been up to since your most recent album came out?
Shaun: We've been doing a lot of touring in the states, we did a co-headline tour with The Used there and then we went overseas. A little bit in Europe, like a couple of shows in Germany and the UK before flying down to Australia and did a tour all over there. Then we flew to the Philippines and after that we went home and did a bunch of different cities in the States with The Used as well. Then we had a break for a few years and came over here.

RF.net: When you reformed the classic Taking Back Sunday line-up prior to the two most recent records, what was your thinking while that reformation? Did you guys go into it thinking you were just going to make a record and see how that went, or did you quickly get the sense that the reunion was actually for a longer haul?
Mark: It was definitely for the long term. When we first got together we had to see if it was going to work at all, but we were definitely going for it as a lasting thing.

Shaun: We didn't know if we had the same ideas personally or where we wanted to take the band profesionally, so at first we didn't commit to anything. We just agreed to meet in El Paso, Texas and hang out and write some songs and if that works, great and if it doesn't then at least we tried.

So at first we had no kind of preconceived idea, but then we saw the chemistry and it felt really good and then we decided that we might as well really go for it because we were happy being together again.

RF.net: After you've done these two most recent albums following your reunion, can you tell in anyway if you're playing in the same places to the same people, or are there things that tell you that you're actually playing new kinds of audiences in new places?
Shaun: We're definitely getting more exposure all over the world, especially since we signed to Hopeless. The band had never made it to Denmark before, and it's been nice having Hopeless push "Happiness Is".

I think there are a lot of people that got away from the band a bit between "New Again" and "Taking Back Sunday", and then "Happiness Is" brought many of them back around I think. We've noticed our crowds expanding everywhere, both in the States, in the UK, in Australia and I guess all over the place and it's been really rewarding to see that happen.

I'm not sure if it's new people or old fans that went away, but it's definitely growing.

Mark: It's a nice feeling when you've been in a band as long as us, having some people go away and then putting out an album as many years later and having kids know the words. Being in Stockholm last night for instance, kids were going off to all the new songs just as much as the old songs?

RF.net: Would you actually say then that you're getting as big crowds as ever then?

Shaun: Maybe not as ever, because 2005 was pretty crazy I guess!

Mark: Yeah, but in the States it is going very, very, very well.

RF.net: In my opinion all of your albums have been very consistent except perhaps "New Again", yet I think it's a fact that many hold the first two albums in sort of special regard. Considering those albums' almost untouchable status in the fanbase, what sort of things motivate you guys to keep going and keep developing new material?
Shaun: I think it's just because we enjoy it! We enjoy working on songs, hanging out and being creative together, and I think - as I was talking about before with the chemistry - we know that what the five people in this band do together is greater than the sum of its parts. Something better comes out than what we think we're capable of. So it's always rewarding when we hear a new song come together that we've worked hard on, and it's very exciting.

We like going on tour and when people then sing our new songs back to us that's the dream come true. So we're very fortunate to live the dreams all of us had as kids, to be a touring musician, and we've far exceeded any of our expectations. So it's really the fact that we just get to continue doing it.

Mark: People care! That's the major thing, people really care! And it's exciting for us to see that and that keeps us going.

Taking Back Sunday are (L-R): Bassist Shaun Cooper - Guitarist/singer John Nolan - Singer Adam Lazzara - Drummer Mark O'Connell - Guitarist Eddie Reyes

RF.net: I'm guessing that what has inspired you has changed since the early days, and I wanted to ask if you could say what themes or other artists have been primary influences in your newest material?
Shaun: It's all over the map because individually we like so much different music. And I think it takes a long time for our influences to seep in. Mark and I were big Beatles fans growing up and then we got into a lot of punk-rock like Rancid, and I don't know how those directly influence new songs, but I think we're constantly listening to music and picking up little ideas all over the place.

I think it's very hard to pinpoint how something I may have listened to 10 years ago affected my bass playing today, and it's never like "I'm listening to this record and I want to do something like that". We never try to follow a trend, we just try to grow as artist and let it show that we're the biggest fans of music in general.

RF.net: That's fair enough, I guess some people are more concious of specific things influencing them at specific times than others, but I guess what you're saying is that you tend to always draw from a big myriad of things instead?
Shaun: Yeah because like I said it may take very long to seep in. Like maybe you hear something that Van Morrison did in one song and how we apply that in our music is just so far away from what he did with it, but maybe there's a key change or some movement in the bass line underneath the chords that I latched onto somewhere along the line. So I think it's a complicated process that I don't really think about, it just kind of happens.

RF.net: Do you have any favourite songs from the latest two records to play live?
Shaun: I would say it changes. The way "Flicker, Fade" went over last night, to hear people singing along every word - like the whole crowd - that was huge last night, but obviously I don't know if that will be the same here. "All The Way" was a lot of fun last night too, so I guess those are in my most recent memory...

Mark: Ditto my friend, ditto!

RF.net: I also want to ask your band approaches the songwriting. I talk to a lot of bands where some of them they meet and then they puzzle ideas together, and then when they're done they send the lyricist into a box with the music to come up with some words, and other bands have more like a main guy sitting at home with his guitar writing the words and the basic melodies and bring those to the band. How does the process go for you though?
Mark: Someone will come up with ideas at home and then we'll all sit in a room together and one person goes "I got this, check it out", and then ideas start flowing. Everybody brings everything to the table and when it flows it flows. Eddie will be like "Oh, I got it" and he will do something and Adam will say "Okay, these words that I had will fit over this really well" - And then it just works.

Even though John and Adam write all the lyrics and the melodies they're there with us in the room and they ask us what we think about everything, so it's very communal.

RF.net: Following up on your songwriting, the thing about you guys is that while a lot of people would probably still categorise you as emo rock or something along those lines, I've always felt that it was really hard to find bands to compare you to. I can think of like five or ten, sure, but they wouldn't be as similar as if you had asked me to think of similar bands to Rancid for instance. Do you guys have an idea what sets your songwriting apart that makes it so hard to lump you in with other bands? I mean I could say that you're sort of similar to like Brand New or The Early November, but then again not really at all?
Mark: I think the genre that we got lumped into, it's not that good.

RF.net: Yeah and if you ask a lot of the bands in it, they never intended it, they were always inspired by completely different things, right?

Mark: A lot of the bands that came up around the same time, when the genre died they kind of just vanished, so there's noone really left. The Used is still around, so that's one band but...

Shaun: Yeah Brand New still puts out something every once in a while, but yeah while a lot of bands have gone away and maybe come back, Taking Back Sunday has just been going even through all the line-up changes. And I think also the five of us draw on so very different influences and it's actually surprising that we can get along together. I think there may be like 12 bands that we can all agree on...

RF.net: Name a few!

Shaun: I think we can all agree on The Beatles, except Eddie likes Wings better.

Mark: Paul Simon, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Quicksand...

Shaun: Yeah the older stuff and Quicksand

Mark: What else do we listen to together?

Shaun: I was going to say Minor Threat, but John totally would not like them at all... Adam and Eddie would be down for it though.

Mark: Operation Ivy!

Shaun: Yeah, and Flaming Lips!

Mark: No, I don't like Flaming Lips!

Shaun: Yeah there you go, always one guy!

The band playing live in Copenhagen on Nov. 30th 2014

RF.net: But I guess maybe that's exactly it, that it comes from all of you and from so many different things instead of just a few?
Shaun: Yeah and I think with all good bands that have longevity... Like you know all those bands that got lumped in with the grunge thing, then you think of Pearl Jam now and they've been around so long that they have surpassed that. You don't think of them as a grunge band you think of them as just a great rock'n'roll band

Mark: Yeah noone goes to the Pearl Jam show these days saying "oh I'm going to the grunge show".

Shaun: Exactly, so I think that the longer we do this hopefully we will also surpass the genre, as long as people are coming out to shows.

RF.net: I actually sense that you have it's just - Every once in a while I'll be DJ'ing somewhere and I want to play some of your songs, but I never know where to fit them in you know? With other bands you can be like "okay these are similar so they will segue into each other nicely" and then when I wanna throw you guys in I'll have no idea how!

Shaun: (laughs) We upset the whole flow of the night!

RF.net: Yeah but maybe it's a good thing!

RF.net: Do you have any quirks or tendencies that you notice with your songs? Me as a listener for instance, I know that I tend to fall for waltz time or call/response vocals - Do you have similar things that you laugh about when you're writing songs and go "Oh, we're ending up with this again"?
Shaun: We really like the half time at the end of songs, when it gets heavy and slow. We fall into that a lot.

Mark: I think one thing we've done really well over the years is to come up with a grand ending. Like at the end of "Decade Under The Influence", it's a whole ending that has nothing to do with the rest... And that's all Eddie!

Shaun: Yeah, Eddie and his lack of musical knowledge! It makes for something unique because the guy cannot read a note. You can tell him to play a G and maybe he kind of knows where it is on the fretboard, yet he writes these things that are just off the wall and not what you would think or where you imagine the song would typically go. So I think he's kind of like a secret weapon that way.

RF.net: I guess you could say that puts you under pressure to have two awesome parts per song where many artists think they'r good if they have a good chorus.

Shaun: (laughs) Yeah sure.

RF.net: A lot of people get into bands when they're young thinking that they will do it for a few years and then drop it and do something "responsible". You however are doing this heading on with the adult part of your lives, but what kind of considerations have you made deciding that you could keep being a full time band regardless?
Shaun: Well, the thing is none of us had a backup plan. This was it from day one for all five of us, and that's part of the reason for the success. We have that drive because there's nothing to fall back on. Noone has a college degree or anything, so it's like "real life" wouldn't necessarily work out for us. Not that there's anything wrong with doing so, but we could very well end up working at Subway if this ends, and that's if we're lucky.

So I think that fire under our ass that is trying to support our families, and of course just trying to write the best songs that we can, those are big motivators for us.

RF.net: (laughs) Sheer necessity then?

Shaun: Yeah!

RF.net: Recently I was watching the new Nick Cave movie "20.000 Days On Earth", and they were talking about in his band, how some songs had changed meanings over the years which made them fun to still include in the setlist while others had sort of faded from relevance even to themselves. Can you think of examples of either for you? Like are there some that have changed in a good way and some that have gotten dropped because you think they're boring to play?
Mark: Well, we like to play songs that people like to hear. The songs that are in the setlist is a reaction. We like having fun and when the people have fun, so do we. So take "Error Operator", that song has been in our setlist forever simply because every time we play it, kids flip out. And we like to keep it that way.

Shaun: Yeah like "You're So Last Summer" - There is not a more boring song to play in the practice space. When we get ready for tour we have to knock the rust off, so we have to do it, but when we play it live it's so much fun! And then I think back to when we were in the tiny practice space in Long Island working that song out, and taking it from that little room where we didn't know if we'd ever sign a deal - we just thought we'd play a show to ten of our friends and hopefully they would like it.

To have that be the original goal and then be halfway around the world now and hear people singing it back to us it's so much fun to play every night. So every time we play it in the practice space now, I dread it! But as soon as we play it to the audience it's so rewarding!

Mark: I feel physical pain when we play it at practice!

Shaun: Yeah and it's usually deep in the setlist, so when we've been practicing for an hour or so I'll see it and be like "awh, man, cmon!"

RF.net: I guess it's good that it's worth it then.

Shaun: Yeah it's so worth it!

RF.net: I guess you can say that you guys accept that there's a certain sense of shared ownership of the material then, and that people have some expectations for what they want out of your show..

Mark: Well we're fans of music ourselves, and I'm a fan of going to shows and there's nothing that I hate more than going to see a favourite band of mine and they're playing all the bullshit that nobody wants to hear just because "Bla bla bla". No, fuck you, I bought a ticket to this show, now play what I wanna hear! So since I know what that's like..

RF.net: You apply it to your own show..

Mark: Yeah, exactly!

RF.net: How do you find the balance though? Because I imagine you come out of the recording studio having some favourites that you're looking forward to playing, but what's the process like? How do you figure out "okay, maybe my favourite doesn't work so great"?

Shaun: I think we just try and work in as many new ones as possible and then we just see what people gravitate towards. If a song is not working then none of us want to play it anymore. Like alright, maybe we'll try it again in a year.

From the self-titled record we all love playing the song "El Paso" and we tried that song for like a year and a half and there was no audience reaction.

RF.net: Awh man that's such a shame, it's a good song even if it is a bit different to what you otherwise do.

Shaun: Yeah thanks! And it is, it's big and heavy and for whatever reason it doesn't connect, so we had to put it away. We hated putting it away but we don't want to bore our crowd, and even if we love playing it, it becomes less fun every night when you see people going to the bathroom or to grab a beer. That sucks. So maybe in a year or two we'll bring it back and see.

RF.net: Do you worry that, because you do it that way, it becomes a self-affirming thing - That you guys play it less energetically after seeing it go over poorly a few times though?

Shaun: Definitely not, because we liked it so much and really wanted people to like it, so we would try extra hard. And it STILL didn't work! (laughs)

RF.net: Okay so to wrap things up, what are your future plans so far that have already been determined?
Mark: Well, we go home and celebrate Christmas and then in late February we do a tour in the states with a band called The Menzingers and with Letlive.

Shaun: And that's a good long tour. I think seven weeks or something and then we have a little time off after that. We're still trying to figure out what's going to happen over summer, but we'd like to get back into writing and get some demos done because it's been a while. At the end of that tour it will be almost a year since "Happiness Is" came out, so it's almost time to look into new stuff, but still, a lot more touring for sure as well.

RF.net: Do you have any set idea about how often it's a good idea to put out a new record, or do you just play it by ear?

Mark: We kind of go for like two years..

Shaun: We did take like a year to write and record "Happiness Is", but I don't think the next one will take that long, but yeah I think it has been like every two years and that would line up well again then. Of course it's like a matter of who we're going to work with to produce it, and when they have time and of course what tours are offered to us.

If we get an opportunity to do more touring then we'll stay on the road. I mean with this record we got to see a lot more of the world than we did with "Self Titled", so that's going to be a lot of fun. So who knows exactly, but like Mark said, probably like two years, that sort of interval.

RF.net: That's it then, do you have any final shoutouts to the readers?
Mark: We took a walk around here earlier and it's a beautiful city!

Shaun: Yeah we really enjoyed ourselves here. Some times, especially in places we've never been to, a lot of the shows are in more industrial parts of the city where you have to walk several miles to see anything. So it was nice to be in the middle of Copenhagen and see some stuff. We had a nice cup of espresso...

Mark: It was strong!

Shaun: Yeah, that's probably why we talk so much! But yeah, just thank you all for reading this and thanks for having us!

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