20 Years of Taking Back Sunday

Interview with vocalist Adam Lazzara and guitarist John Nolan | By Derek Nielsen

There’s no shortage of nostalgia acts going around these days, and let’s face it: Taking Back Sunday have a back catalog that, at this point, should be labeled weapons-grade nostalgia. For so many sutured young hearts, catharsis was copying and pasting the lyrics of “You’re So Last Summer” into their AOL Instant Messenger away message. Empowerment was learning how to embed “A Decade Under the Influence” into their Myspace so that whoever clicked on their page would just get it, you know?—and discover in a moment of panic that their speakers were turned up all the way.

With 2019 marking their 20th anniversary, the Long Island, New York, band are looking back on how far they and their fans have come with the release of their career retrospective, Twenty. Dropping Jan. 11 on Craft Recordings, the double-LP is a collection of singles and favorites from their seven full-length albums, as well as a couple of new songs. In celebration of this landmark, the band are embarking on a year-long worldwide tour during which they will play their 2002 debut, Tell All Your Friends, in its entirety each night.

However, Taking Back Sunday have never viewed themselves as a nostalgia act and have fought tirelessly against being pigeonholed as such. “When we were first kicking around the idea of putting out Twenty and playing older records front-to-back, I was the first one who didn’t want to do it,” vocalist Adam Lazzara explains. “We have so much left to do, and I don’t want to ride this nostalgia wave.”

“It was our manager, Jillian [Newman], who said, ‘I don’t look at it like a nostalgia thing; I look at it more like a celebration. Look what you guys accomplished!’” Lazzara continues. “Right when she said that, something clicked in my head. I had just turned 18 when I moved to New York to join the band. It changed my life. [Without it], I have no idea what I would be doing right now.”

In preparation for the tour, the band had to blow the dust off some songs they haven’t touched in years. “Even though it’s been so long, those songs come back very quickly,” guitarist John Nolan says. “They’re almost second nature, because in the early days, those were the only songs we had, so we pretty much had already played that record every night on tour for years.”

“It’s funny, I have a really hard time listening to my voice, especially the earlier stuff. Like, oh my god, I was such a kid,” Lazzara shares. “But it’s interesting revisiting that stuff, because they’re different snapshots of the person I was and of the band—like going through an old yearbook. Sure, I’m still the same person and the same guy who sang on Tell All Your Friends, but I’m very, very different from that guy. I’d like to sit down and have a conversation with him and just say, ‘Listen, buddy, I’m gonna blow your mind right now, so you just need to take it easy.’”

In addition to Tell All Your Friends, Taking Back Sunday will flip a coin each night and, based on the outcome, perform either 2004’s Where You Want To Be or 2006’s Louder Now in their respective entireties. Revisiting this material was trickier for Nolan, as he and bassist Shaun Cooper had parted ways with the band prior to its release. “Learning the songs I didn’t play on was much more challenging,” he says. “It’s not the same as having the experience of playing the songs regularly. I think it’s going to take a few shows to make those songs my own, but it forces me to think outside of my comfort zone as a guitarist.”

When Nolan left the band in 2003, in his mind, he was done. “I never thought I would rejoin the band,” he admits, “and right up until I did six years later, it was not something I ever thought was possible.”

Immediately after Nolan and Cooper’s departure, the band released Where You Want To Be, the album that launched Taking Back Sunday out of the underground and into the public spotlight. “That was a crazy time,” Lazzara remembers. “We recorded that record ourselves and just handed it to the label. We did everything ourselves. At the time, they were pretty mad; I think they wanted to be more involved, but we were like, ‘Here it is!’” The album would go on to chart at number three on Billboard’s Top 200. In 2005, it was certified gold—having sold 500,000 copies—and became Victory Records’ highest-selling record.

“Some of the most successful eras of the band happened in the years after I left,” Nolan reflects. “The band got to play some huge tours and venues and got to do all the late-night shows. That’s definitely something I missed and kind of wish I could have experienced with everybody. At the time, I didn’t feel that way, but now that I’m back with everybody—I don’t know, it would have been cool to have gone through that experience together.”

Within this time, the band experienced several lineup changes. Nolan’s replacement, Fred Mascherino, left in 2007, followed by guitarist Matthew Fazzi and bassist Matt Rubano in 2010. With Nolan and Cooper rejoining the band that same year, the members who had released Tell All Your Friends had officially reunited, picking up where they left off. That core lineup has remained the same since then, despite the departure of original guitarist Eddie Reyes in April.

When asked if he would do anything differently in those years, for Nolan, the answer is simple. “No. Absolutely not,” he says, “and I don’t even really regret not being there during that time. It’s just, looking at it now, it would have been nice to experience those things, but it would mean that things were completely different on all levels with myself, the band, and everything that was happening at the time. It was just not possible; there was no way that could have been. This is the only way that the band is still able to make music with the members who were there originally. There had to be that separate path for six years for us to come back together the right way.”

As for the future of Taking Back Sunday, the plan is simple: keep writing, keep touring, and keep playing for as long as possible. “We still feel like [we did when] we were kids,” Nolan says. “We’re still looking around at each other being like, ‘I can’t believe this is still working.’ This thing could end at any minute; people could lose interest in us, and then, you gotta figure out what to do with your life.”

“That’s another thing about Twenty—I don’t want people to get the impression that we’re slowing down,” Lazzara says. While on their year-long tour in 2019, the band will begin writing a new record as they set their sights on a new decade.

“The goal was simple in the beginning: get signed, get a record in stores, and just hope we can stay on tour,” Nolan says, “but we accomplished all that fairly quickly. So now, our goal is, with every album we make, we want to make the best album Taking Back Sunday ever has, and that is what keeps us motivated. We still have to prove what we’re doing now is better than what we’ve done.”

“We don’t feel that it’s, in any way, time to sit back and relax and sit on our reputation,” he concludes. “Every album we put out, there was a sense that we have to put everything we have into this, because this might the last chance we have to make a record that people will care about or listen to. We don’t take anything for granted in that sense.

Purchase Twenty here

Photo by Natalie Escobedo

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