Interview: What Would’ve Happen If Taking Back Sunday Didn’t Go Back To Original Lineup For ‘Happiness Is’

Interview with Adam Lazarra  |  By Jameson Ketchum  |  Photo by Natalie Escobedo

Happiness Is is really solid.

Well, that makes me feel a lot better.

Did you get nervous about it?

For me, being a part of creating these songs, you get them to a point where you’re happy with them, you’re in love with them. Then it’s like you hope people will like it and have the same lean towards it that you will. It’s always a mystery.

You guys have developed such a signature sound that from the first seconds of the new single, you just know as a listener what you’re getting into. Do you consciously think about that familiarity when going into writing new music?

We don’t want to do the same thing twice, but also in that same respect, I think for everyone in the band that that’s a little thought in the back of everyone’s head – we don’t want to alienate anyone or ourselves. We don’t get in the room to write a new song and say, “Let’s keep this in line with everything we’ve done in the past so people like it.” We just kind of go in and make something that’s true to the five of us.

I’ve already seen a tattoo with a line from “Flicker, Fade,” what does that mean to you that you create words and songs that can touch your fans so rapidly?

One of the goals with the band was always try to give back what some of what music has given us. For me, if I’m going through a hard time or celebrating something, there’s always been a song or record that’s helped me through it. So to know that someone gets a tattoo that’s permanently on them is a really flattering thing. There’s a sense of accomplishment that goes along with it. We’re achieving that goal to help someone out or make them feel.

Listen to “Flicker, Fade” here.

You had a quote about this record stating, “I was more focused on being myself than trying to sound perfect.” Can you expand on this?

In the past, for me, when I’ve gone to record vocals there’s been a lot of focus on trying to sound like this top notch singer but the reality of it is that I’m a singer in a rock band and I’m not Mariah Carey. With this, we just tried to focus more on just being more open or naked because it even translates to the lyrics. In the past I’ve really tried to mask things. It could just mean anything to anybody but also it’s to avoid having to explain myself. It’s almost like having a shield up or a force field. This one is a lot more honest and a little bit simpler in how we’re expressing the ideas.

Do you think your lyrical topics have become more or less personal over the years? When you’re a kid you let it all fly, but when you grow up and have a family you might get more protective over your thoughts, feelings and what you allow others to take part in.

When we write, I have four or five drafts of everything, I make sure that it’s good. When I take a step back and see which one I want to focus on, there’s times, even with this record where I wondering, “Eh, should this even go on the record?” Those are usually the ones I end up poking at, cutting up and they do end up on the record. It’s a little bit harder to be that vulnerable and put yourself in that place. For me, as I’ve gotten older it’s like, “Oh I’m a man now,” so I’m supposed to be strong and tough and all that other bullshit. Before, it wasn’t a lot of second thoughts like, “Should I say this in this song?” Now it’s a little more of a process to get that stuff out.

Can you get too protective in that headspace to the point where it’s hurting the songs?

I don’t think it ever gets that far. It’s more of a process of being able to take a step back and take an honest look at yourself than being overly protective about anything.

There’s this funny idea where as a younger fan, you might be so intensely identifying with this pain in this song written by this person, that really you’re selfishly hoping the writer continues to go through pain so that you get to keep getting your songs out of it, which isn’t fair to the writer.

That view is a little short-sided because that person is not going to be that age forever and they’re not going to feel that way forever. The hope is that we can kind of grow together.

That’s evidenced by participating in something like your Tell All Your Friends Tour. Those songs have taken on a whole different meaning to the older fans now.

It’s funny because I have that same relationship with those songs, like “This used to define me. This was exactly me and exactly what I was going through.” I look back like “Oh that is so silly. What was I thinking?” It’s the same thing going through old pictures or an old yearbook. You look back, like “That was my haircut? Woah.” It’s that same thing but on a deeper level. You kind of see “Oh, I am growing as a person. It’s a positive thing!” Sometimes you need that reminder.

It’s also nice to see front men such as yourself branch out and collaborate on different kinds of songs such as “Homeless Romantic” with Itch.

It’s funny. I guess they had Patrick Stump originally singing on that song because he sings on a handful of songs on Itch’s record. I guess they just wanted someone who sounded a little more… well they described it as “gritty.” I just took it as they needed someone who didn’t really have that pretty of a voice [laughs]. I was like “Sure, I’ll do it!” I thought, “I could totally go on there and just scream and hope I’m hitting the right notes.”

A lot of your peers you came up with have been calling it quits in the past few years. You guys have always felt like one of the most collectively creative bands out there as far as all five members being integral. What do you see as the future of TBS? Do you think you have another six records in you?

I would like to think that we do have a lot of music left to make. For us, the thing that keeps us going is that there are still a lot of things we’d like to accomplish. Every time we play a show, or write a new song or record, it feels really exciting. That’s what keeps us going. I would imagine one day where it was just us going through the motions, then it would be time to stop.

Reading back about the reunion of the original lineup I came across a quote from you talking about how it didn’t feel like TBS anymore unless you could get Shaun and John back in the mix. If you couldn’t have gotten them back, what do you think would have happened to TBS?

That’s actually a tough question. When the band was in that place and I started talking to John again, all that stuff kind of lined up at the same time. Something would have to had definitely changed. I don’t really know if we would have called it a day. We were just fortunate that having them back was an option around the same time we were like “Oh shit, this isn’t working.”

You’re out on tour with your label mates The Used (see dates). Having grown up alongside these guys in this music scene and watching each other’s success, what does it mean to you to be able to tour with a band like them again?

It feels cool. It’s been awhile since we’ve played shows with them. They’re great guys. The only thing I was worried about going into it was people looking at it as a throwback tour or some kind of nostalgia thing. It’s not what it is at all. That stuff kind of bothers me. I was definitely a little leery when the idea came up. Every conversation about it was regarding how we needed to be very cool when it came to advertising or press or anything that we’re going to do that it’s not some like reunion, nostalgia, “remember when” kind of thing. We have this new record and we’re really exciting to go out and play these new songs for people. We’ll definitely be playing stuff from the full catalog but we won’t be sitting up there playing Tell All Your Friends again. That would be ridiculous.

I think this record is going to be very well loved by fans. What are you most proud of about this record? Do you believe it to be definitive or is each album a different love story for you?

Each album is a different thing. For me overall, I’m excited that when I sit down and listen to it start to finish that it doesn’t sound like anything we’ve done before. There are always new elements but it’s still the five of us so it sounds like us but it’s a new take on Taking Back Sunday. It’s just very true to where we are right now in our lives. I feel like a lot of folks who have been with us since the beginning or even folks who have hopped on over the years, I’d hope they have grown with us. I think this is a great record for that.

Get your hands on Happiness Is here:
iTunes | Best Buy | Hopeless  |

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