Interview: Taking Back Sunday

It is safe to say Long Island, New York’s Taking Back Sunday have had a rollercoaster of a career. With numerous line-up changes and success on both independent and major labels, they’ve achieved a lot since 1999.

Now in 2015, the familiar line-up of vocalist Adam Lazzara, guitarists John Nolan and Eddie Reyes, bassist Shaun Cooper and drummer Mark O’Connell is firmly back in place. Having released their sixth album last year, Taking Back Sunday are back to their best. Album number 6 is called ‘Happiness Is’ and sees the quintet mature lyrically yet retain their musical warmth and identity.

As the ‘Happiness Is’ album cycle winds down, TBS returned to the UK for the Slam Dunk Festival. Having headlined the festival two years ago, this time round they were sub-headlining to You Me At Six, something which we learn doesn’t bother them.

Before they took to the stage in Leeds, Already Heard spoke to Shaun Cooper and Mark O’Connell to talk about their Slam Dunk return, their fiery video for ‘Better Homes and Gardens’, the recent ‘The Complete Recordings’ edition of ‘Happiness Is’, future plans and more. We’re off to listen to ‘How I Met Your Mother’

AH: So you’re back at Slam Dunk after two years. How does it feel to be back?
Shaun: Very nice. We like coming here.

Mark: It seems like it has grown nicely. There is a lot of people here today so it should be a lot of fun.

AH: What are your memories from last time you were here?
Shaun: I remember I think we did a lot of drinking. I remember the shows were fun. We were here, that’s what I remember and we played the show.

Mark: And I remember I liked it because we said “hey, if they ever ask us back, we would surely do it”. So here we are.

AH: Last time you headlined and this time you’re sub-headlining. Does that bother you at all?
Shaun: No not at all. It’s a little bit easier. We play a shorter set. We get done a bit earlier and you don’t have the stress of having to draw a crowd. We don’t get to do a lot of support tours so it’s nice for us.

Mark: We have a friend back home, his name is Chris V (Varvaro) and he’s done a lot of merch for a whole lot of bands. From hip-hop to us but he’s from Long Island and he lives in the same town as us in Long Beach. He’s worked with You Me At Six and he’s been telling us about them for years. He’s been saying “Yo, you’ve got to tour with You Me At Six! You gotta do it!” for years, and we’ve brought it up, but for some reason it’s never happened. So this is the first time, so it’s cool. I’ve never met them but Chris has said “I know they’re so big in the US but over there they’re massive! You wouldn’t believe it. They’re playing arenas, sold out shows.” He’s showing pictures and going “look at what they’re doing over there, they’re massive, you’ve got to play with them.” And I’m like “yeah dude, I’ll play with them over there. What do you want me to do? Just fly over there and play with them? I don’t know.” But here we are. We’re finally doing it. I’m psyched about it. And good for them I always like a band that is doing it.

AH: Are there any other bands you’re wanting to see this weekend?
Shaun: We just had lunch with our friends in Bayside and Transit. We’ve not got to see them play in a while, so that will be a lot of fun.

AH: The new video came out this week for ‘Better Homes and Gardens’. How did that concept come together?
Shaun: Our guitar player Eddie (Reyes) started dreaming up the idea, and then director, our friend, DJay Brawner kind of ran with it. It was really fun for Mark and I as we got to sit at home and Adam (Lazzara – vocalist) did all the work.

Mark: The thing is, at first when we came up with an idea for doing the video, we were just sitting on our bus and I was thinking “this video should just be Adam”. It would just be wrong if it was anybody else. Then Eddie started thinking of the idea for it and then there it was.

Shaun: We’ve done a million performance videos, so we were excited to do something a little different, and the fact that we got to build a house down is pretty epic. The lyrics to the song are personal to Adam, so like Mark was saying, having him alone in the video seemed to be fitting.

AH: With things like MTV not being as influential these days, are music videos not as effective as they were once?
Shaun: I think they are on YouTube, YouTube is the new music channel. I mean what do they play on MTV now? Reality shows? I don’t know. I don’t go to that channel anymore. When I was kid it was so exciting, when I first got cable to see music videos, and now you log on to YouTube. Now you have an outlet and it brings more people to hear the song. “Oh here’s a video of Adam burning down a house. Lets look at it”. So anyway you can get people to pay attention to the song is great. It’s not like what it once was.

Mark: Back then you knew, no matter who you were, you always knew what the new Madonna video was.

Shaun: Yeah. In every walk of life, even if you weren’t a fan, you saw ‘Like A Virgin’ or ‘Like A Prayer’.

Mark: Whatever it was you saw whoever the biggest star was, you saw their video. Now who knows what the new Justin Timberlake video is like. I don’t know if he has a new video but if he did. It’s a different thing is what I’m trying to say.

AH: You recently released the ‘The Complete Recordings’ of ‘Happiness Is’. How did that idea come about? Was it just material you had left over?
Shaun: Yeah we had some left over songs and then Adam and John (Nolan – guitarist) did a couple of acoustic versions of songs we wanted to hear how the stripped down versions would sound. We thought it was really good, so we thought it’d be fun for people to hear a different take on those songs, and we just wanted to get the b-sides out there. We really thought all the songs were good that we worked on for this record but how the songs flowed together, the sequencing of it, it just didn’t work to fit them all on. We didn’t want to have a record that was a hour and half long too.

Mark: I actually wanted less songs on the record than there were.

Shaun: Me too.

Mark: I wanted an eight song record. I want to keep it short but we ended up with ten songs. And on the new release, there’s a song called ‘How I Met Your Mother’. My mom doesn’t like when I curse in interviews but I have to curse to get the point across. This song is fucking awesome. ‘How I Met Your Mother’, have you heard the song?

AH: I’ve not actually.

Mark: Well do yourself a favour and go and listen to the song ‘How I Met Your Mother’ because it’s an excellent song. Are you going to do that?

AH: Note taken. I will for sure.
Mark: You will be happy. You’ll be like that guy Mark O’Connell, he’s a god damn friend of mine. (everyone laughs) It’s a phenomenal goddamn song.

AH: On to set lists. For festivals like Slam Dunk, is it harder to pick out songs to play?
Mark: No. It’s easy because we know what songs we want to play and we also know what songs people like to hear, so that’s what we do. It’s easy because we don’t want to play songs that nobody wants to hear. What fun is that?

Shaun: It’s not fun when people are sitting on their hands being like “okay, can you just play one of the hits please?” So we’ve kind of learned our lesson over the years playing songs people didn’t want to hear.

Mark: Even the songs that aren’t the most popular, we still know what…

Shaun: … People are responding to. They might now know the song but you can tell they’re enjoying it.

AH: After this, what are your future plans? I know you have some US shows lined up.
Shaun: Yeah we have a handful of dates in the US. We’re trying to focus on writing and figuring out how to get a new record started, so that is always fun. We’ve done a lot of touring on ‘Happiness Is’, so we’re excited to get the creative juices flowing.

Mark: We’re starting to be like, “hey, we’re going to do this writing session here” and “oh I’ve got this idea for a song once you hear it, you’re going to really like it”.

AH: So ideas are slowly coming together?

Shaun: A little bit yeah.

AH: And can we expect to hear that? 2016?

Mark: I don’t know.

Shaun: Probably not for a long time but I imagine sometime in 2016.

Mark: Yeah that gives us a good long time. Who knows?

AH: Any closing comments?

Shaun: No, just thanks for having us. We’re excited to play and to be here at Slam Dunk.

‘Happiness Is: The Complete Recordings’ by Taking Back Sunday is out now on Hopeless Records.

Taking Back Sunday links: Website|Facebook|Twitter

View more of Already Heard’s coverage from Slam Dunk Festival 2015 here.

Words by Sean Reid (@SeanReid86)

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