By Georgina Langford

Taking Back Sunday formed in 1999 in the outskirts of New York, but if you’re already reading Punktastic, then you really don’t need us to introduce the alt-rock (just don’t call them emo!) icons Adam Lazzara, John Nolan, Eddie Reyes, Shaun Cooper and Mark O’Connell. The original ‘Tell All Your Friends’ line up were recently back in the UK to play some sold out shows, including London’s KOKO (where a slightly-more-flamboyant-than-usual Lazzara dropped dance moves like you’ve never seen). They release their sixth studio album ‘Happiness Is’ on Monday, and Eddie and Shaun told Punktastic about the making of that record, their current views on the way major labels deal with rock bands, and why they are so over writing songs about girls.

Welcome back to the UK – it must be nice playing shows at relatively small venues again. We heard someone got proposed to on stage at your Coventry gig?

Shaun Cooper: That guy was awesome. He got up there and just owned the crowd! He was like “What’s up everybody, give it up for Taking Back Sunday! They’ve been at it hard for fifteen years!” We’ve had a couple of proposals here and there and everyone is always so nervous, but this guy knew exactly what he was doing, so it was great to see. We were like “Wow”. Sometimes Adam has to coach them through it a little bit but this guy was so confident. I think he and his girl had been together for eight years so I think she was more than ready for it. It was so sweet and I got married a couple of years ago so I get extra emotional at things like that, like “Awwww they’re starting their life together here”.

That’s a nice start to a mini tour. How have the smaller shows been?

Shaun: They were fun. Hot and sweaty. Not a lot of room onstage.
Eddie Reyes: Kingston was a really small stage but the energy was pretty intense.

You also did an in-store at Banquet Records. How was that?

Shaun: We did a meet and greet, not even playing. We just hung out and people came in and it was right around the block from the club [The Peel] so that was easy too.

We’re guessing that you saw a real mixture of different age groups of fans come to that, thanks to Tumblr. A whole bunch of 14-year-olds are getting into bands like yourself and Brand New, despite not having been born when you started making music.

Eddie: We do get old people and young people now.

So have you had any really interesting conversations with people at meet and greets?

Eddie: There was this one young girl, she was 16 I think, and it was in Germany and she told me her and all of her friends got into us this year because of her older sister or something like that. I just thought that was cool.

Passing on the legacy…

Shaun: There was this kid, probably in his early twenties or something, who said ‘Best Places To Be A Mom’ on our last record inspired him to start writing songs. That was really sweet to hear: we met him at Banquet, and we were like “Wow, that’s crazy”. That’s cool seeing a record that’s still fairly new to us inspire someone to do something else.

That’s really cool. There will no doubt be loads of young kids down the front at KOKO tomorrow, too [note: there were].

Shaun: It’s rewarding to see. The older crowd, like Eddie’s been saying, you see them hanging back by the bar drinking, and then the younger kids are in the pit going crazy so it’s nice. We’re the older guys back at the bar now when we go to shows.
Eddie: I have a funny story with that too though, thinking about the younger, newer crowd. Back at home, when I went to go and pick my son up at school, his teacher came out and told me that her and her husband are huge fans and actually met us at one of our shows during Warped Tour of 2004.


Eddie: And now her son goes to school with my son.

Haha. How have the new songs been going down with fans live? Any one song really standing out?

Shaun: We were shocked how well ‘Flicker, Fade’ has been going over.

It’s very catchy.

Shaun: Thanks. Yeah, we only put out the video a little while ago and we didn’t expect anyone to be singing along already. But it seems to be pretty instant.
Eddie: Even the other new one, ‘Beat Up Car’, I see some people singing it.

That ‘Flicker, Fade’ chorus just goes round and round in your head, it’s so good.

Shaun: I remember the first time we heard it, you know John and I were working on it and we were like, “Whoa that’s great! I like that”.

So let’s look back to the creation of ‘Happiness Is’. Writing without a label must be a seriously freeing experience, creatively?

Eddie: Yeah [long pause while he considers his next statement]. For me it was a lot more comfortable and easier to write this record, without having a big major label behind you pushing you and putting pressure on it, and barking at you.
Shaun: One of the things that was also nice was that we had a lot of time. With the last record, we got back together, we started writing songs immediately and then we only had a couple of months to refine them and we were working with Eric Valentine so he had his vision for the thing too. I was like, “Okay, there are all these moving parts, with the label, and him, and the five of us getting newly acquainted again”. So it was a crazy situation, a whole lot all at once. Now we’ve had two years to refine these songs so I felt like by the time we laid them down and we recorded with our friends Mike Sapone and Mark Hudson that it was just a very easy process and we kinda eased into it. We had the luxury of time this time around so I think that made for a much stronger record.

The British band You Me At Six just did the same thing, and their record debuted at Number One in the charts. They have talked about the fact that recording without a label was the best thing they ever did for their band because they could focus on being friends.

Shaun: Warner Records worked really well for us. It was hard for us but it was just time to move on. I just feel like there’s certain genres that shouldn’t be touched like that [by a major label], unless you’re some kind of boy band. For bands like us, it’s good that we’re on indies and are able to have full control of our own songwriting and recording and all that stuff. I thought You Me At Six were a pop band though?

Pretty sure they’re still classified as a rock band. Although their earlier stuff is heavier, the latest album is the most kind of poppy and accessible. Probably hence why it’s sold so well!

Shaun: I think there’s something that happened at major labels too where rock bands stopped selling like they used to. More people are downloading and whatever, so there became this big focus on “We need to have big radio hits and we need to use this model that we’ve used for pop music” but it’s not going to work, so there was just a whole lot of fear and you know, with Warner they’d spent a whole tonne of money on not very much. It’s just the way the system works and it’s kinda broken for rock & roll at least.
Eddie: Instead of sitting back and watching what people are into, they get overexcited and want to force it onto the people to make it more commercial to get songs on radio stations. Which kinda ruins it.

When you signed to Hopeless, Eddie put out a statement about how much respect he had for them. What is it about Hopeless as a label that attracted you?

Eddie: It’s just a label that got started, like everything in that scene, by a bunch of friends, and it blew up and got bigger and bigger. Just like us growing up in the music scene in New York; we started playing and booking shows in basements, and then the next thing you know… So seeing a label start off so small in like a garage end up being this giant is pretty cool.

But they still maintain their original principles.

Shaun: Oh yeah, they have a small office, just a handful of people working there who are all super excited about their work. I feel like everyone there is genuinely a fan of all the bands on the roster. So they have this enthusiasm to work hard and grow these bands and our buddies The Used are there and Bayside too. All have records coming out in like a three month period along with us.

They are putting out so much good stuff.

Shaun: We’re just really lucky to be here in this time and enjoy that resurgence or whatever.

You’ve mentioned ‘Happiness Is’ was a more collaborative process for you – what did you mean by that?

Shaun: Writing has always been a collaborative process, but we were also working with our friends, Mike Sapone and Marc Hudson, who’ve been with the band for so long. Sapone did our original ‘Tell All Your Friends’ demos that we recorded in his basement so we were back there in his basement all these years later! Marc Hudson has done our live sound for years. So I think that was like the big collaboration, having a good back-and-forth and being able to argue with them because we were so comfortable to be able to really get our point of view across. If we didn’t like something, they were very open to any criticisms or changes that the band were going to make. The five of us really united on that front too, so there was a lot of open communication between us and them so I think that made for a better record too.

This feels like a really positive era for you guys. Everyone seems very relaxed.

Shaun: We’ve grown together. We needed some time apart, but now we’ve really got this focus again for what this band is and the five of us share that vision now. That adds to the relaxed nature of it. Everyone’s older and less nuts – although we’re still not quite right.

As you said, you’ve grown up, you’ve evolved as personalities, you’ve learnt more about each other as a band and as friends, so what is topically or emotionally really important to you at this stage in your lives to be expressing through your music? Although this might be one for Adam or John to talk about…

Shaun: When you become an adult and you get married and have kids and stuff your world changes so much. ‘Tell All Your Friends’ was all about girls, all about relationships; a stupid break up with a girl you were with for a couple of months, like that stuff is so far behind you and it doesn’t matter now. You’re still gonna have relationship struggles as an adult but your world gets bigger [in the sense of getting a bigger perspective on things]. I’m kinda speaking out of turn because I didn’t write the lyrics, but on this record there are world events, then there’s things that we did. There’s a song called ‘We Were Younger Then’ and John was working on the lyrics when we were on a trip in the Middle East, visiting US troops over there, playing for them. You see cities like Bahrain, this island in the middle of nowhere that’s like manmade and it’s this crazy thing. And there’s war all around you in the neighbouring countries, it’s like “My god this is crazy” so I feel like your world view gets so much broader then being just like “OH THIS GIRL BROKE MY HEART I HATE HER”. It’s like now that we’re seeing events, we’re seeing world change, it’s a different place than it was in 2002.

So without sounding like a clichéd album title-based question, what makes you guys happy now, either individually or as a band?

Eddie: In life? My kids make me happy, definitely. The band still being around makes me happy. Just being able to still play shows and play with these guys and tour makes me happy.
Shaun: Our family and friends, the crew we have out, they’re all family too. They’ve been with us for so long and they work extra hard, we have this really good relationship with everyone that we’re surrounded by so it’s not only the five of us in the band that are really happy, it’s everyone that works with us. Our manager has been with us twelve years now. So it’s a pleasure waking up everyday and being surrounded by the group that we are.

So apart from celebrating the album coming out, we’re guessing tour preparations are taking priority in your brains.

Shaun: Yeah! We’ve got a week home then we’ve gotta go out to the tour and we gotta practise for a day or two and we have to get the set list straight and we gotta learn these new songs.

It seems funny to think of a band at your stature, having been around for so long, still having band practices, but everyone still has to…

Shaun: Yeah, we still sit in a room and play ‘You’re So Last Summer’, don’t you know.
Eddie: [rolls eyes slightly] That’s so much fun.

 Happiness Is by Taking Back Sunday is released on 17 March and is streaming now.


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