Taking Back Sunday: “I’ve never considered us to be an emo band”

Ahead of the release of their seventh studio album Tidal Wave and their 2017 Australian tour, Taking Back Sunday vocalist Adam Lazzara spoke with SAMUEL BAUERMEISTER about the emo revival, growing up alongside their fans and riding the Tidal Wave of musical evolution.

Taking Back Sunday have been a band that have always been there for you. Remember that time your Year 8 Crush asked if you could just be friends in high school? Chuck on ‘A Decade Under the Influence’ on your iPod Mini, they just get you and what you’re going through. Are your friends bringing you down and making you ask yourself “What’s the point?” No worries, ‘Makedamnsure’ has you emotionally sorted.

Since their formation in 1999, they’ve always had this presence that’s been felt through their gut wrenchingly relevant lyricism and intense songwriting. Fast forward 17 years and the band are still as relevant and powerful as ever. Their seventh record Tidal Wave blends the old and familiar Taking Back Sunday sound with some captivatingly fresh turns. It’s a powerful “coming of age” release that highlights just how far the band has come not only as songwriters but as individuals.

Writing for Tidal Wave began while touring their previous record Happiness Is (2014). After that experience proved challenging, they decided to instead write as they were recording, teaming up with long-time friend and producer Mike Sapone in New York. Sapone – whose credits boast bands such as Brand New, O’Brother and Sainthood Reps – helped breathe new life into the band.

Speaking to FL from his home in North Carolina, frontman Adam Lazzara describes the album as a true snapshot of that time.

FL: The last few years have been particularly exciting for emo. We’ve been seeing these ‘emo revival’ bands like Modern Baseball and Pup who are getting mainstream attention while bands like Thursday, Underoath and Saosin are touring the world again. I’d love to pick your brain on where you think we’re at with this emo revival thing going on right now.
Adam Lazzara: 
For me, I’ve never considered Taking Back Sunday to be an emo band. Because for me, I’ve always wanted to be in a rock’n’roll band. So I just feel like I need to say that first. But, yeah man, with Thursday playing again, like two weeks ago, I was going to drive down to see them. I live in North Carolina and one of their first shows back together was in Atlanta which is only a few hours away in Georgia, but I ended up being really bummed because I couldn’t make it because scheduling didn’t work on my end. But I’m really happy for those guys, I just love them. We’ve played I don’t know how many shows with them, and a good amount of tours with them. They’re just some of the most genuine guys.

But with all those other things going on, it’s funny because a lot of people have asked me things like “Do you think your band is doing well because of the emo revival?” So I’ve always said that you can’t revive something that was never dead to start. Through all these years we haven’t stopped. We’ve been consistently writing and touring and putting out records. So for us, the friends we’ve made along that journey we’ve seen come and go and it’s real nice to see a handful of them back.

I read somewhere that your friend Jonah Bayer called you guys the Pearl Jam of this generation – your presence has always been felt and has never left which is the best comparison ever. What’s kept you and Taking Back Sunday so committed to keeping doing what you do and not feel the need to chuck in the towel?
One of the things is that this is the thing that we’ve wanted for as long as we can remember. So there’s never been a point to where we’ve had enough, you know? I still think there’s a lot we’re yet to accomplish, that’s definitely been one of the drives. Also we have this joke where people have their therapists but we have this amazing job where we get to have this outlet.

Because through a lot of the connection that happens during our shows, between the people in the crowd or between the five of us, there’s something very cathartic about it. Coming home from tour, after recording a song, or playing a song, you just feel like this weight is off your shoulders. It just feels really nice to get all of that out. We also don’t know how to do anything else and we’re all just really stubborn guys [laughs].

It’s just always been really comforting to know that you guys have always stuck with it compared to bands that do their dash and when they think shit’s getting too boring, they just stop making music. But Taking Back Sunday have always been persistent. We’ve seen some really big highs and some really low lows, you know? I think having that perspective of life in general and having gone through these things, I think it’s made us all stronger as people, and it’s helped us to grow.

Totally, and especially seeing all the stuff you guys have been through, it’s just a testament to this family bond all of you must have.
Yeah, definitely. It goes way beyond just five guys in a band together. It goes beyond friendship. It’s just become this brotherhood now.

Congratulations on Tidal Wave. I found this record to be one your most fascinating releases to date. It tells this really powerful story of how far you’ve all come as a band. You all chose to do something differently where you decided to write the music as you were recording it in the studio. Did that add any pressure on you? And how did it differ from recording Happiness Is?
We found a lot of times that as we were writing when it was just the five of us in a room and then we’re playing this part and trying to work it out and then put our instruments on mute and go around the room talking like “What did you think of that?”, it’s just way harder to see the bigger picture doing it that way. But when you build the song and you record it then step back and listen to it, you’re almost removing yourself from it, and that way it gives you this birds-eye view of not only what you’re doing and how it relates to what everyone else is doing, but an ever bigger picture on what everyone else is working towards. You just get this clearer picture.

“Being that we have this brother-type relationship thing going on, we also argue like brothers.”

But like as I was saying, being that we have this brother-type relationship thing going on, we also argue like brothers. So there’s times where we’ll each get so set on this one idea that we could end up sitting in a room for a half-hour just talking about why an idea does and doesn’t work. So we’ll have it recorded and then sit back and listen to it and you can pretty much immediately tell what is and isn’t working. So it just made it this streamlined process to where we could get past the core of the song and start to add new ideas and chord changes just so the song can work better as a whole.

And this was your fourth time collaborating with producer Mike Sapone, who in my opinion is one of the key figures of early ’00s rock who’s still making this giant impact. I was just wondering what’s made you all keep coming back to him?
One of the things I like most about Mike is that he’s all about having options. Which means that there’s never any little detail that’s left behind. He will push you even when you don’t want to be pushed and wants to explore every possible option that your brain can come up with. Through that, it can be a frustrating process but it just makes you better overall and it leads you to do things that you wouldn’t normally think of. He’s just really good at pushing in that way. He’s just this mad scientist. He’ll hear these things in his head from this sonic standpoint. He’s willing to spend all night trying to get this one Guitar tone right, and he’ll be like “Man, this is working out great but we need this cymbal sound! Something’s not right, change everything!”, it’s just little things like that he does that are really important.

When you’re writing and focused on what you’re playing, it’s easy to skip over that stuff, so that’s why it’s always nice to have him there. He just loves music and his taste is always evolving. The records we talked about when we were recording Happiness Is were completely different to the ones we were talking about when we were doing Tidal Wave. His taste is evolving just like ours is and he’s just a really great friend to have in those processes.

I think one of the most interesting things about Tidal Wave that in my opinion it tells this kind of ‘Coming of Age’ story for Taking Back Sunday, you know? The past has been shaped and it’s what moulded you all as the people you are today and while it can be really hard to move on, it’s time to look at the future of the band and evolve. So what kind of things do you feel are hardest to move away from in our past?
It’s always hard to move away from things that are comfortable, just in general. For Tidal Wave we were like thinking that we’re about to make our seventh record and we need to make a choice. Do we want to keep making honest records that are basically a snapshot of the people that we are and of our human experiences at this moment or do we want to make something that’s easy and that people are just going to grab onto because we’ve done it before and they’ve heard it before? So we chose to take the harder route, which I’m really glad we did. We don’t want to be standing in stagnant water, you know? We’re not in this to get some kind of crazy accolades; it’s just about trying to be as honest as possible and trying to paint the best picture. That way years later we could look back and listen to the record and be proud knowing that we stayed not only true to who we are but also true to who we were at that time.

It’s the same with life man, you need to move away from what’s comfortable. Like what’s more fun than going out with your friends and just getting hammered? That’s great…well for some people, but you can’t consistently keep doing that in getting into that habit, that’s no way to live. It’s just not sustainable.

Like if you’re in a relationship that you know is bad for you, be it with a significant other or with a friend, it’s hard to just walk away from that because certain people can feel so comfortable but it’s something we need to learn from.

It’s really crazy to think that you guys have been around since 1999 and you’ve had these long-time fans who’ve grown up alongside you where they look back and think “Hey, this is the shit I was dealing with when I first listened to Tell All Your Friends’” and “Remember when this crazy thing happened when ‘Where You Want To Be’ came out” and now all these years later with Tidal Wave the same things are happening where peoples emotions respond to these tracks. So it’s nuts to think you now have that source of history and this power of emotional resonance with your fans.
Man, that’s a huge hope for us. We hope that we’re growing with people and that they’re growing with us. It stems from this thing that we’ve had where we’ve always wanted to give back a little something of what our favourite artists and musicians gave to us. We just hope we’re able to do it like they did us.

You’re all coming back to Australia with Acceptance – which will be insane – in March and Tidal Wave feels like a really complex record with a whole bunch of unique sounds and complex section, so I was wondering what we can expect from seeing it all live?
It’s actually Acceptance’s first time as a band in Australia so we were really excited and happy when they said yes to coming, so that’ll be awesome. But for us, we try to play a good mix of everything. So depending on how long people want to hear us play every night, there’s going to be a wide array of our catalogue. We’re choosing what songs from the new record we’ll be playing down there but it’ll be a good mix of everything.

We start touring the record the day it’s out in Chicago and that’ll be the first kind of shows for the Tidal Wave tour so it kind of works out great for you guys, because we’ll be there in March so that means by that time we’ll be good at playing those songs [laughs].

Tidal Wave is out September 16 via Hopeless Records/Unified. Check out tour dates below.

Friday March 17 – Enmore Theatre, Sydney NSW
Saturday March 18 – The Triffid, Brisbane QLD
Sunday March 19 – 170 Russell, Melbourne VIC
Wednesday March 22 – The Gov, Adelaide SA
Thursday March 23 – Metro City, Perth WA