Interview: Taking Back Sunday

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Man, being 12 was rough. I was in that awkward “finding myself” phase of middle school. You know, after realizing that the Backstreet Boys weren’t the best thing that ever happened to music and that not everyone was meant to wear baggy sweats and listen to strictly gangster rap. I finally started realizing what music was for me. I was a pop punk kid, jamming out to New Found Glory, Simple Plan, Good Charlotte, etc. And then my cousin showed me “Timberwolves at New Jersey.” At first, I was like ‘what the hell is this noise?’ But then I went home and figured I’d give it another shot. I jumped on Kazaa and downloaded it along with the rest of Tell All Your Friends. And that was it. I got this band. This band got me. They were awesome and catchy; raw and badass. They had everything an awkward chubby little middle schooler needed to get through the day.

Ten years later, they are still one of the most important bands in my life. Since my initial listen, I’ve probably seen Taking Back Sunday live more than any other band and thankfully got to catch them with each lineup. There was never a bad era of TBS in my opinion. Every record they put out was important and each have their own nostalgic value. Now, seeing them back with their original lineup is so cool and refreshing to see.

I’ve been interviewing artists for well over two years now thanks to Pop-Break and I’ve talked to so many artists and got to go to some amazing shows. But speaking with TBS bassist Shaun Cooper was the biggest highlight of my young journalistic career. This was me coming full circle and getting the opportunity to ask one of my favorite artists questions one on one. For that I am thankful and I am even happier to get to share this talk with the world. I hope you enjoy as Shaun and I discuss life in Taking Back Sunday.

Photo Credit: Michael Dubin
Photo Credit: Michael Dubin

Pop-Break.com: How are you doing?

Shaun Cooper: Good, good. Still recovering from Riot Fest, glad to be home and just gearing up for the tour.

PB: How was Riot Fest?

SC: It was a blast. The crowd was ridiculous. There was so many people there, like as far as the eye could see. Everyone was freakin’ out and going nuts.

PB: That must’ve been crazy.

SC: We couldn’t believe it. We were playing up against the Violent Femms, so you know they’ve got a huge following, so we didn’t know exactly what to expect but we couldn’t have asked for a better crowd on a better day.

Shaun Cooper at Starland Ballroom. Photo Credit: Keeyahtay Lewis/Pop-Break/Deadbolt Photos
Shaun Cooper at Starland Ballroom. Photo Credit: Keeyahtay Lewis/Pop-Break/Deadbolt Photos

PB: The bands that you guys were with at [Riot Fest], that’s a dream show for many people. Any bands you guys got to catch that you were pumped to see?

SC: It was really cool to see Rancid and Flag [you know the dudes from Black Flag were doing their thing], and the Lawrence Arms played on our stage about an hour before we went on. They’re old friends of ours, so I caught up with a couple of the guys for a little bit. So that was really, really fun. We haven’t shared a stage since 2002 so that was really cool.

PB: That’s gotta be pretty exciting. I was actually at one of your Starland shows on Thursday. How were those shows for you guys, were they what you expected?

SC: They were so great. They were kind of nerve wracking though ‘cause that second show on Thursday we were filming for AXS TV and it was nearly live. We’re not used to that setting, you know. Sometimes we play a little faster, a little sloppier, and get a little crazier. Going right on the airwaves, we were really kind of conscious of that fact so we were trying to mind our P’s & Q’s and play as well as we could. But they were so great. After not playing shows for so long it was so good to play to that Jersey crowd which has always been like a second home to us. You know, we came up playing shows at Birch Hill and then getting to play at Starland now that it’s fully renovated and back in action after Hurricane Sandy was just awesome.

Taking Back Sunday at Starland Ballroom. Photo Credit: Keeyahtay Lewis/Pop-Break/Deadbolt Photos
Taking Back Sunday at Starland Ballroom. Photo Credit: Keeyahtay Lewis/Pop-Break/Deadbolt Photos

PB: From my point the crowd was probably one of the craziest crowds I’ve ever seen at Starland Ballroom. I actually caught you guys there when you first came back, I guess it was your first show back with the original lineup…

SC: Back in 2010 actually, it’s crazy how time flies.

PB: How much has changed since then? I know you put out an album right after you came back. Do you feel different from that point to now as a band?

SC: Oh yeah, for sure. We’ve gotten a lot more used to playing the songs. You know, there were a lot of songs that John [Nolan] and I weren’t too good at playing. We hadn’t kept up with the Taking Back Sunday catalogue as much as we probably should have. We had no idea we were coming back so it was definitely a different feeling learning all the songs and stuff that we had to do from all the years that John and I weren’t in the band. You know, John and I are much better at writing songs in a band together with people than we are playing other peoples’ parts and stuff…

PB: Was that weird learning those songs?

SC: It was difficult ‘cause we’re not used to doing it. Like learning other people’s’ parts. It’s a whole different process. It wasn’t weird at all, it was actually fun just speaking for myself. The bass lines that Matt Rubano wrote were really good and some of them were pretty challenging to hear what’s going on and to translate them in a live setting. So it was definitely a different way of working on things than we have in the past. Those first shows back we really wanted to play the songs right and make people know “Hey, this is still Taking Back Sunday. We’re gonna play all the songs from the entire catalogue.” Make sure we had all the bases covered.

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PB: I think that was probably the coolest way you guys could’ve went about it. I remember hearing you guys were back and I was like ‘Oh man, are they still gonna play all the other songs that were recorded in between’. And you guys came right out and… you even did “Everything Must Go” [from New Again], if I remember correctly.

SC: Yeah, for sure.

PB: Which I would love to hear come back again into some of your sets.

SC: Nice, yeah I really enjoy playing that song I think it’s awesome. I think there’s good hope for that in the future. Right now we’re going through the catalogue of songs because we want to keep everything interesting for ourselves with the tour coming up. So we’re going back through the songs and seeing which we really like and what we think people are going to really want to hear. We’ve been playing a lot of the same songs. We want to keep it interesting for ourselves and make sure people are happy coming back, not to hear the same thing over and over again.

PB: I can imagine that being hard with how many albums you guys have out. I know you obviously are thankful for the songs you’ve had, like Tell All Your Friends and stuff, but does it ever get annoying playing those knowing you’ve all grown as musicians and you want to play newer stuff?

SC: No. It only sucks during practice when we haven’t played in a while and it’s like “Okay, we’re playing ‘You’re So Last Summer’ for the thousandth time to a room full of no one.” That shit sucks. But when we play that same song in front of people that love that song and are singing that back to us, it’s fun as hell. So, you gotta take the good with the bad. It’s like you gotta brush the rust off at practice. As much as it sucks to play the song again, you gotta make sure everyone’s playing it right and all the parts are there and everything. Just workshopping it in the practice room really, really sucks. But once we get out there live it’s a whole different thing. I love anything that the crowd is really responding to.

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PB: That makes a lot of sense. I can see it takes on a whole different life when you’re in a setting like that.

SC: Yeah, the songs take on a new meaning every night. You can vibe with people in the audience, they’re singing it back to you, you’re singing it to them. So it just feels great every night. That never, ever gets old.

PB: You guys came out with your self titled, what was that two years ago now?

SC: Yeah, yeah it’s crazy.

PB: And you just got out of the studio. You did it with two different producers correct?

SC: We did. We used our live sound guy, Marc Hudson. He produced and engineered half of the record. Then our other old friend Mike Sapone who did basically our original five song demo. We went back to him and we did five songs with him. So eight songs with Marc Hudson and another five with Mike Sapone.

PB: Was there a big difference in those songs? Would you noticeably be able to hear a different style with each producer?

SC: It’s kind of hard to see where they’re gonna come out because they still haven’t been mixed, so we haven’t really heard full versions. The stuff with Sapone had a few more electronic elements and the stuff with Marc Hudson was a little bit more rock oriented with more organic kind of songs. So we’re just trying to see how it’s all going to fit together. And we don’t know exactly how many songs are going to make it on the record. We’re just going to try and really make it the most potent record we can. If that’s an eight song record, nine song record, ten song record… I don’t know yet.

PB: Coming from your last record, do you think this is growing off that or is this a whole different thing? When you came into this, what kind of pressures did you feel or were there none?

Taking Back Sunday at Starland Ballroom. Photo Credit: Keeyahtay Lewis/Pop-Break/Deadbolt Photos
Taking Back Sunday at Starland Ballroom. Photo Credit: Keeyahtay Lewis/Pop-Break/Deadbolt Photos

SC: Well, with this record we honestly felt a lot less pressure. Because we felt like we did something good when we first came back together but we knew we could top it. We thought we had a lot of room to grow. We also didn’t have the pressure of a major label there which was very frustrating with the last record. You have the A&R guy in the room saying “Oh, well maybe we should try this or maybe we should try that or maybe that lyric isn’t right”. So there was a lot of reworking things and I think a lot of overthinking things on the last record. With this record it was just us and the producers in the room saying “Okay, what do we think is best?” There wasn’t that kind of corporate mindset because we were free agents when we did this record. We’re just like, “We’re gonna make the best record that we think we like and there’s gonna be none of that ‘what will sell a single, what’ll help us top the charts’ and all that other bullshit which A&R guys get involved with.” So there was a lot less pressure on this I think. And I think we just kind of got more and more comfortable the more we’ve written. You know, this record has kind of been in the process of being written over two years. So we had a lot of time to fine tune things the way we thought would be great and I think that was really rewarding. Having that amount of time to write little bits here and there on the road and record it when we had some downtime. You know, just demoing things and stuff like that. It was a really good experience and we got more and more comfortable with each other as songwriters and making parts and making these songs come together as best as possible.

PB: Is there going to be more piano on this record?

Shaun Cooper. Photo Credit: Keeyahtay Lewis/Pop-Break/Deadbolt Photos
Shaun Cooper. Photo Credit: Keeyahtay Lewis/Pop-Break/Deadbolt Photos

SC: I’m trying to think about how many pianos were on the last record. I would imagine there’s a little more. Yeah, ‘cause I think “Call Me In The Morning” had some, “Since You’re Gone” had the bridge with some piano. Yeah, so I think there’s a little more piano stuff. I don’t know. I think the new songs are just way better and I think we’re kind of finding our groove. John gave an interview where he said we felt like a new band on the last record and now this one really feels like our second record. So I feel we have that comfort and that confidence in ourselves doing what we’re doing. That’s going to be the difference on this record.

PB: Do you see your influences changing a lot? Does that change how your songs are being written these days?

SC: I assume that we pick up influences as we go. You know, you tend not to realize what you’re picking up as you go along. For example, I’ll start hearing some sort of bass line in my head, and I’m like “Oh I copped this kind of style from this”. I don’t realize it until months or even years later. So I think it’s kind of hard to say what you pick up. But we all listen to the same old classics that we used to. Like Mark [O’Connell] and I were big punk rock fans of Rancid and stuff like Operation Ivy and Minor Threat. Those influences are going to be there. We’re all Beatles fans, we’re all Radiohead fans. So that stuff has been a constant influence since we became aware of those bands when we were little. I feel that’s going to always be there. But you know we’ve kind of branched out, some of us listen to more country, alt-country, pop stuff. I’ve been listening to this all girl band called Haim. It’s like total hipster ’80s stuff and I just think it’s rad. I don’t know if that’s going to influence any of my writing but I think that stuff’s great. I think we’re all constantly branching out but we know what Taking Back Sunday is.

PB: If you weren’t in Taking Back Sunday and could be in any other band, what band would you be in?

SC: Man, I don’t know. That would be really, really tough because I feel like any band that I like I wouldn’t want to be a part of because it kind of loses that mystique.

PB: I wasn’t expecting that answer but that makes a lot of sense.

SC: Yeah, yeah I’m kind of crapping out on it but even bands that I love, that I love their songs.. I don’t even want to figure them out on guitar ‘cause I don’t want to lose the magic. You know, I don’t want to figure out that bass line because I’ve done that before, it’s like “Oh it’s so simple, this isn’t magical anymore”.

PB: I totally get that, that’s actually pretty cool.

TBS at Starland Ballroom. Photo Credit: Keeyahtay Lewis/Pop-Break/Deadbolt Photos
TBS at Starland Ballroom. Photo Credit: Keeyahtay Lewis/Pop-Break/Deadbolt Photos

SC: It shows the man behind the curtain kind of thing so I wouldn’t want that. I love being in the band that I’m in. I’m happy to be in a band with people that I consider friends and family, you know? After all these years and all the crap we’ve been through. So yeah, I’m just gonna stick with where I’m at and just enjoy other people’s music for what it is.

PB: Do you guys have any advice for a band trying to make it today? Do you even see it as possible for newer bands to make it with the way music is going?

SC: I think it’s hard to tell but just like us, we were just fortunate enough that we all had a similar mindset. All five of us just wanted to get in a van and tour, tour, tour. We didn’t care; we had nothing to lose. We were all single men then, we didn’t have a mortgage, we didn’t have wives, we didn’t have kids. So we just got in the van and that’s all the five of us wanted more than anything was to make it in a band. And make it in a band was playing to like twenty kids in each room across the country, you know? We figured we’d put Tell All Your Friends out, tour throughout the summer and that would be it. We just had this mindset like we didn’t want anything to stop us unless we really had to. So we just had this crazy drive and the bliss and ignorance of youth. We’re just gonna go till the wheels fall off and who cares, you know, who gives a shit. So I think you just have to have that drive and determination. And if you’re good enough you will eventually get picked up. Someone will like you, some label will sign you and more people will come out to your shows. Just keep playing shows around your hometown, start drawing a fanbase there. If that starts working out, branch out, go on tour. But yeah, just don’t give up until it’s really time.

Taking Back Sunday hits the road this October. Click here for tour dates and ticket info.

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