This post was originally published in The Aquarian Weekly.
Musicians: They’re just like us. They like their independence, go through experimental phases, and weed their own lawns. Well, maybe not all of them, but Taking Back Sunday frontman Adam Lazzara is perhaps an unexpectedly independent grounds manager.
But on this particular hot August day, while in the midst of recording the band’s sixth studio album, he had a few things to do: Catching up with The Aquarian Weekly was one of them (in between weeding his lawn at home, that is).
Long Island’s Taking Back Sunday consists of vocalist Adam Lazzara, bassist Shaun Cooper, guitarist and backing vocalist John Nolan, drummer Mark O’Connell and guitarist Eddie Reyes. More than a decade after the release of their debut album, Tell All Your Friends, the original lineup has come full circle. The group is wrapping up their Long Island recording session and pre-production with Mike Sapone (Brand New, Straylight Run), who’s been a close comrade of the band since their early days, but for the first time is billed officially as producer for the upcoming record.
We caught up with Lazzara to talk about the logistics of the new album (Hint: They’re “free agents” on this one), the group’s return to the newly renovated Starland Ballroom, and the artists he can’t get enough of right now.
In early June, the band took to Twitter to share the good news that you’re recording your sixth studio album! How has the recording been going this summer? Is the recording process for this record any different for you guys?
We’re more than halfway done. We’re splitting [the recording] up. We’re recording eight songs with Mark Hudson, who’s a great friend of ours and travels with us, in Michigan. Then we’re doing five songs on Long Island with Mike Sapone, who did our original demos way back when. We just wrapped up the Michigan portion of the record.
It’s been a whole lot of fun. We’re kind of “free agents” right now so we’re left to our own devices, which is a really great place to be when you’re in a band and creating. It’s just been fun. So much happens in that contained time of recording. As far as sound, it’s just us. It’s just the five of us. Maybe in the past there were other outside influences and things steering us in one direction or another. But this recording is a great representation of us as a band right now.
Would you say it’s like nothing you’ve ever done?
There are elements of our past in everything we write. We’re still the same five guys we’ve always been. Of course, as we grow as musicians and as people, I like to think that the songwriting grows, too. We wouldn’t ever want to do the same thing twice. We always want to be moving forward. When you get stagnant, like [you might] in a relationship with someone or anything in life, that’s normally when something needs to get shaken up. So for me it’s a step forward.
We spent all these years trying to fit into this world of “you need a hit” and the right “single,” and then I think what we’re realizing is that, when you take that pressure out of the equation, those types of songs just appear. So that’s something that’s been really exciting for us to be able to let go and let the song happen.
You’re playing a couple of shows at Starland, which will be special since the venue has been out of commission since the hurricane. Do you have any particularly stand out memories from playing shows there?
I remember doing a Tsunami Relief Show; that was an awesome time. We had all of our friends out there, and we were friends with all the bands playing. It felt like a big community effort. Everyone at the venue was awesome. The tour we were playing [at the time] was initially supposed to play Starland, and we were in San Francisco when Hurricane Sandy hit. We got the news about how Starland got hit pretty hard, along with our friends out there.
The fact that we’re part of the grand reopening makes me really excited. I’m excited to see the place and the folks. It feels like family, that area in general.
There’s something special about Taking Back Sunday’s fan community. There’s a sentimentality that’s unique. You can hear it specifically on the acoustic record, where there’s just a ton of great fan interaction. These aren’t just fans, they are a lifeline to the band. How does it make you feel to know how much you have impacted people in such a meaningful way?
I can’t even begin to tell you how awesome it is. It’s something that’s always taken us by surprise—me personally, too—because one of those goals when we started playing shows and touring and writing songs, and all along, has always been to try to be able to give back to somebody what we’ve gotten from different bands and music.
To connect with people in that way, or to be in a room at a show or be on stage at a show and to be able to physically see it happen, in the flesh, it’s just one of those things that, I don’t think I know anybody more blessed than us.
The experience of a live TBS show is so exciting! Even though you’ve been playing shows for more than a decade, what’s it like for you, the lyricist, to hear that echoing of words that you have penned, being sung by the crowd?
It’s a whole lot of things. Above all, it’s very surreal. You get done writing; you read back over and change and change and change until you come to something that you’re happy with, but then you get to a point where you’re like, “Well, fuck, is this any good?” So to be able to connect with people through the words is amazing. It’s also amazing to know that I’m not alone. To know I can [be a support system] for someone, that’s something else.
I think the first time it hit me—it was a while ago—I don’t even know if our second record was out yet. There was this one time and I’ll never forget it: I walked off stage and felt like I was floating. You feel bigger than yourself. I hope that folks in this crowd can feel that as well. There are times when I look around and go, “I can’t believe this is happening!”
At the Starland show, we’re going to be filming, so we’ll [release acoustic footage] that people can see. We’ll also have the live electric version of it because we really wanted to capture that, too.
How do you classify Taking Back Sunday in terms of genre?
Honestly, we just think of ourselves as a rock band. Just like the rock bands we look up to. I would get angry when people would call us an emo or scene band, because I didn’t want any of the music to be limited to that. That’s not to discount the scene where we started—it’s our lifeblood always—but we’re just a rock band.
We’ll hear people talking. They can call us whatever they want, just so long as they’re listening.
How do you feel about the scene now, with only a few of your peers still thriving?
I feel like saying “the scene” is a general thing, and it was more of a community. It was more isolated. If you were into “that scene” then that’s what you were into and not many people branched off. And then where we are now in music, it’s broader; that’s not bad because it allows for more people to be included. But at the same time I do feel kind of disconnected from it in a way, just because I don’t really understand a lot of the bands that have come out recently. That’s not to discredit them or talk shit. I just think there’s a bunch of bands I don’t really get. It’s just not for me. I listen lot a lot of singer-songwriter music. With the internet there’s this whole broader range [of music to select from], while before it used to be a lot more specific.
Who are your major musical influences? And who are you listening to currently?
I had been big into this band called Lifetime, from New Jersey. I was like 13 or 14 when I heard their records. They were the band that made me want to do this. They’re a huge influence on me. The past couple of weeks I’ve been rediscovering the first TV On The Radio record [OK Calculator], which is out of sight; it’s so good. I listen to this guy Corey Brandon who lives in Tennessee. The tour that we’re doing has a band called Transit on it. My brother turned me on to them; they’re great.
I really like that Vampire Weekend record [Modern Vampires Of The City]. The song “Hannah Hunt” makes my body move in a weird way unintentionally every time I hear it, which is how you know it’s good.
What’s the next step for TBS?
For us now we’re really focused on finishing the record and getting the songs to be the best they can possible be. And then that’s exciting itself. With the last record we were feeling each other out and everything; this one came a little more organically. We’re more into the swing of things. We’re confident with each other. We’ll finish the record and do a tour and then hopefully it’ll come out next year. I have to put that part of my brain on the shelf.
There’s no record release date set, which is nice because we can keep messing with it. We’ll tour on the record and get folks excited. Doing what we do, everything is like, “Well, I hope this goes okay,” so hopefully people will like it.
Taking Back Sunday will perform their first record, Tell All Your Friends, in its entirety Sept. 11 and 12 at the Starland Ballroom. For more information, go to takingbacksunday.com.