By Jeremy Boudinet
Photography by Jacqueline Romano
There’s a common school of thought amongst music critics that, in most cases, people will never be as engaged with the contemporary popular music scene as they are between the time they hit their teenage years and their early 30s.
That being the case, people of my generation owe a great deal of thanks to Taking Back Sunday and similar bands who helped shift the sound of alternative music in the new millennium away from the hyper-aggressive, anti-intellectual and misogynistic popular acts that had dominated the Billboard charts around the time of Y2K. And it’s no surpass that many people fortunate enough to come of age during Taking Back Sunday’s decade-long run hold a special kind of relationship with the alternative rock stalwarts, who have cultivated the kind of devoted following that’s rarely seen for a rock ‘n’ roll group in this day and age.
Taking Back Sunday’s seminal 2002 debut, “Tell All Your Friends,” represented part of a watershed time in alternative rock — away from the rap metal and post-grunge acts that had ruled the airwaves for much of the previous half-decade. During the ensuing years, the band would spearhead a new wave of bands that emphasized pop-friendly guitar riffs, heart-on-a-sleeve lyricism, multi-vocal interplay and turning their live performances into sweat-soaked, Springsteen-esque revivals.
And after millions of albums sold, untold miles of touring and several well-publicized lineup changes, Taking Back Sunday is still going strong. I was lucky enough to sit down and chat for a few minutes with frontman Adam Lazzara, catching him in between shows the band has been playing in support of their sixth LP, the recently released (and excellent) “Happiness Is.”
BFM: So tell us about the new album that Taking Back Sunday has just released.
It’s called “Happiness Is,” and it’s been great man. It came out about two weeks into the tour, and it’s been great to play new songs and see people react.
BFM: How long was this album in works?
Well, we were kind of writing it any time we would get a break from touring. We would meet and work on it as time allowed and as inspiration came to us.
BFM: What inspired the album title? Was it part of an overall motif or just what came out naturally?
It was just what came out. We never go in to write going, ‘Oh we need songs that sound like this,’ or whatever, we just kind of get in a room and throw every idea at the wall and see what sticks. And as far as the title of the record — I just think it’s kind of a good kind of statement for where the band is right now. Because we were very comfortable with where we were during the writing process. And with the self-titled record, we were still kind of feeling each other out again. And then with the touring that we did off the selftitled record and with the writing and all that, we’ve just gotten very comfortable with each other again.
BFM: You guys have been around for over a decade now, longer than most bands and have survived several lineup shifts. What has kept you guys going amidst the personnel turnover to help you amass this decade-long run that you guys have had?
I think we all want it really bad. We want to succeed and be able to get our songs to as many people as possible and keep doing it. And everyone’s on the same page with that. And that’s something that hasn’t changed over the years.
BFM: As far as other bands, who are your favorite new bands right now?
There’s a band called Phosphorus, that’s a band I’ve been listening to a lot. They have a new record out called “Muchacho” (great album name too) that I’ve been listening to a lot. And there’s been a lot of nights on this tour where we’ve stayed up way too late listening to a lot of Biggie Smalls and Outkast, Tom Petty, the full spectrum.
BFM: You guys released your first record, “Tell All Your Friends,” in 2002, right around
the time Napster was becoming huge. This year you’ve released your newest record, 12 years later. And people are accessing music in completely different ways like file sharing, streaming on Spotify…what are your thoughts on how that’s changed over the past dozen years?
Well, it’s funny cuz every year I think to myself, wow, I wonder what’s gonna happen next.
Because nobody’s seemed to have figured it out. Nobody’s seemed to have figured out how to navigate this business, with the internet involved. So I’ve heard a bunch of people say that stuff like Spotify, Pandora, Beats, that’s all kind of where things are going. Which is a weird thing for me, because I think that with my personal experience, I’m always going to buy records, cuz that’s just what I do. But with the band — it’s like that Bob Dylan song — you roll with the tide or sink like a stone, but I have no idea what the future holds. In the meantime, we’ve kind of met with these different people and hear what they’re about, and it’s all very interesting. It doesn’t bode well for the people making the music, but hopefully they’ll fix that.
BFM: Like, there’s a middle ground that can be reached.
Well yeah, because the record industry got real arrogant for years, because you would have the vinyl, but then there was the invention of the cassette, so then you could listen to the music in your car.
So you went out and bought versions of these records that you already had. Well then fast forward and out comes the invention of the CD. So then they needed to have the CD version. And over time, that’s a lot of money that accumulated there, because the industry kept selling the same thing over and over again, just in a different format. Then that all kind of came to a head with the file sharing. So now, part of me wishes it’s like it was, but then part of me is like, ‘Oh, you get what you deserve.’ That’s what you get for being a dick. *Laughs*
BFM: You guys recently signed with Hopeless Records, what drew you to Hopeless?
Well Warner dropped us, and unfortunately there wasn’t a place for us there since we’re a band that has guitars, and popular music acts nowadays don’t really have those. *Laughs*
So we kind of were just doing our own thing. We did the Anniversary tour for “Tell All Your Friends,” then we did a DVD and Audio thing with that, both acoustic and electric. Then we went in to record “Happiness Is,” and it was actually nice because, not having a label, there was no outside influence.
So there was just the five of us, no one in your ear going ‘Oh well you could probably make this a little more listener friendly.’ But with Hopeless, our friend Eric Tobin has worked there for years, and he came to us. They have a real small staff and it’s like a family over there, and that just spoke real loudly to us. And it’s just nice to be able to make a record where you’re working with people you care about who truly care about you as well.
BFM: And so you guys have more creative freedom with them?
Well, we had guys in our band who — they weren’t so much telling us what to play, but a lot of labels, they’re looking at your band [and] you’re an investment that they’re making, so they have guys that they hire to make sure that investment is paying off. Unfortunately what happens though is that a lot of these guys…really shouldn’t be doing that. *Laughs* Not only that, but it’s hard to get anything done with somebody looking over your shoulder. So it’s been nice not having to deal with that.
BFM: Hopeless has a charity-driven subsidiary, Sub City Records. Have you guys been able to do anything with them yet?
Well we’ve never been on any of those tours. Recently, they were raising money — they’re building a studio in Los Angeles for underprivileged youth so that they have a place to go, like a place where they can learn to play instruments, learn to engineer, all the fun stuff. So we gave them a bunch of stuff — autographed merchandise, old equipment, etc. — to auction off on ebay to help build that studio. We hopefully will get to do more with them going forward.
BFM: Is there a certain cause or organization that you identify with?
Well, around Christmas every year, we would have an ornament or Christmas cards, and all the proceeds would go to two or three cancer charities. Because that’s something that’s affected all of our families. So that’s something big that we do every year.
BFM: If you had any advice to a young, aspiring musician, what would it be?
Be cool. It spans a very broad spectrum, that statement. It just means be nice, kind of like the Golden Rule, treat others the way you would like to be treated.
BFM: So would that also mean, kind of like, just be yourself, don’t try to be someone else?
BFM: Is there any message you would like to say to our readers about inspiring positivity and changing the world for the better?
Oh wow, that’s a big question. *Laughs* Well I think it goes back to my answer to the last question.
And if there’s anything I learned from living life, it’s like that quote — ‘be the change you want to see in the world’— those are good words to live by, because you get what you give. And, I think this is critical, you have to be kind to yourself first in order to pass it around. Be good to yourself, and once you do that, you can help create a better world around you as well.
Taking Back Sunday’s newest LP, “Happiness Is,” is available for retail on iTunes and on streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora. True to form, the band is spending the rest of the year relentlessly touring in support of the album, probably at a venue near you. If you haven’t already had the pleasure of seeing Adam and the group perform live, check them out. I can assure you from firsthand experience that you will get your money’s worth and then some.