Taking Back Sunday: Ten Years In The Making
Taking Back Sunday began a career of screaming, singing, and emoting with their immensely dedicated fans in 1999. In 2002 they released their debut album, Tell All Your Friends. Then the band’s popularity boomed and they never looked back.
Says bassist Shaun Cooper, “When Victory Records picked us up, Thursday was doing a lot of great things, and breaking down a lot of barriers in our music scene. They kind of broke through a glass ceiling. Saves The Day was also doing some really good stuff, getting signed to Vagrant and then major labels and all that stuff. So it was a really crazy time that we were just able to capitalize.”
Through the following ten years, fans remained by the band’s side. Though they’ve progressed their sound and produced new records, the nostalgic, the sentimental Tell All Your Friends remains Taking Back Sunday’s most hailed album and one of the most popular mainstream punk releases of all-time. It may have been because the band got their fans through adolescence, or it may have been because listeners produced a sort of “relationship” with the album. Regardless of what made it so successful, the fact that the record’s original lineup came back together last year made an anniversary tour a much-needed celebration.
“It’s been ten years and we’re still here, so why not celebrate the fact that we put out this album that people really connected to?” said drummer Mark O’Connell.
The tour – supported by Bayside and Mansions on the first leg and Transit on the second leg – has sold out many dates so far, and not only have the shows been packed, but Taking Back Sunday has intensified the crowd/band interaction and intimacy from the band’s huge performances at Warped Tour this summer. Jessica Casteel, an 18-year-old from Lenexa, Kansas, saw the band this summer at their Bonner Springs, Kansas date of Warped, but was more excited for the Tell All Your Friends Tour.
“I really wanted to see them in a full ambiance – in a small venue. It’s a completely different ballgame. Warped is one thing, but seeing them in a venue with everybody together, playing a longer set, playing an anniversary tour, is awesome,” said Casteel.
Casteel showed up to a sold-out date of the tour in Lawrence, Kansas without a ticket, but was fortunately able to find one before the show started. Because of the large crowds in attendance at the first several shows of the tour, Taking Back Sunday gained a lot of moral support and became even more anxious to get out on the stage each night. The reason why the band has been getting such large crowds is in part due to the popularity and success of Tell All Your Friends, but also to their authentic, connective live performances.
Explained Cooper, “We get up there and we do a real thing. We’re really feeling those songs. We’re excited to be on stage with each other. We’re excited to be playing music. We’re excited to play songs we love. I think that translates between us and the crowd, and when people witness it, it’s a party and they can be in on it.”
Randy Irsik, a 22-year-old from Lawrence, Kansas has been to 13 of Bayside’s aggressive, potent live shows but also enjoys Taking Back Sunday, and for similar reasons that Cooper mentions. “They stay true to their sound, but they’ve progressed a lot. Their live shows are really energetic. They get the crowd into it – that’s the biggest thing about Taking Back Sunday. And their music has kind of a feeling to it that’s just upbeat a lot of the time. It’s something you can have a good time listening to,” said Irsik.
In addition to holding a lot of vitality live, Taking Back Sunday is experimenting, always trying new things at their shows. According to Cooper, “We’re always trying to incorporate new elements, like when we’re doing this Tell All Your Friends Tour. We’ve never done anything like that before to celebrate a record. We’ve never had a record that’s been out for ten years before. So there’s that. And we have a violin player coming out. We’re always trying to add new songs to the live show and keep it interesting and keep it fun.”
“Cute Without the ‘E’ (Cut From the Team)” is not only one of the most popular and most successful songs off Tell All Your Friends, but over the years it’s become one of Taking Back Sunday’s all-time biggest singles. Though the song has been out over ten years, according to Cooper, they never get tired of playing it live. “We’ve played that song literally thousands of times. Thousands. And it’s a very basic chord progression and everything, and we’re so used to it, we could all play it in our sleep. We could probably all play each other’s instruments we know the song so well. But when you get out there for a crowd that’s excited to hear that song, it’s new to us.”
However, though “Cute Without the ‘E’’’ remains a crowd favorite, almost every other song off Tell All Your Friends holds some sort of value to both the band and the fans. While the bounciness of “Timberwolves at New Jersey” makes for mosh pits galore, other tracks like “Bike Scene” are loved because of their angsty, memorable lyrics and verses. Even two bonus tracks off the album that the band plays at the end of each show (“Your Own Disaster” and “The Ballad of Sal Villanueva”) on their anniversary tour tend to hold some sort of sentimentality to fans.
“People respond to those that are a little lesser known. You can tell people listened to that record front-to-back. I have a lot of fun playing “There’s No ‘I’ In Team.” I really like playing “Great Romances.” Not everyone in the band enjoys playing that one as much as I do, but I really like hearing the crowd sing that one back,” Cooper said.
While the crowd reaction certainly makes the band enjoy playing older songs live, the emotional connection to the songs off Tell All Your Friends keeps from dwindling the enjoyment Cooper gets from playing them. “I started having those emotions and feelings when I first heard those songs coming together and how exciting it was, and feeling like we were really onto something good. Whether or not it would connect with people, it was really connecting with me. So I have those same emotions every night.”
Some fans have been listening to the band for months, some for years. Some have even been listening to the band’s 2002 debut since it came out. But the thing all of these fans have in common is that they were drawn in not only by the powerful, sweeping hooks and intense, memorable musical sections, but also, more importantly, the relatable lyrics. To them, Taking Back Sunday is pure, expression-filled substance, and Cooper agrees.
“I think the way Adam [Lazzara, vocalist/guitarist] and John [Nolan, vocalist/guitarist] write is accessible. It comes from a real place of real emotion and how those guys were feeling at a particular moment in time. So I think that’s what people gravitate towards. It’s that realness, that truthfulness. We’re not trying to do anything phony. We’re not saying, “Okay, if we write this sappy love song we’ll have millions of fans.” It’s like no, if anything we write is a love song, that’s a genuine emotion being expressed. So I think that’s what people are drawn to,” said the bassist.
Abbey Diane, a 17-year-old from Topeka, Kansas, has been listening to Taking Back Sunday for nearly seven years. Her brother always put music on her iPod, and she always played the band on repeat. For why she enjoys their music, she coincides with Cooper’s thoughts. “It’s really hard to find good music with everything on the radio. Taking Back Sunday’s music has substance and meaning to it. It’s real. It’s not like fucking Nicki Minaj or something.”
While the energy and intensity of Tell All Your Friends is an obvious reason that so many people love the record, the big connective quality that it holds is its teenage angst and moody, distraught emotional tug-and-pull. At the time of its release, other bands such as Brand New, Finch, and The Used had also been writing about similar subjects as Taking Back Sunday, and each of these bands had also bolted through the ceiling in fanship. Because these bands wrote about relationships, the ending of relationships, and coming of age, their fan bases over the years have primarily consisted of teenagers. In fact, at Taking Back Sunday shows, it’s rare to see a fan over 25 years of age.
“Going through your early 20s, and now I’m in my early 30s, I was just a very emotional mess back then. Now we’ve all grown up and we’re a lot more stable and everything. But I think it’s a very important period to go through so you can get to know yourself. That record really started that off, on the path to getting that stuff out of our system and finding maturity somewhere down the line,” said Cooper.
Over the past ten years that Taking Back Sunday has grown as a band, a lot has happened in the pop-punk scene. Vagrant Records dissolved. The band lost some of their original members. They regained their original members. They left Victory Records. They’ve released four more studio albums since Tell All Your Friends. But if there’s anything that the huge crowds throughout the Tell All Your Friends Tour demonstrate, it’s the fact that Taking Back Sunday is only getting bigger and more successful each day, and their albums are only further ingrained into the hearts of their fans with each successive listen.
Muses Cooper, “One thing John said, especially pertaining to the music industry in general, is that you have to learn to roll with the punches. There will be great things that happen. There will be terrible things that happen. But as long as you can sustain yourself and are persistent, good things will happen. As long as you are doing something true, it’s all going to be alright.”