Taking Back Sunday: Notes From The Past
Skating, dating, and no hating with Adam Lazzara.
Photo by Natalie Escobedo
When I was thirteen I loved AFI and My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy, but Taking Back Sunday were a step too far. There was something uncomfortably raw about them: normal guys in normal clothes who sang about suicide. They scared me. Looking back, I wish I hadn't been such a pussy, because Taking Back Sunday's lack of make-up and fantasy gave them deeper, stranger access to hyperbolic teenage angst than many of their so-called peers. Case in point, the video for "You're So Last Summer." Observe the guys hanging out with Flava Flav, slyly placing themselves in the self-deprecating pantheon of mainstream American dude-ness. Contrast their goofy antics and loose jeans with lyrics like, "The truth is you could slit my throat/and with my last gasping breath I'd apologize for bleeding on your shirt." It's sabotage from the inside—their interpolation of "regular" masculinity with hyper-vulnerability opened up worlds for suburban kids previously reliant on the platitudes of Creed and Linkin Park.
Taking Back Sunday drew much of their initial inertia from the energy of budding social media platforms. As MySpace went mainstream, a generation found a new territory to map: the external networked self. As with any new terrain, kids' instincts are to push limits—Taking Back Sunday let you scream as loud as you could until something echoed back and you knew you weren't alone. Scrawled across LiveJournals and AIM away messages, their lyrics developed an emotional vocabulary that could span the digital expanse. Next time you share a hauntingly personal Thought Catalog article thank an emo kid—they collectively fathered your vibe.
I don't want to discount the legacy of the confessional Long Island hardcore scene that birthed Taking Back Sunday; the aesthetics weren't new. What was new was the extent to which a perfect storm of talent and circumstance launched a young band from Amityville basements into widespread cultural dominance. At the eye of that storm we find one of the last decade's most dynamic frontmen: Adam Lazzara, swinging his microphone, climbing on speakers, thrashing his long, dark hair like a fist. His aggressive introspection ignored the rules of what you were supposed to say, and how you said it. It was the birth of something new, and like any birth, not without blood: a friend describes group cutting sessions at her middle school specifically inspired by the lyrics "If I'm just bad news/then you're a liar."
With that in mind: scars heal, hair dye fades, and even the most neurotic, self-flagellating frontmen eventually have to check the scoreboard. Adam's 32 now; his oldest son is four, which makes him seven years younger than Tell All Your Friends. He's back in North Carolina, where he grew up, raising his family. Last year his favorite album was Phosphorescent's Muchacho. One listen to the chorus of "Flicker, Fade", the first single off Taking Back Sunday's upcoming Happiness Is, is enough to dispel any notions that #2014's #emorevival is a real thing—as long as Adam's screaming there's no corpse to reanimate. But perhaps his focus has changed—speaking with him over the phone last week, I found the artificer of interior strife taking stock of his surroundings with an observational eye.
Noisey: Tell me about the songwriting process for the new album.
Adam Lazzara: Well, we set out to make everything a complete collaboration, a true democracy. So what we did with this record was the first couple times we got together to write—we all live in separate corners of the united states—we would just find kind of a remote place where we could not have any distractions and just write. One of the first times we went to West Virginia, to the top of this mountain, and it was this real old house. Then I think we were there for about two weeks and there wasn't much around. I think that some of the cabin fever really helped with some of the songwriting.
How has John Nolan rejoining changed the songwriting process?
Having John and Shaun Cooper come back into the fold about four years ago, that's when we went back to the original idea—rather than just having one person or two people direct and shape the song, but to have everybody's voice heard equally, which is kind of how we write now.
What lead to him rejoining the band four years ago?
Well, a lot of time had gone by and we started to reconnect as friends and it seemed like a cool thing to do.
It's been almost ten years since your second album. How do you think those first two albums impacted culture?
I don't really know man. I don't think about that too much. [laughs] It's pretty interesting, though, to see folks that are younger, that are just kind of stumbling across our first two records, and how into them they are. For us, when we were writing all that, we just really wanted to play music, we wanted to be able to reach as many people as possible. So to be able to see that happening, even with younger folks, it's a pretty cool thing.
Do you think it means the same the thing to kids now as it did to kids back then?
Yeah... yeah. Which is something we never even thought to hope for. Because we just wanted to go on tour and play music for people. It's pretty cool.
What was it like being part of that first generation of bands to emerge with this new generation of social media platforms?
Well, back then it was Friendster.
Yep, remember that? So it was kind of the tail end of Friendster, right when MySpace was starting. And for us you could definitely tell that there was this kind of word of mouth thing that went further than somebody seeing you play, and going home and telling a friend or two. It was a network forming. So that really helped to make people aware of us and what we did.
How do you see music culture online now, and the way bands exist online now, compared to how it was back then for you guys?
I read this interesting quote the other night, and I forget who said it, but he was comparing listening music now in this like "internet age," whatever you want to call it, to flipping through index cards. So now I think it's harder for people to just sit with a record and really take it in just because there is so much out there. It kind of takes the value of a record away from a lot of folks. Because they go and find something new and they listen to it for 10 or 15 seconds and say "Oh, I like that, I'll download that, and maybe never get back to it which is sad." Now it's just kind of like this quantity over quality thing. How to navigate that, I don't know.
Do you think your music has stood against norms that exist in American culture?
For me it's a genre specific scene. There are folks that might have different ways of pouring their heart out or just really standing naked in front of people. And it could be any medium. I feel like some stuff like that is often difficult for mainstream culture to really embrace because I personally feel that a lot of mainstream culture doesn't want to think that much about it on that level. If you just look at pop music right now, even just watching the Grammys, it's all a circus. It doesn't really dig much deeper than that.
If you ran the world, what's something small but significant that you would change?
I think that would be way too much responsibility for me personally.
I'm talking petty annoyances.
Well, you know when you're at baggage claim at an airport? And you get off your flight and you're going down to the carousel, and everybody lines up with their shins against the carousel, so that anyone else can't even see if their bag is coming out? It's just counterproductive for everyone and it's almost as if standing there would make their bags arrive faster. But in a certain sense I think it's almost a selfish thing to do, like you're saying "fuck you" to everyone else that's also waiting for a bag.
What's the craziest gift you've ever gotten from a fan?
Well, I got this pair of shoes once from some folks in the UK, this couple a little bit younger than I am. They look like blank Chuck Taylors, the high tops. But they had drawn this Fight Club scene on it. Only it didn't really look like paint, but then again it didn't really look like a pen either. I don't know how they got it on there but it was absolutely beautiful, like the time it must have taken to paint this. I'll always remember being taken aback by that.
How do you think your image of yourself has changed since you first started Taking Back Sunday?
I'd imagine it's similar. I mean I'm older now, it's kind of natural things that have happened, whether I'm in the band or I delivered food or built houses, there's just a natural thing in life as you get older that changes how you look at yourself. But I'm still the same guy. I'm just a little more ornery probably.
How do you feel about emo as a genre tag?
I've never put too much stock in it. It's dated, and the whole thing is just silly. It used to be a word you would use to make fun of your friends with, but then one day people just started claiming it. so I've always thought it was kind of strange. and I'll go through and read some magazines that we'll be included in, and I dont really relate to a lot of that music. There aren't many bands that were associated with that that I'm really into. And that's not to say anything bad about it, it's just not really what I'm into.
What was your first kiss like?
It was at TMNT 3: Turtles in Time.
Yeah, in High Point, North Carolina.
How old were you?
I think I was like 12, 13? I'm not really sure. I'd have to go back and see what time the movie came out. Yeah, her name was Shannon.
Have you ever played at a prom?
No. [laughs] I went to prom once. When I was in high school.
How was that?
Weird. I remember we went with a group of friends. But at the prom they were just playing like house music, I think we only stayed for an hour. Then we got a hotel across town so we went there and had a party.
What was your friend group like in high school?
Skateboards and fast music. It was a small town in North Carolina. So there weren't a whole lot of us. But that was nice, it was a small group of guys and girls.
You'd go skating every weekend?
I'd take my skateboard everywhere until I was probably 19 or 20. Because that's the time when I really started focusing on the band. And you know how there is always that one friend who is always getting hurt? That was me. And I was never that good at it. Or, even though I was always doing it, I was never getting better at it.
What was the most hurt you ever got from skating?
Oh man, I broke my collarbone, my arm, I did something weird to my elbow and it still gets weird from time to time. The list just kind of goes on [laughs].
I always wanted to skate, but I was always terrified of the period where you're not good at skating and you're learning, I felt like that was the apex of embarrassment.
Or like, when it physically hurts because you keep falling and falling and falling. But I guess that that's what's fun about it, is that you keep trying and trying to ollie and you finally get it and it's this incredible high.
What was the craziest trick you could do?
There was, in downtown High Point, a set of 5 stairs, and I must have tried it countless times. But I remember there was once or twice I landed it, just ollie-ing down it, and that was so great. But that's about the craziest thing I would try too, I remember just being so nervous about it. I was really good at doing kickflips. That was like my signature move, if I was trying to impress someone, I'd just do a bunch of those. Then they'd be like, "Woah, he's pretty good." But in reality I wasn't good at all except that one thing.
Yeah the kickflip definitely gets the people going. If you were in a romantic comedy as the male lead, who would you want to play your female counterpart?
Oh wow, that's a tough one. Keira Knightley was on our guest list for like seven years. She never showed up, and I don't think anyone invited her, but she was on there just in case.
If she had wanted to she would have been able to go. That's tight.
Yeah, because hey, it could happen. Stranger things have happened. But I don't know if she'd be the counterpart. I'd have to think about that.
A last word of advice for the youth?
Just be cool.
Ezra Marcus is on Twitter - @ezra_marc