INTERVIEW: Taking Back Sunday

By Ali Audet

Taking Back Sunday is currently embarking on their year-long, worldwide 20-Year Anniversary Tour following the release of their greatest hits album, Twenty. For the North American legs of the tour, the band is playing their first three albums, Tell All Your Friends (2002), Where You Want to Be (2004), and Louder Now (2006) in their entirety. They give the following description of exactly how that works on their website:

“If we are coming to your city for one night we will be playing a long set including Tell All Your Friends in full along with all of our favorites. In North America if we are playing two nights in your city, Night 1 we will be playing Tell All Your Friends and then we will flip a specially designed coin on night one for either Where You Want To Be or Louder Now in full as well! Night 2 we will also play Tell All Your Friends + the coin flip loser. Both nights we will try and throw in a few other favorites.”

WTBU DJ Ali Audet got the chance to catch up with bassist Shaun Cooper to talk about the tour, decompressing though jiu-jitsu, and where they’re headed in the next 20 years.


Ali Audet: So, I guess the first thing I want to ask about is that, you guys are obviously on your 20-year anniversary tour, does it feel surreal at all to have been a band for 20 years?

Shaun Cooper: Absolutely, because, you know, when you’re a kid growing up, especially Mark [O’Connell] – Mark, our drummer – and I, we’ve been best friends since we were about, I don’t know, six, seven years old. So, basically, this is like a dream come true from being a little kid, and so this is all he and I really wanted to do, and you didn’t, we didn’t know anyone that had a career that. Like, my dad does public relations and my mom’s a teacher. Playing music and making a living out of it was just something that we didn’t know anyone that did. Mark’s dad’s an accountant, you know? Like, his mom does real estate stuff, and it was so far removed.


AA: That’s so cool.

SC: Yeah, it’s such a bizarre kind of thing, the path that we took, but it was just so ingrained in us from such an early age that this is all we wanted to do, and now, the fact that we’ve gotten to do it for so long, we’re all still surprised. All four of us in the band are kinda waiting for the other shoe to drop, like, okay, this is all gonna go away at some point, right? Or the process of wanting to move on to something else, but here we are, and I don’t see any signs of stopping, you know? I think we’re all looking forward to the next 20 years.


AA: What do you think kept you guys together for so long? How do you think that you were able to make it this far?

SC: I mean, John [Nolan] and I had a nice seven-year break from the band, you know, so that’s something. I mean, there’s all the lineup changes and everything, you know, but also, I think that time away made us kinda see the chemistry that the four of us have together. If we want to succeed and we want to be happy, and if we want to make the most creative and most potent music we can, the four of us need to do it together. I think knowing that we can rely on each other for that makes us wanna stay in this kind of crazy marriage.


AA: I know that with the lineup changes and everything, you and John left in 2003, so you weren’t there for the recording and the touring for Louder Now and for Where You Want to Be, and I know you guys are playing those now on the 20-year anniversary tour. Does it feel kind of weird playing these albums in full, or is it just exciting to be able to be a part of that history?

SC: No, I don’t think it’s weird because there are songs on Where You Want to Be, like the last song “…Slowdance On The Inside”, it started out with John [Nolan] and I in the writing sessions and working on things before we had left, so we kind of made a deal with Taking Back Sunday when we left like, ‘Okay, you guys keep that song.’ And then Mark [O’Connell] had done some work on a Straylight Run [Cooper and Nolan’s band] song called “Existentialism,” so we kind of did like a trade, like, ‘okay, you get that, we get this.’ So, I was there for, you know, not the bulk of it or anything, but I also know the place where those songs were written from and how they came to be. And I think if John [Nolan] and I weren’t there for the start of the band, to see the evolution, like we know how Adam [Lazzara] writes lyrics, we know the riffs that Eddie [Reyes] contributed, all that Mark [O’Connell] does, whether it’s guitar parts or whatever, so you know where the band is and how those songs came to be. So I think it’s like we were kind of a parent, the four of us were parents to this band. I think your kids go off and do different things, but you still know where it came from. So I think with that mentality, too. And there was a lot of turmoil, of course, when Where You Want to Be came out with John and I and where we were at, and we had just split from the band and everything, and things were a little tough, but by the time Louder Now came out, and I remember I was at a bar with a bunch of friends, Mark was on tour playing “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” and they played “MakeDamnSure” for the first time, it was the first time I heard it, I said, ‘Wow, that is a hit song.’ These guys did it, and I was so happy for them. I felt like they had achieved what they had set out to do. And there was enough time in between, so that was, you know, I was so happy for them, and was just so grateful that I was a part of the initial start of it, so it’s really fun for me to play all those songs.


AA: That’s great. Do you have a favorite song off of Where You Want to Be or Louder Now to play on this tour?

 SC: “The Union” is a really fun song off of Where You Want to Be, it’s very bass driven, so that’s super fun. It’s fast, it’s really exciting, I get pumped every time it comes to that one. The last song on Louder Now, “I’ll Let You Live”, was kind of a song I didn’t really listen to very much until I came back to the band, and then later on, learning it for this tour for this past year, I really fell in love with it. I think that’s a really awesome song, and I get chills every time we play it.


AA: So, who’s idea was it to go and play Tell All Your Friends, Where You Want to Be, and Louder Now in their entirety on the tour? Rather than doing like most bands on a 10-year or 20-year anniversary tour will, playing a lot of stuff from their catalog, why did you decide to choose those three albums?

SC: The idea behind it, we started talking about it, I think it was around our holiday shows in 2015, maybe. I’m not exactly sure, actually, I’m pretty sure it was though. We just started opening up the discussion between us saying, ‘Hey, 2019 is gonna be here before we know it.’ We knew we had the Tidal Wave record coming out in the fall of 2016, like, if people respond to this in a really good way, we know we got the next year of touring, next two on this record. This is gonna take us around the world. We knew we were believing in the songs that were coming out, so we were like, ‘Hey, that record cycle’s gonna go relatively fast,’ and I think as all of us grow up and have kids and stuff, we see how fast time is going, so it’s important to start planning for the future. So we started the discussion then, and the discussion was ‘Well, how do we go big?’ I don’t wanna play tiny, crummy venues, I want to play places that are cool, and we have history with, and the biggest rooms we possibly can, and what’s the best way we can do this to maximize this thing? Because we’re coming off the success of Tidal Wave, we’re building for the future and wherever the next record is, so we need to leave this on a really, really good note. We’re all really passionate about the band, and we’re all really excited about the future, we want to get another 20 years out of this, what’s the best way to do this? So we go, ‘Okay. Well, if we play all three of these records, they’ve sold a lot of records, especially in the United States. Maybe we can take that around the world. What’s the key to doing that? Okay, we can do two nights in these great rooms if we play these records, but how do we fit all this in?’ Because we can’t play a three hour set, like physically it just wouldn’t be possible to do it night in and night out. So our manager Jillian came up with the idea we’d flip a coin, and the coin flip on the first night will dictate whether or not we’re playing Where You Want to Be or Louder Now. Sometimes Adam [Lazzara] will grab a fan from the crowd, they’ll come out, because people think we’re working the coin flip, they think we’re messing with people. It’s like, hey, we know all the songs, we know how to play them. It makes it a little more stressful when we don’t know, but that’s kind of exciting too. So, we’ll play the songs, and then we’ll come back for night two and we’ll do Tell All Your Friends and whatever the coin flip says. So, it seems to have worked out really, really well. I don’t think people fully understand, like, everyone in the room fully understands the concept, but I think they enjoy it once they see how it works.


AA: Yeah, it definitely took me a minute when I saw it, but it’s really exciting. It’s really cool that you guys did the coin flip. So, did you originally, when you said Jillian pitched it, was the idea always to make that special coin? How far in advance were you deciding, because I know you said the Christmas shows in 2015, how far in advance did you decide on the coin flip kind of idea? Because I’ve never seen that happen before.

SC: I don’t remember, it might have been at least six months before we kicked off the shows, because we did the holiday shows in 2018 where we started this tour, basically. December of 2018, we started at the Starland Ballroom [in New Jersey], and that was the first coin flip we had. So we needed time to actually make the physical coin, which took some doing. It needed to be designed, and then we needed to stamp them. We only have, like, six coins, so we know we can’t lose them. So yeah, Jillian spearheaded that thing. It could have been a year to six months, I’d say, minimum.


AA: Okay, that’s awesome. So I guess my flip question for that is that a lot of bands have been doing similar tours where they’re going on a quote-unquote “nostalgia tour,” playing their albums in full. Do you guys see this as a sort of nostalgia tour, or is it more than that for you guys?

SC: I mean it certainly has nostalgia, but like I was saying earlier, if we hadn’t had the success with Tidal Wave, like, this is a thing we didn’t have to do. It wasn’t like our band was on its last legs where we’re just gonna go away. We left off after touring with Tidal Wave, we did an awesome tour with Every Time I Die, we did another awesome tour with Coheed and Cambria. Before the Tidal Wave record came out we were playing really big rooms with Dashboard Confessional, so it wasn’t like this band was gonna go away if we don’t do this nostalgia thing. It’s like, let’s do this, and let’s live in this moment, and let’s leave a little bit of time in between records, because since John and I came back in the band we released three original records every two years, kind of like clockwork. So we’ve really been working. I was talking to Matt Pryor before the tour, he’s the singer from The Get Up Kids, right before Tidal Wave came out, he’s like, ‘What’s this, the second record since you and John came back?’ I’m like, ‘No man, it’s the third.’  He’s like, ‘You guys gotta take a break, Jesus Christ, you’re working too hard!’ But, you know, you take that to heart and stuff. You don’t want to oversaturate and just crush people with new material over and over again, and kinda get away. We wanted Tidal Wave to have time to settle in. So now it’s like, ‘Okay, how do we gear up for the future?’ So we’ll dip our toe in nostalgia, for this one year, and then we’ll go back to playing everything, because we wanna play the new songs, because we know the people that come out to a lot of these anniversary shows are saying, ‘Man, we love hearing the old stuff, but now we’re missing the new stuff.’ So we’re gonna get back into that in the future, plus whatever new-new stuff we create, so it’s kind of like one foot in the past while looking ahead to the future.


AA: In terms of the future, then, do you guys know, are you gonna take a break after this tour for a while? Do you think you’re gonna go back – I know you released two new songs with Twenty – do you have any inclination to start working on a new record after this?

SC: Definitely. Everyone’s kinda got ideas with GarageBand, and all our songs, everyone’s kind of plunking away a little bit here and there. Then, when we get home from this tour, we’ll take a few weeks to kind of decompress, to maybe get through the holidays with our families. We owe our families a lot for dealing with all the time away. But, you know, maybe January we’ll start talking and sending some ideas around, and then we gotta find a place to do it. Adam and John are in North Carolina, and Mark and I are still on Long Island, so we’re definitely heading towards new material. When we get to work on it, I’m not sure, but we know the time will be right, and I think it’s gonna happen relatively quickly, because we’re so tour-weary at this point that we get really excited about writing new stuff again.


AA: Yeah, I can see where that would be kind of burning out. I guess you guys are doing, like you had said, you started in December 2018, this is a full year. Have you guys had a break at all this year from touring for the 20th anniversary or have you just been going all year?

SC: Yeah, we had about six weeks in July and August that we were home, and it was really nice because my son is in school and stuff, so, I mean, now he’s in school, I wouldn’t see him for most of the day anyway. So, we had a nice break in the summer, and it was like six weeks of just basically doing nothing, being a dad and hanging out, going to the beach and stuff. So we do have these breaks in between, but there’s always something else looming. Now when we get home from this, when we finish up November 16th in New York City, then I can breathe this sigh of relief. We have the holiday shows, but the family’s gonna be with me for that, so that I don’t even consider anything. If they’re with me, I don’t care about anything.


AA: I noticed too, you’ve been posting on Instagram that you started doing jiu-jitsu, is that something that has been a fun way for you to decompress a little bit when you get home?

SC: Oh, I love it so much. I started in October 2007, so I’ve been doing it for a long time. I should be a lot better. It is so much fun, I’ve got such a good group of people there that I just look forward to seeing. It’s also when I get kind of overrun with being a dad at home, I get to go off and blow off some steam and, like, it just turns into a bulls**t session with your buddies, and then you’re trying to strangle each other, and it’s great. We just have so much fun, and there’s so many like-minded individuals from all different walks of life, like you’re training with police officers, and firefighters, and teachers, and IT guys, and every walk of life, and everyone has this commonality, and it’s really nice.


AA: That’s awesome. It’s nice to hear that you have something to go back to. And I feel like with any band, like you had said, writing for you guys is a way to decompress, but it’s cool that you have something like that to do as well, that’s outside of working with Taking Back Sunday.

SC: Yeah, well, it was also one of those things, I realized going to bars was my hobby, back then. And like, that’s fine when you’re in your early twenties and stuff, but as you start to get older you’re like, ‘I gotta do something else.’ I was 26, like, ‘I gotta not be in the bars five nights a week, this is ridiculous.’ Some of my buddies started training, I’m like, ‘Yo man, get me in there,’ and now I have this whole social outlet that is a very healthy thing.


AA: That’s great. I’ll make this my last question, since I know you’re probably pretty busy. In the next 20 years, where do you see Taking Back Sunday going? 

SC: I hope we have a few more breaks in between as we get older, and get to enjoy more time with our kids. But I just, I don’t think any of us see this really ending anytime soon, you know? The records might get more spaced out, there might be a little more time, but we really love it. The fact that I get to talk to you, and tell you about my band and things that I’m doing, it’s really crazy that anyone’s even interested to hear about that. And, I talked about the grind of the road or whatever, and that’s all the day to day motions, like getting into a venue, having to find a place to eat, this and that, that’s the stuff that’s old. But the two hours we play on stage, that never, ever gets old, no matter how tired I am. It’s always so exciting and still a thrill, which I’m shocked, like, that’s just the way my brain works. We’re all really grateful we still get to do this, so I think, I don’t see anything really changing in the next 20 years, as long as we do it right.