By Mark Shreve
[T]aking Back Sunday is a working band. Since they formed on Long Island in 1999, they’ve weathered six member changes and four record labels and at least one tour every year since 2002. The band itself is now older than most of their fans were when they released their freshman record, Tell All Your Friends, in 2002, but if you were to compare them to many of their contemporaries from that time, one thing is immensely clear: Taking Back Sunday does not stop.
The relationship they have with their fans is a testament to their work ethic—Taking Back Sunday is a band that people love. It’s not uncommon for fans to have seen them play dozens of times. The band reciprocates by always reminding their fans why they’re there: a pulverizing, kick-you-in-the-chest, jet-fuel soaked “hot damn tell me that don’t feel good” career-spanning live experience. The setlists are far from paint-by-numbers. Songs like “A Decade Under the Influence” or “Cute without the ‘E’ (Cut from the Team),” despite being ten-plus years old, are delivered like they were written yesterday and the band just can’t wait to show them to you. This sense of excitement is something they celebrate every night with the audience—enthusiasm is rewarded with enthusiasm.
This connection keeps the audience/performer relationship electric and is something that Taking Back Sunday takes very seriously. The band is currently touring to promote their latest release, Happiness Is: The Complete Recordings, a limited edition seven-inch vinyl box set with unique artwork for each song. Complete Recordings includes three new B-Sides and three acoustic versions, but is otherwise a re-release of 2014’s Happiness Is, and it seems that the tour could have easily been a Happiness Is tour part deux.
Eight days before they embarked on their current national tour, Adam Lazzara was at home in North Carolina spending time with his family and getting ready for the road. The Lazzara I know from the stage (all charisma/talent/bravado) is different from the Lazzara who answered my questions that day. The tireless charisma Lazzara exudes on stage is quieted down a couple notches for our one-on-one, but no less apparent.
I spoke with Lazzara about how the band manages a tour like this at this point in their career, from playing consecutive nights at smaller venues to make the shows more intimate and attempting to make VIP meet-and-greets less awkward/horrible. He opened up about gauging audiences’ reactions to material both new and old and how frustrating it is when what you want to play differs from what your fans want to hear, and gave me a sneak peek of what’s next after this.
For a member of a band in its 16th year, Lazzara sounds very much like he’s just getting started.
Elmore: Looking at the list of dates you guys have coming up, a lot of these venues must feel like a second home at this point.
Adam Lazzara: It’s always more the crowd than it is the venue, you know? So I’m most excited to go to places where we’ve been a few times, so then it feels like a second home. Even though you’re with a room full of strangers, it feels like you’re hanging out with old friends.
EM: Do you guys purposely plan to play smaller venues two or three nights in a row instead of something two or three times the size just once?
AL: For the band, any opportunity we have to be in one place for more than 18 or 20 hours is really nice; it’s just good for your soul. Cause that’s when you start to get the itch, you want to get moving again, after you have that.
EM: I noticed that the first New York City show you’re doing is March 18, which is the one-year anniversary of the release of Happiness Is…
AL: No shit, yeah, man… it’s so strange, cause it doesn’t feel like that long. And in another sense, it feels like much longer than that. It’s this weird thing, you know?
EM: Did you guys get anything special for the record’s birthday?
AL: Hmm. Well, I think we’re gonna have to now [laughter]. I honestly hadn’t even thought about it like that, so I’m glad that you said that. We’ll definitely be doing something.
EM: With some B-sides recently coming out, are you planning on playing a lot of those on the tour?
AL: Well there’s one specific one that will be out on the seven-inch box set called “How I Met Your Mother,” and that’s one that we’ve been…we actually wanted to play it on the last tour, but the thing is, the last tour was a co-headlining tour, so each band only had a set amount of time each night, and then of course you don’t want to be a dick and go over every night. We’re always very cautious to where we want to make sure that we’re playing songs that people want to hear, so this next tour we’ll definitely have an opportunity for sure to play that one, and then I’m positive that a few of the other ones will work their way in there.
EM: I think you guys should open with “How I Met Your Mother” and just kick the audience right in the balls.
AL: Well look, I would be completely fine with that. But the last time we tried…see, because we have a song called “El Paso” that was on our self-titled record, and it’s not the same, but it’s the same to where it’s a very heavy, heavy riff kind of focused song, and then we spent, I think, a year and a half playing that song first every night, and then hoping that it would just catch on, but for some reason, every time we would play it, everyone would just kind of stare at us. We wouldn’t get the reaction that we thought it deserved.
EM: As far as the rest of the set list, you mentioned that you’re going to have a little bit more time. Are there any more deep cuts that you’re going to throw into the mix?
AL: Oh yeah, man, for sure. I think that’s one of the things that we’re all most excited about with this tour, is that we’ll have the opportunity to play a couple more songs off the new record, or just kind of dive back into the older catalogue as well. There’s a whole list of songs that we’ll be rehearsing, so hopefully it’ll be something where we can just kind of squeeze as much as people want to hear in there.
EM: In terms of squeezing everything in, you guys are doing the VIP shows, the exclusive performances as well. Are you planning setlists for those, or are you just going to take requests?
AL: When we first started talking about the idea, we didn’t want to do this thing where we just kind of show up, take a bunch of pictures and then leave, you know? That always feels really impersonal. Knowing us, I imagine it’ll be a lot of asking people what they would like to hear and then playing that.
EM: You’ve mentioned before that Happiness Is feels way more like a sophomore record than a sixth record. Would you say that there are any distinct similarities between it and [Taking Back Sunday’s second studio album] Where You Want To Be? Or similarities between the feeling you have now and what you’re going to be doing on your next record?
AL: I said that mainly because it was the second record having John [Nolan] and Shaun [Cooper] back in the band, so when we went into both the writing and recording process, there was this certain level of comfort and confidence there that gave it that feeling. And then, as far as how that will affect whatever we’re gonna do in the future, I don’t know. I mean, I could tell you after we do it, but as of now, I don’t know.