Getting older is both amusing and kind of terrifying. I’ve done my best to be a forward thinking, open-minded and ever-evolving dude (to varying degrees of success, of course) in all facets of my life. But music, well, that’s been one of the most fun and weird things to navigate. I love finding new bands to geek out on, but fully admit to revisiting classics from much, much earlier in my listening life fairly regularly. Looking back at my thoughts on the last time I saw Taking Back Sunday, I think that’s evident.
17 years and some odd months ago, Long Island band Taking Back Sunday released an album called Tell All Your Friends. I was living in New Jersey at the time, and its release was a bit of an atom bomb not just in the burgeoning East Coast emo/post-hardcore scene, but pretty much everywhere. Turns out, the band itself was just as blindsided by what it became as everyone else was.
This coming Friday, October 18, and Saturday, October 19 you’re invited - by bassist Shaun Cooper himself - to join the band at Bogart’s in celebrating 20 years of existence. They’ve dusted off the entirety of Tell All Your Friends to play it every night of the tour, and if that’s not enough to get your emo heart pumping, they’ll flip a coin and will play either Where You Want to Be or Louder Now on Friday in its entirety along with TAYF (fingers crossed we get WYWTB on Friday, just saying). For those attending both nights, you’re going to hear all 3 albums no matter what. Oh, and you’ll hear a few other choice selections from the band’s 7 album catalog, as well. I hope you come ready to sing along.
So I’m excited to share my chat with Taking Back Sunday bassist and founding member, Shaun Cooper. We discuss their now 20-year long career, the surprising, lasting impact of Tell All Your Friends, and a little bit of the where, how, and why they are where they are today. It starts on the road, continues with some genuine surprises and, of course, some ups and downs, and ends on a hopeful and excited note. The interview has been edited for clarity. My sincere thanks to Shaun for taking the time to talk about everything.
Okay, so you’re on the final leg of the 20th anniversary tour for the band, one that started at the beginning of the year and has literally spanned the globe. On a scale of 1-10, how tired are you?
I’m not bad! You know we just had the 6 weeks at home, basically, before we started this leg. So it’s more tiring to be at home and stuff, running around with the kids, getting them to school, and the whole thing. On a scale of tiredness, I probably had my best night’s sleep all year last night, so I’m like a 1, I guess. I’m raring to go, man.
Oh, right on. How old are your kids?
My son is 5 almost 6 and my daughter is 2 almost 3, so they, yeah, they keep us on our toes.
Awesome, yeah, I have a 5 almost 6-year old and a 13-year old. I’m right there with you. So, even with your time off from the band, you’ve been at this for a long time, have seen bands and labels come and go, and have experienced so many changes. Is there anything that really sticks out to you from all this time? What do you think has changed the most?
I know we’ve seen a lot of areas come up, and get better, and nicer, particularly Cincinnati. We’ve been playing there, at Bogart’s, for basically our entire career so we’ve seen that area change and get a lot nicer. So it’s really cool to see those things, and it’s nice to be able to see our fans get older with us. People who have met at our shows, couples and stuff, will say “Hey, we met at your show and now we have kids, so we want to bring them down!” It’s just crazy to be around for this amount of time. I think we’re all pretty grateful. Just the fact that we’re still doing this and we still really love our jobs.
Since you’ll be in Cincinnati for 2 nights, you’re playing Tell All Your Friends in its entirety, then either Where You Want To Be or Louder Now… Has it been challenging or exciting for you to come back to these songs after 20 years and play them every night, almost like it was your first tour?
It’s definitely exciting because we see so many people still responding to all those songs, which really surprises us. And the songs kind of take on a life of their own the more we play them. For years we didn’t play the last song on Tell All Your Friends, “Head Club,” it just didn’t really resonate with us anymore. We kind of all had a bit of demo-itis from the initial version. And then as we were playing it, as we were rehearsing to go on this tour - you know, this was back in December, before we kicked everything off - it changed and the song started to click more with me and I don’t really know why. Then we started playing it live, Mark changed something up a little bit towards the end of it, and we’ve kind of expanded on it and we jam out a little bit on it, and we’re like, “We really love this song!” So every time it gets to that song - we anticipated it kind of being a drag, like “Oh, we gotta get through this...” - but now I look forward to it in the set every night. I go back by the drums to see what he’s doing to try to match it a little bit and expand on it, then John kind of meanders to it, and we just have a blast playing it. So that was one of those really nice things that came out of playing all these songs, and songs we haven’t revisited in a long time.
The band itself has seen some significant changes along the way, both in members and direction - now that you’re 20 years in, celebrating so many accomplishments, finishing a world tour… did you have any idea when TAYF came out that this is where you would be?
Absolutely not. No. I thought we’d put the record out - it came out in March of 2002 - and then hit the road, maybe tour through the summer, and then when the fall came I’d go back to school and everyone would go back and get jobs, and whatever. Getting on with life. So I’m still waiting for that other shoe to drop.
All four of us in the band realize how lucky we are, and how the dream kind of came true. But we really didn’t know anyone that lived the dream. We had some friends and stuff like that, that got record deals, but to make a career out of it, that was really always the dream and the hope. The reality of it just never seemed feasible, at all, and then here we are looking back, and it’s kind of gone by so quickly.
We can’t believe we’re still here, and we always feel really grateful we get to do this. We’re always afraid that it could go away at any moment, like we’ve seen with other bands, and what could have potentially happened to Taking Back Sunday any number of different times with all the lineup changes and stuff. So we’re hanging on tight, and just still enjoying the hell out of the ride.
I’m curious, then, about when Tell All Your Friends initially came out, and it blew up and kind of… immediately resonated… How off-guard did that catch everybody? Or did you feel like, as you were recording it, and as the record was coming out, that you had something that was so special that would end up, kind of, standing the test of time and becoming so important for people?
No, no. Especially at the time, when we got what we thought was the rough mix back - we were on the road going on tour with a band called Rival Schools, this is like, January of 2002 - and we gave the studio a call and we were like, “Hey, okay, guys, we need to change all of these things,” and they were like, “No, this is your record. We’re over time, we’re over budget. That’s it.” So we were like, “Okay, well, there goes our career.” We had one shot at this, Victory put some money into it, and you know, and now it’s not exactly what we want. So it was like, “Well, alright guys, maybewe’ll get a second chance to make another record, but, guys… I don’t know. This is probably it.”
So we were all kind of not very hopeful in the way that it came out, but as we started listening to it more and more and getting used to the changes the producer, Sal Villanueva, made, we were like, “This isn’t that bad.” But then, when people started singing along to the songs, we go, “Oh, wow. This is resonating.” That was shocking.
It was really cool because it was a grassroots kind of thing. It wasn’t like, we gotta come out of the gate and sell 100,000 records. I think it sold a modest 2,000-2,500 copies, in the opening week, and we were like, “That’s reallygood.” For us, we didn’t have any idea what to expect. But then this thing grew and grew. And we were on tour for just like, 2 years straight, so we would see the audiences would grow and grow. We’d see them… okay, the last time we were in Anaheim, we did like a hundred people. Now here’s 500 people, what is going on? And now they’re screaming along to every song. We got to witness that on the road, and that was the kind of dawning moment where we were like, “Alright. Maybe there’s something here that’s working.”
And then I remember the first time we played Toronto, they had to keep moving up the venue. This is like, April 2003, so we started out at probably a 500-cap room, then moved it to a thousand cap, and then maybe I think we topped out at like, 2500, and this was basically as big as you could get. And it sold out in advance, and people were scalping tickets on the road. I saw a scalper and was like, “You’re rippin’ off the kids, that’s not cool!” I’m just happy he didn’t stab me or something. But it was those kind of moments that were so shocking. Because the internet wasn’t such a thing and we weren’t blowing up with YouTube videos, so it was all very grassroots. Tony, from Victory, put the commercial on MuchMusic and MTV2 at the time, and that really caught on, too. It was so much right place, right time.
I hadn’t even considered what it would take, or what it would be like without the internet for something like this to take on a life of its own… That had to have been just wild to experience.
Yeah, I mean, it’s cliche, but people did tell all their friends. *Laughs* I mean, that was the hope...
On this tour, what do you want fans to take away from the experience of seeing Taking Back Sunday like this, so steeped in and playing with the history of the band?
Adam says it on stage almost every night. He says this is a celebration. We’re the four luckiest guys you’ll ever meet, and I feel like we all really believe that. And the music, I feel like there’s always something in that music. It’s always music we believed in. We weren’t trying to do what was popular, we weren’t trying to do what we thought would get us money, or the girls. It was what we truly believed in. We still believe in it. We believe in Taking Back Sunday. And we’re so happy to be here, still doing the thing, like I keep saying.
We always feel like we’re on borrowed time, we’re always concerned that it could pop, that it could just go away, and people don’t want to come out to our shows. So we’re just so happy to be there. We feel like we get to play these songs. It’s not an obligation, it doesn’t feel like a job in that sense. We’re so thrilled to get up on stage and have that interaction with the crowd, where we’re singing the songs and they’re singing them back at us, and we’re all one for those two hours while we’re on stage.
We just want it to be a party, for people to forget about all of the craziness. Forget about what’s going on, on Twitter, forget about what’s going on any social media and people screaming about this and that. Let’s have fun, be one, let’s forget about the world for two hours. We’re going to have a great time, we’re going to blow off some steam. We feel so lucky that we get to do it.
So, these albums obviously mean a lot to you, and to the fans that are coming out to all of these shows. Within the different spans of time that you’ve been a part of the band’s output, what song is your favorite? Which means the most to you? Is there a deep cut that you’re proud of that you wish got a little more love?
Um, I don’t really know. We’ve been playing the song “Tidal Wave” every night, from the last record that we put out, and people are really responding to that. Adam kind of created a whole new part in the middle of it that’s really fun, so that one’s always super fun to play every night. And that’s, like, taken on a life of its own. On this leg of the tour we weren’t really doing it early, so we are sussing these shows out and we start throwing all of this stuff in, and that’s really cool, and that’s kind of become a thing. So I guess right now that’s kind of the one that would stand out most in my mind. But yeah, it’s been a blast to play.
As a bonafide Rock Band, two decades into your career, where do you go next? What does the next chapter of Taking Back Sunday look like to you?
I think we’re still trying to figure it out. I think we’re excited to get in the studio and start writing some songs. Now we’re kind of getting those creative juices flowing where we’re going to be really pumped together. John has some ideas, Mark’s got plenty of stuff. We’ve kind of talked about it a little bit.
I think come January we’ll sit down together and start hashing some stuff out, because we know it does have to be special. It’s going to be our 8th record, and we have to really outdo ourselves. It’s a really important time in the band. And I think we’re leaving on such a high note with this tour and everything, and celebrating the 20 years, that we’ve got to figure out the next 20. So it all starts with the next album.
So do you see something like this tour, and revisiting these songs and living in them for a year, do see impacting, or influencing those decisions, and what those next 20 years look like?
Yeah, I don’t know that musically playing these old parts will influence the next wave of the band and whatever comes of that. But I do think that what this year on the road and getting to experience this thing in a whole new light, and taking it worldwide, and just the lives we had and being away from families and things like that, that will probably influence the direction that the next record takes. But I don’t know exactly what that’s going to be. That’s kind of up in the ether right now, we’re going to try to grab on to it.
I think we’ve lived a lot, we’ve learned a lot from this year and that that will influence the next record without knowing where we’re going.
Anything else you want to add or mention for your fans in Cincinnati?
We’ve just had such a great history playing at Bogart’s. It’s always such a fun time, and there’s all these different memories. So we’re excited to make some new ones. It’s going to be a blast, it’s going to be a really fun show. So come on out, forget about all your worries, and party with us.
My thanks, again, to Shaun for taking the time to chat with me. It looks like there are a few tickets left for Friday night, but Saturday night is already sold out. Catch me at Bogart’s on Friday night, singing along poorly with a smile on my face.