Taking Back Sunday Outlasted Emo and Lived to Tell the Tale

Taking Back Sunday has survived years of lineup changes and shifting tastes.
Taking Back Sunday has survived years of lineup changes and shifting tastes.
Photo by Ryan Russell

Rock 'n’ roll is all about mythology: selling your soul to the devil in exchange for godly guitar riffs. Bands achieve immortal status by soundtracking the most important moments in our lives, sometimes with eerie specificity. 

Unfortunately, in the world of rock 'n’ roll mythology, old legends and first impressions die hard. This is why, after nearly 20 years, six albums, lineup changes and a return to the original lineup five years ago, Taking Back Sunday (TBS) is still associated with the “emo” label they got slapped with in the early 2000s, despite far outlasting the fate and expectations of most bands from that scene.

Tomorrow, June 24, the band will join fellow scene survivors Dashboard Confessional at Bayfront Park for the Taste of Chaos tour, along with special guests Saosin and the Early November.

TBS drummer Mark O’Connell — along with lead singer Adam Lazzara and guitarist Eddie Reyes — has been there since the beginning, and he's candid about his evolving feelings toward the “emo” label.

While it's no longer a major concern, he internally cringes as he remembers what the label used to mean to him. “To me, it meant weak," he says. "You're in a weak band that plays weak music. We still get called that, but I don't care. It's been so long. It used to really bother me.”

Still, he remembers not quite fitting in with the crowd he'd been involuntarily lumped in. “That corny style when everybody had the silly haircuts and all the tight pants — that was something I never did personally. I thought it looked incredibly dumb. But, you know, I guess that's why it's not really that big of a style anymore, huh?”

For a time, it seemed Taking Back Sunday might go the way of those silly haircuts. In 2003, original members John Nolan and Shaun Cooper left the band to pursue other projects.

“It was never the same for me,” reflects O’Connell. “When we started playing in a tiny room in Long Island in a basement writing songs — to me, that's a real band. When two of those guys leave and then you bring in these other guys who are hired, it's a different thing. It's not as real.”

O’Connell held out hope that the original lineup would one day reunite. “I always wanted that to be a thing. I knew that other people didn't want it to be a thing, but I did, and I always felt that it could possibly happen at the right time, and it did. It's the most relaxing with this lineup.”

Lineup changes and outdated labels are not the only tests Taking Back Sunday has endured over the years. The band came of age in the midst of the industry’s destabilizing shift to digital music. “With the internet and then music becoming free, it's changed a lot.”

O’Connell refers not only to the new digital sales model, but to the stylistic drive toward a more electronic sound across genres. “That's also what changed the music, because people were looking for a certified hit so they could sell their music, 'cause it's such a hard thing to do.”

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Asked what Taking Back Sunday has done differently to outlast these paradigm shifts, O’Connell reveals a pretty simple formula. “Being extremely passionate and writing from the heart," he says. "One thing that we never did is go and try and write something that is popular today."

TBS has the classic story of a hard-working band, formed in a basement, touring to sustain its long and hard-fought career. But it's a story that's becoming increasingly rare these days.

“Out of nowhere it all became electronic and that's fine and everything, but everything goes in waves. So maybe it'll be cool at some point to put down the computer and forget about that for a minute, and just go into a garage or go into your mom's basement and hash out a song that way. There's definitely a lot less people doing that.”

While he does reflect on the music he grew up with when prompted, O’Connell doesn't sound too preoccupied with the past, or the future. He's learned from his years with Taking Back Sunday to take life one album and one tour at a time.

The next album — the band's third back with the original lineup — is due out in mid-September.

“The fact that we're still a band and we're still doing it and people still care is a pretty unbelievable thing. We've seen it all. We’ve seen really big highs and really big lows. And a good place in the middle, too. So you can never really tell what's going to happen.”

Dashboard Confessional and Taking Back Sunday on the Taste of Chaos tour. 6:30 p.m. Friday, June 24, at Bayfront Park Amphitheater, 301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-358-7550; bayfrontparkmiami.com. Tickets cost $30 to $65 plus fees via livenation.com.

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