This year marks 20 years since Taking Back Sunday formed in Amityville, New York. The two decades have seen several band members leave and, in 2010, a pair of them — guitarist John Nolan and bassist Shaun Cooper — return. Through it all, the group has continued to release albums on a regular basis, in the process outgrowing an original affiliation with Rock’s Emo scene to reach a point where they seem positioned to have a solid career for years to come.
Perhaps the most rewarding part of reaching this milestone is that Taking Back Sunday, which recently released a best-of album, Twenty, enters its third decade with a greater sense of confidence and musical freedom than at any time in the band’s career.
“I think when the band started, everybody’s goals were sort of all over the place, but we were kind of bound together by the idea that we knew we wanted to be in a band and we wanted that to be our career,” Nolan says, looking back over Taking Back Sunday’s history. “We just wanted to make it.”
He says that ever since he rejoined the band, he’s noticed Taking Back Sunday has regained some of the scrappy spirit of its early years, as if they were out to prove “that we were still worth listening to and paying attention to as a band” every time they entered the recording studio to make a new album.
But between making 2014’s Happiness Is and the group’s most recent studio album, 2016’s Tidal Wave, the creative focus shifted more inward.
“The focus has sort of shifted toward what we can do that is going to make us happy, that is going to be exciting to us, moving away from the idea of proving anything and wondering what the reaction might be,” Nolan says.
It didn’t take long for Taking Back Sunday to achieve that initial goal of making it on the national scene. Founded in 1999 by guitarist Eddie Reyes, Taking Back Sunday cycled through a few early band members before solidifying its lineup with the additions of Nolan, singer Adam Lazzara, drummer Mark O’Connell and Cooper.
In 2002, that’s the lineup that created debut album Tell All Your Friends, which is now considered a classic within the Modern Rock sub-genre known as Emo, so called for the passionate and often dramatic nature of the music and lyrics. The album spent 78 weeks on Billboard’s Independent Album chart and Taking Back Sunday saw its audience grow rapidly as Tell All Your Friends gained steam.
But after a year of touring the album, Nolan (who was Lazzara’s main songwriting collaborator) and Cooper left the band, having found it difficult to deal with the whirlwind of success and the strain of touring. Taking Back Sunday barely paused, bringing in guitarist Fred Mascherino and bassist Matt Rubano and jumping onto the 2003 Warped Tour as the band’s momentum continued.
The next few years saw the group release well-received albums like Where You Want To Be (2004) and Louder Now (2006) before Mascherino was replaced by Matt Fazzi for 2009’s New Again.
But within the band, tensions grew worse. In spring 2010, Rubano and Fazzi were jettisoned and O’Connell suggested approaching Nolan and Cooper about rejoining Taking Back Sunday; the duo’s post-Taking Back Sunday band, Straylight Run, had flamed out after some initial success. Lazzara and Reyes agreed, and Nolan and Cooper rejoined.
Over the course of the three albums since the return of Nolan and Cooper, Taking Back Sunday’s sound has evolved to the point where it feels like a fairly timeless brand of melodic Guitar Rock that doesn’t belong to Emo or any other sub-genre.
In Nolan’s view, Taking Back Sunday never belonged in the Emo scene in the first place.
“To us, we didn’t feel particularly tied to (Emo),” he says. “It was just sort of the music that influenced us, and, yeah, it connects us to this scene. But that’s not an important part of who we are.”
Nolan says other influences have emerged in the writing process in recent years, which — coupled with a desire to not repeat themselves — naturally redefined the Taking Back Sunday sound.
“We’ve always wanted to do something that’s sort of timeless and not part of a particular scene or era,” he says. “I remember when I was coming back to the band, I wanted to talk to Adam about what his goals were. I wasn’t sure what their perspective was. I didn’t know if they were looking to like make Tell All Your Friends Part 2 or something that wasn’t interesting to me.
“His thing was, ‘I just want this band to make a great Rock record.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I can get on board with that.’ That’s a simple way to put it, but I do think there is that common feeling with all of us, that we would love to have one of the great Rock records ever, hopefully. I think it feels like we’re always working toward that.”
The group will make its next batch of new music without founding member Reyes. He left Taking Back Sunday in 2018 and has since started a new band, Fate’s Got a Driver. Longtime touring guitarist Nathan Cogan has filled Reyes’ slot.
“He’s actually been touring with us for almost 10 years,” Nolan says of Cogan. “So now, we’re a five-piece, where before it was a six-piece with him.”
With Cogan in tow, the band is promoting the Twenty collection, which does a fine job of touching on all of the Taking Back Sunday albums and summing up the group’s career to this point. But the set list for the 20th-anniversary tour will not mirror the tracklist of Twenty. Instead, the group is playing Tell All Your Friends in its entirety — plus a selection of other songs — on every date of the tour. In cities like Cincinnati where there are two back-to-back shows, the group will play Where You Want To Be or Louder Now in full on the second night.
“If we were going to do a set that was sort of like what the Twenty album is, that would actually be fairly similar to what we’ve been doing for the past four years or so of touring — taking the best songs from our catalog and making a set of 22 songs, more or less,” Nolan says.
“We felt like if we went out and did that, it wouldn’t be that much different. So there were a lot of songs from Where You Want To Be and Louder Now that we’d never played live and (that) people have asked about. It felt like doing all three albums would be a lot more of an interesting and exciting thing.”
Taking Back Sunday plays Bogart’s on Oct. 18 and 19. Tickets and more show info: bogarts.com.