Over the past ten years or so, there has been an influx of bands performing anniversary shows around their seminal albums. This is something that had drawn particular interest from fans looking to re-live their adolescence, and those who are looking to take a trip down memory lane. There’s nothing wrong with this, as I, myself, have gone to more than a handful of these shows/celebrations myself. They aren’t all done entirely the same, either – The Maine just performed Can’t Stop Won’t Stop in full (for one time only) in their hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, Alkaline Trio performed all of their albums over the span of a few nights in each city, and some bands even do whole tours.
There are some bands who elect to not participate in these celebrations: Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy has previously stated the band doesn’t have interest in doing one, while Panic! At the Disco, Paramore, and many more all watched as the anniversaries of their beloved albums breezed by. There’s no right or wrong way to handle anniversaries, and it should be completely up to the artists discretion as to whether they would like to do one or not.
Back in the fall of 2012, Taking Back Sunday did a ten-year anniversary tour for their debut album, Tell All Your Friends, to the delight of many – and even did a live CD/DVD of one of their performances. The anniversaries for their follow-up albums – 2004’s Where You Want to Be and 2006’s Louder Now– came and went without a tour, though it’s worth noting they were promoting new releases when the 10-year anniversary of those albums came around, 2014’s Happiness Is…and 2016’s Tidal Wave.
Fast forward to January 4th, 2019 and I’m sitting on the phone with Taking Back Sunday front-man Adam Lazzara as the band gear up to kick off their 20thanniversary tour in Australia. The tour, at most stops, will find the band performing in a city for two nights, performing Tell All Your Friends on both nights, accompanied by either Where You Want to Beor Louder Now.
One of the first thing that comes up when Lazzara and I are speaking is the why behind this 20-year anniversary tour. I mention to him that the band still seems to have a lot left in the tank as musicians and future music goes, which is something he admits lead to some hesitation on his end of doing this tour. “I have to admit, I wasn’t too crazy about the idea, simply because I don’t want to be looked at as a nostalgic act,” he mentions. “We’re still chasing that dragon, if you will, of like, the ‘perfect song’ or the best that we could do. There’s still a giant fire burning in and around us.”
He continues on, further mentioning that it was actually the band’s manager, Jillian, who helped him understand why something like this should be celebrated, “I was talking with her about it — she’s been with us since the very beginning — and I was telling her the very same thing I just told you. She’s like, ‘Look, I can understand how it can be looked at like that. But, don’t you think we should celebrate this?’”
Lazzara tells me about how he moved to New York in 1999 without really knowing anybody, joined this band, and that has drastically changed the course of his life. It’s all of these adventures, and amazing accomplishments that helped sway him to want to go out on this year-long journey and celebration. “When [Jillian] said it like that, that’s when the switch flipped in my brain and I started looking at it differently. I started to think like I do want to celebrate this, I do want to go out and be able to celebrate it with the people that helped us and have been with us this whole time,” Lazzara explains.
On the subject of performing two albums back-to-back most nights – and an encore set of other fan favorite tracks not already played – we start discussing how he’s going to take care of himself and his voice for nearly 30 songs a night. “Yeah, it’s going to be a bit of a marathon for me for sure. It’s just going to be a lot of trying to rest the voice as much as possible and just saving it all for the night. Warm-ups, taking care is the main focus. Over the years, I’ve given myself some pretty solid examples of what works and what doesn’t, because decisions that I’ve made,” Lazzara says laughing. “So, I’m glad that I have that information. It sucks learning it the hard way, but I have that information going into this tour, so it’s just a matter of applying it.”
Aside from the toll that this tour is going to take on Lazzara and the rest of Taking Back Sunday, he tells me that playing some of these old songs has been eye-opening to him. There are songs that they haven’t played in years, or just haven’t played with this current edition of the band’s lineup, which has made it a pleasant surprise with re-learning some of these songs. “Playing a lot of those songs again, I was really surprised because — well, the songs themselves kind of surprised me because I thought to myself ‘Oh man, I really like these. How come we don’t play these more?’” Lazzara goes on to specifically highlight the track “Miami” off of Louder Nowsaying, saying “Man, I forgot how much I loved this song. With the other ones, it’s like, ‘Oh, I forgot that I ever felt that way.’ Then that opens a little door in my mind. It was, for those rehearsals and shows coming up, great to revisit.”
I can’t help but bring up my own excitement to hear “This Photograph Is Proof (I Know You Know)” off of Where You want to Be. I explain that I didn’t anticipate hearing this song live, given that it was written with a different lineup and the chorus is one of the few in Taking Back Sunday’s catalogue not sung predominantly by Lazzara. He responds by stating that “This Photograph Is Proof (I Know You Know)” is an example of a song that meant a very specific thing to him, at a very specific time in his life, but now all of these years, has a different way of applying to his current life. “It’s almost like a horse with blinders and you peel the blinders back and all of the sudden, it can see the whole world around it. It’s taking in all of this new information and applying it to what it already knows,” Lazzara begins. “I’ve been surprised with some of those things that I’ve come across [with these songs], like ‘Oh my god, this still applies to me, just in a little different way’ and I hope other people can experience that, too.”
Taking Back Sunday – as a band, and individually as members, too – have changed a lot over the past 20 years. “No, it doesn’t,” Lazzara tells me when I ask him if it feels like he has spent the majority of his life in this band. He returns to a subject we talked about earlier: putting the tour together. “Even when we first started talking about it, it felt so far away. Now that we’re here, it still doesn’t feel quite real. But you look at it on paper and it’s like ‘Oh. yeah, it’s been that long,’” he shares.
While the band has only announced a first leg of their 20thanniversary tour, the second leg (to be announced later), will have dates that take them through the rest of 2019. It’s going to be a busy year on the road for Taking Back Sunday, one that Lazzara thinks illustrates how lucky they are as a band. “To be at a point — because typically, this is when we’d buckle down and start writing [the next record]— so even to be in a position where we can take a minute and have a big long party, then get back to [writing], that’s just a crazy thing.”
At the halfway point in our conversation, I throw a loaded question at him, one that I knew going in he has probably already been asked before (he politely confirms this to be true): what is a memory that stands out over the past 20 years of Taking Back Sunday? At first, he’s unable to provide a specific example, explaining that when this question comes to him, his mind immediately starts flipping through the metaphorical rolodex of memories. However, one ultimately pops into his mind: the first down they played Download Festival in 2004.
Lazzara begins the answer by explaining that at the time, Download was predominantly heavier bands – though playing with heavier bands wasn’t entirely new for them, as he explains “When we started, there weren’t many bands that sounded like us, so we would do tours with metal bands and then do tours with pop punk bands, then rock bands, it just kind of floated around.” They were scheduled to play right after Slayer on their stage, which was not expected to be a problem – except Slayer was coming from Europe and they were stuck at customs.
He recalls their tour manager at the time, Lars, coming to them and explaining the situation, which was going to result in Taking Back Sunday performing instead of Slayer during their set time. “We look out behind us at the tent, and it’s packed with, you know, thousands of these Slayer fans and the only band they want to see is Slayer,” Lazzara shares. “We’re like ‘No way, we’re not going to do that. We’re going to get murdered out there.’”
After talking back and forth amongst themselves and their tour manager, the crew starts pushing their stuff out on stage. As you can safely imagine, there is a notable difference in Taking Back Sunday’s stage gear in comparison to Slayer’s, something that Lazzara stated the crowd took notice of. “The audience could tell that it’s not Slayer’s equipment, so they start throwing everything they can at the stage, and it is just probably about 15 to 20 minutes of being terrified like ‘Oh my god, this is going to be the worst experience, I can’t believe we’re about to do this,’” he recalls.
The story has a happy ending, as Lazzara explains that Slayer wound up showing up at the last minute before Taking Back Sunday had to take the stage. Everyone scrambled around, got the gear swapped out, and they escaped without aggravating any Slayer fans. He explains that some years later, Slayer guitarist Tom Araya was at a Taking Back Sunday show in Dallas – his kids are fans of the band, Lazzara explains – and they were able to share this story with him. “He just laughed. He thought it was the funniest thing.”
After sharing this story, Lazzara and I move onto discussing Taking Back Sunday’s constant evolution as artists, adding to their sound with each record. I point out some differences, including Louder Nowbeing more of a straight rock record, New Againhaving jazz-y influences, and all the way up to Tidal Wavehaving some Americana, heartland-rock influences, and asked if this constant evolution was partly because they are, deep down, still fans of music. This is something he agrees is part of it, stating “Being fans of music has always been this big driving force. As time goes on, you get introduced to new things and start to discover — it’s like every year I think I find my new favorite band.” If you’re curious, I did ask who his favorite artist is right now. The answer: Phosphorescent, specifically their song “New Birth in New England.”
Another factor that Lazzara explains as a factor in the band’s evolution is their desire to be as genuine as possible with each release. He shares that this shows on their recently released compilation albumTwenty, as it’s something he noticed himself when he was going through and listening to the test pressings of the vinyl. “When I’m listening through, I’m realizing that I’m really proud that each of these records sounds like a really great snapshot of the people that we were at that time. It’s like having a yearbook or something,” he begins before running through the band’s releases, “Each [release] has been — we’ve been at these different places in our lives and I’m glad that we never settled for ‘Well this works. This kind of formula works, let’s just do that.’
He uses O’Connell’s evolution as a drummer to provide a specific example of something that has constantly evolved in their music. He states that it started with Where You Want to Bewhere there isn’t a drum fill on the entire album, and up to Tidal Wavewhere he’s doing even more impressive drum work. “It didn’t make for the smoothest road, I’ll tell you that,” he candidly admits on the band’s constant evolution, before expressing the sentiment of no regrets, “We’ve still been very fortunate in that department.”
Not only is Taking Back Sunday embarking on their twentieth anniversary tour, but they also released the aforementioned career-spanning compilation album, Twenty. Not only does it feature songs from each of their studio albums, but it also features two new songs: “All Ready to Go” and “A Song for Dan.” I asked Lazzara about this, and if this was a way of letting fans know that, while they are celebrating the past, they are still very much an active band moving forward. “That’s exactly how I hoped people would see it,” he answers. “Especially with Twentycoming out, is that they would see the new songs on there and it would be like ‘Hey, this is just another chapter and there’s much more to come.’’
With these two new tracks, Lazzara shares a comical story on how “A Song for Dan” came to be. He explains that it came fromO’Connell and that he started working on it right around the time they started touring for Tidal Wave. “He was just always on his phone, and I thought he’s just either always on social media or he’s playing some game or something,” he begins to share. “Finally, I sat down and asked him, it turns out he doesn’t have any apps or anything on his phone, he just has Garage Band because some of those files will get so big that he had to delete everything off his phone.” After that, when it came time to put together ideas of new songs for Twenty, “A Song for Dan” was the first to stick its head out. The other new track, “All Ready to Go,” came together as a cohesive demo while the band members were working apart from one another. Lazzara explains that when it came time for them to record together, the track came together rather easily.
While the two new songs are a great representation of where Taking Back Sunday is at currently going through their 20thyear as a band, Lazzara is unable to say whether these songs will be a representation of any future material. This ties into their effort of being as genuine as possible with each release of new music, as Lazzara explains “I think we’d be doing a disservice if we said, ‘Oh yeah, these two songs are the direction we’re going’ because, who knows what the next batch of songs is going to sound like.”
However, earlier in our conversation, I asked Lazzara how he wanted people to remember Taking Back Sunday. “I would like people to think, ‘That’s a great American rock and roll band.’ Just as simple as that,” he begins. “That’s been my main thing for a long time. It’s like — that’s what we’ve always been trying to be and have been working towards.”
20 years in with seven studio albums to show, Twentyis an incredible recollection of the past and a look towards the future. Taking Back Sunday may still treat their career as if they are on the search for the ever evasive “perfect” song and working to leave a mark as an American rock band, Twenty (and their current anniversary tour) is a subtle reminder that, in many ways, they’ve already left their mark.