Listen to TAKING BACK SUNDAY while you read.
Taking Back Sunday are a band on a mission as they prepare to head back to Australian shores this March. It doesn’t take long during my catch up with lead guitarist John Nolan to realise that this isn’t a band that is prepared to rest on their laurels. Seven albums into their career, tours with the biggest bands in the world and having their songs used in Hollywood blockbusters hasn’t changed Taking Back Sunday over the years. They are still a band that wants to do amazing shows for their fans and show the world they are still capable of creating ‘great’ albums.
Nolan explains a little about that mission as we begin by talking about the band’s latest album Tidal Wave. “We went into this album feeling very conscious of the fact that it was our seventh album and it felt like we were really at a point where we needed to make a statement, so we didn’t settle into that place where you just start doing the stuff that everybody expects from you. So that was the starting point for us and how we approached it. I think we were a lot more open to trying to bring in influences from music that we have all liked over the years but not necessarily channelled into our own music. I think the statement that we wanted to make is that we are still a band that is capable of putting out great albums and still capable of doing something unexpected and surprising.”
“When it comes to those influences that I’m talking, about that really changes from band member to band member but I think some of the things that came through really clearly are things like on the title track that really clear Ramones slash The Clash influence which are bands that I think we have all really enjoyed over the years but never really worked into how we feel before. There is also a bit of a Tom Petty thing that we all have as well, and some of that has worked its way in there as well. There’s also a bit of hardcore influence in there as well, especially that early New York hardcore scene. For me personally, when I grew up I grew up listening to Christian music. My Dad was a Pastor, so I was only allowed to listen to Christian music. I can remember listening to Amy Grant, and there is still something about her voice and melodies when I listen today that’s special. Then after that, I really got into classic rock from the ‘60s and then came Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Soundgarden… things like that. It was really about that time that I started to say ‘I really want to be a musician’. It was during that grunge time that I started to learn guitar and begun to think ‘yeah this is something that I really want to do with my life.’”
While a lot of bands go into a songwriting hiatus during tours Nolan explains that things are very different for Taking Back Sunday. “We sort of work on all our ideas on our own while we are touring and then when we finish touring we get together and start sharing those ideas around with each other and see where they lead to. How it normally starts is that somebody will have an idea for the music for a song and then we all get together to add to that. There is no set way that we go about doing things, and the idea can come from anybody in the band, on any instrument, but it always has to be something that we all gravitate towards.”
The one thing that Nolan says hasn’t changed for the band over the years is the way that they feel when their new album is about to be released to fans. “We get very nervous but also very excited. By the time an album is released we normally have finished working on it about six months earlier so there is a huge window of time there for us to listen to it and think about it and kind of process it before anybody else gets to hear it and I think that it when we start to get really nervous. You have this thing that is coming, but you just have to wait for it. But it is also incredibly exciting getting to put out a new record every time.”
As we talk about that excitement and nervousness pre an album release it brings me to ask Nolan that age-old question – ‘who do they listen to for responses more, fans or music critics?’ “We really just try to stick to what we think of our albums,” says Nolan with a laugh. “Because I think once you start making music for critics or even if you just start making music for fans I think that you can get lost in some place where what you are doing is not really rewarding or exciting anymore.”
Fans eager to see Taking Back Sunday when they arrive in Australia in March should certainly take a listen to the band’s new work as Nolan explains so far on this worldwide tour they have been playing the entire Tidal Wave album as part of their set. “We are playing the album,” he says with a deep breath. “That’s big, we had to get together for a full four-day rehearsal before the tour to do that, but even before that we were all doing things at home alone to prepare in the lead up to do that. We have been working really hard to get it right live, and it certainly has been a challenge and you know it is kinda scary to get out there in front of people and play an album that they don’t really know really well yet. But I think as a band we are at that point we were are excited about challenges like that. We are definitely excited about coming to Australia as well; it has been way too long since we have been there and we don’t actually know how big we are there. I guess with this tour we’ll kinda gauge that. I also love going to the beaches in Australia. I normally can’t do that on a show day, but on a day off the beaches there are fantastic.”
Of course over the years a way that a lot of the music fans have discovered Taking Back Sunday has been through pop culture. The band have had songs used in the popular Madden NFL franchise of video games and of course were hand-selected by Michael Bay to appear on all of the Transformers soundtracks. Nolan says it is pretty ‘cool’ to know that their music is being used in such projects. “It’s great,” he says. “And I really hope that it continues with this album. It’s a really cool thing to happen for a band because people can’t really discover new bands on radio anymore, at least not here in the States… things like rock radio just aren’t a thing anymore. One of the last ways now you can stumble onto a band without really trying is through video games, movies and television shows, etc… so it’s just really cool.”
“I really don’t know how the thing with Michael Bay started,” says Nolan laughing hard. “I mean a couple of times our songs didn’t even feature in the film they just turned up on the soundtrack. I actually don’t know how that has happened, though. Usually, somebody just gets in contact with our manager and she comes up to us and says ‘hey there is this opportunity for your song to be used in this thing’ and we say ‘okay, cool’ but we don’t usually know why. It could be that Michael Bay is a huge fan of ours, but I don’t know…it could be…I’m not sure if I’d be happy about that or not,” he jokes laughing even harder.
Whether or not Michael Bay is a fan of the band may remain a mystery, but if you are a Taking Back Sunday fan, you don’t want to miss them as they hit Australia in March.
Written by David Griffiths