Interview: Taking Back Sunday

Photo: Natalie Escobedo

Photo: Natalie Escobedo

Here at Under The Rockies we did our first interview and it was with Shaun Cooper of Taking Back Sunday. Yeah, we’re just as overwhelmed as you think we are.

Mary McComish got to speak with Shaun Cooper about their current co-headlining tour with The Used, their new album, Happiness Is and what being back in the band has been like for him and John Nolan. Read the interview below.

Happiness Is is out now. Catch Taking Back Sunday at one of their upcoming tour dates which you can find at

UTR: So you guys are in Seattle today?
 Shaun Cooper: Yeah, it’s a beautiful day here, the sun’s coming up. Yeah, it’s a good day.

How’s the tour been going so far?
It’s been great, it’s been a long run. We did a tour with The Used back in the spring once our record came out. And then we took a couple months off. We went overseas. We did some Europe dates by ourselves. Then we met up again with The Used in Australia. We toured all through there. We toured through the Philippines. And now, a couple of weeks ago we started this run and it has been a lot of fun. We really like being on tour with those guys and Frank Iero from My Chemical Romance who is in a band called frnkiero andthe cellabration who are really great. So we’re having fun.

I know you and John both left the band in 2003 but I know Warped 2004, The Used, My Chemical Romance, Taking Back Sunday, you all played together back then. Back in 2003, you probably ran in the same circles. I feel like if you listened to Taking Back Sunday, you also listened to The Used and MCR back then. So how does it feel to all be playing together again, 10 years later?
Well, you know, we still really like that we get to do it. Taking Back Sunday and The Used are two of the bands that probably never went away. Lineup changes here and there, a little bit, you know. So we have this mutual respect for each other. All of us are grateful we get this. It’s our job, it’s our living, it’s our passion in life. Y’know, we’re kind of all just living the dream. We’re very fortunate.

It’s been 10 years since that Warped Tour so it’s crazy how much time has gone, right?
Yeah, yeah it makes me feel old. [Laughs] I still feel like a young kid. Even I wasn’t on that tour and I remember, I was playing with my other band then [Straylight Run] and I remember how young I felt and stuff. It’s like, I’ve been around a lot but I still feel like a young kid.

It helps doing something you love as a career, right? It’s not like you’re sitting at a desk job, nine to five, right? Because that probably has something to do with it too.
Sure, I mean this was my dream since I was a little kid. As far as I can remember, five or six years old, there’s nothing more I wanted than to do this.

Back when you said The Used and you guys have been around for that long, Taking Back Sunday is one of the bands that have been keeping it going from the get-go. A lot of bands from back then have broken up like My Chemical Romance or Thursday or gone through hiatuses like Fall Out Boy or blink-182. What’s stopping you from just calling it quits?
I think it’s the remarkable drive of Adam, Eddie and Mark. I didn’t necessarily have that drive in the beginning. That’s why we [Cooper and John Nolan] had to take a break from the band and do our own thing for a little bit. We finally developed that drive over the years. Adam, Eddie and Mark have always had that and they love this band and they have such a passion for it and such a vision for it that they’ve stayed in the band through all the years, through all the other people and pretty much all of the drama in and out of the band. They had this drive and this passion and this vision that has definitely kept this thing going.

Maybe this is false but I read that you guys originally left because of differences. How do you guys work together now?
We had so much success that we were not expecting early on that it kind of affect different people in a bunch of different ways. We all reacted differently to the shock of success. All these days, I thought all our friends would come out, maybe we’d be lucky and get on a couple of tours, when our record came out, and then after the summer of 2002 was over, I’d go back to school and get a job in computers or something. I really didn’t have much hope for any success because there wasn’t any sustaining careers in the music business that I could see that were even attainable. So all of a sudden we were kind of shot out of a cannon and we had this new record pushing really strongly behind us, we were playing these shows, we were touring like crazy and the next thing I knew, I was on tour for two years straight basically. That really affects your psych, how you interact with people, the band and with all five personalities changing differently. So I think that when John and I left, it was the perfect time to take a step back and re-evaluate our careers and what we wanted and we did a different band called Straylight Run for seven years. We took our time and that came to an end and then, for some reason, things weren’t all that great with Taking Back Sunday. Different personality clashes in the band that had developed and Adam, Eddie and Mark asked us to come back. It just seemed like the right time so we got together, and we sat down and first we talked because we weren’t sure we had the same vision for the band or if we could even create together – if there would be personality differences or anything. But it seemed like, the more time we had apart, the more time we grew together. We kind of came back to the same place where we started at. Just knowing that and kind of having a shared vision for the band, makes everything kind of easier. We’re all a lot more mature, we’re all a lot more sure about what we want and how to pursue this thing. So I think we’re just in a very good spot.

So tell me about the new album, Happiness Is.
It’s the best Taking Back Sunday record yet.

Why do you think it’s the best one yet?
We had a lot of time to work on it. Over the course of two years we kind of took breaks between the tours we were doing and work on songs separately then we’d get together and work on them more together. We all live in different parts of the States so we always have to fly somewhere to meet up and work on music. Having that time away from each other and then coming back together and re-grouping and figuring out the parts and writing them are fine. That really helps. We have two producers on the record, Mike Sapone and Marc Hudson. They’re old friends of ours. Mike Sapone did our first demos before the Tell All Your Friends record so he’s an old friend that really knew what we were looking for and because we were so comfortable, we all have a lot of arguments and a lot of back and forth and kind of have that shared vision, I thought Mike Sapone and Marc Hudson really understood our band and what we were trying to accomplish. We wanted to have the most potent record to date.

What was the recording process like versus previous albums?
This was the first album we were recording in two locations with two separate producers. We all flew off to Michigan to do the first half of the album. Well not the first half because songs are all scattered but there’s the first bulk of the songs we worked with Marc Hudson in Michigan, just outside of Detroit. We just went to his house and worked on the songs and banged it out. Everyone flew to Long Island and we worked with Mike Sapone there at his house and went through a different batch of songs we had demoed with him and that’s how we worked it.

This is your first album on Hopeless, right? How’s that? What’s the change like?
It was really cool because with this record we had a whole bunch of demos done so we were able to shop them around and see. They were most interested in us and we really wanted to go in there with a clear presentation of kind of take it or leave it. Hopeless was ecstatic with what we were doing with the energy on this record and I felt like they really understood us and they weren’t pushing us to go in any direction. They’re not a label looking for a pop single because we’re not that type of band, we’re an album band, we make albums, that’s what we focus on. We’re not gonna be a band that has some sort of silly viral hit that has 40-million views on YouTube. We’re just trying to write a good album.  They understood that and I felt they knew what we were going for. Creatively, they were very hands-off, they let us do our own thing and they were just very supportive.

Was Warner [Bros. Records] not like that?
Warner had to be a bit more controlling. I mean, you have to understand, there’s a lot more money involved on a major label. I totally understand where they were coming from and this day and age, rock music isn’t selling huge hits on the radio. It’s not selling millions and millions of records anymore and that’s just the world we live in. I’m not sure a band like, maybe the Foo Fighters or Queens of the Stone Age, it’s really tough to have a top 10 debut in this day and age. That’s unfortunate but that’s the world we live in. We’re content, we did debut in the top 10 with this record which shocked all of us. We were really grateful. Warner was definitely good to us, for sure, but it’s a changing world at the major labels.

I mean, Warner works for different people because I know My Chemical Romance was on Warner, Gerard Way is still on Warner. It’s interesting because I consider all the “newer” bands, such as All Time Low, they’re on Hopeless, right…
All Time Low was very instrumental in us signing with Hopeless. We did the Warped Tour in 2012 and we were hanging out with those guys and talking to them. They were saying, “If you guys are looking around, Hopeless is pretty awesome. We were on a major label for a while but we came back because Hopeless really understands our band.” I said to them, “Let’s see how excited they are about us”. It turns out we had a similar thing going so we were very fortunate.

It’s interesting to see all these older bands, you and The Used, going to “newer” labels where they host the “younger” bands.  Currently you’re on a co-headlining tour with The Used. Tell me about a co-headlining tour and how that’s different. Do you prefer it, is it not quite your style, what do you think?
I like everything. Last night we played a show without The Used, we headlined, we played about an hour and a half, The Used had a night off. There’s definitely a lot less people when we don’t play shows with The Used so we like playing shows with them for sure. It is fun to get to play a little bit longer set and everything but for this tour we definitely get to have a shared audience but there’s definitely specific The Used fans and definitely specific Taking Back Sunday fans. Whoever plays first gets to play in front of all of them. When we close out a night, people are leaving because they enjoyed The Used and don’t care to stick around for us. I think the same, vice versa, happens. But you get someone who’s like, “Well, I enjoyed Taking Back Sunday, but I’m really excited for The Used so I’m gonna stick around and watch them”, that happens as well. I think there’s a good energy there. That’s why we do things like that. We just like being around these guys, we’re fans of what they do and we really respect them as a band and that’s why this tour’s a lot of fun, for sure.

So do you think it depends, on the co-headlining tour, on what bands you’re touring with? Like you guys get along with The Used so well because you’ve toured with them before, right?
The beauty of co-headliners is that you have to be of comparable sizes, similar audience. That’s just how it works. We respect what they do and we’re fans of them so that’s why it works out so easily.

How do you think shows differ between the U.S. and Canada?
We definitely don’t do as well in Canada. We really enjoy it and it’s been a long time. We don’t get to go up there all that often so I think when John and I came back and the band was really trying to do a whole lot more touring there. We got to play in Montreal over the summer. We’ve been to Montreal and Toronto. We’re just getting back, that’s why it was also important to do this co-headliner with The Used and tour as many cities as we are.

I know Canadian tours are really tricky. I mean, everybody hits Montreal and Toronto and the odd Vancouver show but Calgary’s usually next in line so it’s really hit and miss with us but I know your Edmonton show is actually sold out.
Yeah, which is a nice surprise.