"I used to be a real dick. No really, I wasn’t a nice person," Taking Back Sunday front man Adam Lazzara explained to a packed House of Blues in Boston on June 25. "Then one night in Buffalo, New York John Nolan sat me down and said that was the last show he was ever going to play with Taking Back Sunday. I didn’t know what to say."
That night in Buffalo was seven years ago and news of guitarist John Nolan and bassist Shaun Cooper leaving the band came as a shock to not only Lazzara, but to a legion of die-hard fans. In 2003, TBS was in the fast lane to becoming a rock and roll legend. After only one album, the critically acclaimed Tell All Your Friends, they were playing sold out venues and arenas. Songs like "Cute without the E" and "There’s no I in Team" ranked Lazzarra and Nolan as the leaders of a generation of lyrical gods emerging from the Long Island music scene.
However, with growing success came tension among the members. Nolan and Cooper departed from TBS amidst a whirlwind of rumors and speculations to start Straylight Run. Fans were divided into Team Lazzara and Team Nolan camps with what seemed like absolutely no chance of reconciliation. Straylight’s toned down piano driven melodies and co-vocals by Nolan’s sister (and inconveniently, Lazzara’s ex) Michelle were a drastic change from the TBS sound — but Lazzara continued on. He recruited Fred Mascherino and Matt Rubano to replace Nolan and Cooper respectively. Taking Back Sunday would release three more albums, two of which ended up in the Billboard Top Ten, and one more lineup change. Mascherino left in 2007 to work on a solo album and was replaced by Matt Fazzi as the band went into the studio to record 2009’s New Again.
TBS was scheduled to head back into the studio to record their fifth album when rumors of fighting and disgruntlement among the members started circulating again. On March 31, both Rubano and Fazzi announced that they were leaving the band while the Taking Back Sunday website boasted a current Tell All Your Friends re-make picture of Nolan and Cooper sitting with the band, each of the members with their eyes crossed out. A couple of weeks later, Lazzara revealed to Alternative Press magazine that Fazzi and Rubano were "let go" from the band so the original line-up could be recreated.
The impossible had occurred — after seven years of not speaking, Nolan and Lazzara not only found a way to be civil to each other, but also repaired the partnership that had propelled both of them to greatness in the first place. The announcement was of unprecedented epic proportions to TBS fans that had dreamed, but never believed that the day would ever come. They have drummer Mark O’Connell to thank.
"Mark had kept in touch with John and I and hung out with us a lot over the years. Even when we weren’t in the band, we stayed pretty close." Cooper explained to Blast before the June 25th show as he and Nolan sipped beers in the side alley next to the House of Blues.
"After one night where we hung out, he really just decided basically that this is the way it needs to be. We could tell the chemistry just as friends was always there," Cooper continued. "So he hatched this plan and ran it by Eddie [Reyes, guitarist] and Adam, and they told him he was crazy. He told me about it and I told him he was crazy but I was very excited. We talked a lot about John and whether or not he would do it, but he called John and made it happen."
Lazzara had apparently been warmed up to the idea for longer than expected. He had been sending O’Connell out to drop hints that he was willing to talk to Nolan again. Finally, Nolan took the bait, since "Adam was a total panty waist about it," according to Cooper. After more than half a decade of not speaking, Nolan says the conversation was far more normal than people would think.
"It was sort of a â€˜How have you been? What have you been doing? I’ve heard this or that’ back and forth. [There was] nothing really about the band or that much about whether or not we were going to do it," Nolan rehashed. "I think we talked a little bit about how I was interested in hearing what he was feeling about where the band was and where he saw the band going – what he was looking for with it. The best thing that I can say is that for the type of conversation it was, it was surprisingly laid back."
Approximately a month after that phone call it was decided that Nolan and Cooper would officially rejoin the band. Lazzara, Nolan, Cooper, Reyes and O’Connell went out to El Paso, Texas — just to make sure they could still get along. In that time they managed to write 15 demo songs.
"When we got together for the first time, nothing was concrete. It was very up in the air – we were very aware that it was crazy and that it might not work, but we all wanted it to," said Nolan.
And it worked. In fact, writing together again came as organically as it did when they wrote Tell All Your Friends.
"The thing was, we decided not to reconcile anything. When this band first got together, we weren’t doing that. We didn’t sit down and talk to each other. â€˜What direction do we want to go with this? What kind of songs do we want to do?’ We just got together and worked on songs," Nolan said.
Cooper added, "That’s why I feel this lineup works so well together, because no one is like â€˜this song has to sound like this. I have this vision and we have to take it directly here.’ It’s everyone working together. It’s everyone respecting each other and being happy about it. We all like each other’s ideas so that’s cool."
The intention was to go into the studio to finish the songs, but after hearing that their producer, Eric Valentine, wouldn’t be available for months, the boys decided to take it out on a road. They played six dates: New Jersey, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles, to give fans a taste of what they’ve been working on. The set list contained two songs from the El Paso sessions and a myriad of hits from the Taking Back Sunday repertoire. Every night they end the show with "There’s no I in Team," which Lazarra swore he would never play again after Nolan and Cooper left the band in 2003.
(Live from The Starland Ballroom, NJ – 6/22/2010)
"We got this whole thing started and we understand each other, just as people and as musicians. We appreciate what everyone does. Maybe it didn’t work like that with [the Matts]," Cooper said, "I’m not sure because I wasn’t there, but that’s what I’m guessing."
It seems that everyone in the band is happy about the decision. No matter how much of a dick Lazzara claimed to be all those years ago, he’s humbled now. During many of his talk breaks he’d go silent in the middle of a thought and just stare at the crowd. A few times it looked like he might be close to tears as the entire building welcomed the line-up back. Fans scream back every word he sings to them and the chemistry between him and Nolan is evident to say the least. Back in the alley, the excitement between Cooper and Nolan to be in the band again is almost palpable. Surely if tensions rose once though, they can rise again, right? It’s a question for fans if they should be worried that this is a mirage rather than a resurrection, but apparently not for the band.
"We’ve grown up. Part of us feeling everything out was feeling out how we understood each other and what our goals were. When I think back to when we were together [before], we didn’t have the same goals, and we didn’t understand each other’s goals and we didn’t really understand each other," Nolan explained back in the alley.
"Once we had that confidence that we do get each other and we understand what we’re all going for here, even if we have different ideas and objectives, we all at least understand and respect and are committed to each other’s ideas. That’s the thing that would stop a repeat situation [of] what happened in the past."
Cooper said that he wasn’t in it mentally when the band first started, but he knows what it takes now.
"Mark, Adam and Eddie have this crazy drive that I know I personally didn’t have. I have it now, I damn well have it now," he said. "It’s their perseverance that has made this band what it is. Over all this time, through so much adversity and all the line up changes – they’ve dealt with a lot of bad stuff. Now I just hope we can make them happy. I hope we can write the best songs Taking Back Sunday has ever written."
It has definitely been tumultuous road for this band. When adding up the setbacks and drama Taking Back Sunday has had to struggle through, it seems like nothing short of a miracle that they keep going. Nolan and Cooper have recently come to the conclusion that it’s not the band members that keep it alive — it’s the fans.
"I think a big thing that I’m realizing – that Adam had realized way before I did — (is) that Taking Back Sunday is much bigger than any of the individual members of the band," said Nolan.
"It’s bigger than the sum of its parts," Cooper added.
"I think that’s what kept it going – no matter who’s in it, no matter what direction the band is heading in." continued Nolan, "Taking Back Sunday represents something, and it means something to people."