Published on November 14th, 2016 | by Aaron Cooper3
Don’t Look Back: Interview with John Nolan of Taking Back Sunday
I was nineteen when I was introduced to Taking Back Sunday’s debut album Tell All Your Friends. Their chaotic rhythms, soaring highs and delicate lows convinced me punk could be sensitive and sensitivity could have an edge. It was a fitting soundtrack of my introduction to early adulthood.
Just like life in my twenties, Taking Back Sunday found themselves changing with each release thereafter. Their label changes matched my business ambitions, their line-up changes were my failed relationships, and their evolution in an ever-changing musical landscape matched my growth as an adult figuring out who I wanted to be for the rest of my life. This is a band I theoretically grew up with.
A few years ago, I reached the point where I’m at peace with who I was as a young adult and optimistic as to what the next chapter of my life has in store. Around this time, Taking Back Sunday reformed the classic Tell All Your Friends line-up and became a much more confident band, welcoming a natural progression into artistic adulthood. With three successful post-reunion albums under their belts, including the recently released Tidal Wave, Taking Back Sunday have embraced the art of natural progression.
No one understands the importance of moving forward like lead guitarist and co-vocalist John Nolan. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Nolan about Tidal Wave, past line-ups, and how Taking Back Sunday has always been a band that never looks back to move forward.
BGM: Tell All Your Friends is such a big part of my generation’s lives. With so much emotional attachment to that record and era, do you feel the any kind of apprehension to move forward?
John Nolan: When we wrote Tell All Your Friends, we were doing the same thing we do now, which is putting together a collection of songs that we’re excited about and hopefully takes the listener on a journey from the start of the album to the end. We don’t really do much thinking about past albums when we’re making a new one.
How are the new songs on Tidal Wave going over with audiences on the tour?
We’ve been playing the entire album live every night on this tour. The first show was on the day the album was released, so no one knew the songs yet. It’s been really cool to watch people get to know the songs and see them starting to sing along as the tour goes on. Overall, the response has been great!
To me it seems like the new record is a perfect balance of fine tuning your craft, but experimenting a little. Was that a conscience decision or do you guys just jump in without a theme in mind when it comes to songwriting?
Going into the recording of this album we made a definite decision to challenge ourselves. We didn’t want to fall back on doing something just because it worked in the past. We didn’t know where that would take us but we committed ourselves to finding out.
What’s the songwriting process like for you guys these days? How has it changed over the years?
It hasn’t changed much from the early days. Our method has always been to see what kind of musical ideas everyone has and then take the ones that we get excited about and work on them together. Sometimes just a guitar riff will get us started and sometimes someone will have an almost completed instrumental song. We all figure out how we’re going to arrange the music and then Adam and I work on vocal and lyrical ideas.
Each of you have grown so much as musicians with the past few releases. You and Eddie in particular. It’s really a ‘guitar’ album. What kind of gear did you use in the recording sessions? Is your set up any different on tour?
We spent a lot of time trying out different guitar and amp combinations. We also did a lot of experimenting with pedals on this album. Fuzz pedals, whammy pedal, flangers and different reverbs with delays. I added three or four new pedals to my pedal board just so I could recreate the sounds from the new album.
For the first time, I hear more influences coming through. The title track reminds me of Tom Petty meets The Ramones. What were some of your personal influences while making this record?
We definitely let our influences show more on this album. Each song kind of draws from different sources. The Clash and Ramones were an influence on the song “Tidal Wave”. For other songs, we were drawing from a wide variety of influences from Tom Petty to U2 to Pearl Jam and INXS
Tidal Wave seems to be a real album album, with less emphasis on singles. What’s your personal favorite or one you’re really proud of?
I’m so proud of the whole album so it’s hard to single out just one song. I think I’m the most proud of the ones that sound least like what you’d expect from Taking Back Sunday. The ones where we pushed the boundaries. Songs like “Homecoming” and “I’ll Find A Way To Make It What You Want”.
Now with YouTube being this generation’s MTV, you guys still manage to be a visual band in terms of music videos. “You Can’t Look Back” is now one of my favorites. Can you discuss the meaning of the video?
We wanted to leave the meaning of that sort of open to the viewer. We’re also hopefully going to make a part two to that video that will maybe answer some of the questions from the first. We’ll see….
It’s good to see you guys having all the line-up drama behind you. Do you ever see yourselves teaming up with all previous band members for a tour? Would you ever be open to the idea of working with those guys in some captivity, even if for just one show or performance?
I don’t think that’s something that really interests us. This lineup has been together for three albums now and we’re really focused on continuing to develop and evolve together. Revisiting old songs with past band members just seem like an exercise in nostalgia.
Taking Back Sunday takes up most of your time these days (and we’re thankful for that) but do you think we’ll ever see another Straylight Run record?
I don’t think so. Taking Back Sunday has a lot of momentum and we’ve been in a steady routine of touring and making records for six years now. I don’t really see any reason to stall that momentum to revisit something from the past.
Photos via Ryan Russell (http://www.ryanrussell.net/)