Tomorrow, Taking Back Sunday will be releasing their eighth studio album 152. The album sees the band continuing to expand musically as they incorporate elements from classic rock and pop into their unique sound. They explore their relationship with the past and what it means to grow with heartfelt lyrics, a healthy dose of optimism, and infectious melodies. 152 will be out everywhere on October 27 via Fantasy Records and Taking Back Sunday will be hitting the road in November.
Punknews editor Em Moore caught up with lead guitarist John Nolan over Zoom to talk about the new album, playing house shows, throwing out the first pitch for the Mets, and so much more. Read the interview below!
Your upcoming album 152 will be your first album on Fantasy Records. How did you decide who to sign with? What has working with them been like?
We had gotten pretty close to finishing the record before we had signed with them. We had done everything on our own and part of the reason we wanted to do it that way was because we felt like we had made a record that was different than what we’d done in the past and that stands out in a different kind of way. We wanted to make sure that whoever we signed with was on board with what we were doing and were just as excited as we were about the new album. I think it would be very easy for us to get signed to a label that is just looking for the standard thing we’ve done before or maybe trying to capitalize on our past and things like that. We talked to a few different labels after they heard the album and Fantasy was the one we felt was the most enthusiastic and the most excited about where we were going. They felt like the right fit for this album.
It’s been great so far. Right off the bat, we’ve put out four songs before the album’s out. We've been doing this big rollout and this long-term push before the record’s even released. We haven’t done anything like that before. It’s been really cool that they were up for that.
The album has a more hopeful and optimistic feel to it. What inspired this direction?
I think that to some extent, coming through the pandemic was something that inspired that. I don’t know if any of that was a conscious thing. It did feel like there were a lot of times during the pandemic that felt hopeless and really scary. Coming out the other side of it, I think there was a new appreciation for a lot of things and I think that probably has a lot to do with it. I think lyrically there’s stuff that’s all over the place from some really sad or negative stuff to really optimistic, positive things and I think some of that is wanting to be able to express a wider range of emotions and ideas than we might’ve been able to in the past.
You started working on the album in 2019 and growth is a huge theme on the album. Which song has changed the most since you started working on it?
The song that ended up becoming “I Am The Only One Who Knows You”. We had worked on that fairly early. I don’t think it went as far back as 2019, but I think it was one of the first things that were coming together when we got back together to work on songs when the pandemic was sort of easing up. That song started out as a very fast and kind of heavy rock song. It really couldn’t be more different than where it ended up. It’s kind of like night and day. It didn’t end up being the same exact song in the end but a lot of the melodies and lyrics that were there when it was an upbeat rock song are still the same as they were, a lot of it hasn’t changed as far as that goes. That one was a pretty crazy transition.
Why do you feel it changed so much?
I think because we had worked on it so long ago, we hadn’t really found a direction yet to some extent. I think some of the things we did early on were kinda like, “Let’s try going this way with this song”. There was lots of testing things out and seeing what would work. It seemed like somewhere along the way, we hit on some kind of a direction. Hard to say exactly what it is but we definitely found something and when we started revisiting the song it seemed very out of place but there were a lot of things we still liked about it so somewhere along the way the suggestion was made to completely rework it and not just make some slight changes to the other version. Sometimes you can go crazy trying to get a song that you like to work or to fit better with the other songs or to fix the little things here and there because there’s so much that you like about it. A lot of times what a song will need is a complete overhaul and those little changes are not going to do what you’re hoping they will.
How do you feel you’ve grown as a songwriter and as a person since you started working on 152?
Well, I think again a lot of experiences during the pandemic sort of flow into the writing and recording of 152. For me, and I think for all of us, there was a lot of time that we had since we weren’t touring or really doing hardly anything related to the band for a year, year and a half. It was the first time that we had time at home with our families and with ourselves to really assess where we were at in our lives and who we were and what we felt about things because with the way we kept going with touring and touring and then an album, there’s not a lot of time to stop and take stock of things. I think we all learned a lot with that and I think all of us started to go to therapy and started trying to work on ourselves in a way that we never really did before. A lot of that I think comes through in the album. It’s hard to say exactly how but I think you can hear it in the songs that we’re different people than we were seven years ago when we made our last album.
How would you describe your songwriting process?
It’s really collaborative and it’s very much based on the four of us getting into a room together and reacting to each other’s ideas. So the process usually starts with anyone in the band bringing in an idea for a song. Sometimes it’s just a guitar part, sometimes it can be almost a whole demo of a song, sometimes it can be an instrumental version of a song. Anybody brings anything to the table and then the four of us listen through ideas and go after the ones that everyone’s excited about. Then it’s usually a process of building it into a finished song. Sometimes that comes together very quickly and sometimes it can be weeks or longer of trying to get it to a finished song that everyone feels good about.
In your video for “S’old” you’re playing in the backyard of a house. How did the idea for the video come about? What’s the most memorable house show you’ve ever played?
Our drummer Mark had the original idea for the video and then at a certain point, it started to become about recreating one of our early shows, an early house or basement show. Then at a certain point, we realized that we should actually just do a real house show the same way we used to back in the old days. We ended up working it out through some friends on Long Island. Our friend Mike Dubin still works with a lot of younger bands there and he knew a guy who had a house where they still regularly have shows in the backyard. That was the perfect location for it. Then we set it up to do the real thing and film it.
The craziest house show…there was a decent amount of them. One thing with all the house shows we used to do was they were very much like what you see in that video. Like the amount of chaos and people jumping all over each other and crowd surfing and moshing and landing on the stage - usually it actually wasn’t a stage, it was usually just on the ground with everybody. They were always crazy in that kind of way. I do remember one time we played a house show and it was being put on by this guy who we’d all known for a while who would always come to shows. One thing I remember was just being shocked when we got there. He lived out on the North Shore of Long Island and the house was this giant amazing house and the yard was gigantic. I remember it really striking me because it was this guy our age who seemed like a normal punk rock kid. I remember being kind of amazed that he came from such a wealthy, upscale background. I remember being really surprised by that. That is one thing that sticks with me for whatever reason when I think about house shows. [laughs]
It’s what you least expect.
I think that’s what it was. He was also kind of particularly punk rock where he dressed pretty punk rock and he was also a militant vegan, animal rights person. He was very into these causes and things like that. It was a weird juxtaposition to see the background. There’s nothing wrong with coming from a wealthy family or anything, it was just surprising. [laughs]
In that video there’s also a tribute to Rich Jacovina of Silent Majority. What impact did that band have on you?
I was kinda late to the scene happening on Long Island but when I first started going to shows, Silent Majority was one of the first bands that I saw. Eddie Reyes, who started the band, was also really connected with those guys and had been in bands with some of those guys before. They were a huge part of the Long Island scene at that point. I feel like when I was going to shows they were one of the bigger bands on Long Island. When we were younger they were a band that you looked up to and wanted to get to the level that they were at. They were always, I think for everyone in our band, looked at as something to aspire to.
Did you ever play any shows with them?
We did a long time ago. I can’t remember exactly when. Probably within the first couple of years of our band when we were mostly playing on Long Island. I don’t know if they officially broke up but I feel like by the time Taking Back Sunday was starting to get out there and tour more, they either broke up or were just starting to go on a hiatus. After those very early days, there wasn’t much of a chance to play with them for a while. It seems like they were kind of inactive for a while there. Then they started doing these reunion shows.
Your video for “Amphetamine Smiles” was filmed in part at Montauk Point State Park. What does this place mean to you?
We wanted all the videos to be sort of centered around Long Island. I don’t think there’s anything in particular about that place that we’re that connected to but Montauk as a destination on Long Island is a really interesting and special place. It’s way, way out there. It’s probably over two hours to drive from where most of us grew up on Long Island to Montauk. It’s really this destination out there that we’ve all been to and experienced before. When you go out there it’s usually for some kind of vacation or you’re trying to get away a little bit.
In that video, we’re trying to showcase and also experience in real life some of these locations out there. It’s a really beautiful area all around there so a lot of what we were doing in the music video was a lot of what you see; we went out and got lunch at this interesting little spot and we drove out to the beach and had the bonfire. To some extent, I think we filmed there to actually experience it in real life for the first time in a long time and make that a part of the video.
Who won at mini-golf?
[laughs] I don’t remember actually! I have to see if anyone else remembered. I should have kept track of that.
Was the album cover shot on the beach there or was it at a different location?
That was a different place. The last few times we recorded on Long Island we stayed at this big house out near Miller Place. Weirdly enough, it’s a town I had never even heard of growing up on Long Island. It’s really far away from where I grew up. This house had this giant yard and the pictures that we’ve taken for other album covers and photo shoots have been in that yard. It also has this path through this forested area where you come out on the beach on the other side. The beach is essentially a hundred yards from the back of the house. We went out there and did that photo for the album cover there.
You’ll be playing a handful of intimate release shows around the US in November and you’ll also be doing in-store record signings and acoustic performances. What’s your favourite thing about playing in smaller venues?
You can feel the crowd’s energy in a different way and sometimes you can feel it a little bit more. Aside from the general feeling of the energy you’re usually able to really see the audience in a way that you can’t on a bigger scale. There’s definitely a really great feeling in being on stage in a smaller venue and in real time getting this direct reaction from the audience that I think in bigger venues is a little more abstract or something - you can feel it and sense it but it’s not as immediately present.
Do you have a song off the new album that you’re most looking forward to playing?
It’s really exciting that we’re going to be playing the full album so I’m very excited to play every song! I’m really excited to play “Amphetamine Smiles” live. That’s a song that I’ve just loved since we recorded it. It’s also a different kind of song for us. We haven’t even rehearsed it yet, we’ll be doing that pretty soon. It’s just really exciting to see how that one comes together because it is such a different kind of song.
You’ll also be playing Australia for the first time in four years as part of Good Things Festival in December. What are you looking forward to the most about playing in Australia again?
I love being able to walk around the cities there. All the cities we’ve played there are always interesting and beautiful in these unique ways. There’s a few where you can get to a beach or to the water and to me, that’s always really exciting. For a while we were going to Australia sometimes once a year regularly - at most it would be every two years - and there’s something about having been away for so long where going back and being there in general is even more exciting than it’s been before. I think you appreciate it on another level when you’ve been away so long.
Last month you threw out the first pitch at a Mets game. What was that experience like?
It was amazing! It was kind of surreal. Even when I was down on the field before I threw the pitch out it felt like I was having a dream a little bit. It was hard to believe that it was real which in a certain way made me less nervous when I was out there throwing out the pitch because it was so surreal that I couldn’t hardly process what was happening in real life while I was doing it. So I think that worked a little bit to my advantage for making me less nervous. I’ve been a Mets fan since I was seven years old and it’s one of those things that is a literal dream come true.
What does the future hold for Taking Back Sunday?
Like you said, we’ve got the album play shows and then we’re in Australia and then we’re doing holiday shows in December. We’re right now putting together plans for next year for where and when we’re going to tour. We’re hoping that we can spend this next whole year just continuing to promote the album and play the songs live. We’re hopefully just going to keep getting more and more people into it along the way. That’s what we’re focusing on for the immediate future.
|Long Beach, CA
|Lodge Room Highland Park
|Los Angeles, CA
|Grimey’s New and Preloved Music
|Looney Tunes CD Store
|West Babylon, NY
|New York, NY
|Good Things Festival
|Good Things Festival Sydney
|Centennial Park. AU
|Good Things Festival Brisbane
|The Princess Theatre
|Mulcahy’s Pub and Concert Hall
|Mulcahy’s Pub and Concert Hall