Riot Fest: Interview with Shaun Cooper of Taking Back Sunday (Part 1)17 September 2014 / by Luke Williams (author)
My hands tremble as my eyes dart to the time on my phone - 1:30 p.m. I’m supposed to be meeting with Shaun Cooper, bass player for the rock band, Taking Back Sunday.
My love for his band goes back to 2002 - I was ten and was visiting Toronto with my father. It was during this trip that he would introduce me to the heaven that was otherwise known as Sam the Record Man. He gave me twenty dollars and told me I could spend it all. I bought Taking Back Sunday’s debut album, Tell All Your Friends, and when I got back to the Delta Chelsea (Eaton Chelsea now) and popped it into my Sony Walkman, I instantly fell in love.
But now to the present: Riot Fest, 2014; where I sit here in the media tent, nervously pondering my questions for Cooper as I await the arrival of my childhood idols. I am ready to talk about everything, from his favourite bass guitar, to his time away from the band and even the band’s relationship to the world famous Riot Fest Twitter Guy. Seconds later, the band strolls into the tent, and instantly I head over to meet the man who convinced me to play bass.
I shake his hand, introducing myself by telling him how much of a fan I am. We sit down at a table and I get ready to break the ice, so to speak, when my phone receives a text message and Taking Back Sunday’s “Cute Without The E” (Cut from the Team) plays. We share a quick laugh, and as the music cuts, my nerves evaporate as I realize this man I have spent just over a decade looking up to is simply a nice guy.
Luke Williams: From one bassist to the journalism student you convinced to play bass, what gear have you been rocking lately?
Shaun Cooper: The equipment I’m using… I just use Jazz Basses that are Mexican-made. They take a good beating on stage. The ones that I am using right now, I have been using for over four years. Fender Jazz Basses are what they are. I also just did a deal with Orange Amplifications, so I have their A10 cabinet and a big head, whose name is escaping me right now because I am stupid. I love the Orange gear because it sounds amazing and is fun to play.
LW: That’s the thing; I’ve noticed you’re a Fender Jazz man. Every show I’ve been to, you are playing a Fender Jazz. Why do you swear by them?
SC: Well, the first bass I ever got was a Peavey Foundation, and that just didn’t feel so good to me, so I switched over to a Jazz Bass, like a year later. From then on it was all Jazz; I’ve played P-Basses, but the neck feels better and I also like the two pickups and the sound on the Jazz.
LW: So let’s get into the real meat of it here. Happiness Is is the second album you’ve released since the reformation of the original line up in 2011. Now I’ve noticed that between 2011’s Taking Back Sunday and the latest album, things seem more conjunct and comfortable. Was it easier this time around?
SC: It was actually surprisingly easy the first time, but we hadn’t written songs together in seven years, so I think the comfort of being on tour together for all those years and having the time to hash out those songs helped. And we did a lot of writing on tour here and there. We would also get together on breaks, and write in a centralized location. We are spread all around the country now, so we would have to set aside some time… We would say, “Okay, let’s spend a week together just writing songs.” So I think getting the time to refine those songs over the course of two years really made for a potent effort. I can’t speak highly enough of Marc Hudson, who produced the record - and Mike Sapone. They’re old friends, so we were very comfortable with them as well. You know, Eric Valentine is a genius and a super producer, but anytime we had a question, we would just defer to him and be like, “Eric, please tell us where to go!” With Marc and Mike, we were comfortable enough to have arguments and say, “You know, I think things should go this way…” and they would be like, “No you a-hole, listen to me, because it is going to go this way…” So we could yell at each other and have these arguments together, and I think we could rely on each other because we had mutual trust.
LW: Correct me if I’m wrong here, but Sapone was actually the gentleman who helped you out in the start?
SC: Sure he was! We actually did our first demo with him. It’s also funny because Mark (O’Connell) and I had a band together before I joined Taking Back Sunday, and we recorded a demo with Mike Sapone. This is probably back in ‘99 or 2000. A year later I was in Taking Back Sunday and we were recording our five-song demo, and we did it with him. Actually, Taking Back Sunday did other demo work with our old singer Antonio with Sapone, and so he has been with us for a while.
LW: Alright so forgive me if I’m getting into a deep or dark area here, but I’ve seen that the story goes you were the one that got the idea to break up the original line up. Can you dive into what things were like back then?
SC: Sure. Well we were all kind of losing our minds. My idea was that we would put out Tell All Your Friends and maybe tour through that summer and then go back to regular life. I didn’t know that there would be any success, you know? I mean, we never expected anything to come of that. We never expected a label to come and sign us in the first place. We saw our friends’ bands get signed, but we thought that no one cared about Taking Back Sunday. When that all came around, it was like a whirlwind and everyone was changing and handling the success differently. We were all kind of losing our minds, and I needed time to step back and figure out what I was doing with my life. We were all really unhappy and we didn’t know how to cope with what was happening. One minute I was sitting at my mom’s house, doing nothing, and the next I was touring for two years straight. Personally, I felt like I needed a break and needed to step away. John’s headspace was the same. We really needed to take time and refocus, and that’s what I was talking about with the career suicide thing, that has become this “thing” in Taking Back Sunday lore… I didn’t want to actually break up the band! That was never my goal. It was to take the summer off, you know. We were supposed to do the Warped Tour, and I was like, “Listen – we’re all losing our minds! Can’t we just sit back and take a month or two and figure out what we want to do with our lives?” I wanted to do that, and Jon wanted to do that, while the other guys didn’t - and that caused the thing with Jon and me leaving the band. It was supposed to be a month or two-month break and it wound up being a seven-year break, and I couldn’t be happier with how things turned out because if we’d kept going on that road and Jon and I had stayed with the band, it would have been a nightmare. We would have broken up for longer than we actually did. As dramatic as the past seems, if we’d handled things differently there would have been no reconciliation. Somehow it all worked out, and all these years later the five of us are still going strong and we’re in a good place. We’re at Riot Fest in Toronto; What’s wrong with this?!
LW: If it’s any consolation, pretty much every band that I’ve spoken with has had that moment where they’ve said, “I want a normal life - I just can’t do this anymore.” You guys handled it really well.
SC: (Laughs) Thanks! I mean things got really crazy for a minute, but we all got older and wiser and now we’re happy.
This concludes part one of my three-part interview with Shaun Cooper of Taking Back Sunday. Be sure to keep an eye out for part two coming soon.