Riot Fest: Interview with Shaun Cooper of Taking Back Sunday (Part 2)22 September 2014 / by Luke Williams (author)
Luke Williams: So for this record, you guys moved over to Hopeless Records in LA. It seems a lot of people in your genre were doing this I can think of Yellowcard and a few others. What was it like working with these guys, and continuing to do so?
Shaun Cooper: It was really cool, because we got to do the record on our own, and we had all the demos. And then we shopped the demos around to see who was most interested with where it was going. We felt like we had a clear idea where the album was going, how we wanted it to sound and who we wanted to work with. We didn’t want anyone dictating where we were going to go.
We had a great time at Warner, but the major label thing is focused more on radio play and singles, and we always knew maybe we would have a single that would do okay on radio here and there - but rock music in general isn’t really a thing anymore - for better or for worse. When Hopeless heard our demos, they really liked them and were very excited about the direction. They knew what they could do with the music, and how to make a couple cool videos and get them out, and hit the road and tour…. and that is how we would sell the record - not by having some big overnight radio success.
It just seemed like a bunch of like-minded individuals, so we were like, “Alright, they’re excited about this thing, and the record is basically done. We can sell it to them and recoup our costs on that and get to work on marketing this thing.” They’re good with the whole internet marketing thing and we just knew it would be a good fit. They’re just big fans of rock music in general. Our friends in New Found Glory just signed with them, so we’re excited for those guys. Pressing forward, we’re very excited to do more with them.
LW: You did mention Warner… Earlier on, you mentioned Eric Valentine - even going way back you had [a record on] Victory, so it seems like things have been done for you this whole time and you just said it was fun to shop it yourself… Was that easy?
SC: Sure! Well that’s got to be the thing: with our band, we’ve kind of done things all our own way… When the band did Where You Want To Be, and then brought it to Victory, there wasn’t any talk about it. I mean - I wasn’t around then, but I think we’ve just had a clear idea of where we have wanted this thing to go.
LW: Now, I hate to bring this up, but I am about to call both of us old here. I have been out of high school for at least five years now. One of the things I really respect about you guys, and that I feel so many of the fans I talk to respect about you guys, is that your music has grown up… And your fan base has grown up with your music; and you guys have grown up. How has it been to bring your maturity to the music? I mean, with the lyrics? The thing I loved about this record is that people who are still in high school can relate to the lyrics of something like “Beat up Car.” They can say, “I really want to get out of this town and stop working a dead end job,” and those of us who are older can say, “Yeah I remember those days…” How has that come to be?
SC: I think the way Adam and Jon write lyrics, it always comes from a very honest point. There has never been anything contrived about the band, from the way we sounded to what we did. We were never trying to do the popular thing. When Tell All Your Friends came out, what was popular in our genre then was a more pop-punk thing, and we steered away from that. We tried to do something a little heavier, because that’s what steered us. You know, we liked all those pop-punk bands and we were fans, but it just wasn’t natural for us, you know? Eddie came from a hardcore background and that influenced the sound.
So when it came to the lyric writing it was what was happening in Jon and Adam’s lives, and also the experiences that we have all shared together and things we talk about. I think as you grow up, you go through these things, you know? You go from being heartsick about a girl, to being a married guy with kids, and you can remember those years… I know sometimes Adam and Jon have said it takes them time to process the events in their lives. Some of the songs might come from a place five years ago or something like that, where finally, through time and understanding, the situation and seeing it through other peoples’ perspectives on it, they can put those things into songs. I think that’s the natural evolution for our band: keeping everything honest and real, and not trying to write a hit song about partying, or what’s going on tonight, because you hear that in every chorus of every pop song you know? It’s about tonight and the party, and the “this” and the “that” …And we don’t do that; we’re at home with our wives and kids. We party a little on tour, but a song about five dudes having a beer on a bus is boring as hell.
LW: The instrumentation has really come a long way too. I mean, one of my memories from this album is when I first heard “Flicker Fade.” I was listening to it with my brother and I had to ask him, “Is that a violin I hear?” I didn’t think I would hear Taking back Sunday with a violin… Talk about that if you can?
SC: Sure. We have this friend Dylan, and he’s an amazing musician who helped us out when we were doing the Tell All Your Friends acoustic stuff. We kind of had this idea… I think Jon might of brought it up… where he said, “Hey, let’s get Dylan to play on this song; maybe some strings would be cool.” So we brought him in, and his friend Teddy, who is a cello player, and we were like, “Go nuts!” So we just sat there in Sapone’s house and laid down a whole bunch of string stuff, and it’s on a couple of different parts of the record and on the intro to the record. After that, we just kind of pieced it all together and that’s where it came from; we just thought it would be an exciting thing to do.
LW: So as an aspiring musician, I know that when you write something, you really want to share it. That’s the whole foundation of music. I have read that Adam was a little bit particular about keeping the new songs hidden until later on when the record came out. I understand this was so that it wouldn’t be just crappy things on the internet you were listening to, but rather, the full album version. How hard was it to keep those songs under wraps?
SC: It’s always a frustrating thing when we have a demo that we’re excited to get out - but that we know that is going to sound like crap - you know? Or people get the demo and then they say, “Oh, the demo is so much better.” In our opinion, clearly it wasn’t; maybe there was a vocal part that’s not there, or maybe there’s this and that… With our maturity, we’ve gotten a little more patient with trying to get things out there. The record will be out in the proper form, and how we want it to be, and people will get it soon enough. You can click on iTunes and boom! It will be right there and you’ve got it.
LW: So on the recent tour you did with The Used, Sleepwave and Tonight Alive, I was there - and I loved it! But I realized that it’s not easy when you have a catalogue going back to about 1999, figuring out what songs you want to play. You found a great balance. How is a Taking Back Sunday set list put together now?
SC: Well, we kind of know what people want to hear and then we try to work in as many new songs as we can, because we’re so proud. Especially of Happiness is. To get all of those songs worked in. And since that tour, we’ve played a bunch of festivals and we keep working in new songs. I don’t know if that’s going to bore people, or if they are going to get excited. I have noticed as time has gone on - and the record has been out a few months now - that people have started to grow and know those songs, and sing them back to us a little bit. So that has been rewarding, but we’ve noticed too, that when people don’t know the songs from Happines is, they’re paying attention. And as the songs go on - like the song “Better Homes and Gardens,” - by the time the final chorus is kicking in, people are starting circle pits here and there. Where it’s hard to see is when people don’t know a song; so I think we did something that connected, and that’s evident in the crowd’s response; that’s evident when they’re not singing along at the beginning - but then when the chorus comes along at the end, they’re like, “Yeah, alright, I’m getting it!” So we just try and give people what they want, and we know the “quote, end quote,” “hits” that people respond to most in the crowd, so we always want to play those songs and then do some stuff for us too, where people go, “Oh, hey! I heard that song live, and it sounded really good! I’d like to buy that record.” We try to find that balance.
LW: Matt (Rubano) did a lot for the band while you were out of it. I read an interview recently, where you said that you didn’t really keep up to date with what he had done while he was there. So how hard was it to come back into the scene and figure out these songs, and do you still have problems playing the song?
SC: No, no. I mean, the biggest problem was that when I hear a song I love I, don’t want to learn it. I used to when I was a kid, and coming up; but it kind of ruins the magic of the song for me. I hear the notes and I can understand what is going on, but when I put it together with the guitar chords and stuff, it kind of ruins the excitement for me. I don’t know if I’m just like, an immature baby like that, or if I just have a weird view on it - but I don’t want to learn those songs, so I haven’t learned anyone else’s bass parts in a really long time, because I’ve been doing my own thing. So that was the hardest thing. It was a challenge to listen to them and learn. Technically pulling them off, to have my fingers in the right place at the right time wasn’t that difficult, it was the learning, you know? Going back and listening really intently, and putting the headphones in and listening to exactly what the bass was doing at different moments, and learning different fills here and there. So to me, that was the hard part, because I hadn’t done it in so long.
LW: So you played Riot Fest last year, had a blast… I’ve got to ask: What is it going to be like this year? Is it a sophomore feeling almost?
SC: No. I mean, it’s all different bands and stuff. We only did Chicago last year, and that was fantastic. And there was a whole different set of bands; like Public Enemy played right before us, you know? And there were a lot of different genres, while today there are a lot more bands from our kind of scene. Like tonight, the Flaming Lips are headlining, so it doesn’t feel like that thing where you are on the Warped Tour every year and you see some of the bands that are coming back every two years and you got new bands coming up. This is just not an everyday thing, so I don’t feel like an elder statesman or anything like that. I feel lucky that we get to do it again and to expand on it and do Toronto, Chicago and Denver.
LW: Well, it’s a rather star-studded line up this year, and you’re not going to get to see a lot of it, because - correct me if I’m wrong - but you’re going on tour tomorrow, eh? You’re starting the second wing of your tour with The Used. Are there any bands you’re really excited to see today or that you wish you could see tomorrow?
SC: Yeah, well, I forget who’s on every other day; I just know who’s playing today. Like I said, the Flaming Lips, and unfortunately, we’re playing the same time as Alkaline Trio, so I’ll miss them. I’m a really big fan. A band called Tittle Fight was on earlier and I didn’t get to see them because I was brushing my teeth - ha ha! So bands like that… New Found Glory as well; I just saw those guys around a little bit and that was good fun.
LW: So just a couple more questions; then we’ll wrap it up. One of the things I’ve had a few chuckles with, and perhaps the most legendary thing of with respect to you guys and Riot Fest, is your feud with the Riot Fest Twitter Guy… What can you tell me about that?
SC: No! Our manager does a lot of tweeting and she loves that dude! Yeah, yeah, yeah… it’s at worst, flirtatious. That guy is awesome! His tweets are so smart and hysterical, and we’re big fans of that dude, for sure. We met him - and I think we drank a little whiskey together - in Chicago last year, and I think we might get to do that again this year. We have to keep his identity a secret.
Shaun and I concluded our twenty-minute interview shortly after with a few photos and kind words. It was purely the stuff of dreams to spend so long talking to a man who through playing his music convinced me to play my own.