UTG INTERVIEW: John Nolan of Taking Back Sunday @ Riot Fest Chicago


Taking Back Sunday have had a crazy year. They released a criminally underrated album (Happiness Is…), a split 10″ with The Used, and embarked on a huge, extensive tour that has lasted nearly all year, including all three Riot Fest dates. And they’re not done. They’ll cross the pond and play shows over in Europe this Fall/Winter.

UTG had the honor of sitting down with Taking Back Sunday’s guitarist, John Nolan, before the band’s set on Saturday at Riot Fest where we discussed the tour, the record, and general things happening in the TBS camp.

The tour you guys are doing right now, it’s been extensive, started in the spring. You’ve been with The Used before. What’s the difference now from back then?

John Nolan: Well, both bands are much better than they were back then. I remember. Especially us, we were a mess live back then. I think both bands have mellowed with age, everyone’s less crazy.

This was after Tell All Your Friends right?

JN: It was right when TAYF came out.

In the spring you had Sleepwave and Tonight Alive. How were they?

JN: They were both great. Sleepwave, it was cool to have them out, cause you know we’ve known Spencer for a long time, and it’s cool to see him start this new project. All those guys are great. Tonight Alive are really fun. They’re a young, young band, and it’s always nice to have younger bands on tour. It kind of brings some excitement and enthusiasm that’s not always there with the old men like us, so it was nice having them out.

What was the idea to bring them out?

JN: With Sleepwave, we were really excited about what they’re doing, and we wanted to support Spencer with that. Sleepwave is a little heavier and darker, and Tonight Alive is a little poppier and more upbeat. We try to think about that when we put the bands together; we try to get a good mix of things going on. We don’t want every band to sound the same.

And now with Frank (Iero Andthe Cellabration), it’s only been a few dates so far. It’s 2004 all over again.

JN: It is, it’s cool though. Kind of the same thing as Sleepwave. It’s exciting when someone you’ve known for a long time is starting a new project. It’s cool to hear what your friends are coming up with when they’re doing something new musically.

You guys did a TAYF reunion tour. And everyone wants every band to tour off every album anniversary, ’cause it’s a nostalgic thing. What do you think about that?

JN: It’s cool as a fan. It’s always a cool thing if it’s an album that meant a lot to me, to get to see a band do it. And obviously, we went for it with TAYF. I think from the perspective of being in a band, though, at least for us, there’s only so much we can do. We’re not going to be stopping every couple of years to revisit every single album. TAYF was the first one, and I don’t think we’re going to do it for any of the other records. It can be a bit much if you start taking too much time to revisit old albums and just get into nostalgia.

I feel like it’s going to run its course and then bands won’t do it anymore. As a fan, it’s cool, but I want to hear other stuff too.

JN: Yeah, well when we did our thing, we basically did two sets. We didn’t just want to play just TAYF. So we did a whole set of other songs.

Well it’s only forty-five minutes.

JN: Exactly [laughs]. I think even less than that, like forty minutes.

I want to talk about the new record. Do you think it’s gotten a better reception from fan versus the self-titled because of an expectation of the reunion possibly overshadowing it.

JN: Yeah, Im not sure what the reasons are, but you can definitely tell with this new album that the reaction is better from the fans. When we play the songs live, they go over better than when we were playing the songs live from the self-titled. You can just tell something is clicking with people that didn’t exactly click with the first one. I’m not really sure why, but it definitely feels like it’s working better for us.

Did you take a different approach to writing on this one?

JN: Yeah, we did. And that could be a thing too. With the self-titled, we did a lot of revising songs, rewriting things. We focused a lot on making the songs very cohesive, and the lyrics a lot more direct, which was a good challenge for us. But for both Adam and myself, it’s not the easiest for us to say things in a straightforward way lyrically; we tend to beat around the bush or use code words. So with that one, we definitely did some things and did some work on songs beyond what we naturally would have. We would of left a lot of the songs alone if we would have been left to our own devices. The producer was really pushing for it, so we just really worked those songs like crazy.

With the newer album, there was a little bit of that, but it was much more organic the way the songs were worked on and how they took shape. There wasn’t as much beating our heads into the ground and trying to rework and trying to push things in a certain direction lyrically. We were much more laid back and kind of just let things happen. I think you can hear it in the album too.

When the reunion happened, did you guys feel like there was a pressure or expectation?

JN: I didn’t feel it personally. There’s a pressure anytime you make an album, because you want it to be as good as it can possibly be, and you want people to be excited when they hear it, and to like it. But other than that, it wasn’t a lot of pressure to me. For me, I was coming back into the Taking Back Sunday thing, and everything was just going great. Coming from the point that I was at, rejoining the band, it didn’t really matter to me; it didn’t matter how the album sold. We were having fun and people were excited that we were back together. So I didn’t feel a lot of crazy pressure.

Is writing an album now versus back then totally different?

JN: It’s not that different, really. The only thing is, with TAYF, we didn’t really know we were writing an album. We just started out making some demos, then wanted to have enough songs to fill our sets for when we played live. And when we got signed, then it was like, “Well, I guess these are the songs we have, so here’s an album.” The process of working on the songs is not that different; we kind of take the same approach. It’s pretty collaborative.

Everyone cohesively working on it.

JN: Yeah. Usually what happens is someone has an idea that gets the ball rolling. It’s usually a guitar part. Anyone in the band will come up with that, not just a guitar player. Then we get in a room, and start throwing ideas around and make it into a song. There will definitely be songs where someone takes the reins a little bit more, and it’ll depend on what song and who’s got the ideas. All in all a very collaborative process.

About the Kanye West cover [“Can’t Tell Me Nothing”]. The feel of it, it’s very bluesy. Would you guys ever do something like that for TBS?

JN: I don’t know, I think it’s a possibility. You know, I think with the last album, we were more open to exploring some new territory. I think it would be cool if with the next album continues that, and we go to some places that we haven’t ever before.

After almost a decade, what motivates you to stay in the business and with the changes in the scene?

JN: We’ve never really paid that much attention to the scene, quote unquote. I think for everyone in this band, this is what we do. We’re not really good at anything else [laughs]. There’s not really much else we could do for a living, and it’s what we love to do as well. For us, it’s about how do we keep doing this? How can we keep making this work? That’s mainly our focus, and over the years we just put our heads down and just try to keep going. We just do our thing.

Interview written and conducted by Corey From (@morfyeroc)

Corey From

Corey From, from Kansas City, MO, when not thinking about or listening to music, obsessively thinks about Royals baseball, a platter of ribs (or BBQ in general) and cold beer. Nothing special really.
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