Close your eyes for a moment and go back to the posthardcore days of 2002, when lyrics were screamed through greasy bangs and guitars were strummed with gusto by black-clad guitarists. These were the songs that got you through middle school or high school — maybe even college. These songs got you through your first breakup or your parents' divorce.
These songs were loud, and they understood you. These songs understood your pain, and they were right there with you, experiencing that same pain. These songs were sung by Taking Back Sunday.
You can open your eyes now, by the way.
Taking Back Sunday is still at it more than a decade later. Formed in 1999, the band has been around a lot longer than your average group playing Warped Tour. But instead of dying out or fading away, Taking Back Sunday has been making music, and a lot of it. The band has released six studio albums over the course of its career. Its latest, released in March of last year, is the seemingly incomplete-sounding Happiness Is.
"We wanted to leave it open to people's interpretation," the band's guitarist and co-lead vocalist, John Nolan, says about the album's title. "You could either read it very literally or fill in the blank. We like that it could be taken in a few different ways."
The album was re-released in February and includes three new b-sides and three new acoustic versions of songs. Happiness Is was the band's third album recorded with its original lineup, which reunited in 2010.
Aside from the obscure moniker, the album stands alone from the previous five stylistically. "Each song goes in a few slightly different territories," adds Nolan. "The album takes you on a trip from beginning to end. We wanted it to be an experience where you listen to it from start to finish." Perhaps Taking Back Sunday's sound is growing up right along with its fans. If the "Cute Without the E" days were the band's high school years, Taking Back Sunday is now in grad school, writing a thesis in between hits from a bong.
What this album did have in common with the others, however, was the secluded process of its songwriting, something the band has made use of in the past. When the group was working on its self-titled 2011 album, it rented a pecan farm on the Mexican border called Sonic Ranch. "They gave us a little house across the way with a studio," he said. "We lived in the house, and when we felt like it, we would walk over to the studio and record." The album debuted at number 17
on the Billboard 200 chart, so they must have done something right.
Because the band members now live in scattered locations, they all meet in one place to work on albums. When it came time to record Happiness Is, the band went to its most interesting location yet: a beyond-creepy farm in West Virginia. "We were out in the middle of nowhere," says Nolan. "It was a weird place and wasn't the most comfortable situation. It got us in a weird state of mind and may have affected our writing, but I'm not sure."
The band's website even poked fun at the situation, flashing a message that read, "We are currently holed up in a farm in West Virginia writing songs for the next album. Or possibly making a slasher film, depending who you ask." On more than one occasion, a band member awoke with a mouse crawling on him in bed.
"It would definitely be the setting for the horror film where everyone who lives there gets picked off one by one," Nolan says. Despite the mice and the creepiness, the location must have done its job. The odd location was intentional, after all. Nolan pointed out that the band was looking for a new and different environment to write in. It's clear it was trying to do something different with this latest effort. And apparently secluding yourself in what could be a location for the next Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie was a good way to do that.
And while the form of its songs might change, Taking Back Sunday never wants the personal connection fans have with its lyrics to go away. That's something Taking Back Sunday is known for, and it's something it continues to do on Happiness Is. "The place where we write from is very personal and almost always from direct experience," Nolan says. "You think you might write a song so personal that people might not relate to it because it's so specific to you, but Adam [Lazzara, lead vocalist] and I feel that people relate to those types of songs the most."
The songs of Happiness Is tackle topics familiar to Taking Back Sunday: anger, confusion, sadness. But they also take on more grown-up and personal issues, like divorce. "If you should change your name/I'd love you just the same/and if you'd run away/I'd save your place," Lazzara sings on the album's second track, "Flicker Fade." The band revisits the subject on the eighth track, "Better Homes and Gardens," with the heartbreakingly personal lyrics, "When you took that ring off/I sat there stunned/Parked out in my car/Surprised by what you've done."
It's a lyrical formula that has worked well for the band over the past decade. Taking Back Sunday's following is made up of people who find comfort in the shrieks of its songs. The band has tapped into something deep and undeniable in the millennial generation with its songwriting. When Lazzara screams, "I just want to break you down so badly," in the band's hit 2006 song "MakeDamnSure," it's hard not to instantly have someone pop into your head, whether it be a parent, lover, or teacher.
Taking Back Sunday has always felt like that one friend you can go to with your complaints, no matter how melodramatic or insignificant they are.
And this Saturday in Fort Lauderdale, Revolution Live will be filled with sweaty people, screaming along to a band that they have always felt understood them.
Taking Back Sunday with letlive. and The Menzingers. 6:00 p.m. Saturday, April 4, at Revolution Live, 100 SW 3rd Ave, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $26.50 plus fees. Call 954-449-1025, or visit jointherevolution.net