Interview: Taking Back Sunday
Taking Back Sunday’s slow-but-steady rise to stardom is one of the most genuine post-hardcore success stories. Forming eight years ago in Long Island – historically a hardcore hotbed – the quintet got their start the true d.i.y. way, grinding away on the all-ages circuit and self-releasing their music.
And that music eventually struck a chord – the sweet-and-sour mix of wistful, emotional melodies mashed with aggressive guitar work dovetailed perfectly with the turn-of-the-millennium turmoil. Weathering lineup changes, record label changes, and months on end in buses and vans paid off with the release of their latest full-length album, Louder Now, in 2006. That record entered the Billboard charts at number two – and TBS did it without pop producers, performance gimmicks, teenybopper pandering, or eyeliner.
I caught by phone with bassist Matt Rubano, age 30, who was enjoying some of his precious downtime from the road in Manhattan, where he lives in the rare weeks he’s not on tour. Taking Back Sunday had just played the massive New York edition of Live Earth; it was the most public declaration to date of the band’s newfound commitment to environmental causes. As Rubano drove the city’s streets, we talked about green touring, how to rock out in an arena, and, of course, Projekt Revolution. – Arielle Castillo
The Projekt Revolution tour, featuring Linkin Park, Taking Back Sunday, My Chemical Romance, Mindless Self Indulgence, Placebo, H.I.M., and others, takes place Friday, August 10, at the Sound Advice Amphitheatre, 601-7 Sansbury's Way, West Palm Beach. Gates open at 12:45 p.m. Tickets cost $24.50 to $70, with a special lawn four-pack available for $75. Visit www.projektrevolution.com or www.ticketmaster.com.
After the jump, read the complete interview.
How was Live Earth? Was that the biggest show you’ve played?
It’s definitely the biggest event we’ve ever been a part of for sure; I don’t know what the attendance was. But there was also one show we played in England last year with Green Day, which was 75,000 people. That was pretty tremendous.
How did you get involved with Live Earth?
On an earlier tour we crossed paths with Al Gore. We were double-booked with him at a venue, and we had a chance to meet him and talk to him about some of the things we were doing on our tour [to help alleviate global warming].
Which was what?
We encourage people to take car pools to the shows, we make sure promoters have recycling stations. We purchase carbon offsets to balance out the emissions from our buses and trucks, and we also switched over to an entirely organic rider. In general we are being way more conscious of our wastefulness.
What made you guys want to embark on a big tour again?
A tour like Projekt Revolution is really appealing to us because it has a lot of elements about us that we look for in choosing a tour. One: going on tour with people we like and know. We’ve been friends with the guys in My Chemical Romance, Saosin, and the Bled, and a couple of the other bands for a long time.
But [we’re also excited about] going on the road with a band like Linkin Park. It’s tremendous; it means new friends for us and a new audience for us to be in front of. As it will be for most of the bands on the tour. Plus there was the chance to play with bands like HIM and Placebo, which are very atypical for us to play with. And just in general summer is tour time, and summer tours, you like them to be big and exciting.
But you already did a headlining tour for a few months earlier this year. How do you deal with being on the road constantly?
I just completely lost my mind. Touring wears on you, but not only is it part of being a band, it’s kind of the life blood of it. You’re in a band because you like to play your music.
Have you been out with many of the other bands on this lineup before?
We’ve been out with My Chem before, with Saosin overseas, and we were on Warped tour. Placebo we were with on the bill for the Reading festival [in England] in 2006. We played a K-Rock show with HIM once.
Did you get to meet them then?
We didn’t get to meet them because [those kinds of shows are] gigantic circus shows. Our shows in L.A. have a real L.A. tinge to them -- which means you don’t get to meet everyone unless you’re taking a picture with them. The hub of the record industry is LA.; most artists would agree that being in L.A. is very rarely fun. You’re always inundated with your label people and your manger people and your friends…. They don’t tend to be the most social situations.
But I feel like our bands and most of the bands we’ve toured with are really good about getting the camaraderie vibe quickly. By the first week there’s always inside jokes and people intermingling, and then after the show everone’s hanging out and stuff. I think it’s our background and the kind of people we are.
What about Linkin Park? Have you met them before this tour?
I have, but only in the capacity of the beginning of Projekt Rev. I had dinner with the whole band one night, but I also spent a good amount of time around [MC/vocalist] Mike [Shinoda] and [singer] Chester [Bennington] at a couple of press conferences and stuff like that. They’re great. They’re the most chill, down-to-earth guys.
I look up to them in the way they run their band and are so hands-on. Some bands are surprisingly less involved than you would think they are. Their band is their baby. Linkin Park is really involved in every single creative and logistic aspect of the band.
Did you feel at all weird about being asked to do this tour, because when I look at the tour’s old lineups it’s a lot of nu-metal or really hard stuff, and hip-hop…
I think in picking the lineup they had a wish list of bands, and according to what they said, us and My Chem and a bunch of the other bands were on it, so they got it. They had seen us play live and I think we have a couple of friends in common. They offered us a touring opportunity a couple of years ago and we were already committed to something.
It’s always been a pretty diverse tour, I think. Even if it was nu-metal and hip hop, it’s still a diverse thing. This tour follows suit. I don’t think you’d typically find Placebo on a bill with Taking Back Sunday. We’re pretty different-sounding bands.
I think it’s pretty cool they keep the spirit of the thing intact, even though the genre changing of the guards has taken place since the last time they did it. It also speaks to the band that Linkin Park is – the sound that they became popular for has faded, but they have not.
We like bills like that. Some tours with the same-sounding bands, those tours are boring. Nobody wants to watch 40 punk rock bands. Well, I guess some people do. I don’t. This is more appealing for us at this point in our career. You learn more by being around people who are different.
How do you deal with trying to connect to an audience for one of these very different bands, like, for instance, Placebo?
For a band like TBS, it’s just getting over the initial reaction. For years we’re used to a ridiculously supportive, singing along, freaking out audience. It’s just about getting past that first bit where everyone’s just looking at you. You have to play as good a show even though you’re not in your total environment. I look forward to those opportunities because I do like the challenge. It sort of says what kind of band you are.
How do you know when you’ve made that connection?
I think it’s most important to just do what you do. I don’t think you ever do know. It’s just a feeling. You play enough shows in your career and you just get a feel as to how things are going.
You actually joined the band in 2003. Was there an initial shock for you, getting into this situation with a band already playing to large audiences?
Well, the first couple shows were at very small clubs, and then we finished the 2003 Warped Tour. Then we immediately went out with Saves the Day and Moneen. And then from there we started recording Where You Want To Be, and then went out on tour with Blink-182. So it was a really steady pace where we went up through larger venues.
I’m comfortable onstage in any kind of environment; it doesn’t matter to me at all. As a band we’re pretty organic about it. The one thing we’ve always tried to keep in mind is that you don’t change things – you don’t change things when you go to a different record label, you don’t change things for a bigger room. Because that would be directly in conflict with what got you there. So to say, ‘We’re on this big stage there, we should be different,’ it would be counterproductive.
What about the first time you played an arena?
It was a bit nerve-wracking, but it was the kind of thing where after three or four nights, it was like, ‘Man, I want to play arenas all the time, forget clubs!’ But then when we went back to clubs it was like, ‘Well, this is where we came from!’ Every type of venue you play makes you better at the other ones. But certainly the first time we walked out on the stage in front of 10,000 people it was different.
What about adjusting to the fact that TBS is on tour pretty much constantly?
When I joined the band I remember [guitarist] Eddie [Reyes] saying to me one day, ‘We Tour a lot.’ I said that’s cool, I’ve been on tour before. And he was like, ‘No, I mean like a lot! You’re not gonna be home at all.’ And I didn’t really believe it until I realized we were gone for ten months. I didn’t have an apartment any more. But now it’s great. It’s the amount I’d like to be busy.
When you are home, does it take much time to adjust?
It doesn’t take me any time at all. Within the first hour I’m chilling at my place, seeing people, going to my favorite restaurants. It’s more difficult to get on tour and get into that, than to snap out of it when you get home. I unpack, do my laundry, and then I’m home.
Do people at home react to you differently now?
Yeah, sometimes friends just sort of assume that you’re always away. So this last time when I was home for a couple of months … People, when they [see me], the first thing they would say is, ‘When are you leaving again?’ Then you see them next week, and they ask when you’re leaving again. And they get real conditioned to you being gone all the time.
It’s been a while since the last TBS album. Do you have any plans for a new one?
We’re gonna be writing on this tour, and we sort of make time for everything. We just sort of schedule it however. We have a studio set up in the back of the bus; just a ProTools set up, not a full-on, massive studio. We’re able to do demo versions of songs. It’s not ideal, but you get it done. It’s where a lot of our writing has taken place over time. But of course I think it’s easier to write in a peaceful, quiet place.
What are your plans for after Projekt Rev?
We’re gonna take some time off, and be writing, and take some time to record by the end of the year.