Over the course of three Top 10 albums, Taking Back Sunday always managed to put on a happy face — at least publicly.
No need to dwell on the 2003 departures of guitarist/screamer John Nolan and bassist Shaun Cooper. Everything was just fine, musically and personally, full speed ahead.
Even after Nolan's replacement, Fred Mascherino, left in 2007 to form his new group, the Color Fred, Taking Back Sunday barely missed a beat. Hooking up with new guitarist Matt Fazzi, the alt-rock stalwarts bounced right back with 2009's New Again, which proved nearly successful at 2004's Where You Want to Be (with its breakthrough single "MakeDamnSure") and the 2006 follow-up, Louder Now.
So it was pretty unexpected when, in the spring of 2010, the three remaining original members of Taking Back Sunday — singer Adam Lazzara, guitarist Eddie Reyes and drummer Mark O'Connell — sacked guitarist Fazzi and bassist Matt Rubano.
Even more surprising were the new recruits who would fill the guitar and bass vacancies — none other than Nolan and Cooper — thus restoring Taking Back Sunday to the classic lineup whose 2002 debut album, Tell All Your Friends, had barely cracked the Top 200.
The reunited band's self-titled album, released in June of last year, charted at a more-than-respectable No. 17.
Now that the dust has settled, O'Connell is speaking frankly about those years without Nolan and Cooper, and how things were going behind the scenes. "The thing that's so sad," he says, "is the guys that came in were handed this thing. We let them in our band, and their egos grew to disgusting proportions."
"I've seen it with other bands," he adds. "People are nice when the band is playing in front of nobody, but then all of a sudden they go platinum, and they're walking around and they're being dicks. Don't go around like that. You should be thankful. You should thank fucking god every single day that you're not still playing in front of eight people."
Taking Back Sunday suggests that the restored lineup does, in fact, still mesh, musically as well as personally. The songs are, by and large, hard-hitting and delivered with verve, as tunes like "Faith (When I Let You Down)," "Sad Savior" and "You Got Me" pack a sonic punch with grabby guitar hooks. Key stylistic signatures — the blend of sung and screamed vocals, and combination of aggressive riffing with ringing guitar tones — are back in full force. But the album also sounds like a step forward.
"When we were writing this album, there was no 'Hey, let's go for this sound' or 'Let's try to play this kind of song,'" O'Connell says. "The songs just happened. The thing I feel like Tell All Your Friends and this album have that are similar is the fact that there is that same energy and emotion."
That feeling is also finding its way into the reunited lineup's live shows, including this summer's Warped tour.
"Having John and Shaun back, there's an energy with them two that we really didn't have with the other guys that have been in the band," says O'Connell. "Our actual real friends, instead of hired guns, are back in the band. So playing the shows now, we have a ball. It's really fun, and I think you can tell that."