Tidal Wave, Taking Back Sunday’s latest album, is a different Taking Back Sunday than the one you’ve known. And no matter how good a record is, there will still be someone who doesn’t like it. John Nolan, guitarist and co-vocalist of Taking Back Sunday, knows this. It comes with the territory. But after listening to this album over and over, I’ve come to a conclusion. I, at least, think this album is fucking great. And I think that many fans will feel the same.
The band got their start in the Long Island band scene over 10 years ago. Their genre defining debut studio album, Tell All Your Friends, was released in 2002. The songs became anthems for those who listened, filled with emo lyrics about heartbreak, deceit, and falling outs. Frontman Adam Lazzara and Nolan had a unique vocal dynamic that set them apart from other bands of the time. Overlapping opposing lyrics, call and response moments, harmonies, and screams became powerful components of their sound.
Tidal Wave, out tomorrow, marks a new era. No longer are there screams. Instead, the songs have taken on a new persona, which I will aptly describe as “Emo kids grow up and mature into real adults who have grown as musicians and make rock music that is less emo but still amazing.” But don’t worry, sad girls and boys. Tidal Wave still has melancholy undertones, and even lyrics about cuts and blood. The songs range from mellow almost-ballads like “I Felt It Too” to Ramones-esque punk title track “Tidal Wave.” One of the most powerful songs on the album is the second single they released, “You Can’t Look Back” which starts out with a folksy vibe, and evolves into an angrier, emotion-filled song with ups and downs.
I had the pleasure of speaking with John Nolan a few days before he headed to tour Tidal Wave; we covered life as a dad in a band, facing negativity, and songwriting. And, for the most part, I contained my inner fangirl.
Growing up on Long Island so close to Brooklyn, did you do a lot of hanging out there or earlier on gigs there?
It’s kinda crazy, even though Brooklyn was only a half hour train ride or car ride away, we never really played shows there in the early days. Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Long Island were different worlds. So it wasn’t until we started to really do well and have a following outside of the Long Island/New Jersey area that we started playing there. I think there’s sort of a thing, especially in Manhattan, where bands from Long Island are kind of looked down on a little bit. Like, you’re not as cool ‘cause you’re from the suburbs.
Yeah, and they make fun of your accent! Yours isn’t strong though.
Yeah I’ve been working a long time to get rid of it. From a young age I really didn’t want it. [Laughs]
Is it still you and Adam who write all your lyrics?
Yeah, Adam and I do the lyrical stuff, and the music is always very collaborative. Anybody can be the one who gets the song started or has the basis of the music for the song.
How does the songwriting process change now that you’re more mature and married with kids? Like, you’re not writing about teen emo romances anymore. You’re not dealing with all the heartbreak and lies.
Well, you know, the stuff that we wrote about back then was just what we were feeling and experiencing. There’s not a moment that happens like, “Oh, I’ve gotta change what I write about.” You just keep writing about what you’re experiencing, so that naturally changes. I think our approach to songwriting is very similar to back then. It just represents where we are now.
So now that you’ve grown, what advice would you give to young adults or teenagers going through rough times to let them know that it’s gonna be okay and they’ll end up where they should be?
Well I mean, I think that is what I would say to them. It will be okay. You’re gonna get through it and get to a better place in life. When you’re younger, it’s harder to put things into perspective. So when you get older and have more perspective on life, it really helps. So you start getting older and you realize that your problems are not as big as they seem, and the world is a pretty big place. There’s lots of people and places you can go. If you’re not liking where you’re at, there’s always some other place you can get to in life.
Wise words. So with this upcoming tour, what are you most excited for?
The thing I’m most excited about right now is the new record and playing some of the songs live. It’s gonna be cool too, ‘cause the album is coming out right when the tour starts. So at the beginning, a lot of people aren’t gonna know the songs, but as the tour goes on, I think we’ll be able to watch the crowds get to know them. And playing New York and Long Island will definitely be highlights of this tour. There’s always something about that that’s really exciting.
Are you bringing your kids with you on this tour? I remember seeing the little kids on the side of the stage with the giant noise blocking headphones at the Jones Beach show with Dashboard Confessional! It was so cute.
We always have our kids out at different points of the tour. We have them for a weekend here and there throughout.
Are they all friends?
Yeah! Adam’s kids and my kids—we live in Charlotte–so they see each other all the time. And they’re older than the rest of the kids. They’ve met everyone and hung out. Whenever something happens where we can get a bunch of them together it’s really fun.
They should start a band!
Yeah, you never know! Gotta give them a few years. I joke that when they’re older they’ll just take over Taking Back Sunday for us and we’ll just stay at home and send them out.
Taking Back Taking Back Sunday!
Do you have a favorite lyrics you or Adam have written on this album?
It’s really hard to single things out like that especially when this record is so new. I can’t even pick a favorite song right now because I love every single song on this album. I really love every single song on it so I have a hard time picking favorites.
Do you get nervous every time you put out new music? Do you go on Twitter and see if people are talking shit?
[Laughs] Yeah I get pretty nervous about it. Actually over the years I’ve done less and less checking online. I look at my own Twitter and sometimes I’ll check the Taking Back Sunday one, but I usually don’t go any further than that. It’s just hard. If the comments I read are 95% positive, and 5% are really negative, I’m just gonna focus on the negative. It doesn’t matter how good the album is, there’s always gonna be people who just hate it and talk shit about you.
In a broad sense, thinking back in time, was there a particular moment or show where you were like, “Wow we have REALLY fucking made it”?
There’s been a few different points of that. The weird thing is, you never feel like you made it. There are just these points where you say, “Wow, I can’t believe we’re here and that we’ve made it this far.” A lot of those for me were in the beginning. Really, it was things that were really not so huge, in retrospect. I remember playing some of the smaller shows at bars or on Long Island and walking out of those shows, before we even put out Tell All Your Friends, and I couldn’t believe the amount of people and the excitement level. I was like, “This is amazing! We’re really onto something!” And then Irving Plaza for the first time. The band obviously went bigger places than that, but I remember thinking it was unbelievable. I never even pictured us getting that far.
They’re still going even further. This album is proof that even over “A Decade Under the Influence” later, the band is not stopping. They’re not the same as they were before, but that’s okay. They’re growing, and so are we.
Tidal Wave is out tomorrow, 9/16 on Hopeless Records. Pre order it here to hear it first.
Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Lead image by Ryan Russell