INTERVIEW: Shaun Cooper and Mark O’Connell of Taking Back Sunday

TBS-Happiness-Is-social Taking Back Sunday exploded onto the music scene in 2002 with their debut album “Tell All Your Friends.” About a year after the release, members John Nolan and Shaun Cooper left the band to start another band, Straylight Run. Taking Back Sunday carried on, but seven years and a few line-up changes later, the two former members reunited with the band, and the classic line-up has been going strong ever since. On March 18th, the band released their second album since reuniting the original band, “Happiness Is.”
“Happiness Is” does a great job of mixing the Taking Back Sunday you know and love, with a new twist of something you haven’t heard from them before. While the lyrical poetry of Adam Lazzara remains comfortably familiar, the music surrounding it is certainly a departure from the bands previous effort. B-Sides spoke with drummer Mark O’Connell, and bassist Shaun Cooper when Taking Back Sunday rolled into Boston on their co-headlining tour with The Used this past Saturday.

B-Sides: The new album’s called “Happiness Is.” What inspired that title?

Mark: Well, Adam brought it to our attention. We were having a hard time coming up with an album title, and Adam just came to us with it one day. We all agreed the title fit perfectly, as it’s where we are with the band, and our relationship, and where we’re at with our personal lives.

B-Sides: This is the second album you’ve made since the band reunited with the “Tell All Your Friends” line-up. Was this record easier to make than the last one?

Shaun: The thing about this record, which made it a lot easier, is that we had a lot of time to work and refine the songs. With the last record, we got back together, we got in a room, and we started writing songs immediately. Then a couple months later we were in the studio recording, it was really just a whirlwind. It was crazy. The extra time definitely made things a lot easier. We could take the songs home and listen to them, make changes on our own and bring them to the band, then further refine them. Also, the fact that we didn’t have a label gave us a lot of freedom, nobody was trying to push us in a certain direction. We worked with two producers who were close friends, Mike Sapone and Marc Hudson, and we had a lot of open communication with them. If they suggested an idea and we didn’t like it, we were really free to say no. It was a really great team effort, a lot more fun all around.

B-Sides: When you approached the album was there something particular you had in mind?Mark

Mark: No, there was no theme, or saying “Let’s try to sound like this.” It was just a natural thing, we did whatever we wanted to do.

Shaun: Yea, John or Eddie will bring a riff in and that’ll start sparking a song. They’ll have songs laid out in their heads, then bring it to us, we’ll all work on it and then Adam and John will add the vocals over it. We never go in with a big plan like, “Oh, we want this record to sound dark,” or happy or whatever. It’s usually the riff that inspired the song, and the direction that everything goes in.

B-Sides: When there’s an upbeat, happy song, or a more dark, sad song, is that a conscious development? Or is it more just influenced by where you’re at in that moment?

Mark: I mean, we just kind of went with it. There’s more slow songs on this album than we’ve ever done before. While I remember that happening naturally, I think there was a time where we would have said we can’t do this. We can’t have this kind of song on the album, our fans want this.

Shaun: Yea, it could only be one acoustic song on the album. This we were a lot more open to trying new things, branching out a little more.

Mark: We just kept with what we thought sounded the best, and said screw it, we’re gonna do whatever we wanna do.

B-Sides: This year is the ten year anniversary of “Where You Want To Be.” Are there any plans for an album tour, like the one you did for “Tell All Your Friends” in 2012?

Mark: No, that would be a silly thing to do, considering two of the guys aren’t in the band anymore.

Shaun: And also, with “Tell All Your Friends,” that’s the album that launched our careers, and changed our lives forever. “Where You Want To Be” is great, and it has it’s place and everything, it’s just that, that was so special to us and we wanted to celebrate it. And I think it would seem like a lame cash grab if we did it for every album that came out. You know, we’ve been really fortunate that people care about all the records in-between, but to do a whole tour and hype it up, I feel it’d keep us in a nostalgia phase. We wanna focus on “Happiness Is,” it’s our newest thing, and we’re so proud of our new baby. The next anniversary tour we’d probably do is “Tell All Your Friends” twenty, or twenty-five, if we’re lucky enough to make it that long.(Laughs)

Mark: Yea, if we’re still a band when “Tell All Your Friends” turns twenty-five, we’ll do another album tour.(Laughs)

B-Sides: So, is there anything you guys are listening to on tour that you’re really into right now?

Mark: Uhm, Shaun loves The Menzingers.

Shaun: Yea, I’m excited for their new record “A Rented World.” I think it comes out the twenty-first?

They played with you guys on the “Tell All Your Friends” tour, right?

Shaun Shaun: Yea, unfortunately it was only for like four shows. They’re one of my favorite bands so I’d watch them every night and think “Oh man, I wish this could be longer.” I’d love to tour again with them in the future.

Mark: I’m on a big Rancid kick right now. Obviously not a new band but…

Shaun: …But a great one!

B-Sides: Are you excited for a new album from them?

Mark: Yea, whatever Tim Armstrong does, I’m always excited. Whether it’s his solo stuff, Rancid, or whatever.

B-Sides: When you guys come to Boston, are there any places you like to grab a drink, or eat, hang?

Mark: Not really. (Laughs) You know what’s great, there’s a Panera down the block.

Shaun: I ate at a good restaurant today, but I promptly forgot the name. Let me check my texts and see where I ate. (Laughs)

Mark: My brother went to Emerson College, I’d come and visit him. There was one time we went to a Queers show at…

Shaun: The Rat?

Mark: Was it? No, not The Rat. It was a downstairs club.

B-Sides: Was it the Middle East?

Mark: The Middle East! And I remember I saw AFI and Rancid at the House of Blues when it was still the Axis/Avalon, right around the time “…And Out Come the Wolves” came out. So yea, Boston’s a cool place. I always love coming here, except for when a Red Sox game gets out, and people start shaking our bus.

Shaun: Yea, I’m a Mets fan and Mark’s a Yankees fan, but we have no hate.(Laughs.)

Catch Taking Back Sunday on tour with The Used through May.