Taking Back Sunday are a band who truly need no introduction. Since forming in Long Island in 1999, the group have sold millions of albums, evolved from a scrappy punk act into seasoned songwriters and continued to forge a successful career. That spirit of resilience and innovation is dripping all over the band's sixth full-length "Happiness Is" (which is also their first release for Hopeless Records). As you can guess from the title the album addresses some heady concepts, but it simultaneously showcases a new musical and conceptual leap for this band of mainstream misfits that's certain to endear them to fans both new and old.
The group's second album since reviving the classic lineup of vocalist Adam Lazzara, guitarist/vocalist John Nolan, guitarist Eddie Reyes, bassist Shaun Cooper and drummer Mark O'Connell was written over a two year period with no involvement from a record label for the first time since their legendary 2002 debut "Tell All Your Friends." "The last record [2011's 'Taking Back Sunday'] was us feeling each other out and learning how to work together again and on this one everybody was a little more comfortable and free to express themselves," Lazzara explains. "At this point in the game we all know each other's strengths and weaknesses so well that it has made writing music together a bit easier," O'Connell confirms. "Don't get me wrong, there are still arguments but we are older and wiser and with that comes less fighting."
Co-produced by longtime collaborators Mike Sapone in Long Island and Marc Jacob Hudson in Michigan, and mixed by Claudius Mittendorfer, the album sees the band expanding their musical palette and stretching out sonically in ways they've never done before by utilizing each producer's strengths. "Recording with Marc was great because we've been working together for a decade on the road so we are so relaxed around him," Lazzara says, adding that the fact the studio was located in a remote wooded area in the Midwest helped free the band from external distractions during the recording process. "When it comes to Mike that's like our second home and it helped make those sessions feel so familiar since we actually recorded our very first demos there."
"We had a month off between the two recording sessions which I think was really important because we'd never had that before and it helped us take a step back and reassess things once we were halfway through," Nolan explains. In that spirit the soaring choruses and tender verses of the opening salvo "Flicker, Fade" is a perfect illustration of how that fresh perspective helped these songs achieve their full potential. "I'm very proud of that song in particular because in some ways it's exactly what you would expect from Taking Back Sunday but it also manages to incorporate all of these completely new elements in it such as the orchestral flourishes," Nolan explains. "I'm also extremely proud of the last song 'Nothing At All' because we've had acoustic songs before but we've never had anything acoustic that builds into such a gigantic climax and I think fans are going to be pleasantly surprised with that."
"I tried to be a little more loose; I was more focused on being myself than trying to sound perfect or anything," Lazzara responds when asked how he approached "Happiness Is." "We also played around a lot with arranging the harmonies and playing with layers and I think that makes these songs a lot more rich." Correspondingly "Stood A Chance" alternates between melodic moments and moody breakdowns in a way that's so seamless that you'll hardly notice it's happening until it's all over while "Better Homes And Gardens" is catharsis set to a driving drumbeat. The band also clearly weren't afraid to let these songs truly take on their own spirit as evidenced by the ambient ballad "It Takes More," which started out as an upbeat rocker before organically becoming into the atmospheric masterpiece that it evolved into.
Fans of Taking Back Sunday will also rejoice at the fact that "Happiness Is" sees the band's enigmatic frontman at his most personal. "Through the years I've tried to stay pretty cryptic because often times it's easier not to have to explain yourself but on this record I was very direct in the sense I tried to use the simplest way to get an idea across," Lazzara explains. "In the past I don't think I ever would have let a song like 'Like You Do' go on an album because it's so heartfelt in a simple way and I also think it's actually one of the first love songs we've ever written." The band also agree that performing in the Middle East at places like Kuwait were the inspiration for "We Were Younger Then" -- and lines like, "I remember when comfort was not an option" illustrate how far these five guys have come along from playing basements in Long Island in the late nineties.
Ultimately this search for meaning and pursuit of progress lies at the core of why the band have managed to retain a fervent fanbase over the years and survive numerous passing trends. But it's also important to note that none of the band members take any part of this experience for granted. "In the past when we were on a major label there would be A&R people giving us suggestions but with this album it was just us pushing ourselves," Lazzara summarizes, sounding even more hopeful than he did over a decade ago. "There is no question to me that "Happiness Is" is the best unfiltered representation of what happens when the five of us get in a room together and that makes me really happy. Nolan confirms this sentiment by adding, "this album really is a testament to each of the members talents because it's just us."
In other words, prepare yourself because it's time to fall in love with Taking Back Sunday all over again.