INTERVIEW WITH SHAUN COOPER BY SAMMIE STAR
PHOTOGRAPHS BY DJAY BRAWNER
Since the band’s inception in 1999, Taking Back Sunday has been a benchmark within the pop punk scene. Their unique blend of emo, post-hardcore, and pop sensibilities has inspired many bands, opening the gate for the genre to expand and grow into what it is today. Taking Back Sunday possesses a source of comfort, nuance, and sometimes an alien vulnerability that can only be felt within the lyrics and music of these Long Island luminaries. Since their first album, Tell All Your Friends, debuted in 2002, their sound and emotionally driven themes about growing up, love, anger, heartbreak, and hope have matured.
Tidal Wave (2016) demonstrated not only a raw punk sound for the band, but also a band grappling with the hardships and changes that come with maturity. 152, the band’s latest album, is the next emotional chapter in their long and successful career—one that toes the line between acceptance in all its forms, which comes with age, and clinging to moments of happiness, humility, and hope.
“WE ARE LIVING THE DREAM COME TRUE. ALL FOUR OF US IN THE BAND, THIS IS ALL WE EVER WANTED TO DO AS YOUNG KIDS.”
“Something that is not lost on us is that we are living the dream come true. All four of us in the band, this is all we ever wanted to do as young kids. I was 6 or 7 years old listening to Guns N’ Roses, and I was, ‘These guys are amazing,’” laughs bassist Shaun Cooper. “I heard Appetite for Destruction, and I said to myself, ‘That’s the kind of music I want to do,’ but it was so unattainable. It was like these guys were dropped from Mars or something. They were such lunatics. The sound was so captivating and intriguing to me, but I don’t know how to get there. Then I saw Nirvana do it, and I felt like I could actually do this. I picked up a bass, and I picked up Smells Like Teen Spirit almost immediately. It felt like we had something. It was still a dream then. I didn’t know anyone who made money and supported a family on music. I didn’t need to do it on a large scale. I could have done this locally or even taught music. Being a rock star, going out on the road, and playing shows to thousands of people—that all seemed really unattainable. Until we actually started doing it. Every day we get to continue to do that, we appreciate it,” he smiles. “We know that not everybody gets to live that dream. We grew up with so many different bands. We thought everyone was going to get signed, have a record deal, and tour for a little bit. I really thought Tell All Your Friends was going to come out, and then we would be done after that summer. That came out in March 2002. I thought by September I’d go back to school, do something in computers, and then that would be that. I feel like we have been on borrowed time since then. It’s so rewarding that we get to keep doing this and to keep growing as musicians.”
Throughout the wide stretch of their careers, Taking Back Sunday would trade in their signature emo/post-hardcore and pop aesthetics for a punk-charged sound on Tidal Wave. Pure punk beauty in every sense of the word that would make giants of the genre such as The Ramones and The Clash blush with admiration, this time for the band it would pave the way for the new aural experience that would present itself on 152. 152 keeps the same vigor, but adds heavy, sophisticated riffs, signature harsh vocals, and delicate use of synthesizers to create a rich atmospheric sound, replacing the raw punk that overlayed their 2016 record.
“IT WAS SO EXCITING TO MAKE THINGS SO FRESH, DIFFERENT, AND NEW. IT HELPED US REINVENT OURSELVES”
“Instrumentally, it was essentially the same. However, bringing our producer Tushar Apte into it, he added this whole other world of energy from his pop background, but also being a guy that loves rock music and understood where we were coming from. He’s a charismatic guy and an unbelievably talented songwriter, arranger, and producer. He brought all these elements in. We thought it meshed so well with what we do organically that we embraced it entirely. It was so exciting to make things so fresh, different, and new. It helped us reinvent ourselves,” he beams. “We had no idea at the time who Tushar was. Steve Aoki had asked us if we could work on a song together. We had been planning to do that song together since 2019, but we were way too busy. We were in the middle of a touring cycle for the 20th anniversary of the band. We wanted to work with this guy, who is very inspiring. We could not do it that year, and then the pandemic hit. Finally, in 2021, we had the time and the space. We flew down to North Carolina, and Tushar was Steve’s engineer that he hired for the day. We started working on ideas together. We saw how fast he worked and how quickly he put ideas together as we were writing the song with Steve. We thought it would be amazing if this guy could produce our next album. We all connected, and we saw how brilliant he was. We didn’t know if it could happen or if he was remotely interested in producing a rock record. We started calling around, and he told his manager at the beginning of the year that he was interested in working with a rock band to make a full-length album. It was amazing how this all worked out. He added these elements that kept things light and fresh, and he had such an ear for adding synths in all the right places. He was so instrumental in all of this, and with us liking pop music already, it really helped us embrace these elements. It was all those worlds coming together, and thats what you hear on 152.”
Lyrically, Taking Back Sunday would shift with Tushar at the lead of redefining their sound. With Tidal Wave bringing the changes that come with developing as a band, the major focus of 152’s themes would be the acceptance of maturity, aging, betrayal, and holding on to these events, whether positive or negative. Shaun felt that each album had reached a point in its sound evolution, resulting in 152.
“IT WAS SUCH A GOOD COLLABORATION, AND THIS ELEVATED US TO ANOTHER LEVEL”
“With everything we have done, there has been a leveling up,” says Shaun. “With Tidal Wave, we got rid of a lot of preconceived ideas about the band that we had internalized. Songs like “Tidal Wave” or “Death Wolf,” we might have tried in previous years before that record to shape those songs in a certain way. There was so much about just going with our gut and letting it out. I am still so happy with those songs and how they came out. Going into this record, we were thinking about reinvention. But how do you do that without overthinking? How do you keep being raw while still being true to yourself? A lot of that was embracing Tushar’s process. You get all the melodies, instrumentation, and all the stuff we do naturally, and he added that gloss and pop sensibility. Our natural influences were inspired by that. If it had been a different producer, it would not have sounded the same. It was such a good collaboration, and this elevated us to another level and will hopefully kick off the next 20 years of our careers.”