The PV Q&A: Taking Back Sunday’s Adam Lazzara Defines What ‘Happiness Is’

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Photo by Alex Wroblewski

By Leslie Simon

It’s a beautiful day in North Carolina. Taking Back Sunday singer Adam Lazzara is sitting on his front porch, relishing the last few days he’ll spend at home before hitting the road to promote the band’s new album, Happiness Is. It’s an odd turn of events because if this were 10 years ago, Lazzara would be itching to leave. “I definitely remember a time when I would get on the phone with our booking agent and say, ‘I don’t care if we’re home. Keep me on the road. Keep me working,’” Lazzara reminisces.

Once known for his lyrical angst and pension for self-destruction, Lazzara is now a loving husband and father of two. However, his newfound appreciation for the domestic life doesn’t mean the mic-swinging frontman has gone soft. In fact, the band’s sixth album is a rager. From the dirge-like breakdowns on “Flicker, Fade” to the gravelly howls on “They Don’t Have Any Friends,” TBS proves they can age without sacrificing their edge.

PureVolume: What was it like to make two albums in a row—2011’s Taking Back Sunday and 2014’s Happiness Is—with the original lineup?
Adam Lazzara: It actually made things a lot more comfortable this time around. I feel like when we were doing the self-titled record, we were still kinda feeling each other out and getting used to working with one another again. But then, with all the touring we had under our belts for [Taking Back Sunday], it made things happen a lot more naturally. We were all very aware and comfortable with each other’s kinks and weaknesses, so for me, I felt comfortable leaning on the other guys when I needed to, and they felt comfortable leaning on me when they needed to.
PV: A lot has happened in your personal and professional lives in the three years since you released the self-titled album. What provided inspiration for the songs on Happiness Is?
AL: Regarding the content on [Happiness Is], I feel like there’s some stuff that happened years ago that I’m only just dealing with now. When I take the time to reflect on the weird turns my life has taken, there’s kind of a wellspring of things to draw from. It’s very therapeutic. As far as the more personal stuff, I’ll think back about things that happened years ago and how only now am I able to write about it. In songs like “Beat Up Car” and “Better Homes and Gardens,” that’s all stuff that happened [a long time ago] and those are feelings I had to wait to deal with. Life is so much different than it was five or six years ago. There’s this whole new perspective on day-to-day living, and that’s where a lot of the songs came from.
PV: Some of the songs in your set you’ve been playing for the better part of 12 years. How do you keep them fresh to both the band and the audience?
AL: The first thing that comes to my mind is “Cute Without The ‘E’.” That was on our first record and if we didn’t play it, people would be upset. But when it comes time to rehearse for tour, we don’t rehearse that one because if it’s just the five of us, it’s like, “Oh, here’s this song again.” But once you get on that stage and there’s an audience there, [the song] takes on a life of its own. It has this energy that’s completely out of our hands. At that point, for all of us, we get lost in that. It doesn’t feel like it’s as old as it actually is. We just use the energy in the room and that makes it feel new.
PV: A lot of bands from the same scene have broken up, gotten back together or remained on indefinite hiatus. Was there ever a point when you thought about throwing in the towel?
AL: That’s a tough one because there’s definitely been times where I thought I should be doing something new and I shouldn’t be doing this anymore. But then, when I have that thought, I get this overwhelming feeling that we’re not done yet, and we still have so much more to accomplish. For me, it’s still exciting. I still get nervous anxiety right before we play. Those feelings haven’t gone away yet. When they do, that will probably be when it’s time to stop.
PV: What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a musician—and a man—since starting Taking Back Sunday?
AL: It might not be the profound advice, but just be cool. [Laughs.] At the end of the day, you’re just a guy, you’re just a person trying to make it like everyone else. There have definitely been times over the years where I’ve gotten ahead of myself or even behind myself, and it’s really just about treating yourself and other people with respect, especially in this business.
PV: Are there any particularly impactful fan interactions that’ve stuck with you?
AL: I’ve been lucky enough to have a conversation with folks who’ve said that the music we make has touched them or helped them, and that’s the biggest, coolest thing for me. That’s always been my goal: To try to be that for people. To try and be what my favorite bands, musicians and artists have been for me. So to have someone say it back to me, it’s surreal and it’s incredible all at the same time.
PV: This past January, the band went to the Middle East, which isn’t a normal stop on most tours. What was the trip like and do you have any future plans to visit other exotic locales?
AL: We teamed up with Navy Entertainment, which is kind of like USO but for the Navy, and we went to Djibouti, Bahrain and Kuwait, and it was crazy. These are places that 1.) I never thought I would go to, and 2.) that you only see on the news. So to wake up, go outside and realize these are real places, it’s crazy. For us, we were playing for the troops there so hopefully we could help them out by having a little feeling of home. Some of them haven’t been home in one, two or three years. It seriously made me feel terrible for any time I complained about being on the road. Last week, we were in Singapore. To be able to go that far from home—I mean, literally, halfway across the world—and have people be singing along and connecting is surreal. That’s one of the goals for us, to try and start going to as many places as we can.
PV: You and your tourmates, The Used, have a ton in common. You both released debut albums in 2002, signed to Warner Bros., and are now about to independently put out your sixth LPs a month apart. Do you, personally, have much history with Bert McCracken & Co.?
AL: We did a tour with them and The Blood Brothers years ago, when John [Nolan] and Shaun [Cooper] were still in the band. But this’ll be the longest tour we’ve done with them. I was worried people would look at it as a “nostalgia” tour and I don’t want to be like that. I want to keep moving forward.
PV: So do you think Bert will do some of his signature stage dives?
AL: [Laughs.] Man, did you see that thing a year or two ago where the singer from Fishbone jumped into the audience and hurt this lady’s neck? She sued him and won for 1.4M dollars. It’s a crazy world we’re living in right now. If you don’t want to get hurt, then don’t get in the pit.
PV: Seriously.
AL: So, if he does do that, I hope he’s careful!

Photo by Natalie Escobedo


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