On the set of Taking Back Sunday's new music video, lead singer Adam Lazzara carved out some time to talk about their new album Tidal Wave, becoming a dad, and what it's like to be the object of a generation of emo nostalgia.
“You’re my hero,” a drunk dude says to a sober man who opens the drunk dude’s beer. The drunk dude is older and I feel embarrassed for him. He’s acting a mess. He is older, right? Out here in the middle of the California desert I can’t tell how old anyone is. Thirty two? I’m about to be 26. To me, everyone older than 25 seems 37 and everyone younger than 25 is me. I can’t help but feel a little smug that I’ve kept it cooler, more GROWN than the guy fumbling over a Modelo in front of me; he’s calling this other adult man his hero! Jokingly, yeah, maybe. But he delivered it with a sad sincerity that left a small circle of people silent. I think about how I’ve met some of my heroes. The drunk dude reminds me of how we often look when we meet our heroes: profoundly thirsty. Emotional.
The sober man quenches thirst for a living. His name is Adam Lazzara. He is the lead singer of the band Taking Back Sunday. They’re one of a few bands who launched a thousand “what is emo, really?” thinkpieces in the early aughts. Every band member of Taking Back Sunday is here—with me, the drunk dude, and a mix of other crew members, fans, and friends—at a remote bonfire about an hour north of Los Angeles. We’re all in their music video "You Can't Look Back" for the second single from their new album, Tidal Wave. I don’t understand what the video is about at first. The director tells us that we're supposed to look like we’re having fun at a party. Okay, but like, dude. It’s cold. I’ve been standing for four hours. There are two paid actors and they are part of a love story and they sit close to the fire, cuddling. They’re hot and well-lit. Must be nice.
And then there’s blood. Oh, shit! Adam Lazzara is gasping for breath and his T-shirt is covered in blood. I’m leaning on a mint-green Mustang, all casual, when I see Adam Lazzara spitting blood on and around the fire, the lovers, and their love story. I want to panic, but the director intervenes and explains the concept in full. He’s spitting the stuff on all of us extras and we’re all supposed to ignore him. Now I get it. Much like the lyrics in your AIM away message in 2009, the blood is fake drama. Corn syrup.
Unlike your AIM profile in 2009 [Ed.'s Note: Damn, a bona fide "ready to feel old"…], Taking Back Sunday isn’t thirsty for attention anymore. Tidal Wave is an album that doesn’t sound emo—if emo is even a sound and not a feeling that lives inside all expressive music. (See: Drake.) Their new record seems to be an expression of their adult lives as 30-something fathers, friends, and men with jobs and feelings and grown-ass problems.
He might not necessarily agree with the following assessment, but for context, I have to tell you: Adam Lazzara is a legend in emo music. He was, to many teens and twenty-somethings in the early aughts: a Warped Tour demi-god; the source of the melodically discordant voice that screamed in harmony with guitars at you as you checked MySpace in the 2000s; and, maybe most importantly, the man who sang the lyrics that launched a thousand away messages: "the truth is that you could slit my throat / and with my one last gasping breath / I’d apologize / for bleeding on your shirt." He had flippy hair and a mic cord wrapped around his neck and his band had an ongoing so-called "feud" with Jesse Lacey’s band, Brand New, and that feud inspired Brand New’s vengeful banger," Seventy-Times-Seven." They performed it together in 2002.
The proof of emo’s current nostalgic power is in the present-day ticket sales pudding: Taking Back Sunday had just finished the Taste of Chaos tour—with fellow emo-era veterans Saosin (Anthony Green’s old jawn), Motion City Soundtrack, Saves the Day, and the Starting Line—the night before the video shoot. It was well-attended. A female friend of mine went and said that they played all the old hits. Apparently Adam said, “We were there for you in high school,” listing first kisses, fights, and jobs as events for which Taking Back Sunday feels proud to have been the soundtrack. Another male friend (a radio promotion vet and vlogger coming out of his late twenties) tells me that old Taking Back Sunday is “very much like, ‘my ex is trash and I’m sad about it, but also I’m strong and I’m gonna be okay.’”
The new Taking Back Sunday album, Tidal Wave, is very much not about trash exes. It’s their seventh. The trash ex seems to be the voice singing the song, and the overarching message seems to be that trash exes can do okay. They can be good, even. There’s redemption for all of us trash teens, adults, and everyone in between. Tidal Wave sounds hopeful.
And now here I am, in the cold desert night, lighting Adam Lazzara’s cigarette, thinking about what it means to subscribe to sadness as a brand. But Adam Lazzara doesn’t want to be branded as emo, or as anything. He isn’t sad for a living. He’s a person. A dad. His white T-shirt sticks to what he calls his “dad gut” because he is covered in crusting corn syrup. He’s rolling in dirt. In his last gasping breath between laughs, he is apologizing for getting fake blood on bassist Shaun Cooper’s shirt.
Point being, Adam Lazarra today is very different from Adam Lazarra ten years ago. I’m not sure that the drunk dude drinking a Modelo understands this. Maybe I don't either, really. On the drive home, I think about what teenage me would think of my current situation. I think I was smug about keeping it cool too soon. Perhaps this is the 2016 emo fan’s burden, and the burden of all nostalgia-based listening pursuits: the lack of anyone having any chill over how emotionally they are connected to the past. It must be bizarre, no? To be the subject of such a particular phyulm of thirst? To have everyone want you to perform a teenage sadness?
In Taking Back Sunday’s own words: “no.”
GQ: The new record comes out September 16th. How do you feel?
Adam Lazzara: How do I feel? Like, about the record? Right now, I'm tired. I actually feel really good and I'm really excited for people to be able to hear it because we worked real hard on it. It was tough because we went right from the studio on to this tour, more or less. We'd like to be on the tour not playing the new songs because obviously…We played two, but if it were up to me, I'd just play the record. Well, I don't want people's first impressions of the songs to be a crappy YouTube video that someone took with their iPhone.
He isn’t sad for a living. He’s a person. A dad. His white T-shirt sticks to what he calls his “dad gut” because he is covered in crusting corn syrup.
How does it feel going from playing small venues in high school, to those large shows, to the huge ones now—as people got more into their phones, is it strange seeing an audience with phones in the air?
Yeah, it is. Sometimes you want to say something like, "Be here." Because any video you're going to take, it's not going to be good. It's phone quality and the sound is very overwhelming in those clubs. Yeah. I don't really get the thing. Also, on the other side of it, folks are paying money to be there, so they can do what they want.
With your music, being specifically branded as emo and having spearheaded that movement, so to speak, there's a generation of dudes who remember putting the lyrics in their away messages, just being able to express themselves through your lyrics. And maybe because of that, being able to express themselves better emotionally, not just online. They grew up to be emotional men. Do you think about that? Does it bug you out?
No. I mean, I'm happy that people can relate. Our goal is always to just try to give back a little bit of what our favorite bands gave us.
What did your favorite bands give you?
Well, like hope. Just what you were saying: they could say things in a way that I couldn’t. If anything, that's really flattering to know we can do that for people. I don't think about it much though.
How old are your kids?
Seven and two.
Is your seven year old listening to music yet?
Yeah. He loves that “Radioactive” song by Imagine Dragons. He just loves it so much. I don't even know where he heard it first, but he always wants me to play that in the car. He prefers, which is also really funny too and it's cute, but he likes that song “Hallelujah.” He likes Leonard Cohen's version of it better than Jeff Buckley's.
Is it weird watching your kids develop taste?
Yeah, it is. You wonder like "I wonder what about this they like." Like, what's appealing to them. But even just watching their personalities develop, that's a pretty wild thing.
With the new record, are you hoping new young people will discover you again? Like, even though you have such a catalogue that resonates with formerly young people, or even teens who are into emo now?
Yeah. That's the thing, too. When we were making this record, we were really aware of this. We were like "Look this is our seventh record; we can't do anything we've already done." We also realized that no matter what we do, if it's the five of us, it's always going to sound like Taking Back Sunday. You know, my voice sounds the way it does and we play the way we do. That was something we were keeping in mind throughout the process then for us, it almost in certain ways feels like a new band each record you make, which is fun and exciting.
Do you feel famous?
It's weird. People assume that I am because sing for—well, a band. But, no, I don't feel like that. I'm just real lucky. Yeah, folks are cool, man. It rarely happens, but being out at home, like Target, but then they'll just come and say "Hey, I like what you do." I say, "Thank you." It's nice.
With the new record and what people are saying is a new sound coming out of it, how does it feel to have people dwell so much on the emo thing? Like, harping on that genre as your place in music.
I've never considered us an emo band. I understand it's a lot of the scene we came from. But I consider us a rock and roll band. Loud guitars, big drums. It gets frustrating sometimes because then it's putting it in this little box that can be contained and I think we're more than that. Honestly, if people are listening, who cares?
Do you think about if your new album will be influential to young people, though? Like, the way emo was? Or is it like "We made it and it's just going to exist as what it is"?
Yes. Well, I hope it is. The thing with like, how people focus or harp on those earlier records? What you gotta understand is that [those records] hit them at the right time in their lives. Yeah, and then our hope is that—I imagine it as two different paths, and sometimes the paths meet up and other times some folks will go this way, some folks will go that way, but then somewhere along the line they meet again. That's always the hope—anytime we put out anything new—is that hopefully it'll hit people at the right time in their lives. Because the thing is, those folks have been growing and we've growing and we've been growing together, so it's just hoping that meets up again.
Well, what is the new record—what were you listening to when you were making it?
I was listening to Explosions in the Sky a lot.
Did you ever watch Friday Night Lights? That’s like the whole soundtrack. The FNL town is a lot like my high school town, small.
Yeah. I grew up in kind of a smaller town too. There's something about that I can relate it to. I mean, once I moved, I was like "I'm never going to live in North Carolina again!" Yeah, well. Totally wrong. Now I live there again. We moved back when we had our son, because I had to be gone for tour and things like this. This way my folks are just far enough away, so they can help out.
Do you watch music videos? Do you have favorite current artists, like rappers?
It's funny. I love watching CMT because country music videos are the only ones—they're like rock videos, but now rock bands can't get that budget. But yeah, I like all music. There's nothing that I dislike. Favorite rappers? I haven't really kept up. But when I do listen to hip hop, I listen to Jay Z. I just love Jay Z. And Nas. That era, you know? But I'm not really up on who's good in that world.
How do you want people to listen to your record?
Well, I'd hope—I like to get my hands on things, you know? CD or Vinyl would be my go-to. Just play it really loud. Maybe in the car.