It doesn't feel like it's been twenty years since Taking Back Sunday paved the way for 00s emo with their debut album, 'Tell All Your Friends'. Along with various other Tri-State area bands - some we don't talk about anymore, and some eventually who transcended any idea of what a small band from a small town could do - they let us know that it's okay to not be okay.
Having a moment in your life trigger a chain reaction, essentially changing your trajectory forever, is an experience we all eventually go through. But having one that helps shape an entire culture? That's something unique. For Adam Lazzara and Taking Back Sunday, it was 'Tell All Your Friends'.
"It's wild. I can remember vividly the day that it came out," vocalist Adam begins, wandering down memory lane. "And like where we were. It's so crazy because it feels no time has passed at all, but it also feels like a lifetime ago."
The early-00s felt both promising and unknown. The world had not long turned into a new millennium, and culture was in somewhat of a fractured state. Pop-punk was bouncing all over the place, while nu-metal did its best to force together rap and metal like a petulant child attempting a jigsaw. In alternative music, there was a need for something more. Something sincere.
Originally formed in 1999, after undergoing various line-up changes, it wasn't until Adam was recruited into the fold - initially as a bassist – that Taking Back Sunday found the form immortalised on 'Tell All Your Friends'. Alongside founding guitarist Eddie Reyes, guitarist John Nolan, bassist Shaun Cooper and drummer Mark O'Connell, what came next is the stuff of musical legend.
Recorded in the winter of 2001 in New Jersey and released in March 2002 on Victory Records, the band's debut was a blistering, clattering snapshot of adolescence and angst. With its post-hardcore roots and heart-on-sleeve emo, Taking Back Sunday set a gold standard. Its impact on those who found it, though, was equally as significant.
Reflecting on the moment 'Tell All Your Friends' took flight, after hunkering down and spilling his guts on the page, Adam offers that "with any record, the second that it's released, it's no longer yours."
"You just happen to be there when it was being made," he continues. "As it's been twenty years, we're able to see the impact these songs have had. One of our goals was always to reach as many people as we could."
The burn for Taking Back Sunday and 'Tell All Your Friends' was a slow one. Achieving decent initial sales, as time went by, they soon began clocking up into the hundreds of thousands, eventually reaching into the dizzying millions. As Adam's favourite music helped him understand his feelings, giving him validation in them, so did he to so many more as word spread. "All these years later," he says, "to be able to know and like see that, 'Oh man, we weren't alone in feeling like that, because here are all these other people, and it seems like they felt the same way' - I think that's just a beautiful thing."
Knowing that you've reached a wide audience, not only in terms of attentive ears, but that lives are being eased through your own experiences is any musician's ultimate goal. Being in their early twenties at the time, with the whirlwind of attention and building expectation, Adam admits, "it was really wild, and it was hard sometimes not to get wrapped up in it or the hype." However, the biggest question that ultimately came out of 'Tell All Your Friends' was, "how do we grow in a way that's in line with how we want to grow as humans?"
With a network of their families, friends and peers, Taking Back Sunday navigated this period. But problems developed, leading to further line-up changes with Shaun and John departing in 2003. Now older, looking back at making it through mostly unscathed, to the point where all could reunite in 2010, is a testament to the draw of the band's individual components.
"We were together last week, talking about how Mark and Shaun have had the same group of friends since elementary school," Adam says. "It's the wildest thing, and I think it's beautiful. I think that was a big help for them to help keep their feet on the ground."
Twenty years is a long time for anything, let alone to be in the same band (Adam and Mark are the two sole founding members to have weathered the entire twenty years, Eddie left in 2018). Equally, the world has changed a hell of a lot. These days it's all everything now, but back in 2002, there was a slower pace, which lent itself to the slow-burning urgency of bands like Taking Back Sunday and their reckoning with the deepest and darkest of emotions.
On what he misses from that time, Adam admits, chuckling, "how little responsibility there was. The naivety of it. I mean, that was probably one of the things that made it special for me. You can go back and remember those times, and the people that were around and the good and bad, [but] then you close the book put it back on the shelf.
"Immediately, that Rod Stewart song pops up in my head. 'I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger', because there are definitely some things we would have handled differently. But at the same time, it probably wouldn't have turned out the same, so we're just happy for what it was."
Digging out the boxes of photographs from this period for the physical release, Adam reckons it was akin to flicking through an old yearbook. "I had found a bunch of photos from our first tour, and you're looking at this stuff like, 'Oh my god, we were kids. This is insane.'"
For all this, Taking Back Sunday are a band that refuses to let the past dictate their future. In embracing both the anniversary of 'Tell All Your Friends' and their own twentieth back in 2019, it's acknowledging where they've come from and just how far they're continuing to go. "We can spend some time there, but I don't want to stay there long. I've already been there," says Adam.
The spectre of 'Tell All Your Friends' did linger. How could it not, given everything it achieved? Adam naturally fell into being "riddled with these insecurities, like, is it good enough?" But over the years since, they've released six further albums, shifting from the raw kinetic energy of that emo sound into sturdier, fraught rock.
After the archive rummaging and being thrust back to that heady time of fringes as imposing as the feelings they sang of, with all said and done, is there anything Adam would say to his younger self?
"I would just tell myself to be cool," he gleams after a pause. "Just be cool, man. It's gonna be okay. I'm a worrier - I inherited that - but looking back now, I'm sure other people could relate to the feeling of 'Man, why was I so worried all the time?' It's fine. Everything's fine. Just calm down. For some reason, I don't know if it's human nature or just something in me that it's so much easier to just focus and harp on the negative even when there are just all these positive things happening all around you. That's a skill I think that I'll be working on for some time."
Certainly, legacy is a hefty term. It conjures images of dusty old books or people past their prime, something Taking Back Sunday certainly are not. But there's no doubt that with 'Tell All Your Friends', a legacy is something that Adam and co. created. "I don't know," he coyly laughs. "I think we're still working on that. For us, we all still feel like we have a ways to go. So to start thinking in terms of legacy or anything like that is difficult for me. I didn't even start thinking in the long term until maybe just a few years ago. So we're still figuring that part out."
There's no denying Taking Back Sunday's debut became a fraught time for the band, involving further line-up changes, interpersonal conflicts, and a dizzying amount of new, complex emotions to deal with. But throughout it all, one thing remained; Taking Back Sunday were the doused log thrown to the already smouldering kindling of emo, lighting a lifesaving beacon which still shines bright twenty years later.
Taken from the June issue of Upset. Taking Back Sunday's reissue of debut album 'Tell All Your Friends' is out 27th May.
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