Finding emo

Taking Back Sunday regroups and expands its sound

You could call Taking Back Sunday a band of the people. Rising out of the Long Island hardcore scene that has spawned many popular emo acts such as Brand New, Glassjaw and Movielife (whose former guitarist Ed Reyes anchors Taking Back Sunday), the punk quintet has taken the underground by storm, going gold with its second album, Where You Want to Be.

How does a band with only one prior album (2002's Tell All Your Friends) — and without the support of a major label and massive radio play — make such a splash? By touring heartily and reaching out to fans in sometimes unorthodox ways. Earlier this year, they posted a cell phone number on their website, and — with a phone sponsored by Nokia — fielded calls from their fans all tour long.

"I think it's a very good way to keep in touch with a lot of people, and actually talk to the people who are coming to see you," says TBS bassist Matt Rubano, who once studied jazz at Berklee College of Music and did session work on albums like the acclaimed The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. "The phone would ring a couple hundred times a day. I thought a lot of other bands would start to follow suit and get into that, but it doesn't seem like anyone else is doing it."

Then again, Taking Back Sunday has already established themselves as a more forward-thinking band than many of its peers. While firmly within the genre of churning hardcore rhythms, chunky, infectious punk-pop riffs, and melancholy, lyrical romanticism keyed to singer Adam Lazzara's heartfelt vocals, the fivesome has continued to push the sound in new directions. For example, take the tender, string-driven "New American Classic," a lilting anthemic ballad off its new album that eschews the band's usual dual-guitar roar.

"It's not really the Taking Back Sunday sound that people would expect, but I think that we owe it to people to not give them what they expect," Rubano says. "I think it's a trap that you can fall into. If you have a successful record, and then you try to make the record again because that's what worked for you — it's also a sign of zero growth."

The sound also reflects lineup changes. After TBS' debut, guitarist John Nolan and bassist Shaun Cooper left the band. Rumors that the band would break up abounded, but the band quickly came back, adding Rubano, a childhood friend of drummer Mark O'Connell, and Breaking Pangea guitarist Fred Mascherino (who penned "New American Classic"). They immediately headed back out on tour, and then returned home to record the new album.

"In a way, it bettered the band, too, because the dudes who left, didn't want to be on tour anymore," Rubano says, "and Fred and I were really stoked to have the opportunity. I think it's funny — we almost had to get to know each other as musicians before we got to know each other as people because we had work to do, and the year ensuing, after we got to play together, we finally started to learn about each other."

The new combination is working, allowing the group to find success on its own terms. "That's the coolest thing — that the mainstream came to us," he says. "We haven't been trying to be on 'TRL,' or to compete with Ashlee Simpson. Mainstream found this sound and this is just what kids started listening to.

"Taking Back Sunday isn't in the underground Long Island hardcore scene anymore. That's not to say we don't have those roots, but I think this band has the potential to do more than the scene where it came from, and I don't mean from a pop or a commercial success standpoint, just from the standpoint of writing music and being able to play it for the world."