Taking Back Sunday Tour Celebrates Boxset Release of ‘Happiness Is: The Complete Recordings’

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Guitarist John Nolan left the post-hardcore band Taking Back Sunday in 2003. But in a strange twist of fate, he and bassist Shaun Cooper, who also left that same year, rejoined the group in 2010. That line-up of the band has been humming along ever since. So what was it like for Nolan to come back to the band that he helped found?

“It was a pretty crazy experience,” he says in a recent phone interview. “We got together for the first time at a studio outside of El Paso, Texas. It was this really remote place on a giant pecan farm. We had our own house to stay in and our studio. We spent a lot of time reconnecting and working on music casually. It had been seven or eight years since we had been in a room together. Then, the whole process of recording and writing with them was a big learning experience. It was a very different thing than it was when I had left in terms of the level of professionalism and the amount of time and work that went into songs into the studio. Demoing songs and reworking them — that stuff didn’t exist as an option when I had been in the band.”

Released in 2011, the resulting eponymous album struck a chord with fans as — as its title implies— it stresses the band’s heavier side. With its racing guitars, the song “El Paso” borders on stoner rock and sounds a bit like Queens of the Stone Age.

For the follow-up album, last year’s Happiness Is, the band worked with two different producers, Mark Jacob Hudson and Mike Sapone, and recorded the songs in two separate sessions. The band has just reissued the album as Happiness Is: The Complete Recordings, and the boxset features the band’s original 2014 record along with rare and unreleased tracks. The songs are all spread out on eight 7-inch vinyl records with a collectible, signed art card.

“Both sessions went really great,” says Nolan when asked about the recording process for the album. “It was nice because we had worked with both people for years and years so it made for a more comfortable environment than if you work with someone new in a new studio or if it’s someone you only worked with here and there. It all felt organic and natural.”

Nolan says the goal for Happiness was to capture the band in its raw glory.

“I think we felt that with the self-titled album, that it wasn’t as rough around the edges as we would have wanted it to be,” he says. “We love the way it sounded but naturally, our sound is a little less polished. That was one thing we had in mind. Another thing in general, is that we wanted to be open to all kinds of ideas. We didn’t want to limit ourselves to something we couldn’t do because it didn’t sound like Taking Back Sunday. We wanted to go with anything anyone has and try it out and not limit ourselves.”

Not that the band sounds particularly aggressive on the album. A song such as “Stood a Chance” features a pretty, mid-song interlude that suggests the band’s pop impulses have come to fruition. Nolan couldn’t say whether that would be something that the band would continue to explore on the next album, which he said the group had discussed “only in theory.”

“What we usually do as touring is going on, everyone has ideas that we work on individually,” he says. “Once touring winds down, we get together as a group and bring those ideas together. We haven’t gotten to that point yet.”

He did confirm that the reconfigured lineup has yielded a new attitude and approach to making music.

“I’m not quite sure what it is,” he says when asked about why the band's suddenly so stable. “I think we appreciate each other more than we used to. We appreciate what the band has achieved. In the past, we have taken things for granted, whether it’s each other or the status of the band. We’re a little more grateful and aware of how lucky we are.”

Taking Back Sunday, letlive., the Menzingers, 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 10, House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $27.50-$35, houseofblues.com.
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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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