Blacked-Out Sabbath

Taking Back Sunday: Just don’t ask about Adam Lazzara’s marbles. Courtesy photo.
Taking Back Sunday
7pm Tue, Feb 27
Sunset Station (Lonestar Pavilion)
1174 E. Commerce

Taking Back Sunday is a lot of things. A melodic hardcore band, for one. A rock cliché, for two, as lead singer Adam Lazzara is, let’s just say, unpredictable — and, OK, maybe unstable (though he is supposedly getting better).

The band is fiercely environmentally conscious, too, insisting its tour promoters provide recycling bins and organic-cotton merchandise, and, if trying to save the world one plastic soda bottle at a time wasn’t enough, the Amityville-based quintet wrote the theme song for Reed Richards (“Error Operator”), leader of the Fantastic Four, who have actually saved the world.

They’re also notoriously difficult about setting up interviews.

Don’t even think about getting Lazzara on the phone. Whether it’s the singer’s ego, schedule, or disinterest in discussing his status as a rock cliché that prevents this, lowly journalists are not permitted to know. We’re given folks like Matt Rubano, the bassist, to chat with and, alas, have no choice but to be happy with it.

Then, of course, the worst thing you can do is ask about the unpredictable, maybe-recovering rock cliché Lazzara who, you point out, has described himself as a “total mess”: engaging in late-night blow-ups that sometimes result in band members leaving; nearly choking himself to death with mic chords (accidentally, of course); the hardcore partying that made him a legend before he was even 25.

“Well, first off, I’m not sure what exact tumultuous behavior you’re talking about,” Rubano says, when asked about how Lazzara has affected the dynamics of the band and, consequently, the music they produce. “But assuming you’re just talking about whatever … ”

And Rubano doesn’t finish the thought. His tone is dismissively short, though not outright impolite. The worst thing you could do at this juncture is follow the question up with another one about Lazzara. Whoops! But let’s save that one for later, and instead dwell on the music and the new album, Louder Now, that proves whether or not Lazzara has actually grown up, Taking Back Sunday’s
sound has.

Don’t worry if you’re a long-time fan of the band, though. This isn’t a reinvention. This is a refinement. Then again, “refinement” sounds so diminutive when, in this case, Taking Back Sunday has only gotten bigger. You still get the layered emo vocals, the racing drums, and the dueling riffs, but now, thanks in large part to producer Eric Valentine (Queens of the Stone Age), Rubano and his friends are ready to fill arenas with their sound. Faster and harder, there is an intensity Taking Back Sunday never possessed before — contrasting the personal lyrics of songs like “What It Feels Like to Be a Ghost?” (which could be autobiographical for Lazzara) with an upgraded level of musicianship.

“We had a lot of time and all the means we could want to make this record,” Rubano says, “and, at this point for us, we knew what we wanted to sound like and we knew that we wanted to make a record that listened through as a great story and was really something special. Musically, I feel like this is the best thing I’ve ever been a part of.”

Much of Louder Now’s success is based on the fact that it’s the closest Taking Back Sunday has come to capturing their high-octane live show in the studio. “I think it’s about capturing intensity, and sometimes, when you go to record something, you’re so caught up in your headphones and the sound of your instrument and where you’re sitting and staying quiet, you lose a lot of ferocity and frenetic behavior you have while on stage,” Rubano explains. “I think this record really captured a lot of that for us.”

Conversely, the five months the band spent working on the album helped to perfect their most intimate lyrics yet and the aforementioned musicianship that Valentine challenged them to achieve. “It definitely helped,” Rubano says of the protracted recording period. “It’s not really good to have a deadline on stuff like this, the same way it’s not good to have a record take a year.

“For us, we had the time blocked out, the people we wanted to work with, and nothing else on our mind except making this album. You don’t rush something to make it better. We wouldn’t put time above good music, ever.”

Notice, Rubano is a lot more loquacious when not talking about Lazzara. That’s understandable, of course. What musician wants to discuss whether or not his band’s front man is a walking rock cliché?

That leads us back to that follow-up question that probably shouldn’t have been asked: As a friend, you surely want Lazzara to stay on the straight and narrow for his own sake. But do you think his past instability has served, in a way, as a muse to the band? Maybe feeding the music it produces?

“I wouldn’t place value on things detrimental to your health, that are bad for your mind or body,” Rubano answers, trying to be civil despite his obvious weariness with the subject. “But whatever we go through, we got through it and we survive it, and if it happens to play a part in how we write our music together, then so be it. But I don’t believe in dudes needing to be tortured to be good. That’s bullshit. That’s Rock ’n’ Roll Cliché 101.”