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Interview: Taking Back Sunday

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It shouldn't take an especially active reader to see that the Modern Pea Pod tends not to cover music that gets played on the radio. And I'm not gonna lie: part of that comes down to our own personal tastes. But another reason why we don't usually talk to bands who get radio airplay is because the bands who get radio airplay don't usually want to talk to us. I mean, seriously, if you were 50 Cent, James Blunt, Red Hot Chili Peppers or the Pussycat Dolls, would you want to talk to a bunch of smarmy zine writers from Michigan?

Well, apparently, Amityville, New York's Taking Back Sunday did want to talk to us. And oh man, have these guys been on the radio. And MTV. And the Billboard 200. In fact, Taking Back Sunday have been beating a path through the modern rock trenches since 2002, when their debut album Tell All Your Friends came at the cusp of the pop-punk/emo revolution still sweeping the mainstream airwaves today. Fred Mascherino, the band's guitarist and co-vocalist since 2003, recently spoke for 15 minutes with MPP's Laura Misjak. And just for the record, Fred's a super laid back, awesome guy. Here's what went down:

Modern Pea Pod: How are you?

Fred Mascherino: Good, good. I just got into a beach town in Florida and now I'm enjoying it.

MPP: Cool. So you guys are on tour right now, right?

FM: Yeah. To me it's been the funnest tour we've ever gone on, and the biggest we've ever done. We're headlining; it's been a very exciting summer, and I really like it because all the bands are different. The Subways are garage rock. Angels & Airwaves – it's very slick rock. And then you've got our cacophony on stage. It's been really fun; everybody comes to see all the different bands, and they stay for the whole show. It's great.

MPP: How did you make Louder Now different from your other albums?

FM: Well, one of the main things that was different with this record was time. Time spent and time that we had, because when we made the record Where You Want to Be, this lineup had only been together for less than a year. When we recorded that album, we hurried and put it out. This time we were able to make the most of 2004 and write the record, and then we took the entire fall of 2005 to record it. We got to record it with our number one choice producer, Eric Valentine, and he seemed like a good guy and a smart guy and we really wanted to work with him. He produced Queens of the Stone Age, and we wanted a heavy rock sound that was a little rougher than your average Top 40 rock, something that still had power to it. We noticed he had gotten that on a few recordings. So we just had a great time working with him and took our time with the record.

We also demoed the record twice before we actually recorded it, so we could concentrate solely on what it should sound like. Everything was written before. If nothing else, we were almost over-prepared this time around, because we rushed the last album so much. We decided that we didn't want to do it that way and we didn't want to make the same album over and over again. We took time to ask ourselves, "How are we going to make the best record?"

MPP: So how long has the band been together?

FM: Seven years ago we started. We came out with our first record in 2002, and then I joined the band in 2003.

MPP: Do you think your fanbase is changing?

FM: Yeah. I think a lot of the people who were listening to the first record, Tell All Your Friends, they were 16 then. They're 21 now. We realize that your tastes change when you're not in high school anymore; maybe you listen to the instruments more. So we wanted to grow with our fanbase, and of course we're picking up new people. One of the ways to do that was to try and play better than on the first record. The songs were what the band wanted. We created a unified tradition that caught on quite well. We got to start playing as tightly as we can, even more so on Louder Now, and we took our playing up a step. On "Spin" [a track off Louder Now], it's some of the best playing Mark [O'Connell]'s ever done on the drums. He went back to his old drum teacher and got a few pointers and really played the heck out of his drums this year.

Some bands, when they get big, get lazy. Our philosophy was, we're the luckiest dudes in the world to be able to do this.

MPP: Where do you see the band five years from now?

FM: We feel we want to keep progressing musically and bring things that are interesting to us into our music. For us, the band will keep going as long as we're entertained by the music, as long as we feel passionate about what songs we play. We want to keep doing that as long as we can. We're continuing to evolve, and we aren't the band we started with. We like the music that we play. We aren't looking to change the style dramatically. We like the way we sound now, but we also want to keep growing because it keeps us interesting and interested.

MPP: That's awesome. Who do you think some major musical influences are for Taking Back Sunday?

FM: I think the music people listen to when they're between 16 and 20 is the most influential music for everyone, and that's different for all of us, but I always come back to those bands. Like for me, [guitarist] Eddie [Reyes] and Mark, it was a lot of punk rock bands, but also a lot of hardcore bands. We also like a lot of classic rock now. We kind of dug back. We have a record player on the road that we set up in the dressing room. We'll stop places and buy some vinyl records; we'll pick up AC/DC's Back in Black and some Def Leppard – I know, it's not too good. We put that on for a laugh. We'll do that and go back to the room and blast it.

That old rock is starting to pierce through our music in some ways. One thing we don't want to do, we don't want people to listen to our record in ten years and say, "that sounds like the music we played in 2006." We don't want to sound like the other bands in our genre. We want to be the band that still rocks. That's where we're coming from and what pushes us along influentially.

I think the songs on Louder Now also come across a lot better live than our old stuff. So in order to experience Louder Now, the best way is definitely the live show. It's where it's at right now. We're playing at our best, the best that we can right now. That's why I think this tour is so great. Our heads are in the same place.

Taking Back Sunday is currently on tour (in Japan and the UK) promoting their new album, Louder Now, with Angels and Airwaves, Head Automatica and The Subways. For dates and other info, check their tour page.

Interview by Laura Misjak

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