An Interview with John Nolan of Taking Back Sunday

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I’ve got a long personal history with Taking Back Sunday. After my initial Classic Rock phase which lasted into my early teens, Taking Back Sunday were one of the first bands that I truly loved that weren’t specifically Classic Rock. They were my first real foray into Emo and Punk. I still remember when Tell All Your Friends dropped and I still remember the entire album track by track, word for word. When John Nolan left the band, I was bummed, and so when he returned in 2010, and the band released their self-titled reunion album Taking Back Sunday, I was elated. I still remember that record track by track, word for word as well. For me, it’s every bit as important as Tell All Your Friends and in a way, they will always be connected, and the first time I got to the see that band with my friend Joe is still one of my very favorite concert memories. I mentioned Taking Back Sunday’s stellar guitarist and part time vocalist John Nolan before…well, I’ve got him with us today. With Taking Back Sunday and his own band Straylight Run, John has crafted some of the finest Emo, Punk and Post Hardcore music of the last twenty years…for me, anyway. I am happy to have him with us today. If you would like to learn more about Taking Back Sunday, you can over to their website here. John Nolan also have had an extensive and wonderful solo career, which includes 8 albums. If you would like to learn more about John’s solo career, you can head over to this website here. After that, check out this interview with John Nolan out. Cheers.

Andrew:
John, thank you for taking the time to speak with us here. It’s been some year, hasn’t it? What have you been doing to pass the time?

John:
Yeah, this past year has been surreal and insane. I’ve got two young kids who were home from school for a lot of the year so I spent a lot time with them. My wife, Camille recorded an EP last summer and I helped produce it and played on it. I’ve also been working on another musical project with some friends in other bands but it’s not quite time to announce that yet. 

Andrew:
Tell us about your backstory. What are your musical origins so to speak?

John:
I started learning guitar around 16. I was writing songs pretty much as soon as I could play. I started a band in high school with my friends and by the time I graduated, I knew that I wanted to make music for a living, preferably in a band. 

Andrew:
You’re one of the OG members of Taking Back Sunday. I’m from Long Island, so you guys are a true staple here. Tell us about the band’s origins and how you ended up with them?

John:
My friend Antonio knew a lot of people in the Long Island Punk and Hardcore scene and had played in some bands. He was friends with Eddie Reyes, who was known in that scene. Eddie was starting a new band and asked Antonio to be the singer. They were looking for another guitarist and asked me to audition. I went and tried out and was asked to join. The band went through a lot of lineup changes in the first year but that was the start of Taking Back Sunday. 

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Andrew:
Tell All Your Friends is such a seminal album of the genre. What do you remember about the recording of that record? What are your thoughts on its influence? Looking back, what are your thoughts on it? Has it held up?

John:
One of the things that stands out is how we were all working day jobs and trying to do 10-12 hour days in the studio around our work schedules. We were also commuting from eastern Long Island to Jersey City so it was grueling but also really exciting. We knew we had something special while we were working on it, but none of us could’ve predicted how many people would respond to it. 

We were always happy with the songs, but weren’t totally happy with the final mix and some of the production choices. I think we all still feel that way today. The thing with that album is it took on a life of its own very quickly and our ideas about it became pretty inconsequential. 

Andrew:
After you left Taking Back Sunday, you formed Straylight Run with your sister, Michelle DaRosa. What led to the formation of that band? The band has been on hiatus for a long time now. Will we ever see another Straylight Run record?

John:
Basically Shaun and I started working on demos right after we left Taking Back Sunday. We had Michelle sing on one of the demos and then asked her to become a member of the band. We got hooked up with our drummer Will when his band, Breaking Pangea ended because their singer, Fred went to Taking Back Sunday. Once we solidified the line up we kept recording demos and started touring pretty quickly. 

The future of Straylight Run is pretty up in the air. Last April, we digitally released a live album that we had recorded back in 2005. We’re currently working on plans to release that on vinyl. If and when the vinyl comes out, we may do something as a band to promote it but we’re still figuring that out. 

Andrew:
You’ve also had an extensive solo career, with 8 solo records under your belt. I am a big fan of Live at Looney Tunes. I grew up around the corner and still go there to this day. Your last solo record was in 2018, with the release of Abendigo. Any new solo material in the works?

I’m always working on music and am never quite sure what will be used for Taking Back Sunday, my solo stuff or any other projects. I try to have a stockpile of ideas and demos so that whenever an opportunity comes up, I’m ready. Most likely I won’t put out any solo material until after Taking Back Sunday has recorded another record.

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Andrew:
In 2010, you rejoined Taking Back Sunday, and have remained ever since. You guys have been on fire. Great albums. Awesome tours. What lead to the reunion and how has it been being back with the band?

John:
Our drummer Mark reached out to Shaun and I in late 2009. He had a vision for what the band could be if we reunited and he laid it out for us. I needed some time to think it over and reconnect with Adam, since I hadn’t talked to him in years. After I did that, I knew it would be good and I was all in. It’s been an amazing experience to have been back for over ten years now. It’s like a family. There are ups and downs but everyone’s in it together and rooting for each other. 

Andrew:
Taking Back Sunday as a band has always has such a special chemistry, which is so rare these days. What was it about the OG lineup that bred such incredible music?

John:
There’s something amazing that happens when the four of us collaborate and I’m not totally sure what’s behind it. Part of it is that we’re four different personalities with different approaches to music but we have enough in common that we can come together over. Because of those differences, there’s always a push and pull between us while we’re creating and that’s some of it. We also still genuinely love hanging out and playing music together and as simple as that sounds, it can be something bands lose after awhile. 

Andrew:
As a guitarist, who are some of your biggest influences? How did you develop your style?

John:
I started playing when Nirvana and Pearl Jam were really taking off and they were big influences on me while I was learning. After that, I discovered Built To Spill and Modest Mouse and they changed my approach to playing. Then I got into The Get Up Kids and Promise Ring and other Emo bands of the late 90s and early 2000s and that changed my approach to playing again. I think the style I ended up with is a combination of all those influences.

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Andrew:
What other passions do you have? How do they inform your music, if at all?

John:
I’ve always been into drawing and art in general. I think because of that, I’ve tended to approach music from a creative perspective rather than a technical one. The process of creating something and the self-expression that comes with it is more important to me than if it’s technically good or not.

Andrew:
What are a few albums that mean the most to you and why?

John:
Ten by Pearl Jam and Nevermind by Nirvana really changed the course of my life. They’re the albums that made me want to be in a Rock band. OK Computer by Radiohead changed a lot of my ideas about music and what a band could do. Four Minute Mile by The Get Up Kids is another one. That was the first Emo album I heard, and what ultimately set me on a course to playing in Taking Back Sunday.

Andrew:
Are you into vinyl? Tapes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? Where do you like to shop for music?

John:
I am into vinyl. I’ve been buying vinyl for about 15 years now and have a pretty good collection. Generally, I stream music and when I find a band I really love, I’ll buy their albums on vinyl.

I live in Lawrence, Kansas and there’s a record store here called Love Garden that’s really great. That’s where I go when I’m home. There’s a record store in Charlotte called Lunchbox Records that I used to go to when I lived there. On tour, I try to go to as many local record shops as possible.

Andrew:
Last question. Taking Back Sunday was part of an awesome movement of bands which included Brand New, The Used, Dashboard Confessional and more. You guys are kind of top of the heap. Looking back, what are your thoughts on that wave of music and bands? What’s the legacy?

John:
It’s pretty amazing to me that us and all of those bands are still so important to people. Back when we were starting out, I thought we might all be part of a short-lived trend. 

One thing about us and other bands from that scene is that we built up grassroots followings and did everything on our own at the beginning. We started out playing in VFW halls and doing house shows that our friends set up. We made our own demos and merch and sold it ourselves. We toured around the country in vans and played a lot of shows to not very many people before we had success. That was all so long ago that I don’t think people think much about it anymore. But it’s definitely a big part of the longevity and legacy of these bands. 

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Interested in diving deeper into the work of John Nolan? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Andrew has always felt himself to be a "jack of all trades, master of none" type of person. With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found Vinyl Writer in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Stories from the Stacks. Over time, the column grew into a website which now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process.
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