Stuck In The Middle With You
The middle ground is a curious space to occupy. Not popular enough to encompass universal name recognition, but with a fan base devoted enough to support big headlining tours, sell a few million over the course of a career and keep the band members decked out in girl jeans for life. It's a vantage that the ever-evolving, cast-shuffling Long Island punks Taking Back Sunday are quite familiar with.
Having just spent the summer touring with Weezer and Blink 182, the band rolls through Foxborough this week with All-American Rejects and Anberlin in tow. That's the type of pop-punk/lite-metal sandwich in which the band is familiar being the crossover meat.
"To guys like Blink and Weezer, we're certainly not new," bass player Matt Rubano says. "We've played with both in the past, although we haven't been around as long as them, and we're not as new as someone like Gaslight Anthem or something like that. We've never approached super-mainstream, rock-star-diva-type stuff." Part of that is maintaining their inner fan, he says. "When we're on tour with Weezer, the best part about that is that we get to see Weezer every night. And when we toured with Jimmy Eat World a few years ago, it was mind-blowing for us because they were such a huge influence to each of us that being able to share a stage with them—let alone as co-headliner—was a really big deal. So I think that kind of stuff keeps us humble." It keeps them from big-timing themselves, too.
So where does he place his band in the pantheon of millennial punk? "I guess the future will answer that question better than I can because I'm a little close to it. There are still people discovering Taking Back Sunday all the time because, like I said, we never really had that blast of mainstream popularity the way My Chem or Fall Out Boy did."
It's hard to figure out just why that is. The band's first two records, Tell All Your Friends and Where You Want to Be, are classics of the emo/post-emo/stop-using-the-word-emo genre. The latest (New Again) shifts the blueprint a bit with yet another lineup change. It's a bit more straightforward pop-rock than efforts past, but the band sounds better than ever. Songs like the title track and "Summer, Man" are as poppy, pissed-off and sarcastic as always, and singer Adam Lazzara maintains his rep as a spitfire of hooky scorn.
Someone blow these dudes into the stratosphere already, will ya? Or don't, says Rubano. "I'm very content with what being in Taking Back Sunday is and what our career has been. We've always thought that we were successful, but as far as that TRL mega pop star thing, that just hasn't happened to us. I can't say that it bothers me. It keeps a lot of things on our terms. It means that we have a fan base that might be smaller than a band that has that type of success, but is quite loyal and isn't dependent on whether or not you have a snappy single the next time around.
"A lot of people hit that pop-sensation level and don't come back. Bands that will have a significant hit and then they don't come back with another one, there's this weird thing that happens where your core audience abandons you. And the audience that discovered you that way through their local radio station or whatever, if you don't come up with that again, they just kind of go away. I'm glad we've never had to face any sort of consequences like that."
The middle ground: a curious place to be, but it's a comfortable one.