As unlikely as Taking Back Sunday’s success story seems today, it was even less likely when it was actually happening.
When the Long Beach-based band’s album “Where You Want to Be” hit No. 3 in 2004, every other Top 10 album that year came from a major label except one — a Warped Tour compilation album that included the band. When it headlined and sold out what was then Nassau Coliseum in 2005, its rock band contemporaries, even ones with bigger hits, weren’t even dreaming of playing arenas. And on Thursday, Nov. 8, when Taking Back Sunday is inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame, its members will be the youngest inductees in the organization’s history, as the band readies a worldwide tour next year to celebrate its 20th anniversary.
“It’s still hard for me to wrap my head around,” says singer Adam Lazzara. “It’s like when we were playing Nassau Coliseum and I even saw our name printed on the tickets, I was still thinking, ‘Are we sure this is going to happen? Are we maybe playing in the parking lot?’ ”
Of course, Taking Back Sunday not only played the Coliseum, but played one of the most memorable shows in the arena’s storied history, as thousands of fans leapt over barricades and evaded security to join the largest mosh pit in Long Island history.
“It was literally a dream come true,” says drummer Mark O’Connell, who was only 18 and enrolled at Nassau Community College when he joined the band. “It wasn’t even in my dreams. My dreams were playing for a packed 500-person club. I was so young, too, that it didn’t really fit in with anything I had experienced. It was insane. I could see all the people in the mosh pit and they were so amped that I got too excited and got a little bit of anxiety. I had to stop looking and pretend I was at our practice space.”
Taking Back Sunday’s stunning popularity was a combination of talent, timing and tenaciousness. The band took the poignant punk style of the existing Long Island music scene and made it more melodic and memorable, tapping into the intense emotions following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, especially in the metropolitan area. Its concerts — first at VFW halls and tiny clubs and then at larger clubs like The Downtown in Farmingdale — became emotional outlets, as teens and 20-somethings shouted along with songs like “Cute Without the ‘E’ (Cut from the Team)” and “You’re So Last Summer.”
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“I remember we played Ground Zero in Bellmore one afternoon and it was the first time we packed the place,” recalls guitarist-singer John Nolan, who was 22 playing in coffeehouses and working at his father’s car upholstery repair shop when he joined the band. “It was the first time a big portion of the crowd was people that we didn’t know. Usually, it was just friends or friends of friends. All the people were singing along and jumping on the stage. That’s when we knew something was happening.”
Lazzara says he also remembers that moment. “I had just carried Mark’s kick drum back to John’s Honda Civic and we were just sitting there speechless,” he says. “That’s when I first thought, ‘This could really work.’ I had moved from North Carolina and made all these giant changes to my life and that’s when I thought, ‘I did the right thing.’ ”
Lazzara was only 18 when he moved to Long Island to join the band as its bassist after meeting Taking Back Sunday founder, guitarist Eddie Reyes, and the band’s then-singer, Antonio Longo, at a Waffle House.
“I got a job at American Waffle House at Sunrise Mall — I think it’s a bank now — and saved up my money to get my GED and buy my car back from my dad,” Lazzara says. “I had to use a fake Long Island accent so people wouldn’t give me [expletive]. When I used my regular accent, people would talk slower to me. … But everybody in that scene took me in. I felt like everyone’s younger brother.”
When Lazzara, with his manic energy and mic-slinging stage presence, replaced Longo as the band’s singer, it created an opening for a new bassist.
And Shaun Cooper, who had been friends with O’Connell since first grade and was studying computer programming at Briarcliffe College, was desperate to join. “We had our first band when we were 6 or 7 years old,” he recalls. “I would play my little Yamaha keyboard and Mark would play drums and we would both yell along. ... It’s crazy that years later we were back in those same basements having fun playing with our friends, only now we’re in a band that’s recognized internationally. I’m overwhelmed whenever I think of that.”
With Cooper in place, Taking Back Sunday was finally the quintet that would record its 2002 debut, “Tell All Your Friends,” for Victory Records. And that’s when the real roller coaster ride began.
“My dream was always pretty humble,” Nolan says. “I wanted to be in a band that had a record that you could buy in a store and I wanted to be able to pay my bills by touring, to come home from tour and not have to work a day job. I was not expecting to be able to reach that by 2002. Then, we went from that to much bigger than that within six months. … We were selling out pretty big venues and we knew it was going to get bigger than that, too.”
After a year of that, though, Nolan was having trouble keeping up. “I couldn’t process anything,” he says. “It was all disorienting and overwhelming. I needed to take a step back from it.”
Nolan and Cooper decided to leave Taking Back Sunday to form Straylight Run with Nolan’s sister, Michelle.
“It was so hard to leave,” Cooper says. “But it was absolutely the right move at the time. Even though I knew in my head it was right, it was still a heartbreaking thing.”
It was tough for those left behind, as well. “When John and Shaun left, we weren’t the same band that started from nothing,” O’Connell says. “It wasn’t natural. … And my friends were gone too.”
Taking Back Sunday replaced Nolan and Cooper with guitarist-singer Fred Mascherino and bassist Matt Rubano, who became part of the lineup that released the band’s biggest albums, “Where You Want to Be” and “Louder Now.” Then, guitarist-singer Matt Fazzi replaced Mascherino when the band recorded “New Again” in 2007. But O’Connell never gave up hope that his friends would return.
“I always thought, ‘I will get these guys back together,’ ” says O’Connell, adding that he hopes Reyes, who left the band for personal reasons earlier this year, will return. “It was all I wanted.”
And in 2010, O’Connell got his wish when Nolan and Cooper returned. “I’m happy with how it all came out,” Cooper says. “There wasn’t any other way for us to get here.”
Nolan says he returned to the band with a different perspective and hope for the future. “When we started again, we were writing songs I really believed in and we believed we had the potential to grow still as a band,” he says. “It all felt possible. And I felt more open to the possibility.”
The possibilities are what keep Taking Back Sunday focused on the future, even though they are preparing for a tour where they will play “Tell All Your Friends” and, depending on the night, “Where You Want to Be” or “Louder Now” in their entirety, after they release a greatest hits called “Twenty” (Craft) in January.
“We have all this music in us and we want to work on that,” Lazzara says. “But Jillian [Newman], our manager, said that this tour would be a celebration. And I do want to celebrate. This band changed the course of my life. Our fans changed the course of my life. I do want to go out and celebrate the music and the people.”
And they are ready to celebrate being inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame.
“We are very proud to be from Long Island,” Nolan says. “We’ve felt very lucky to come up in that scene. ... We were very fortunate that we could go play a show and know there’s going to be people there.”
When the Long Island Music Hall of Fame was founded, the organizers wanted musicians to proudly represent the area. Cooper says the band took that to the next step.
“We always had a chip on our shoulder about it when we were starting out,” says Cooper, who lives in Long Beach. “We are a Long Island band.”
O’Connell says Taking Back Sunday will always be true to its roots.
“We tell people we’re a Long Island band — not the city, not upstate,” says O’Connell, who lives in Long Beach. “We have that hometown pride. I still love it here. And when I go out sometimes, people still show the band some love. They’re proud we’re from here, too.”
WHAT Long Island Music Hall of Fame Induction Gala
WHEN | WHERE 8:30 p.m. Thursday, The Space at Westbury, Westbury
INFO $95-$150; 800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com