No one thought it would work - not even Taking Back Sunday drummer Mark O'Connell, who came up with the idea of reuniting the "Tell All Your Friends"-era version of the Rockville Centre-based band.
After all, guitarist-singer John Nolan and bassist Shaun Cooper angrily left the band over personal issues in 2003 to form Straylight Run and hadn't been in the same room with Taking Back Sunday's singer Adam Lazzara and guitarist Eddie Reyes since then.
But last week, somehow, it happened, with the band announcing that they had reformed and were working on a new album.
"I always wanted Shaun and John back in the band," O'Connell says. "For a long time, they weren't ready for it, and the guys weren't ready for it, either. But I always hoped it would happen. Shaun's my best friend, and John and I would hang out when he was around, too. It's not because I didn't like the other guys. But after Shaun and John left, it was hard without my buddies there, without my writing partners."
Making a reunion possible
After Straylight Run went on hiatus in January, the idea to bring Nolan and Cooper back into Taking Back Sunday suddenly seemed possible. "Mark called and presented the idea, and we started the conversation," Nolan says. "I was open to the possibility of it, but I really wanted to talk to the other guys because that's what was going to make it happen for me."
It was a big decision. Though Taking Back Sunday's "Tell All Your Friends" is regarded by many as the band's definitive album, the one that got the Long Island music scene national attention and inspired dozens of new bands, the group found greater commercial success with the three albums that have followed, all of which have hit the Top 10, including 2004's "Where You Want to Be" hitting No. 3 and 2006's "Louder Now" hitting No. 2. Those albums, as well as the Top 10 modern rock hits "MakeDamnSure" and "Sink Into Me," all came after Nolan and Cooper left.
Nevertheless, there was clearly something special about that lineup, about how all of them, except North Carolina native Lazzara, had grown up on Long Island and in its scene, and how they had all spent so much time together as friends before recording "Tell All Your Friends."
Lazzara says he just thought that era had passed, asking O'Connell, "How would that even happen? I haven't talked to John in years." But Lazzara says that once he and Nolan started talking on the telephone in January, things started happening quickly. "It felt like no time had passed between us," Lazzara says. "I genuinely missed having him in my life. To be talking again, that was an awesome thing. We started basically by just catching each other up."
Lazzara says the calls grew longer and more frequent. "It got to the point where I'd be sitting on the porch talking with John for hours, and [my wife] Misha would come out and say, 'Hello, I'm still here,' " Lazzara says, laughing.
Then, Lazzara and Nolan started sending song ideas back and forth. "We went into it very realistically, thinking, 'This probably won't work, but at least we were back in each other's lives,' " Lazzara says. But the collaboration went well enough that they decided to all get in the same room last month.
"It was like, 'Let's get together and see,' " Lazzara says. "The first time we were all standing in the room together, we were all giggling, 'Can you even believe this?' Then, all these songs just happened. We wrote all these songs in seven days, and two of those days we just sat around. That's kind of when we knew. It was all in the spirit of why we wanted to join a band in the first place. . . . It was fun. Who knew creating music with people could be fun?"
Two had to go
The strain that had been growing in Taking Back Sunday had lifted and Lazzara, O'Connell and Reyes decided they wanted to try to reunite with Nolan and Cooper. That meant bassist Matt Rubano, who replaced Cooper in 2003, and guitarist-singer Matt Fazzi, who joined the band in 2008, had to go.
"The decision to do that wasn't a quick one, and it wasn't an easy one," Lazzara says. "I was torn about it from the second that I realized what we're doing now was a possibility. But I still want to keep playing in Taking Back Sunday, and I know I can't keep going on like this. I thought, 'What's going to make me the happiest?' "
Rubano says he was hurt by the decision, which he learned of late last month. "Life is an unpredictable journey, and this is the beginning of a new path," he says. "I don't bear anyone any ill will. But everything we did, I thought was a success. I never lost sight of the fact that they asked me to come join this thing, and they gave me the chance to be embraced by all these strangers. I loved every moment with the fans, and I owe them everything. I look forward to getting back on a stage and seeing them soon."
The new / old lineup of Taking Back Sunday is looking forward to getting back onstage as well. Their current plan is to continue work on their new album and a short tour before they enter the studio to record with producer Eric Valentine - who handled "Louder Now" - in Los Angeles this summer.
"We've all had such hard personal things go on," O'Connell says. "Now, we're so incredibly happy. Everything happens for a reason. That thing that wasn't there before, we have again. That magic is back."
Where the boys are - for now
Taking Back Sunday used to joke that they have so many former members, they could also form Taking Back Monday and Taking Back Tuesday. Last week's announcement that John Nolan and Shaun Cooper were returning meant that the "I Used to Be in Taking Back Sunday" T-shirt the band introduced last year suddenly had two more guys who could wear it without irony.
Here's a look at the band's growing alumni association:
TBS link Original bassist and backing vocalist until 1999
What he does now Singer-guitarist, Brand New
TBS link Original singer until 1999
What he does now Singer-songwriter and manager
TBS link Played guitar, handled backing vocals until 2007
What he does now Singer-guitarist, The Color Fred
TBS link Played bass between 2003 and 2010
What he does now Working on his own music, considering other bands
TBS link Played guitar, handled backing vocals from 2008 to 2010
What he does now Working on new material with former TBS touring guitarist Isaac Bolivar in their band, Happy Body, Slow Brain.
- Glenn Gamboa