Despite its distinction as “The Sunshine State,” Mother Nature actually was dropping bucketfuls of “liquid sunshine” for most of the week during Taking Back Sunday’s recent run of Florida concert dates. “It just started pouring,” reported powerhouse drummer, Mark O’Connell, at the front end of our 30-minute phoner, just prior to his band’s show in Fort Lauderdale. Experiencing more than a mere afternoon fall shower, he elaborated, “It’s monsooning down here!“
Still reeling from experiencing the Orlando TBS show two nights earlier, I was psyched about the opportunity to speak personally to the celebrated musician. For his part, O’Connell sounded equally pumped and was extremely cordial. And as his band celebrates their milestone 20th anniversary this year, O’Connell’s passion for making music hasn't seemed to diminish.
“We’re as happy as we’ve ever been,“ O’Connell commented, regarding where he and his fellow bandmates; frontman Adam Lazzara, guitarist John Nolan and bassist Shaun Cooper have arrived after two decades, an impressive era that has produced a sweet string of chart-busting albums and a nearly endless slew of time-tested, emo-driven pop/rock treasures.
“All Ready To Go” is the latest music video to be released from Taking Back Sunday, off of their twentieth-anniversary compilation Twenty:
Known as a ferocious, must-see live band, the Long Island-based brigade built its impeccable reputation on the road. Barely out of his teens when he first joined their ranks, the now 38-year-old father of two maintains a refreshing perspective on touring. “I’ll be positive about it first,“ said O’Connell. “Playing the shows is always very, very fun. It’s the being away from our families and the traveling that’s starting to maybe wear on us a little bit. I just had a daughter two months ago, so I’m kind of missing her right now. And sometimes, when the body starts hurting and everything like that, it definitely seems like it’s been 20 years. But playing the shows and still being able to play shows is fun and exciting. When the people are there, it’s great. We love it.“
O’Connell’s drum style has been described best (by me) as “urgent-sounding.“ He says what he means musically, and he means what he says, hitting hard, with ZERO wasted verbiage. So, where did all that fire and fury come from? “One hundred percent Keith Moon and John Bonham,“ O’Connell confessed quickly. “Those are my guys. Those were my heroes, growing up, ya know? When I first heard Metallica, I knew I NEED to do this, I need to be a drummer for the rest of my life. I used to play to Appetite for Destruction; that was such a great album to learn how to play drums on. The beats were simple, but the beats were so good on that album. They were perfect for what I thought Guns N’ Roses needed. Learning and playing along with that album was like ‘Drumming 101.’”
The subject of classic Metallica and GNR albums brought our conversation to a passionate analysis of how the consumption of music has changed from the old days of vinyl records to today’s digital culture. “People have no idea about that whole (pre-digital) world,” O’Connell reminisced. “I’d get home (from the record store) and read all the lyrics to every song. I loved looking at the credits to see who the band would thank because then I would go out and get their album. That was huge for me.”
And speaking of classic albums, TBS certainly has created a few of their own. What does O’Connell consider his band’s strongest work? “The most memorable is definitely Tell All Your Friends (read our retro album review here—the album was recently released on vinyl via Craft Recordings), ‘cuz that’s the record that started it all. We weren’t writing for anything in particular. We were writing just because we were a band. We were out playing music. We were out playing shows. That’s what got everything started. I also enjoyed Where You Want to Be. People love that album, man. I enjoy playing it. It’s a good album and I think it was perfect for the time.“
O’Connell seemed overwhelmed as he tried recount where his band has played in just the last year or so. “We’ve been all over the place. We’ve been to Australia, Asia, Europe, Hawaii, Alaska. We’d never even been to Alaska. That was awesome. The tour is almost over now. We do the last two shows in New York City, then we get to go home.“
And then what?
"We take a break and we don’t see each other for a while. Then we start writing our next album. We all still enjoy creating music. But with the eighth album coming, I think, what can we do to make this one amazing? What can we do to make people interested? But at the end of the day, we just gotta go in and do what we do and write the music we wanna write.“
When I pointed out what an influential band TBS has been over the years, O’Connell replied humbly, "We’re aware of how lucky we are to still be able to do this. It’s a cool thing, ya know? It’s weird. It’s wild. It’s awesome. It’s a beautiful thing.“
“Call Come Running” comes from the band’s most-recent studio album, 2016’s Tidal Wave: