The Marvel Life

The Marvel Life: Taking Back Sunday sits down with TBS guitarist John Nolan to chat about the band's new album, Spider-Man comics and more!



By Blake Garris

Taking Back Sunday are no strangers to releasing records. But what makes the latest self-titled album (their fifth altogether) so special is the fact that it contains all the original members from their first release, “Tell All Your Friends.” 

One of those original members, guitarist John Nolan--who left to start Straylight Run after the release of TAYF--took some time out from his tour with Thursday and The Color Revolt to talk with us about how he got back together with the band, what the status of his other projects are and why it seems like all sensitive musicians love Spider-Man so much. What was it like coming back to the band after doing Straylight Run for seven years?

John Nolan: You know, it was refreshing. It’s kind of weird to say, because going back to Taking Back Sunday is sort of revisiting something. But at the same time it felt so new and exciting and different. So it had almost the feeling of joining a new band. So it was nice, you know?

Taking Back Sunday You were kind of the main entity of Straylight Run. Was it hard changing gears creatively and focusing on guitar?

John Nolan: No, even that was really refreshing, too. You know, in addition to doing Straylight Run, before I went back to Taking Back Sunday, I put out a solo record and had been doing a lot of stuff with that. I really enjoyed everything with Straylight Run and with my solo project and it was great to sort of be the main songwriter. But by the time I was coming back to the band, I had followed a lot of my creative inclinations. I felt like I took them as far as I could take them for the time being and it was a really nice thing to just be a part of a process after. You know, I didn’t really look at it as taking a back seat or anything like that or a step down. It just was like a different process and me playing a different role in the band’s songs. How did it all come together? How did you get in touch again to get the entire original band back together?

John Nolan: Well our drummer Mark (O’Connell) had been formulating this idea and plan in his head for a while. It was something I think he gradually started talking to Eddie (Reyes) and Adam (Lazzara) about, and then he brought the idea up to Shaun (Cooper) a little after that and then eventually he called me with the idea. And we talked for a while about it and I was feeling surprisingly good about the idea after that first conversation, but still not sure.

What I said was I would just really like to talk to Adam again; I hadn’t talked to him in years. So it’s like I’ve gotta talk to this guy and see how things are and see how we get along and how we reconnect. And so that’s what I did. [I] called Adam up after that and started talking with him again and then everything went from there.

Taking Back Sunday album cover art It seems like naming the record after the band is the perfect name for this new Taking Back Sunday.

John Nolan: Yeah, I mean that was the idea; that this is Taking Back Sunday and this is the start of a new chapter in the band. I was listening to the record and it seems like it’s harder and more melodic than anything that Taking Back Sunday’s done, especially recently. I don’t know if that makes sense but that’s just what I got from the first listen.

John Nolan: That makes sense. I think the way we see it is we just look at this as just a good solid rock record, and that’s how I’d describe it. It’s hard to get into the details of the different songs. I feel like it goes in a lot of different directions but at the heart of what we wanted to do was just write a good rock record full of really solid songs. And we feel like that’s what we’ve done. The best thing I can compare it to is a Deftones record and I never really compared Taking Back Sunday to that before. What do you feel you brought to the table this time around after your hiatus?

John Nolan: Well, it’s hard to say exactly what I did or brought to the table. You know it’s kind of like you get involved in writing songs and you’re just all working on stuff and you’re all throwing out ideas and you’re not thinking like “oh, well I’m gonna take the band in this direction” or “I’m gonna try to influence it in this way,” you know?

But that being said, I think for me, I’ve always been about songwriting and not really about the style of the song or about anything else other than trying to write a song that you can strip down and play on acoustic guitar. And I think Adam was at that point when we started working on this album. I know he was feeling that like half the songs we put together on this record are just like solid songs that can be played in any style; you know broken down to acoustic and they could still be good songs no matter how you presented them. And so I think that was really exciting to me and I feel like that’s something, at least at some point, that I’ve been good at (laughs). You know, it’s just like trying to write solid, just basically good songs.

Taking Back Sunday Are you considering putting out a stripped version of the new record?

John Nolan: Yeah, we’ve talked about it. On this tour we’re actually gonna have to do a lot of acoustic performances, so I think I have a chance to really develop some different versions of the songs while we do that. And then who knows. Maybe we’ll start recording some of those or start releasing them in some way. Speaking of the tour, I saw Taking Back Sunday probably years ago at Tremont Music Hall in Charlotte, North Carolina and it was kind of a smaller venue. It seems like you’re playing bigger clubs now. I know in Straylight Run you were playing some big clubs too, but what’s a Taking Back Sunday show like now as opposed to back then?

John Nolan: Well yeah, for me and Shaun, definitely a lot of the clubs are bigger than what we’ve played before. But at this point, I’ve toured for so long and played so many different types of shows: festival shows with these huge crowds and smaller shows where there’s 20 people there. And I think for me I’ve gotten to a point where it’s like a performance is a performance; a show is a show. And yeah, it’s very exciting to get out there in front of a bigger crowd than we’ve played for before. But when it comes down to it, you know, it’s like what does that actually change about what you have to do on stage? You know, it doesn’t really change anything. I just remember seeing Adam swing from the rafters. Does he still do stuff like that?

John Nolan: (Laughs) He does. I think that this reunited lineup has definitely inspired more of that than maybe he’s done in the past few years. But yeah, he’s been doing that. At the Bamboozle show we played, he climbed way up on the ports of the stage. He was probably about 30 feet up in the air hanging off of all the scaffolding and everything holding the stage up. It was pretty intense.

Taking Back Sunday I have to ask--and I think I know the answer--but what’s the status of Straylight Run these days?

John Nolan: Not much of a status there. Before Taking Back Sunday was going to be getting back together, Will (Noon) and Shaun and I had decided that we were gonna go on an extended hiatus, which you know is sort of a big thing. But for us it was just like the band is done, but it’s not done in a way that we’re not open to doing something together in the future if the opportunity and time is right. There’s always the possibility. There’s always something maybe down the line but [Taking Back Sunday] right now is the focus and the priority. And then Will also has a whole lot going on with his music right now; he’s touring with fun. So we’ve all got a lot of things that we’re focused on right now, but you never know somewhere down the line, something could happen. Are you still doing solo stuff too, or is it just Taking Back Sunday?

John Nolan: No, I’ve been keeping that up as well, actually. Obviously not as much in the past year, but yeah that’s a more personal outlet to kind of explore different creative options and things. Yeah, I’ve still been focusing on that when I have the time. What’s a normal day like when you’re on tour?

John Nolan: Normal days, usually we kind of get up and have some time to just settle into the day and then we have sound check. And then on this tour we’ve been doing this thing after sound check where we have a meet and greet and let people listen to a couple songs from our sound check. And then interviews usually and then there’s some time after that to kind of take it easy for a little. And then the show starts and [we] hang out, watch some bands and then get ready to play our set.

Spider-Man #1 cover art by Todd McFarlane In that free time you’re talking about, what do you normally do for fun?

John Nolan: On this tour we’ve actually been doing a lot of hanging out on the bus, having some drinks, listening to music; you know someone’ll plug in their iPod and just play some songs. It kind of depends where we’re at, too. If there’s something that’s interesting in the area, we usually go check that out. Today we’re in Reno so I’m sure there will be some cheap gambling being done in some crappy casinos. (Laughs) So since this is Marvel, what kind of comics are you into? Do you lean towards writers or artists?

John Nolan: One of the main guys I was into was Todd McFarlane during the Spider-Man days, [from] when he did AMAZING SPIDER-MAN into when he started the regular SPIDER-MAN. And as an artist, he was always one of my favorites. I was always really into him as an artist, as well as Jim Lee. I remember he was doing the X-Men; this is way back again since I’m kind of old. But I was really into that stuff. And then more recently, [I’ve liked] Brian Michael Bendis. You know, almost anything I’ve seen of his I really just thought was great. And Frank Miller with the old Daredevil stuff. That stuff was really good as well.

Amazing Spider-Man #316 cover art by Todd McFarlane Are there any specific runs you remember that you were into?

John Nolan: Yeah, I collected the whole Venom story from AMAZING SPIDER-MAN; the one that had the whole thing from beginning to the end where he gets the suit and the origin of Venom. And then when he’s finally taking Venom down. I thought that was great. I haven’t read it in years, but I remember just really loving Todd McFarlane’s work as well as the writer [David Michelinie].

There was also [a comic] with Brian Michael Bendis on  DAREDEVIL, and I don’t know what the title of that run or that story arc was, but it was leading up to when his identity was revealed--or potentially going to be revealed. That was one that I’ve always remembered and really loved. Do you like Spider-Man the most?

John Nolan: I think Spider-Man has been most consistently the one that I like, so I’d have to go with him. Any reason why? Or just due to consistency?

Spider-Man: The Animated Series

John Nolan: I don’t know. I mean I used to like Spider-Man when I was a little kid, like 3 or 4 years old. I’m just about old enough for when that Spider-Man TV show was on, the cartoons. I don’t know when that was; it’s a long time ago. But I loved that when I was like 3 or 4, and you know obviously I don’t know why. (Laughs) At that age I was just responding to Spider-Man. But I think it’s just that it goes that far back for me. Somehow even at 3 or 4, [I was] saying Spider-Man is awesome!

But as I got older, I think part of what I like about Spider-Man, a big part of it, is that he’s so vulnerable, you know? Even though he has all these super powers, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen any other super hero get their ass kicked so much in comic books as Spider-Man. You know, (laughs) he’s always getting the **** beat out of him, and his costume is all messed up; the eye is broken and the mask is hanging off. And he always comes back and he always gets through it. And then he’s got all this stuff in his own personal life that he’s dealing with. I think I always liked that. I think that always appealed to the sensitive teenager in me, you know? It seems like a lot of musicians love Spider-Man. Do you think there’s some kind of relation to that?

Spider-Man art by Steve McNiven

John Nolan: Yeah, I think so. He’s a sensitive guy whose got all these things to deal with and he’s still, at the same time, trying to deal with his alter ego and there’s a pretty obvious correlation between that and being in a band. It’s like you’ve got your real life and then you’ve got your band and your stage life and you’re writing songs. A lot of times it does feel like there’s a conflict between them and difficulties that come from that, and then obviously when you’re up on stage and in a band and people are into it, you don’t feel like yourself. You feel like some kind of super hero or something (laughs). I think that probably has a lot to do with it. So Spider-Man’s the guy that got you into comics initially?

John Nolan: Yeah, those were some of the first comics that I bought. I know you don’t really buy comics now, but was there a specific comic shop that you went to when you were home?

John Nolan: Yeah, there was a place on Long Island that I used to go all the time when I was growing up. It was in Oceanside. It was this place called Cosmic Comics. And that was a big one for me. That was when I was really in my biggest phase of reading comics. I’d be riding my bike there. It was like a 15-minute bike ride and I’d do that just about every week for a really long time. Do you have any reason why you’re not as into comics these days?

Civil War #1 cover art by Steve McNiven

John Nolan: Well the thing is, it’s not really that I’m not into them; I think it’s just once you fall out of the loop, it’s hard to get back in. I think that’s the biggest thing. You know, I got busy, grew up and lost track. And then it’s hard to know where to jump back in. Everything seems so confusing. The storylines go in all these different directions over the years and then you’re like, “what’s going on?” So it’s been hard for me to find a good place to jump back in.

A few years ago, actually, a friend of mine turned me onto what was going on with the CIVIL WAR stuff in Marvel. And that stuff was all really cool and all kind of interconnected with all these different comics; and the Avengers became the New Avengers. And I picked up a lot of that stuff after my friend was telling me about it. And even that, it kind of took a little while to get into it and what was happening with it and where things were going. But once I did, I thought that was great.

But even that’s probably two or three years ago now, those storylines. So I’m still way behind, but for me that was kind of my first jump back into just trying to catch up with things. I think I’m gonna have to make the jump again at some point. It’s just, you know, you need to spend some time with it to really get back into it. What do you think about some of the Marvel films that have come out lately?

Spider-Man 2 promo art

John Nolan: I think it’s been really cool to see so many comic book movies. The first two Spider-Man movies were great. Those were the kind of movies that I always wished I could see when I was a kid. Even being a teenager you think back to about 10 years ago or 15 years ago and nobody was making super hero movies. And when they did, it usually was a really botched attempt at selling the story of one of these characters. So that’s been one thing that’s really cool to me, to see some of those movies that are literally like what I imagined it could be, like those first two Spider-Man movies. The Spider-Man movies are starting over again with “Amazing Spider-Man,” set for next year. Any thoughts on that?

John Nolan: I’m interested in it. I’m gonna give it a chance. You know, it’s a little scary when you hear that almost none of the original people are gonna be involved in it. But I think that Sam Raimi directing the first three, I think that he was really a great choice. What do you like to do in your free time now?

John Nolan: I’m a reader and movie watcher. Those are usually what I go to now, entertainment-wise, at home or on the road. Anything you read or saw recently you want to tell people about?

John Nolan: I’m reading Keith Richards’ autobiography right now and that’s really great. It’s really interesting. I’ve been into that. It’s pretty extensive; about 500 pages so I still have a while to go. I’m only about half way through. But that’s been great. As far as TV stuff, I’ve actually gotten into “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” a lot and “Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule.” I’ve been watching that a lot. It’s been a while since I’ve been [to the] movies since I’ve been on tour. Actually, I saw “Super 8” a week or two ago. I thought that was good; I wasn’t totally psyched on it but I enjoyed it. Anything else you want to say about Taking Back Sunday and the new record?

John Nolan: It’s out June 28. We’re very excited about it and people should buy it. Well I really appreciate you taking the time.

John Nolan: Yeah, no problem. It’s good to have some time to talk comics or something that’s not band related. It’s actually kind of a nice change.

For more information on Taking Back Sunday, their new self-titled record, and upcoming tour dates- visit You can also follow them on Twitter: @TBSOfficial and @TheJohnNolan.

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Great interview, really good questions. John seems like a nice guy