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Taking Back Sunday on the Art of Japanese Lagers and Aging Gracefully

September 18, 2019

By Sarah Freeman, September 18, 2019

Mark O’Connell will not be doing a backflip off his drum risers anytime soon and he’s OK with that. For now, he’s content sipping on a hard seltzer backstage at Riot Fest, reflecting on two decades of Taking Back Sunday. The Long Island-based band is on the final leg of a 20th anniversary tour, which has taken them from São Paulo to Sydney and then to right here, the 15th anniversary of the Chicago punk rock music festival, where they will be headlining in a few hours. We’re backstage, joined by guitarist John Nolan, who is drinking a Goose Island 312, to talk about embracing the 40-year-old rocker lifestyle and why drinking beer is still very much a part of that equation.

I hear you two are the beer-drinkers of the group.
: We’re the beeriest ones of the bunch. Everybody drinks, but I’m probably the most consistent beer-drinker. And you’re second to me.
Mark: I like to mix it up every once in a while. Adam likes vodka. Shaun likes tequila.
John: And now people are starting to drink these hard seltzer things.

What sort of beer do you gravitate toward?
: I like to keep it light. The beer that I like the most is Asian—Sapporo or Kirin. It’s got that nice, sharp, crisp taste.
John: So, this is the thing. Mark and I went through a phase when we’d only drink IPAs. We’d only drink the strongest beer we could find—like Torpedo by Sierra Nevada—8% ABV beer. And we both had to be like, ‘This is not sustainable.’ You can’t live like this, drinking these 8% beer all the time. 
Mark: First off, is that good for you physique? No. Two, it gets you real fucked up real quick.

Speaking of Sapporo, you guys have been traveling all over the world this year for your 20th anniversary tour. What’s the best place you’ve found to drink?
: Germany, hands down. Germany has the best beer in the world.
John: Every single beer you get, you don’t even know what it is. Someone will just hand you something that’s great.
Mark: A while ago in Germany, might have been like eight or nine years ago, but I remember it so well because it got a little scary. It was when all of the craft beer companies were taking off. I said that to a German. I was like, ‘Actually guys, I think American beer is getting a little better than German beer.’ Man, they didn’t think it was funny at all and I had to apologize. I had to, because I didn’t know what was going to happen. I might have been in danger—like a physical danger—if I didn’t say I’m sorry and I didn’t mean it.

Jessica Mlinaric

You guys recently released a collaboration beer with Barrier Brewing for the Shine A Light Music Series called Shine a Light IPA. Were you involved at all with the collaboration?
: They basically told us about it and we were like, ‘Yeah that sounds good.’ It was part of a benefit show that we did.
Mark: I asked them if we could make an Asian-style beer and they were just like, ‘No, we’re going to make an IPA.’
John: We’ve actually been trying for years to collaborate with a brewery to make an Asian-style beer, like a lager, and we can’t make it happen. So maybe we can use this as a launching pad for that.

What would be your dream brewery to collaborate with?
: Well Sierra Nevada seems really good from what I can tell. I like them and know some people who work for them. There’s a lot of good ones one Long Island.
Mark: When it does happen, I’d like to keep it a Long Island thing.

If you had to pair a beer with your music what would that beer be? And, bonus question for you guys since you are celebrating the band’s 20th anniversary this year: what would that beer be when you started the band versus today?
: The original beer, if you’re talking about the early days, it would be a Heineken. That was the classic Taking Back Sunday beer. That was our bass player Shaun’s go-to beer for like a decade and now we have moved on from there. Shaun has moved on.
Mark: Shaun has stomach issues and he can’t drink Heineken anymore.
John: But if you’re talking early Taking Back Sunday, you’ve got to have a Heineken. If you’re talking later Taking Back Sunday, you’re going to want a nice lager made a craft brewing company.
Mark: This isn’t the coolest thing to say, but I’ve also enjoyed drinking a Coors Light. You know what I mean? Especially before we play, it’s beer seltzer. You can drink a beer, you’re not getting too fucked up, and you can do your job well.
John: I always say Coors Light is the beer you drink when you should be drinking water. I wish they would take that slogan and run with it, because I think it could be big for them.

This is not the first time you’ve played Riot Fest, not even close. What brings you back to this festival year after year?
: We were supposed to take a year off last year, but Blink-182 cancelled. We’ve got a good connection with the people that run it. We like them, they like us. It’s always fun. There’s no reason not to do it.
Mark: And money, they give us money.
John: That always helps.

This year is Riot Fest’s 15th anniversary, which happens to coincide with your band’s 20th. How does it feel to be celebrating those two milestones?
: We’re in a band that is able to come here and play this. That’s the craziest thing about it. Every day there’s at least one moment where most of us or all of us think, ‘I can’t believe this is still a thing. That we’re a band that people like to come and see and enjoy our music.’ That’s a wild thought, because that’s not normal. When people start a band, how often does that happen? We’re very lucky.

Tonight’s set and your current tour is focused on two of your earliest albums, Tell All Your Friends and Louder Now. Why did you decide to dedicate the tour to those albums and not incorporate some of your newer music?
: Those albums mean a lot to the fans. People have been with us for a long time and those albums are what brought a lot of people to the band. It would be fun for us to go out and play the last three albums we released, but that doesn’t really make sense when we’re doing something to celebrate the past.

Jessica Mlinaric

What’s next for Taking Back Sunday? Do you have another 20 years in you?
: That’s a crazy thought. I do remember thinking at one point in my life, “Man, that’s so crazy, there’s people that are in bands that are 40 years old.’ 
John: And now we’re those people.
Mark: And now we’re those people. When you are a kid you think 40-year-olds can’t rock, but I was wrong.
John: Now I think we’d be hesitant to say, ‘Oh, we’ll still be doing this when we’re 60,’ but maybe we will.
Mark: Nothing is worse than when old men dye their hair. It’s a real bad look. Aging gracefully is something that we’ve taught.

What are some of the rules for the aging rocker?
: For us, for our band, don’t dye your hair.
John: You have to dress age-appropriate too. Don’t try to do that thing where you dress like you are an 18-year-old skater kid.

Your bandmate Adam is known for his signature mic toss. Have any of you ever been the victim of a rogue mic swing?
: I haven’t but I’ve seen it happen. Our bass player Shaun got hit a couple years ago and it was hilarious. So Adam’s doing his thing and Shaun our bass player was playing bass. The mic went ‘bam’ and went back around Adam’s head and went ‘bam’ again. It was hilarious and it looked like it really hurt.
John: Wait, it hit Shaun twice?
Mark: It hit Shaun twice.

Do either of your have a signature move or is it an unwritten rule that only one band member can have such a move?
: Part of the reason our band works is that Adam is the only one who could or would have a signature move. We’re all here to play our instruments. We’re not trying to do a backflip off the stage.
Mark: It’s kinda corny when the guy in the band who doesn’t need to be doing that tries to do it.

You’re not 60 yet. You could still do it.
: I’m going to try tonight—do a backflip off my drum riser.
John: You do that and I’ll do a split at the front of the stage with the guitar in my hands and then we’ll both be horribly injured and embarrassed and never do it again and that’ll be the end of the band.

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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