Taking Back Tuesday: An Interview With Co-Founder T.J. Petracca
Interview by Shannon Shumaker
If you’re above the age of 21 and even remotely involved in your music scene, there’s a chance that, as a teenager, you went through an emo phase. We all went through it a little differently, from wearing nothing but black eyeliner and Hot Topic merch to jamming Dashboard Confessional, Saves The Day or Brand New in our parents basements, or even crying when bands like My Chemical Romance or Thursday broke up (and patiently waiting for their inevitable reunion). While some of us may only admit these things to our closest friends, or even try to hide our skinny jeans and too-tight fitting “I used to be in Taking Back Sunday” shirt, the three founders of Taking Back Tuesday want to celebrate just that.
The event, also known as Emo Night, just recently took things on the road, away from their hometown in Los Angeles, to other cities in need of an emo celebration. Just one year after its inception, I was able to attend the first Taking Back Tuesday party in Denver at The Marquis Theater in December 2015, and not only did the event absolutely live up to the hype, but the venue was packed with twenty and thirty somethings, ready to have a few drinks with their friends and relive their teenage years.
For those unfamiliar, Taking Back Tuesday is rather simple. Imagine going out to the bar with your friends, but instead of shelling out the cash for a few overpriced drinks and listening to today’s top 40 hits, the party supplies reasonably priced and aptly titled drink specials for the event, such as “Story Of The Beer” or “The Starting Lime,” and guest DJs play some of your favorite emo songs while you obnoxiously sing along like you do when you’re alone in the car. Some of Taking Back Tuesday’s previous guest DJs include Mark Hoppus of Blink 182, Jack Barakat of All Time Low, and more recently, State Champs and Neck Deep at the So What?! Music Festival after party, but unlike any regular show, these artists are not announced beforehand. As Co-Founder T.J. Petracca explained before the event in Dallas, Texas, Taking Back Tuesday isn’t like any other show, bar or club - it’s a celebration.
The Prelude Press: For anyone who isn’t familiar or who lives in the states where Taking Back Tuesday is just now coming, what made you guys want to start doing it?
T.J. Petracca: I felt like me and my friends would always hang out at our house before we went out, and we’d drink beer and listen to Taking Back Sunday, and everyone would sing along, and then we’d be like, “Alright, I guess we’ll go out not and spend fifteen dollars on a drink and listen to shitty club music.” I was just over going to bars and being super bored and not really feeling like anything was speaking to me, as far as the music or the environment. I just wasn’t having a good time with night life at all. I wasn’t at all trying to start some sort of club of my own, I just wanted a place where me and my friends could go hang out and drink beers and listen to Taking Back Sunday, Brand New and Saves The Day someplace outside of my living room.
Did you ever think that it would gain as much traction as it has or that people would be as into it as you are?
Absolutely not. I mean, the first event that we threw, we didn’t even have any social media. I put it up as a Facebook event on my personal Facebook page and just invited friends and Babs [Szabo, Co-Founder] and Morgan [Freed, Co-Founder] did the same, and before we knew it, there was a line around the block at The Short Stop for our very first one. We did it again and more people told their friends about it and I guess it was something that everybody wanted. It struck a cord with a lot of people, but I never imagined it would be anything like it is.
When it first started, was it just you guys playing or did you have any artists come in? How did that work?
So for our first event, it was just us and our friends, and my friend Kam plays in Chain Gang of 1974 - you guys know them, since you’re from Denver. But Kam DJed our first party ever. And I think actually Buddy from Senses Fail was at the first party, but he didn’t like say anything, and somebody told me he was there and we got connected via email. So at our second party we had Buddy and Ian from Pitchfork. And then the third party was Mark Hoppus. It was weird cause we all had these crazy ideas, like, “Oh, wouldn’t it be crazy if like, Chris Carrabba came and played an acoustic song? Wouldn’t it be nuts?” And then a year later it fucking happens. It’s so wild.
You guys were just doing it in California and now you’re finally taking it on the road, so what kind of work goes into expanding it like that?
It’s a lot of work and a lot of traveling. I mean, we’re flying to most places, which is nice and it sucks, but I guess it’s better than - I was in a band for a while and living in a van is not really fun. It’s a tough life, for sure. There’s a couple of cities where we’ve done it a couple of times now - we’ve done it in Portland multiple times and we’re going back to Denver and we went back to San Francisco recently - and it’s about finding that same community, that same supportive group of people. I think that’s the main key to our party. It’s all about the community. There’s a reason we don’t announce the guest DJs - because we don’t want anybody coming out expecting it to be a show. You’re coming out because you want the experience and everything that goes along with the party.
It’s the hardest thing to explain, but it’s about building that community and finding those core people who are gonna be there early, who will tell their friends about it and buy your merch and be your champions in those new cities. There are people who come and help us blow up balloons and those are the people that we need to find in each city, and that’s the biggest challenge is identifying those people.
"...it’s about finding that same community, that same supportive group of people. I think that’s the main key to our party. It’s all about the community."
Why do you think it speaks to so many people from different places?
It’s really interesting, especially in LA because everybody I think moved out there to do something in the creative industry, and they’re all at the age that I’m at - I’m 26 - everyone is between 26 and 30. And we’re all kids who had this moment where we went through this phase and we’re forever changed now. We need to go do something different. So everybody kind of migrated out to LA and is doing different creative shit, whether it’s in EDM or Rap or whatever, but for some reason they all had this emo phase. And I think a lot of people who are our age had that phase, no matter where they lived. We’ve done a really good job of showing what our party environment looks like on social media and people see what LA parties look like, or hear about it from their friends and check out the videos and it just kind of spreads from there.
Well I think it’s cool that the people that don’t normally go out to clubs or bars, who don’t really fit into that scene still get to come out and party.
Yeah. It’s really a cool thing that our party is on a Tuesday, too, cause it takes a little bit more of a commitment. So you’re like, “I’m gonna go, my Wednesday is going to be ruined, but this is it, I’m dedicated. I’m gonna have the best time. Fuck it.”
How did you guys get connected with So What?! to be able to do the official after party?
Mike Ziemer, the founder of So What?! - he lives in LA and he’s a friend of ours. He comes to all of our parties and he just asked us to do it.
I know that your first Denver date was 21 and up, but the So What?! after party is all ages, so what was behind the decision on that? Why the age limit?
This is the only one that we’ve ever done that is going to be all ages, just because the festival is all ages. But all of our other parties are 21 and up. I don’t wanna say that we’re trying to exclude people because they’re too young, because everyone goes through it, whether they’re going through it right now, or whatever, but that’s just the nature of our party. It’s about having beers.
I’m sure some people reach out to you wanting to get involved with the parties, but how do you go about reaching out to these artists to come out?
It’s definitely all us. I mean, we do get a lot people who want to do it, but there are the people that we have to email over and over again every month for a year. Like with Chris Carrabba, that took me a year. I was just trying to find the right people to talk to in order to get to Chris. Once you can get to the person or get to their manager or just someone that understands it… But it’s weird.
Usually, when you book an artist or something, you go through the agent and it’s just a simple offer of, “This is X amount of dollars you’re going to get for this appearance.” But the emails that we write… We always have to explain to them that it’s not a show, this is a community. This is something bigger. And finding the right person on that artist’s team that gets it, that’s the biggest challenge as far as booking talent. It’s all about being persistent. We all have our wish list of people we would want still.
Is there anyone that you really want?
I mean, Chris was my biggest one, but I would love to have Brand New do it, I would love Taking Back Sunday to do it, just because that’s the namesake of our party. Chris Conley from Saves The Day would be amazing. Anything like that. Me and Babs and Morgan all have slightly different tastes, too.
You just started taking things on the road this past fall, so how would you want it to continue to grow this year?
We have a lot of stuff planned this summer with some festivals. This summer is super busy with us. I want to keep doing these shows and keep building these little, I like to say I want to build little Fight Clubs in every city. And from there we can mobilize.
How would you like it to affect people? What’s the best feedback you can get from these parties?
That’s a tough question. The whole thing is just super powerful and super surreal sometimes. There was a moment at midnight at our one year anniversary party where all three of us were standing on stage and we were about introduce Dashboard and we just fucking looked out at The Echoplex totally packed, everybody is so stoked, and we couldn’t believe that it had become what it had. We started this in a bar for our friends to come sing along. And like, it’s so much work and it’s such a passion project and we do it because we love it. Any sort of positive feedback, or just taking a step back from it for a second and being like, “Holy shit, we made something,” that’s really cool.
That was a perfect answer. I have a question I ask everyone, and I think it applies to this because Taking Back Tuesday is such a great community, but if you could change anything about the music scene what would you want it to be and why?
I’m gonna sound so bitter cause I just got out of South By Southwest. Have you ever been?
It’s a shitshow [laughs]. It sucks. This is my fifth time doing it. I did it twice as an artist and twice as music industry and then this year just to hang out. But I feel so bad for the people that come down there cause it’s just such a mess, and nobody is really getting anything out of it. People think that it’s going to do something or it’s going to break their band.
It’s interesting to think about things like South By or the internet, and how much clutter there is and how quickly everything changes. I think that’s part of why this moment in music that our party celebrates is really important, cause it was the last sort of era where people listened to full albums. And you had to wait and go to a record store and you couldn’t pre-order shit and get that instant download. You had to wake up and skip school on a Tuesday and buy The Devil And God.
I think that’s why those albums mean so much to people.
It wasn’t like you had every single song in the universe at the tip of your finger on Spotify. You had five CDs in your car. I don’t know if I would change it because I run a digital strategy company. I work with a lot of artists and musicians and help them sort of navigate the digital space, and you can do a lot with it. So I don’t know if I would change it, but it’s something that is more of an observation.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?