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“MakeDamnSure” at 15: How Taking Back Sunday’s Louder Now single became the band's biggest hit

Center photo: Daniel Boczarski/Redferns/Getty Images; background images: screenshots
Center photo: Daniel Boczarski/Redferns/Getty Images; background images: screenshots
Graphic: Natalie Peeples
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Taking Back Sunday’s 2002 debut album Tell All Your Friends unleashed a bevy of emo anthems like “Cute Without The ‘E’ (Cut From The Team),” “Timberwolves At New Jersey,” and “You’re So Last Summer.” For many fans, these unforgettable songs will forever be associated with AIM away messages, summers at Warped Tour, and automatic music players on Myspace. These tracks can still be heard at any given club’s “emo night,” with crowds screaming out the deeply catchy choruses. But it wasn’t until the release of Taking Back Sunday’s third LP, Louder Now, that the band got its big radio hit with “MakeDamnSure.” “When that came out, it was the start of when things really picked up and kind of took off for us,” lead singer Adam Lazzara told The A.V. Club during an interview looking back at the band’s biggest—and arguably most enduring—hit.

In 2005, Taking Back Sunday signed to Warner Bros., marking a big shift for the group’s career. TBS had contributed one of the Louder Now tracks, “Error: Operator” to the Fantastic Four soundtrack before Louder Now came out, but the band still needed a lead single to introduce audiences to a new era of Taking Back Sunday. “MakeDamnSure” proved to be the perfect choice. It was devoid of the Myspace emo fare of overly dramatic references to self-harm (though they’re still addicts for dramatics in the Louder Now era), retaining the emotionally charged essence of the band’s previous hit singles, with a chorus that begs to be sung along to: “I just want to break you down so badly in the worst way.”

“MakeDamnSure” turned 15 in March. For the anniversary, we spoke to Adam Lazzara about the making of the song, opening for The Killers, and the New York City jukebox bar that inspired “MakeDamnSure.”

The A.V. Club: “MakeDamnSure” has so many standout references, particularly its setting of jukebox bars. What inspired the narrative in the song?

Adam Lazzara: I was living in New York and there’s this bar that was called Brownies, and then it was called Hi-Fi [The bar closed in 2017.—Ed.], and they had one of the first internet jukeboxes; we just always hung out there. It was down on Avenue A, and that’s kind of the Lower East Side, where I spent most of my time in those years. I actually did a lot of writing in that place, because we would get home from tour, and I would just be restless, so I would wander around Manhattan most days when we were home, and that’s where I would do a lot of the writing. So that taken directly from those experiences.

AVC: In your debut LP, Tell All Your Friends, a lot of your hits had lyrics about self-harm tied to bad relationships. But “MakeDamnSure” was one of the first that toned it down—and felt more mature, in a way. How do you see it compared to your early hit songs?

AL: A lot of the Tell All Your Friends songs [were written when] we were like, 17, 18, 19. So I guess if you take your perspective from fresh out of high school to now compared to a perspective from your early 20s, especially during those years, you experience a lot and you grow a lot. There wasn’t any kind of conscious decision on my part or anybody else, like, “Okay we need to stop being so melodramatic with our lyrics” and things like that. I think that’s just kind of the way things were.

AVC: You had a couple of other songs off Louder Now that ended up becoming big fan-favorites, like “Liar (It Takes One To Know One).” How did you end up picking “MakeDamnSure” as the lead single to mark this new era of TBS?

AL: I remember we had this rehearsal space where we wrote the great majority of that record. It was in New York, and it felt kind of like, there were days where we would all go in and hash out ideas, but more often than not the guys would go in and then I would go in afterwards or get in as they were wrapping up. They had a set-up in there where I could try and record different ideas. I remember the next day playing it for everybody, and there was just this feeling of, “Oh man, I think we’re onto something.” Kind of right from the get-go, everyone in the band and everyone that we worked with outside of the band really gravitated toward that song. We knew pretty early on that that was going to be the best foot forward for that record.

“MakeDamnSure” made its radio debut on March 14, 2006. It made it to No. 48 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and peaked at No. 8 on Billboard’s Alternative chart.

AVC: This became your first mainstream radio hit, and you gained this new, bigger fanbase. How did that feel?

AL: Pretty crazy. We’re going from playing with bands at shows that are in the same scene that we are, the same group of people, and then to playing these shows with The Killers, and bands that come from a different world. That was one of the crazier things about it. And we did all the late-night shows like Letterman [performing second Louder Now single, “Liar (It Takes One To Know One”] and Leno at the time. That was very surreal to be there and be like, “Oh my god, I’m the guy that gets to do this now! This is insane!” It’s something that we were all working towards, putting every little bit of ourselves into it, so to have the reaction to it be so positive and strong was pretty unbelievable. We were really beside ourselves a lot of that time.

AVC: You’d been active for some time before “MakeDamnSure” came out, but now you were getting attention at a very different level while being on a major label. Did that newfound fame bring any worry about following it up?

AL: No, we’ve never been real good at looking too far into the future. We just try to focus on what’s in front of us and be the best that we can be, and then when it comes time to start moving on, we’ll move on. When you’re as lucky as we are to be able to make a career out of something creative–or at least I know for me, and from some other friends I talk to, there’s this voice in the back of your head saying, “Hey, this could go away at any second.” So I think for us—and this is even something that’s true today—is just this knowledge of, “Okay, I have to show up and be the absolute best that I’m capable of being, and really live in this moment, because this could be the last one.”

AVC: It did seem like that shift into becoming one of the biggest rock acts while previously appealing to a niche group was pretty sudden.

AL: I guess in a way. We had been touring non-stop since right before Tell All Your Friends had come out. So for us, we really didn’t take any breaks, so I feel like that’s possibly one of the reasons it felt like that. We went from the second record, Where You Want To Be, touring on it, and then immediately went into writing and working on Louder Now. And we did take a long time to record that, the longest we’d taken, just because we had that luxury to sit in the studio and play around, which is like a dream come true. And then from there, once the record was out, it was out of our hands at that point. I remember I had to go to the Apple Store or something, I was getting my computer fixed. Everything there is really expensive, and on one of the displays on the store was a picture of me from the “MakeDamnSure” video. So the guy who was checking me out gave me a pretty hefty discount, which was really helpful at the time, but it was a really surreal thing.

AVC: Speaking of the music video, it was your first one that got airplay on MTV, right?

AL: On MTV proper, yeah. We had other ones that would be played on FUSE, or MTV2, and things like that, but that was the first one that there was any kind of mainstream attention.

AVC: What do you recall from the making of the video?

AL: We filmed it inside of this old freezer. I don’t know what it would’ve been from, but like, an old restaurant, that needed to keep a large quantity of food cold. It was in the middle of nowhere outside of Los Angeles, and we showed up, and it was just this kind of… old warehouse and old freezer, and we filmed it in there. I remember there was one part where this fan comes on, and they’re blowing, so the fan was computer generated, so they were like, “Pretend there’s a fan there,” and I was like, “That’s crazy.” So they’re blowing all these leaves, and this debris out at us, and we were picking that stuff out of our teeth and eyes and nose for weeks.

I also remember during the editing process, I was probably being a bit more particular than I should’ve been. Marc [Klansfeld], who directed it—he’s really good at what he does, and I remember going to the editing suite where they were putting the final things together and I could tell he was getting kind of like, “Alright dude, just kind of…” Because I was throwing in too many minute changes that no one in the world would notice, and I do remember saying, “Look, I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be a pain in the ass. But the thing is, this is just a video that you’re making, but for me, this is something my grandkids will probably see someday, so it’s gotta be just right.” And I’ll never forget that because I was like, “Oh, it worked!” We’re just these kids. We don’t know what we’re doing, we just gotta pretend we do and hope that it works out, and that was one of the times that it worked out.