Bassist Spotlight: Shaun Cooper (Taking Back Sunday)

Photo: Keeyahtay Lewis

I have been fortunate to have a relationship with most of the players I've interviewed for this series. Before I played bass for the band Young Love I was hired as Dan Keyes (Recover) guitar tech, then I later became their Stage Manager, running their headling tours. 

In 2007 Young Love was asked to join the one and only MySpace Tour, yes there was a MySpace Tour. 

Polysics from Japan opened, and Say Anything, and Hello Goodbye shared the headlining duties throughout the US tour. I was blessed to work with Hello Goodbye's tech, Suge, aka David H. Jun on that tour. We instantly were great friends and would do Quicksand and Texas is the Reason covers when the bands weren't on the stage for soundcheck.

Suge helped Supertouch a few times, and we have always kept in touch over the years. He went on to work for the band Taking Back Sunday amongst others, and I sent him a text a few weeks back to see if Shaun Cooper would be interested in participating in my Bassist Spotlight interview series. 

Taking Back Sunday with their road crew, including Suge, in 2018. (Photo: Keeyahtay Lewis)

Thank you, Suge, for making this happen, and thank you Shaun for adding to this important series. 

Introduce yourself to everyone.

My name is Shaun Cooper, I play bass guitar in Taking Back Sunday.

How did you first get into playing the bass guitar?

My friends and I really started to get into music in 1st grade. The Beatles, Guns N' Roses, Metallica, etc. I got a guitar but my fingers weren’t strong enough to hold down chords. I quit pretty quickly. By the time 6th grade rolled around, my friends Nick Lamagna, Mark O’Connell, and Neal Amiruddin were starting serious bands. I really wanted to be a part of that. Bass seemed easier. Only 4 strings! I got a bass for my 12th birthday and fell in love with it.

Did/does your family support your music?

My family was incredibly supportive from the very beginning. They drove me around town for lessons and rented me whatever instruments I needed for school. I played almost everything outside of brass. I could never get the hang of that mouthpiece. I bought a drum set when I was 16. I’m very lucky they didn’t kick me out of the house. 

When you are writing your bass parts, is there a typical way you go about it? Are you usually sticking with the first versions of riffs or are you taking the parts home to work on? 

I try to listen to see what the song needs. The riff or chord progression guides me then Mark’s [O'Connell] drumming brings it all together for me. I usually have an idea of where I’m going right off the bat. I usually over play when we are first writing a song and whittle away at it as the song takes shape. When I hear the lyrics and melodies I’ll usually edit further and hold back or make a part jump out depending on what the song needs.

Mark, Adam [Lazzara], and John [Nolan] are also a huge help. Sometimes, I’ll get so engrossed or frustrated with a part I won’t know what is good anymore. They get me out of that funk with their suggestions.

Photo: Keeyahtay Lewis

Do you ever use a guitar pick?

I read that Horace Panter from The Specials say that picking was for noses. I felt that way for a long time even though some of my biggest influences were pick players: Paul McCartney, Matt Freeman of Rancid, Mike Dirnt of Green Day…

On our last record, Tidal Wave, I wanted to switch things up so I used a pick on 2-3 songs. The song "All Excess" needed more of a bounce, so I used a harder pick. The song "I Felt It Too" was much softer so we used a light nylon pick wrapped in medical tape and I muted the strings with my palm. I really loved that tone.

When you look at the final product of the song, are you up stroking or down stroking more? 

I’m a huge fan of Dee Dee Ramone’s playing, so downstrokes as long as I can keep up.

Sometimes, during a song, I will drift away from the drummer and start following the vocal melodies. Is there another instrument in the band you like to lock in with? 

I love locking in with Mark O’Connell’s drumming. We have been playing in bands together for nearly 30 years. We can read each other’s minds at this point. 

Who are some of the bass players that inspire your style of playing?

James Jamerson is the king. Paul McCartney is right next to him. Matt Freeman of Rancid was huge for me. Karl Alvarez of Descendents is a melodic punk rock master. I also was heavily into Jaco Pastorious and Victor Wooten. Derik Envy, who plays bass in Red City Radio, is an outstanding musician.

Are there any drummers who have changed the way you play bass?

Mark O’Connell by a huge margin. John Bonham and Steven Adler are my favorite drummers to listen to. You know their playing right away, very unique voices.

Taking Back Sunday (Photo: Natalie Escobedo)

What is your current favorite amp, pedal, bass guitar set up?

My favorite bass is my American Geddy Lee Jazz bass custom painted in Lake Placid Blue with matching headstock. When we finished recording the Tidal Wave record, there was a lot of water imagery that overlapped in many of the songs. I always loved the Geddy Lee basses but they didn’t have them in blue. I hit up my buddy Billy Siegle over at Fender and asked him if they could paint one for me.  e said it wouldn’t be a problem but Geddy himself had to approve it. Billy sent Geddy a mock-up and we got the thumbs up. How cool is that?!

Photo: Ariff Danial

Do you have any musical gear horror stories?

A few years back, we had a friend help set up our gear at a festival. Huge crowd. Changeover time was really short and things did not go smoothly. We run up on stage to start our first song and there is no sound coming out of my amp. I panicked but noticed my pedalboard was hooked up backwards or something. I was able to switch up the cables and get it going. It’s only bass so I doubt too many people noticed.

You have toured everywhere, is there a city you would like to live in?

I love visiting cities around the world, but Long Island, New York will always be home. I could see spending an extended vacation in London or Melbourne, Australia, though.

Past or present is there a band/bands you would love to fill in for?

There is a certain magic to the chemistry in the bands I love. If I played bass in them, that chemistry would be gone and so would the magic!

I was doing my homework for this interview, and I watched tons of Taking Back Sunday videos and came across interviews with you where you talk about your love for MMA. What do you like better training or fighting?

I am not a fighter. I’m not too competitive outside of trying to outdo myself. I love training. I love self-improvement. I love the camaraderie at the gym. Serra BJJ is a home away from home. I hate the treadmill. Training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Thai Boxing feel like a real-life video game to me. I walk in those doors and somehow 2 hours pass by and I’m physically exhausted but my mind is revived. 

How have you, and your family handled the insanity of the last 4 months?

We have done surprisingly well. Both of my kids were doing Zoom meeting homeschooling regularly. We tried to stick to our normal routine as best we could. We found that to be very beneficial. I have been sticking to a half-assed work out routine and writing music when inspired. It doesn’t come often though. New York has kind of weathered the storm and now regulations are relaxing a bit. I’m feeling a bit more optimistic lately but still cautious because another spike could happen anytime.


A post shared by Shaun Cooper (@shaunwcooper) on

Is there anything new musically going on for you? 

We had our first writing session for LP #8 just before all hell broke loose at the beginning of March. I have no idea when we will all be able to get in a room together again. I believe it was the start of a really awesome new chapter for Taking Back Sunday. Stay tuned.

Photo: Chris Spiegel

Finally, do you have any advice for someone picking up a bass guitar for the first time?

If I can do it, anyone can do it!


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Tagged: bassist spotlight, straylight run, taking back sunday