Steve Aoki and Taking Back Sunday have teamed up on an unexpected new joint single called ‘Just Us Two’ – check it out below along with the two acts telling NME about what they learnt from each other and their newfound brotherhood.
The track marks Taking Back Sunday’s second release of the year, following frontman Adam Lazzara featuring on The Maine’s ‘Loved You A Little’ in January. It’s Aoki’s fourth single of 2022, succeeding ‘Welcome To The Playhouse’, ‘Da Homies’ and ‘KULT’.
“I was talking with our manager one day and she’s like ‘Hey, Steve Aoki’s camp reached out – would you like to write a song with him?’ My first reaction was, ‘Wait, do they know who they’re reaching out to? Did they get the wrong guys?’” explained Lazzara. Once they’d ascertained they were the intended recipients of the message, though, the band were “so excited from the get go”. “We exist in this rock and roll world so the idea of having the opportunity to not only branch out of that but also just having someone with a different perspective to work with was really exciting for us.”
Asked why he wanted to approach Taking Back Sunday about a collaboration in the first place, Aoki replied: “Because I fucking love these guys and they’re awesome. You wanna do something that’s disruptive and different and I’d never heard them working with a DJ, so I’m like, ‘Oh, that would be really cool’. The fact that they’re willing to work with me was really an honour too – it’s nice to work with other artists that have the same kind of proactive, optimistic view on what we’re going to be doing.”
On ‘Just Us Two’, the New York rock band and Californian DJ balances the artists’ sonic worlds, with Taking Back Sunday’s driving riffs complemented by Aoki’s electronic glitches and euphoric production. “Remember the way that it felt,” Lazzara urges on the track, later adding another reminder: “These are the days / Always remember / These are the days / Always forever.”
“For me, it encapsulates this feeling of really being 100 per cent present in the moment and then having the foresight to sit back and really appreciate where you are and what you’re doing, the people you’re with,” the singer said. The sentiment behind the lyrics was inspired by a quote from Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man Without A Country, which reads: “And I urge you to please notice when you are happy and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is’.”
“That, to me, is right in line with the song or where I was coming from,” Lazzara added.
Aoki pointed to the track’s evocative imagery in its first part, saying it made him think of “this real emotional, bonding connection you have human to human” and people sitting watching the sun. “When the second part comes around, you get up and you’re just yelling and cheering,” he said. “When you’re playing a big festival and everyone’s doing the same thing at the same exact time, there’s this incredible energy that happens and I really feel like that second part with those lyrics is gonna be where the empathy is going to be felt really deeply in live experiential venues and shows. This song is meant to be played live.”
‘Just Us Two’ was recorded in Charlotte, North Carolina with only between “10-12 hours” for the two acts to work on it in the same room. Despite that limited window, each was able to take a lot from collaborating with the other. “In the past, we’ve tended to really labour over songs and rework them and sit with them for a long time,” explained Taking Back Sunday guitarist John Nolan. “We realised after this that sometimes it’s good to just get in there and write the song and get it done.”
Aoki’s packed calendar has already had an impact on other writing sessions for the band. “We actually got together and wrote a couple of weeks later as a band and put a limit on ourselves,” Nolan added. “We said, ‘We’re going to write one song every day and just be done with it’. And we did that – we ended up writing four songs that came out really good because of it, so that was awesome.”
Although Taking Back Sunday and Aoki teaming up might come as a surprise to people initially, both come from similar DIY and punk backgrounds. The superstar DJ started his renewed record label Dim Mak in his college dorm room, put on his own shows and parties, and was a member of a hardcore punk band, while Taking Back Sunday rose up through the Long Island emo and hardcore scene. Working together in the studio, they said they felt a shared ethos and spirit between each other.
“I think the most that we felt it we were all gathered around a microphone together doing gang vocals,” Nolan explained. “That felt very old school.”
“That brought me back for sure,” replied Aoki. “Just being in that studio with a live drum set and all the instruments, that already brought me back down memory lane. For the most part when I produce anything, my studio is very digital and there’s very little instruments being used outside of my computer and a synthesiser. It’s nice to go back to the roots and have the energy of the band altogether.”
‘Just Us Two’ might be the first collaboration between the two camps, but it could be the first of many. Talking over Zoom, Aoki, Lazzara and Nolan all expressed the desire to work together again. “I’m already getting started on some other stuff,” the DJ and producer shared. “There’s some stuff in the pipeline. For me, it’s not just about great musicians or producers coming together, it’s great people. If that bond is strong, we’re going to always be working together. These guys are my brothers.”
‘Just Us Two’ by Steve Aoki and Taking Back Sunday is out now.