Taking Back Sunday bassist Shaun Cooper rolls with some of the UFC’s best in Long Island, N.Y.
Maintaining a career in the music industry can be tough, but rolling with a rising UFC middleweight contender could be just a little bit tougher. Shaun Cooper has spent the past 12 years touring throughout the world as the bassist of alternative rock outfits Taking Back Sunday and Straylight Run. While the Long Island native has achieved quite a bit of success in the music world, he was nearly powerless when grappling with his Serra Jiu-Jitsu teammate and 185-pound mixed martial artist Chris Weidman.
“I rolled with that guy a couple of years ago,” says the 30-year-old musician. “He had been training jiu-jitsu for three months—and I felt like a baby.”
Despite the one-sided encounter, Cooper is extremely proud of his buddy and was floored by his dominant performance at UFC 131 in June, when Weidman submitted Jesse Bonfeldt via guillotine choke.
“Weidman is a phenomenal talent,” Cooper says. “I always knew that he was gonna go far. He looks better each time he fights, so I’m so stoked for him right now. In addition, his striking is so much better than he has shown. He is gonna surprise some people.” Cooper has been training with Weidman and the rest of the folks at Serra Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy in East Meadow since October 2007—under the guidance of gym owners Nick Serra and his better known brother, former UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Serra. Though the brothers constantly joke around during training, the bassist has worked on his technique extensively with the two and currently holds a second stripe on his blue belt.
Although he is proud of his ranking, he is even happier being part of the gym’s family. “The whole team is really cool because everyone hangs out,” says Cooper. “It’s like, ‘Hey, we’re going out for drinks. We’re celebrating this, we’re celebrating that, someone just had a kid and someone has a birthday,’ so everyone is hanging out. And Matt and Nicky come out for those. It’s a really good team vibe.”
In addition to training at Serra Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Cooper and his buddy Nick “Knuckles” Lamagna round out their stand-up game over at Ray Longo’s Mixed Martial Arts Academy in Garden City, N.J. The two have also taken private lessons with TUF Season 2 runner-up Luke Cummo. Speaking of The Ultimate Fighter, Cooper is a self-professed fan. Although he watched a couple of the early UFCs, he wasn’t hooked on the sport until watching the Zuffa produced reality series in 2005.
“I heard things during the MMA Dark Ages and read a little bit about it on the Internet, but I didn’t understand the ground game. A lot of the time it was lost on me,” Cooper says. “It wasn’t until I saw Forrest Griffin fight Stephan Bonnar that I was like, ‘Oh my god! I have to follow this.’ Eventually, that led to me training. I was 26 years old, I was drinking too much, and I was getting chubby. I needed to start doing something.”
Before getting involved in MMA, Cooper was just a regular kid from Baldwin, Long Island, who had a fascination with music and martial arts flicks like The Karate Kid. That pushed him to pursue Shotokan Karate at Black Belt Academy in neighboring Freeport (now operating as Do Gakuin Shotokan Karate-do). He competed in tournaments and was quite successful, but at 10 years old, he “crapped out at brown belt” because he was more occupied with music.
Launched in 1999, Taking Back Sunday (now comprised of vocalist Adam Lazzara, lead guitarist John Nolan, rhythm guitarist Eddie Reyes, and drummer Mark O’Connell) generated a buzz rather quickly. In 2002, they released their debut album Tell All Your Friends through Victory Records, but Nolan and Cooper left the band the following year to start Straylight Run. Although they dropped two full-length collections—2004’s self-titled debut and 2007’s sophomore set The Needles The Space—the two returned to Taking Back Sunday last year.
Now, the alternative rockers have recently unveiled their self-titled fifth studio offering through Warner Bros. Fueled by records like “El Paso,” “Faith (When I Let You Down),” and “This Is All Now,” the powerful 11-track collection features their signature rock resonance with emotional lyricism, a mature outlook, and polished musicianship with an aggressive edge.
“It’s a little bit more concise. We just wanted to write the best rock songs we could,” Cooper says. “There’s no showboating. We really just wanted to have interesting music, but nothing that would take away from the vocal melodies and lyrics, which has always been a strong point of the band. We wanted to showcase them, and I think we achieved that. But we’re always trying to improve as we spend the next few months on the road.”
Serra’s Sweet Little Prince
When Shaun Cooper turned 30 years old, his fiancé and training buddies from the Serra Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy threw him a surprise birthday party. However, when former UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Serra called the bassist from seven unfamiliar digits, Cooper had a surprise for him—one that might haunt the birthday boy for the rest of his life. “Matt called me,” Cooper says. “I didn’t have his phone number at the time, so he’s like, ‘Hey, Shauny boy, you know who it is?’ I thought it was my guitar player Eddie Reyes pranking me, and I joke around with him, calling him ‘My sweet prince’ and ‘My precious little buddy.’ So I start saying this to Matt, not knowing it was him. ‘Is this my sweet prince? Da-da-da,’ and every time I see Matt now, I never hear the end of that. He’s like, ‘You’re such a weirdo when you’re drunk! You’re a cool guy when you come in here, but after a couple of drinks, you turn into a fucking weirdo.’”
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