YELLOWCARD – Ryan Key, 2011

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Alternative rockers Yellowcard have been on quite the rollercoaster ride over the 10+ years of their career: from the mind-blowing success of Ocean Avenue to the point where the band was forced to take an indefinite break from music. In 2011, Yellowcard come back with a new album, When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes, which is released today – March 22nd.
“On the 22nd I will wake up and this will be the day the album comes out… but I think you sort of get lost in the grandeur of it if you start planning release parties and all this shit.” The band’s vocalist, Ryan Key, explained the band’s mentality of living in the present. About a month ago, he had a chat with us during the band’s brief stop in Helsinki. Today, when Ryan wakes up, the beast will be unleashed. What’s to come is unknown, but we see one hell of a ride in the band’s future and no regrets left behind it.

The band has returned from what you called an indefinite hiatus.
The last real kind of tour we did was in March 2008, so we were away almost 3 years.

How does it feel to be back?
So far it is incredible. Today was actually a big day ‘cause we had a chance to read the review of the new record in the Alternative Press Magazine, which is a pretty important one in America in our genre of music, and the review was pretty outstanding. This sums up how it has been so far. Everyone is welcoming us back with open arms and whether it is fans or media, it has been a warm reception. Everyone is really excited, as are we.

Do you think you have kept your old fan base or are you now targeting a new audience?
Both. You know, it is pretty incredible; when we announced that we are gonna be making a new record in August back in 2010… the band has a Facebook fanpage, but I had never seen it, logged in, or used it, it was all done by the record company. And when we signed to Hopeless Records we got all the login information from Capitol Records for all our websites – Facebook, YouTube, MySpace – all the stuff they had the media people operating. Now we do it ourselves. So I logged onto this page for the first time on August 2nd to make a post and make an announcement that hey, we are making a record, and I think it was 320,000 likes on the page. So now it is February and we went up to 740,000. So there are definitely people out there who are very excited about the new record, they maybe wandered off for a few years, but now they are coming back. We received a lot of comments asking us if we are still making records and when we said we did, the guys were all like, “Cool, we’re gonna get it!” I think they are kind of old-but-new-again kind of fans.

And then we are going on tour with All Time Low in the UK and the US; I think that will give us a chance to play for a new audience and get new fans who have never heard of or seen the band before.

What about touring Europe?
This is the only European gig we are doing. We are not yet planning to play France or Germany. We stopped in Finland only ‘cause we had to connect Japan to the United Kingdom. So Russia was on the way and it was a cool thing to do, we wanted to make a stop there, and then Finland. We are gonna plan a European tour for sure; we may start with the festivals and then come back later with our own tour.

You were previously signed to Capitol Records and now have moved to Hopeless, which is a smaller company. What has changed for you as a band after the new label deal?
The major change is that now we, as a band, are much more hands-on with everything, and this is a great thing. I don’t wish we still had a big record company so that they would take care of things. When Facebook and other networks exploded in 2004 and music became prominent on those websites, and there even was no Twitter yet, the label was handling all of it. And when I think back, I believe it would have been better if we were more involved. I now talk to fans everyday, I answer emails, put up posts, and I try to answer everyone. Of course I don’t spend the whole day on the computer, but each one of us tries to throw an answer in if possible, and it is awesome. Maybe it can make someone’s day. And we can feel this is working ‘cause so many people are coming on board. This is what we lacked with the promotion of our last two records. That was the major change. As for the record company, everyone is so invested with the band and the record; as far as that goes it feels the same as it used to with Capitol. I am still doing the same sorts of interviews and MTV is playing our videos. Maybe at some point we were thinking this would not be happening, but it is.

What did you gain personally from the break the band took? And what prompted you to return?
For me it was the important time just to be away from the lifestyle of the band and from touring. I love touring and playing shows, this is the best part, but it is unfortunate how you get to disconnect from your family and friends when you have to travel as much as we had over the last 8 years. So as soon as we decided on a break, I got out of Los Angeles and moved back to the east coast. I went to the small town in Georgia where I live with my two cousins. One of them is now married and they just had a baby, so it was great to spend time with family. And I was 5 or 6 hours away from my parents, so I got to see them a lot, as well as my grandparents. It was a really vital time for me to just remember what is important in life. And it also helped me realize how important Yellowcard is for me, and for what reason.

Were you in touch with the other guys and involved in creating music in any way?
Ryan Mendez, Sean O’Donnel – our new bass player – and I were writing a record together and we were planning to maybe put it on an LP. Over those 2 years I was actively working with Sean – this is how he came to be in the band – we had been friends for years. So we were writing together and suddenly everyone started talking about Yellowcard again. We were recording everything in Arizona, in Ryan Mendez’ home studio, so I was in touch with him quite a bit. But other than that, we weren’t really talking much. We needed a break. It wasn’t like we were ready to kill each other or screaming and yelling at one another, it was a very mature decision. If we hadn’t taken a break we would have needed to go straight back into the studio because the label was falling apart and the record that we were so proud of Paper Walls, our third Capitol record, was crashing and burning. And there was nothing we could do about it because the record company had just pulled the plug on a lot of projects, not just Yellowcard. At this point we were exhausted mentally from getting so excited about that album and it just not working out at all. There was a lot of similar excitement about that record as is now about this one – the fans said that it sounded exactly how they wanted it to sound, that it was a solid Yellowcard album, and then it didn’t get out to the world at all. So I don’t think we would have written the kind of record we now did if we had gone into the studio. We all felt that, so we just decided we needed some time away from the band and from each other. And then we’ll see what happens, maybe we get together someday, maybe not. Let fate steer it. And it worked out.

What can fans expect musically from the album? Will it be a Yellowcard classic?
The review in Alternative Press says that for the first time since Ocean Avenue, Yellowcard sounds like Yellowcard. I think the fans are gonna be very happy. We were able to create a record which feels like it is a natural progression/evolution of the band as songwriters. The method and style in which we wrote it, the way how much time we spent together live working on the material, doing demos, and working so closely as a group, is pretty much how our first two records were written. Everyone who’s heard the album says it sounds like a return to this great form that everyone has longed for all these years, but nobody says we forced it.

Do you have anything special for the release party in mind?
No, we will just be touring. On the day of the release, we will be in Philadelphia; this will be one of the first dates of the US tour. But we have a very good mentality living in the present… if I was now thinking about March 22nd, the party, and the release, right now I wouldn’t be as concentrated and focused on tonight and making it a great show here in Finland. And I wanna make sure every day is like that. So on the 22nd I will wake up and this will be the day the album comes out… but I think you sort of get lost in the grandeur of it, if you start planning release parties and all this shit. If someone wants to plan one of those and I have to be there, I’ll show up. But myself I just want it to be yet another day.

Which song on the album is your personal favorite?
I really love a song called “See Me Smiling.” It is interesting how it came to be. Ryan Mendez wrote all the music for that song himself and made a demo of it in Arizona in the studio and emailed it to everyone. It was raging cool and we just had to make a song out of this. It didn’t really change that much musically, but we usually don’t have whole sections of songs written by just one person. So it is interesting how that one fit in ‘cause we found the whole sound for the album by working together so much and there is this one song written by Ryan. Lyrically and melodically it was a challenging song for me, and that is what makes me like it so much. I ended up writing lyrics about my friend Scott, who passed away in 2001. It was a good process for me to write the song now, 10 years after his death. He was one of my best friends my whole life and probably still the hardest thing I have been through in my life was his death. So to look at it now, 10 years later, and see how those feelings affect me is cool.

You were an LA based band. What do you think of the scene in the city?
It is actually funny, right now our drummer is in Los Angeles, our base player’s in San Diego, our violinist is in Seattle, our guitar player is in Arizona, and I am in Georgia. So we are hardly a based-anywhere band anymore. We moved to California when we went to record our first independent record. It was just a couple years after high school, some of us were trying college, some not, but we knew there was something right about this band. I had already dropped out of college to join the band in California once before and then went back home. So I had some friends out there close to Santa Barbara where the record company was. There were only two guys working at Lobster, our first label. We did not actually move to LA properly until 2006. Our band is a pop/rock band so at one point in our career, we were a part of pop culture. You know, there are bands like Rise Against, our friends, who live in Chicago and are fine with it, and there are bands like us who had a bit of face value, and we got caught up in this whole thing – the world has got to see our faces – that we need to be at all the parties in LA.

Well, it is part of the business.
But it’s a shitty part. I wish I had made smarter choices and had not really got wrapped up in that lifestyle as I did… not everyone in the band did, but I was there. But I know what I learned from it and if we are given a chance with this new album to attain even half of the success we had with the previous records, I definitely know now what to do and what not to. And right now it seems the ducks are lining up to maybe have another chance at that level of success. Anyway, it feels nice to be out of LA and not live there. I still have to make trips there for business involving production and for other sorts of work but I am just in a much better head-space and I had a lot of bad experience in the downside of Los Angeles. So I hope I can now find the upside concentrating all my efforts there on my work and my career, not the party.

What was the worst downside?
I grew up in the south, which has a very different mentality. Morally and maybe politically, Los Angeles makes more sense for me, but the personality and heart in the south is just way different. It is funny, there are things about both places which I love and hate, but I feel in LA everyone is just in everyone else’s way. Makes sense? No one is there to help anyone out. I lived in New York City for a year, which is supposed to be full of mean, cold, and bitter Yankees, but all it is is that they are not like southerners who yell happily, “Heeey, how are you doing today!” But they are all helping each other in that city. If a woman with a stroller is trying to get down into the subway, someone’s gonna stop and help her. Not in LA. In LA it’s gonna be rather like why are you going so slow, get out of the way. This is just one snippet or picture of how it feels. I hate this part of it, I really do. But I have a lot of friends in Los Angeles that mean a lot to me and my younger sister lives there. Over the years I have grown out of the glitter and glam part of LA and now I am able to focus on work and my real friends there. You just gotta make the best of it.

Three of Yellowcard’s songs have been featured in all sorts of driving games. Are you into gaming yourself?
I play lots of sports video games, like FIFA Soccer and NCAA Football – it’s like a college/university football game. I don’t really do driving games and not a whole lot of Halo-style games.

“Gifts and Curses” was featured on the Spiderman 2 soundtrack – what sort of superhero powers would you want to have?
Spiderman has always been one of my favorites. From a very young age I loved something about the mythology of that character. As for powers, I would want lots. I am sure everyone answers this way but it would be sweet to be able to just take off and fly away somewhere whenever you please. But just being Spiderman would be fine!

If you had a chance to work on a soundtrack for any movie coming out in 2011, which one would you want to be involved with?
It would be cool to be a part of the new Batman movie with Christian Bale. I am not sure if it’s coming out in 2011, but it would be mind-blowing.

A lot of artists and musicians say you have to be miserable to create masterpieces and real quality music. Do you agree with this statement?
It doesn’t hurt to be miserable when you’re writing songs. It is a bit overboard to say you HAVE to be miserable, but I think being able to tap into darker places in your life and into sources of pain allows you to write music and create art for people who need help or just something to hold onto. It is at the core of what we do. I would not say I am miserable but I do have some demons I struggle with. I am lucky I have the band and my friends as a support system to keep me grounded. For instance, if I have to dive into some dark places to make a record – which I do – it is not easy to bring memories of my friend Scott to the surface and pour it out in a song. I wrote a song on the record about my aunt, Stephanie, who has brain cancer, and it could be tomorrow or it could be 2 years, we don’t know. That was really hard to get through. It was a really miserable experience but I am proud of the song. But then to be able to finish that process, it is great to just get on a plane with your friends and go to, for instance, Russia, hear all of them laughing and smiling and play these amazing shows, you get right back out of it. That is what is unfortunate for some artists – they never let go of the misery. They are always broken. And I went through the period of my life in this band when it was me. Every day, something was wrong. Every day something wasn’t good enough. But again I don’t regret it ‘cause now I know not to be that way.

What is the worst prank a band has played on you?
It is usually us playing the pranks.

Can you give us an example?
We toured with this band called Steriogram; they are from New Zealand. And you know about the New Zealand vs. Australia rivalry. So the guys hated when people were saying they are Australian, but it happens all the time ‘cause their accents sound very similar. So on the last show when they were opening for us we flew a huge Australian flag in the back behind their set and we rented a kangaroo suit, ‘cause there are no kangaroos in New Zealand. So we had a guy in a kangaroo suit jump out on the stage. It was awesome.

What is your life motto?
How do you say one of those without sounding so cheesy… No regrets. Whether it is a religious thing for you to believe everything happens for a reason or something is guiding you. I am not a very religious person, but I sometimes feel there is something steering the ship. And therefore every decision I make, good or bad, played a part in getting me sitting at this interview with you now. And I regret nothing.

Text/photo: Jana Blomqvist | Ed: Amy Wiseman

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