Interview: Yellowcard (2014)

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The pop-punk explosion of the early 2000s brought us many hits from Blink 182, Sum 41, Something Corporate, The Starting Line and so many others, but one song seemed to have been on permanent repeat, “Ocean Avenue,” by Yellowcard.

Ocean Avenue, as an album and a single, was unique in that it brought an electric violin into a pop-punk band, something that was and is still relatively unheard of. The distinctive musical style and undeniable talent thrust Yellowcard into the limelight and the future looked extremely promising. Tragically, in the wake of the 2x platinum success, it seemed as though Yellowcard simply imploded. The band couldn’t repeat its success; it tried to create a new sound and failed. The band then tried to return back to its old sound and its record label fell apart.

In the end, Yellowcard just couldn’t catch a break. After a few albums that were anything but positively received, the band decided a hiatus, a breakup under a different guise, was the best way to go. It looked like the end of Yellowcard and many people probably still think that is the case. However, Yellowcard decided to dabble in music yet again. The band had to start from scratch after reuniting and go back to opening up for other bands, begin building up a fan base, and reestablish itself in the music industry. After a quiet return to music, Yellowcard has made a move that will certainly take it in the right direction; it has released an acoustic 10 year anniversary album of Ocean Avenue and is touring to support it. While the tour may not be a return to massive arenas and stadiums, it is reconnecting the band with the fans of the early 2000s as well as introducing new fans to older material.

The rocky road to Ocean Avenue Acoustic was as rough as a road could be but the band is coming back, working harder than ever, and inching ever closer to the limelight yet again. Lead singer, Ryan Key, was not only kind enough to relive some of that tumultuous journey for Pop-Break but also gave us a bit of insight into where Yellowcard is heading and how it’s going to get there.

Ryan Key - Photo Credit: Nicole Zeno
Ryan Key – Photo Credit: Nicole Zeno

Pop-Break: Hey Ryan. How are you doing?

Ryan Key: I’m good thanks, how are you?

PB: Doing really well. First off, congrats on ten years since Ocean Avenue. That’s awesome!

RK: Thank you!

PB: Tell me about the tour.

RK: Our first show’s on Thursday so we fly into Tampa Bay on Wednesday and heading up to Santa Cruz. I’m really stoked that we’re playing in Santa Cruz. When I was 19, I dropped out of college and joined a band in Santa Cruz. I moved from Florida to Santa Cruz to join this band called Craig’s Brother, they were on Tooth and Nail Records. So, my first-kind-of-band and touring outside of my home town was Santa Cruz and we don’t get to go back there much. We’ve only played there, I think, maybe two times before out of all 13 years we’ve been touring, so we’re stoked, really stoked that we’re playing there. And that venue is The Catalyst in Santa Cruz. It’s super cool. I actually saw one of Sunny Day Real Estates last shows there when I was 19 or 20 years old. I love that place and it’s special to me. I’m really stoked that we’re starting the tour there and it starts this week!

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PB: Well obviously you guys are going to be doing the acoustic album and whatnot but what else can we expect?

RK: Well I think we’re planning on keeping the set list pretty much the same as it was on the fall tour. There have been a couple spots we feel we may want to change a song or two here or there, just based on doing that set list for four or five weeks and also to make it fresh for us. Some songs weren’t working as well as other songs. We’re not sure yet though. I think on Wednesday or Thursday we’re going to talk about what the setlist will be but you can go online anywhere and see the setlist. It’s going to be pretty similar. When we come back out after Ocean Avenue, we take an eight or a ten minute break then we come back out, and I think we play for another 40-45 minutes electric so a lot of that is some of the newer records. We’re playing thirteen of the older songs all the way through in a row, and it’s something that we found that playing those new songs is such an inspiring thing for us. That the crowd, everyone, is singing every single word to all these new songs and you realize it’s not just about Ocean Avenue. It’s about the whole experience and the whole journey that the band has been through and everybody is still with us now as much as they were then. We really enjoy playing the new stuff and seeing fans just getting into it and singing along to those songs. Every night I say to the crowd you probably have noticed that we’re playing a lot of new songs but you’ve got to know it’s just the most inspiring thing in the world for us so we can keep making more records and better records. The second half of the show is definitely, I would say three quarters new material.

PB: Okay, well speaking of the old stuff, what was it like going back and rerecording those songs acoustically now, a decade later?

RK: It was awesome. I mean part of it was awesome and I’ll tell you the part that’s not awesome. So the amazing thing was relearning the songs, relearning guitar parts that we haven’t played in so long. You’re like “Oh yeah that’s rad,” and remembering when we did that, or we should do something like that again on the new record or whatever. We haven’t done anything like that in a long time. But it was also going from that moment to I wish I would have done this or that differently. For me who was doing the vocals and the lyrics and everything, that was pretty incredible. When we were in the middle of recording the record I was in the vocal booth singing and my wife, who is a professional snowboarder from Russia, and she,… I was in the vocal booth singing and I got a phone call that she had had an accident. She had fallen and she had broken her back.

Photo Credit: Megan Thompson
Photo Credit: Megan Thompson

PB: Oh my God.

RK: Yeah, so I had to leave the vocal booth, get in my car, drive straight to LAX and get on a plane, pack a duffle bag and get on a plane to Reno where she was going to be operated on. I co-produced the record with a fellow named Erich Talaba. He has been the engineer on all of our records with Neil Avron and he’s a super close friend of Neil’s and a super close friend of mine and to his credit, he’s such an amazing dude. So I’m up in the hospital with my wife; she’s in the ICU and he packed all the studio gear up from his place into his car and drove from LA to Reno. And in the hospital they have this one floor of hotel rooms for families of patients and we put Erich in a room, set up all the gear in the hotel room and actually finished the album in the hospital in Reno.

PB: That’s insane.

RK: Yeah, so like I was bouncing back and forth between the ICU with my wife and that hotel room in the vocal booth. I think I did eight songs worth of background vocals in one day on the last day. So that definitely made it, in an unfortunate way, a memorable experience. You know I’ll never forget going through that and doing the record at the same time but I think going through what I was going through emotionally at that time and also kind of going through what you have to go through emotionally to track a record vocally, I think it’s pretty interesting how the two connected and I hope that I was able to. I mean, I was obviously full of all kinds of crazy ups and downs at that time, but I hope I was able to translate onto the record just how passionate I was feeling. I definitely was really going through one of those music gets me going phases, and I think that I poured that into the record.

PB: Wow. The emotion definitely does come through. That’s a crazy story! Wow. Obviously you guys have had quite a journey, not only recording that album but as a band. You know a lot of people I don’t think realize how this band has been together since prior to Ocean Avenue and a lot has obviously happened since then. Can you kind of take us through that journey a little bit?

RK: Yeah, I joined the band after they were already a band even. I knew the guys in high school and they started playing together in 1997 really for the first time. Two of us went to high school together so I knew the guys and went to their shows and stuff, local shows and whatever. It was a few years later when I was actually, I mentioned that I left for Santa Cruz to join a band, Craig’s Brother, we loved that band and we loved all of it. We were in a time in our life where we just followed the scene so closely. Everybody loved that band so I went out there and it didn’t end up panning out. I had to come back home and I re-enrolled at Florida State University. One weekend, one of the original guys in Yellowcard came out and was hanging out with me and was like, hey it looks like we’re going to need somebody to play guitar and sing and stuff and we’re not really sure what’s going on. Do you want to come play with us over spring break? So I got home to Jacksonville, Florida, where we all grew up, and ended up playing a couple of songs I had written on my own with them. It’s where you realize that these are the right people to play music with, and after that we just started going for it full steam ahead. All the eggs were in the Yellowcard basket and we just went for it and it’s been crazy.

Obviously with Ocean Avenue we achieved the commercial success that we never dreamed possible. Then in the wake of that commercial success we made a record that was definitely not, you know not what fans were looking to hear from us. I think we were going through a phase of wanting to demonstrate our diversity. A lot of bands do that when they come off a really successful record so we worked really hard to get outside the box and I think, at that time, it unfortunately turned a lot of people off. I think a lot of people come back to that stuff now and say, “wow, now it’s awesome.” So we did that and in the wake of Lights and Sounds, obviously we had a pretty tumultuous time trying to get Paper Walls off of the ground. We wanted to give back to the fans that weren’t attracted to Lights and Sounds and we wanted to bring them back in and keep building and it felt like it was all going to kind of happen again with Paper Walls. Then the record company fell apart around us and it was just over. I mean we really just woke up one day and, the end. We didn’t know where to turn, what to do. All we could do is take some time away from the band and so we went home for a couple of years and just kind of refocused ourselves personally and away from touring and recording and each other. I mean we had been going for eight years straight at that point by that break.

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When we decided to make records again, we signed with Hopeless Records and they had the right vision, I think, for the band and we all were on the same page about where we thought and what the possibilities were and which way to take the band from there. I think these last three years have been my favorite time in the band because we’ve proven to ourselves what we’re capable of and just how focused we could be and really learn from all of the mistakes we’ve made along the way. I think we all understand what’s at stake and what’s important and we just want to take as much of this life, doing this as we can, right now while we have it. I think it’s really taking advantage of the opportunities we have and not slowing down. The fact that we’ve been given a second chance. While it’s not the same commercial main stream success that Ocean Avenue had, and you know it’s not on the radio and we’re playing for 2000 people instead of 4000 people in some places or 600 people instead of 1600 people in other places. That may be happening but it doesn’t feel like we’re not achieving what we want to achieve. It doesn’t feel like we’re underachieving. It feels like we’re working, we’re working hard and we’re working towards something. We’re not sure what that something is going to be in the end but we just have so much life left in this band. That’s sort of the journey up till now.

PB: Did you ever think that with that tumultuous time period and everything that happened, did you ever think you’d see the ten year anniversary tour and album for Ocean Avenue?

RK: I mean when we first decided to break, to take a hiatus, whatever you want to call it, the only thing we didn’t do was announce that we’re breaking up. I think we all pretty much felt that that was it. But we just didn’t want to make a big thing about that and we didn’t want to close the door on to any opportunities that we may have to play a show here there or wherever and we didn’t want to make a big reunion thing out of it. So we just decided to say we’re taking some time off. I’m super grateful that we all were able to get on the same page and want to come back and make records again. I don’t know that we ever thought that far, ten years later from Ocean Avenue. It wasn’t until spring of last year that we started talking about doing the record or, I guess it was fall of 2012 that we thought about doing the record, so it wasn’t something we had planned out for a long time or anything like that. We’re super lucky, we’re lucky, lucky dudes.

Photo Credit: Brian Manley
Photo Credit: Brian Manley

PB: Well, we’re lucky too though because I don’t even know, I mean did you guys realize how revolutionary and groundbreaking your use of the violin in the band was going to be or just how much of an impact you guys had on the genre. That’s why we’re lucky.

RK: Yeah, no. We had no idea. We were just playing on our parents living room floors together for years and years and then all of a sudden we were just on top of the world so we had no idea. There was no way to be prepared for that. There was no way. That’s very flattering of you to say. We hope that we’ve had some impact on music and the fans and the people who love our band. That’s why we do what we do but yeah, no. We had no idea. We were just doing what we knew how to do.

PB: Sometimes it’s better that way. So what’s next for Yellowcard after this tour?

RK: We’re going to be heading into the studio to make a new record actually. So we’re pretty much coming off the road then we’ll really have two to three weeks really off to do stuff but it’ll pretty much be right into it.

PB: Pretty cool. So do you have a new goal for the band to achieve next or are you kind of just taking it as it comes?

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RK: I mean I really like just taking it as it comes. I would say that we’re still pretty goal oriented and we just want to keep climbing and I think that we just we’ve been climbing steadily. The first thing we did in 2011, the first touring we did, we went to Japan. That was the first tour back after the hiatus and that was killer, but the first thing we did in the States, I mean we were opening for All Time Low and that’s what we felt was a necessary first step to get back to where we want to be and we were so lucky to get that tour. We made so many new fans, so many fans who When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes was their first record, you know not Ocean Avenue or One For the Kids or one of the old records so if you think about where we started then in 2011 to where we are now, I mean we did tour six continents this year. It was insane. We went to Africa for the first time. We went to Singapore for the first time. We had some incredible experiences and the fact that we’re still making those memories and doing the tours, we’re doing and still getting record contracts and still getting to make records with Neil Avron, our producer, all these things are, to me, demonstrating how much life there is left in the band. We try not to live too far in the future though because we’ve done that in the past, especially after Ocean Avenue. I think we got our heads lost in the clouds as far as thinking about where we were going to be in ten years and how we were going to be this big arena rock band forever, and I think that can really bite you in the ass in the end. So we’ve become much more focused on the task at hand and we’re kind of one day at a time, one show at a time, one song at a time even. So yeah, I want us to keep doing what we love to do. That’s my main goal.

PB: Well I’m excited for you guys to come back to Jersey!

RK: Thank you.

Yellowcard hits the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, New Jersey on Friday, January 31. Click here for tickets.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Yellowcard holds a special place in my heart. Loving the new album and I’m so beyond excited that they got back together!! “One Bedroom” has also been on constant repeat as of late.

    Seriously take a listen if you haven’t already: http://smarturl.it/YellowcardVEVO

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