Acacia Evans

William Ryan Key Talks Yellowcard’s Return & Having Good Friends in High Places

They are on the Mount Rushmore of emo. Everyone knows their name, whether they have been freshly welcomed into the scene or were grandfathered in. Yellowcard has finally returned and, man, is their comeback a massive one. The band is back with a new tour and new music for the first time in seven years. 

We had the chance to catch Yellowcard live in 2023… this is something we never thought we’d say. At the New Jersey stop of their reunion tour, it was heartwarming to see a band that meant so much to so many people finally return (and in such a massive fashion). Fans in attendance heard at least four separate people enthusiastically state, “God, this was my childhood!” or “My inner teenager is screaming!”

The audience, on this tour more than ever before, are able to connect with their inner, childhood selves throughout the show. Yellowcard has grown and so have the fans. They went from playing inside The Stone Pony, to headlining (and selling out) its beloved Summer Stage. 

Performance wise, the band sounded truly outstanding on that night, July 6. It felt like they never left. The vocals were powerful and perfectly on pitch. Violins alternated between furious staccato and longer, beautiful notes. All of the songs on the setlist that people spent their whole lives listening to sounded exciting live. Despite the band hyping up this year being the 20th anniversary of Ocean Avenue, as well as this year being the return of their breakup, the concert did not feel nostalgic. The band took the stage and shined. They played their new song, “Childhood Eyes,” too, which made us all feel that they are gearing up for a massive new era and not just reliving their youth. You can just tell that there are so many things yet to come from these alternative rock legends.

Photo by Valentino Petrarca

The Aquarian had the incredible chance to chat with William Ryan Key, the vocalist for Yellowcard, to discuss the reunion, the tour, their new EP (Available this Friday!), guest features, that one significant street, and everything else!

Right off the bat – 20 years of Ocean Avenue. Are you guys are playing the record in full as this is your grand return? Tell us how you’re feeling. 

First off, we’re actually not playing the album all the way through on the tour, we’re playing a little over half the record and we have been doing some anniversary shows where we have been playing the whole record, but we felt like after not touring for seven years that it would be almost a disservice to fans coming out to these shows to not cover more records. I know as a fan, personally, if I was going to see a band that I haven’t seen that I thought was going to be gone from the Earth forever and they only played songs from one album, I would probably be pretty bummed. We had that discussion pretty early on, but, that said, we did want to make the tour about celebrating the anniversary of this monumental moment of our lives – these songs that changed everything for us 20 years ago. We have some really cool anniversary merch stuff on the tour and, like I said, we’ll still be playing over half the album. 

As far as how we’re feeling, I think we’re all still sort of suspended in a state of disbelief of how overwhelming the response has been to the band returning. These shows, collectively on this summer US tour, are in most cases twice the size of any show we’ve ever done in our career – including at the height of our radio success and MTV madness back in the early 2000s. One of the reasons we decided to properly call a time of death for the band in 2016 was just because we found that year after year you could sense this decline. There were less people coming to the shows. There seemed to be less interest in the new music we were creating and I think we wanted to make sure we were able to go out on our own terms and do something special at the end. That’s what we did. I think the final tour, when we believed it was the final tour, was very special for fans and for the band. When I say we’re in this place where it’s just hard to comprehend just what’s going on, it’s because we went from what I would say was a steady decline, to the biggest shows we’ve ever done in our lives. It’s really hard to compute. I’m not complaining – we are so, so pumped, blown away, and grateful we have this opportunity, for sure. We just really don’t understand how it happened. 

That’s such a beautiful way to put it. Having Yellowcard be bigger now than ever before – lets face it, you guys are – is insane for people who have also been around for this long, because we’ve got to watch you grow and grow 

Yeah, the metric that is best to use is just the ticket sales. It’s absolutely mind blowing. Here in our hometown in Jacksonville, we would play at a little venue, and this is recently! Well, I guess it’s not recently because we’ve been gone for seven year, but in the 2010s, which was sort of the second phase of the band, we would play a venue in downtown Jacksonville called Mavericks. It is essentially like a country line dancing bar, but it had a big enough floor to hold about 1,000 people, I think it was 1,100 people for shows. That was the 1,000 cap room in Jacksonville. Jacksonville’s never really had a good mid-level venue, like a House of Blues-sized venue. You’re either at a theater or a colosseum, like a basketball-sized arena or down to this thousand capacity room. Always, that’s where we’d play. We would usually sell it out, but that would be the week of the show or day of the show. We’d sell it out on walk-up tickets. We are now looking at two shows at the amphitheater downtown this summer, where we have sold close to 8,000 tickets so far for two nights. That’s just… explain that to me! I don’t understand! It’s so special. I get misty eyed when I say it out loud. 

Of course! I imagine that also feels more special because you’ve been doing your solo work DIY for so long. I know we’ve used this term in another interview [The Maine], but you’re a working class artist who is really down there grinding it out on your own. To get Yellowcard back and have this unannounced wave of people, i has to be crazy. 

For sure! I am grateful for the opportunity I had to grind it out over the last six or seven years. I think it’s brought me back to Yellowcard as basically a completely reinvented human being. I learned so much about myself and my path, the choices and decisions I’ve made and the mistakes I’ve made. You know, the triumphs I had, and all those things! When I got back in a van by myself and started playing shows over the last seven years it was an experience that grounded me in a way that I don’t think anything else could have done, if that makes sense. I really feel like coming back into this, this will be special – it already has been with Riot Fest last fall, Slam Dunk festival in the United Kingdom, we just played …Is For Lovers Festival with Hawthorne Heights. It just started and is a really fun festival that plays in some really unique locations. We got to play in Lake Tahoe last weekend. We made a record, we have a new EP coming out on July 21, and all these new experiences have already been what I’m about to say, but I can say without a doubt this is going to be the best experience I’ve ever had in Yellowcard, personally. 

I’m just so much more comfortable with who I am as a person. I have so many more tools to deal with the things that may come up and cause struggle in the band. Early on in my career I wasn’t very well equipped to deal with the success we had, the pressure of it, the insecurity I carried around about singing and playing. A lot of things weighed really heavy on me and I wasn’t able to shed that weight. I think, to your point about going back to being this working class musician, it’s really opened my eyes and taught me some things to be grateful for and just how special this is. We have two buses and three semi trucks! We’re playing amphitheaters every night! It’s absolutely insane, man!

Your solo stuff is incredible, but it’s also allowed you to hone your craft. You’re a better vocalist, better guitarist than you’ve ever been. We can hear that on the new EP. I want to dive in about the new EP, Childhood Eyes. Why did you chose to come back and do the EP, that five song format over a full length record?

It mostly came down to availability and scheduling. None of us live in the same city anymore. At the time, when the first conversations about making music came to be, Sean [Mackin, Violin] was still working a full-time job outside the music. We really had to be sensitive to his schedule and family and the time he had available. It just made sense to make an EP.

I keep using the term eye-opening, but it really was because it allowed you to focus on the concept of the album so much more. You really can hone in on a few different types of songs and make each one the absolute best of that style or that tempo. We’ll see what happens in the future – if we make more music. The door is certainly open for it, but I would be surprised if we make a full length album again. This process was very pleasant for us and we really enjoyed making the record. I don’t say less work and it means easier. It was less work in a way that took some of the pressure off deadlines and stress of finishing the album. We were really able to focus our energy on these five songs and  I think there really is one of each of the best kind of Yellowcard songs on this EP. I think that could turn out to be a really good model for us moving forward and how we make music.

You can make more of then more often! We live in a time where there isn’t even a set release day anymore. Over the history of recorded music there’s been a day that albums come out in stores for you to go out and buy it. You walk in and buy a physical album. That doesn’t exist anymore! You can drop a song any day of the year you want. I don’t think people are as concerned or as focused on full length albums. I think because of the amount of content and the never ending stream of attention grabbing things on your devices, people have a harder time paying attention to a whole album. 

It shows through streaming – singles do better than records. We just live in a different time.

It’s funny how it has kind of actually [gone back] to the original version of recorded music. It’s kind of full circle. In the early days of 7″ and singles, that’s what artists did. They went in and recorded a song and that song went to radio. That song went to vinyl and albums came much later. I think it’s interesting how streaming has brought us back to the origins of recorded music and the way it’s consumed. 

I never really thought about it that way. Of course, talking about this new EP, you’ve got two guest vocals on this. Vic Fuentes from Pierce the Veil and Chris Carrabba from Dashboard Confessional. What an insane lineup, especially as the return of Yellowcard is huge as it is. Then you add these two on top? Even more! Tell me more about what went into choosing these features and getting them on the tracks.

Of course! We talked about having some guest vocalists for that very reason: what is another way we can bring people back to Yellowcard? Get more ears listening to our music again? One way to do that might be have some friends who are still active be a part of these songs.

Vic came to be simply from me sitting down on an airplane and listening to their new album on the day it came out and being completely blown away by that record [The Jaws of Life]. The departure they made on this record and the clear sounding nineties grunge and alternative influence that’s all over this record… I was just in love with it. I texted him to say how good I thought the record was. He and I started texting and catching up. It had been a long time since we talked. We were talking about family and his daughter, how I had gotten married, and all these things. I thought, “I’m just going to shoot my shot.” [Laughs] I said, “Hey, man, we’re making an EP. I have the demos.” At that point I had demos with vocals up. I said, “Can I send these five songs to you and if there’s one you vibe with, would you be interested in being a part of it?” and he said, “Absolutely! I would love to do it. Thank you for thinking of me.” Vic’s just amazing. He’s such a kind, killer human being to have in your life. He listened to the songs and came back with “3 Minutes More,” which is the opening track of the EP. I love what we were able to do with it and make it a true duet, singing and both taking the lead vocal back-and-forth from each other, then singing in harmony basically the entire rest of the song together. I got to produce the vocals with him and Jaime in their little practice space studio that they have in San Diego and actually be in the room while he was recording his vocalism, which was really special, too. 

Then, Chris Carrabba… I don’t even know where to start. I’ve been a fan all the way back to Further Seems Forever. Those first two Dashboard EPs and those real stripped down acoustic records he released were absolutely life-changing records for me at that time in my life when I was 21/22 years old. I moved to Nashville in 2014. I lived there for about six or seven years. Chris lived there, as well. He moved there either right before or shortly after I had moved there. Shortly after that point we had connected as friends and spent time together there and got to know each other better. That was right at the time where I was about to enter into this unknown time of my life where I was going to be a solo artist devoid of Yellowcard, trying all these new things musically and touring on my own. Chris was such a huge asset. He was so generous with his advice and suggestions speaking from experience of being from a solo artist in essence. It was really helpful to have him to talk to about things as I went through that journey. So I had this song, “The Places We’ll Go,” and it’s the last song on the album. I had that song sitting around forever. The vocals you hear recorded on the EP (with the exception of the first and third verses of the song, which I tweaked lyrics on and re-recorded) were all recorded at my house in 2015 and that’s what you hear on the EP now. I love that! I had this song and I brought it to the band. We wanted to have an acoustic track on the record. Acoustic music has always been part of Yellowcard records. We knew we wanted to have a song that went in that direction. That was just immediately, “Well, I’m going to ask Chris Carrabba if he wants to sing on it,” and everyone was like, “Yes! Please do that!” I sent the demo to Chris and he was fired up about it. I didn’t give him any direction or anything. I just said, “Do your thing!” and he sent it back. For people that haven’t heard it, when the last chorus drops in and Chris just rips – just wails – and you know it’s his voice, what a special thing. Man, how lucky we are to have friends like that, helping us get back to where we want to be. 

That is beautiful, and now for our last question for you – obviously you guys are playing New Jersey at the Stone Pony Summer Stage on July 6. What’s it going to be like to play “Ocean Avenue” on an actual Ocean Avenue? 

[Laughs] Yeah! We’ve played the small room at the OG Stone Pony and that’s come up. Like, “Wow, this is happening on Ocean Avenue.” Our fans in Jersey… there’s an unspoken something. There’s an unspoken energy connection between us and the fans in that part of the world. I would say that show is right at the top of the list as far as the shows we’re most excited about. I mean, that show sold out in two days. It’s crazy, man. I can’t believe it. I’m so excited for fans to see the show we’re bringing.