After releasing their major label debut Ocean Avenue, in 2003, Yellowcard quickly became a major player in the pop-punk scene. A nostalgic tune about staying up all night and falling in love, the album's title track became a hit on commercial radio and introduced the band's distinctive sound, which was characterized by the unconventional use of violin. Since the release of that album, Yellowcard has toured incessantly and putting out two more full-lengths before taking a two-year hiatus in 2008. The Jacksonville, Florida-based quintet came back in 2011 with When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes, and then issued another full-length, Paper Walls, earlier this year. Singer Ryan Key recently spoke via phone about how the band has been able to catch a second wind.So what did everyone do with the time away from the band?
Well, a lot. Everybody definitely went their own separate ways for awhile. We had already kind of split with our bassist at that time, so there were only four of us actually in the band when we decided to take the break. It was a weird time. Money was pretty bad for everyone, had been for a while, so everyone just went off and got regular jobs, lived normal, off the road, non-rock 'n' roll lifestyles. I spent my time between living back in Georgia for most of the time, but I was still in California to write music, write songs, sort of that whole thing. But I worked in Georgia for a while, I worked for my uncle up in the mountains of Georgia. He has a trade service, I was using chainsaws and wore a hard hat while working in a dump truck every day, which was pretty insane. Then I ended up working back out in California doing audio for a nightclub. But I was still writing a lot of music, and Ryan [Mendez], our guitar player, was working with me on a lot of that. Our drummer Longineu [Parsons] went and toured with [singer] Adam Lambert and his band, and [violinist] Sean Mackin was with his wife, and I believe he was working for a Lexus dealership selling cars. So it was definitely time off. There was no Yellowcard in sight.
At your last stop in Cleveland around this time last year, the crowd started a "you still got it" chant. Was there fear you had lost "it?"
At the very beginning we were definitely curious what it would be like putting out a new record and being on a new record label, having been gone as long as we were. But it didn't take long for any kind of doubt or fear to stop. We had an amazing year last year, and it started pretty much right away. We toured internationally a lot early in the year before [When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes] came out, and then that came up to the fall tour we did last year. We hadn't done a full headlining tour in the States since 2006, which is really hard to believe, but it was like five years before the last one was. But it was incredible. There were a lot of sold-out shows, a lot of support for the record. I think people were really happy with how it came out, and after waiting so long, I think we gave them what they wanted, which felt good for both the fans and the band. Now we're coming into a whole other level now with Southern Air, playing bigger venues, twice as big as last fall, and some are already sold out in advance. So it's been really good. We got a second chance, and we got to start the reset button. In a lot of ways, I consider Southern Air to be the second record for the band, because it's very much sort of Yellowcard born again. We got back together in late 2010 and started working on the last record; it feels like all the mistakes and blunders that led us to almost break up and to take that time off is sort of washed away now, and we're a new band with new focus, new direction. People are stoked, the band's stoked, the fans are stoked; it's been positive.
So Southern Air has been accepted well by fans?
I think so. We haven't gotten to do a whole lot of headlining for it yet, we were only playing like one song off of the record on tour overseas, and we didn't get to rehearse really for those shows, going over there right after Warped Tour, so we didn't have time to practice the new songs. Then, we were playing three or four of them, and people were bummed out that we weren't playing more. I get a nice kind of window on what the fans have been saying now that we have these social media websites that continue to evolve and change, so on the band's Twitter account and Facebook page, I can get to read what everyone is saying, and not only are people blown away by the record, but they are saying that they hope the set lists for this fall are full of it. That's awesome to hear, as a band you want to play your new songs and to know fans want to hear the songs.
There're a lot of guest appearances on the new album. How'd those get hooked up?
People are hung up on the guest appearance thing just because there's a lot of new names, and I think fans were a little bit worried about it when they first heard that we were going to have a hip-hop record with all these different people on it, but it's really just two songs, and one of them is all of them singing together like a group vocal, so there's not really any standout guest vocal parts. But it all came together through Hopeless Records. Tay [Jardine] from We Are the In Crowd and Alex [Gaskarth] from All Time Low are both on Hopeless, and Cassadee [Pope] is a friend of the band through All Time Low and touring with her band, Hey Monday. We felt like we had a really great opportunity last year to tour with some younger bands. We're not kidding ourselves that we're the new kids on the block. We're definitely sort of a veteran band, and we've been touring for more than a decade. When you get to go out and tour with bands that have only been out for four or five years and are just starting to rise in their career, you get to play to new fans every night. It was really essential to bringing Yellowcard back to where it is now, touring with those bands last year. We just got really close to them, and we thought it would be cool to put our friends on the next chapter for us.
You are a veteran band in the punk rock world. How have you seen it evolve since you've been a part of it?
I don't think I have time to answer that. It's all going to continue to change forever and ever. Obviously the biggest game changer has been the Internet and handheld devices. Fans of music can get what they want when they want it. It's presenting more challenges for us as artists, I think we have to work harder to keep up. If you don't keep the attention of a fan that's not like a diehard fan for more than a minute, they're going to find something else.