Mike Ragogna: Ryan, Yellowcard has a new album Lift A Sail that features the singles “One Bedroom,” “Make Me So,” and “Transmission Home.” How would you say this album differs creatively from what’s come before?
Ryan Key: Well I guess the first thing to say is that it is not a pop punk record. I don’t want it to come across as if we have an agenda to turn our backs on the scene that got us where we are. We are so grateful to the pop punk community for everything it has given and continues to give Yellowcard. That said, I have always felt that “genrification” of art in any form is restrictive. When we started writing the songs for Lift a Sail, we knew that we are heading in a new direction creatively, and one we were very excited about. So we didn’t worry about a genre or a scene. We wrote from our hearts. We took a lot of chances on the record. I believe it is a collection of songs that have high stakes. I like to describe the record saying, it’s as if all of our favorite ’90s alternative bands and Coldplay had a love child and named it Lift a Sail.
MR: Speaking of what’s come before and being a long time member, what are some of your favorite Yellowcard highlights of the last few years?
RK: It has been such an incredible ride back to where we are from where we started in 2011. Some of my favorite moments include Soundwave Counter Revolution Tour in Australia, getting to tour the world with one of my oldest and closest friends, Sean O’Donnell, Chicago Warped Tour 2012, and now the writing and recording of Lift a Sail.
MR: Creatively, how would you compare Yellowcard’s approach these days to when you all first started out? What’s changed the most and what’s remained constant?
RK: We have a better understanding and focus when it comes to songwriting. I think we have also gotten better at building full records. We don’t write as much in a live rehearsal space type of setting. We know how to build the foundation of a song and demo it up before we go into the studio. We didn’t have the tools to write that way when we started out. What has remained constant is that almost all of our ideas begin on an acoustic guitar. So while we may not be jamming the ideas as a full band as much before we record them, everything still comes from a very organic place.
MR: What about your abilities personally? How have you grown as an artist from your experience of being with Yellowcard?
RK: I would say what I have worked on most is my voice. I wish someone would have told me when I was young that being in a band was going to be more than a weekend hang, and that I would be singing for people all over the world. I studied theater most of my life until I joined Yellowcard in 2000. Ironically the part I enjoyed the least was musical theater. In 2006 I had to have surgery to remove a cyst from my vocal cord. Ever since then I have been working hard to really improve as a vocalist. I think I still have a long way to go, but I feel much better about my singing voice than ever before.
MR: Yellowcard used to be partly be classified as “punk.” Does punk as a genre even exist these days or has it been essentially absorbed into hardcore?
RK: It absolutely exists. One of the biggest American bands on rock radio, Rise Against, is an example of punk music still being very visible. We came up in a scene of music that was such a mixed bag and often had the word “punk” attached to it. I hope that I know what punk rock is, both as a genre and as a lifestyle, and both have always made me wonder why Yellowcard got that label.
MR: How do you see Yellowcard’s importance in the music scene these days?
RK: I’m not really sure. I guess longevity? I think as an outsider looking in it is cool to see a band that has been touring and making records for close to 20 years. I am so grateful that we are still able to function at such a high level. I could never have imagined it would carry me this far. I hope we are an example to younger bands that you can reach your goals.
MR: Yellowcard seems to be a constantly growing and evolving band with band members departing and new arrivals coming in. How does that affect the creative processes like writing, recording and performing and its overall cohesiveness?
RK: It can be different depending on the situation. The truth is it is never an enjoyable thing to go through that. It has been our choice to keep most of those details to ourselves in the best interest of everyone involved. I will say that Ryan Mendez, Sean Mackin, and myself have found a really solid place as a team. We are all looking forward to the future.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
RK: While social media is more important than ever, I still offer the same two pieces of advice. One, play as many shows as possible no matter where they are or how many people show up. Your live performance is the foundation for everything you will do moving forward. It is also the best way to connect with fans on a personal level. Sorry but a high five on the barricade is still better than a personalized tweet to me. Two, the bigger your safety net is, the more likely you are to use it. This is an incredibly challenging journey. The temptation to give up is always around you. So in my opinion you have to make your music the only option.
MR: What are Yellowcard’s plans for the future?
RK: We just want to keep climbing. It’s always been our dream to see how far we can go. So we will keep touring and making records until there is no more opportunity for us to do so.
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