Thursday, July 26, 2012

Interview With Yellowcard

Yellowcard has been one of the biggest and most respected bands in the scene for more than 10 years now. "Ocean Avenue" is one of our generation's anthems, and will always be a defining song in pop punk. The band is now about to release their sixth album with vocalist Ryan Key, and the album is definitely one of their best. The band took some questions from us at MuzikDizcovery that mostly focused on the new album, including possible bonus tracks, the reasoning for the releasing "Always Summer" first, the creation of "Here I Am Alive," the choice of guest vocalists on "Telescope," the final answer regarding if there will be an acoustic version of Southern Air, and much more that you can read below.

Firstly, can you introduce yourself?

My name is Sean, and I play violin in Yellowcard.

Southern Air comes out in just a couple more weeks. I need to ask…how do you personally feel it turned out?

I’m really excited about Southern Air. We worked really hard on it, and it was a shorter writing process, but it was very similar to what we did for our last record, When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes, and we really wanted to focus on the best Yellowcard had to offer. The good things we had, we wanted to get better at them, and by the end of the recording, our producer Neal Avron told us it was the best record in the world. *pauses*  I’m just kidding, the best record we’ve ever done. I think we’re very confident about it, we put our collective minds together, and it hasn’t always happened in Yellowcard history where we’re all focused in the same direction, but right now all of us are focused in the same direction musically, songwriting, you can hear it in the record, and hopefully people like it.

Ocean Avenue, Lights and Sounds, and Paper Walls each had 13+ tracks, while the two albums since the reunification each are 10. Was there a purposeful plan to cut down the size of the albums?

Kind of what happens in the music industry these days, there’s this thing called iTunes, and people go out and they only buy three or four songs anyways. We’re also still in a crazy global economy where many people don’t have a lot of money, so instead of spending half a million to a million dollars and get six months off to write a whole bunch of music that unfortunately in a lot of cases not very many people buy, we put our best foot forward, we put no filler on records, and get the best Yellowcard songs to our fans. The people who buy records, there’s still more than ample songs and tons of material. Last year we put out a ten song record, we recorded ourselves the whole record acoustically six months later, and seven months later a new record called Southern Air, so it’s not like we’re writing less material, I just feel we have to package it a different way because of the changing economy and musical environment.

Are there any other tracks that we might see eventually? Any bonus tracks that didn’t make the record?

Yeah, there’s some bonus material out there, but I think this year we’re going to focus on tour, and we have a couple tricks up our sleeve. So hopefully keep your ear to the ground for the Yellowcard news.

Ryan’s vocals are far stronger throughout the album than they were in the past. What can you attribute to that? Extra vocal practice/lessons? Plain experience? Different production techniques?

Ryan’s a great singer, one of the best in the industry, and he works very hard at his craft. Obviously he’s been the narrative for Yellowcard for over a decade, but I think the special thing about this record is that we worked so hard to have things completed earlier in the recording process so we could focus more on performance rather than writing it on the spot. I think when you mature as a songwriter, you come up with these ideas and you hone them and polish them a little faster than you would. LP gets stronger, he gets better, he focuses on his fills and his transitions and the character of it, an LP beat. We do the same with our songwriting, and again what you touched on is Ryan Key’s vocals. There’s a lot of step up in the musicianship on this record, and I think that Ryan’s voice, obviously being the vocalist for the band, is right in the front, and he works very hard and deserves all the credit.

“Always Summer” was the first song released from the album. What made you guys choose that as the first single? I know the label probably had a hand in choosing that, but do you feel that it was a good choice and why?

It wasn’t like a first track. We did a digital release so people would kind of get a flavor for the album. It’s not supposed to be “this is what the whole record sounds like.” We were really excited about “Always Summer.” We did some things, and in the studio it came together more effortless, and those are the songs that always happen to turn out more fun in a live setting and it feels like it’s been a part of our show for five years. Because of the way we recorded it, it was finished in May and wasn’t ready to be put out in time for Warped Tour, so we used all of Warped Tour to ramp it up and get people excited about Southern Air, but we wanted a song that would dominate live. Also, as a new thing, it also features me as a violinist to have a big violin solo, so there’s a lot of really exciting things in the song. We collectively came together, and it’s very democratic, and we all take a vote on the songs, and the most votes win. And “Always Summer,” for the summer, won.

“Here I Am Alive” is one of the poppiest songs you guys have done. I’m curious to hear a little bit of your process of creating this song. This is the song you worked with Patrick Stump on. What were you thinking when you want in to creating it?

We had a song that was finished musically, like song structure, and it was actually a challenge for Neal, and he said there were a lot of people writing songs over here, and he’d love to see a Yellowcard song in that sort of vibe, because we have such a big live sound and wanted to see how we’d piece that together. We didn’t think it’d go on the record, we just had an extra song idea. Over the course of, you know, when you’re in Los Angeles with other artists, I guess Ryan and Patrick were working on other songs and he had shown it to Patrick, and of course Patrick Stump from Fall Out Boy is one of the top musicians in our industry, just kind of took the song under his wing. They were snowballing some ideas, and it came together very well. When I heard the original version, I was kind of like “is this really good? This is really good, Patrick Stump is really good at his job.” That was my normal progression. We have a very pop oriented sound in our band. “Ocean Avenue” is a song we wrote 8 years ago and it’s still to this day, as you may have seen, one of our biggest, poppiest songs, so we’re not afraid to have something as relatable and catchy. Ryan and Patrick worked on the vocal and melodic idea, and some lyrics, and together they came up with something really awesome. The album track features Tay Zardine of We Are The In Crowd, and she just has this unique amazing voice wrapped up in this adorable little girl. We toured with and met them in Australia, and they’re just amazing people, and I’d love to take this band under our wing. If they had any questions or needed any advice, we’d do that for them, because they’re all great people. It kind of just happened like that, and evolved like that, and we’re really excited. There’s a lot of optimism and positivity in the Yellowcard world, and I think you can feel that in that song.

On “Telescope”, Cassadee Pope, Tay Zardine, and Alex Gaskarth all help out with backing vocals. I know you talked about Tay already, but are there any specific reason you chose those three to assist you guys on this song?

As a songwriter, you hear different things, and for us, it’s a more of a midtempo rock song. It has a different meaning; Ryan wrote it about his late aunt that passed away last year. We had written a song called “Sing For Me” about her last year, so I feel that this song is some closure and a little part of him and her together. The bridge had something bigger, and we didn’t want to do a gang vocal in a traditional sense, and as a string arranger and as a vocal arranger, when I look at a piano or staff of paper and I want to hear these voicings, we have an outlet because we toured 32 countries, most of which were with All Time Low. Cassadee is a phenomenal singer and frontwoman, and she’s doing so many wonderful things, I wish her well in the future. But she’s one of the best sopranos I’ve ever heard. Just to be able to have an idea to say “hey, let’s do a gang vocal but with totally different voices, and see how that comes up, put a string arrangement under it and just a rocking bridge,” and that’s something we’ve never done before. Something we’ve always wanted to do is to have some artists, and just really, it’s just playing with some different instruments in the studio. They were all in LA. I know All Time Low was writing and recording their upcoming record, and I believe Cassadee was there, and we sent the tracks out to Tay, because I needed an alto voice and again, she’s phenomenal. It’s awesome, and I’m so blessed to have them in my life, and I hope everyone loves it.

“Rivertown Blues” is one of the fastest and most aggressive songs on the album, with a pretty intense rhythm section and a big guitar solo, but it’s wedged between the sad song and the acoustic song. Was there any conscious reason to stick this song between these two?

As you look at a body of work, you don’t want the back half of a record to drag, with a midtempo ballad and then an acoustic song, and again with the strings, the way they flow through all those songs, it really kind of unites them. We don’t start right in the cut tempo beat, we do some downbeats on some quarter notes with a string arrangement, and then the song really finishes big. The acoustic song it goes into, “Ten,” it really kind of breaks it up. There’s a bit longer of a breath. It comes in solo guitar, Ryan counting, it’s a totally different vibe obviously, and we don’t want to punch anyone in the mouth, but as a body of work, “Rivertown Blues” had such a final feeling, however “Southern Air” was obviously the idea behind the record. We could have given you guys an eight song record, and given you two secret tracks, but that’s kind of how the flow of the record went, and we wanted to make sure, similarly to Ocean Avenue and Paper Walls, that the front half really punched you in the mouth. The front house flow was really good, and we wanted to make sure to space out all the energy on the back as well.

“Ten” is one of the most lyrically intriguing songs on the record. I know you aren’t Ryan, and you aren’t the main lyricist on the record, but can we get a little insight into the lyrics in this one specific song?

I’ve been Ryan’s friend for 15 years, and many people don’t understand the sacrifices made on the road and the challenges you face. That’s one of the main reasons we took a hiatus in 2008, sometimes you just don’t have an answer and you miss your family and friends. Bad things happen all the time. Not to say anything bad happened, but there are challenges and I think it’s awesome that Ryan has an outlet in his lyrics. He’s a great narrator. I’m not going to speak for him or anything, but I think he did a great job on this song, and he let people into his heart, and I hope people really relate to this song.

The question on everyone’s mind is if there is going to be another acoustic version of the album, especially after the recent acoustic video of “Southern Air” and the two acoustic tracks on the preorder 7”.

*shouts into the mic* NO. It was a lot of hard work. We had more time off last year. We’re going to try and travel through Christmas of next year. And like I said, we don’t want to everything that we’ve done before and just do it again. We always said we wanted to do an acoustic record. We didn’t plan on it being When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes, and there may be another one down the future, but we just don’t have the hours in the day and the days in the month and the months in the year to do another acoustic record all ourselves. *shouts into the mic again* NO.

You guys have stated that you are going on a headlining tour after Warped is over. Is there anything else you can say about that? When is this going to happen?

We have an idea. Nothing is booked right now. We’re going to go do festival season and finish that in Europe, and then we’re going to go to Japan and Australia in September, then we’d really like to fit in the other parts of the world we haven’t gone to yet, such as some of the United States and some of the United Kingdom. If you do the math on those dates, that’s two months to do two continents. That’s not enough. But we have all next year, and I want everyone to know we haven’t forgotten about them. Sprinkle in a little Europe here, a little Asia there, we’re going to make time for everyone and we want to do it right. We want everyone to enjoy Southern Air, and to know that Yellowcard works and travels as hard as we can.

Are there any new songs that you are looking forward to finally playing live at shows in particular?

Recently, my favorite has been “Surface Of The Sun.” I’d really like to see the crowd getting a hold of that one, and see if there’s going to be some carnage. I really think this one will translate well to the live show.

Any final things you want to say?

Thank you for taking the time to talk to me, and Yellowcard. We have so many wonderful fans. I say that on stage every day. I grew up playing the violin, and I didn’t think I’d get to do this. I thought I’d be in an orchestra or I was going to be a teacher. But I ended up with some friends and wrote some songs. We have so many wonderful people that support us, and we’re just so grateful. So whoever’s reading this, we just want to say thank you.

I'd like to thank Sean for taking a large chunk of time directly after Yellowcard's set to take these questions from me. The band has been one of my favorites for many many years, and Southern Air is absolutely fantastic. It's at the same level as personal 2011 album of the year When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes, and Southern Air has the potential to put Yellowcard at the top of my list for the second straight year. You can follow the band on Facebook here, and preorder the record here. Do it now, you will not be disappointed one bit.

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