by Paul Freeman [2004 Interview]
Yellowcard gets a kick out of success. Named for a soccer penalty, the punk-pop quintet scored in live shows, racked up platinum sales for the major label debut, “Ocean Avenue” (Capitol Records), then snatched an MTV Video Music Award. Now the band has released its first DVD, “Beyond Ocean Avenue: Live at the Electric Factory.”
The band consists of vocalist-guitarist Ryan Key, guitarist Ben Harper, bassist Pete Mosely, drummer Longineu Parsons and violinist Sean Mackin, who helps give the group a unique sound. Live, they generate much excitement.
Key says of the DVD, “It has an hour-and-twenty minute-long set . We didn’t go back to overdub or fix anything. When something goes wrong, it’s there. You can see that it’s a real show.
“There’s also a cool 40-minute documentary on the band. Our fans haven’t seen that much footage of us being us. There’s also an interactive place where you can ask the DVD a question about the band and one of the members then appears on the screen and answers the question. It covers pretty much anything you could want to know about Yellowcard.”
Now based in Southern California, the band members met at a performing arts high school in Jacksonville, Florida. They formed Yellowcard in 1997, hoping to follow in the footsteps of such revered punk groups as NOFX, Lagwagon, No Use For A Name and Bad Religion.
“Just quitting our day jobs to go on tour and travel around the country in the van -- that was our biggest goal,” says Key. “Three years and a million records later, we found ourselves on the main stage of the Warped Tour. Now our goal is to make all the right decisions, stay true to Yellowcard and not let all this whirlwind get the best of us.”
In 2000, Key, who had already left university for an unsuccessful musical foray to California, returned home and convinced Yellowcard to make the trek.
”It was a huge step. But we weren’t going to settle for anything less. And we weren’t going to let anybody tells us no. It was hard on my parents and friends back home, who said, ‘Are you crazy? Do you know how many bands go out there to do that and come back empty-handed?’ But we stuck it out. We had faith in each other and what we were doing.”
Key had learned from his previous California experience. ”With Yellowcard, we took a more gradual approach and made more careful decisions. I had to have fallen that first time, in order for us to make it work that next time with Yellowcard.”
They landed an indie deal with Lobster Records and began generating a buzz. “From the minute we moved out west and gave it everything we had, we were all in it together. We were going to make it happen. When you’re under that much stress and pressure, it only takes a little bit of doubt to make you give up. But were pretty confident. Every weekend we’d get a show. Then we’d get a little tour and get to play during the week. It was step by step, a little light at the end of the tunnel.”
Yellowcard had a knack for connecting with its audience. On tour, prior to the Capital album, before being hounded by media, they had free time during the day in each town. They decided to perform at high schools.
“It was a really cool thing. We thought, let’s go play for some of these kids who won’t be able to come out to the show tonight. It started as a real innocent idea and we ended up doing it every single day of the tour last spring.
“It went over awesome. It was a different experience everyday. Some days they were crowd-surfing and pitting all over the gym and other days they were sitting down in the cafeteria, eating chicken patty sandwiches while we played. It was exciting and fun, like guerilla warfare music. We’d just roll up to the cafeteria in the tour bus, load all our gear in as fast as we could, set up and play.”
Energetic performances could only take Yellowcard so far. The “Ocean Avenue” album launched them into the stratosphere. Though the lyrics touch on such serious subjects as a friend’s death, parental estrangement and 9/11, an optimistic feeling surges throughout.
“What comes out on the record reflects what was happening in our lives. Writing is definitely a release. It’s a way to take something you’re struggling with, put it down and let it go. I was going through a lot at that time, the break-up of a two-year relationship, struggles with my parents, struggles to make the record. It was cool for me, because I could express all that through the songs.
“At the time we were recording, we were still fighting to get by. We weren’t making a lot of money, weren’t a band the label was all flipped out about yet. But we were making something awesome. And that attitude came out on the record, on each song, dealing with challenges and turning them into something positive.”
Soon they had plenty of concrete reasons to be positive. They were nominated for several 2004 MTV Video Awards and won the “MTV2 Award.”
“It was pretty unreal for our band. I’ve been watching those awards since I was 9 years old. Some of my all-time favorite bands have performed there -- Nirvana, Pearl Jam, the Beastie Boys. To be there and be competing in a category with such incredible rock artists and then have the Beastie Boys be presenting the award, it was like an out-of-body experience. It felt like we just floated out of our seats, went down there, got it and floated back. It was intense, man.
“I’m proud of it. I’m not ashamed to be a part of MTV, even though I think a lot of things with MTV are a real bummer right now. When I was a kid, MTV was important to me and it was a big way for me to find out about music. Somebody’s got to bring that back. We’re stoked to be a part of that, to maybe be one of the bands that will bring back a little rock ‘n’ roll to MTV, which doesn’t have much of it left.”
Being featured on the most recent Warped Tour was an equally validating accomplishment. “When I was a senior in high school, I volunteered to run errands, build skate ramps, hand out food tickets, just to be there and maybe meet Joey Cape from Lagwagon. Just to be a part of that Warped Tour was all I wanted to do.”
Three years ago, they were thrilled to play one of the festival’s side stages. This past summer they played the entire tour as main stage performers. “It was a dream come true. We made friends with so many bands we’d looked up to for so long -- NOFX, Bad Religion.”
The trick is to keep the momentum going. Back from tours of Australia and Japan, Yellowcard headlines an American tour, then goes back into the studio next spring.
“The biggest thing on our plate right now is the next record. We want to make a record that is above and beyond the one before it, one that’s more depictive of our adult life, as opposed to the last one, which was more coming-of-age. We’ve grown quite a bit as people and musicians. We want to make a standout album, a rock ‘n’ roll record that draws on every influence we have. That’s how we’re going to keep it going, is to keep making good records.
“We’re not trying to be that punk rock band at this point. We’re exploring where we can go musically, and look into different sides of rock. But we’ll never want to be something we’re not. We’ve always said we’re going to expand and grow and take the music as far as we can. The fans have always been with us for the ride.”
Yellowcard wants to be one of those rare groups that establishes long-term success. “We’re keeping the balls rolling. That’s all we can do. If it ends, it ends,” says Key, 24. “But whenever that comes, we want to be going, ‘Nobody can say we ever quit.’ “
The band’s latest album, “For When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes,” has just been released. See their web site, www.yellowcardrock.com for more info.