Music News

Yellowcards Frontman Breaks His Silence

The tastemakers at Spin treat Florida's Yellowcard as something of a running gag. As an example, lead singer Ryan Key cites an item about a post-MTV Video Music Awards party that was shut down by fire marshals; in it, the writer expressed surprise that bandmembers weren't allowed to enter due to overcrowding, and "not, as one might think, simply because they're Yellowcard." Such scribes will undoubtedly invent new insults upon learning that Key wasn't allowed to utter a sound for six weeks following throat surgery last year — but for him, this period was no joke.

"It was a real time to get in touch with myself and reflect on what's happened up to that point and what I wanted to happen next," he says. "Because you're kind of all alone in the world at that point."

Not quite — but Key did lose the companionship of Yellowcard guitarist/co-founder Ben Harper, who left the band shortly after the completion of 2006's Lights and Sounds. Key declines to detail the reasons for the split, but he admits to having been traumatized by it. "Ben is the reason I'm in Yellowcard," he acknowledges. "He came to me when I was twenty years old and miserable in college and said, 'Come back to Jacksonville and play with us.'" Then, in the midst of the Sounds tour, Key's persistent throat problems reached the critical stage. While recuperating from surgery, he either scribbled on a notepad or turned up the font on his BlackBerry to communicate — and he was amused by the reactions his condition prompted.

"People talk to you like you're deaf," he notes. "They talk really loud and slow. And I'd have to write, 'I can hear you. I just can't talk.'"

Key feels that the break for surgery spelled commercial doom for Sounds, which moved 500,000 copies (still a substantial amount in this age of declining CD sales) as opposed to the two million shifted by the band's breakthrough, 2003's Ocean Avenue. But instead of bemoaning his fate, he penned the batch of tunes that make up Paper Walls, the band's new disc. The album kicks off with some aggressive (by Yellowcard standards) pop punk leading up to the likes of "Five Becomes Four," which obliquely addresses Harper's departure, and "Dear Bobbie," a full-on tearjerker that features Key's grandfather reading sections of a love letter to his wife of 58 years. The last cut will undoubtedly become exhibit A for reviewers who consider Yellowcard to be a bunch of softies at heart, but Key doesn't care. "Whoever it is that wants to criticize can feel free," he says. "It's not something we linger on or let ruin our days — because we love what we do."

Spin on that.

Click here for more of our interview with Yellowcard's Ryan Key.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts