'Lift a Sail': The Evolution of Yellowcard

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The late ‘90s and early 2000s brought about the melding of the rebellious and crude nature of punk with the catchy hooks and radio friendly choruses of the mainstream. This prevalence of pop punk marked the perfect time for the formation of the ambitious and lively band Yellowcard. As Yellowcard matured, the band known for their captivating lyrics and unparalleled ability to “pop-ify” an electric violin would slowly begin to take steps towards a new style. Earlier this year Yellowcard set forth to record their seventh studio album, Lift A Sail, under the guidance of producer Neal Avron. This time around, however, the quartet found themselves working with a new label, a new sound, a stand-in drummer, and a heartrending story that’s typically reserved for fairy tales.

The first major shake up for the group began with the departure of founding member and drummer Longineu “LP” Parsons III just before they signed a multi-album deal with Razor & Tie Records. “I think that one thing that was really alluring to us was the chance to maybe try to get radio play one more time,” notes vocalist Ryan Key of signing with a new label. “I don’t really listen to any criticism of selling out because we started this whole thing wanting to play our music for as many people as possible. We feel like these songs belong on the radio where more people can hear them.”

Though “selling out” doesn’t necessarily feel like the right phrase to use, as Yellowcard first topped the charts in 2003 with their angst-filled beach rock single “Ocean Avenue” off of the album of the same name. Rather than going down a safe route by recreating one of their previous high-energy pop punk albums, Yellowcard ventured into a more modern, almost post-Britpop vibe with Lift A Sail. “I think musically it’s clear that we wanted to kind of try something new,” explains Key. “It’s going to be polarizing because there are people who are really excited about the fact that there’s something new and I think there are going to be people who are going to be turned off by it because they expect certain things from us.”

 Key's Yoda tattoo by Grant Cobb.

Key's Yoda tattoo by Grant Cobb.

This new sound, though still hinting at an early '90s grunge influence, was also contributed to by stand-in drummer and long-time tour-mate, Nate Young of the alt rock band Anberlin. “There was a lot of music on the record that was influenced by [Young’s] playing style and his ideas,” notes Key. Though Young, who also added programming to the album’s experimental track “MSK,” will not hold a permanent position, Yellowcard can breathe evenly with the recent announcement of ex-Thursday drummer Tucker Rule taking Parson’s place for the upcoming co-headlining tour with the heavier Risecore act Memphis May Fire.

Yellowcard has always been a band known for drawing musical inspiration directly from their own personal experiences, with close friends and family being constant song subject matters. “I proposed to my now wife [Russian professional snowboarder Alyona Alekhina] in December 2012 and in April [of 2013] she suffered a spinal cord injury that left her paralyzed below the waist. We got married in the hospital,” says Key. “That’s an experience you can’t really put into words, but I tried to put into lyrics.”

Key first met Alekhina in December 2011 at a Yellowcard show in Spain. “I just got her email address,” explains Key of their first encounter. “I don’t think I even had the balls to ask for her number, but I got her email and we kept in touch for the next couple of months.” Several months later, the pair would meet up again in Los Angeles where their relationship really took off. Unfortunately, when a snowboarding run went awry in April 2013, Alekhina was sent to an intensive care unit with a severe spinal injury that would lead to months of physical therapy. It was by his wife’s side in the hospital that Key would be inspired to write some of the most intimate songs on Lift A Sail, such as “Madrid,” a track based off of the couple’s first meeting and “One Bedroom,” which was written during Alekhina’s recovery. “Lyrically [the record] comes from my life, my surroundings, what’s happening in my life, and the people around me,” explains Key. “It was a pretty deep well of stuff to pull from.”

Key's tattoo of The Emperor by Grant Cobb.

Key's tattoo of The Emperor by Grant Cobb.

Even though Key isn’t on the other side of the tattoo needle, he knows that his influential words have been. “There comes a time at shows when [fans] ask you to write a lyric,” says Key, “and you know that they’re probably going to go get it tattooed. It’s so much pressure knowing you have to write this thing and do it well. It’s extremely humbling, no matter how many times it happens.” Key also has a pretty extensive tattoo collection of his own and is looking forward to adding more to it, as he plans to finish his right arm’s near complete Star Wars sleeve. “Most of it is done by an artist named Grant Cobb,” says Key of the realism tattooist who has also inked rockers like Joel and Benji Madden. “He’s just an incredible portrait artist and the Yoda on my arm looks like a photograph; it’s crazy.”

“Whether [a tattoo] is an inside joke or something really close to your heart, it has a lot of emotional attachment and meaning to it,” Key continues. As countless fans have been inspired to get their favorite Yellowcard lyrics tattooed on them, they can look forward to the whole new batch of songs that are to come with Lift a Sail, including the album’s first single “One Bedroom."

Lift A Sail will be out October 7th through Razor & Tie Records, but for now you can listen to “One Bedroom."