You know William Ryan Key as the Vocalist/Guitarist for Yellowcard, that Pop Punk band that dared to bring a violin into the fold. This sonic audacity propelled albums like 2003’s Ocean Avenue and 2006’s Lights and Sounds up the charts, earning a solid name for the Florida band who would release ten albums in total throughout their nearly two-decade long career. Then, as so many great bands do, they decided to call it a day.
Of course, all things music run deep into the blood, and Key still has many songs left to write. Now, in 2018, as a solo artist who leans more toward Folk than anything Punk, he is exploring new avenues of sound on the 5-song EP, Thirteen. Still very much involved in the Pop Punk scene, the completely down-to-earth Key recently took a moment to discuss life after Yellowcard, his involvement with New Found Glory, his love of Star Wars, and, of course, all things Thirteen.
CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in music for roughly two decades now, first with Yellowcard and now as a solo artist. What have been some highs and lows of your career, thus far?
William Ryan Key – Oh man! How long do we have? The broad stroke answer is that it’s kind of crazy to me that I’ve been able to do it for as long as I have, and kind of continue to do it at the level that I’ve been able to do it. So, as far as highs go, Yellowcard was just an incredible journey! Having a record that sold multiple millions of copies – that’s a pretty big high. Playing shows on six out of seven continents is a pretty big high. The fan base we were able to build, and the people we were able to meet and just make happy all over the world.
Some lows, we’ve had some times where the future was pretty uncertain and where we didn’t really know the future of the band. We took some time off back in 2008, and I didn’t know if we were going to get back together or not. That was a pretty dark time for the band. Then we came back after it and had an entire second chapter for the band, and in a lot of ways it was even better than the first. We didn’t sell as many records and we weren’t playing quite as big shows, but we were working so much and we were traveling so much. I think we were a lot older and wiser – that’s a good way to put it.
More highs than lows, for sure. Yellowcard, we decided to end last year; we decided to split the band for a lot of different reasons. It wasn’t necessarily a low; since you’re asking for highs and lows, it was really a calculated decision. We wanted to just make sure that we did it on our own terms, and when it was time and we had agreed that we were ready for that decision, we wanted to do it right. It was the coolest, it was just the biggest tour we ever did; it was all over the world and we kind of ended it on our own terms, and I think that’s what we wanted to do.
Going into this thing that I’m doing on my own now, it’s just crazy! I can’t believe what’s happening right now, really. My friends in New Found Glory asked me to be on this tour with them that they’re doing, and it started out with them asking me to play guitar with them – guitar and keyboards in the band. Then, also, they ended up asking me to open the shows. So, since Yellowcard ended, I’ve been doing a lot of acoustic stuff. Just kind of traveling around and playing private shows and things, but I’ve mostly just been playing Yellowcard songs, acoustically, when I go do those things.
They asked me to do this, and I really felt strongly that I didn’t want to just keep doing Yellowcard songs because Yellowcard is over. If I’m going out to really tour on my own, I wanted to have some music of my own. So, I thought I was going to just make this little EP and sell it at the merch table and that would be that; but it’s really kind of taken on a life now. It’s awesome! We’ve already talked about making another one, then dates in Japan and Australia, and all over Europe next year already. It’s really, really rad! People are really excited about the music and I’m just going to – I want people to stay excited about it, so I’m just going to keep making it, you know? It’s awesome! Really, the most important part of the answer is that the biggest high is that I’m still making music!
CrypticRock.com – Okay, so talk more about that music, the obvious question to ask here is why did you add “William” back into your name for your solo career when so many fans already know and love you as simply “Ryan Key”?
William Ryan Key – See, that’s the thing: people don’t really know me as “Ryan,” they know me as the guy from Yellowcard! (Laughs) If I run into someone on the street and they’re like, “Can I take a picture with you?” It doesn’t happen as much now as it used to, but they’re like, “Are you the guy from Yellowcard?” No one ever comes up to me and is like, “Ryan Key?” That doesn’t happen, really. So, I don’t think that matters, but for me, it was another part of just kind of stepping out on my own, you know?
It’s my maternal grandfather’s first name, and it’s actually my first name, as well. My parents, I don’t know, they just called me by my middle name. (Laughs) I don’t know what went into that decision-making! My grandpa was a carpenter and a mason – a bricklayer, he did a lot of brick work in Georgia where my family grew up – and he also wrote a lot of poetry. It was cool how he did it, because he would just write it on everything; he would write it on gum wrappers, whatever was laying around at work or wherever. My mom and her two sisters and brother, before my grandfather passed a few years ago, they collected as much of that poetry as they could. My grandma had saved a ton of it, and they went through boxes and made a book for us all; so, the whole family has a book full. This kind of singer-songwriter direction that I’m going in, I think it makes sense for me, and it’s kind of a proud thing for me to carry his name, you know?
CrypticRock.com – It makes perfect sense. Now, would you ever use some of your grandfather’s poetry as lyrics for your music?
William Ryan Key – You know, someone has asked me that before and I say yes, maybe, but I haven’t thought about it when I’ve been in a recording session. But I guess I should do that; I should bust out the book at some point when I’m writing and see if there’s any gold in there. Well, I know there’s gold in there, but anything that works for a song.
CrypticRock.com – That would be such a wonderful way to honor him. Okay, so Thirteen was literally just released a few weeks ago. How has the reaction been, thus far?
William Ryan Key – It’s been incredible! I think we sold a little over 2,000 units, which, for an EP with no record label, is pretty insane. (Laughs) The streaming numbers are insane, for me, I think, I’ve never done a self-release before. Looking at how much people are listening to the songs online, it’s been incredible! Like I said, I had no idea.
My friend who’s now my manager, but a friend of mine – who is an extremely talented manager – I was just basically like, “Hey man, I might be doing this thing next year, and I would just need a little bit of help putting it up on iTunes and putting it on Spotify; stuff I don’t know how to do or people I don’t know to contact. Would you mind helping me with that for a little cut of it or whatever?” He was like, “Yeah, of course.” (Laughs) Now we’re doing a full-blown project together – looking for record labels, booking tours. We’re both just so excited about it because it’s been a truly surprising experience.
I’m playing the songs every night and people seem to be excited and receptive to me not getting up there and playing a set full of Yellowcard songs. I had no idea what to expect, especially coming on the New Found Glory tour where all the bands are kind of big Rock bands. I’m opening the show with my little kind of Folk-y, Singer-Songwriter songs. It’s like, alright! (Laughs) I really didn’t know what to expect, and I didn’t know if people would be expecting me to play Yellowcard songs. But I’ve really been overwhelmed with happiness that people are just like, “Hey man, cool! We’re here to hear your songs.” You know, no one’s standing there screaming out Yellowcard song titles or anything – I didn’t know if that would happen or not. I thought it would kill my buzz if it did, but I really didn’t know what to expect. People are really opening their ears and it’s been amazing.
CrypticRock.com – You were recently on tour with New Found Glory. Even though you are kind of the ‘odd one out,’ the audience was into it and embraced your set with open arms.
William Ryan Key – Obviously, I didn’t know that what I’m doing musically, that the New Found Glory/Movielife tour would be the right place for this music, but ‘cause I’m not established yet, I don’t think that where I fit in is as important yet. The opportunity to play in front of these huge crowds every night, thanks to my friends bringing me on this tour, you know, what an opportunity they’re giving me! It’s amazing! They’re really jump-starting this full, second career for me by bringing me out here on the road.
So, I agree that I am kind of the odd one out, for sure, musically it may not actually be the right fit for my solo stuff beyond the New Found Glory tour. That said, people are welcoming. The people down front, there’s definitely people who are there to see me too, which is great; I recognize the Yellowcard fans at the shows and it’s awesome to see them. Then, there are other people who are just down-front for the show, and focused and interested. There’s going to be people in the back at the bar talking and not caring when I’m up there strumming away, but I’ve learned over the years so many ways to focus on what’s good at a show.
I’ve really just had an amazing time connecting with the people I see at the show, the people who are looking back at me. It’s amazing! It’s most of the crowd, you know what I mean? I feel like I’m connecting with a lot of people, even people who may not be into Singer-Songwriter music are going, “Whoa, this is kind of cool. I’ve never really listened to anything like this; I didn’t know I would be into this.” That’s what I’m out here really trying to do, you know? Just turn some heads.
CrypticRock.com – That’s great, actually. Maybe you will open some people’s eyes to a whole new world of music. Why call the collection “Thirteen”?
William Ryan Key – It’s in reference to the year 2013. I’ve kind of chosen in interview settings to not really go into it a whole lot. Which I know is kind of a jerk move to put it out there and then not talk about it. (Laughs) It’s just a part of my journey over the last decade or so. My life is very evenly divided over the decades, round numbers; I was born two weeks before 1980 started, so every tenth birthday I spring into a new decade. This one has just been really challenging for my family and myself.
We talked about it earlier, you know, career ups and downs and losing the band; and having to make that decision was hard. Several family members have passed – we’ve just been through a lot, not just me but the people I love, who are close to me. It’s been a tough decade in comparison to the others. I can look back on my life and separate it out, sort of, in nice ten-year increments. Anyways, that was just a particularly tough year for people I love and for me. So, I was connected to writing about the journey from then to now.
CrypticRock.com – So, 2013 was an impactful year. Now, when you sat down to write the material on Thirteen, how different of a headspace were you in versus in the past when writing Yellowcard material?
William Ryan Key – Not too much lyrically over the last couple of Yellowcard records, because the last couple of Yellowcard records were written under sort of the same circumstances mentally. If you listen to the last two Yellowcard records, I really got away from storytelling – I don’t know if storytelling is the right word. I got away from writing songs about very specific situations and specific people, and sort of telling the tale of that experience, that person; whether it’s a relationship song or a friendship song or something like that.
I definitely got more into a headspace of just writing about life and the journey, and the experience of being where you are in your life at that time and looking back on what you’ve been through, and maybe thinking on what’s ahead and things like that. So, I don’t really know what the write word is, what the right adjective is for what the lyrics kind of became on the last couple of Yellowcard records, but I think I’ve continued on that journey now on my own, lyrically. If anything, it’s an extension of where I was going anyways.
I also wrote the music before I wrote the lyrics, which is how the last several Yellowcard records, the last 4-5 Yellowcard records were written. We’d demo all of the music and then I would hang and write the lyrics or write the melodies and lyrics over the top of the music. So, I did the same thing here. I kind of came up with the guitar parts I liked and then I would try to find melodies that made sense for me to sing and play comfortably together, then I’d put the lyrics in. I’m not sitting down and writing a whole song start to finish in one sitting or writing the guitar and the lyrics at the same time. That would be weird for me.
CrypticRock.com – That makes sense. Was there a conscious decision that you were not going to do anything remotely Pop Punk this time around?
William Ryan Key – Yes, and that has nothing to do with any kind of animosity or negative views on Pop Punk, or what the Pop Punk scene has given me in my life. I just couldn’t tell you the last Pop Punk record that I listened to. Again, I don’t mean or want to come off in a kind of pretentious manner, or like I’m better than it or looking down on it in any kind of way or anything like that. It’s not that at all! I’ve still been producing Pop Punk artists/bands. It’s a huge part of my life and it always has been, and always will be. My personal, musical inspiration just comes from very different places these days, and it has for quite some time.
Again, looking back on Yellowcard for the last couple of records, we were really trying to expand on our sound and push the boundaries, be more of a Rock-n-Roll band than necessarily have one stamp on it. So, I definitely wanted to step into my own thing with this and just start fresh, be able to pull from the influences and inspirations that I have kind of later in life now with no rules. At this point, now, if you’re not into it that’s fine! There’s no baggage with this, because it’s brand new and it’s my own thing. It wasn’t frightening or daunting to step out and do something totally not in Pop Punk.
CrypticRock.com – It’s always important to grow as an artist, and to stay true to yourself. Having done Pop Punk for so long, you must be ready to do almost anything but! (Laughs)
William Ryan Key – Well, right now it’s awesome because I’m getting to get up and play my stuff and then an hour and a half later I get to get up and do a ripping Pop-Punk set with New Found Glory and play electric guitar and bang my head. So, it isn’t really that I want to do anything but, it was just being honest with myself: being honest about what music inspires me, and what music makes me want to write music these days. That’s where my balance comes from.
CrypticRock.com – Okay, so to bring us back to the EP for a moment, do you have a favorite lyric in the collection?
William Ryan Key – Oh man, that’s tough! I really loved when I stumbled on that line, “Went searching for the Hollywood sound and my old friends were cursing my name.” I struggled with that chorus so much! I had the first chorus of that song for almost the whole project, I had the first two lines – “Went looking for a river of gold when my hometown was catching on fire, left everyone I love in the smoke while I got lost becoming a liar.” I had that but I just couldn’t wrap it up, I couldn’t find a package of lyrics to go with it. I was like, “I love these four lines.” Then I came up with the idea, well, let’s get away from convention and let’s make all of the choruses have different lyrics. Again, that’s something that probably wouldn’t have happened on a Yellowcard record. I kind of let myself go in that way and was like let’s not have a construct, let’s just write whatever – just keep writing words to the whole song.
I think that line – “Went searching for the Hollywood sound and my old friends were cursing my name” – obviously became the title of the song, “Old Friends,” and it just really, for myself, I just hit the nail on the head. The times when I was trying to be something I wasn’t and was getting sort of swallowed up by all the, just all of the glitz and glam of the crazy mid-2000s time when our band was just huge; doing awards shows and living in Hollywood, you know, all of that. I feel like that’s the best line I’ve ever written in regards to that! If you’re familiar with my songs, I’ve written about that tons of times. I love that whole, it’s kind of dark, I know, but I love it. (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – What really resonates about that particular track is its blatant honesty and that you were willing to be so forthcoming.
William Ryan Key – Well, that’s the stuff that’s going to give you the best music, stuff that you’re comfortable sharing with people as far as this is who I am and what I’ve done. Judge me as you will! I have nothing to hide and I’d rather include you as a fan on the journey – in understanding who I am and what I’ve been through, so that there’s an actual connection to the music for you – rather than writing about superficial, surface stuff that sounds good and rhymes. (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – It seems perfectly common sense, but so few artists are willing to be that sincere or honest these days. Will there be a full-length follow up to Thirteen?
William Ryan Key – I don’t know. We are throwing up in the air the idea of a record label, things like that. It’s gone so well doing it on our own right now, but obviously it would be cool if we could take it further, which we would probably need a record label for. Right now, we’re going to finish up this tour – I say “we,” me and my buddy who’s my manager. It’s cool, I’ve always had an amazing relationship and the band with managers, and they are always such a huge part of what you do. It’s on a whole other level when it’s just this thing that’s so intimate, and it’s just me and him. His assistant is amazing, as well. So, the team is three of us. Having a three-person team working on this thing together, there’s a certain intimacy there and there’s a trust that’s on a whole other level. We feel really good about what we’ve accomplished just doing this together, on our own without a record label.
I think what will likely happen is that I’ll do another EP this summer. I would love to have a full ten songs worth of music to tour on for a while; ten songs I can play live and then three or four kind of reimagined Yellowcard songs to kind of fill out a headlining set if I need to. Having ten songs feels good and at that time we’d be somewhat established. Like I said earlier, we’re looking to do Australia, Japan, The States in the fall, and then looking to do Europe and the UK early 2019. That would be perfect timing to finish all of that up, then hopefully get signed to a label and then get into the studio in the spring and make a full-length. I would love to make a full-length! That’s going to be something that is going to be in the cards for me if people are excited, and to keep going. Absolutely! Right now, it’s kind of like writing the music: there’s no rules, there’s no baggage. We can do whatever we want, which is a good problem to have! We’re taking everything as it comes to us.
CrypticRock.com – That’s the best situation to have! Now, we touched on this earlier, but you recently wrapped being on tour opening for New Found Glory while also performing with them as their honorary fifth band member. How did that come about?
William Ryan Key – On the tour that Yellowcard and New Found did – which was crazy that it took us ‘til 2015 to do that, because we had just been booked for so many years – we share so many fans, and the only time we had ever toured in America together was on the Warped Tour. Finally, we were like, “Dude, we need to do this thing!” We did this co-headline tour and it was awesome! At some point on that tour, Chad Gilbert from New Found and I were out for lunch one day, and I already knew that Yellowcard was going to be ending the following year. We hadn’t announced it yet, but I had told the guys about it.
So, Chad and I were just talking at lunch one day, and I was like, “Hey man, I’m just throwing this out there but if you guys ever wanted to have a second guitar player again, once Yellowcard’s done, I’d definitely be into the idea of coming out and jamming with you guys.” It was kind of like, “Oh yeah? That’s cool, we’ll see.” That was kind of the end of the conversation, and then a year-and-a-half later, sometime mid last year… Chad and I live five minutes apart from each other in Franklin, Tennessee, so we hang out all the time. At some point, he was just like, “Hey man, I think we wanna do this thing, so here’s 30 songs to learn.” (Laughs)
So, it’s been awesome! It’s just so cool getting up there every night and playing these classic songs that I’ve known and loved for so many years and being a part of it. They’re just such a fun band! That’s such an inspiring aspect of what they do; everything they do is built around having fun and loving playing, and just connecting with their fans. It’s so cool and refreshing to be up there and be a part of it with that good energy! I’m having a blast!
CrypticRock.com – New Found Glory put on a killer live show. So, do tell, what’s your favorite New Found Glory song?
William Ryan Key – Man! That is tough! Okay, I don’t know if this is my favorite – they have so many songs. It’s like asking what my favorite Yellowcard song is, it’s insane. It’s an impossible answer because there’s so many songs. I will say that there’s a very specific New Found Glory song, for me, that when I was 19 or 20 years-old, someone brought in the record and put on the song and were like, “Guess what band this is? You’ll never guess what band this is!”
I think you can agree that the sonic differences between Nothing Gold Can Stay and their first album – it was produced by Neal Avron, who ended up producing all of their records and the Yellowcard records, and who went on to be this legendary mixer who mixes Linkin Park and Aerosmith and all this stuff now. So, I had heard the old New Found Glory, which came out when we were like 18, and, at the time, I was way more into West Coast Punk Rock like Strung Out, Lagwagon, No Use For A Name, NOFX – all that kind of mid ‘90s Warped Tour stuff. I didn’t really know any of the East Coast stuff, Florida or otherwise. I heard the record, I knew they were a band from Florida, but I didn’t really know anything about it.
Anyway, someone put on the self-titled record and the first song is “Better Off Dead.” I had no idea who it was, I was like, “Dude, this song is sick! Who is it? Tell me!” They were like, “It’s New Found Glory.” It wasn’t anything like their last record! (Laughs) So, I’ve always loved that song, because I remember the moment I heard it for the first time. Which I think is such a cool thing, you know? So, I’ll go with – I don’t know that it’s my favorite song but it’s definitely extremely memorable. They put it in the set list for me; I’m going to believe that they added it back for me. We started off the tour not playing it but now it’s in there, and I think it’s just for me; it was a present for me.
CrypticRock.com – (Laughs) That was such a nice present! Okay, two totally random questions and then we’re done. The first is that summer is a huge time for new music releases, so are there any new albums that were either just released or are coming soon that you are looking forward to hearing?
William Ryan Key – I don’t really know about the rest of this year, I haven’t really looked or paid attention, but I will say that one of my most-anticipated albums of the decade just came out and I still listen to it daily. Jon Hopkins’ Singularity. Anyway, it’s been five years between this record and the last record, so obviously fans are freaking out that he’s finally putting out a record. It’s just, I can’t even explain it to you! The first time listening to it? He’s on his own planet, he’s the master! No one is even the same league, and it’s amazing. That’s probably my release of the year: Jon Hopkins’ Singularity!
CrypticRock.com – Last question. At CrypticRock, we cover music as well as films, particularly Horror and Science Fiction movies. Are you a fan of either of these genres and, if so, do you have any favorite films?
William Ryan Key – Yes, the answer is yes, I am. Not as much Horror, I don’t really do Horror. It depends on the Horror, I like kind of more realistic Horror stuff or based on a true story. I can’t get into Slasher Horror stuff, and I’m not a fan of the Saw movies and stuff like that. I don’t get into that at all.
Sci-Fi is a huge part of my life, always has been and always will be. Lately, I’ve been into all of those Scandinavian future-apocalyptic-dystopian stuff that they’ve been putting out. A lot of its on Netflix like Dark and The Rain, Fortitude on Amazon. The Scandinavian shows are just ripping, and they’re all so dark and creepy, and I love that.
Star Wars is just part of my DNA. As far back as I can remember, my first memories are Star Wars related: I would just play with my Star Wars toys or act out Star Wars scenes ‘til I collapsed and slept, then got up the next day and did it again. I just loved it, I’ve always loved it! I’m not one of those fans who’s upset about how many movies they are releasing – I know that’s a thing now. Fans are like, “You’re spoiling the franchise!” I’m like just bring it on, you know what I mean? The more Star Wars the better, I think! If it’s not good, I’ll say it’s not good. If it’s good, I’m going to love it, so keep making it. So, yeah, I’m happy to be alive in this time where I’m going to get Star Wars overload for the rest of my life, it seems like. (Laughs)