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[AltWire Interview] William Ryan Key

Those who remember the best years of pop-punk will no doubt remember the distinctive and enthralling tones of Yellowcard.

Across 10 studio albums and an incredibly recognizable sound (in particular owed to the band’s signature use of a violin), the group proved themselves a hugely successful and influential participant of the last two decades of pop-punk, until finally disbanding in 2017 after the release of a swan song tenth act, Yellowcard.

Now with Yellowcard having been laid to rest, frontman/vocalist William Ryan Key has since busied himself with performing intimate acoustic sets and taking on the responsibilities of producer throughout recent founding of the Lone Tree Recordings studio, while also taking the time to release the debut solo EP THIRTEEN.

Despite such a busy schedule, William Ryan Key was kind enough to discuss the latest developments of his career with us here at AltWire!

AltWire [Mark Stoneman]: Hi Ryan! First off, massive congratulations on the recent release of THIRTEEN, and a huge ‘thank you’ from us for taking the time to answer our questions! Just to kick things off, there’s so far been a hugely positive reaction toward the EP. Prior to its release, how did you feel the music of THIRTEEN might be received? Did the reception of fans surprise you at all considering how it differs from the style of Yellowcard?

William Ryan Key: I honestly had no idea. I went with my instincts when I was writing and recording and I knew I wanted to do something completely new and different from Yellowcard. As far as the fans’ reception, yes, I’m really surprised. It’s not that I didn’t think they would support me, or that they wouldn’t love the music, it’s just so different from what people are used to hearing from me I didn’t know what to expect. I’m amazed by all of the support I’ve received. In a sense the fans have been my marketing team. So much of the success has come from people just spreading the word and sharing the music with others.

AltWire [Mark Stoneman]: While also acting as the opening track for the EP, ‘Old Friends’ felt like a perfect reintroduction to your identity musically, with the lyrical direction definitely having a lot to say. Would you mind talking a little about the writing of ‘Old Friends’, and perhaps what the track represents to you?

William Ryan Key: I had the line, “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”, for days and couldn’t find anything to go with it, but really loved the idea. Like so much of my songwriting lyrically though, once I did find the ending, “Now I’m upstream, I’m getting tired”, it was like the flood gates opened and the rest of the song just came rushing out. I wanted to face my mistakes head on with this one. With these songs being so stripped down, the lyrical content is obviously such a major focal point. It was important to me to be open and honest, and ‘Old Friends’ is probably one of the best examples of that I feel I’ve ever written.

AltWire [Mark Stoneman]: You’ve mentioned previously that one of the main catalysts for writing the EP was a desire to stop playing Yellowcard material live, and the writing process being a relatively short one compared to the “slick” and “shiny” production of previous releases. How did it feel opting for such a raw approach by comparison? 

William Ryan Key: Well when I reference the “slick, shiny” production I’m not so much talking about the writing process. With that I mean as a producer I have found myself making those types of rock records mostly. With Thirteen I really wanted to take a more raw, organic approach. That is why I brought in my friend Arun Bali (Saves the Day) to co-produce the EP. His production style is very much in the vein of the artists and records that inspired Thirteen, and he really helped me forge this new sound.

AltWire [Mark Stoneman]: The rawer approach definitely felt that it enhanced how the material translated, with there being a lot of lyrical content throughout the EP that felt incredibly intimate. When reviewing the EP, we touched on the fact that it’s been an extremely difficult period for the world of music lately, with the loss of some amazing artists and losing some far too soon. Was this something that perhaps played its part in the writing of THIRTEEN?

William Ryan Key: The concept of loss was extremely present during the writing of Thirteen. The past several years have been very hard on my family and many people I love. We have dealt with a lot of loss on many different levels. I also feel an obvious sense of loss with regards to Yellowcard disbanding after nearly 20 years. The idea of “loss” was, and probably still will be a difficult topic to avoid when I’m writing.

AltWire [Mark Stoneman]: You’ve mentioned in previous interviews some of the influences that fed into the sound of the EP stylistically, such as Mogwai, or Godspeed You! Black Emperor. I’d like to flip this on its head a little: Yellowcard has been hugely influential throughout the years, with this influence of course now extending to your work as a solo artist. When you hear young musicians that directly associate their passion for writing music with your music, how does that feel?

William Ryan Key: It is amazing. The scope and reach that Yellowcard had and continues to have blows me away. To think that I’ve played a part in a young artist’s development by way of inspiring them musically is just so cool.

AltWire [Mark Stoneman]: I think it can certainly be agreed that your many fans across the world would love to hear your solo material live, have there been any plans of touring outside the US?

William Ryan Key: There are many plans! We are currently working on tours in Australia, Asia, and Europe for later this year and early 2019. I’m so excited to get back on tour full time. We should have some more information to release soon.

AltWire [Mark Stoneman]: On a slightly different topic, would you mind talking about the Lone Tree Recordings studio a little, and how you found the journey in building the project?

William Ryan Key: The idea sparked for me when I knew Yellowcard was ending. Even though we hadn’t released the news, I wanted to start preparing for the next chapter of my life right away when the decision was made. I love making records. I love working with artists on their songs. It seemed like a natural next step for me. The coolest part is that it was a fan funded creative endeavor. I was very tentative at first to do a crowdfunding campaign. I worked really hard to provide worthwhile reward levels for fans and they responded, as always, with an unbelievable amount of support. Now I have a space that I can create in every day. I’m a lucky dude.

AltWire [Mark Stoneman]: Also on the subject of the Lone Tree Recordings, you’ve been working closely with Like Torches for some time now, also mentioning that the track ‘Live On’ will be a part of the next Like Torches album. How has it felt taking on the role of producer compared to being on the other side of the writing process?

William Ryan Key: With Like Torches I actually get to be pretty involved in the writing process. I love working with them. They are incredible songwriters and have become some of my closest friends in the world. As far as wearing the producer’s hat, I enjoy it immensely. There’s nothing quite like the first listen through of an album I produced. It’s extremely rewarding.

AltWire [Mark Stoneman]: Once again, a massive thank you for taking the time to chat with us here at AltWire! On one last note, is there anything at all you would want to say to your fans or our readers regarding your newest music?

William Ryan Key: I would just extend a huge thank you to those that have already supported it, and ask those that haven’t heard it to listen with open ears and open minds. I’m so lucky to still be making music and traveling all over the world. I can’t wait to see where this takes me.

Check out the latest William Ryan Key music video ‘Form and Figure’ here!:

Mark Stoneman

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