Punk-pop quintet Yellowcard formed in Jacksonville, FL, in 1997 but didn't solidify their lineup until a move to Southern California in early 2000. Comprised of vocalist/guitarist Ryan Key, vocalist/violinist Sean Mackin, guitarist Ben Harper, drummer Longineu Parsons, and bassist Alex Lewis, the band officially debuted on wax in 2001 with One for the Kids (Lobster), and returned a year later with the Underdog EP for Fueled by Ramen. 2003 was a really big year for the group; it saw them signing with Capitol, issuing Ocean Avenue on the label, and heading out for a series of Warped Tour dates. Fall and winter found Yellowcard hitting clubs with acts like Matchbook Romance and Less Than Jake. In late March 2004, Ocean Avenue was certified gold by the RIAA as the album title track continued to impact MTV and Top 40 radio.
Put aside the usual pigeonholes, things like style and genre classifications - it takes much more for a band to really make a personal connection with people. Yellowcard understand this. The Ventura-based punk quintet (by way of Jacksonville, Florida), have made that direct musical connection in each of the hundreds of shows they've played at all-ages punk nights, rock dives, school events, suburban VFW halls, living rooms, back yards and any of the other places they play over 200 nights a year. It's a mature insight for five young guys who don't take themselves too seriously, but then Yellowcard - Ryan Key, 23 (vocals, guitars); Sean Mackin, 24 (violin, vocals); Benjamin Harper, 22 (guitar); Longineu Parsons III, 23 (drums); and Pete Mosely, 24 (bass, vocals) - aren't your typical young punk band -- starting with the classically-trained violinist in their ranks. And they've now created a powderkeg of affecting, personal and explosive rock on their new album, Ocean Avenue.
Yellowcard formed in 1997 but quickly made some lineup changes. Current singer Ryan Key was friends with most of the band from their high school days in Jacksonville, Florida. He and Sean Mackin, in particular, were close friends and both enrolled at Florida State University after graduating.
Key dropped out of college after only half a year, moving to Santa Cruz to follow his heart and make music. He played with a couple of punk bands in California and Florida but nothing really stuck. Yellowcard guitarist Benjamin Harper saw one of Key's band practices and quickly extended an invitation to him to jam with the rest of the band - as luck would have it, they had jettisoned their current singer and were looking for a replacement.
"We started playing some songs I had written," remembers Key, "and it all just clicked. Sean and I had always been really tight and I had a good relationship with the rest of the guys. It just seemed to work very naturally somehow."
Yellowcard were now a complete band and Key convinced the band that they needed to move from Florida to Southern California to have a real shot of catching their aspirations. They would move to Ventura County and quickly find their collective voice together, playing many of the songs Key wrote on his own before joining the group. Most of these were recorded on their debut album, One For The Kids (Lobster Records), released in 2001, and the 2002 follow-up, The Underdog EP (Fueled By Ramen Records). Both releases received favorable reviews and genuine buzz, particularly for the group's upbeat, honest music.
Ocean Avenue, Yellowcard's debut for Capitol Records, was produced by Neal Avron and mixed by Tom-Lord-Alge. On the album, themes of self-empowerment and self-awareness reveal themselves throughout the 13 songs on tracks like "Believe" and "Inside Out." And there is a conspicuous lack of irony or sarcasm--sincerity rules. "We're definitely a positive band," says Key. "We want to take experiences in our life and use them in a productive way, to encourage people not to let anybody tell them what to do with their life."
Ocean Avenue offers a passionate brand of upbeat punk -- but with a twist, complementing the standard band setup with the exotic (by rock standards, anyway) inclusion of a violin as a rhythm instrument, played by Sean Mackin. It makes their songs stand out, says Key. "I write the verses and the chorus and then let the band take it from there. They come up with any new kind of rhythms or chord structures that they can to just make the songs more interesting, to make them better. It's a very equal-parts thing that comes out really strong."
Ocean Avenue's opener, "Way Away," finds Key speaking to the idea that people are ultimately the masters of their own destiny. "We're talking about really owning up to what you want to do in your life," he explains of the song. He cites his own personal journey from dropping out of college to pursue his dream of being a songwriter, and the band's decision to leave their hometown of Jacksonville for California. "It's like, I'm not going to stay here just because you tell me I have to. A lot of those people who say that are doing the 9-to-5 and they're not happy. You have to do what you want to do."
On other songs, Yellowcard cull directly from their lives. On "Only One," Key talks specifically about the recent breakup with his girlfriend. "I can't stand albums where every song is about some chick who broke your heart," laughs Key. This song is different, though, he says. "I made the decision to end the relationship because it was the right thing to do, even though I'm not sure exactly why, and this song is about knowing it was right but still trying to understand it."
On "Miles Apart," Yellowcard reflect on the divergence of friends' lives after seminal periods like high school. "Twentythree" is about youthful idealism giving way to maturity. And the frenzied pace of the song stands out on Ocean Avenue, as do the vocals, done not by Key but by Mackin. "It's amazing how Sean can sing a song and it still sounds like Yellowcard," says Key.
By design, the end of the album feels like arriving at the end of an emotional journey. The final song is "Back Home," a counterpoint to the album's opener, "Way Away." If that opener is about the brash pursuit of personal dreams, "Back Home," is a sentimental reflection on what was left behind. "Sometimes when you've gone out to do what you want to do, you miss what you left - home, security, friends, family, safety," explains Key. "We wanted to end the record with that kind of reflection."
Indeed, it's that kind of wise-beyond-their-years sensibility that has helped Yellowcard stand out from the pack. In 2002, they joined the West Coast leg of the famed Warped Tour, a breakout stint for the band, and they soon used their newfound buzz to land spots on tours opening up for revered punks like No Use For A Name, Lagwagon and Less Than Jake. This summer, they'll be featured again on the Warped Tour, this time on the East Coast leg.
"It's awesome to know we sacrificed and followed our hearts to end up where we are right now," says Key. "We definitely feel lucky, but we've worked hard as hell to ma ke that luck happen."
Yellowcard Has A Winner
Penn State band beat New York's Silhouette by four percentage points. It seems only fitting that after six months, 7,000 bands and more than 100,000 votes, the winner of the Takeover Records "Sign My Band" contest would be determined by mere percentage points. And so on Christmas Eve, when the Internet polls closed and Pennsylvania's
Strike Fire Fall defeated the New York band Silhouette by the slimmest of margins — 52 percent to 48 percent — no one was really surprised.
"People don't realize how many bands there are out there, how many kids there are in garages out there. And we'd like to think that this contest communicated to those kids," Yellowcard guitarist (and Takeover Records' owner) Ben Harper said. "And all these kids had strong opinions about which band they thought should win. So while the amount of votes blew our mind, we did know that this thing was going to be really close."
By winning "Sign My Band," Strike Fire Fall not only land a contract with Takeover Records, but also an opening slot on Yellowcard's 2005 tour (see "It's Down To The Final Two: Yellowcard About To Meet Their Opener"), and a merch deal with clothing label Hurley. It's an opportunity big enough to make a bunch of college kids quit their day jobs and drop out of college ... both of which members of Strike Fire Fall intend on doing.
"We started this band at Penn State in 2002, and we tried to play shows for anybody, any time. We would set up in a basement and play there," Strike Fire Fall guitarist Chris Arotin said. "And now we get to open up for Yellowcard. We had said that if we won this contest, we'd quit our jobs and head out to the West Coast. So that's what we're going to do. When something like this happens, you've got to just go for it."
Harper said he was so impressed by the response to the initial "Sign My Band" that he plans on launching a second one next summer at the Warped Tour. And in January, Takeover will release a compilation (tentatively titled Before We Were Signed), featuring two songs by each of the contest's 10 finalists.
"The good thing is that every band in this contest got exposure, and are going to get even more," Harper said. "That was always the goal of the whole contest. There's only one winner, but all the bands end up winning in some way."
It's Down To The Final Two: Yellowcard About To Meet Their Opener
Pennsylvania's Strike Fire Fall, New York's Silhouette are last bands standing in Takeover. This summer, Yellowcard's Ben Harper was looking to sign some new acts to his fledgling label, Takeover Records. There was only one problem: Being the guitar player in a successful rock band does not necessarily afford one the time necessary to check out up-ciming acts at tiny
clubs. So Harper had the bands come to him. And the "Sign My Band" contest was born.
"The contest idea came around because we would collect demos from each city we went on Warped Tour, and we didn't really have any time to follow up with the kids," Harper said. "So we started working with a couple of Internet sites to give kids more opportunities to send us their demos and stuff."
Harper got the word out on Takeover's official site, and the bands responded, flooding his Santa Monica, California, office with more than 7,000 demos. Harper and his staff then got to work, narrowing all those bands down to a list of 10. MP3s from those 10 bands were posted on Music site PureVolume.com, and then, six months and more than 100,000 Internet votes later, those 10 became two: Pennsylvania's Strike Fire Fall and New York's Silhouette.
"We're such a baby label! And we were able to get two amazing bands in the finals of our competition," Harper said. "We left it up to the kids to vote, but we're really happy that these are the two bands they chose. Strike Fire Fall have got so much to work with. They've got a great work ethic too. And Silhouette have got these amazing solos and lyrics."
Whoever wins gets a contract with Takeover and the opening slot on Yellowcard's 2005 tour, which would be a pretty sweet change of pace for either band: members of Strike Fire Fall are students at Penn State University, while the guys in Silhouette work at a hockey arena and mow lawns for cash. Voting runs until Friday on PureVolume.
"If we win, it'd be amazing. The longest tour I've ever done was three weeks, and we were getting by on 20 bucks a night," Silhouette drummer Kevin Ragusa said. "So this would be like touring in the lap of luxury. I've slept on a whole bunch of floors, and some of them have been in real seedy joints."
"We just handed Yellowcard our demo at Warped Tour, and we figured that was going to be it, but we've made it this far," Strike Fire Fall guitarist Chris Arotin said. "And now visitors to our Web site are writing us letters. Like, we got this one letter from a mom in Texas, who told us that our album was on her daughter's Christmas list. So we made her a Christmas card."
No Rest For The Yellow: Yellowcard Pack High-School Gigs
Singer Ryan Key and bassist Pete Mosely plan to write new LP in New York. It's been more than a year since Yellowcard released their major-label debut, Ocean Avenue. And in the time since the album first slipped onto shelves, it has sold almost 1.3 million copies, spawned three hit singles and become a long-term resident in the Billboard 200. And now they've got to figure out a way to top all that.
The big question is: When will they find the time? The band is currently in the final stages of a massive world tour that wraps up on Saturday in Irvine, California. But it's not like they're going to relax once the show's over: There's still the matter of four super-secret high-school shows in Phoenix, Denver, Salt Lake City and Seattle (the band's label, Capitol, won't confirm exactly where or when these shows will happen, but if there's suddenly a Mohawk-ed dude with a violin sitting in your shop class, there's a pretty good chance your school's the place).
The high-school gigs will more than likely take place before December 18, because that's when Yellowcard leave mainland America and head to Hawaii to play the Bud Light Surfest at the Kualoa Ranch in Oahu (other acts on the bill include New Found Glory and the Vandals). And after all that, they'll finally return to Los Angeles for a short rest. But beginning in January, they'll get back to work, starting on the follow-up to Ocean Avenue. Which, for two members of Yellowcard, means getting away from all the hometown distractions — about 3,000 miles away.
According to a band spokesperson, singer Ryan Key and bassist Pete Mosely are leaving the rest of the band in L.A. and moving to New York to write songs for the new album. Yellowcard's other members will make a few trips out to NYC to write with them, but for the most part it'll be Key and Mosely hammering out tunes. The band will continue the cross-country-collaboration until February, and then hopes to head into the studio in the spring.
At the moment, it's not known when the band will emerge from that studio with a shiny new album. But given their work ethic, it could be sooner than later.
Yellowcard To Hit The Road Right After VMAs
After some dates overseas, band begins North American fall trek October 13. Even if they win all three of the MTV Video Music Awards for which they're nominated, Yellowcard won't be able to stick around Miami for too long to celebrate. Two days later, the Florida quintet is expected back on the road.
Fresh from spending the summer on the Vans Warped Tour, Yellowcard have lined up a six-week
fall tour that kicks off October 13. Prior to that, the band will join Warped tourmates and fellow VMA nominees New Found Glory for a handful of European shows next week. And then there are some brief stops in Australia and Japan before the group returns Stateside for its latest round of dates, which encompass more than two dozen North American cities before drawing to a close in late November.
The new tour comes on the heels of "Only One," the third single off Yellowcard's second album, Ocean Avenue, which has just surpassed the 1-million-copies-sold mark, according to SoundScan. "Only One," whose video features actress Rachel Miner ("Bully"), follows previous singles "Way Away" and "Ocean Avenue."
A DVD featuring behind-the-scenes footage, a photo gallery and a full concert captured from Philadelphia (the last show of the band's spring tour) is expected to drop in November.
Yellowcard and their clip for "Ocean Avenue" are up for the Viewer's Choice Award, Best New Artist in a Video and the MTV2 Award at the 2004 MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday in Miami.
Class of 2005 Gets Rockin' Grad Nite
Yellowcard, Ryan Cabrera, Ciara play Disney Grad Night 2005. After four years of high school, the Senior Class of 2005 should be ready to party come graduation time. And this year, there's no better way to celebrate then at Disney Grad Nite 2005. The event takes place at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida on April 22, 23, 29 and 30. Graduating seniors can celebrate with a ride on Space Mountain or dance the night away to live performances from Yellowcard, Ryan Cabrera, Ciara and Kevin Lyttle.
Disney's Grad Nite is open to all high school seniors in the United States as well as their chaperones, but advance reservations are required to attend the all-night party and space is limited.
Yellowcard Auction Bass For Rock School
Fans can bid on Pete Mosely's Fender bass for charity. There's just one day left to bid on Pete Mosely's custom-made, vintage white, Fender American Precision Bass.
The Yellowcard bassist has put the bass guitar he played all summer long during the 2004 Warped Tour up for auction on eBay to raise money for the non-profit Rock School, which furthers music education in aspiring young musicians. As further enticements to would-be bidders and bass players, Mosely's guitar has been signed by all the members of Yellowcard.