INTERVIEW: William Ryan Key chats new music, his current run with Mayday Parade and much more!
Saturday night I headed out to House of Blues in Boston to talk to a man that’s played the room many times , and that man is William Ryan Key. ‘Or to my friends who know me as Ryan’, as he said later in the set. As the front man of Yellowcard, who had a solid twenty year run as a band with a few years off in between, Key is now in a much different position these days. But a position he is excited and grateful to be in. When the band broke up in 2016, Key started diving into a much different style of music and the crowd in Boston was fully hyped on it as he was opening up for Mayday Parade.
In my interview with Key just two hours or so before he took the stage, he really dived into the writing/recording process of the EP’s he completed with fellow musician/producer, Arun Bali, of Saves the Day. As well, he gave some serious insight into how this act came to be, how his influences changed while he was in Yellowcard, as well as his new life mantra ‘No Parents, No Rules’. Read all the way through (it’s a long one but we think it’s a 100 % worth the time spent) and you’ll see something super exciting for William Ryan Key coming up. Find our chat below and keep your eyes peeled for much more from Mr. Key!
to get right into it, you’re starting to tour again. now with the ep, ‘thirteen’, out. it’s the first big push with ‘thirteen’ out, how has it been?
I toured ‘Thirteen’ with New Found Glory in spring. But that was the actual beginning so I definitely felt like I was taking a risk and I was just going to go out on stage. I played all five songs on the EP every night. I was first of four on a pretty pop punk and punk oriented tour. It was Bayside, The Movielife and New Found Glory and I’m up there plucking away with my ambient acoustic stuff. Then yeah this opportunity came up to do Mayday Parade and it’s been awesome. I think this tour, having This Wild Life on the Mayday tour, is beneficial for me. Having two kind of more acoustic, a little bit more mellow artists on the tour, is good. I can say this, I would like to start exploring tours that are maybe outside of the New Found Glory, Yellowcard, Mayday Parade world and more in the singer-songwriter world of music. But as long as I keep getting these opportunities, it’s really hard to say no. I’m super grateful to the guys in Mayday for giving me the tour. I’m ramping up to release my second EP at the end of this month so this is really good for me just kind of free publicity to go out and do this tour and talk about the EP every night.
And it’s cool, when I was making these EP’s with my friend Arun Bali who plays guitar in Saves the Day. We coproduced it together and we had this mantra in the studio, ‘No Parents, No Rules’. This whole project is just kind of limitless. As far as the stuff we can try sonically, structurally as far as the songwriting and stuff like that. So same goes for the live shows. I’m playing three out of five songs off of an EP that’s not even released yet every night. It’s just because there’s no rules and I’ve been deliberate about the fact that I’m not out here to play Yellowcard songs because this isn’t a Yellowcard show. That was the debate even all the way back to, taking back to pre New Found Glory when I got that tour offer. It was like do I use this as the time to make the decision to really step off the ledge as a solo artist or do I go out with New Found Glory and play Yellowcard songs. It would be rad and fans would be really stoked if I did that every night. So, obviously I made the decision to take option number one.
I think for me it’s just the fact that I’m still doing this every day, that’s all I can ask for. Obviously it’s under very different circumstances. Doing this whole thing, it’s been super DIY. No record company, using my own recording studio to make the albums, driving around in the van again for the first time in fifteen years. It’s a very different vibe then my time in Yellowcard but if anything it’s really just reinvigorated my passion for doing it. I can kind of see a horizon with opportunity on it ahead and I’m just going to keep going until that sort of fades away to the point where it just doesn’t make sense anymore but for now it does. So I’m just going to keep going.
Maybe how have these shows been going? Obviously you had such a loyal fan base and those fans aren’t just going to not stop following you. How have these songs been going over when they come to the show? Have they been really receptive of it, do you still have people trying to yell Yellowcard requests?
You know, I can count on only one hand all the way back to the first show of the New Found tour to now the amount of people that have yelled out Yellowcard songs.
So they’ve been super respectful. They’ve been enjoying the new songs.
Yeah, and I wouldn’t say it’s disrespectful necessarily but it’s like, you don’t need to scream ‘Ocean Avenue’ when I’m playing a show. I know, like I got it! You know what I mean? You have to pick your battles though. It is what it is. Sometimes, if it’s the right vibe, I’ll heckle back a little bit but nothing that’s unfriendly. I’ll just give them like a ‘Congratulations’. Like use the fact that I can count it on one hand. ‘You’re number five out of eighty shows to remind me that I wrote that song fifteen years ago.’
I think people have been really attentive. I will say that obviously I’m opening for a giant rock band, you’re going to deal with people that are just at a rock show. They want to hang out, drink beer, they’re meeting up with their friends earlier in the night, everyone’s talking, but I don’t pay attention to it. I just play through it. And I can see the people that I’m affecting with the music and I just grab on to that and go with it. That said, I’ve only done one headlining thing so far, went to Australia and played three shows. They were like ninety minute sets. I’ve done a lot of ninety minute shows on my own where I played ninety minutes of Yellowcard songs post Yellowcard. Like private shows and stuff before I had new music written. And so those are what they are but this was the first time where I did like half and half. So call it forty five minutes of music or whatever it was, was new material. It isn’t really being pushed at all in Australia because I don’t have a record label or anything like that. So if you know, you know but it’s definitely not high on the list of countries or places that are streaming the music because there’s no one really putting it out there. But either way I had no idea what to expect of people. Of fans that have to come to a room and stand there for ninety minutes while I stand in one place and stay really mellow the whole time. Really quiet, really mellow and it was awesome. The best show was the last show in Melbourne because it was the most tickets sold. It was pretty much a sold out show so that was incredible but everyone was just deadlocked focused on the show the whole time. So going forward when I start to do more headlining stuff, I think I’m going to be okay as far as people’s attentiveness and receptiveness to the music. So here on these shows, I know what to expect. I’m not frustrated by the fact that people are talking or not paying attention or whatever. I’ve been doing this for a really long time and I know what to expect out of it.
You’re not doing it because you need to be the star of the show. You do it for you.
Yeah I would never address the crowd and be like, ‘stop talking.’ I would never do that because I understand what their expectations are on a show like this. Where I’m the second out of four bands and the headlining band is a big old rock band playing loud rock music. It’s almost a different genre entirely from what I’m doing. But again, I can tell that it is affecting people and it’s awesome. The coolest thing on this tour, I released two songs that are on the new EP, “Virtue”, so I play those but I close the show with the title track of an EP that’s not even out yet. And I get the most comments after like post show from fans asking about that song and telling me how stoked they were on that song. So that’s really cool.
And that’s planned for the end of this month?
Perfect then kind of bringing it back, talking about when you were doing the EP’s with Arun, and having the ‘No Parents, No Rules’ mantra. He hasn’t been in Saves the Day for the last twenty years but he’s been with them for like eight or nine years with Chris Conley having that kind of project. When you came to the studio, maybe something really different you guys tried in the writing/recording process? Maybe something really different or maybe something you left behind from your previous writing experiences?
I think one thing that we did was try to maintain, well we did it more on ‘Thirteen’ then we did on ‘Virtue’, but ‘Virtue’ became a lot more involved then I think either of us really planned on in regards to the instrumentation. It just get a little bigger then I think we thought musically. Not bigger like I’m selling tons of records and it’s bigger, but as far as taking on the project of recording it. So that was a little more drawn out. It took a little longer to record but with ‘Thirteen’, we went in and said let’s not do any pre-production on this. Let’s just get in there. If I’m playing a riff or something that’s cool, let’s track it and we’ll just go from there. So we would be like cool, that sounds good. Track it. There was no real consideration ahead of the fact for whether the songs were good. Because they weren’t even really songs yet. We really built them in the studio. And I think the motivation behind that is that we didn’t really know what it was going to be. We wanted to sort of discover that as we recorded as opposed to me coming in with all these songs and be like I want this to sound like this. I knew the direction I wanted it to go in, I know the direction I want to keep going in but there’s so much exploring to do when there’s no expectations on you. There’s no label expecting a certain kind of record, fans have now been made aware that I’m not going to do any kind of rock or pop punk project. So they don’t really know what to expect either.
It’s really just about exploration. Not that we didn’t do that with Yellowcard. Especially in our last two records, we certainly did a lot of exploring in the studio. But we still did a lot of pre-pro before we went in to actually track them. Fully demo-d up and reviewed over and over. And you go into making a Yellowcard record, even as much as you push the boundary, still wanted to service the expectations of the fans in some way. You want to service yourself and make sure you’re creatively fulfilled but you also know that there need to be moments on the record when you’re writing and be like ‘Fans are really going to be stoked on that so let’s do it,’ where as far as this, it’s just not in my mind. And it’s not to say that I’m not considerate of my fans, but I think musically they just don’t have any expectations that I need to be concerned with right now. So I’m really just sort of able to improvise and create whatever at random, whatever I want, whatever I’m feeling that day.
It’s cool, I’m able to bring in a lot of musical influences that didn’t make sense for Yellowcard. And music I’ve been listening to at this point, at my age, for probably longer now then I listened to the punk and rock records that inspired the creation of and early development of Yellowcard. So like post “Ocean Avenue”, right around the “Lights and Sounds” time, I think is when I started to sort of transition out of the records I listened to when I was younger. The more kind of punk driven records and I started shifting into more post rock and ambient, instrumental music and like singer songwriter driven music. That’s been a part of my life and primary listening focus for over a decade now. So if you figure that I didn’t really start listening to rock/punk records until I was fifteen, sixteen, I’ve really been listening to this stuff longer. And so being able to bring those influences into this has been really, really fulfilling for me.
And like you just mentioned before, you’ve been listening to this kind of music and having these influences that now you’re able to have in play when you’re doing this solo music. Obviously you didn’t know if Yellowcard was going to break up or not, you’re not thinking back in your head twenty years or so ago, I’m going to be a solo artist! But was this the kind of style of music you always wanted to pursue or is this something that came about recently, like in these last two years.
Yeah, I would say when Yellowcard unofficially broke up in 2008, I went in, and none of this has ever been released, this will bum me out because I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t there yet. It wasn’t good enough to put out but I did explore getting into writing definitely more songwriter driven stuff. And even the project that I did kind of get after with my friend Sean O’Donnell that we called Big If back then, I thought it was going to be a band and we were going to really get after it, even that stuff was pretty different from Yellowcard. If you looked into it. If you just hear it with my voice on it, you would think it sounded like Yellowcard. But if you really listened to those five songs or whatever it was that we released, they’re quite different from Yellowcard. So I think around then, around that first batch of Yellowcard records, I was ready to start experimenting with different sounds.
Then to end it off, you’re doing this run with Mayday Parade, you talked about how you do want to do some more touring, maybe some different genre touring. Not a bad thing, it’s I’m just sure these guys want you to be out on these tours because I’m sure to some of them you were a big inspiration when they were younger or you did Warped Tour with them. I’m sure with Mayday before.
Yeah many times we did it with them.
But maybe just after this tour, maybe focuses or hopes? I’m sure you can’t say much about your next year.
I don’t really know a whole lot. I’m touring in Europe and the UK with This Wild Life so that worked out really cool that we got to do this tour to really get to know each other and they’re all just such good dudes. I’m really looking forward to climbing in a van with them and driving around Europe. We’re going to have fun and those shows make a lot of sense for me. Playing co-headline shows with them.
With This Wild Life, definitely.
Yeah it’s going to be great. Then as soon as that’s over, when I fly back to the states, a week later, we haven’t like announced it yet.
I can skip that.
No it doesn’t matter! ‘No Parents, No Rules’.
‘No Parents, No Rules’. No labels telling you how to do things.
No! So yeah, we will be officially announcing a US headline tour. I have no idea how that’s going to go. That’s actually going to be a big barometer for me. It’s way too early to say. That will definitely be a gauge of how seriously I want to take this. As far as how those shows do.
And I don’t know if it will be a fair assessment because we don’t have a label but I do have a great team. Great managers and great booking agents. So the pieces are lining up, as far as attendance and reception and all that kind of stuff. But that tour, it will definitely help me gauge what else we’re going to do with this. Are we going to go after a label, are we going to try to make a full length or does that make me realize this is cool and there will be some opportunities here and there, keep making an EP every once in a while. People will be stoked on it but maybe not try to make it a full time thing. Who knows right now and that’s fine. That doesn’t scare me, I’m down for it to go either way. If it doesn’t go my way, I’m pretty resilient when it comes to figuring out post-Yellowcard life. So I’ll figure something out but I’m also looking forward to it. Based on my shows in Australia it was all over the place. Like on a Monday night in Brisbane, there were like ninety five people there and it was like ‘oh man’ but then four nights later in Melbourne, there were three hundred people there. So I’m expecting maybe that will be the way it goes here. New York and Boston, LA and Anaheim, those types of markets will be really solid.
Then like, Lansing, Michigan.
Yeah, yeah, or like even like Dallas, TX. Nothing against you guys, I love you, but that one might be a little trouble. It’s cool though because there’s just so much unknown. I think it’s cool because I think I mentioned earlier that there are no expectations from fans. I don’t really have any expectations either and it’s been a long time since I can tell you that. It’s just not about that. Obviously it needs to be financially viable for me and keep me going. But at the same time, right now it is and even if no one shows up at one of those shows, I already know what I’m going to do as far as getting paid to play the shows. So I’m going to go play those shows. So for right now, it’s working. I’m kind of going a day at a time, alright sweet, I get to play another show today. And it could have been really easy for that not to be the case after the band ended.