MEB staffer Austin Gordon recently caught up with Sean Mackin of pop-punk quintet Yellowcard. He talks about their current tour with Every Avenue and Go Radio, details about the new record When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes, Australian crowd-surfing, and the upcoming new record slated for a 2012 release. Check out the audio or text versions of the interview below.
MEB: Tell me, how is the tour going?
Sean: The tour has been amazing. It has been our first headlining tour in five years. Whenever we headline a tour we want to make sure that there is a lot of good music for the entire evening. This has just been a blessing because Go Radio and Every Avenue both put out new records this year. But even better, I’ve made a lot of friends I’m probably gonna have for the rest of my life. So that’s what we’re excited about.
In reference to the current divided line between mainstream and underground culture, you guys have floated around both scenes. Is there a particular reason why you guys chose to come back to this market rather than shoot immediately for the mainstream one?
Yeah, I mean we can look at it a couple of different ways. Yellowcard has always been able to flirt with that line. You know, we toured for two years all on our own. Ryan [Key, vocalist] and I sold our own cars to get our van/trailer. We were blessed to have a movement with Capitol Records. They spent a good amount of money to get us on the radio. They did a great job breaking us as a band. To our credit too, they say if we hadn’t toured as hard as we did then it wouldn’t have been as easy. So, just a great partnership with our major label. Right now, with the strengths in music, and what’s mainstream has shifted to girl-oriented pop music. That’s fantastic, but we’re not Lady Gaga (laughs). Sometimes I wish I was, because she has private jets (laughs). I’m just kidding. But they have great success. And something we’ve always talked about is longevity, in our career. I don’t need to be on MTV to be happy. Whether it’s five fans in the audience or 5,000, I’m just happy to play music every night. We’re just living it day by day; the fact that Hopeless Records is behind us is all we could ever ask for. I think that as an artist is all you could ever focus on.
When appealing to different sets of fan bases, new and old, young and old, what is the thought process when trying to write something that has an appeal to both, but also embodies what Yellowcard is?
I think with us as a band, we’re always gonna have that vintage Yellowcard sound. Lights and Sounds was our biggest departure, and within our life we chose to do something different. I think whenever you have the opportunity to do something different; I think most people that press forward would do that, would want to give it a try. And even through that record, the skeletons of that recognizable sound are still there. Even when we write, whether I’m listening to Ben Folds or LP is listening to Pantera, when you get the five of us in a room it’s electric. For some reason, we have that energy together. We grew up together, we went to high school together. We have this amazing cinderella story. Whether it’s new or old, you’re gonna get that flavor. We do believe in life changes, music evolves and it’s a part of life.
To me the new record When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes has more of a straightforward approach than past records, both lyrically and musically. Would you say that is a natural approach within writing together as a band rather than forced?
I think it’s pretty natural. I can’t speak for Ryan lyrically, but watching him being in a band, he’s such a poet. He’s such a great narrator for a band. We took a step back, took a two-year hiatus. There were things with the economy, things with the music industry, and ticket sales were down. We were just down on our luck, so many things were out of our control. So instead of just killing each other, we just said let’s hang it up for a minute and see what’s going on. And I think lyrically, the reason it was kind of effortless for Ryan was because we had two years away to just enjoy life. We went at it about 300 days a year for eight years. It’s amazing; you see things, you go to places you never thought you’d see, but you make a lot of sacrifices. Relationships with family, friends, and loved ones. I think having those two years off and focusing your life, like Ryan was able to get to a place where he was like “I’ve got some really cool stuff to write about.” So when LP said “Hey, let’s do a new Yellowcard record,” Ryan said yeah. It was like we sat down and wrote the record in four weeks. We all had musical ideas, but lyrically that’s how people connect. And Ryan does a great job of keeping his heart on his sleeve, but also having that different look than how other people look at things. I give him credit for that.
Are there any number of recent artists that influenced the music on Say Yes?
You know, for me not really. When I’m not on tour I just turn on the radio and listen to whatever pop is on. We the Kings had a big single, and all of the Katy Perry/Lady Gaga stuff. It’s all pretty superficial. When it’s not that, I listen to a lot of folk music, acoustic, strings, piano. Stuff like that. Again, we all have our different influences. It didn’t affect the record; I think it’s just because with the five of us, it’s so diverse. That’s the Yellowcard sound, it’s the common ground.
What kind of progression do you think the band is working towards when thinking about the next record? Heavier, more progressive? Or sticking to the roots?
It’s always good to have an edgier sound with YC. We all love harder-style bands, whether it’s hardcore or metal. I mean, LP just lives and breathes it. About as heavy as I get is some Thrice. They take a lot of elements, and Dustin [Kensrue] is an amazing lyricist. They mix in other elements too. We love that edge, but I really love our acoustic sound. We write a lot of our songs starting off on acoustic, and it creates a really nice pocket for the violin and string arrangements. So, you’re always going to get a little bit of that mix. Ryan is a master of the pop formula. He grew up listening to Nirvana and Green Day. If we can mix in some heavy, and find a soft spot for some acoustic/violin work, I’ll be happy.
I think Say Yes did a great job of that. “See Me Smiling” to me is one of those songs that was floating towards the heavier side of things. You got some of the first songs, like “Hang You Up,” as some of the lighter ones.
Speaking of acoustics, what prompted the band to re-record Say Yes all acoustic?
It’s funny, it wasn’t a premeditated thing. We’ve always wanted to do an acoustic record, or like a double, but we didn’t have the time, or didn’t know what to do, or didn’t have the money. A lot of credit to Ryan Mendez and Ryan Key, and I mean he (Mendez) has a vast resource of talents. He hears drums in a different way, I can’t hear it. He’s a great engineer, he has a pro tools rig. When he and Ryan were doing our b-sides we ended up doing 10 songs. We did drums for 12. We finished an 11th song called “Promises.” “Empty Street” kind of wilted a little bit. We didn’t get to finish vocals or violin. Then we wanted to do some acoustic stuff for an outlet, like if iTunes was like “Hey, we want to put you guys on the front page, can you give us a special iTunes deluxe release?” So, you always have a couple extra b-sides lying around. We did five at one point, just to have them. Then we didn’t have a way to release them, but we did three more. We were looking at it like “We have 80% of the record done, let’s do the other two and maybe for Christmas or for a surprise release it.” We gave them to Hopeless and were like “We have the whole record acoustic, would you want to do like an acoustic release?” They were like “oh my god!” and they fell in love with it. Just to have a label like that. It was kinda cool, because they didn’t spend a dime on it. We’re really lucky to have them as a part of team YC.
Does working with a more independent label like Hopeless push you guys to take things to the next level?
Yeah, they do, but they also stay out of our way. It’s a great relationship. I know they’ve been so busy, and they’ve been having a great year. It feels like Hopeless only focuses on YC, and when you’re in a band that’s all you can ask for. Whether it’s independent or major label, I understand the pluses and the minuses but we’re very fortunate to have had a positive experience on our old major label, and a very positive experience currently with Hopeless. So now we’re going to finish this tour up, we’re going to go to Europe with Saves the Day and The Wonder Years, and play some shows with The Young Guns. Then we’re gonna do a new record with Hopeless for next year. We’re really excited. We’re a touring band, but we want to make sure our fans know that we have material, and we want to get it to them. It’s been such a great year for YC, and we want 2012 to be exactly the same.
I remember when I first heard about the new record coming out, I was really surprised, like “oh my god, Yellowcard is coming out with a new record? It’s been years.” When I got that, I was just, wow. These guys have progressed. It’s something else, man.
Thank you, again Neal Avron [producer] is a great part of that team. We’re hoping we get to do that next record with him. He’s been a great friend of ours, and again five different personalities, different musical influences, when we get together with Neal he sorts through all of it. He’s like, this is the shining moment. He helps us capture that.
So we’ve been kinda serious for the past few minutes (laughs). So I’ll lighten it up a little bit. What’s a favorite band you enjoy touring with and what’s a funny story you have with them?
We just played in Australia for Counter-Revolution, and we haven’t played Warped Tour since ’07, but it felt like an Australian Warped Tour. So many friends, and so many new bands. Face to Face was there, and The Young Guns, this band from the UK. They’re freaking amazing dudes, and the All Time Low guys. We got in a van after a show in Adelaide, and it was us, Young Guns, All Time Low and all of our crew. We had this 30 person van/shuttle packed out, going from the venue back to the hotel, before going to the party. We had this bottle of Jack Daniels, we were singing the same song, and we’re passing the bottle around. Alex [Gaskarth] from ATL was like “We gotta finish this before we get to the hotel!” We were like “Yeah, what a great idea!” Stupid (laughs). We killed it, right? Then Ben [Jolliffe] from YG was like “I wanna crowd surf,” so he’s in the bus, we’re all sitting down holding our arms up, he’s crowd surfing from the back of the bus to the front. The bus driver was chill. It was such a great moment. It definitely is a snapshot of 2011 for YC. Those guys were amazing. We toured with ATL in the UK and then in the States, also YG opened in the UK, and then being in Australia was debaucherous, every night hanging out and having a good time.
Are there any songs you guys are most proud of? Like one of those songs that 10 years ago you never could have imagined being involved in creating?
You know, you had mentioned “See Me Smiling.” That’s a departure for us, again. Ryan Mendez came to us with a drum beat and a song structure. He was like “guys, I have this. What do you think,” and we were like, “are you kidding? It’s amazing.” We threw in some violin, LP worked on making it his own, and Ryan came up with the vocal melody. The topic was almost 10 years to the date after we lost one of our close friends to a diabetic coma while he was driving. It shook us up. Looking back, someone out there has always been there. We give a lot of credit to always having Scott on our side. That’s one of those songs that’s really close to home. It’s really cool, coming back after taking a couple of years off and having that song in the back pocket. It just felt like something different for us.
Is there a particular topic you’d like to cover in a future song?
I mean, Ryan’s got it down to a science. He usually just says “This is my topic, I’m stuck lyrically here, what should I do?” He doesn’t need much guidance. He’s got things pretty well figured out. I just wanna stay out of his way and hopefully we can write some good songs around it.
What’s next for Yellowcard?
Just finish out the year strongly. We’re gonna take a week off for Thanksgiving, which we’re pretty excited about. Then we’ve got three weeks with Heroes and Saves the Day. I grew up listening to those guys.
Oh man, Saves the Day (laughs).
It’s ridiculous. So just to be able to share the stage with them, and share a bus too, which could be a nightmare (laughs). Then we’re gonna take the first part of next year and put a new YC record together, then get out and be warriors of the road (laughs). That’s what YC does.
Any last words for the fans?
Yeah, thank you. We’re very, very lucky to be in YC, to be able to play music for a living and share a gift. We get so much back from our fans, we couldn’t do it without it them. So, I just want to say thank you from the bottom of our hearts.