Interview: William Ryan Key

For years, William Ryan Key fronted Yellowcard, one of the most successful pop-punk groups of the early 00’s. I remember first discovering them from free mp3 sites, with “Rock Star Land” becoming an early favorite. I later caught the group playing live in Hollywood, opening for Less Than Jake and Sugarcult, with their break-out album Ocean Avenue not far behind.

Everything Except Desire cover art

Since Yellowcard called it a day with 2016’s self-titled final album, Key has been on his own solo musical journey, releasing his own material since 2018, and exploring grander musical palettes from acoustic-based pop-rock to electronica. Two weeks ago, the artist released his latest EP, Everything Except Desire, and was kind enough to take some time to answer my questions about his songwriting evolution, the new EP, and a couple questions about his famous past pop-punk project.

Indy Review: Hi Ryan, first it’s a pleasure to speak with you. I remember first seeing Yellowcard opening for Less Than Jake and Sugarcult years ago in Hollywood, and have been a fan since (and I briefly said hello to you after the show). Is there anything you miss from those early days of touring, before Ocean Avenue blew up?

William Ryan Key: Honestly, I was such a mess back then that it would be hard to say I missed it exactly. I am very grateful for everything that Yellowcard has given me throughout my life, but I am really happy to be right where I am today. 

IR: Since going solo, I’ve noticed a real evolution of your sound; going from a more acoustic rock/pop sound, to the heavier electronic influence on new songs like “Face in a Frame” and “Brighton”. Have these changes come from your personal music tastes changing, or simply being in the house most of the last two years and having time to explore these new directions?
WRK: The new EP having a more electronic foundation is definitely the result of being in the house. I have been a huge fan of ambient electronic music for many years, I guess I just never really considered it something that would fit for me as a solo artist. When the pandemic hit, and the future was so uncertain, I think I threw all of my preconceived notions of who I am supposed to be as an artist out the window and just started creating every day. To be able to showcase the influence that EDM and Neo-classical music has had on me with these songs is something I was very excited about from the very start of the process. 

IR: Along with writing these new songs, you’ve produced them as well? How has your experience and skills as a producer grown working on these tracks? Any plans to produce for other artists in the near future?
WRK: I am always trying to become a better writer and producer. I have learned so much with regards to producing over the last few years by making my own music, but I still have so much to learn. Something I am really focused on right now is finding opportunities to score for film and television. These songs were excellent practice in terms of producing more cinematic tracks. 

IR: In “Face in a Frame”, I found the line “There was never a fire here. I mistaken your warmth for fear” really impactful and emotionally jarring. Can you speak a bit about the origin and meaning behind it?
WRK: Just prior to the pandemic hitting which led into these sessions, I found myself in a very toxic situation with someone I really cared about, and I was led to believe they cared about me. It took a long time to unpack it all when the dust settled and that line is specifically dealing with the idea that you can feel a sense of warmth from someone that may not be warm at all. 

IR: From the beginning, your solo work has been generally quieter, moving away from the bigger and louder choruses of Yellowcard. How has this focus changed your approach to vocals? It sounds as if you’ve started using some effects on the latest songs?
WRK: I struggled day in and day out to be the vocalist I was expected to be in Yellowcard. I struggled with illness and my own unhealthy habits early on, but even after I started taking better care of my voice, singing was always a bit of a battle for me. With my own music, I consciously decided to let my voice live in a more subdued and comfortable place where I have more control, and less volume. It has been a game changer for me. I feel so much more confident as a vocalist than I ever have before. 

IR: I read that your new EP, Everything Except Desire deals with deeper themes like mental health and expunging emotional toxicity. How do you see “Face in a Frame” and “Brighton” fitting into the EP’s thematic narrative?
WRK: Those songs would be the flagships I suppose. They are really breaking down that misplaced sense of vulnerability, and the concept of allowing yourself to be taken advantage of but coming back for more. 

IR: I know you’ve been very active on Twitch over the pandemic. How has that outlet been useful to you for staying connected with fans, and has it played any part in the decisions you’ve made when sharing and promoting your music?
WRK: I started a Patreon page in 2020, signed a contract with Twitch in 2021 for 6 months, and have since gone back to Patreon. So while I have bounced around a bit, the through line is that I have found a way to take my creative process online and share it with fans in a totally new way. I think we have to be constantly adapting to stay afloat in this line of work, and I have found sharing my workflow to be very fulfilling. 

IR: This July will be the 20 years since Yellowcard’s THE UNDERDOG EP was released, which is one of the few works of the band (outside of soundtrack gems like “Gifts and Curses” that I’m guessing are in Sony’s hands) that are not available on streaming services. Are there any plans to celebrate the EP’s anniversary with a digital release or vinyl?
WRK: Not at the moment. 

IR: With pop-punk having a revival as of late, have you been flooded with new offers for Yellowcard to reform for festivals/live dates?
WRK: If we have been I haven’t been made aware of them. I think Yellowcard being truly in the past for us keeps me focused on what I am doing with my own music now.

IR: Do you have any plans to tour behind your new EP this year?
WRK: I have a few shows planned. I just need to work out how to take the songs from the new EP into a love setting. I am excited to figure it out though.

IR: Do you have a piece of advice for aspiring musicians?
WRK: One of the biggest lessons I have learned, obvious as it may be, is to tune out what others think about the music you make. These days with social media it is so easy to drown in a sea of negativity. Make the choice to stay positive and true to yourself, and you will make great music. 

IR: Finally, If you could make one lasting impact or change to popular music as it is now, what would it be?  
WRK: I don’t think I dream that big. For me it is all about focusing on the present. I try not to get caught up in what might happen or change in the future because I know I really have no control over it. I just hope the music I create makes people happy. 


Take a listen to Everything Except Desire here!

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