Header Photo Credit: Ryan Mendez
William Ryan Key has made a name for himself in the music industry for the past 15 years with his standing as the front man for beloved pop punk band, Yellowcard. With the passion of writing coursing through his veins, William decided to sit down in his own studio of Lone Tree Recording Studios and composed his very own EP, titled Thirteen.
While vocalists of former bands are known to write their own works in the similar vein of their past post-mortem, William has created something special with Thirteen. Nothing here remotely reminds the senses of Yellowcard, instead we are treated to something fresh and sincere. We follow William on his journey of self reflection of his actions within the past couple of years. 2013 was a difficult and tumultuous time for himself and his family and this 5 song EP mirrors the impression it left upon him. Thirteen is very strongly written in such a fluid and poetic manner that it comes off almost haunting at times.
Substream had the honor of sitting with William before his set at The Playstation Theater on May 30th in New York City. We eagerly spoke about his hand in writing a segment for Edge of Venomverse #4 (it is amazing, you should check it out and is available for purchase in your local comic book stores!), the pressures of writing as a solo artist and how his wonderful fans helped achieve his dreams. William Ryan Key is also currently on tour with New Found Glory, Bayside and The Movielife on the The Sick Tour.
Substream: Congratulations on the Spider Man comic! Did you write your own storyline?
William Ryan Key: I was given a lot of required elements and I had to write around that. I worked with a good friend who works at Marvel as an editor and he helped me with the writing process. The coolest part was learning how a comic book gets made. It was fun and super cool.
The whole thing that I was a part of was just one offs with single writers, like single artists doing their own thing. It is ‘edge of events’ that they do and that leads into the actual venom-verse comic which is a full-on thing that they do. It was like an intro to the series, a prequel if you will.
S: I heard that you caught the attention of the Mark Hamill. I think my head would have exploded if I saw my work caught his eye.
William: He started liking my tweets to him, which is cool. The Star Wars twitter account follows me and I check it once a month to see that they still do, and they do! I’m like, ‘why?’ They follow only 450 people and I’m now one of them. I was actually at Hollywood Studios in Disney World during the Star Wars firework show when I got the notification that the official Star Wars Twitter account started to follow me. It was the perfect moment!
S: This EP was such an endearing listen, because you hear the thought and precision that you put into this piece. Was it intimidating at all to dive into your psyche and lay it over the bare nature of an acoustic guitar?
William:Not really. With each Yellowcard record the lyrics and material grew with each record,especially on the last two. I really dug deep and the style was really different. It wasn’t quite like, event specific or story telling specific. It was a bit more like my psyche and general emotions. I feel that this lyrically was maybe a bit of a continuation of that. The lyrics came really naturally, like any record for me.
You asked me if I was intimidated and I guess I would say yes, but at the beginning. Once I get one song out then the rest just come out on a daily basis. After I finish the first song that fear goes away and that wall comes down. We were trying to get this done for this tour and we were really up against a deadline to get it produced, mixed and mastered and sent out to have the discs pressed and to the distributor to get it put up online. […] I was really intimidated at first, but then once I wrote the first song it was smooth sailing from there.
S: It is almost like learning to walk which leads to running.
William: Yeah! It’s sort of like a direction with one song. Once you write it, you’re like, ‘ok, this is where my head is at.’ This is where my writing brain wants to go for this project. That helps too. The first song sets the course.
S: What was it like to record in the fan funded Lone Tree Recordings? To know that this was truly your own space that the adoration of people of your own music helped you pave the way to your EP?
William: I was blown away by that whole experience. It was way over-funded and that whole thing of doing a Kickstarter is such a taboo thing. I did a lot of research with it and i looked at a lot of friends who I respect have done them and the rewards that they had given. I had tried to just make it feel really worth it for fans to be involved and to give something back to me where their support felt warranted. I wanted this give and take from artist to fan and I felt like everyone was really happy with the campaign and what was offered back to them for their support. […]
The fans are amazing. I originally was going to do only an exclusive EP for them, and the tour was coming up and my back was against the wall with timing and I reached out to everyone, saying, hey guys “Hey guys! I’m putting out these five songs, but I feel like they are the best songs that I am ever going to write. I would have to rush it, if I am going to put out a whole other record for you, and unfortunately because this tour came up you would have to wait even longer, so would it be cool if I just put an exclusive track on there just for you guys?”. Every single message was like, Go for it, dude!” “Do what you have to do!” and it was just awesome. It felt amazing, because I was really stressing that I wasn’t delivering what I promised to them.
The studio has been incredible. We did the last Yellowcard record there.I have also really discovered that I love making my own music. I thought that I would be going down the road of producing more than I have so far, but I don’t think that is where my heart is. I’ve really enjoyed the studio space on my own where I can experiment with writing and doing my own thing. It’s pretty amazing that I was given that by the support of that by my fans.
S: You put this EP out as William Ryan Key, which as you’ve stated, William is your grandfather’s name. What made present day the right time to move artistically with this name?
William: It’s funny, because it has always been my name. My parents always chose to call me by my middle name. My younger cousin the second born after me in our family, he also goes by his middle name. I don’t know what parental pow wow happened that made them decide to do that! My social handles have always been my full name and my grandfather was a carpenter and a mason when he was younger, but he wrote a lot of poetry in his life. He would write on everything, receipts, chewing gum wrappers; he always had doublemint or spearmint gum or whatever in his pockets and he would write on the wrappers.
My mom and her sisters found all of them and collected them through these old boxes and they made albums of his writings just before he passed away. Everyone in the family has a book of all his poems and it is pretty amazing. Carrying the name for me is an honor, because where it genetically got into me for writing lyrics, growing up i was a theater kid, I had no way of knowing I was going to get into this kind of writing as an adult. It really is just respect for him and the fact hta i think this music i am making now- not that the yellowcard songs weren’t totally dependant on it – the lyrics are going to carry such heavy weight here from now on…but everyone can still call me Ryan!!
S: As humans, we are forced to grow mentally as we link traumatic experiences of the past to the present state of mind. How does reflecting into the past, alter your current reality into who you are today and who you see yourself becoming in the future?
William: I didn’t always, but I try to be a good person. I wanted to become educated by my mistakes. I guess I should also try to focus on the good things that I have done as well and not just look on all my mistakes. However with this EP, I definitely look back on the things that I have done wrong as well as the missteps that I have also made. Mostly when it comes to my interactions with people and how I treat people. I have a short fuse, I always have. I wasn’t always the best at masking that when it should have been masked. It’s been a crazy ride since 1999-2000 when this all started. I try to look back on everything with gratitude and to focus on the spots where I messed up where I can learn from those mistakes. […] As far as who I want to be in the future, I guess I would say to be a better person and to also have a longer fuse in my old age.
S: And with that, Thirteen reflects on who you were in 2013. What do you hope to reflect on if you were to write an EP titled Eighteen for 2018?
William: Oh man! I think just in general in 5 years, this would be the start of a new chapter for me to carry on that far. Ther eis no way to know it is the music, business; there is no formula and no science. You have to know how to write a good song, but a lot of it is the right place, time and with the right people. It all happens in a perfect storm to make it what it is. I hope that is happening right now and I feel really good about the team of people with me and everyone is really excited about these first few songs. The idea of what I thought was going to be an EP I sold only at the merch table of this NFG tour turned into us talking to record labels and maybe making another EP or full length later this year. It is really cool.
S: You are currently on tour with other pop punk veterans and still these scene is strong with new acts gracing the stage in waves. How does it feel to reflect back on your tenure in the pop punk /alt rock scene?
William: This tour, we all kind of were part of that. We are all around about the same age. It is a cool tour, because we all know each other and there is a lot of mutual respect for each other. We all have been on the road for 20 years and we knows how to do a tour right.
I’ve been a big part of the emo night movement and to be honest I was very anti Emo Night when it first came out. I didn’t understand it. I was like, ‘what are you talking about? People do what?’ I must have done 50 shows with Emo Night Brooklyn at this point. That’s where it really shows, where you feel the love and what community we were a part of. I think that’s why I enjoy doing those events so much, when someone who thinks it is stupid by viewing it as it is a space where you just play bands on a laptop, now I can say, ‘Well, you haven’t been to one. You need to experience it.’ It is about people coming together and listening to music and it is no different than – for lack of a better comparison – but a wedding DJ. They play music that will make people happy and have a good time, and me as a singer of a band that is recognized by the audience, to get up there and fuel the experience, it is awesome and the energy in the room is insane and it was about that community it the scene and you see the reverence that people have for it. It is an easy way for me to look out and believe that we were a part of something big.