Ryan Key, now operating under his full name of William Ryan Key, had a prolific career in Yellowcard. Now, Yellowcard is no more. The band broke up and moved on. It was probably time. They had an amazing tenure and survived their faire share of drama. One of the most incredible feats of the band was the several types of personalities they all had and how they formed something greater than the sum of their parts with every lineup they had. Key was a big part of that. He captained the band for over a decade after he joined it and he made it better when he became a part of it. In 2018 he’s started a new chapter of his career. He’s a solo artist and he’s released his first EP, Thirteen by William Ryan Key. Alternative Addiction recently chatted with Key about his latest music venture.
“The first thing was honestly knowing that I wanted it to be different than Yellowcard,” began Key in the interview when asked about the first step of his solo pursuit. “There was that, but I didn’t want it to sound forced or contrived in anyway. I had to think about what that meant and how I was going to pull off presenting myself as a solo artist. It took me a long time to figure out what that meant and what I wanted to do. I was messing around with ideas and I kept going back to the acoustic-driven singer/songwriter vibe. That felt the most natural to me.”
Finding the sound for the solo project was one thing but getting something laid down and ready for an audience to consume is another. Having a deadline can help a lot of people get something done, and that was the case for Key with his first solo EP.
“The real catalyst for me was the New Found Glory tour and getting to open for them for 5-6 weeks. I knew it was time to get serious then and write and record something so that I’d have new music to play. I could sign records and sell them at the merch table. That was as high as I set my expectations for any of it. Months later, it’s continuing to grow and it’s really blowing my mind. I’m happy that I’ve gotten a lot of reviews back that have talked about how different from Yellowcard that it is. That makes me feel that I was successful with doing something different and creating my own identity away from the band. That’s been really gratifying.”
Being able to establish a sound that was different than Yellowcard was critically important for Key on his first solo record. Wisely, he realized that he couldn’t produce the record himself and expect it to sound drastically different from what he’s made in the past. He recruited some help from a friend to push him towards a different sound.
“A huge part of the sound was bringing in Arun Bali from Saves the Day,” explained Key. “He’s a great producer and he’s been doing it for a while. I’ve produced stuff too, but what I learned from making Yellowcard records for all these years is that I make slick tightly-produced records while Arun kind of has that magical analog glow. He brings a vintage sound to stuff, which is tricky to do in the digital age of recording. That’s why I brought him in; to bring in a raw, organic sound to the project. We co-produced it together and he was a big part of finding the sound with me. I didn’t have a lot of songs written when we started working. We just went into the studio and picked up a guitar and if something sounded cool I’d get in the booth and track it. That aspect was cool. It was care-free and fun to do it that way.”
Key’s taking from two different inspiration pools for his solo work. He’s being driven by a lot of acoustic singer-songwriters obviously, but he’s also being driven by a lot cool, instrumental post rock music like Explosions in the Sky. Using those inspirations together was tricky for Key, but so was finding music that he could sing and play guitar with by himself at the same time.
“Finding melodies and lyrics that I was able to sing while playing this style of guitar was a little tricky. I don’t use a pick on the entire EP. It’s all finger-style guitar. Some of them are easier than others. ‘Vultures’ and ‘Form and Figure’ are strummed and easy, but some of the other stuff is a lot harder where I’m plucking single notes and playing melody within the chords; finding stuff I’m able to sing rhythmically and perform the guitar well at the same time was challenging. It came together though, and I felt comfortable playing the songs live and that was important. I just had to work for a while on what I could get my brain and my voice to do while my brain and my hands did something too. Finding melodies that were memorable and that I was able to play well was the most challenging thing,” added Key.
Sonically he had to find a new sound, but lyrically Key had to do some different things too. With a lot of solo artists that used to be in bands, they find that they can be more open and expressive with their lyrics because it’s just their name, not a moniker that everybody operates under. That’s applied for Key’s shift to solo too.
“Lyrically, you can tell that I wanted this to be very honest and open. I touched on a lot of personal things. The lyrics are such a driving force with this style of music. They deal with my life over the past several years, the breakup of the band, and the changes that I faced and continue to face moving forward. I wanted to be open about that and I’m happy with the lyrics on the EP. I’m proud of them.”
The next step for Key is another EP release. He’s working on that and you can expect to see that sooner rather than later.
“I’ll release an EP. It will end up being a record’s worth of songs for the year. That way when I’m doing headlining shows I’ll have stuff to play. I’ll be announcing some of those soon. After that, I’m going to be touring through February of next year already and after that we’ll assess where we’re at. Right now, I just want to get another one out, so I’ll have a full record’s worth of music to play.”
Last week Key played Warped Tour for a few dates and it was a very symbolic moment for him and for Yellowcard fans. The band’s broken up, but Key talked about how cool it was that they still got to be represented on the final run. In a way, him playing that show was a perfect transitional step for him away from Yellowcard and directly into releasing music as William Ryan Key.
“It was amazing. I did four shows. The last show was incredible. The crowd was massive for just me standing up there by myself with my acoustic guitar. It was interesting. It wasn’t the normal vibe at Warped tour. It was really overwhelming; the energy of the crowd was great. I didn’t want that to come across that it was my show or that it was about me. I wanted, on the behalf of the guys from Yellowcard and the fans, to be represented at the final Warped Tour somehow. It was such a huge part of everything we did. Kevin [Lyman] asked me to do it and I was honored and humbled to do that. To play the main stage was incredible. I’m glad that I got to be a part of it and the band got to be represented at Warped Tour.” -aa