An Interview With The Musician WILLIAM RYAN KEY All About His Solo Debut EP “Thirteen,” Moving Past Yellowcard and More!
Posted On 23 Jul 2018
Sometimes a step sideways is the best progression forward. After the breakup of Yellowcard in Spring 2017, vocalist/guitarist William Ryan Key did just that with his solo debut EP, THIRTEEN which was released on May 25 via The Lone Tree Recordings.
Both a sonic re-direction and a rediscovering of his muse, THIRTEEN finds Ryan in a brand new headspace with a sound that moves away from the pop punk genre that Yellowcard helped create and into new uncharted territory that’s equally introspective but not as anchored in convention.
“It took a long time to find my own focus and direction after 17 years in a band,” Ryan explains. “However, once I found it, the music felt like coming home. There was new freedom and creativity that I channeled into each of the songs.”
Acoustic and emotionally raw with a spacious and pristine hi-fi sound, Thirteen kicks off with the haunting “Old Friends”, with its un-nostalgic look at past mistakes (“I’m sitting on a mountain of guilt that I finally started chipping away”) and realizing that he’s ready to move forward. The epic soar of “Form and Figure” combines the tender introspection of Elliott Smith with the atmospherics of Hammock as filtered through the knowing eyes of Ryan Key. The first single “Vultures” retains a hint of his past sound in Yellowcard but decidedly switches up the chorus in a way that he could never accomplished in the pop punk paradigm. “‘Vultures’ was the first song written and recorded for ‘Thirteen’,” he explains. “I feel like it is the right song to help fans across the bridge from old to new, as well as introduce people who are new to my music to the sound.”
Co-produced with Arun Bali of Saves the Day (who also mixed the EP) at his own studio The Lone Tree Recordings, THIRTEEN is a pivotal mark in Ryan’s life. “2013 was a really difficult year for both me and the people I love,” he says. “When writing, I was looking back on the journey from then until now.” Another noticeable change was re-adding “William” back into his full name. Followers on Twitter are already accustomed to it (his handle is @williamryankey), but for many who know him simply as “Ryan Key,” an additional two syllables will need to be added when referring to him and his solo career. “William is my first name that I carry from my maternal grandfather,” he explains fondly. “He was always a huge inspiration to me so it’s an honor to use his name.”
With a new direction in life and a whole new sort of independence as a solo artist, Ryan is feeling the freedom of expanding his personal songbook. Still appreciative of his fans now as he was with Yellowcard, Ryan is always thankful to his fans who have supported him through his musical journey. As much as this EP is a new beginning for him, he sees it also as the beginning of a new relationship with his fans. He concludes, “I can only hope that this release is the beginning of a new chapter both for myself, and for the fans that have supported me for so very long.”
Read more about Ryan Key in the following All Access interview:
Where does this interview find you now? What’s on tap for the rest of your day?
I am in New York City today. My Warped Tour shows finished in New Jersey on Saturday and I decided to spend a few days in the city. I love it here. I’m spending the day writing for my second EP which I have just started to record back home in Nashville.
Overall, how do you think 2018 has been treating you and your music career? What has been one goal that you have had this year and how close are you to reaching it?
I am blown away by the opportunities this year has provided me. I have recorded and released my first EP. I have toured across the US supporting my friends in New Found Glory. I have been given the chance to play guitar with New Found Glory. I am going into the studio to record another EP now, and I have myself booked all over the world touring starting in September going through February of next year. So if my goal was to get my solo career off the ground I’d say I am definitely close to reaching it. It’s all very exciting for me.
Growing up, was music always a big part of your life? Can you recall your first ever musical experience?
I was a fan of music from a very young age. However it didn’t really start to consume my life until the early 90’s when bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam started to find their way into the mainstream. I didn’t have a lot of access to independent music so as a child I got my music from the radio and MTV. When those bands were made more accessible I really started to want to learn to play and perform my own music.
What has been the biggest surprise so far about making music your career? Has there been an unexpected or welcome challenge to it all? What would you say is the biggest lesson you learned from Yellowcard breaking up last year? What will you take from that experience into your new solo career?
I think just being able to do it at such a high level for so long has been the biggest surprise. It is constantly challenging though. I am always looking for a way to keep my music relevant and keep people excited about what I am doing. That was true in Yellowcard and is still something I am working hard to do now. With Yellowcard ending, I just wanted to stay connected to those fans that supported the band and myself for all those years because I want to keep making music for many years to come. The lessons I learned from my time in Yellowcard are countless. Mostly I just try to look back on those lessons and make sure I am not making the same mistake twice, or that I am using the positive lessons and applying them to what I am doing now.
How do you think you and your music have been influenced by your hometown and where you live today? If you don’t think that it has affected you at all, why is that?
I have lived in many places since I first left home in 1999. I think where I have lived has always affected my songwriting in some way. The people in my life have often changed due to my moving around which always made for new experiences and relationships. My hometown of Jacksonville, FL has always been with me in my writing as well. It is hard to look back on life and growing as a person without reflecting on the place that raised me.
I find it interesting that sometimes musicians choose to go by something other than their own name so why did you decide to go by your own name?
I never really considered otherwise when I was planning on releasing my own music. I knew sonically it was going to lean heavily on the singer/songwriter vibe so it just made sense to put it out under my name.
Let’s talk about your just released EP, “Thirteen.” What was it like going into the studio and recording this first collection on your own? Can you elaborate on how it felt like coming home?
I just had to be patient while trying to find the sound. I knew I wanted it to be different from Yellowcard but obviously I didn’t want it to sound forced in any way. When I finally started to hone in on some ideas they just felt really good. I think I made the comment about coming home because I had sort of been wandering for quite a while looking for the sound. When the songs finally started to come together in the studio it just felt amazing. It was a weight being lifted.
While it’s difficult to choose, can you pick out a few of your favorite songs off this EP and talk about how they were written and came to be on “Thirteen”?
I think my two favorites are ‘Old Friends’ and ‘Great Unknown’. However all the songs were written much the same way. I put together the guitar and the structure of the song musically and then just lived with that for a bit as I wrote the melodies and lyrics. With all the songs I just wanted to be as open and honest as I could. The lyrics are such a central focus in this type of songwriting so I took a lot of time to carefully choose the words.
How did you go about linking up with The Lone Tree Recordings? Why do you think this is the right place for you and your music now?
When I knew Yellowcard was ending I just wanted to be prepared for the future. I decided to work on building a recording studio of my own called The Lone Tree Recordings which has now also become my own little label imprint to release my music with. The studio part was a crowdfunded Kickstarter campaign that was so amazing. Fans were unbelievably supportive and the project was even over funded, giving me such an incredible opportunity to build my future.
What do you think makes for an ideal show for you? What has been a favorite performance of yours so far? Do you have any upcoming shows this summer?
An ideal show for me is very much in my control. If I am in a good headspace and feeling comfortable and relaxed, it doesn’t matter if I am playing for 100 people or 10,000 people. I love performing and have tried to teach myself over the years to enjoy every minute of it no matter what the setting may be. I just played 4 shows of my own on the final cross country Vans Warped Tour and they were incredible. I am also getting to play the last 3 Warped shows on guitar with New Found Glory.
We are currently living through a very trying and politically charged time right now so I am curious to know how your own music is reflecting this time period? If you don’t think it is, why is that? Would you say that other musicians are making music that has been influenced by this climate?
So far my solo effort has not been influenced by politics. I am a very political person and I have very strong opinions about the current climate, but it hasn’t felt right to inject those opinions into these songs. I do think that music as a whole has and will always be a reflection of the times in which it is written, and that is something I love about making music.
What has it been like keeping up with your social media accounts and all the different platforms? Is it hard to stay up to date on it all?
I cheat haha. Honestly though I have an amazing team of people working with me on my solo career and they are so helpful at keeping up with it all, allowing me to really focus on making the music which is most important to me. I have really enjoyed connecting with fans through social media as we build this new thing together.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? Who would you absolutely still love to work with in the future?
I think there is a very specific set of artists influencing my solo work. Bands like Coldplay, Radiohead, and Explosions in the Sky. Singer-songwriters like Elliott Smith, Jason Isbell, and Ryan Adams. All of these are artists that I have listened to for decades now and channeling those influences into my own sound has been challenging and exciting for me.
If you were going to be stranded on a deserted island forever, what musical item would you take with you?
If I could get it there, my baby grand piano haha. I think I would finally have time to learn how to really play it which is still a dream of mine.
If your music was going to be featured on any TV show that is currently on right now, which would you love it to be on? Or if you prefer, what is a movie that you love that you wish your music was featured in?
I think I can go back to Good Will Hunting which was the film that introduced me to Elliott Smith and say I’d love to have an opportunity like that someday.
At the end of the day, what do you hope your fans take away from your music?
I have always hoped that my songs will help people navigate their lives. If a fan can find something inspiring that makes them feel better about their life, or helps them make sense of a difficult situation in their life, then I have accomplished my mission.
Where can our readers connect with you?
All of my social media is @williamryankey and you can find my website for tour dates and merchandise at williamryankey.com