Whether or not it is ever intended or planned, the vocalist of each immense rock group becomes the face and heart of their sound. As fans gaze up into the eyes of whoever the band has chosen to narrate their story, they latch onto this person as a sinner latches onto a God. Even through headphones, listeners envision the vocalist singing them to sleep as if the lyrics were a secret intended for their ears only. Aside from being the band’s image, vocalists feel pressure building upon their shoulders as time moves on, as albums are released and as a reputation is created, and are sometimes forced to leave their individualism behind for the sake of the band. Over ten years, a band called Yellowcard delivered what fans memorialize as “life’s soundtrack”, the driving force behind pivotal moments in each person’s life. Hearts were shattered as the inevitable end of Yellowcard crept up on us but one year later another beam of light broke through. Vocalist William Ryan Key was ripping into his individualism again and sharing it with the world with his acoustic debut EP THIRTEEN.
“In 1999, I was first learning to sin”
“Old Friends” begins what listeners will immediately recognize as Key revisiting what blasting into Yellowcard’s success meant for his soul and life’s goals in 1997. Reminiscent of the person he might have left for dead, Key and the rest of Yellowcard members quickly found themselves in the middle of a new genre and uncharted territory. “Old Friends” feels like a melancholy but beautiful funeral song for Ryan Key of Yellowcard, someone who missed birthdays and left his local scene to chase Hollywood, becoming a face on posters across America and a person his old friends cursed. Now, Key is adding “William” back to his name and asking for open arms from those old friends. I hope he finds them.
“Vultures” picks up the pace a bit and was the EP’s first finished song.
‘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.”
The song poses a Macbeth-style question that Key seems to be asking himself: “Is it better to have had, than to have not?” A question most of us have approached with caution and fear of regret. “Form and Figure” creates a drifting backdrop for feeling lost but slowly found, with “someone’s always haunting my house” and “Thirty Days” seems like an ode to Yellowcard as “a great divide”, “a splintering of time”, and “a fleeting chase”. Coproduced with Arun Bali of Saves the Day (who also mixed the EP) at his own studio The Lone Tree Recordings, THIRTEEN marks a moment in Key’s life that we are grateful to glimpse into. “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.”
Into the great unknown…
I began this article determined to mention Yellowcard only once but found it an impossible feat while analyzing THIRTEEN. Adding William back into his name, Ryan Key was an immense inspiration to my teenage adventures and explorations and in my eighth listen I discovered THIRTEEN is meant to be a healing goodbye for Yellowcard fans and Key himself. The Yellowcard chapter has been closed but this is the send-off we were desperate for. For Key’s solo endeavor to succeed, he needed to place himself into our lives and hearts once again, not as the vocalist of Yellowcard but as William Ryan Key, with just an acoustic guitar and a gentle, meandering voice. In a different dimension, we are your old friends and we welcome you with open arms. Nice to meet you William, welcome home.