Yellowcard: Looking Back On Ocean Avenue
What’s a bunch of Californian pop-punk superstars to do when the tenth anniversary of their career-defining breakthrough opus rolls around? Well, for Yellowcard, the answer was simple: re-release it in a revitalised, stripped-down acoustic format. The resulting Ocean Avenue Acoustic album is a breath of fresh summer breeze that delivers the nostalgic crowd favourites layered with additional flavours to surprise and delight the senses. For Ryan Key and his crew, another ten years could very well be on the (yellow) cards.
Can you tell us about the inception of the Ocean Avenue Acoustic album?
It was certainly inspired by When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes (Acoustic), which we did in 2011, and that started around with us recording a couple of acoustic B-sides and somehow ended up turning into us recording the entire album again in that way once we got time. With Ocean Avenue being in its tenth anniversary everyone was saying, “We need to do something to celebrate this” not only because it’s something a lot of other bands are doing but also as we felt it was something we owed to our fans. We had a desire to do something more than just a tenth anniversary tour, and when we approached Hopeless Records about it they were cool enough to treat it as a full album, so we were able to receive an album budget that would allow us the time and space in the studio to make it the way we wanted to! I think it came out amazing on record, there are some little surprises in there where we could really re-imagine a song and present it in a different way. To be able to go out on tour and perform the entire album in an intimate acoustic setting and connect with fans – especially those that have been around since Ocean Avenue – and hear people sing along without those pounding drums and loud guitars, and just hang out and talk, will be super rad!
Who did the majority of the song arrangements when it was time to interpret them acoustically?
I co-produced the record with Erich Talaba, and he’s engineered all of our records since Paper Walls. He works with Neal Avron, who’s produced those records, and we’ve become very close over the years. Normally Ryan Mendez [guitar] and I would do most of the producing together, but he wanted to spend some time at home with his wife, which I totally understand, so Erich and I took the reins and did a lot of the production. The arranging we kind of do as a band, and a lot of them were just acoustic versions of the original songs so there wasn’t a whole lot of need to change things. For the ones where I had a lot of ideas of how I wanted to try things, I’d just communicate it to the band and everyone would put in their opinions and it would end up going on the record in a way we’d all enjoy it. The things that are a bit more outside of the box compared to how they were arranged on the original record generally came from how Erich and I steered the ship in that direction.
What did you try to be conscious of in the arranging of the songs?
We wanted the record to be fairly string heavy, driven by Sean [Mackin, violinist]’s cello and violin compositions in a lot of the songs, so we tried to more consciously add additional layers of string instruments, or even new types of percussion here and there to give it the feel we wanted. There’s also some piano on the record and some banjo and stuff, but the strings are very dominant, which was where we felt they belonged. We also really wanted to make sure that the record would sound as though you were listening to a band playing the songs, and not be too overproduced. We didn’t necessarily track it with us all sitting around in a room – it would be cool if you could still make records like they did in the ’70s or ’80s and do every song 15 times – unfortunately that’s not the way records are made anymore due to budgets, but we did our best in the multi-tracking process to make it feel like we were all there together. And as I mentioned earlier, that sense of community within the band and also between the band and the fans is a big part of how we want the tour to feel.
Was there a nostalgia for the days of writing the original record as you did this?
There definitely was to an extent, but at the same time I feel like we were very much focussed on creating these new versions. We referenced the old songs a lot of course for bass runs or guitar leads and stuff, as there are songs on there that we literally haven’t even played for six or seven years. But aside from the times when we were referencing the record, what was cool about it was that we were able to approach it from a fresh perspective.
On the topic of the original record, what bands were you listening to back when you wrote that album?
Two huge records for us from that time would be Saves The Day’s Stay What You Are, and Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American. Those were definitely on repeat, they were staples for the band that had a lot of influence on us and on that record. But once we get in the studio and start making a record, we don’t listen to much music during that time so that we avoid trying to emulate other artists. Or if we are listening to something it’ll be something that’s unrelated to Yellowcard, so I might be listening to Bing Crosby or Billie Holiday records for a month or two, and not listening to any rock music so that I can focus on being creative for Yellowcard.
What do you think it was about that album that really captured people’s attention at that particular time and threw you into the spotlight?
So much of it was about right place, right time, dude! I like to think that the songs were the right songs for that record and that they were great songs, and it couldn’t have been accomplished without certain songs, but we also were very lucky to have a great team. We had signed with a major label, which was a daring move for a small rock band to make, and so many bands in history have had horror stories after doing well on their own and having things go to shit once they signed to a major label! But we had this team of people at Capitol Records that felt like an independent label! We could talk to everyone we wanted to talk to, we were all in it together making creative decisions. Nobody had any idea what kind of band we were apart from the guy who had actually signed us. Everybody else kind of just gave him the freedom to take the lead. We’d been doing really well in Southern California selling tickets to shows and so they knew there was something going on, but at the time the label had no idea about our genre. Our A&R guy kept the team focussed and did an amazing job. The record came out in the summer of 2003, and the song “Ocean Avenue” started making it onto the radio in the summer of 2004. Summer is a very important word, a very important time for our band and for our kind of music. In this genre, we’re summer bands, we’re Warped Tour bands, people wanna drive around with the windows down blasting that kind of music in the sun and that’s always been something cool that I think we’ve provided for our fans, and Ocean Avenue seemed to sum up that summertime experience. We hadn’t planned for that in the timing of it but it seemed to come out at the perfect time, fuelled by the right people.
Back in the early days, were there any accusations that having a violinist in your band was some kind of gimmick?
I’m sure there were, I mean out there on the glorious internet everyone’s a critic with a keyboard, but if there was talk of that out there we wouldn’t have given a shit. We’ve never really bothered with what people think of us in terms of negative opinions. As long as we’re still able to make records and tour the world I don’t care how much people hate our band, at least they’re talking about us! If anything I think having a violinist helped draw people to the band and they wanted to come see that live and hear it work. As we grew and we were able to afford better equipment and better mixing, that made the violin really show its sonic potential live; people saw it was a cool thing and a crucial part of the band.
A lot of people seem to be calling Southern Air your best record since Ocean Avenue. Why do you think so many fans are connecting with this one in particular in the same way they did with OA so many years ago?
I think a lot of it comes down to lyrics. But musically, Southern Air is also my favourite record we’ve ever made. We were just driving through the music, writing like crazy. Everything we did, we were like, “This is amazing, that’s amazing, and that is too!” It was such a positive experience musically. But lyrically I think I was in a very similar headspace to what I had been back then. I guess you could call When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes an equivalent to what One For The Kids was – it was our first time back after a break, and the band was building back up. So that would then make Southern Air the equivalent of Ocean Avenue – there was this team behind the band again and the future was looking great and there was just this positive outlook for us to sustain the band and do what we love. There’s always been so much passion and emotion in our band – both in our personalities and in our music – so I think I was just at an all-time high lyrically in much the same way I had been for Ocean Avenue. So I think a large part of the reason was that I was in a similar headspace on both records.
When you have an album that’s viewed by your fans as being so classic, do you feel pressure to try and beat it with each new release?
I actually don’t think so. For example, when we wrote Lights And Sounds we consciously wanted to do something that was the polar opposite of Ocean Avenue. We wanted to make a winter record instead of a summer record. A lot of it was written in the winter in New York city, with a totally different vibe from the beaches of Florida and California. We write differently for where we are in our lives, and I’m proud of our band for that. We don’t try to cater to anybody commercially or try to match the success of a previous album. And obviously we haven’t anyway – nothing we’ve done since has even stepped out of the shadow of Ocean Avenue commercially, but that doesn’t mean we won’t put 110% into every record. We want every record to stand alone. I’ve never been a fan of bands who will release the same record ten times in a row.
When you first released Ocean Avenue, where did you think your career would be ten years from then?
Back then our biggest dream was to maybe one day play on the main stage at Warped Tour. We had no idea. We’ve never been a band that looks too far out. We’ve always been very focussed on the here and now, and making the best decisions we can for us at the present time and making the most of every opportunity.
Do you think Yellowcard can make it through another ten years?
I hope so! We certainly have the groundwork laid from the last two records and with the acoustic album coming out too. Our fanbase is stronger than ever and it’s still growing. Ticket sales continue to surprise us in all the places we’re going around the world and so does the age of the fans. We’re seeing familiar faces and kids who’ve been coming to see us for ten or more years but there will still be hundreds or even thousands of 12 to 16-year-old kids in the crowd, which is mind-blowing knowing we’re still making that many new fans. So I think we should hopefully have the ability to keep making records and touring for another ten years or even more!
Ocean Avenue acoustic is out now through UNFD. Be sure to catch the guys alongside Toy Boats at their shows this October!
Yellowcard / Toy Boats Tour Dates
Fri Oct 25th – The Tivoli, Brisbane (18+)
Sat Oct 26th – Enmore Theatre, Sydney (AA)
Tue Oct 29th – The Palace, Melbourne (18+)
Thu Oct 31st – Capitol, Perth (18+)