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Yellowcard finds success on ‘Ocean Avenue’

Florida pop-punk band blends Stratocaster with Stradivarius
/ Source: The Associated Press

Yellowcard lead singer Ryan Keys is interrupted with news.

“We’re doing laundry today? Yea!” he says.

After weeks on the road as one of the headlining acts of the hugely successful Vans Warped Tour, it’s the simple things — laundry, beds and hot food — Keys and his fellow band members enthusiastically look forward to.

“Sorry about that. That was important to know,” Keys apologizes. “You don’t know when you’re going to get a chance to do laundry again.”

Those chances have been infrequent for Yellowcard, the Los Angeles-based pop-punk rock band that’s experiencing multiplatinum success with their major label debut “Ocean Avenue.” Now that the Warped Tour has wrapped up, they’re heading to Miami to play at Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards. Then they strike out on their own national tour.

“It just keeps getting crazier and cooler,” Keys says in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

Days earlier, Keys and his bandmates sat on a bench within earshot of the Warped Tour’s stop in New York.

“We’re in a great mood,” said violinist Sean Mackin, 25. “We’re having a great time right now. What more can you ask?”

Climbing the charts
Not much. The band’s first single, “Way Away,” can be heard on Fox’s “The O.C.” and last year’s Madden NFL video game. Their follow-up single “Ocean Avenue” broke Billboard’s Top 10 and earned them a VMA best new artist nomination.

“We never expected to do this well. We never expected to have a song that hit the Top 40. That’s super high for a little band like us,” Keys said.

There’s little that’s little about Yellowcard, a band that took its name from a soccer penalty call that has become slang for “party foul.” From their big, punk-inspired sound to the infusion of a violin as a rhythm instrument in a genre that is anything but soothing to the ear. Blender magazine described their major label debut album as “Stratocaster meets Stradivarius.”

Yellowcard formed in 1997 in Jacksonville, Fla., at a performing arts high school with Mackin, guitarist Ben Harper and drummer Longineu Parms.

Key, who was not an original band member, dropped out of college after about a year and moved to California but returned a short time later. Harper saw one of Key’s band practices in 1998 and asked to jam with the band, which was looking for a new singer at the time. They were later joined by bassist Pete Mosely.

They’re an unlikely combination — Keys was influenced by ’80s glam rock and early ’90s punk rock while violinist Mackin studied classical music; Parsons was raised on jazz and Harper went through a hip-hop phase. Mosely had played with pop-punk’s Inspection 12.

With a handful of songs in hand, Yellowcard headed to California’s San Fernando Valley in early 2001, releasing “One For The Kids” on Lobster Records, an independent label. They followed it up a year later with “The Underdog EP” on Fueled by Ramen Records.

Building a local following, the band soon caught the interest of Capitol Records.

'Good songs, good players'“Initially, when I saw them play in a club in front of 250 people with no record out, they had many of the things you look for when you are make a record with a band — good songs, good players,” Capitol Records President Andrew Slater tell the AP.

“Ocean Avenue” was released in July 2003 but gained steam in January when they broke into the Top 40.

Although the band walks the pop-punk walk — from their clothing to their language, the album is a departure from punk music typified with angry lyrics.

“We are not the rock star band,” Keys says. “There is not a whole lot of glitz and glam when it comes to Yellowcard.”

In fact, there seems to be an unusual amount of thought when it comes to the band and its approach to music.

“They are all kind of positive and affirmative songs,” Keys said.

During their recent performance at Randall’s Island, a woman whose husband was killed in Iraq joined the band on stage during their performance of “Believe,” a song written in honor of the life and death decisions made by police and firefighters on Sept. 11.

Thousands sang along with the lyrics:

“Think about the love inside the strength of the heart,Think about the heroes saving life in the dark,Climbing higher through the fireTime was running outNever knowing you weren’t going to be coming down alive,But you still came back for me,You were strong and you believed.”

To commemorate the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Yellowcard is distributing singles of “Believe” to the New York fire and police departments. It will be accompanied by a letter that Keys wrote while sitting on an airplane.

“I was thinking about how often we put our lives in the hands of people we trust and we don’t know,” Keys said.

In the letter, he wrote that he wondered what it must be like to be the person who’s forced to make the decision of giving up their life to save another.

“We wanted them to know we’re out telling story,” Keys said. The song “is like a giant thank-you card from us.”