Former Yellowcard Front Man William Ryan Key discusses his new solo EP, and his goals for the future
Words by Nick Hodgins
With just a few days until his new EP Everything Except Desire releases, William Ryan Key finds himself at a dog park in Florida, standing outside the fence with his 7-year-old Blue Heeler… “he’s not great with other dogs so we’re trying to socialize him,” he explains. It’s been 23 years since Key has lived in his home state of Florida, and while he may be returning to his roots logistically, the former Yellowcard front man is doing the exact opposite when it comes to his music.
Key was first turned on to the instrumental side of electronic music when his former bandmate, Yellowcard guitarist Ryan Mendez, told him to check out a record called Immunity by English musician and producer Jon Hopkins, he was instantly hooked. So when Yellowcard decided to call it quits in 2017 Key wasted no time taking his musical ambitions in a different direction.
“I was always just a rock n roll kid,” Key explains over dogs barking in the background. “I would have never believed you if one day you told me I’d love electronic and EDM. 10-12 years ago Ryan (Mendez) was like, you should check out this record, he said he felt I was ready to digest this, an album called Immunity by Jon Hopkins and I never looked back.”
Key’s passion for this musical direction is evident in his new EP Everything Except Desire and the way he talks about it. The five song, 25 minute EP finds the 42 year old exploring a whole new genre as he navigates the electronic cinematic realm. Hoping one day to be scoring films and movies, this album is something he sees as a natural progression towards that goal.
“I have this vision when I’m 50 or 60 years old to still be in the studio scoring movies, that just sounds like the ultimate dream for me,” he says. “With my love of film and love of music, and these new skills I’m acquiring through producing this kind of ambient cinematic soundscape style tracks. I’m just trying to tie it all into the same experience.”
The EP began as somewhat of a pandemic project. Key recalls feeling very alone at the start of it all and taking that time to work on his self and his mental health. “During that time I started writing and recording a lot, just to do it, I didn’t have a plan for what it was,” he remembers.
Utilizing Patreon he found himself with a fan base that wanted to help support him and keep up to date on his creative endeavors. While there was an aspect of Yellowcard, playing acoustic shows as well as Q&A’s, that was never the sole focus. “It’s been really incredible the kind of support I’ve gotten through patreon with this core group of fans that have stuck with me post Yellowcard,” he says.
One of the things Key offered on his Patreon was a new song for patrons. For the first few months he’d record a song and send it to them, there was never any plan to release them. Not feeling confined to any one type of sound throughout this process, he found himself working more and more on electronic music.
“By doing it through Patreon I felt really comfortable just totally stepping off the ledge and doing something kind of unique and new for me. I was waist deep in electronic music and I just decided to jump all the way in the pool,” he declares. “I feel more comfortable in my skin as a writer and producer now than I have in my entire life.”
Everything Except Desire utilizes synthesizers, strings, different sound libraries and other tools to create vast layered tracks that feel just as much like a journey as they do a song. The large scale, cinematic vibe to the songs was a deliberate artistic choice by Key who created these tracks with cinema in mind. The entire EP was fully produced musically before any lyrics or melody were introduced to the songs.
He explains, “I built them thinking, what if there were no vocals on these songs would they have that ebb and flow, that sort of symphonic build that a soundtrack or score might have? Could a music director see them in their show or film?”
This is especially evident on the album closer ‘Union Chapel’, which Key references as his favorite track on the EP. The song begins with a single tracked vocal singing over a delicate synth before gradually building to a chorus of instruments.
“I just love that song, I love what I was able to find for those lyrics, I think they really paint a picture of this exact moment in time for me, and then that string section that I put together- I’m really proud of what I was able to do there,” Key discusses.
Key has kept busy in the aftermath of Yellowcard. Always looking forward, he was signed to a 6-month partnership with Twitch where he would livestream his writing and recording process before ultimately returning to Patreon. He is also co-host of a Star Wars podcast called “Thank the Maker” along with Bayside bassist Nick Ghanbarian.
Ghanbarian isn’t the only artist Key has remained in touch with from the 2000’s pop punk scene that so many grew up on. He sat in on guitar with New Found Glory for a tour, regularly takes part in Emo Night events and is also on the lineup for the Emo’s Not Dead Cruise happening this November.
“A lot of the aspects of Yellowcard were really challenging for me,” Key remembers. “Whether it was my own stress or anxiety that had overcome me often, or just being gone all the time. With my immune system, I was sick on the road all the time. Yellowcard was a pretty stressful environment for me most of the time that I was in the band.”
With the responsibilities of Yellowcard behind him Key has found himself rekindling some of those relationships with other musicians who came up alongside him during that era. Whether it be occasionally taking part in Emo events, or just simply catching a friend’s band when they come through his city.
“I’ve spent time after the band kind of figuring out why I let that anxiety and stress eat me alive all the time and it’s been really healthy for me,” Key reflects. “But I think one of the best parts of it, better late than never, I’ve been able to really connect with some of these friends that I’ve made over the years through being in the band and touring with everyone. I’ve been able to really make an effort to nurture those friendships and it’s been awesome.”
Key explains while he is happy to still be connected to the scene, he realizes it’s no longer where his passion lies creatively. The differences are clear in his music, Everything Except Desire is a far cry from his early days on the corner of Cherry Street.
“While it’s special to still be a part of it, I’m working with the struggle every day of how to differentiate from that scene musically and professionally. It’s funny you’ll put on my record that I just put out on your Spotify or Apple Music and it’ll go off to similar artists. So you’ll listen to the last song on Everything Except Desire, ‘Union Chapel’, which is this big sweeping cinematic electronic string driven finale and then… New Found Glory will come on.” He laughs, concluding, “At this point, I just can’t beat the algorithm.”
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