Yellowcard's Ryan Key never expected to fall in love while on tour in Europe back in 2012. Yet when he met Alyona Alekhina in Madrid, the two became mutually smitten, then practically inseparable. But as Key and Alekhina prepared to take their relationship to the next phase, the Russian snowboarder was injured in a training accident; she was paralyzed from the waist down.
The front man remained at Alekhina's side throughout her time in the hospital, culminating in their marriage while she was still in the ICU. Though her condition has been a challenge, her grit and determination have inspired her singer/songwriter husband. For Yellowcard's ninth studio album, Lift a Sail, Key wrote about the positivity in moving forward in life, even when the most difficult situations arise.
"I felt like the words 'Lift a Sail' invoke such a powerful emotion and hopeful feeling," he says, taking a break from moving boxes in his new home in Nashville. "We've always had that with our music, and the idea of lifting and moving forward was exactly what we wanted to convey." Key wanted people to universally relate to the album's words, not so much his own situation. And his deeply personal lyrics aren't just limited to those songs about his wife. On "My Mountain," the singer pays tribute to his late grandfather, with whom he was close and who lent his vocals to the song "Dear Bobbie" on 2007's Paper Walls.
"It was very cathartic for me to let out a lot of the things I was thinking and feeling for many months," Key says. "I didn't want this to be specifically about our situation. I was able to have that cathartic experience by writing about it, but also enjoy the process of songwriting where people could relate to it in their own way, too."
On Lift a Sail, the band employed a heavier, arena-driven sound that is inspired by many of the '90s alternative rock bands Key listened to during his formative years. He says the melodies were influenced by his favorite band, Coldplay.
"Before we started writing, one of the big words we were using was massive," the singer explains. "After we saw the first Warped tour, we shifted from listening to alt-rock and got into the Warped scene. Somehow, as Sean [Macklin] and I were writing this record, we realized that those sounds were rearing their head and this was a different and new thing."
It's been more than 10 years since the band, which formed in Jacksonville, Florida, rose to prominence with "Ocean Avenue," just at the onset of the pop punk movement. The song could be heard everywhere, including on MTV's TRL and video games Madden 2004 and SSX. Peaking at No. 37 on the Billboard Hot 100, Yellowcard became an in-demand act in the pop punk genre, which is where they've stayed.
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Looking back, Key says he's grateful for everything the band have collectively experienced. The excitement of his professional life allows him to stay positive in his private life, as well, giving him much-needed perspective on how grateful he is for the past decade. "None of us feel like it's been a long time," he says. "Taking the chances we did on this record, with the lyrics and riffs, it reaffirmed to us that there's still a lot of music left to go."
Yellowcard perform with Memphis May Fire and Emarosa at House of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-2583; www.houseofblues.com/anaheim. Sat., 8 p.m. $26.50. All ages.