Fri Oct 28 2016 5:30PM
Salt Lake City
536 W 100 s
For their seventh studio album, Lift a Sail, Yellowcard had a simple but ambitious goal: to outdo everything theyd ever done before. The guitars and drums had to hit harder; the songwriting had to cut deeper; the choruses had to reach heights only hinted at on their previous outings. Frontman Ryan Key believes he and his bandmates—guitarist Ryan Mendez, violinist Sean Mackin, bassist Josh Portman and guest drummer Nate Young (Anberlin)—succeeded on all those fronts. We really feel like we got where we wanted to be, and made a proper rock n roll record, Key says proudly.
Recorded with longtime producer Neal Avron at The Casita, his studio in Los Angeles, Lift a Sail is Yellowcards first album for Razor & Tie and by far their most dynamic, full of massive rock anthems and haunting ballads shot through with Mackins evocative violin and string arrangements. Young, who recorded his drum tracks at East West Studios, gives songs like Transmission Home an extra hard rock kick, over which Ryan Mendez guitars have never churned with more intensity.
After two of the most eventful years of his life, its the kind of emotionally cathartic record Key needed his band to make. In 2012, while on tour in Europe, Key met the woman who would become his wife, Alyona Alekhina, a professional snowboarder from Russia. By the end of the year they were engaged—but just a few months later, while training in California, Alekhina suffered a spinal cord injury, causing paralysis below the waist.
In the end, the tragic turn of events brought Key and Alekhina even closer together. Key was at her side for months in intensive care and through the beginnings of physical therapy. They were married in the ICU. Its been an unimaginable challenge for us both, Key admits, but his wifes will and determination through it all has been an inspiration. Shes incredible. She is by far the strongest human being Ive ever known, and I know she will walk again.
Keys whirlwind journey with Alekhina inevitably influenced the lyrics on Lift a Sail, as on the ballad Madrid, named after the city in which they met, and album standout One Bedroom, which Key wrote about the apartment the couple shared in Denver during the first part of her rehabilitation. Over acoustic guitars that gradually give way to an anthemic power ballad, Key sings, Youre the one for the rest of time.
It was just the two of us most of the time and that apartment seemed to be the only safe place on Earth for us both, Key remembers. We went through so much, we shared so much there. So the song is sort of a love letter…letting her know what she means to me.
Obviously that was a massive life event, he adds, and as a songwriter, its hard not to put that down on paper. A lot of the record is about she and I and what weve been through.
Another of Keys favorite songs on the record, My Mountain, is about another important person in his life: his grandfather, a poet who passed away earlier this year and who Yellowcard fans will know as the voice on Dear Bobbie from 2007s Paper Walls. His dying wish was to have his ashes scattered on a family property in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, next to one of his daughters, Keys aunt, who passed away two years earlier. As my grandfather was passing, in hospice, he kept asking my mom if he was on the mountain yet. And my mom kept saying, Youll be there soon. Keys lyrics to My Mountain imagine his grandfather looking out from his final resting place: I have found my mountain/I can be with her/When I finally came across/I recovered all I lost.
To match the most profound lyrics of Keys career, Yellowcard had to step up with some of their most risk-taking music. MSK, in particular, stands out with a sparse arrangement that sets Keys emotive vocals against a backdrop of Mackins swirling violin and atmospheric keys and electronics, the latter programmed by Nate Young. Its one of the few Yellowcard tracks ever to feature no guitars or drums at all. Its a bold leap for us, Key declares.
Elsewhere on Lift a Sail, Yellowcard returned their early 90s alt-rock roots, finding inspiration in the dense guitars of bands they grew up listening to like Nirvana, Filter, Foo Fighters, and Smashing Pumpkins. Ryan Mendez raging guitar parts on hard-charging anthems like Crash the Gates and Illuminate channel those 90s influences into songs that push Yellowcards sound well beyond their pop-punk origins—especially when Sean Mackins increasingly sophisticated strings come swooping in to take the songs to another level.
We really changed lanes, I think, Key explains. Its still a massive rock record, but there were a lot of choices made while we were writing the songs that were new for us. We continued to challenge ourselves throughout the writing and recording process.
The song that perhaps best sums up that attitude is the anthemic title track, whose resilient lyrics (If a storm blows in on me/I am ready now) reflect both the inspiring determination of Keys wife and Yellowcards increasingly fearless approach to making music. Its the one song that really encompasses this whole experience, Key declares, looking back on everything he, his family and his bandmates have been through over the past year. Its saying, were ready for anything now.
Posted By Stefano Bouzari