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Interview: Ryan Mendez of Yellowcard

After announcing the end of their “indefinite hiatus”, Yellowcard have been busy.   Since the announcement, the pop-rock 5 quintet have released the critically praised When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes, been halfway across America with All Time Low and seem poised for even greater success as they prepare for a co-headlining run with Good Charlotte.   Mike Skehan of idobi had a chance to chat with guitarist Ryan Mendez about getting back together, touring, the Detroit Red Wings and more.

idobi: How is everything going?

Ryan Mendez: It’s going great.   This tour that we’ve been on with All Time Low, Hey Monday and The Summer Set has been phenomenal.   Everybody gets along great, we’re friends with everybody, it seems like the crowd enjoys all four of the bands.   It’s just an extremely fun tour.   Pretty much all of the shows have been sold out.   I think it’s going as well as we could all hope for.

Being one of the opening acts, you said you find that the audience is receptive to both the new material and you guys in general?

I think that the audience has been receptive.   We’ve got a good amount of our fans at the shows as well.   I think that’s, in part, because we’ve been off on a hiatus for a few years so this is the first tour that we’ve done since 2007 and we’re just getting back into the swing of things and putting out a new record.   There’s been a good amount of fans there for us each night and I feel like the fans that have been there to see All Time Low have been receptive, as well.   It’s going as well as we could have hoped for considering we’re in an opening position.

Does this serve as a nice warm up for your co-headlining run coming up with Good Charlotte?

I think it’s going to be great.   On the Good Charlotte tour, we’re hitting markets that we aren’t hitting on this tour.   A couple of them are the same places but a majority of them are actually in new places.   We’re obviously hoping that some of the people who saw us on this tour will make a little drive or whatever, but it’s good now.   We’ve been talking about it for the last week at our shows and everybody’s been giving us a great response.   We’re really looking forward to it.

After being gone for a couple of years, how was it playing those first few shows after the hiatus?

It’s great.   We played a show at The Glasshouse in Pomona for our first show back when we first recorded.   It was just a one-off show like, “Hey, the band is back.”     We did it in southern California, where we’ve played a bunch of times.   It was incredible.   Some of the most die-hard fans of the band came and people flew from all over the world.   We know of people flying from all over the country, there were people flying in from Australia and Germany.   It was just unbelievable, like we’d never gone anywhere.   Some of the most die-hard fans were there and it felt like nothing had ever happened.   The first few shows we actually played for tour were in Japan, because we started an international run before we met up with All Time Low.   Japan is always amazing and it was similar to that Pomona show in the sense that it felt like we’d never left.   It’s just been great.

Fans aside, how was the chemistry of the band being onstage after being away for some time?

I think it’s fantastic, yeah.   I think that this current lineup of the band is the best that it’s ever been.   Everybody is super positive and on the same page.   We’re all just very energized and super focused about making the band really take off again and I think that really comes through on stage.   Everybody is really comfortable and really enjoying it. You can tell because it comes through in the show.

Moving back to before the shows, how did everybody reach a decision in making another Yellowcard album?   Was everybody on the same page?

When we first decided we were taking the break, we specifically said that we weren’t breaking up and that we were just taking a hiatus.   We wanted to leave the door open just in case there were opportunities.   It just ended up being a couple of years and that was the right amount of time.   Everybody thought, “Hey, maybe we should try to get back and see what’s going on.”   Everybody had scattered and somewhat gone their own ways for a couple of years and it seemed like everybody was just pretty open to the idea of getting back together again right around the same time.   It wasn’t a specific event or anything.   We just started talking and it came up and everybody seemed positive about it.   Those few years served as the right amount of time for us to figure out our purpose in life and figure out what we want.   We realized that this is what we want.

I’d heard that you moved to Arizona and settled down for a bit, so was it a tough decision to jump back into the touring lifestyle after some time off?

At first it might have been.   When we first took our break, I was definitely ready to not be touring anymore.   A lot of that was because I’m married and my wife was just at home and I was   ready to be off of the road for awhile.   My wife is actually going to grad school at Arizona State University, so she’s super busy with that.   I was doing mixing and producing in Arizona, but not much else was going on.   That’s part of the reason I was ready to hit the road again.   She’s so busy for the next couple of years in school.   We both grew up in California so we’re not really huge fans of it in Phoenix so my wife just said, “I’m so busy in school, you should take off on the road while I’m in school.   We don’t really like it here anyways.”   That might sound kind of funny, but that was part of the decision, definitely.   So far it’s been great and I’m really happy with the decision.

Did the band just jump right back into the swing of things when everybody got back together?

I think so.   Myself and Ryan Key and our bassist   Sean O’Donnell   were working together in the last couple of years on this project called Big If.   It was a band that was basically going to be the two of them but I was involved behind the scenes doing writing, production, mixing and playing lead guitar and stuff like that.   Some of the songs [for our record] we took from that project.   Then we spent some time at my house.   Everybody flew in and we did some writing and pre-production and hashing out of ideas.   It felt very natural and very good.   Sean O’Donnell is a great addition.   His songwriting background is very solid and we were all fans of his old band and he blended right in.   It felt really good.   It didn’t feel forced or stale.   We all felt really energized and happy about the direction of everything.   It was very positive.

What was the major inspiration in writing the album?

I don’t think we had one huge inspiration.   One thing that we just kept referencing was that we really wanted to write music that was fun and energetic that we were going to have fun playing and people were going to enjoy hearing live.   We didn’t really have a specific direction that we wanted to go.   We just wanted to write fast, fun, energetic songs.   We had a limited amount of time compared to some time the band has had in the past.   Being on an indie label, naturally it’s a smaller label and there’s less studio time.   That forced us to be a little bit more focused and not over think things.   Take that and combine it with, “Let’s just write what’s as fun as possible” and it produced what we ended up making.   I think it’s a really good thing.   Sometimes artists really tend to over think and over complicate things and I definitely don’t think we had that problem this time.

Those things aside, was the band looking to change or improve upon anything when looking back at previous releases?

Well, I don’t know that we were really comparing it to the Big If stuff, since that was a different project…

Yeah, but not even Big If.   Anything, in your past.

I don’t’ know that it was really a conscious decision to do that,   Like I said, our main focus was just to write really fun, fast music and play with a lot of energy.   I don’t know that any of us were really sitting around saying, “Let’s improve on this” or “Let’s change that” or “Let’s try to move more in this direction.”   That was never really a thought in our minds I don’t think.

Then what were some of the other challenges of creating this record, especially considering that you guys hadn’t spent much time together working on music during the hiatus?

A lot of it was the distance.   When we took the hiatus, we scattered to different corner of the country.   Sean Mack, our violinist, moved to Seattle and got married.   Ryan Key moved to Athens, GA, where he has a lot of   family.   I moved to Phoenix.   Sean O’Donnell, our new bassist, is in San Diego.   And LP [Longineu Parsons] is in Hollywood.   None of us were in the same city, so that was a huge challenge.   Saying “Let’s get together and write songs, BUT we’re on a limited budget with limited time.”   We spent time here and there [working on it].   We were all over the place, so that was a huge challenge.   That’s a good thing, though.   I think there could have been much worse challenges, really.   We all got along great, we were all focused and on the same page, so I think we got off pretty easy.

So after ending the hiatus and beginning to get back into the swing of things, how did you guys become involved with Hopeless Records?

Well, when we started getting back into it and we were talking to our manager, she was like, “Well, what do you guys want to do?”   We had options for different labels.   A couple of indies and a couple of different major labels, as well.   Hopeless was one of the labels that really stood out to us because they were so passionate about wanting the band.   A couple of the major labels were like, “Yeah, we’ll put a record out, sure.”   On the other hand, Hopeless was saying “We love the band.   We really want to work with you guys.   We will work so hard for you.   We really want you.”   I think there’s a difference between having a label say “Yeah, we’ll do it” and “Yeah, we really want to.”   That’s what really grabbed us with them.   They’ve been a label that’s had some recent success with All Time Low, they had old Thrice Stuff and Avenged Sevenfold, too.   Obviously they know what they’re doing.   Combine that with the fact that they really wanted us and have always been fans of the band and that’s how it sold us.

So now after being on Hopeless for a bit as opposed to working with Capitol Records in the past, what are some of the differences between being on a smaller indie versus being signed with a major label?

Obviously there are pros and cons to both.   With a major label, obviously there are more resources because it’s a bigger company.   They’ve got a radio department and a bigger promo department and there are more people with a bigger backing.   At the same time, because of that, it’s actually easier to get lost in the shuffle.   They have way more bands so a lot of the time, you’ll go there and most people don’t even know who you are.   With a label like Hopeless, they’re much smaller so obviously resources are more limited, but what they lack in that area they make up for in heart and passion for the band.   If they have less bands, they only sign who they really, realy want so you feel like you’re a priority with them.   I feel like in this day and age with how things are with the Internet and the accessibility of music in general, I think we all agreed that we’d rather work with an indie with limited resources and manpower compared to a major, but with a passion and want for the band.   That’s way more appealing for us.   Those are the main differences.

Being that it was roughly 4 years between Paper Walls and When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes and now you’re talking about radio and accessibility of music, what other things have changed in that amount of time, if any?

Obviously the Internet is becoming…I mean, even 4 or 5 years ago it was still there but these days it’s huge.   The social media thing is such a huge part of every bands’ career, I think it’s just expected.   I mean, Facebook and Twitter and all of that is really important is necessary.   It’s a bigger part of the band than anything we’ve experienced before.   We’re all super involved and we’re all on the Internet every day going that kind of stuff and really trying to connect with the fans.   The reality is, back in the ‘80s, bands never had to deal with stuff like that.   Kids would go to the shows, hear the song on the radio, buy the record and that was it.   These days, there are so many fans and so many ways to access the band that it’s really become a full-time, nonstop job.   We’re really focusing on doing that now, whereas before, we never needed to do that.

As you’d stated before, when the hiatus was originally announced you made it a point to state that you weren’t breaking up.   Now, a lot of people may think of this as a reunion tour or you guys getting back together.   On the same token, bands like Brand New, Hellogoodbye, The Graduate, etc take 3 or 4 years between albums.   Where is the difference between you doing that and another band taking an extended amount of time between records?

In terms of an end result, I guess there’s probably not much difference.     Maybe the difference is that a lot of those bands might be out touring here or there or out playing shows and writing or still being an active band during that time.   We took a definitive break and literally did nothing between the middle of ’08 and the end of this last year.   Even though there was less than 4 years between records, we weren’t doing anything in that amount of time.   I know there are a lot of other bands that take that long to make a record, but they’re also doing stuff in that time.   That’s probably what I would view as the main difference.

The new album also received mostly critical praise.   Was that something you guys worried about a lot?   Whether you did or not, does that make for an easier re-introduction into the music scene?

I think it definitely makes it easier.   If you haven’t been a band for awhile and you have a new record that everybody loves, which, so far, everybody does seem to love it.   We’re really thrilled and flattered and humbled and excited about.   But anyways, it definitely makes it easier.   I think that if a band was off for a few years and then they came back and made a record that nobody really cared about and people thought that it was stale, then obviously it would be much more difficult.   I think that the break honestly re-energized the band and that it really comes through in the music.   I feel like pretty much everybody can immediately recognize that and I think that helps with our re-entry.

Definitely.   With that being said, some people may even say that you’ve already squandered your opportunity in the industry.   Why do you think that fans should give the band another chance if they haven’t already?

Hmm…I don’t know.   That’s a hard question to answer because each person is different.   I feel like all I can really say is that I don’t know that anybody really SHOULD do anything, but the music should speak for itself.   If you like music and if you like our new record then that’s why you should give it a chance.   I don’t think people should really look into it any more than that.   I mean, obviously the band was successful for a little while and then things slowed down a bit and then we took a break, but that’s in the past.   I don’t necessarily think that it should have much bearing on what’s happening now.   What matters right now is that we have a new record, we’re really happy with it and it seems that a lot of our fans are really happy with it.   Maybe people will think, “Hey, this band has a new record and it’s really good, I’ll listen to it”.   That’s all that really matters, you know?

Yeah, I do.   Like you said, the fans are enjoying it and the album is doing well.   It reached #19 on the Billboard 200 chart and #2 on the Billboard Independent chart.   Does that align with your expectation for the record, especially given the state of music sales in the last couple of years?

I don’t know that we had any expectations, honestly.   We really had no idea what was going to happen.   We knew that we were putting a new record out on an indie label and that people don’t really buy as many records anymore.   Obviously we were hoping that it does well, but who knows what that even is these days?   Everything is different, you know?   I mean, the week our record came out was the same week that the Chris Brown record came out and it sold like 250,000 or 270,000 copies.   A month or two before that the #1 selling album was Cake and they old sold 40,000 or 45,000 albums.   It’s a week-by-week basis.   Obviously we’d like it to do well but we really have no point of reference for what our record was going to do or what doing well even is.   We just want people to like it.

I really agree.   So where did the title of the album come from?

I think it originally came from Ryan.   He had that idea in his head and originally I think he had wanted that to be a line in a song or something.   There was a girl that he knew and he was trying to ask her out and I think he sent a text message to her and when she mentioned thinking about it I think he said, “When You’re Through Thinking, Say Yes”.   Ever since then he liked that line and it never really worked it’s way into a song but he thought it would be a cool idea for the title for the record.   I think it’s sort of a metaphor for the band getting back together and things starting back up again.

Definitely, man.   Do you guys have anything in the works after your international run in September or are you looking to do anything on your month off in July?

We definitely have stuff in the works, we’re pretty much going to be gone all year.   Obviously we can’t really announce exactly what’s happening but we’ll be doing some more stuff in the States in the fall and some more international stuff in July, which we’ll probably be announcing pretty soon.   We’re going to try to get back to Europe again in December and I think during the fall we’d like to try to get to Canada, as well.   Basically we’re just planning on being gone and hitting as many places as possible this year.

To sort of wrap things up, what’s next for you guys?   What do you hope to accomplish in the next couple of year?

I think we just want to make people remember us or just increasing awareness of the band and hopefully people enjoy this new record.   We definitely worked hard on this record and we’re going to be working hard to get out there and play it for people.   Hopefully people will come to shows and check out the record and all we can really hope is that people spread the word and it turns into something great.   I think that the energy and appeal of the band has really made successful.   I hope that that can continue and some people can maybe even hear the band for the first time.   That’s all we can really hope for.

On an unrelated note, I saw you’re a pretty big Red Wings fan.   How far are they making it in the playoffs?

Funny you should say that because I’m literally wearing a Wings jersey as we talk right now.   I’m actually standing out on a street corner right now because I was in a bar in San Francisco watching the game earlier today.

That’s awesome!   How far are they going to make it?

I don’t know.   We’ve got Zetterburg still injured but we’ve been playing pretty well without him so far.   I feel like when we want to engage, we can win the cup every year.   If we care about it enough, we’ll do alright and right now it looks like we care.   I hope we keep playing that way and at least make it to the second round.   Hopefully I can go to a game when we’re in Detroit.   It would be awesome if the stars aligned to make that happen.

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