It’s been nearly two decades since Yellowcard’s “Ocean Avenue” dominated the airwaves (and MTV’s Total Request Live!), but according to frontman Ryan Key, the hit single almost didn’t see the light of day.
In the latest episode of Us Weekly’s “Anatomy of a Song,” Key, 43, opens up about the history behind the tune, which was the band’s second single off of 2003’s Ocean Avenue. “The song almost didn’t go on the record. It was two weeks away from becoming a B-side,” he explains. “I had the verse lyrics without any music, then the rhythmic drum and guitar loop that became the verse is where I got that rhythm. [With] that melody, they just fit together perfectly.”
At the time, Key went into rehearsal armed with his first attempt at the chorus — but he didn’t get the reaction that he was looking for. “Everyone looked at me like I had two heads, and I didn’t realize why, but it’s because the melody I had was ‘Time After Time’ by Cyndi Lauper,” the vocalist explains. “It was the same exact melody.”
“I was like, well, I can’t do that — but then I couldn’t unhear it,” Key continues. “I was just stuck on that melody for weeks and trying to get it out of my head. I just couldn’t get rid of it.”
The band’s longtime producer and mixer Neal Avron pushed Key to keep fine-tuning the song until it was perfect. “He just kept saying, ‘No, that’s not it yet,’” he explains. “Then one time I walked in, [singing] ‘If I could find you now, things would get better,’ and he was like, ‘Get in there and track that right now!’”
Working under time constraints while recording Ocean Avenue proved to be another challenge. “We were two weeks away, or about a week and a half away, from finishing the album,” the Jacksonville native continues, noting that back in those days, home studios — and the luxury of working on music at your own pace — were basically non-existent. “[You’d] have to be out of the studio because another artist is coming into that room, so we had to finish.”
Recording the album at the legendary Sunset Sound proved to be a seminal moment for the pop-punk band. “Our previous record [One for the Kids], we were sleeping in the van in the street, going into the studio in the morning and showering in the sink,” Key recalls. “Three years later, we’re in West Hollywood in a studio where we’re ordering three meals a day out of a book.”
As Yellowcard fans know, the band — Key, violinist and vocalist Sean Mackin, guitarist Ryan Mendez and bassist Josh Portman — went their separate ways in 2016 before reuniting in 2022 to perform at Riot Fest. “We had no idea what the vibe was going to be between the band,” Key tells Us. “There were very strained relationships within Yellowcard that was one of the other factors leading towards the decision to step away from what we thought was going to be forever.”
But “the energy, the connection between the four of us [and] the crowd’s response to the show was so intense and so overwhelming,” says Key, pushing the quartet to plan a summer tour to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Ocean Avenue and record new music: “[Getting in] the studio was even better because it had been a long time since we had sat around as friends sipping whiskeys and writing songs.”
What followed was Childhood Eyes, a 5-track EP that was released July 21. “It was a very real connection to the roots of the band and the reasons we started making [music] under Yellowcard in the first place,” Key explains. “It was a special time, and I think you can hear it in the songs. I think the fans have connected with it.”
Key can’t help but appreciate how “Ocean Avenue” changed the brand’s trajectory. “I’m really glad that whatever motivated me to come up with that melody that day,” he adds. “Otherwise, how different would our lives be?”
To hear the stories behind Yellowcard’s “Only One,” “Way Away,” “Breathing” and the band’s latest release “Three Minutes More,” watch the exclusive video above, the latest in our “Anatomy of a Song” series.