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Q&A: After hardships, Yellowcard transitions from pop-punk to anthemic rock

More than a decade after Yellowcard hit the mainstream with its double-platinum single "Ocean Avenue," the Los Angeles-based rock band returns to Baltimore on Thursday, equipped with a new album, new sound and new perspective.

The days of teenage romance on the beach seem distant for Ryan Key (vocals, guitars), Sean Mackin (violins), Ryan Mendez (guitar) and Josh Portman (bass). The band, Key said recently, drew from personal trials as they wrote their seventh studio album, this month's "Lift a Sail."

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For Mackin, it was a battle with thyroid cancer. For Key, it was making his wedding vows last year to Russian professional snowboarder Alyona Alekhina in an intensive-care unit after a spinal injury in a training accident left her paralyzed from the waist down.

"Resilience has been my whole life the past year and a half, especially watching my wife battle the injury she suffered," Key, 34, said on the phone last week. "All of that clearly made its way into the record and the music."

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Before headlining Baltimore Soundstage on Thursday night, Key discussed dealing with adversity, the band's new direction and more.

It seems like you took another musical direction from pop-punk to more anthem rock on the new album.

It's something we've wanted to do for a long time and we haven't necessarily known the right way to navigate the waters into a different direction. I think we stopped worrying about navigating the waters and being careful about it. As we started to write very early in the process, we realized we weren't necessarily writing a pop-punk record. We've been part of a theme for many years and it's carried us more than we ever could have imagined. It's a delicate thing to make a record like this because we don't want to turn our back on anyone or our fans and the people and community that got us where we are. That being said, we've got to do what inspires us and when we were writing the songs we realized that we were heading in a new direction that wasn't so pop-punk this time around. It's hard to say what will happen in the future so there's no telling where we'll go from here but we're really excited about this. It's something we wanted to do for a long time. We don't want to write the same record twice.

You have gone through a lot as a band recently. How has that influenced this album?

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As we grow and change in our lives, our music is going to change. The last couple years have been pretty eventful in our personal lives on so many levels, whether it's Sean's battle with cancer or my wife's spinal cord injury last April while training. We were passionately in love and engaged to be married and she was paralyzed from the waist down. We were married in a hospital in the IC unit and were navigating that the whole time we were making the record. All of these events have led up to making a record to reflect the intensity surrounding our personal lives. It wasn't something so deliberate that we decided we are not going to be a pop-punk band but the end result ended up that we were not a pop-punk band. I think this record was the right thing at the right time for the fans, too.

What's the inspiration for the album title?

I knew when I was writing the lyrics to the song "Lift a Sail" that it was a mission statement for our record. It seemed like the right song to title the record with. I think when you hear it, you feel positive. The word "lift" automatically gives a positive sense. When you hear that it sets you up for the theme throughout the record.

Your albums seem to focus on resilience. What inspired this particular theme?

Usually I would answer that question that the theme of resilience is in the lyrics, but I think the music this time around reflects that just as much as the lyrics. When "Convocation" transitions into "Transmission Home," there's certainly a feeling of strength and that piece of music evokes a positive and hopeful feeling. I think it is the music and the lyrics together this time around.

For me, there's no other way to write it. Resilience has been my whole life the past year and a half, especially watching my wife battle the injury she suffered. She's a professional athlete so there is no other life other than her rehabilitating and healing and doing what's necessary to get out of a wheelchair. I've never seen anyone go through what she's going through and face it with the strength and resilience that she has. All of that clearly made its way into the record and the music. That's what I brought onto the table for "Lift a Sail." I knew I needed to write about a lot of this stuff and I hoped it would come across as being resilient, strong and hopeful.

Your single, "One Bedroom," is based on your relationship with Alyona and its video benefits Invisible Children, a charity that raises awareness against the actions of the Lord's Resistance Army movement in Africa. How did you choose that song?

We didn't choose the song. We gave the record company the choice. I think in the end it does showcase all the elements of the record. It gives you a taste of all the new things we brought to the record. Making the video was amazing. We've been friends with the head of Invisible Children for many years and never found a way to connect our music to anything bigger than ourselves in that way. They're doing great work and almost accomplished their goal. Invisible Children makes fliers and distributes them from helicopters into certain regions for soldiers to figure out how to get out. It shows a route from where they may be [to find safety]. The flier does actually have Yellowcard printed on it so we can tell when one of our flyers helped someone.

I love the video. We had no idea how it would turn out. For every 100,000 views it gets online, [our record label] Razor & Tie donates $1,000.

How is Sean Mackin doing with his cancer?

Yeah, he was diagnosed in late 2012. He is healthy and still going for routine checkups. He hasn't had to do any treatments in a while. The doctors are trying to figure out the next steps. It's been really tough on him, on his family and all of us. If there's somebody who's going to be able to get through, it's going to be Sean. Something like that is not going to get him down. He's a positive dude and I think you need someone like that.

What has kept you playing together since your days of "Ocean Avenue"?

Next April, I will have been in the band for 15 years. They were a band in high school and we were all friends. After high school and several years into college, the lead singer left the band, and when we were just hanging out we started playing together, and it ended up being a permanent thing. But yeah, 15 years. It's a pretty incredible accomplishment to be operating at what we consider to be a high level - making records, touring around the world consistently as we are. It's mind-blowing.

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INTERVIEW HAS BEEN EDITED AND CONDENSED

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