Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Yellowcard's Sean Mackin on the history of the band and his violin

Posted By on Wed, Mar 30, 2011 at 8:30 AM


Long-running pop-punk act Yellowcard recently returned from a hiatus with a new album, When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes. It's the band's first since 2007's Paper Walls. In addition, the band is embarking on its first tour since a set of acoustic dates in 2008 and is playing the Beaumont Club on Tuesday, April 5, with All Time Low, Hey Monday, and the Summer Set. Yesterday, we spoke by phone with the band's violinist, Sean Mackin, about the band's evolution, its sound, and coming back after time off.

The Pitch: Your third album, One for the Kids, was the one that got Yellowcard noticed by the world at large.

Sean Mackin: One for the Kids was a really big album for us. You have to understand, we started the band when we were 15, 16 years old. The first two albums before our singer, Ryan Key, joined the band, we only printed 1,000 copies. We were just high school kids.

When we decided to make a run at being in a band, we signed to a record label, Lobster Records. They had full distribution, and we started recording as a different style of band than when we first started. That was very punk-rock-focused, kind of extra adolescent? When Ryan joined the band, it brought a different kind of songwriting that allowed us to showcase our different sorts of influences. It's an important part of Yellowcard and, really, the version of our band that most people know.

Ryan brought about a more poppy, accessible sound, you'd say?

He really just played to our strengths more. Instead of just one style of music, he incorporated everyone's influences.

How did he help coalesce those influences?

We wrote collaboratively, instead of just one or two people in the band writing together. I have a big classical-music influence. We use a lot of LP's [drummer Longineu W. Parsons III] heavy-metal influences -- we really play to the strengths of all of us.

The classical music on your end is fairly noticeable, given that you play the violin. Have you ever worried that it's perceived as a gimmick?

No, not at all. You listen to every popular release, and there's strings on their record. I grew up going to an art school. And when you go to a high school where you've got dancers, visual artists, and creative writers and everything, you just start writing music with different styles of instruments. When you have a ska band, the horns aren't a gimmick; they're just part of the music. In writing collaboratively, the guitar players are able to use the violin not just as a background instrument -- it steps out and does its own thing.

How does that violin playing get the tone that it does -- sounding like a "rock" violin?

For Ocean Avenue and One for the Kids, and even the Underdog EP, I recorded using a violin that's about 107 years old that my mother played when I was really little and she gifted to me, or handed down when I was 15. Now I play live with that very violin. For the later records, I bought a more baroque-style violin. It's about 400 years old.

Neal Avron, our producer -- who's the best producer in the world and definitely at the height of his game right now -- he recorded our new album, When You're Through Thinking, Say Yes, and the way that he records it and the way he's able to mix it in, messing with a bunch of compression or frequencies, or whatever he does, it really fits the violin in nicely, and doesn't make it feel like it doesn't belong. It has a home. In a live setting, it's the natural tone of the violin -- and writing songs with Ryan Mendez and Ryan Key and the other guitar players in the band -- and how the violin fits in the track.

You're playing essentially antique instruments when you're onstage. Does it worry you, playing them in a rock-and-roll environment, as opposed to the more staid classical setting?

I mean, yeah -- I don't want my stage manager or stage techs to drop my violin. But I play an electric violin for the more heavier songs. And for the more rock-ballady, slow songs, they get the classical violin. I've been very careful with the instrument my whole life, and it's still around, so knock on wood, hopefully everything will be all right.

Does playing the violin your mother had when you were younger have some emotional heft to it?

Yeah, absolutely. When you pick up a nice guitar or something, and you feel inspired -- I definitely have that connection with the instrument. It's been a part of my life. I don't want to destroy it. I play it every night, and it sounds great, and so it has a piece in the history of the band, too.

Speaking of the band's history, this is the band's first album and tour in a while. What did you do while Yellowcard was on hiatus?

A lot of people don't know this, but when you're in a band, and you travel 200-250 days out of the year -- and we toured heavily for about eight years -- you sacrifice a lot of things personally, and relationships and family. Took a lot of time to get back in touch with family and love life. I got married back in 2009, which was a really amazing moment in my life. It had a rejuvenating effect, and when we got back together -- the band -- that energy was captured in the new Yellowcard record.

The new record does seem very positive. If not necessarily upbeat all the time, it certainly has an uplifting theme running through it. Is it due to that?

Thank you. Yeah, I think so. I mean, we've always been accessible to our fans, with our hearts on our sleeves, and I think that the rejuvenating feeling is coming right back, and it's a snapshot of where Yellowcard is right now. We're always very positive people. We laugh a lot, we tell a lot of jokes, and it was really fun in this writing process.

Last year, when we started talking about doing a record, we lived further apart than we ever have. Usually, we write a record half when we're on the road and half in the band room, but we were flying around to see each other. Ryan Mendez lives in Phoenix, Ryan [Key] swings between Los Angeles and Georgia, and I live in Seattle now. So we're e-mailing song ideas and flying down to L.A. and flying to Phoenix. It was really exciting and a lot of fun for us, and I'm glad that our listeners get that image, along with the Yellowcard edginess, along with the uplifting sound.

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