Road mates and SoCal residents Yellowcard and Something Corporate are widely viewed as card-carrying members of the so-called "emo" or "pop-punk" whippersnappers currently stacking the Warped Tour. This is understandable, since each band's punchy tunes and commercial successes overlap with those of their pogoing peers: Yellowcard's major-label debut, Ocean Avenue, just went gold, and S.C.'s October release, North, has already sold as many copies as their previous album, Leaving Through the Window.
However, it would be a mistake to consider these two groups in the same league as diluted, third-generation Green Day wannabes. Something Corporate's songs soar with intricate piano flourishes and orchestra-geek panache, while Yellowcard garnishes songs with old-fashioned violin -- distinguishing them sharply from the whiny masses.
"That's the thing, we're not a punk band," Yellowcard vocalist-guitarist Ryan Key says. "We grew up listening to a lot of punk music, and you can hear the influences of it, but Ocean Avenue is not a punk-rock record. To me, it's really amusing nowadays, the amount of people who call it that. The vision of punk rock has become so skewed."
It wasn't that long ago that Yellowcard had bigger issues to tackle than being wrongly typed. After the quintet moved from Jacksonville, Florida, to California in late 2000, Key worked jobs at Chili's and in telemarketing to make ends meet. It took a tour winding across Texas back to the Sunshine State in May 2001 to rejuvenate the band's passion -- something originally sparked at a Florida performing-arts high school, where violinist-vocalist Sean Mackin, guitarist Ben Harper, and drummer Longineu Parsons were in the music department, and Key studied theater.
"We grew up in a really creative environment when we were learning how to really make music," he says. "We were just surrounded by so many creative people and so many different ways to learn about new music and new bands and stuff, because there were so many different kinds of people at our high school. It developed us into eclectic songwriters."
On Ocean Avenue's spunky, diverse tunes, their influences include Brand New's quiet earnestness ("Empty Apartment"), Taking Back Sunday's chug ("Miles Apart"), and even a folksy country-rock jangle ("View From Heaven"). Their lyrics maintain a similar broad thoughtfulness, highlighted by the title track's longing for a bygone teenage romance, regret for pain inflicted on a lover ("Breathing"), and an ode to the protagonist's father ("Life of a Salesman").
Something Corporate's inspirations tend to stem from a world-weary place as well, channeling everyone from an earnest Ben Folds to the old-school rock of Elton John and the Get Up Kids' bashing power-pop. In fact, S.C. guitarist Josh Partington has his own childhood influence: bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughn.
"I was a huge blues fan; [they were] just such a big part of my life when I was growing up and learning to play guitar," he says. "I don't think that I'm a bluesy guitarist because of listening to Stevie Ray Vaughn. The passion that you heard in [his] music is probably something I've always tried to bring to the band."
Like Yellowcard, Something Corporate formed from high school connections -- in S.C.'s case, jam sessions between Partington, vocalist-pianist Andrew McMahon, drummer Brian Ireland, bassist Clutch, and now-departed guitarist William Tell. But the band signed to Drive-Thru/Geffen soon after graduation and was touring before McMahon could drink legally. Naturally, North reflects their growth in the past few years.
"This record is a little bit more mature, but we're also two years older," Partington says. "A lot has happened in our lives since Window. We had toured for about close to two years without stopping, with [first EP] Audio Boxer and Window, and it was our first completely new album of all brand-new material. Nothing was old, really, on it. The writing was a lot about where our lives were at that time.
"We also took a little bit of a different approach -- we tried to write about things that are just not your typical teenage songs and stuff like that. We tried to write about some deeper topics than usual."
Indeed, "As You Sleep" is a tangled dream-within-a-daydream note to a loved one, "Me and the Moon" concerns a wife murdering her husband, and "The Runaway" and "Break Myself" talk about the agonies, ecstasies, and sacrifices involved in love and infatuation -- topics members of the high school lit mag could happily spend hours analyzing.
Key too feels that Yellowcard attracts those souls looking for more than inconsequential ear fluff. The band is famous for playing lunchtime concerts at high schools, occasions so popular that Key tells of fans driving for three hours and pretending to be students at the Yellowcard-graced school, just to see the band play.
"A lot of our music goes out to kids who are trying to figure out where they want to go, what they want to do," he says. "I don't think we necessarily are writing songs for the pretty people or the cool kids. I don't think that's on purpose; it just ended up that way. The kids who are really passionate about our band are the kids who really attach themselves to our music and use it and apply it to their lives."
A comment like that makes it clear that the band shares at least two characteristics with the emo movement -- heart-baring honesty and the ability to truly connect with fans. Both, coincidentally, provide an airtight defense against any mallrat supergroup accusations.
"If somebody wants to call us a punk band, it's like, 'Go ahead,'" Partington asserts. "All you're doing is offending guys like NOFX and Rancid. You're never really doing anything to us, you're just making them mad, I'm sure.
"You should be just happy anybody's calling you anything, you know?" he adds. "People have to know who you are if they want to define you, and that's pretty rad."
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