When Yellowcard broke up in 2017, that was meant to be the end. It wasn’t like 2008 when the band went on hiatus. This was different. This time the four-piece, who formed in 1997 and is now comprised of Ryan Key (vocals/guitar), Sean Mackin (violin/vocals), Ryan Mendez (lead guitar) and Josh Portman (bass), was actually done. After two decades, they’d reached the end of the line. They played one final concert on March 25 2017, then put the band to bed.
Of course, everybody knows the story doesn’t end there.
Almost exactly five and a half years after that gig, Yellowcard got back together in 2022 for Riot Fest, running through Ocean Avenue (and then some) to celebrate that iconic record’s 20th anniversary. When the band first reunited, the idea of new music was floated and then dismissed. However, a month after the festival, buoyed by having reunited onstage, the four members rented an Airbnb in Austin, TX with the intention of writing some new material. Most importantly, they were incredibly excited to do so again. The session in Austin also marked the first time in a long time that the band had collaborated and written together as a unit. While doing so, they were starting work on this next phase of their career, but actually found themselves walking back in time a little to move forward. Not, as you might think, to 2003 and Ocean Avenue—the album that had brought them back together—but rather to 2007 and their sixth studio album, Paper Walls.
“When we got to Austin,” says Key, “we sat down and poured some whiskeys and we started talking about what we wanted to do and what we wanted out of it. We knew we were writing an EP which meant we only got five songs, so we had to really make them special. And I think there was an immediate sense of bringing it back to Paper Walls—the idea that we need to make something that we’re proud of, but also something that gets Yellowcard fans excited about what we’re doing. So at that point, we picked up the guitars and started demoing and, honestly, I think these five songs could have just been on that record in 2007. And I love that.”
While the five songs that make up Childhood Eyes absolutely capture the spirit and essence of that record—its powerful yet tender anthems, its open-hearted emotional vulnerability, its sense of wide-eyed wonder against the odds—they’re also riddled with the band’s experiences of the decade and a half since it came out. Indeed, as much as it’s an EP that looks back to that time, it’s one that couldn’t have been made without the intervening years. Take, for example, how opener “Three Minutes More”—a breakneck, breathless burst of impassioned, youthful vigor—references ‘a radio repeating hooks of my own’, or how final song “The Places We’ll Go”—a gorgeous, plaintive look back at a life that both was and could have been—ruminates on how fast time flies. ‘Twenty years passed/It’s wild how fast/Were we ever that young?’ sings Key with sad resignation, but also optimism. Both his voice and the song itself swell with hope for what’s still to come despite all that’s gone. At the same time, it’s infused with the passion and enthusiasm that drove that writing session, and you can practically feel the excitement of that time, that room, throughout the five tracks of this EP.
Executive produced and mixed by longtime collaborator Neal Avron, it was recorded at a number of studios across the US and bursts with a renewed sense of unity and cohesion, chemistry and collaboration. That all flows through its songs, as does the band’s excitement that, after all these years, Yellowcard not only still get to do this, but do so with youthful exuberance and vitality. Interestingly, it’s perhaps “The Places We’ll Go” that serves as the best example of that refreshed spirit and best symbolizes where the band are on Childhood Eyes, and just how well they’re working together now. An altered version of a song Key wrote for a longtime fan, it was re-recorded for this EP, although the choruses are all the original vocals that Key recorded at his home studio back in 2015. This version, however, features Chris Carrabba in its climactic crescendo. The Dashboard Confessional singer was instrumental in encouraging Yellowcard to get back together. It’s no coincidence, then, that the aforementioned opener “Three Minutes More” includes a Dashboard reference. It also contains another guest vocal, this time from Pierce The Veil’s Vic Fuentes. That revitalized enthusiasm for collaboration overflows on the title track, too. Tinged with hyperactive electronic flourishes, it’s a song that was initially born in the middle of the night after Key woke up with the first lyrics and the melody of the chorus ringing in his head. But while the frontman knew how that part went, it wasn’t until Yellowcard got to Austin and the band put their heads together that it all came to fruition.
While the essence of that song—and the creative process that led to it—is the very essence of the EP, it’s tempered by those 20 years of experience which add extra perspective and nuance. The same is true for “Hiding In The Light”—a blistering blast of emotive alternative rock (replete with stunning, and very ’80s-esque, dual guitar and violin solo)—and “Honest From The Jump”, a beautifully epic (or perhaps epically beautiful) song that borrows its chorus from “Brighton”, a track on Key’s 2022 Everything Except Desire solo EP. That it does so cements the creative fluidity and the collision of past and present at the heart of this EP—it truly resounds with the unity, band brotherhood, and creative influence of the Paper Walls-era that drove its creative process. At the same time, this is a new version of the band, one that’s once again found itself at the peak of their creative powers.
“Although we knew we were trying to capture the spirit of Paper Walls,” says Key, “we didn’t want to literally recreate it. I got to write from where I am right now, and I’m particularly proud of these lyrics, because they’re 43 year-old Ryan writing, not 23 year-old Ryan writing. And that’s kind of the mission statement of this whole thing—I found this again and I’m not going to give up.”