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— by James Montgomery

Two years ago, Yellowcard were famous. Their major-label debut, Ocean Avenue, was nearing the platinum mark, and they were gearing up for a big-time tour of the U.K. The band had a video firmly entrenched in the "TRL" countdown (the clip for the title track off their record), lots of newfound wealth and legions of devoted fans.

One year ago, Yellowcard were exhausted. They had just wrapped 18 months of touring, and the bandmembers went their separate ways — to Los Angeles, Jacksonville, Florida, and New York — to recuperate. Well, sort of. Frontman Ryan Key and bassist Pete Mosely actually moved to NYC to work on the follow-up to Ocean Avenue, essentially isolating themselves from their bandmates to write songs together (guitarist Ben Harper and violinist Sean Mackin made occasional trips to the Big Apple to check on the duo's progress). By May, when Yellowcard convened in Los Angeles to begin pre-production on the new album, the divides within the band — geographic and otherwise — were painfully apparent. Harper claims he was essentially locked out of the recording process, and in August, Yellowcard headed to Japan to play the massive SummerSonic Festival without him.

Today, Yellowcard are excited. And nervous. They're one week away from the debut of Lights and Sounds, which sees them shedding a founding member (the aforementioned Harper) and their pop-punk roots in favor of a new guitarist (former Staring Back axeman Ryan Mendez) and a harder, heavier sound.

Through it all, Key and Mosely have declared that Lights and Sounds is the album they've dreamed of making since the band's inception. And while they're concerned about alienating fans with their personnel moves and new sound — a distinct possibility judging by the number of angry postings on the message board of the band's official site — they see it as a necessary evil. Harper, meanwhile, has remained silent on both his ousting and the new record, spending the majority of his time working with his label, Takeover Records.

For the first time, all three (MTV News spoke with Key and Mosley together and Harper on his own) discuss the making of the album, their messy breakup and what the future holds for all parties involved.

MTV: Much was made of the way you guys chose to make Lights and Sounds, essentially splitting the band into two camps: Ryan and Pete on one side and everyone else on the other. Why was the decision made to move to New York?

Ryan Key: We had been working and touring for so long, the writing process had basically become such a barren wasteland of ideas. Thinking of writing new songs was impossible. We needed a change of pace, so we decided to move to New York City and stay up really late and write songs.

Pete Mosely: We were scared to death to start writing because it was the first time we actually had to write a record for somebody. Every other album we've done, we did it for ourselves and we did it on our own terms. But this time we had to follow up something that attracted a lot of attention to us, and we had to go beyond that. It was just us two and our dogs in this apartment. We brought our entire lives with us. I packed up everything I had and threw it in the back of a truck and just moved up there.

Ben Harper: I didn't really think much of it. I mean, I went up there and visited those guys in New York, and it all seemed like it was going great. And then when we went to Los Angeles to start pre-production, things just got really weird.

MTV: Can you talk about what it was like when the band got back together in Los Angeles to begin working on the album?

Mosely: Ryan and I had so many solid ideas that once we got out there with everybody else, it allowed us to take the time to focus in on everything. By the end of the first week in pre-production, we were already demo-ing, and it allowed people to really do their homework.

Key: When we got in with the band, it was awesome. And everybody was into it. It was smooth the whole way through. On this record, there's more of a band playing. It feels like you're in the room when the band's playing, as opposed to the last record, which sounded like a band playing under me.

Harper: I would record my parts and then take off. I wasn't the guy hanging out in the studio. And in the past, that wasn't the case. Usually, I'd be the guy hanging out in the studio. I'm the lead guitar player. I play all the riffs. But I had started spending a lot more time working with Takeover, and [the band] said they wanted the old Ben back. They kept telling me I wasn't there for things. And this summer, they all pulled me over to a certain member's house and they told me straight up, "Ben, we want you to focus on Takeover Records and leave Yellowcard to us." ... At the end of the summer, they barred me from the practice space.

MTV: In August, the band flew out to Japan to debut songs from Lights and Sounds without Ben Harper. For most people, that was the first real sign that something was wrong, but the problems within the band had been growing for months, correct?

Key: We had not been working with him for quite some time before [going to Japan], so honestly, it wasn't strange. We first went to Japan [as] kind of a four-piece, because Ryan Mendez — our new guitar player — was just sort of learning. But after a few shows, he fell right in. He's a talented musician. And right now, having the five of us playing the best we can is the most important thing.

Harper: They started touring without me, and it was kind of like, "Well, I guess people know I'm out." But, like, there was nothing announced for months and months, even though they were on the road with a totally different guitarist.

MTV: After the Japanese shows, the band left for a two-week Canadian tour, with Mendez as a permanent member. Yet there still was no announcement made about Harper leaving the band. In fact, there wouldn't be one until November. What was the reason for the delay?

Harper: There's something really scary going on with money and business within Yellowcard. It's gotten to the point where they're not thinking as friends anymore. And I don't know if it's because of managers or lawyers, but it was so easy for them to get rid of me. It was like, "You're out of the band. You can't talk to me anymore. Talk to management."

Key: We had to leave it at just a statement for a lot of reasons, most of which I can't talk about. But in the meantime, we were trying to keep in touch with fans that really care, not just the ones getting on the bandwagon and being like, "F--- you." We're explaining to fans that are genuinely concerned that we're just a band. We play music. That's what we do. I could leave the band one day, and I would hope they'd keep going. You can't base the whole band on one member.

Parting ways with Ben has been the hardest thing we've ever been through as a band. And unfortunately, I was the one who took most of the blame. But I'm like, "What do you want from me?" I do the best I can every day. But there's one person who has to be the golden child, the frontman and the leader. We make decisions as a band, but that's the role I have to play. And I have to take that. I have to have that weight on my shoulders.

MTV: The first single from the album is the title track. And both the song and the video are huge departures from the Yellowcard we all knew. Can you talk a bit about the song, and what it means?

Mosely: ["Lights and Sounds" is] an eye-opener of a song. It rattled some people. We needed to come out and be like, "Here we are. We're a rock band, and this is what rock bands do." It's kind of a bridge, too. It takes listeners from our older material to where we're going now. It closes the gap between the last record and this new record.

Key: It's the last song I finished writing lyrics for, so I felt it was like a cap on the whole thing. It's about looking back and seeing what you've traversed through. It's about a band like us coming into a career that we didn't think we'd have. You find yourself surrounded by a lot of false people, a lot of people who are not doing it for the same reasons you are. And that song is about that struggle of not giving in to all that.

One of my favorite lines is, "They gave you the end/ But not where to start/ Not how to build/ But how to tear it apart." And I was specifically referencing bands like NOFX and Bad Religion, bands that got me into being in a band. And the concept that if a magazine says you're punk rock, you're punk rock. Like you already have the end, because you look like a punk so you sound like a punk, but no one seems to know where it all began, where it started. And I think that whole thing has torn the whole thing apart. We take pride in the fact that we've never said, "We're punk rock." We love the punk bands that influenced us, but by no means are we a punk rock band. So the song's about false identity and temptation.

MTV: With Lights and Sounds about to hit stores, you guys all find yourself in very different places. What does the future hold? Do you ever see yourself healing old wounds and reuniting?

Harper: In their eyes, it's probably unfixable. But I'm always the optimist. I'll miss the guys. I'll miss the fans. After eight years of friendship and broken jaws and injuries and people leaving and all the things we've been through, it hurts. We've always sat down and discussed things as a band, but not anymore. But I have Takeover Records, and that's my life. I have eight bands that could do even better things than Yellowcard. It's going amazing. I'll make the best of it. I'll start a group of my own, because in Yellowcard I never got to solo as much as I wanted. I'm going to do something like the Mars Volta.

Key: Any fear or skepticism about anything we've done has gone away. ... Being out on the road now, it's been amazing. The reaction to these songs has been much better than the first time we played songs off Ocean Avenue. It's almost to the point now were we can stop singing the song because the audience is completely singing along.

Mosely: This is something we want to do for the rest of our lives, not because it was the cool thing to do. So we had to make a record that mattered. We had to make a record that had staying power. And maybe the younger people who liked our band are ready for that, and maybe they're not. Who knows? But we're prepared for that. We're a changed band now, and this record shows all that. Our whole life revolves around this record.

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