Several times a day, Ryan Key will log on to the message board at YellowcardRock.com and read post after post calling him a liar, an egomaniac, a backstabber and plenty of names that can't be printed here. This has been happening for more than three months now, ever since rumors started circulating that Key had somehow orchestrated the ousting of Yellowcard's founding guitarist, the insanely popular Ben Harper.
Yet through it all, despite pages upon pages of poorly typed insults and increasingly untrue speculations, Key has remained silent. Such is the frontman's burden.
Finally, on Monday, he and the rest of Yellowcard broke their silence, confirming via press release that they had split with Harper (see "Yellowcard Confirm What Fans Already Knew: Ben Harper Is Out"). But the whole thing reeked of stuffy legalese — as press releases often do — so one day after his band premiered its new video, "Lights and Sounds," on "TRL," Key decided to speak at greater length about the whole Harper situation. Though there was still a great deal he couldn't discuss (contracts and percentage points and whatnot), he still tried his best to explain his side of things.
"This whole thing has been extremely difficult for our band, and there's debate whether or not it's even Yellowcard anymore because a founding member is no longer in the band," he said. "And I know that some people want the band they know and the members they know and love, but we just couldn't make it happen. And I know that a lot of people seem to think they know how everything went down, but unless you're in Yellowcard, you really don't understand."
Though Key would not speak about what had initially caused the rift between Harper and the rest of the band, he did say the relationship with the guitarist had been deteriorating for months, even while they were still putting the finishing touches on their upcoming album, Lights and Sounds (see "Yellowcard Move To New York, Write LP About Hating Los Angeles"). And by the time they played the Summer Sonic Festival in Japan in August — while Harper stayed at home in Los Angeles — they were fairly certain things couldn't be repaired.
"Honestly, when we got to Japan, we had not been working with him for quite some time, which is basically what led up to this whole catastrophe. We had been trying to work things out with him for a while, and we were having trouble doing that. It basically was, 'Either we break up or we keep moving,' " Key said. "So we decided to start working with Ryan [Mendez, formerly the guitarist for Staring Back], and he was over there with us playing his first gigs in front of 40,000 fans. And it was difficult and weird at first, but after awhile we were like, 'Yeah, this guy is amazing.' "
Mendez has since joined the group on a permanent basis, and despite the fact that his style is almost a complete 180 from Harper's ("Ben was a sort of 'feel-it-out' guitarist, Ryan is the kind of guy who pulls out these sweeping, Van Halen solos," Key said), Yellowcard are determined to make the new relationship work. But while they've replaced Harper, Key maintains that he will never be forgotten, despite what some fans would like to think.
"Ben will always be like a brother to us, but right now, we're playing with Ryan, and it's great. Like I said, the band is always more important than one member," he said. "So who knows, one day I could leave the band, and it would still continue on. This has been one of the darkest times in our lives, because we couldn't find a way to see eye-to-eye on some things with a founding member of this band. But we found a way to move on, and that's what we're going to do: keep moving forward."