PEOPLE: Yellowcard Singer Ryan Key Discusses the Band’s ‘Unexpected’ Reunion: ‘There’s a Real Excitement in the Air’ (Exclusive)

The musician talks to PEOPLE about celebrating the 20th anniversary of the band's breakthrough 'Ocean Avenue' album with new music and a sold out tour


Yellowcard Reunion 2023
Yellowcard in 2023. PHOTO: ACACIA EVANS

It’s been 20 years since Yellowcard dominated radio airwaves and the TRL countdown with their massive hit “Ocean Avenue,” and now the rock band is back with new music and a nationwide tour.

Lead singer Ryan Key admits the band rode “off the rock and roll sunset” after announcing a 2016 breakup following the release of their tenth studio album. “We were all very much entrenched in our own lives away from Yellowcard,” he exclusively tells PEOPLE about life since disbanding. “It turned out to be a much needed breather for all of us, to focus on ourselves and our families and our personal lives and our mental health.”

However, the 20th birthday of their platinum-selling Ocean Avenue album saw an opportunity for the guys to reunite at the 2022 Riot Fest in Chicago. Key, 43, describes the crowd’s response as “an out-of-body experience,” and led Live Nation to offer them a touring opportunity they couldn’t refuse.

“We ended the band because, each year, we started to see a noticeable decline in attendance to shows, and seemingly the responsiveness to any new music we were making,” Key says about their decision to split. “Here we are, seven years later, and more people than ever in the 20-plus year history of the band are coming to see us play. It just doesn’t compute.”

“Our hometown show in Jacksonville, Florida, we normally play an 1,100 capacity room, but we’ve sold nearly 8,000 tickets across two nights — it’s out of this world,” he explains about their 33-date excursion. “In 2004 and ’05, we were playing big shows, and they were all sold out. It was amazing; we didn’t know what planet we were on. But these are, in a lot of cases, twice the size of what we were doing at the height of our career.”

Key notes the band was “legitimately frightened” when they saw the venue sizes being presented to them. “This is my future child’s college tuition, this is a huge opportunity, bigger than ever before, but playing a 6,000 capacity room with 1,500 people in it, because that’s how many people usually come to see us in the later 2010s, that’s not going to be a good look,” he explains before dates quickly began selling out. “The shows went on sale and our jaws were on the floor. It’s crazy!”

The strong reaction from fans led the band to record music for the first time in nearly a decade with the release of their new EP Childhood Eyes, but Key reveals they weren’t initially sold on the idea.

“I think we hesitated to make new music in the beginning, just because we didn’t really know what the energy would be like putting us back in a confined space for an extended period of time, having creative ideas together and differences, and what would happen if we weren’t agreeing on things,” he says, reflecting on the tension that caused numerous lineup changes throughout the band’s run.

“But as we got further along and we started spending time together again, I think it was very clear that we were all in very different places mentally, and personally, and that our working relationships were going to be more healthy than they’ve ever been before,” he adds. “And at that point, it was pretty clear we all wanted to make some new music.”

Key is happy with the response to the EP’s first single of the same name and confesses he is “anxiously waiting to see how people react” to the rest of their material. “I think more than anything, we’re looking forward to the fact that the door seems to be open to making more music,” he says. “I really think there’s something for every Yellowcard fan on this EP.”

Key married longtime girlfriend Laura Gillway in December and the pair are currently expecting their first child. The musician has “lots of amazing things happening” in his life and is thrilled that the renewed success of the band has provided “some stability” for the pair as they expand their family. “Having Sean [Mackin] in the band, who already has two kids of his own, we’ve really rekindled and revived our friendship and he’s been a huge resource and support system for me,” he says about preparing for fatherhood.

“I just hope that all this work I’ve done on myself in the last six or seven years, when I’ve had some time to reflect on the wild ride I went on in my 20s and 30s, I hope that I’ve prepared myself to go into this and be a good dad and be the best partner I can be to my wife, and be the best business partner I can be to my friends in the band,” he notes. “That’s what I’m trying to do every day.”

Yellowcard Reunion 2023

The band couldn’t be more “grateful for the opportunity” to reconnect with fans on stage and are focusing on their current achievements instead of worrying about what the future holds. “If we got to do this tour once a year for the next 10 or 15 years, then I can retire a happy man,” Key muses. “I think just focusing on how we’re going to be able to sustain a touring career again at this level, if that’s possible, that’s what we’re hoping to do.”

“And if it’s not, again, we’re OK with that; we’re in a different place,” he adds. “We’ll take the next one when it comes, but I certainly believe we would all love to be able to operate at this level. It’s never been done before for us, so looking forward to that being a possibility for sure.”

Childhood Eyes is now available and Yellowcard are on tour through August.