Sean Mackin of Yellowcard
Sean Mackin considers himself the luckiest person in the world, and not without good reason. He’s got one hell of a unique job ― violinist in a rock band. That’s not something you see on a lot of resumes.
Mackin’s musical contributions have helped his band, Yellowcard, create their signature mixture of violin-tinged rock/pop. The distinctive sound of the Jacksonville, Florida quintet (Mackin on violin, Ryan Key on vocals/guitar, Pete Mosely on bass, drummer Longineu Parsons III, and guitarist Ryan Mendez) has proven a hit with music fans. After several independent releases, Yellowcard scored a deal with Capitol Records and went on to sell 3 million+ albums, including the 2003 smash “Ocean Avenue,” and the critically-acclaimed follow-up, “Lights and Sounds.”
Now, with the release of Yellowcard’s latest album, “Paper Walls,” and the new single “Light Up The Sky,” Mackin took the time to chat with me about the making of the record, fun with 3-year-olds on airplanes, and why kids who get bullied in school may end up having the last laugh.
Interviewed by: Heather Kobrin | August 2007
So the big news, obviously, is the new album, “Paper Walls,” which was just released a few weeks ago. Have you been happy with the response it’s received so far?
Oh yeah. I think often times it gets overlooked what a great opportunity it is to have an album put out by a major label and have fans all over the world. We were so excited to have the opportunity to record “Paper Walls,” and now that it’s out and we have such positive feedback, we’re having such a good time. We’re just really on the top of the world right now.
How do you feel that the record builds on what you accomplished musically with “Ocean Avenue” and “Lights and Sounds?’
Well, what “Paper Walls” is for Yellowcard is, it’s kind of the best of what we have to offer from both of those albums. We have the energy and the melodies from “Ocean Avenue,” and then we have that sharpened rock edge and all of our sonic evolutions that we discovered on “Lights and Sounds.” We basically put that together into “Paper Walls.” So it’s really just capitalizing on what Yellowcard’s finest points are.
How would you compare the role your violin plays on this record versus the last one?
I think with the last record, I was using the violin more experimentally — we were diving more into the electric violin. And I think a lot of those advancements and discoveries on “Lights and Sounds” really added a lot of depth and a lot of background noise. At times, it might have seemed masked, but it gave me a lot of opportunity to play more of my instrument in a lot more of the songs. And I think that was more of a development state during “Lights and Sounds,” and “Paper Walls” is more of applying the best of everything. So I went back to “Ocean Avenue,” and I went back to “Lights and Sounds,” but “Paper Walls” was basically just us collaborating on what we know how to do best. I don’t know if you can really compare it, you just kind of have to look at it, like if there wasn’t any “Lights and Sounds,” there wouldn’t be a “Paper Walls.”
It sounds like the making of the album was really cathartic for the band. I know that Ryan Key has described it as “a totally positive experience (that) reminded us of why we started doing this in the first place.” Did you feel the same way?
Yeah, I felt like it was very much back to basics for Yellowcard. There was a little pinch at the beginning, when there’s five people in the band room, and you don’t really know what direction…we’re kind of waiting for Ryan to grab the reigns and kind of steer us around, and we’re all just like “Okay, so what do we do now?” After that, it was cruise control on high — it was so much fun. I love my band. I love to watch LP work, I love to watch Brian and Pete, and to have the opportunity to work with Ryan Mendez was a real treat. So we just had a good time. I think most importantly, the easiest thing on us was that there was no expectation level, really. We went gold on “Lights and Sounds,” and I guess that’s not that big of a deal any more, but no one was in there saying “Oh, you better do this right,” or anything like that. I think you can hear that we were just able to have a fun album.
Ok, let’s change gears a bit. You’ve just come off of some shows in Japan and Australia – how do international audiences compare to your fans in the U.S.?
I don’t know if there’s really a comparison, it’s just a little different. Australia’s a lot of fun, and maybe because there isn’t so much music down there, or because we’re not as exposed to them, that when we’re there it’s really crazy and frantic. We have a great time every time we’re in Australia. And Japan is totally unlike any other place in the entire world. It’s beautiful, and my mom was born there. I’m half Japanese, so every time I’m there I can’t believe that my music has brought me to Japan. They’re completely respectful, and their show mannerisms are so different than anything you would ever see in the States. So it’s just different. It’s really nice to sort of have cultural change. The United States is a little bit overexposed to all these bands. We love our States fans, but it really is nice to go out and see other parts of the world. I think traveling is definitely one of the hidden gems in this whole musical whirlwind.
Do you have any recent funny stories from the road that you can share?
We took a flight from Vancouver down to LA and had to get up at 4:45. We’d finished with a show and were in bed by midnight, you know, 2:00…so, couple hours of sleep flying into LA for a show, that’s pretty tough on us. We’re thinking, “Ok, we’ll sleep on the flight, 3 ½ hours to LA, it’s all good.” But the kid to adult ratio on the plane was like, 2 to 1. I had a kid behind me, a kid in front of me, two kids next to me. Everybody on the plane, all my boys were like “This is horrible.” So the girl behind me, she was laying down on her seat, just freaking tap-dancing on the back of my seat. I let it go for 20 minutes, thinking “Ok, she’s probably excited, whatever.” We get into the air, and I look back at her dad and say, “Excuse me sir, is there anyway that you could please, you know…” and he’s like, “She’s three, ok? What do you want me to do?” as if it was my problem! (laughing) So we enjoy little fun things like that.
If you could tour with any band, your dream band, who would it be?
The Foo Fighters.
Recently, the band had a live request session with fans through MySpace and Instant Messenger. Did any of the songs that were requested surprise you or catch you off guard?
No, I think that we mentally prepared for the songs that were going to be asked for. I think that the Yellowcard fans, if they had an opportunity to request one song, wouldn’t want to hear all the songs that we play all the time, the songs that we focus on. So I kind of expected some off-the-wall stuff. I was really pleased that our requests were focused on our new album. We played four or five songs off “Paper Walls.” That was a really good sign of things to come for Yellowcard. It was just a lot of fun.
If you had to pick a personal theme song for yourself, what would it be and why?
There’s a song by Ben Folds called “The Luckiest.” I feel like I am the luckiest person in the world. That’s more of a love song — I’m actually very lucky in love as well. But I think in general, in my whole life, I’m a very lucky individual, and someone’s looking out for me. So I would choose that song.
You’re a violinist in a rock band, which is possibly the coolest job in the world. You have to be an inspiration for every kid out there lugging a violin to school every day for orchestra practice. Do you get a lot of letters from kids who are studying music?
Yeah, I do, and I hope I’m a good influence and an okay role model. I don’t know if I would picture myself being a role model. It’s not just violinists, it’s violists, cellists, trumpeters — the whole orchestra spectrum, which is great. I grew up learning how to fight off kids who were picking on me on the bus, who were like, “What’s up, dork with the glasses and the violin, with the braces” thing, so you know, I did it. At that time, I didn’t really want to play the violin that much, until I was about 15 and I went to an art school, because of the torture and the torment and how mean kids are. I guess it’s always been like that, and there’s always going to be a bully and an antagonist, all that crazy stuff. I discovered after all this torture when I went to art school that I loved music — how much fun it was, what a great release it was, and how exciting it could be, and still today how exciting it can be. I think one of the greatest quotes is one that a friend tells me, our monitor guy Chris who’s been with us a long time. We were playing a show in Australia, and there were 5,000 people there, and he’s like, “I can’t believe I’m here,” and I’m like “I can’t believe I’m here with a violin.” It’s really funny when he tells that story, because I always one-up him with the violin thing. I think partially I got lucky, and partially I got really good friends, and I work really hard. And people that play more artistic instruments, other than the drums and the guitar and the bass, hopefully they understand they can do something more with it, and they don’t have to hide behind it, and they don’t have to feel like they’re bullied like I felt, you know?
What parting words or messages do you have for Yellowcard’s fans?
Probably the same message I always give them, sorry if it’s boring. Thank you so much for supporting Yellowcard. We have the best job in the world, and we have such an amazing opportunity, and we wouldn’t be able to do this without you. So thank you, thank you, thank you.