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June 2022 (NOAHFINNCE)
Feature

Mayday Parade: "We're still here and we're all in this together"

Mayday Parade return with a new album that proves that, even when things do fall apart, they can still be put back together again.
Published: 10:09 am, December 15, 2021Words: Alex Bradley. Photos: Jordan Knight.
Mayday Parade: "We're still here and we're all in this together"

For the late-night drives, heartbreaks, friendships blossoming and wilting, growth, love and lessons in romantics, Mayday Parade have been a band to lean on for 16 years now. Singer Derek Sanders has always found the right words for those moments. Similarly, their live shows are life-affirming events, a chance to share a space with others who have needed this outlet in the same way. In turn, their music has created a thriving community with the band and fans in equilibrium.

And when it all fell apart last year, Mayday Parade were there for us.

Their livestreams were a lifeline as we locked ourselves away to be joined in our living rooms, bedrooms, bunkers or kitchens by the band just playing games, chatting, hanging out and occasionally playing some music. For The May Day Show, the annual celebration of Mayday Parade, the band spent eight hours answering questions and talking with friends in State Champs and Four Year Strong to keep us entertained.

Looking back at that time, singer Derek Sanders remembers: "It was stuff we wouldn't normally do necessarily, but it was to let people know we're still here and we're all in this together. It was really important and continues to be important."

And even as Mayday Parade released the three-track 'Out Of Here' EP last October, Derek explained at the time, "There are so many things we can't do right now, but we can put out some new music, and maybe that makes some people happy."

It's all about the fans with Mayday Parade, and it's been that way for a while now. Somewhere along the way, these Floridian outsiders are no longer working for themselves but representing the outsiders everywhere.

And that's how we arrive at Mayday Parade's seventh album, 'What It Means To Fall Apart'. With nothing but time on their hands during summer 2020, the band headed to Atlanta to team up with their go-to guys Zack Odom and Kenneth Mount, who have worked on more than half of the band's full-length records, including their debut classic 'A Lesson In Romantics' and their last album 'Sunnyland'.

"We were all disheartened and frustrated with the way everything has been going and how limited we have been with not being able to tour," Derek begins, detailing the band's decision to get back into the studio with only a handful of demos but seemingly an endless amount of time to work on a project.

Pretty quickly, though, that frustration and the indeterminable nature of such unprecedented times turned into writer's block for the singer. "I hit a block and had a really hard time moving past that, and it took finally accepting, 'this isn't going anywhere, and this is the way things are for now', before I was able to get past that," he explains.

Eventually, it started to flow, and with the collective mentality of "well, there's not much we can do, but we can go into the studio and record," it went from some singles to another EP, and when they returned earlier this year, the album came into focus.

In truth, once they got started, it was as routine as any album could be for Mayday Parade. They aren't strangers to recording in different sessions months apart, with 'Sunnyland' taking shape in a similar way but with the added bonus of that album featuring some sessions in California with the legendary John Feldman too. That time they had worried if all the different sessions would make for a disjointed sounding album, but, nope, this time around, it was some seasoned professionals knowing that they do well and what their fans like.

"I hit a block and had a really hard time moving past that" 
Derek Sanders

The outcome was an album that has the feel of a single broad paint stroke. Vibrant and bursting with energy opening with 'Kids Of Summer' before that early optimism gradually fades away to the hopeless and dark space of 'I Can't Do This Anymore', which closes the album.

"It's weird because it wasn't the way I intended," Derek admits, considering the arc of the album, "but it's one of those cool things that just happened that way, and it works. I'm not sure if there is some underlying subconscious reason for that or not, but it's a neat thing."

Conscious or not, it's got every base covered, ticks every box for what we've come to expect from Mayday Parade over the years.

The pandemic is certainly under the surface of the opening two tracks with 'Kids Of Summer', the lead single, throwing it back to the "best summers of our lives", as Derek describes when he went to Warped Tour as a fan, returned to sell CDs in 2006 and then played the smaller stages after that as Mayday Parade started to break out.

It's a real nostalgia ride, and the pounding pop-punk rhythm of the track helps that, and Derek can't help reminiscing, more so as just two sets at Slam Dunk and an ill-fated US tour that saw all of the band but him get struck down with COVID, have been the only taste of live music they've enjoyed in over two years now.

"There is nothing like the beginning," he smiles. "It's such a funny thing because you don't realise it at the time, and it takes years of touring. I remember being younger thinking, 'I'm never going to be jaded'. I'm not saying we are jaded, necessarily… but there is something about those early years of touring when everything was new and exciting. You're going to cities for the first time and countries for the first time; there's this magic there that doesn't quite feel the same on your tenth time back to a place.

"Those first years of touring in a van and roughing it and seeing the progression of last time we were in this city there were 50 people, and now it's 150 people and just seeing everything grow and build was such a cool thing."

Despite the rose-tinted glasses for those early days, he concedes that touring in a bus is more comfortable than just a van and the grind isn't as hard for a band preparing to release their seventh album.

"But that's what was exciting about it in a way," he continues. "It was putting everything on the line and living off of hardly anything and some people looking at us like, 'you're crazy, what are you doing living like this?' But we believed in it and had goals, and it was so cool to see it all happen."

There's been a lot of hard work and live shows to get Mayday to where they are now and, when touring was taken away, it's where songs like 'Golden Days' comes to life. There is nothing subtle about "Somewhere out there / I see blue skies clear of the storm / Where the road is calling, and it's everything we've been waiting for". It's a hopeful outlook and certain to be a cathartic moment when it comes to being able to play live shows regularly again.

"I was feeling it pretty good when I wrote that song and just tried to put it all in there," Derek comments, considering how to make a global pandemic fit into just one song.

He adds, "It's one of the happiest songs we have recorded even though it's about being sick and tired of life at the time, but I love that it has a hopeful outlook towards the future and the chorus is about waiting for better times that are surely ahead."

What follows is the whole spectrum of Mayday Parade laid bare. There is the harder edge - think 'Black Lines' era - with 'If My Ghosts Don't Play, I Don't Play', there is the sweet ballad in 'Think of You', the poppier shift in 'Bad At Love' and the stark, piano coated, 'Angels Die Too'. Talking about that track, Derek reveals: "There are a handful of people, friends, that I've lost, and there is a close friend of mine who is still with us but who I've seen struggle a lot and go through really hard times and somebody that I care about a lot and I worry about a lot.

"That was the place I was at when I wrote that one was thinking about the friends I've lost along the way, in particular, to suicide and having this friend I was really worried about not wanting the same thing to happen there."

Derek had described this album as being "a nice step forward in our career", and one of the more progressive moments in the album is only really half a song. 'Heaven' will probably unfairly be overlooked in this album; it's two minutes and just one line: "It feels like heaven the way you put me through hell". It's taken from a demo for a song by guitarist Alex Garcia, but thanks to Jimmy Eat World, it became the biggest left turn on the album.

The story goes, while in the studio one night, Derek's favourite album of all time, 'Clarity', was being streamed in full by Jimmy Eat World, so the whole band (including Zack and Kenneth, the producers) tuned in to watch it.

"In general, that album is very experimental; there is a lot happening, and it's not just drums, guitars, bass, vocals. There are a lot of cool sounds and cool things that they do. The last song, 'Goodbye Sky Harbour', kind of goes on for a long time and doing it live; they have these loop stations they've set up and doing these cool sounds and synths and instrumentation - xylophone whatever," he recalls.

"And the next day we were really kind of inspired by that, I guess, and the way 'Heaven' takes that turn in the middle and takes that more electronic, synthesised sound halfway through was heavily inspired by watching that Jimmy Eat World live stream which is so cool to me. That's exactly what I hoped would happen with watching that livestream, and then the next day, we really dove in and built the whole second half of that song, and I'm so happy with how that turned out," he beams.

It's just a hint of Mayday Parade straying from the emo / pop-punk centre that they've made their own. And here lies a problem. Stick or twist?

Other bands do it, keep it fresh with a shimmering pop album, 80's-inspired synth-rock album, emo shoegaze album but can still return to the same centre (desperately avoiding the term "scene") as Mayday Parade. But, other bands don't always get to make seven albums and tour for almost 16 years straight either.

And it's something they've considered. Derek reasons, "It's a really tough thing because it's hard to get all five of us on the same page with that." There is no denying that 2015's album 'Black Lines' was a shift, and the newer 'Bad At Love' is a slightly unexpected foray into modern powerhouse ballads, but, on the whole, you know what you're getting with Mayday Parade. But, there is undoubtedly something niggling when Derek considers the idea, "There is something exciting about that as well, the idea of 'let's go into this without any preconceived ideas of what it should sound like and just create something and see what it happens'. There is something enticing about that," he contemplates.

He repeats, "It's a tricky thing, and it's hard to get us all excited about the same idea with that."

At the same time, Mayday Parade are prolific and exceptional at what they do and while songs from their first album find new life on TikTok, tracks like 'Piece of Your Heart' and 'It's Hard To Be Religious…' from 'Sunnyland' are firm live favourites for those who have been with the band from the beginning.

Still considering the idea of re-inventing their sound, Derek adds: "There is something about making the core fans happy, but then there is something really exciting about embracing new ideas and trying out new things." And it all comes back round to the fans.

"I wrote a song for you, and then it came to life," is the chorus line in 'Notice', the band's direct tribute to those who have kept Mayday Parade going. Derek admits it sounds "cheesy" that the song is "for the fans", but justifies: "For the people that have been there for us and believed in us, those people that have been coming to shows for ten-plus years that have been to over 100 Mayday Parade shows, and those die-hard people.

"There are so many of them in every city you go to; there are these people that you recognise. It's so cool to have support like that its just paying respect to those people, and it's a song for them."

"There's something really exciting about embracing new ideas"
Derek Sanders

That bond with their fans is unbreakable, and the music now, especially in 'What It Means To Fall Apart', cements that in place of being able to tour and meet new fans and the old familiar ones in every city they go to.

"We try to really appreciate the people that support us, and I go out after every show that I'm able to and talk to people and hear their stories and see their tattoos, and they'll tell us stories about the ways in which our band has helped them or has helped their friends. It's always really incredible and really humbling to have those experiences, and I feel it makes it easier having those connections with people.

"It makes it easier to want to keep going and want to do better. We started off playing music for ourselves; we just loved doing this and wanted to do it but, at a certain point, you get to a level where you've made all these connections. It feels like it means something bigger than what it means to you, and it gives you even more of a drive to continue and push forward."

It's that which sets Mayday Parade apart. The songs are great; they've been consistently great for seven albums now, no huge peaks and no real stinkers either, but a steady stream of greatness. But on top of that, their fans have real value, a name to every face in the crowd and genuine dependency on the people that support them and the same love and support given in return. They are a safe place, one which will never really change. It's rare, which is sad, but it helps to understand Mayday Parade's eternal youth and how they've stood the test of time. And, also, maybe their apprehension to not alienate fans either.

It still niggles, though, as to whether Mayday Parade are writing their own fan fiction now. Does the expectation of the "die-hard" fans carry too much weight?

Derek's favourite track on the new album, one of his favourite ever Mayday songs, in fact, is 'One for the Rocks and One for the Scary', but when it came to showing the band the track, he had his reservations.

"I was really nervous about that song because I wrote it in that way, and I knew that some of the guys were going to try and change the pop-punk part - or whatever you want to call it - that it fires into. And, some of the guys did try and change that, and it came down to a vote of how we wanted to do it, and I was like, 'Guys, please don't ruin this song'. I'm super happy that we stuck with it.

"It's something we've never really done before, and that's always really exciting; to do something different and not just the same old thing."

Those compromises are a regular occurrence, it seems, and are down to the democratic style of operating they have. The good of the band comes first, and what's good for the band is what's good for the fans.

Discussing losing out on a vote, Derek admits, "Sometimes, in the moment, it sucks," but he reasons: "At the end of the day, that's what makes the band who we are. It's always been that way since day one, we make decisions as a group, and we vote on things; there isn't just one person who is like the leader who takes charge and decides things. So, I have to trust in the process and know that's the way we operate. Sometimes things go your way, and sometimes they don't go your way, but, ultimately, it is what is necessary to our band."

And rather than getting frustrated with that system, Derek has been turning ideas that don't fit with the band's vision into his own solo work, and he assures, "one of these days I'm going to put out something out other than the cover EP."

Continuing, he says: "It's super nice to work on something with the freedom that I know I can do whatever I want to artistically. It's made me not worry so much about the band stuff; if it doesn't go the way that I want it to, if I get out-voted on something, then that's okay because I have this project where I have complete freedom. I could take the songs that I write and bring to the band that we won't end up using and would have bummed me out before, but now I'm like, well, at least I can take that and still record it."

It's a solo project that is likely to sound radically different to anything the band has ever done, but it will also preserve Mayday Parade as a vehicle for the community that regularly needs to get in venues around the world and sing sad songs, hopeful ballads and some downright angsty anthems together.

Mayday Parade have become something bigger than the sum of their individual parts, and the last two years have confirmed that and have culminated in 'What It Means To Fall Apart'. Very simply, it seems, when everything does fall apart, you'll always have Mayday Parade to help put things back together again. 

Taken from the December 2021 / January 2022 issue of Upset. Mayday Parade's album 'What It Means To Fall Apart' is out now.

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