By Melanie Bryan and Kyle Guzman
Derek Sanders, cherished frontman of Mayday Parade, has announced his forthcoming solo EP, The Heavy Box, slated for release on April 14, 2023. While Sanders recognizes that Mayday Parade will always be his priority, he sat down with Music Scene Media Magazine to reflect on his experience writing The Heavy Box, the ebb and flow of life, and more.
MSM: What does the EP title, The Heavy Box, mean to you?
DS: Yeah, so it’s actually kind of strange because originally I had my five songs picked out for what was gonna be on the EP, and one of those songs was a piano ballad that had a lyric in it, “it’s just a heavy box, but it is so much more” and I decided to name the EP The Heavy Box, kind of based on that. Sort of towards the end with the last song that ended up coming about – Jason Lancaster had reached out to me about doing a song together. And so we wrote “Together for Dear Life”, which is also a piano ballad, and we ended up deciding to have that on the EP, so it kind of replaced the other song that was gonna be on the EP that had that lyric. But I have so much music, so many of these songs that I intend on releasing at some point down the road. So it’ll all sort of tie together at some point, I suppose.
MSM: What’s been the most challenging thing about recording a solo EP instead of an album with a full band?
DS: It’s kind of like a double edged sword. On the one hand, it’s amazing to have the freedom to be able to do whatever I wanted to do with The Heavy Box. I love that in Mayday Parade, it’s a democracy where each person’s opinion is valued as much as the other. There’s no leader. But what that means is that a lot of times things don’t go the way you want. And there are decisions that are made, songs that are picked or whatever it is, that can be frustrating when you’re like, “I really think that we should do this” but we end up going in a different direction. And so to have the freedom to be able to do whatever I wanted with the EP was incredible, but there’s also a lot of pressure, too.
The first song that I recorded for the EP is “Home”, which is also the first track on the The Heavy Box. I recorded that song over three years ago. So the writing and planning of the EP has been such a long process of just sort of working on it whenever I had the time. That’s one of those things that’s like, I feel like I can second guess myself and go, “is this song really done?”. And I could keep trying to work on it and add things over time. I started to kind of drag it out and, and eventually I was like, “all right, I have to just call it and say these songs are done and, and it’s time to put ’em out”. But yeah, it can be a lot of pressure and a lot of second guessing myself. That’s something that I’m certainly not used to cause I’m used to having other people to bounce ideas off of and kind of come to a group consensus on.
MSM: Did you enjoy the opportunity to have more creative control?
DS: Yeah, for sure. I feel like I love the world that I’m in right now where I still have Mayday Parade and that’s my main focus and always will be, but one thing that’s great is that I can take any frustrations with Mayday Parade stuff and pour it into my solo work. It’s like, well, I have my own project that I can do whatever I want with. So it’s not as frustrating when it’s like, “man, I really think that we should use this song or that we should do this thing with this idea”. Now it’s like, well, if that doesn’t work out with Mayday Parade, I can just kind of take that idea and do it on my own with my solo project. And that kind of makes it all just balance out a lot better. And so yeah, it’s great.
MSM: The EP artwork seems to signify letting go. Is that an overall theme for The Heavy Box?
DS: Yeah, I’d say that’s very accurate. I wouldn’t say that all of the songs are based around this idea of letting go, but I went through a divorce almost two years ago. That’s definitely a heavy theme within the album. One of my good friends, Guadalupe Bustos, he’s done photography for Mayday Parade for some tours, and he works with a lot of bands and he’s just incredibly talented. And pretty much anytime I need to create artwork or find a cool photo for something I reach out to Lupe and ask him what he’s got available and he’ll send me over a link with a bunch of photos he’s taken that he hasn’t done anything with. And as I was scrolling through one of his galleries, I saw that one and I was like, “man, that’s, that’s amazing. That’s the one.”. So we just went with that and I think it captures the essence of the EP really well.
MSM: You’ve said that “Howell Canyon” looks forward to a more hopeful future. What are some things you are looking forward to?
DS: Yeah. Well, if I’m being completely honest about it, I don’t really talk about my whole divorce situation a lot, but it was a really, really difficult time and I was pretty majorly depressed for a long time. And I’d say that the last six months to a year or so, things have kind of turned around in a lot of ways. I’m with someone who is amazing and I love her so much, and I don’t know, it’s just cool after going through what was certainly the darkest and most difficult time of my life to kind of move past that and see that life moves on, life goes on, and there are good things in the future. I was aware of that even when I was going through it. I knew that it would just take time, but when you’re in it, it’s just so hard to fully understand that and appreciate that. And to feel that so much of that is over and I am happy now and still making music and touring with Mayday Parade and doing this solo EP. It’s just amazing to feel like life is good again. It’s such a beautiful thing.
MSM: Do you have a lyric off of The Heavy Box that means the most to you?
DS: Well, that’s tough to say, but the first one that comes to mind is off the first song “Home”. It’s this line that goes something like, “if we all try together to love just a little bit more than we do something good is bound to come”. But I was very close, especially once I switched out the song that had the heavy box lyric in it, to titling the EP “If We All Try Together to Love Just a Little Bit More Than We Do”. But I just wasn’t sure. That’s really long title and I wasn’t sure if that was the move, but I do love that line.
MSM: Do you have any plans for a solo tour in support of The Heavy Box?
DS: There are no plans for a tour. I definitely would love to make something happen at some point, but Mayday parade is pretty busy touring throughout the rest of the year and we’re gonna try to get back in the studio at some point this year too. So there’s just really not time for a solo tour, but, I stay pretty busy whenever we have time off. I do a lot of weekends where I do emo nite, either playing an acoustic set or a DJ set kind of thing. So I’d love to combine some of that where perhaps I’ll play a few of the solo songs acoustic at an emo nite event.
I’d also love to set up just some weekend shows, or maybe I’ll fly to a city and play a show on a Saturday and fly back. I do a lot of that kind of thing anyway, so as we end up having a few weeks off here and there from tour, I do plan to pepper in some solo shows and then perhaps next year if there’s time I can put something together that’s a full tour. It’d be amazing to do. I really, really want to it’s just that my main focus is Mayday Parade and I don’t want to do anything that gets in the way of that. So it kind of has to just fall into place and work out somehow.
MSM: Lastly, what message do you have for your fans with the release of The Heavy Box?
DS: I’m so grateful to still be here making music in 2023. I started playing guitar when I was 10 years old. I grew up messing around with writing songs and playing cover songs with one of my brothers and my cousin, and then just with friends in school. It’s been something that I’ve loved doing for so long. I’m 36 years old now, and we started Maday Parade in 2005. I’ve been touring since I was 17 years old. It’s amazing that I’m still here making new music and there are people that are interested in hearing it. It means the world to me. What I want to say is thank you. Thank you to anyone who’s ever supported anything I’ve done. I’m just very grateful for the opportunity to continue making music. I really hope people enjoy the EP. It really does mean a lot to me, and I’ve really tried my best to put as much as I can into these songs. As much as I talk about it being kind of a back burner thing that’s not my main focus, I still really put a lot of effort and love into these songs and they mean a lot to me. I’m excited for everyone to hear them.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
*HEADER PHOTO BY MATT BURKE