You’ll typically find singer-songwriter Derek Sanders on stage as part of American rock band Mayday Parade, but after 15 years he’s branching out to make his mark as a solo artist.

His first venture, My Rock & Roll Heart (out Feb. 14), is an EP comprised of covers of songs he loved growing up. Most notable is his take on “But Lauren”—a track from hometown band Goodbye Love that he originally made as a gift to his wife on Valentine’s Day.

With the EP’s release fittingly on Valentine’s Day, Sanders talked to PopCrush about what kickstarted his songwriting, the music that means the most to him and what his next step may look like as a solo artist.

Why did you decide to record covers for your EP?

It’s crazy how fast time goes by. At a certain point I was like, “Wow, we’ve been doing this [Mayday Parade] for ten years.” I just wanted to work on something different because I love making music.

With Mayday Parade, we go in every two years and record a full-length and then I’m itching to work on music again. When I first started recording solo and I did the “But Lauren” cover, I didn’t have any intention of putting it out; it was just something I did for my wife as a Valentine’s Day gift.

There were a handful of those songs that I recorded in my home for fun and to help me get better at doing that. I thought, “Maybe I should put these songs out?” Years later, I’m finally pulling the trigger on it and here we are.

What albums were your gateway into the music you love now?

Clarity by Jimmy Eat World is probably the first one that started to pull me into this world and is still one of my favorite albums of all-time. The Moon is Down by Further Seems Forever—a hugely influential one for me. Then Tell All Your Friends by Taking Back Sunday.

The songs you covered are mostly older, raw pop-punk songs, but your take turns them acoustic with a real polish on them. What went into putting your spin on them?

The first step was picking songs that checked off two boxes: songs that were very meaningful to me and songs that translated well to a stripped-down style. I tried out maybe a dozen songs and a lot of them I really wanted to do but I just couldn’t feel it as much. These ones just naturally worked really well.

Given Mayday Parade’s history with covers, what’s your overall goal when crafting one?

I look at it as paying tribute to the song. It’s a tricky thing. You don’t want to just go and recreate the song exactly as it is without adding to it but you don’t want to change it and end up making it worse. That’s always what I’m thinking of—trying to put anything unique or cool onto it while still retaining what’s great about the song.

With the EP covering songs from your past, what songs would you choose for one that represents the present?

Third Eye Blind—they’re one of the only bands that I can think of that has had a career as long as they have and still be just as magical with new stuff as they were with older stuff, and that’s a really difficult thing to do. I also got super into PUP. Weatherbox would be on there. It’s so tough to say.

Are you planning original solo material for the future?

I’ve already recorded a handful of songs with the intention of putting them out with this project. It’s mostly songs I’ve written throughout the years—some for Mayday Parade which we never used. At some point when it all makes sense, I’ll put that out as an EP and probably do another covers EP.

How does writing solo differ from writing for Mayday Parade?

Everything I’m writing is with Mayday Parade in mind. I kind of don’t want to write just for a solo project. I still put Mayday Parade first so anytime I write something that the guys think sounds good, I want that to be a possibility.

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