Student trio shares West Michigan experiences through a distinct sound

GVL/Courtesy - Hannah Mico 
The Cardboard Swords performing in their hometown of Grand Rapids.

GVL/Courtesy – Hannah Mico The Cardboard Swords performing in their hometown of Grand Rapids.

CeNique Yeldell

For The Cardboard Swords, creating music that is authentic and expresses their experiences is the only way to go.

“The response that we get from people that love our music is the type of recognition I look for; it feels good when your music connects with people,” said Tyler DeCoeur, the vocalist and guitar player of the group.

The Cardboard Swords formed in 2013, when Grand Valley State University students DeCoeur and Ryan Stailey, who plays the drums, along with Calvin alumnus Mag Kim, the bass player, were casually practicing and creating songs. After a few exceptional sessions together, DeCoeur and Stailey officially teamed up with Kim and became more serious about their work.

They describe their sound as a mixture of genres, but mostly pop rock with a touch of emo – a term that, according to DeCoeur, is often misused.

“When people say something is emo they think black hair, black nails –college rock,” DeCoeur said. “It’s typical emo music in a major scale in standard tuning, which is different than other bands. Since we use the same keys that the pop music uses it sounds a little happier. It sounds like pop music but the lyrics aren’t upbeat and happy; the music is a little spacy in some places.”

The trio is currently working on their next album, which will be recorded this August in Philadelphia. Their latest album, Remnants, is their sophomore release and primarily focuses on relationships and making the transition into adulthood.

“We talk about different parts of Grand Rapids and areas and things we’ve done. I wrote songs without the idea that they’re for someone else, just for myself,” DeCoeur said. “It’s a narrative type of style, simple and straightforward. I don’t like flowery language or metaphors, just what happened and how it made me feel.”

DeCoeur’s voice and delivery has a certain type of rawness, Stailey explained, and he has a vocal rhythm where it’s almost like he’s rapping – but it’s melodic. Other bands, such as Enemies and the Front Bottoms, have heavily influenced the style of the group, both musically and lyrically.

Outside of Michigan, the band has performed in New Jersey, Philadelphia, Chicago and Wisconsin, and is preparing for a relatively extensive tour that will take them all of the way to Boston.

Fortunately for Lakers hoping to tune into the West Michigan-related jams that The Cardboard Swords have to offer, the crew will be performing on July 9 at The Pyramid Scheme in downtown Grand Rapids.

According to Stailey, it’s always an honor to play at established venues in the Grand Rapids area.

“We love playing at the Pyramid Scheme. Being approached by a great local venue in itself is a local pride thing,” Stailey said. “We’re not really looking for recognition – we want to be on a label and play with other bands, so we just hope that the hard work we put toward the tour and the album shows people we’re really dedicated to what we do.”

The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.

For more information or to listen to their albums, visit the band’s website at

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