| In the Office of Warped Tour Founder Kevin Lyman
| Thursday, June 23, 2011
Warped Tour has been around for so many years many of the fans roaming about the event grounds this year weren’t even born when it first started. Launching seventeen years ago, and very quickly growing into one of the premier summer music events, Warped Tour has introduced the world to a long list of bands that includes everyone from Blink 182 to Paramore. The tour has also done an equal amount of work promoting numerous charitable organizations. I caught up with Warped tour founder Kevin Lyman to discuss seventeen years of Warped Tour, as well how ankle surgery led to what he considers one of Warped Tour’s most diverse lineups yet.
Adam Bernard: How much has changed about the tour from year one to year seventeen?
Kevin Lyman: From then, just sheer the number of people. There are more people backstage now than there were in the crowds back then. Just that sheer volume, and really where I’m kind of going with Warped is the sheer amount of things it touches right now. I think it touches kids’ spirits musically. It’s kinda become their outlet of the summer to see new music. They rally around the bands that they’ve supported throughout the year, but also explore new music, so it’s still that point of discovery for the fan. I think what I’m looking at, and it’s gonna be the hardest thing when I stop doing this, is the sheer amount of overall good that the tour has started to accomplish, and that’s been through its association with Music Saves Lives. The average person doesn’t really know that the Warped Tour is the catalyst for 60,000 pints of blood to be donated each year through the blood drives. Music Saves Lives runs blood drives and we give kids opportunities. We used to give em all a backstage pass if they had a ticket to the show, but now we’ve had to narrow that down as the program's grown so big. It’s actually been named the independent blood drive of the year for the last four years from the Red Cross.
AB: How quickly did you realize that charity and rock music were going to be perfect bedfellows?
KL: I think it goes back to the late 80s and early 90s. There were a lot of shows in LA that I worked - the Rock the Vote shows, the Board Aid shows, the Boarding for Breast Cancer shows. I think growing up in LA when there was always a charity, or something, we were always helping out at a show. When Dennis Danell from Social Distortion died way back when, right away the community threw a benefit to raise money for his family. Booking bands is OK. Sitting there listening to music, I love it, I think it’s great, and I think the Warped Tour lineup is really good, but I think what’s keeping me interested is how do we extend the Warped Tour year-round. Keep a Breast, who does the I Heart Boobies bracelet, has grown into one of the fastest growing charities in the country, and we gave them the free booth and a help. That’s cool for me. Things like To Write Love on Her Arms, to give Jamie (Tworkowski) some booths early on, to let him come out and be part of the tour, that’s the kind of stuff that’s interesting to me. We’ve given a quarter from every ticket to charity since the inception for the tour and when you’re doing 600K (tickets) that 150K (dollars) funds a summer camp, it funds a lot of programs for Music Cares. When the tour goes away that goes away. That’s gonna be the hard thing.
AB: Are you grooming anyone to eventually take over the reigns for you?
KL: My daughter’s walking down from school right now to help at the office, (but) I don’t know who’s gonna take it over. The problem is the pressures from the industry right now. Trying to make this work. The ticket price, if you tear apart the Warped Tour ticket price you can see that it’s $27, but then there’s $16 of fees on top of that. Economically it’s getting hard to do the Warped Tour. Trying to bring the caliber of talent you need. What the tour does in overall good for the kids, good for the community... the economy of the Warped Tour gives a lot of people jobs in the summer time. I think that’s important right now. I was over at SideOneDummy Records with Joe (Sib) yesterday. I had ankle surgery this year, I’m getting a knee worked on after this tour, I’m like - I gotta put myself back together because I may have to do this another ten or twelve years. I may need to continue walking. That’s gonna be a big thing.
AB: Yeah, that would be a big help. Changing gears a bit, when you started this tour the CD was the dominant medium for recorded music. How have you seen the shift in how people are consuming music affect ticket sales and fan involvement?
KL: Now we have our association with iTunes. I think it’s funny because I read about the Apple profits and we have a great relationship, but we help fund that to make sure the bands get exposed on iTunes with our free iTunes cards. It’s weird because now people tell me “why aren’t we on the main stage? We sold 20,000 records,” and I'm like, it used to be “we’re selling 20,000 a week,” so it’s hard to gauge that. It’s harder to judge things, but the kids will let you know. It’s a social media thing, but you can’t become so dependent on social media that you forget to put up a poster or pass out a flyer once in a while.
AB: Warped Tour is filled with people who have a two by four with a big poster on it saying when a band’s set time is, and it’s helpful.
KL: Yeah, I don’t want tech to overrun the Warped Tour cuz I still think it’s important for kids to come and learn, so we always have to manage it so that kids come early and wander around and run into a band they might like. We want to try to keep some sense of adventure to shows.
AB: Is that why you don’t post the lineup until around 10am?
KL: I hated that when I worked on Lollapalooza and Henry Rollins would be (scheduled to play at) one in the afternoon everyone would just be like “I’m just gonna come later when Nine Inch Nails plays.” Back when Blink 182 was a little band, if I had just written a schedule ahead of time, people would have shown up later, and the band would have maybe not gotten seen by five, six thousand kids every day. It’s exciting to open doors at Warped Tour at 11 o’clock and you have 80% of the crowd in line. It kind of kicks the energy up a little bit.
AB: When was the last time you were a part of the crowd for a full day of Warped Tour performances?
KL: I’m at every show, but I don’t think there’s been a day where I’ve been able to spend the whole day in the crowd. I try to spend an hour, or two hours, in the afternoon. We have this term “I’m going to Warped Tour,” and that means your radio might not be heard for a while, you might not hear someone calling you. This year there are a lot of bands I want to see. A lot of it depends on the peripheries I have to deal with. I’m dealing with (the) personal problems (of the bands) and trying to help people get through the day. That’s my role now. I’m not a peer to anyone out there. I used to be a peer to more of the bands when it was Bad Religion, NoFx, Offspring, Pennywise. All those types of people, those are my peers, those are the people I grew up working in the clubs with. Now I’m pretty much a mentor or a disciplinarian. That’s pretty much it.
AB: Whoa, are you saying you feel like an old man?
KL: Not old. Trust me, I feel old at around 11 o’clock on some nights when I’m sitting there with ice packs on my knees and my ankles, but not THAT old. The point is, it’s weird for someone that’s 50, you’re not gonna be bro-ing down with someone that’s 21 normally. You have different interests. I’ll go out and pick my moments to go and hang out with everyone. The rest of the time I have my little crew that comes out and visits. It’s just a different time for me.
AB: Warped Tour has an interesting relationship with hip-hop. Why is it sometimes on the bill, and sometimes, like last year, totally absent?
KL: It depends on if I think there’s good hip-hop and if a hip-hop artist that I feel will make sense approaches to be on the bill. Hip-hop artists sometimes have a different financial needs, but going back to Eminem, he went out on Warped Tour because he thought it was a great audience to connect with. Ice-T wanted to be on Warped Tour because I knew him from Lollapalooza and he wanted to reach that crowd. This year I also know that we have some good hip-hop people out there. You got Yelawolf. When I was listening to him in October I went “he would be cool for Warped Tour,” because I was trying to make the tour very diverse this year. I did nothing for two months. I had ankle surgery where I kind of sat up and just had to sit there and listen to music. People would come hang out at my house. It was like a revolving door of my friends in music who I trust coming by and bringing stuff I should hear. I think if you really dig through the lineup there’s some pretty interesting stuff there.
AB: Two years ago the tour caught a little bit of bad press for featuring the Millionaires and Brokencyde.
KL: Yeah, you know what... controversy. Punk rock was controversial at one point. Now, do I think the Millionaires were ready to go out on tour with us? No, I really think that was a mistake. They couldn’t pull it out there live. Brokencyde, they had some fans. My big thing is there is so much going on at Warped Tour. This year we’re getting controversy because there’s this band Blood On The Dance Floor and there’s a group that doesn’t want them there. I’m like well, you got a couple options. One, there are six other stages and three will have bands on them when that band will be playing. That’s one option, go see someone else. Or two, stay home. No one is twisting anyone’s arm to come to Warped Tour.
AB: Is it fun for you when bands have little beefs that aren’t super serious?
KL: The beef thing is funny because they are so minimal and most of them are used to each other’s advantage. You can go back to NoFX and Underoath, there was no beef there.
AB: I remember one act said something like “thank you for checking me out instead of Millionaires.”
KL: Great, that’s cool, but if you’re a band having to compare yourself to the Millionaires at that point then you got your own insecurities.
AB: That set ended and I heard a weird noise coming from the distance and I said “that must be Millionaires. I’m going to go over there and see why this person didn’t want to be associated with them.”
KL: And guess what, by them saying their name you walked over there. They drove people over to check them out. You may not have liked them, but they helped the Millionaires by saying that every day.
AB: Being that Warped Tour is outdoors during the summer you usually have a few heatstroke stories. What can be done to prevent these occurrences from happening other than people just knowing how to hydrate?
KL: One, you have to know how to hydrate. Now, I’m gonna take flack on this from some people, but we don’t control water and food prices at our shows, it’s the venue. This year I went in there and said you need to get the water prices down, let’s figure out how to do this, which usually means me helping finance this. If I want to bring the price down I have to be willing to write a check if that guy doesn’t make enough money. The water was $4.50 last year, which is ridiculous. We got it down to $3. It took a lot of cooperation from a lot of people and a lot of negotiation, but guess what, a bottle of water should cost you three dollars at a show. We’re also bringing Klean Kanteen water filtration stations so you can refill your bottle if you’re willing to stand in line. It’s not going to be endless water, but there’s a place where you can get it this year. The other complaint I heard was about eating. I see kids coming and I know that they don’t have the money they used to have to come to shows, so they’re not eating at the shows. We try to let people bring a sandwich in, but you’re still battling a venue that has different rules the rest of the year. This year we have a pre-paid food program at a lot of our shows. We went to the promoter and they created a lunch - a cheeseburger, or a slice of pizza, french fries, and a drink, for $8.50. You can buy the ticket ahead of time, so if a parent is worried that their kid is gonna take that $8.50 and buy another t-shirt, they can buy that ticket ahead of time to make sure their kid gets lunch. I went in and negotiated that this year. It’s all this process of trying to take care of our fans. We’re trying.
AB: Finally, to end on a lighter note, when was the last time you actually had to spend money on a pair of sneakers?
KL: Guess what, I have to all the time. I can’t wear Vans. I have 50 year old feet, I work 300 shows a year, so I have to wear the old man New Balances with support. I have to buy another pair right now.
Story originally ran on SubstreamMusicPress.com.
Labels: Music Interviews
|posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:29 AM