PropertyOfZack had the pleasure of speaking with Kevin Lyman, the founder of Warped Tour, a few weeks ago for a great interview. Kevin and I discussed the excitement of this year’s lineup, the festival returning to its “roots,” the camaraderie between the bands on the tour, the details behind their new TV show, and so much more. Check it all out and enjoy!
Warped Tour kicks off in about a month and a half now. The kickoff party has been done and ticket sales are live. How are you feeling about this year’s festival as the date creeps closer and closer?
You always feel cautiously optimistic, you know? Like when you have a good pre-sale like we had today. We’re cautiously optimistic that we’re going to do well. There’s so much time between now and August fifth. Really with Warped Tour, you feel good about it, but there’s a lot of lesser in between there, a lot of the unknown. And Warped Tour is still known for selling 70% of its tickets in the last week of sales. It’s a walk up crowd; last-minute crowd, and I don’t see that changing no matter what we do.
The lineup makes you do a double take this year, with headliners like New Found Glory, Rise Against, Taking Back Sunday, Yellowcard, etc. I know that you start putting that together right as the summer ends…
I start putting it together in like September, October or November.
Did you know that you wanted to take this direction immediately? In terms of the sound?
Yeah. Well I’ve been kind of a student of what’s going on. I’ve been looking at the audience. The average gauge of warped tour… a lot are 13 to 19 years old. I started realizing that at 19, nowadays, you’re losing those kids to Bonnaroo or Coachella. They are college age now. Also Lollapalooza. From 19 to 24, you want to go out with your friends, you want to camp out, and you want to make multi-day festival kind of things. With this big movement in electronic music, that’s the age that’s going to those things. But at 24 years old, you’ve been going to that for a while. You’ve got jobs, you can’t go to the three day festivals. It gets expensive. And at 24, you’re starting to pay your bills. You still like music and you still like that festival atmosphere so maybe I can see if that age group wants to come back and enjoy Warped Tour. I feel like there is a lot of people going, “Shoot! Warped Tour is forty bucks? Yeah I want to go to that!” It’s like going to six or seven House of Blues Shows for the price of one. And then there’s the old punk bands, but I don’t think a lot of forty year olds and thirty to forty-five year olds like to come to Warped Tour because of the age gap with the thirteen to nineteen year olds.
You’re always going to get criticism for a lineup, regardless of what it is.
Yeah… I haven’t booked a good band since 1996. That’s what some people say.
There seems to be more excitement. Have you been happy with the festival overall for the last two years?
Yeah, the last couple of years, since I’ve gone to this really eclectic mix. I think it’s been a really fun time and I think that people are getting it. That sense of discovery is really back at Warped Tour. You could put all of that music in an iPod and put it on shuffle, which I do, and then go, “Wow. This is how it’s going to sound like walking around. It’s kind of cool.” You mix in the silent disco and the acoustic tent and, “Hey, it’s not a bad day for the price.”
You mentioned earlier that you noted that more pop-punk or whatever you want to call it is back into the swing of things now. Did you see that at the festival last year?
I feel like there is always a reaction to something. Everything got really heavy for a while. Then all of the sudden, there is going to be a counter. It’s just natural. Then I saw with The Wonder Years last year. They’ve been around a while, it’s not like they are a new band. But all of the sudden, people were starting to gravitate to them. Really, where I thought this would work is when I’d have bands like Sum 41 and Simple Plan the last couple of years. You’d see people excited about seeing those bands. Maybe on their own, they aren’t drawing what they used to, but as part of a festival people really gravitate to go and see those bands.
Something that makes more of those pop-punk fans is that it seems to them and the punk scene that there is a camaraderie between all of the bands. That makes fans excited too, that you know if you’re going to see a band like Man Overboard, that they have toured with bands like Polar Bear Club or Transit before.
It’s also those bands. The bands they looked up to or the bands they learned how to play music from, that they listened to. Man Overboard, they listened to New Found Glory. They listened to Yellowcard. You know they did. You know? Whereas they could be a fan of Bad Religion, but that wasn’t their influence necessarily. Bad Religion used to influence The Used and New Found Glory. They are all out on tour together. It’s hard, trust me, because my roots are in the old punk stuff, you know? When you really realize you are starting to get older is when I looked at New Found Glory. When I was talking to Chad from New Found Glory online, I go, “Did you ever think you would be the old guys on Warped Tour?” He goes, “Well we’re still going to bring it.” Which is cool to hear. Those guys are going to get up there and kick ass. And when you hear Ronnie Radke like, “Oh my God I can’t believe I am playing on the same stage as The Used.” That’s kind of cool.
I think it’s great that there’s a sense of the younger bands that kids are so excited about but at the same time, all those bands that they grew up listening to are also headlining.
You’ve mentioned in several interviews that you are taking Warped more back to its roots this year. Do you just mean that in the lineup or other ways as well that we may not be seeing yet?
Oh you’ll see. There’s going to be some surprises out there. We’ve got to have some surprises, you know? You’re going to wander in there and go, “Oh. It’s still the Warped Tour, but it’s freshened up each year.” It’s freshened up each year while never really abandoning where we came from. I like this idea of the Silent Disco. Everyone was like, “You’re going to be electronic.” No I’m not going to go jump on that bandwagon. But that music is influencing these artists. So by having the Silent Disco, we’re going to bring in some DJs and make it fun, in a different way. Without all of the sudden having an electronic stage.
I feel like every year there is one band that may not be blown up before Warped Tour, but fans gravitate.
There’s a band that I’m just adding that isn’t even announced yet. It’s a band called Skinny Lister and remember how last year people liked Larry And His Flask so much? I think this is going to be a band like that.
Is it fun to see that one band that nobody really cares about on the roster and by the end of the summer…
Yeah I think there is a few this year. That’s the hardest part for me. People are asking me already and I think you are going to see a band like The Constellations. I love The Constellations and I love Mod Sun. I think he’s cool. Mod Sun’s going to be really cool. I think the lineup has a lot of people like, “Wait a second.” If you check out, I don’t know, I like Tomorrow’s Bad Seeds. I think it’s getting cool. There’s a young band that I really like, called The Silver Comet. You’re going to have to play your ass off this year because there are a lot of good bands out there. I met the kids in Vampires Everywhere and they’re living their time right now. People can judge, but you know? They’re great.
So one new addition that fans are really excited about this year is the acoustic stage. That was announced a little later on. That took people by surprise in the best way possible. Are you excited to see how much excitement there is about it right now?
Yeah. I’m really excited about it. We just announced that we’re going to have a TV show called ‘Roadies’ that’s going to be about The Warped Tour, backstage.
Is that going to be on Fuse or something?
Yeah Fuse, but it’s actually by the guys that did Swamp People.
Was that a long time of planning? We know you’ve done Warped Tour Wednesdays for a long time. What’s this going to be like?
It’s going to be more focused on the nuts and bolts of the tour. Like the people backstage, how the show moves on the road. I think that’s interesting to kids. Still to this day I think that a lot of people think that we have two setups. Then to think that we put this thing up and down every day.
Will this be a weekly thing? The TV show?
It got picked up for 8 episodes. It will come out after the summer. So it’s kind of cool that we will film it all summer and then it will carry through the fall. Kids can hang out and watch it for the next few months after The Warped Tour.
About the Acoustic Stage, I spoke with Brian Marquis a little while ago. How has it been working with him and bringing in someone else who was just playing Warped Tour a few years ago and came to you with an idea?
That’s how I have to be. People come to me with ideas all the time. It’s straining at times, because it’s like a revolving door. But think about the ideas that came out of Warped Tour, like Music Saves Lives and their blood drives. That was just someone coming through my office. For every ten people that come through the office, there is one really good idea. There are other ones that might be good ideas, but they just don’t fit in to what we are doing. Brian came in and I’ve loved what Chuck Ragan’s done with the Revival Tour. I called Chuck and he’s going to come out for a little while and be part of Warped Tour. It’s a good reason for Chuck to come out so I can take him fishing, you know? We’ve got to keep trying… I’ve got to have an open mind. Now I also have to realize that once we do something, maybe we can’t do it forever. It’s been a hard year for me because there are people that have been tagging along on this tour for eight to ten years that I finally had to say, “Look. Things didn’t pan out for you,” or “This didn’t work out for you.” If I keep bringing that baggage along, even though it started as a good idea, it’s not really the same idea it was back then. Some things you just have to let go. It’s hard. Those discussions are hard. And I’ve had to have a lot of them this year. But I also know that I need to move forward. Things like silent discos and acoustic tents… There’s a price tag to bring those things out. Maybe that’s where I’m going to focus the energy now, on some of those new things. There are some of these things that I have to let go.
Even though that can be tough, is it nice to look into a new direction every few years? Evolve with the swing of things?
That’s weird. That one kid that yells at me online that I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing, but you know what? That’s ok. Maybe the tour’s not for you anymore. The tour is not for everyone. Warped Tour is not for everyone. I believe that 10% of every scene is way too hardcore to be at Warped Tour. But 90% of the people out there are just music fans and want to have a good time. Maybe they will come to learn something. Maybe they will meet the people at To Keep A Breast or To Write Love On Her Arms or Invisible Children. They’re going to get involved in another way, you know?
Another exciting thing that you guys announced was the return of a UK Warped Tour date. What made you want to bring that back this year?
I don’t know. I’m going to have to ask my psychiatrist that one. I don’t know why I wanted to go back to the UK. It’s been a while. But I think the timing is right for the artists too. I think in 1996, when we went before, all of the punk bands couldn’t get attention… Blink and Pennywise and Bad Religion couldn’t get attention in the UK. I think Warped Tour re-opened that door. And I think right now there are a lot of bands…they are all playing at the club level, but they are having a hard time breaking out of the club level. I think if they start pulling together on this show, like Warped next year. And if we can re-open the doors and we can do ten or twenty shows next year around Europe. I think it will start showing the bigger festivals that, “Hey. These bands are viable.” And I guess I didn’t have enough work, you know?
Will the UK date feature American bands too? Or more UK bands from over there?
We’re bringing a mix. It’s really cool. We’re announcing it. It’s really cool for a band like Bring Me The Horizon. It’s going to be their only show, you know?
You are obviously working on other things as well, like the Mayhem Festival.
Yeah, Mayhem’s on fire this year.
You announced a cruise…
Yeah we’re doing the cruise. The cruise is going to be cool. We’ve got the Country Tour starting in three weeks. So we’re just keeping busy.
With this branching out, are you able to bring what you learn from those other experiences with different types of fans and bands…
Yeah. We’re trying to take it with different types of developing young artists. And then the cruise is just a great extension of the brand. I don’t have any plans to start another festival right now. But you know what? Take the Mayhem which kids love and people love going to and try to give them something else. That lineup is kind of badass for the cruise. I know there are a lot of scene cruises, but I think people are going to look at this and say, “Wow. They put that effort in again.” Even with that price, they are going to get a lot for the cost to go.
With summer festivals, there seems to be more and more every year now. Obviously Warped is THE festival, but do you look at that as competition or…?
I’ve learned long ago that you can’t really worry about what other people are doing. We’ve got to hope that what we do still maintains value, or it will go away. With the people I look at, I can sometimes say, “Really? You want to book another thing within a couple days of our show?” They may be on the hook more than me. Routing and traffic is the only thing I am interested in. Someone just announced something that reminds me a little of Warped Tour, I don’t know. I’ve learned: don’t obsess on other people’s stuff. Protect your stuff. Fight for yourself. But don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. I took that philosophy two years ago and now, just put the energies you have into your own projects.
This is the eighteenth year?
Eighteenth summer. Eighteenth summer for Warped. Fifth for Mayhem, third for Throwdown.
Do you still feel the necessity to be out there every day?
Oh yeah. With Warped, every day. There is a ton of things I do. It’s nice on a great day I get to sit and enjoy some music. On other days I’m working all day long. And I’m usually working on other projects too. But you need to feel the pulse of the crowd and the audience. You need to observe your audience and it’s hard to do that from… Hey, I’d love to sit one summer and enjoy my summer from the backyard. But I get like one or two weekends between now and August to actually hang out there.
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