On the Bus with Kevin Lyman at Warped Tour Chicago

katyperrychicagowarpedtour5Usually, Kevin Lyman is the one interviewing the bands on the Warped Tour while sitting in his tour bus. Artists such as Katy Perry and Angels & Airwaves have been interviewed by Kevin while on the road this summer. Those interviews get videotaped and those videos get posted on the Warped Tour website for all to see. But when I hit up the Chicago date of Warped, I got the chance to grill Mr. Lyman and put him in the hot seat–on his own bus! The tables were turned for half an hour as I asked him all about the tradition he started 14 years ago: the Vans Warped Tour.

Read on to hear what the man had to say…sorry, no video to watch!

1) Warped Tour’s Chicago date happened to share the same weekend as Lollapalooza this year. Was anything done to try and prevent this from happening so that fans could attend both Warped and Lolla on separate dates?

Kevin: We were dealing with other tours that were trying to hold the venues. We could not get off of this weekend. We just couldn’t get off this weekend. I would’ve loved to have been in New York this weekend, to be honest we tried to get there. But we also tried to reverse it, to get across and head west. No, I didn’t – it’s not intentional. You know what? It didn’t affect either one. They sold out today and we’re at sellout. We’re beyond sellout. The only reason we can let more people in is because we still have a few more parking lots. We’re going to be at our biggest show ever here – around 24,000. I mean, in one way it kind of works out good because a lot of people in the music industry from New York and the West coast are coming in and they can drop by and say “Hello.” Come down here for a few hours and then go up there for the rest of the weekend. Only bummer for me is I can’t go. And I was the first stage manager at Lolla. Me and Perry worked together for many years. I was the first stage manager at Lollapalooza. And that’s on the record. I love the guys that put on [Lolla] – the Austin City Limit guys that do that festival. You don’t want to be sitting on top of each other. We work really hard just looking at other tours. Trying to keep Projekt Revolution somewhere a few days apart. Even though my next tour is coming in through here in a week. We got Mayhem coming through, and that’s what we at least try to do, is keep nine days between each shows. But sometimes there’s so many people trying to battle for so few venues.

2) How do you pick the little unknown/unheard of bands that appear on Warped every year? Are there particular criteria you look for? Do you take recommendations from bands that’ve been on previous Warped Tours?

Kevin: I listen to a lot of music. I’m starting to listen – this thing [pointing out cabinet on tour bus full of demo CDs] is just people handing me music in the last three weeks. Riding my bike around, starting to listen to stuff. Starting to look online. Some people ask why Katy Perry’s on the Warped Tour this year. And I heard her demos in October. I was listening to her music for a movie I was working on. And I was looking for a cover of a song and they’d go, “I want to hear some more of this,” and I go, “Oh, she’s on the Warped Tour.” They’re like, “What? She’s…” and I’m like, “I don’t care.” Sometimes all of a sudden you have that kind of a thing. Sometimes the bands are out here, but you’re not… I just kind of planned it this year. I lay it all out on my floor of my office and listen and kinda go, “Okay, that sounds good.” I get yelled at because a manager or agent goes, “Why the hell did that band get on the tour and that band didn’t get on the tour?” And I go, “Well, musically your band’s great, but I already have some of that sound.” I want to try to keep this tour – really try to make it diverse again. I think it is extremely diverse. You can go sit on the Hurley.com stage and see every different sound of music just going on that one stage. Sometimes it’s just a whim. I’m starting to put together the 15th Anniversary Tour right now. I’m bringing a lot of ideas together for that; how that’s going to be. But the crowds this year…It’s hard because people are going, “It’s not punk, it’s not…” and I go, “Well, maybe I don’t know if the Warped Tour [has to be] punk.” I’d love to keep that music there, and it’s out there with Street Dogs and there are just kids having a blast checking out music right now. I’m just kinda like, maybe Warped Tour’s for these kids now. You never know which crowds you’ll get. [With] the Warped Tour at least, I’ve never seen kids having so much fun. Like fun – genuinely running around smiling. And crazy moments where the whole day for them… I watch one little girl’s face while singing every word to Relient K. That’s her Warped Tour moment. That’s really kind of a good feeling right now.

 

3) What sets you apart from the other multiple-city tours like Ozzfest and Lollapalooza that have failed? Now they’re just doing a one-off show or three-day event in one city.

Kevin: I don’t think we’ve changed a whole lot. I just did an interview sitting with Angels & Airwaves, and everyone in that band had played with some other band that had been on the Warped Tour at some point. The Warped Tour is still the same thing; feels like a backyard party – for whatever generation back when we started – and to this generation. So I don’t mess with it too much. Internally, there’s a lot more structure; I have to – I have 1,000 people on the road right now. It still feels like a backyard party. Most festivals [addressing interviewers}, do you get this much access as a reporter? We try to keep it that way, and the venues like us coming. It’s so fun. Guys that I used to get in fights with – fist fights in Chicago with – because they didn’t like the Warped Tour when we first started. It was fighting the union guys, fighting the building guys. We used to get chased out of this venue by the police a couple times in 1996 and ‘97. But now it’s grown and now you walk in and they’re all coming up and giving me a hug. It’s like, “Where’s the knife that you were going to stab me with?” It’s those kind of things that I think naturally you kinda make that work. We’re trying to do that with our Mayhem festival a little bit. Everyone says those festivals are known to be crazy and everyone back there is kinda chill. Everyone says it’s going really well. I worked as a stage manager around people that yelled and screamed. It’s not my thing. I’d go work in a factory if I wanted to get yelled at.

4) What about an idea such as a “Work Out on Warped Tour,” so that bands can influence kids to exercise and stay healthy?

Kevin: We brought someone out who was going to help people work out. I test new things. We had a psychiatrist that traveled with us for awhile to help people with issues out here that they’re dealing with on the road. I try to do things for them. But the work out thing was weird because it did work for a few people, but if you’re not working out before you get out here, it’s very hard once you’re out there. You’re physically tired. You’d like to think that on this tour, you probably worked 24 out of the last 26 days. But it’s an idea. You go by the Truth truck and they’re all jumping jacks and they’re doing stuff. People have ideas and some of them, you try them out. You come and want to come try it at a show one day. And then you approach me and I’d let you come demo it and show how it’s going to work. Maybe not take you on the whole tour, but if I see wow, a reaction, then that’s something you adapt. It’s not all my ideas out there. A lot of people think of things like the Blood Drive, the Music Saves Lives thing, and now that’s grown into such a thing that we have to kind of manage that next year because there’s thousands of people running around backstage and it’s awesome that we’re able to get 45,000 pints of blood donated. But 45,000 extra kids backstage is going to become a little bit of an issue for security. If you’re passionate about it, you come up with it, say maybe in Chicago next year you can show me how it’ll all work.

 

5) What’s your favorite part about the Warped Tour?

Kevin: Freedom – a little bit. To be honest. Nothing wrong with working hard, getting on the bus, hanging out with your friends. Getting up and being able to work again the next morning. And think you’re doing something that is influencing some people in hopefully a positive way. I think this tour – 1) is even as simple as giving a kid an escape for a day. Where they can just go out and be a kid and feel safe in a safe environment. They can run around Warped Tour and they may learn something. The kids that are blowing me away are the ones with the green shirts on – the eco shirts. There’s 20 kids. They came to Warped Tour; I don’t even know if they get to see a band. Most of them, you know, they might see one or two, but they’re helping; it’s their community. It’s not bad. It’s also in a simple way, Fletcher summed it up best last year (from Pennywise), he goes: “You get to meet kids for two months, what’s wrong with that?” I have to go back in two weeks and I have to go deal with the carpool line. I have to go deal with the PTA meeting. I gotta go deal with some guy at some grocery store that doesn’t like his job – you can just tell. Everyone out here wants to be here. Maybe [not] some guy out in the parking lot. But when you really look at it, everyone wants to be here. And that’s not a bad thing to do – everyone liking what they do and working – whatever goal that is, ultimately you can feel the energy of the people. There’s not a lot of energy – well, it’s drained right now. Now it’s gonna hit the turn. We’re going to get another show tomorrow. We got a long drive to Saskatoon and then it starts sinking in that the Warped Tour ends for everybody. My drivers, even the bus drivers, the guys look at me and they’re like, “Man, this thing ends and I gotta go back and drive a bus. I’m on the Warped Tour this summer, and I normally drive a bus.” If they feel like hanging out in the morning, then we build a tent for them – beers in their cooler. They’re on their vacation. They’re still working, but they got to go back and drive around to a club, go to a Holiday Inn, and they sit there and try to figure out what they’re doing. Out here it moves so quick and so fast.

6) What band do you want to see on the Warped Tour that you didn’t get this year?

Kevin: I think Offspring should’ve done it with that new record coming out. I think they should pull the plug and been out there – it’d be great for them. I’d love to get Rancid back out here. I don’t know right now. It’s fun to see these bands like All Time Low, We the Kings… Hey, it’s maybe not the stuff that I listen to as much anymore, but I can go and meet those kids and I feel very passionate about what they’re doing. They’re doing really great; it’s fun to see their audience grow. It’s become their tour. It was very quiet out here the first few nights walking through the buses. Usually there’s music, there’s poker, there’s parties. It was quiet, because I think everyone was trying to feel like where is my role? They’re the new people that run their role on the tour; where’s our boundaries? And then all of a sudden, it kinda opened up. And then you see bands like Cobra Starship or somebody that would have never taken that role setting up DJ booths by their bus. It’s become their tour – the tour of what they can create. It’s really fun to see that. Sometimes I have to go out and say, “That’s enough,” but at this point it’s good.

7) You’re almost through your 14th year of the tour. Is it possible that you have a favorite band(s) after listening to so much music?

Kevin: My favorite bands right now are the bands that I’m surrounding myself with. Going out and seeing ORESKABAND – just kids going crazy. Going over and seeing 3OH!3 – that played one show on the Warped Tour last year; played on the Kevin Says stage. To be able to bring them back, and I think this audience has found their new Beastie Boys. Kids of this generation – 14, 15, 16 year olds, don’t know who the Beastie Boys are. They may know some of their songs, but they’re not going to connect with the Beastie Boys. I feel they found their Beastie Boys. They are funny, they are great, they put on an amazing show. People can go nuts and dance. It’s fun to see even Katy Perry develop her whole live set. She’s got more than one song. She can go kick ass on the stage. Now her band’s gotten good; they’re having a good time. It’s good for me to see that and sadly I got to say good-bye to them all in a week. It’s trying times out here in the business because the labels can’t support them the way that they were. In reality, they got to go find their own food in two weeks. They don’t get the catering we give them on the Warped Tour. They’re now getting $5 in a club. 15 years ago when I worked in clubs, bands were getting $15 to go eat. When I pay a band now, it’s down to $5. That’s what they try to eat out on the road with – $5 – try to make it work. I think now, without that label, you can call up and say, “My van’s broken down. I need this.” This is Warped Tour – everyone rallies around. It’s been amazing watching everyone help each other this year. Crews help our crews. Every morning they wait by the trucks to help those guys because they know how hard they’re working.

8 – Any hints on who might be headlining the 15th Anniversary of Warped Tour next summer?

Kevin: No. A lot of people have told me they want to come back; they want to do this… We’ll probably put on another big show like I did for the 10 Year. Like I did in Boston – I think I’m going to put together another big show. Chicago would be a good place. Chicago’s a great town for Warped Tour.

9) How does your booking process work? Do you have talent buyers that get bombarded with thousands of requests and EPKs from hopeful bands, agents and managers?

Kevin: I take all of them. I book every band with my partner at CAA. We’ll put out a submission list. We’ll ask for submissions for Warped through the agents and management maybe around September 15. And already, I can look at my BlackBerry and scroll down – every day I get 10 to 15 bands saying: “Let’s start thinking about 2009.” We’ll compile them into a big list and I’ll start going through it. We used to talk to labels about record release schedules. Now that’s not even much of an issue because they’ll tell you one thing and then do something different. You just kinda go with a gut instinct when you start putting it together. Then it’s a budget we have. Some bands you’re going to pay more for, so it’s when I kinda start hitting the salary cap like a baseball. I go: “Okay, that’s it. We gotta go with a bunch of young bands.”

10) In the past few years, with CD sales becoming obsolete, do you find that bands are asking for more money to play Warped?

Kevin: It’s weird; it’s tough. The bands – they need more. We got a lucky situation with Live Nation, who sometimes doesn’t get a good reputation, asking in Dallas: “What’s going on here?” We’re all big boys; I run my own businesses. But it’s hard – a lot of broke-ass bands out there. Bands used to be able to at least get down the road on the money I gave them. And then they’d make the money on t-shirts and build their audience and then they could make their money on a record. Now it’s like, they’re eating up their t-shirt sales to pay for the gas. They [LN] do a really nice thing. Two hours later they say: “You’re the only guy who develops bands to play in our clubs later who’ll be playing our venues year round.” They sent us $25,000 in gas cards. I’ve been able to go to bands – we were able to give all the small bands that might be making just a few hundred dollars a day – they’re getting $500 in gas cards. That was a pretty cool thing that they did. They don’t get a lot of good press, but that’s something that they should get mentioned for; for helping out. I still hold them in reserve. I have to say, we’ve kept every band on the tour, but one, that was supposed to be out here this summer. There would’ve been bands dropping off for sure because they can’t get the money from record labels for gas. I was able to give them the gas cards. I said: “At least you can go to your label and tell them to match it at least for the tour.” And they did. Now as long as we have good luck, we’ll finish with the line up we started with.

11) How did the concept of having the bands play different set times each day come about?

Kevin: That goes back to when I was a Stage Manager at Lollapalooza in ’91. I’d have to see Henry Rollins playing to a bunch of empty seats. He’d be playing and there’d be some kids up in the grass. I also learned to develop bands. I’d worked too many shows where people would wait to come see the headliners. On Warped Tour, they’re lined up; they don’t know who or when anyone is going to play. I just started playing with it that way, and you know what? It’ll never change. I got in this morning and at doors there were 14,000 of the 24,000 people right in line. When the first band played [Cobra Starship] there was 4,000 people; we had 4,000 in the doors. Now you can get [information] instantaneous, they’re sending me instant updates of how many people are through the doors. In 20 minutes, we got about 4,000 people through the doors. That band probably had the biggest audience they’ve ever played for in Chicago.

12) From waking up to going to bed, what is a typical day like on the tour for you?

Kevin: I have different and weird sleep habits. Last night we were all out kinda late, so it was probably around 1:00am when I went to sleep. Got up at 4am and wrote the schedule. I’ve been trying to do that – write the schedule around 4:00 or 4:30 in the morning. Then got up around 7:30am. Right now it’s kind of in a cool mode because the tour’s running good; I’m there for problems. It’s kind of winding down – Mayhem’s doing good. I went on a bike ride, listen to things. I got involved with some parking and line issues. I wanted to make sure all the buses are tightly parked, so we could park more cars in here. If we had the opportunity to sell tickets, it’s going to be based on parking. I went in and dealed with some equipment problems that got damaged; ordering some new stuff. Guys come out here and report on some stuff that got damaged in the storm. Sit around and talk about health issues; talked about the health of our crew. We got some people sick out here. Saturdays are good. But normally, I jump back in the bus and work on all of my other businesses for a few hours. Afternoons are usually reserved for going around and seeing some bands. I have meetings. In Chicago a lot of people come to me for a meeting.

13) By the end of the tour, will you have seen every band perform at least once?

Kevin: Yes. It’s fun to go to Warped Tour. A couple of years ago, I was kinda booking it in one way. And last year I said: “I’m going to book it this way. And if no one comes, then it’s time to go do something else.” And the crowds were great. It’s fun to go to Warped Tour. You can just wander around and you have no idea what you’re going to see; no idea what you’re going to do. You can have a great day of music. That’s why I go to Warped Tour. That’s my day: I’m at Warped Tour for two hours – don’t bother me. We got a deal with the security guys selling tickets at the back gate – those little issues. But my role is to fix those issues. Everyone does such a great job, but it’s really a team. Cases come in, they do everything as a team. That’s what makes the tours work. It’s my job to fix all the little nuisances and try to make things work. Some nights we go, “Oh, after the barbeque, we have to do this…” Tonight we have sumo wrestling. Now we have Sumo Saturdays and people wrestle for an extra case of beer for a week, pick your set time. We have sumo wrestlers.

 

14) You have over 1,000 people working the tour. Do you get to meet everybody that you are employing each summer?

Kevin: That’s the one sad thing. You come out here just knowing that you’re not going to meet everyone. You say “Good morning” to everyone, you say “How you doing?” I meet people, either as a mentor or as a disciplinarian, unfortunately. But the bands have really been going out of their way. They know that I’m not – they’re new to me -some of the actual people in the bands. I’ve been trying to go to the Denny’s late nights we do. So I’ve been going, riding with We The Kings the other night. Rode over on their bus, and then my bus picks me up from there. Went with We The Kings. I’ve been trying to go out of my way, hang out a bit more outside under the tent – especially when the weather’s great like this. The bands feel like they can come talk to me. Some of them are scared. This is the time to come and say “Hello.” It’s been good.

15) Many students at my school, Columbia College, want to go into tour management and be the next Kevin Lyman. How did you get started with your career?

Kevin: Well I worked 12 years in the clubs; sweeping floors, loading trucks. And then taking care of bands. Those bands turned into the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction – all those bands. I had a good reputation as a hard worker. When the first Lollapalooza came up in ‘91, never been on the road, “Want to be the stage manager?” “Sure, I’ll go do that.” Fell flat on my face pretty much the first day. Just kept working. Plus, people pretty much know what they’re getting when they work with you. I’m not worried about getting Laker tickets from you, I just want to do some business; go hang out with some few friends at home. I’m willing to fail, ultimately. I don’t really want to fail, but I have – some of my tours haven’t done so well…

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