THE EXCLUSIVE WARPED TOUR INTERVIEW
In the 11 years since Warped Tour last came to Australia, a new breed of bands have come to occupy its stages. theMusic.com.au sits down with Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman and co-promoter/Soundwave boss AJ Maddah to redefine punk and get a glimpse of what the festival will bring to Australia.
It was during Brisbane Soundwave that Warped Tour announced it would be making its Australian comeback in 2013. Fittingly, the announcement was displayed on the big screen during Blink-182’s set. “I couldn’t wait for the summer and the Warped Tour,” Blink-182 bassist Mark Hoppus sings on The Rock Show, and now, that iconic rock show is returning to Australia as it closes in on its 20th anniversary.
Two men sit behind the scenes working tirelessly to bring the festival Down Under again for the first time since 2002. Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman and Soundwave’s AJ Maddah have been working around the clock amongst other commitments to ensure the best line-up possible for its return.
They rarely find the time to sit back, relax and enjoy the fruits of their labour, but, when they pick up their phones, Lyman is reclining at a Warped Tour BBQ in Buffalo, NY, and Maddah is taking some time out in Greece.
“I’m attempting to have a few days off, but people like you are ruining it. That’s okay,” Maddah jokes. It’s the type of humour somewhat lost on his Twitter followers, as comments like that in the past have been perceived as rude, when they’re intended as nothing more than some light humour to break the ice.
It’s soon hard to get a word in edgeways as the pair begins reminiscing about first meeting when Lyman brought Warped to Australia in 1997.
“My first full-blown, full-force experience with the Kevin Lyman factor was when he got in a van that I was driving and he told me to drive him to Melbourne from Canberra, or somewhere like that, in the middle of the night,” Maddah says.
“Oh, yeah! We were going to drive all the way across the country, at some point. My dream was to drive across the country; I thought it would be fun. Some commonsense was spoken at the point,” Lyman laughs.
“I remember five of us having to draw straws about who was going to go onstage and kick Unwritten Law off,” Maddah laughs. “I think that was rigged because I ended up drawing the short straw, but even that was hilarious…Wade [Youman], the drummer at that time, was a psychopath, so whoever went up there was likely to be knocked out, so let’s send the new kid up – that was me.
“We always have a great time, and Kevin inspired me to do Soundwave and a lot of what I’ve done, so it’s a real pleasure to be working together again,” he adds.
Since then, Soundwave has far surpassed Warped Tour in terms of size. It’s not that Lyman hasn’t had to opportunity to expand, he just prefers sticking to the DIY ethos that got his touring festival started.
“Bands need, and especially the bands I work with, need to build that community to support them because the radio might not be playing their music, but if they go out there and meet fans, they make those one-on-one relationships, those people will stick with them throughout their careers,” Lyman says.
“Soundwave, for me, has become such a monster and I come from a DIY background,” Maddad adds, “so I really miss having that spontaneity, and having that spirit and having that DIY factor where we just rush into to town, set up and put on a show. I really, really miss that, and from a personal perspective, I’m really excited and motivated by this.
Before Blink-182 played headlined the rock show, they slept in tents at the 1998 Australian Warped Tour.
The size and complication of Soundwave is where Maddah’s notorious approach local bands comes into play. With a DIY mentality, Warped is the perfect atmosphere for local bands to thrive.
“We can showcase them and they actually get the chance to have the spotlight on them, which is something that’s not possible when you have a million bands on the bill,” Maddah explains.
“Kevin runs probably one of the best democracies in the world, or the most egalitarian traveling state in the world when it comes to Warped. So, all the bands hang out together, all the bands BBQ together, and that’s a really cool vibe.
“A local band that we put on in Coffs Harbour, or in Sydney, or wherever on Warped, is free to roam and free to interact with everyone and free to network, whereas, it can cause all sorts of chaos if, say, the drummer from the local band wanders into somebody’s compound at Soundwave. We’ve had issues like that in the past but at Warped, it’s just an amazing vibe with everybody coming together.”
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The DIY vibe that came to Australia in ’97, ’98 and ’02 will be returning, with artists driving between states. Those who attended the original Australian Warped may have been expecting the 2013 line-up to be exclusively punk rock (Frenzal Rhomb, Guttermouth, Pennywise, All, The Vandals and more played 2002), but Lyman explains why Warped has shifted away from being a predominately punk rock festival since its inception in 1995.
“I used to be much more emotionally attached. I mean, I grew with the Bad Religions and the Rancids, and those were all my friends, but to stay relevant, you listen to the fans, you get the feedback – negative, positive, and you built from there,” he says.
“The Warped Tour fans are making a choice, they’re 13-14, ‘Am I going to go to One Direction this year or, you know what, maybe I can go to Warped Tour’.
“We’ve been around 19 years in the states and we continue to evolve and I think as an individual paying attention to the people around you that support you is important. I mean, these kids pay our bills, you know. In the long run, they allow us the lifestyle we lead, so, you know what, you can take the time to discuss things with them and learn from them.”
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While there’s a healthy dose of punk rock mixed throughout the bill, a line-up that resembled that of 2002 or earlier simply wouldn’t sell. Some argue that the Warped Tour has drifted too far from its punk rock roots; that all depends on the definition of punk.
“I think punk rock’s evolved, and I’ll sit down with guys like Brett Gurewitz (Bad Religion) and we’ll go, ‘What’s punk now?’, and it’s evolved; it’s not a fashion, it’s not a type of music, it’s an attitude, and I think these bands and the way they’re working – the punk spirit is alive and well,” Lyman enthuses.
“We’re an eclectic mix of music and it used to be the coolest shows to me where you would put the Circle Jerks with Slayer, no one was doing that, but that was kind of punk rock. Punk rock is a frame of mind, not a fashion.”
Taking a moment to calculate his response, Maddah chimes in, “As someone who’s on the outside and a little bit on the inside, punk isn’t about those three chords; it’s about what’s outside mainstream, what’s outside that commercial circle, I guess. At the end of the day, as much as us old two dogs want to tell tour stories, it’s about the kids; it’s about what sets our 20 percent of kids apart from the 80 percent that are just following the mainstream.”