Interview with Warped Tour founder, Kevin Lyman

Kevin Lyman Interview

May 6, 2014 

Los Angeles, CA


While in the midst of finalizing the details of Warped Tour, Mayhem Festival, the AP Awards, among many other projects, founder and show producer, Kevin Lyman took time out of his busy day to sit down with us at Soundcheck411 in his nice and homey and punk rock office building, 4Fini in Pasadena, CA. As his employees worked diligently in the laid back ‘office’ environment, Kevin spoke with Nicole Lemberg about his college days, Warped Tour, what he looks for in a band, breaking an ankle in New Zealand and more. You attended Cal State Poly, right?

Kevin Lyman: Yes, Cal State Pomona, yep.

SC411: What did you major in while you were there?

KL: I majored in Recreation Administration… yeah, I don’t think that degree even exists anymore but it was how to run youth programs and summer- you know Cal State Long Beach has that program but now they call it more like Leisure and um, you know it’s like running parks and recreation. 


SC411: Did you pick that major based on what you do now, booking and promoting tours? 

KL: No, I based it on like that’s where they would let me be the lifeguard at the pool, to be honest.

SC411: So what was your original plan when picking it? 

KL: Well no, originally I was going to be a journalism major and I was a journalism major for six months and then I found out there was this major and it literally had let me be the lifeguard at the pool…what a cool way to meet girls, at that point in college.

SC411: By saving them from drowning! 

KL: Yeah, so I kinda went into that, kinda like running summer camps, programs like that. 


Presss Conference (1)SC411: So what was your goal with that major?

KL: Oh god, I don’t know. Goal at that point in my life, I didn’t really have- I wasn’t really goal oriented. You know, it was more just trying to get- well the thing, I wasn’t real studious and not real smart you know; you had to kind of find your way so kinda almost socialization. I knew that getting a degree was important, there was no way I was gonna be an engineer, so I better find something…


SC411: So what made you wake up one day and think ‘I’m going to put on a tour’?

KL: Oh, I didn’t wake up, I worked 12 years

SC411: Before that, right?

KL: Yeah, in the clubs of LA. I did production all around town, events everywhere. I was first stage manager at Lollapalooza in 1991. So it wasn’t like I woke up and started working on a tour, it was basically watching your surroundings and seeing what’s going on. I had done a lot of skateboard events and I’ve been doing charity events and I thought we should probably go do this ourselves one time before we’re working for someone else… kinda pulled out all those relationships. It was relationship based.

SC411: From all those relationships that were gathered during the 12 years

KL: Yeah. 


SC411: In 1999,  there was a Warped Tour that started in New Zealand of all places, so what made you do that since it’s so far away?

KL: Oh yeah, we started on New Years Eve in New Zealand. Wow, I’m glad you pointed that out. That’s where I broke my ankle, that I actually just had fixed, a couple years ago (Shows scar from broken ankle). I broke it on stage, I fell off stage and we were on tour with Pennywise and the Vandals and a bunch of bands and I think Blink 182 was probably on that tour with us if I remember correctly and I fell off a stage and broke my ankle, New Years Eve. 

SC411: In New Zealand! 

KL: In New Zealand, yeah and then I duct taped it together

SC411: Why did you start the tour there?

KL: I just had an opportunity to start in New Zealand, it was great. We were on a beach called Piha Beach and it was on a Maori land and it was a great night and all I remember was a great night with a bunch of Maoris and we stayed in a boy scout camp and if I remember, the Bosstones would have been there probably, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones were there. It was just this really crazy, staying in a boy scout camp and breaking an ankle. 


SC411: Is there any specific place or country that you would want to take the tour to but haven’t been able to?

KL: There’s some talks about going to China and different things and I got some emails today and I don’t know, if it fits…It’s almost better, I learn like to go on vacation if you really wanna go somewhere. 

SC411: Take the tour with you

KL: I used to take it everywhere with me. That’s why I went to first Australia and New Zealand. I didn’t have a passport when I started this tour so going around Europe and going all the places we went was exciting but I find that maybe just going with a couple people, you don’t have to bring a hundred people with you to go. 


SC411: When you started Vans Warped Tour, what was your vision like bringing local bands to different or…?Presss Conference (2)

KL: Well, it was to take this skateboarding lifestyle that we lived in, in Southern California to a larger audience across the country and also to get all the bands to stat cooperating because they were all touring in clubs so we’re back to like now; all these bands are touring all year long, on top of each other but like get together for a while a make the scene stronger. The Warped Tour started that way and it’s still that way and it’s kinda like get under the Warped Tour umbrella, make it strong and then the scene stays strong.


SC411: What was the most challenging part in putting it together in its initial stages? 

KL: Well I think it was more of its second state; the first time you do something you just kinda go for it. I mean it was like, ‘let’s go do this’, and technically I was broke afterwards and it was the next couple that were like now we got to try to make this a real business and when you do it a second time- that’s where Vans got involved with it-

SC411: That was fast!

KL: Yeah, in 1996 they got involved with it 


SC411: What’s the hardest thing now, organizing it?

KL: The hardest thing now, organizing it is the vast amounts of paperwork- before we would just go and set up in parking lots and have a good time and deal with it as it went but now it’s much larger, there’s just more of everything. 


SC411: What do you look for when booking bands? Do they send you stuff, do you find them?

KL: Year round, I’m already looking at a lot of bands for 2015, I’m getting contacted, I’m starting to pick up bands that maybe I didn’t book, like Animals as Leaders or bands that people said “Aww!” And at one point I was like ‘maybe’ but then I just ran out of space, so potentially I’d love to talk to them next year, I don’t know it if’ll work but those types of things. And kids are gonna start letting you know and then you’re gonna get out on the road and see t-shirts in line all day long, of bands that aren’t on the tour this year that you better put on next year.

SC411: Black Veil Brides, Pierce the Veil, all those types…

KL: Yeah, well…you know, Pierce the Veil would have been perfect this summer but they have to go do an album. Black Veil did it last summer and I think Andy [Biersack] is starting to record himself right now. He came over my house for dinner a couple weeks ago and they’re going to get some writing done right now.


SC411: How can you tell when an artist is going to be successful because Warped Tour brought up My Chemical Romance, Eminem, a bunch of bands. 

KL: Oh gosh, you know, that’s one thing where I feel like I do have a good gut feeling toward artists. You know, I can pick up on something and see that this is gonna be really cool but then sometimes I think that I gotta bring it to them like three or four times and- Pierce the Veil was not overnight, they were not an overnight success, we believed in that band and people believed in them and we brought them and eventually it connected. This year Mayday Parade, they’re not an overnight success but I think they’re more than ready to do the main stage on Warped Tour. 


SC411: Recently, I think for the past year or so, parents have been getting in free.

KL: Yeah last summer we started ‘Parents Get in Free’ 

SC411: And Warped Tour sells out sometimes and has thousands of fans each day so why did you decide to do that? 

KL: Well, I thought that if maybe we could turn kids on to Warped Tour bands, get them away from One Direction quicker-

SC411: Seriously! 

KL: You know, I mean, this could be a cool thing for everyone, it supports everything because if kids start coming to Warped Tour- and there’s nothing wrong with One Direction, I’m just saying, but One Direction to me is one thing but going to a One Direction concert, eh, doesn’t make a person think much. Warped Tour, going to Warped Tour, you have to think; you turn into a thinker. And there’s nothing wrong with thinking. You have to think, ‘I gotta get 3 cans of food before I get in, I gotta get some cellphones, I gotta donate some blood before and then when I get there I gotta keep thinking because which bands and how am I gonna schedule my day? How am I gonna get over for that signing and not miss this band? 

SC411: Yeah, it’s hard, it’s a job.

KL: And that also builds community. Because everyone’s kinda there with a common goal with a love of music at Warped Tour. I think you can read online, there’s stupidity you read online once in a while but it’s such a small fragment but most of the kids coming to Warped Tour are a community and I think that’s what we actually built. And I didn’t set out this way but when I look back at it nowadays, I’m like ‘Warped Tour might have become one of the biggest classrooms of America, in a lot of ways’. 

SC411: That’s one way to put it. Fun classroom. 

KL: You know, you’re learning about music and there’s half a million people there and what are they gonna say, like 90% of the people are just going and 10% are gonna super achieve at Warped Tour and those are the people that are gonna start a band, start their own non-profit, you’re gonna become a writer- I don’t know, did Warped Tour inspire you to start writing about bands and blogging in some ways? Was that one of your inspirations? 

SC411: Yeah, it was!

KL: Yeah, see that’s the thing. I’m not expecting everyone to walk out with that same feeling but if 10% of them walk out, that’s 50,000 kids going back into their communities and you’re hearing about kids doing shows now where the entry is three cans of food, well they picked that up on Warped Tour-

SC411: Where’d they get that idea!

KL: Yeah, so it’s cool, you know, that’s alright, that’s good. That’s where you get that personal satisfaction once in a while, doing this. 


SC411: Because more of the fans are minors, are the security measures any different than a regular show? 

KL: No, I mean, security measures… well yeah, we’re gonna have signs this year finally that say, “You crowd surf, mosh, you get hurt, your mom sues, no more Warped Tour” You know, not all legal, legal but you get caught up in the moment; that’s why we don’t have tattoo booths at Warped Tour. People go, “Why don’t you have a tattoo artist?” They’d be busy but half of the kids would go home with a Warped Tour arrow tattoo on their arm and all my friends have punk rock bands on their arms but you know what, when you’re 50 years old, those Black Flag bars aren’t that cool anymore. 


SC411: Besides being the founder of Warped Tour and many other things, you’re also one of the founders of Unite the United Foundation…

KL: Yeah, that’s my foundation that I started.

SC411: It has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Hurricane Katrina, Keep a Breast and many more so how do you decide who you are going to donate to?

KL: Well, sometimes there are things that are happening currently that would be like Katrina or our volunteer work that we’re doing out with Sandy Relief, they’re still cleaning up Sandy, so our day off will be there for donating there or there’s something like friends of mine, Shaney Jo [Darden] had Keep a Breast and that’s something that goes all the way back to when I was doing Boarding For breast Cancer shows and to support them was great; Or when someone comes to me with an idea like Invisible Children or To Write Love on Her Arms and especially things affecting the kids that are going to Warped Tour, we’re gonna support. 

SC411: So basically, everyone realting to Warped Tour…

KL: Yeah, absolutely. 


SC411: I can’t even begin to imagine all the potential issues that could happen at Warped Tour so has there every been anything that has happened where you just though ‘I’m never doing this again’? 

KL: The only thing that crossed my mind was last year when Brian Marquis was hit by lighting. He plays on Warped Tour, he helps with the Acoustic Basement and he got an indirect hit by lighting. I was going, ‘how much longer can I keep doing this?’ But then you take all the precautions in the world and there’s things that happen out there and we do the best we can but I still think that the overall good we do, overshadows any of the negative stuff. 


SC411: How has your role changed in the Warped Tour process? I  would assume you have less to do since more people work for you.

KL: I’m working way harder now. I say this a lot but I used to be a peer to all the bands, they were all my friends, so that role has changed because I was always worried about my friends paying their rent and this kind of thing. Now I’m just like a mentor, a disciplinary, that’s sort of what I am. And it freezed me up to kind of do- these guys are all great, everyone that works on the tour is fantastic, they do great jobs out there; I get to kind of keep the tempo of the tour, read the tour and also start to see a band maybe that I go, ‘with a little bit of push here and there, we can make them a main stage band next year’. It’s developmental, like Echosmith last year. I saw that potential with them and I kept them all summer and now we’re putting them up in that position. You know bands in this office, you watch these bands and you just know if they do everything right, and they keep doing what they’re gonna, you’ll be like ‘Oh, I saw them on Warped Tour’. 

SC411: Yeah, like My Chemical Romance, AFI, Blink 182

KL: Yeah.


SC411: You work on Warped Tour, Mayhem Festival, you have a foundation, how do you juggle all of these projects?

KL: A beer company [St. Archer Brewery], speaking gigs… it’s just kinda going for it and also realizing that you’re not gonna get everything- it’s kinda just time management; I’ve always been a person that’s busy. I don’t mind working at 4:30 in the morning if I wake up and my mind- last night at 11 I was going to bed and I was like ‘wait I have to deal with some stuff and I kinda just dealt with it and then went to bed. 


SC411: Speaking of all this… The AP Awards…

KL: Yeah the AP Awards, that’s a lot of work! That grew into a lot of work. Originally that was supposed to be in Las Vegas, right before the Warped Tour and I had to re-route the tour because we were supposed to start up in Salt Lake [Utah] and we had to change a bunch of things around and all of a sudden it was now in Cleveland [Ohio] and it’s growing into a big thing because Mayhem is gonna be able to stop there on a day off and Warped is gonna be able to do it.

SC411: Oh that’s nice. So everyone meets all in one place. Did you get the idea for that?

KL: No, AP wanted to do the award show and I said I would help them but one of the things that was my idea was to do it in Cleveland.

SC411: Isn’t AP based there?

KL: AP is based in Cleveland and they wanted to do it in Vegas but we had this re-routing problem and I was gonna do something with the Rock Hall; I was like ‘hey, why don’t we do it in your hometown’ and I’m so glad we are. 

SC411: Well that makes sense.

KL: It’ll be much easier.


SC411: Has there ever been a band that you turned down for Warped Tour that has became big later on? 

KL: Oh yeah. I’m sure there has been.

SC411: Can’t think of any?

KL: 5 Seconds to Summer; last summer they wanted to play Warped Tour and I said they weren’t ready. Maybe there will be a chance one day but they’re going to be huge, they’re getting massive already so they might have gone right by Warped Tour. But I know the guys in the band love it and I would love to have them out. It was a little early for them last year.


SC411: Is there something about a band that you just will not tolerate, no matter how good their music is? 

KL: Being late. (laughs) You know, I think they need to be good live, they have to have a pretty good live show. The only time I made a couple mistakes and that was later on, now I’m very careful about who we put on the tour.


SC411: What is your favorite thing to do in your time off- the little time that you do have off.

KL: My time off, my favorite thing is fishing. 

SC411: Yeah?

KL: Yeah, I’m going fishing for two days next week but I’m going with some friends, it’s gonna be a blast; I’m going to Toronto on Thursday and speaking in Toronto. 


SC411: Nice! So I personally saw you walking around multiple Warped Tours and making sure everything was ok and talking to fans…what keeps you so grounded? 

KL: It’s what I do. You know, I’m lucky to do what I do and I know that it won’t last forever which is OK but it’s what I like to do. I genuinely like to put on Warped Tour, I like to be around the Warped Tour. 

SC411: Yeah, some people are stuck up in the music industry especially, but you…

KL: I still feel very lucky that I found something to do with my life (laughs) rather than-

SC411: Rather than being a life guard? (Laughs)

KL: I would have been a life guard, I would have been that old lifeguard now, down at the beach somewhere.


SC411: That’s all I have, thank you!

KL: Thank you very much.