Playing On The Warped Tour: Part Four
By Eric Kamm Published October 17, 2009
The Face Behind The Music
You'll notice that the name of the festival is comprised of four words denoting two concepts--“THE VANS” and “WARPED TOUR.” The former concept represents the part of the event that includes selling merchandise such as shoes, clothing, and an abundance of corporate entities inappropriately labeled “bands.”
The latter word, “TOUR” more appropriately describes the event, which, in my experience, is genuinely about the music. I feel lucky to have seen many great musicians perform at Warped over the years. While these several aspects of the tour could seem like the diabolical workings of “The Man,”—all of these entities are incredibly useful tools for every party involved. It’s what they call synergy. Big bands with corporate label budgets bring in loads of kids who, in turn, discover smaller groups. Independent groups bring in their friends who, as they’re walking between the smaller stages, hear a song performed by a band on a major label (not that anybody should care). All of these kids see the advertisements next to the stages, where the people who own those companies pay millions in advertising fees, which in turn get distributed to cover the expenses of the tour, and pay the musicians’ living expenses. And so on, and so forth. Kevin Lyman, the owner of the tour, goes to great lengths in efforts to allow small bands the opportunity to play his festival, and he does this for no other reason than to support as many bands as he possibly can. To further drive in this point, I’ll mention that in later years a certain drummer told me that his band's bus broke down, and he thought that they would have to drop off the tour. Instead, Kevin Lyman threw the band a little extra money so they could rent another vehicle and finish the tour. That money came directly out of his pocket (and this is particularly significant if you consider the fact that it made absolutely no difference to the tour’s profitability whether this group performed or not).
What I’m getting at is that there is a whole lot going on at these festivals. I got to meet a lot of amazing drummers, and I got to meet a lot of people pretending to be drummers. On that first day I interviewed three or four people posing as drummers, as they told me in great detail about perks like the video game systems in their vans. Some times I had to try my hardest to remember their names long enough to thank them once the interview is done. In fairness to them, I was posing as an interviewer, so I’m sure I could have asked them way more professional questions. As I reviewed the interviews later, I had been so nervous, things went a little more like The Chris Farley Show than that Charlie Rose thing I was hoping for. And to their credit, even the guys talking about video games, had some great suggestions for warm up routines, and had hilarious stories about life on the road. When all was said and done I got to interview tons of amazing drummers likeBrooks Wackerman (interviewed < here) and George Schwindt of Flogging Molly (interviewed here) which was an incredible experience.
Playing On The Warped Tour: Part Three
By Eric Kamm Published October 17, 2009
One Drum Set, Twenty Drummers
I’m going to take a step back, and travel back over a decade earlier, plunging into my special little punk rock memory bank. I can still remember purchasing the Good Riddance record Ballads Of The Revolution while I was in high school. I bought the album at a record store called Go Boy in my neighboring town, Hermosa Beach (an independent record shop went out of business about 10 seconds after I-Tunes was launched). Whenever I popped in that disk and the opening track “Fertile Fields” came on, I could hardly believe it was possible to play a double pedal as fast as Sean Sellers did on that tune. In college, someone finally let me know that Sellers was, in fact, only using a single pedal. I didn’t believe it at first. Luckily, I was going to UC Santa Cruz, which afforded me many opportunities to catch Good Riddance in their hometown (they usually played Palookaville, which also went out of business). The first time I caught the band, sure enough, there sat a solitary single pedal behind Sean’s bass drum.
Now step forward eight years later after those Palookaville shows. Just like an Aborigine praying for rain in the desert, I finally came to my senses in Seattle, focused my eyes 50 feet in front of me, and found one Sean Sellers walking with one Brooks Wackerman. Sellers was playing with The Real McKenzies (and was wearing a kilt to prove it [really!]), and Wackerman was, of course, was throwing down behind Bad Religion. I ran up to them and asked for interviews. Brooks agrees to do the interview that day, Sean said that he was pretty busy, and asked me to find him over the next couple days.
About an hour later Setoff was to be one of the first groups to perform on the Kevin Says Stage that day (they change show times every day). They asked all of the drummers to share a drum kit (minus cymbals and snare) that traveled with the stage, which every drummer, of course, agreed to do (in hindsight it was more of a rhetorical question). They proceeded to take out this thrashed kit that looked like it had just been dragged through the mud, and asked me to tune it. When I finally got the lug nuts partially tightened and hit the drum, I was expecting the worst. I was blown away by how huge and amazing the toms and bass drum sounded. This was my introduction to Shine Drums, as I would tell the company owner, Sean, many times later. On this tour, his drums had taken a violent beating from the last two months on the road, and they still sounded incredible. (Believe it or not, they’re not paying me to write this--his drums just sounded that good!)
As our group started performing there were very few people watching us, but my heart was racing regardless (I had been waiting three months for these shows). Two songs later, there was a big enough group of about 20 or 30 people dancing around in a circle pit. But…we made the mistake of playing a mid tempo song when the small audience was feeling more on the rambunctious side of things. They stopped moving, and half of them took off. A couple songs later as I finally came to my senses, we were told our 25-minute time slot was done. I get off the stage and start rushing back to the publicity booth for my second or third interview of the day.
Playing On The Warped Tour: Part Two
By Eric Kamm Published October 17, 2009
Learning To Respect The Crew
I had fallen asleep effortlessly that particular evening (before we backed in to a mailbox) precisely because Setoff had cut their Warped Tour teeth in Seattle’s Gorge Amphitheatre earlier that day. A couple hours after daybreak as our van pulled into one of the most beautiful venues in the United States, we quickly found out that we had no fucking clue whatsoever about what was going on. Hundreds of people were walking around. You couldn’t tell who were employees, who were band members, and who was just sitting around. Everyone’s so busy with what they were doing that no one can tell you exactly what’s happening. Every day is a new location on the Warped Tour. It’s kind of like a circus--you arrive, the tent and stages fly up, and the show goes on.
At long last, we found the stage we’re supposed to perform at. I made the mistake of asking the stage manager and soundman for a little bit of direction. They made it very clear, very quickly that there was no reason whatsoever that I should be bothering them. Over the next eight days I would learn that a good rule of thumb at The Warped Tour for no-name bands, such as Setoff, is that it’s better to ask for forgiveness, than to ask any question at all. I can honestly say after playing eight dates over two years, that the people working the Kevin Say’s and Skate stages are some of the most quality people you’ll ever meet in your life. However, one should place the word “eccentric” next to the adjective “quality” to make the sentence a little more appropriate, keeping in mind that certain types of personalities are better suited for manual labor jobs (such as setting up stages), where there is always way too much work to be done in way too little time, on way too little sleep the night before. If you have the privilege of setting up a stage with them--they’ll give you a warning before you lift any piece of metal, which triggers a reflex in their heads where they immediately impart an anecdote about some kind of crazy accident or experience that happened to them while on the road. It took me a while to realize that these are great people who have a job to do, and it stresses them out when others are constantly asking something of them. But, I indeed had to learn this lesson, which was not evident upon our arrival said morning. Had you asked me that particular day, I would told you they were some of the biggest assholes I’ve ever met in my life (and I would have been very wrong).
We unloaded our equipment, and I was immediately off on my second task at hand--find the publicity booth. In addition to playing The Kevin Say’s Stage, I was there to interview the drummers playing the Warped Tour.
Publicity was equally a nightmare. Every question I asked was answered with a scowl. “Well how do I arrange an interview?” I asked. The hired publicist, who’s being paid to contact the band members about interviews, at long last, decides that, although it’s beneath her, she will actually try to contact some of band members about interviews. She is not happy about this, mind you, and makes it very clear that she does not like me. “Well, you should just go up to the drummers and ask them for interviews,” she tells me after a few failed attempts to contact the musicians herself. Her tone makes it very clear that what she is actually doing, in reality, is inviting me to go fuck myself. Alright, I can take a hint. I walk outside. (Note: over the next few years I would run into this woman at other Warped Tours, and at events like NAMM Show—just like the stage managers, she was a real nice person who just had way too much she was trying to get done.)
Lost Letters And Dead Batteries
By Eric Kamm Published October 16, 2009
Playing The Warped Tour: Part One, Day One
I’ve spent some time on the road, but still, there are evenings when it’s easier from me to fall asleep while the van is moving. This particular night, I was out the second I laid down on the vehicle’s floor (in the space between the two bench seats [on which two other people were sleeping]). We were driving from Seattle to Portland, and it was probably between 2 and 3 A.M.. I was half awakened when the bassist, Matt, pulled onto a dirt road and the van started shaking. Now I didn’t know where we were, but I definitely knew that there were no dirt roads we were supposed to be traveling on.
When you are on a DIY tour, you play a lot of bars and basement shows (the latter mostly back East). You’re surviving on pennies, and the only way to make enough money to pay for gas is to play every night, which often results in late night drives from dusk till dawn. For safety reasons, you always have one person driving, and one person riding shotgun—that is, talking to the driver, making sure that he’s awake.
Now Nino, the vocalist in our group, has fallen asleep at band practice before while sitting a few feet away from my drums (while I’m playing them) and a couple of screaming guitar amps. What’s even more comforting is that there's a fifty-fifty chance of Nino falling asleep within five minutes of sitting down while he’s on Shotgun Duty. I awoke this particular evening to find that Nino was half awake, typing away on his Palm Pilot/internet phone (your odds are slightly worse, at about sixty percent, that Nino will doze off while giving directions from his computer phone), sleep talking directions to Matt, and letting him know that he should turn around. Matt puts the van in reverse.
All of a sudden. WHACK!, out of the blue.
And then I was completely awake.
Matt had backed into a metal mailbox. We all stood there in silence for a few seconds. My lost Christian upbringing momentarily surfaced as the slip popped out of my mouth “Do you think we should leave a note or something?” Felony Ron, owner of the label helping us out Felony Records, and esteemed and inveterate Road Pirate, came to his senses quicker than the rest of us. “GO, GO, GO!” he shouted (you earn your nickname where we come from). And once again we were off into the night.
On Discovering Lagwagon
By Eric Kamm Published September 10, 2009
I remember I was riding a bus when I traded my Eric Clapton Journeyman cassette tape (with Phil Collins drumming on a few of the tracks) for a copy of Lagwagon’s Trashed. It was 1994. As I hit play on my walkman, the fastest cover of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” began. In some weird way, I haven’t really taken those headphones off since. Derrick Plourde was drumming on that particular record (a founding member of the band, who only played on their first three releases—Duh, Trashed, and Hoss). When that music first started playing, I remember thinking that I didn’t know it was humanly possible to play drums like that. Plourde’s precision and complexity around the kit was unfathomable, and to this day, in my opinion, only a few punk drummers have even come close to his pounding on those first three Lagwagon records.
Plourde worked hard at his craft—Lagwagon bassist, Jesse Buglione, once told me that Plourde would practice two hours before and after the band rehearsed. Stop and consider how fast and hard he was playing, and imagine doing that for six hours straight (I’m just guessing that he didn’t own a pair of brushes). In early interviews, vocalist Joey Cape used to comment that people would come to their shows and just stare at the drummer. Plourde was also a jack of all trades--in addition to drums, he also played guitar, and contributed many riffs to their songs.
If you visit Fat Wreck Chords’ website, you can listen to the opening track on Trashed, “Island Of Shame” (you might even be able to download the song). [Ed. note: Download it here.
Early on, Plourde sounded like a sped up Neil Peart after drinking way too much coffee. He was constantly listening to the Rush’s record Hemispheres, along with band RKL. In regards to RKL, many people (including NOFX frontman Fat Mike) credit RKL’s original drummer, Bomber, as the first person to play the standard, or modern, punk beat. If you listen to Neil Peart and Bomber and combine the two, it would probably sound like Plourde on the “Island Of Shame.”
Listen to the way that Plourde locks in with vocalist Joey Cape. Although many bands’ songwriting processes differ, often drummers will write their parts with the guitarists and bassist before vocals are added to the tune. 99.9% of these bands don’t go back and re-adjust their parts once the singer adds a melody (assuming the tune wasn’t written around a vocal melody). Plourde was obviously listening to what the entire band was doing.
Following the intro, as Plourde takes off into the standard punk beat, notice how he switches between playing the snare on the on-beat, on 1 &3 (0:22), and the off-beat, hitting the snare on 2 & 4 (0:29). He transitions between the two seamlessly. My favorite part of track is his transitions between the first chorus and second verse (0:58). The fill between his snare and hi-hit is incredible— “Di-Duh! Digga-di-don-don-digga-di-don-don-digga-di-gi-da-di-ga-da-DUH!”
Plourde was able to play at incredibly fast speeds, and start and stop instantaneously. The hesitations and rests he took were always very progressive and musical, and he brought tons of character and nuances to each of these musical spaces. Listen to the ending of the bridge leading into the tune’s outro (1:55-2:05).
I only got to see Derrick Plourde play once, and that was with the band RKL at the San Francisco Warped Tour in 2002. The sun was going down, and they were playing on one of the medium sized side stages towards the end of the Pier. In a touching gesture before the they started the show, Plourde put up a music stand on the front of the stage for the other musicians to see, and taped three sheets of paper to the stand with something written across them. As I took a closer look at the stand, I saw that he had written the words “Don’t Fuck Up” across the sheets of paper. Plourde sounded amazing at this particular performance—in particular his polyrhythmic hi-hat work over some pretty heavy progressive guitar riffage. I didn’t catch one drumming mistake the entire performance. His playing was truly unique, and you could tell that he just understood something special about the instrument. Earlier that day I had seem him walking around, so I went up to him and said “You know you’re the best drummer here?” He looked at me and warmly, but jokingly said “Shut the fuck up??!”
Trashed was the first punk record that I ever bought. A couple years ago someone broke into my car, and stole the original copy that I had purchased. To this day, it hasn’t really bothered me that much, 'cause I’m pretty sure that the album is permanently burned into my brain.