March 2nd, 2017 – When Save Ferris hung it up in the early 2000s, the ska world lost a little something special. Sure, there were still bands from the 90s soldiering on, but this was one of the more definitive nails in the coffin of the third wave of ska.
In 2013, after a particularly invasive neck surgery and legal battle with her former bandmates, frontwoman Monique Powell resurrected Save Ferris with a new backing band. They played some shows here and there to much acclaim and after a wildly successful Pledgemusic campaign, Save Ferris released an EP called Checkered Past full of all new music.
Reel Big Fish was another band that eluded my interviewing grasp for quite some time. Big tuna, Aaron Barrett wasn’t available for press, but drummer Ryland Steen was. After a few moments of heartily mocking Crocodile Rock, we launched into it and he was incredibly easy to talk to.
Their latest album Candy Coated Fury is a bit of a comeback, so check it out if you had given up on the band years ago.
I got the chance to do an interview with David (singer) and Derek (drummer) of Big D and the Kids Table. Henry and Chris did a Warped interview with them two years ago but a lot has happened since: they are no longer on their old record label (or any label), David had a cancer scare, there have been some lineup changes and they just put out an ambitious double album.
Buy their new albums Stomp (if you want an album that is more punk with some horns) and/or Stroll (if you want a mostly lighter, ska-flavored collection). After a few spins, both are really good in different ways. They are putting them out on their own so buying these albums REALLY helps the band.
Big D and the Kids Table’s Stomp and Stroll Is Available Now!
The day was started off with a bang as Defeater took the stage at 11:40. Their energetic set was indicative of what fans can expect from their new album Letters Home as they played the single “Bastards” alongside a collection of songs from their first two releases. It was a bit of a shame that they played so early. The relatively sparse crowd was enthusiastic, but it would have seemed more appropriate if they were playing to a larger audience, as they essentially warmed everyone up for the acts to follow.
I then sprinted back to the press tent to conduct an interview with Josh and Paul-Marc of Silverstein. Nice chaps. Decent Exposure Radio/Neostar Promotions have been trying to get an interview with them for years now. The thought was originally to talk to them, then get hooked up with Lights (because of their collaboration) and then A Wilhelm Scream (because Silverstein’s frontman, Shane, is best friends with their bass player). As it turns out, we talked to Lights without any outside help, A Wilhelm Scream came to Allentown and we interviewed Brian (the previously-mentioned bass player), anyway. It was nice to finally track the band down so easily after so much effort before.
After that, I was able to catch the latter half of New Year’s Day‘s set. They leaned heavily on the new album Victim To Villain which makes sense, it suits their goth stage show and vibe. Singer Ash Costello isn’t an overpowering vocalist, but the band has some bells and whistles like made-up ghouls parading around the stage, which help to make the live show entertaining. Performing in a tent on the Tilly’s Stage made for a very stripped-down set. They would likely be more at home in a small, dark club.
Afterward, it was only a few feet back to the press tent to speak with Trevor Strnad, frontman of the Black Dahlia Murder. He was a very talkative guy and won the prize for longest interview of Warped Tour (for me, anyway) at roughly 20 minutes. You could tell his tour manager was getting a little restless as began to lurk around at about the 15 minute mark. These guys must be used to lazy, fast, slapdash interviews. Not coming from me! No siree! TBDM’s new album Everblack is quite good, continuing the quality that was really begun with the release of Ritual.
Another amusing aside to this was that after starting the interview, a guy I didn’t recognize sat down beside me and pointed a video camera at Trevor when he spoke and me when I spoke. I do this with radio in mind and have my questions/notes at hand because I agonize over the order and wording of questions. This isn’t meant to look pretty or be filmed. I was very aware of the camera and wanted to say something to the guy who was poaching my interview, but resisted this temptation. After the final question, the station ID and the obligatory photo and farewell handshake, this guy comes up to me apologizing for the intrusion and explained that he was filming for the band’s upcoming DVD. I am so glad that I didn’t object or say something to him. It would be nice to contribute to that in some small way. What an unexpected surprise.
Right after this, I had the pleasure of speaking to Josh Cain, guitarist of Motion City Soundtrack. Funny story, MCS was supposed to be my very first interview back a few years ago when they came to Crocodile Rock Cafe. Unfortunately, they decided to come in February on the very night of a blizzard. We went to the show, but they had to cancel the interview because they wanted to play much earlier than scheduled so they could pack up and get out of town before it got really treacherous. Disappointing, but understandable. This interview was a few years in the making. I was able to use a few questions from the previously-written interview, but most of this was new to reflect their latest album, Go. Josh was a really nice guy and you should hire him to produce your next album.
Tonight Alive was next and this marks a first: Decent Exposure Radio had never conducted a follow-up interview. UNTIL NOW. I spoke to Jenna and Whakaio and they actually remembered me! Heck, most of my best friends don’t even recognize me after a week… Anyway, that was very flattering and they were as delightful and Australian as ever. We spoke at great length about their upcoming album The Other Side (pre-order it now!) and other recent developments. When the recorder clicked off, they thanked me, (as they did last year) for taking the time to do research and for not asking the same questions they get almost every interview (‘What’s it like being in a female-fronted band?’ ‘You guys are like Paramore, right?’ ‘How did you get started?’ ‘Describe the history of a band’ (which isn’t really a question, it is a lazy demand, isn’t it?) ) I can’t imagine how boring that must get and I did notice a fair number of crappy, unprepared interviews that they have had to endure (and I had to endure watching). All the same, they were cool and their star will, hopefully, continue to rise.
Immediately following this was my interview with David (singer) and Derek (drummer) of Big D and the Kids Table. Henry and Chris did a Warped interview with them two years ago but a lot has happened since: they are no longer on their old record label (or any label), David had a cancer scare, there have been some lineup changes and they just put out an ambitious double album. At 3 am the night before, I realized that of all of the interviews I had written, I didn’t have one down for Big D! I slept for a few hours and upon arriving at the venue (EXTREMELY early, which turned out to be a fantastic move on our part), I hastily scribbled down a bunch of questions for the band. It wasn’t my most prepared or the best interview, on my part, but the guys were as nice as I hoped and I found out what I had wanted. Really, it was technically a follow-up interview so a lot of the traditional Decent Exposure basics were unnecessary, making the relative brevity of the talk acceptable. Buy their new albums Stomp (if you want an album that is more punk with some horns) and/or Stroll (if you want a mostly lighter, ska-flavored collection). After a few spins, both are really good in different ways. They are putting them out on their own so buying these albums REALLY helps the band.
This marked the beginning of some free time. None of the bands I had been excited about were playing at this particular time, so I took the opportunity to explore the layout and to get something to eat (stay hydrated and well-fed at these outdoor, all-day events, people!).
Finally, 3:35 rolled around and a somewhat reformed Chiodos hit the stage. This band turned out to be our first interview a couple years ago, though they had a different singer and drummer. Cut back to the present day: Craig Owens (vocals) is back, Derrick Frost (drums) is back and Thomas Erak (formerly of The Fall of Troy, currently in Just Like Vinyl) has stepped in for the departed Jason Hale on guitar. The band was tight as they tore through material from the first two albums. Erak brought a virtuosity to the band and they unveiled a new song to the crowd which is a preview of the album they will be recording just after Warped.
Your fearless radio host had to miss their last song as he sprinted back to the other side of the festival for an interview at the press tent. On the way, I was able to catch Silverstein on the Monster Energy Stage as they performed a song off of Discovering The Waterfront. They seemed to be in fine form, but there was no time to watch more.
Reel Big Fish was another band that eluded my interviewing grasp for quite some time. Big tuna, Aaron Barrett wasn’t available for press, but drummer Ryland Steen was. After a few moments of heartily mocking Crocodile Rock, we launched into it and he was incredibly easy to talk to. Their latest album Candy Coated Fury is a bit of a comeback, so check it out if you had given up on the band years ago.
The Wonder Years were next on the interview schedule so I waited and waited and waited. My meticulously scheduled day was in danger of being thrown way off course. Finally, after TWY were officially 25 minute late for their interview, the press coordinator, Bethany announced that they might not be coming to the tent. They are a somewhat local band and there might be opportunities to speak to them in the future. That was a bit of a disappointment, though.
I bid Bethany and my interviewing responsibilities adieu as I sprinted to the Monster Energy stage to catch most of the Black Dahlia Murder‘s set. Only knowing a few of their albums over the last few years and giving myself a crash course in the rest of their discography the week before the show, I was a little fuzzy on some of their material, but they put on an energetic set, to be sure. Their presence made for a stark contrast with a lot of the pop-punk and breakdown heavy metal-core that the Warped kids seemed to be into (not to mention a lot of the dubstep influenced bands that will be long gone a year from now). TBDM wanted to be the odd band out and to reach different audiences. Mission accomplished.
Back to the Domo stage (which is right next to the Tilly’s stage under huge dome) to see Tonight Alive. Just like last year, they put on an enthusiastic set of pop-punk offering up a new song ‘The Ocean’ from their upcoming album along with a healthy dose of their debut full-length What Are You So Scared of? The band will be the Warped Tour in Australia later this year, so they filmed a promo for that event from the stage. As expected, they drew a bit of a younger crowd, leaving this DJ as the obligatory old guy at the show. Moving on….
We are now at 5:45 and I had a dilemma: do I go to see The Used on the Kia Forte Stage with no shade in the still-blazing sun or do I remain in the safety of shade?
I chose the latter, enjoying Story of the Year on the Domo stage. At the time, I thought that I had never seen them live, which was a determining factor in seeing them. After reflection, I DID see them at Croc Rock some years ago, buried in a lineup that had them opening for All That Remains of all bands. The band seemed more in their element here after taking a few years off. This was a preview of their tour that celebrates ten years since the release of their debut ‘Page Avenue.’ It was never my favorite album of theirs, but it translates well live and the band seemed happy to be back. Guitarist Ryan and Phil did their trademark backflips off of their modestly-sized amps and this was a better way to see the band as opposed to them being in a club in front of an indifferent crowd.
This gave me enough time to get back to the Monster Energy Stage for the Chariot. Their live show is truly where the band shines as their recorded material was easier for me to get into once I was able to witness them live. They are playing as a four-piece these days (since the departure of their bass player last year) but it didn’t affect them too much. The small, mostly bare stage offered very little for the band to interact with or to climb upon (they get crazy with that, sometimes) but they made the best of it. Frontman Josh Scogin (who we had interviewed some time ago) climbed and stood atop the kick drum while hanging from the low rafters of the stage. Guitarist Stephen Harrison (who is usually the one to go wild for the band, these days) jumped into the crowd and resumed playing his instrument as a circle pit formed around him. As good as the show was, they really excel in a small club where they can really get out of hand.
A quick sprint across the lot took me to the tail end of Reel Big Fish‘s set on the Kia Soul Stage. Ash Costello of New Year’s Day helped out with “She Has A Girlfriend Now” and they closed things out with “Beer.” I have seen that band more than any other band (half a dozen times, I believe) and you know what you are going to get with them. They were made for the Warped Tour.
Immediately following that on the Kia Forte Stage (they were right next to each other), Motion City Soundtrack began. This is the first I have seen of them with new drummer Claudio Rivera (formerly of Saves The Day). They are in good hands in that category. MCS churned through a lot of hits. Halfway through the set, frontman Justin Pierre admitted to suddenly experiencing a panic attack but he powered through it. They also premiered a new song that may or may not make a new album that they are working on. It is very uptempo which will make many longtime fans happy who were left a little cold by the subdued nature of Go.
This left the final gap in time for me for the night. It was time to get something else to eat before the final band (for me). On my way to grab a not-so-soft pretzel, I saw Stephen Harrison from The Chariot (remember?) standing outside of the band’s tent talking to a fan. I went up to him and complimented the set from earlier. He was very appreciative and we spoke for a few minutes about how I interviewed Josh before, how I liked the new album ‘One Wing’ (which I do) and about the decision for them to tour as 4 piece, sans bass. Good guy. I wish continued success for them going forward.
After consuming nourishment, I was back in front of the Monster Energy Stage for letlive (yes, that is the proper capitalization for them). Their new album ‘The Blackest Beautiful’ is really solid and is progress for them. There has been a lot of buzz about the live show and my expectations were high.
The band came out to the stage and within the first song, singer Jason Butler had jumped off of the stage, leaped over the barricade and ran into the fence dividing the side walkway and the woods, managing to knock over the entire fence which was quite long and an impressive feat. Onstage, the band is reminiscent of Glassjaw and the Deftones with some occasional forays into funk. Butler’s frequently-utilized scream is very powerful, perhaps similar to a younger Chino Moreno. Another highlight included Butler draping carpeting from the stage over a stagehand who was attending to a monitor. For his final act, Butler took this suddenly loose carpet, climbed off stage, jumped over the fence on the other side and slid down from roughly half-way up the rocky face of the cliff to the right of the stage (stage right, left of the audience). Ending with, perhaps, their best known song ‘Renegade ’86” from their album ‘Fake History’ was an appropriate way to go out on a high note. The best certainly was saved for last on this Warped Tour.
I caught up with the rest of the press people I came with and we beat much of the crowd leaving the Toyota Pavillion by skipping Bring Me The Horizon (the new album, ‘Sempiternal’ did little for me).
Overall, Warped Tour 2013 managed to beat out 2012 mostly because the weather was agreeable and it allowed me to be more productive from an interview/concert-watching/musician-meeting standpoint than I could have ever hoped. I spent A LOT of time writing interviews but only half of them went unused this time as opposed to 80% of them last year. These interviews also provided a tremendous amount of closure to some elusive artists. There are still one or two white whales out there (I’m looking at you, Chuck Ragan and Page Hamilton), but this let me cross a lot of favorite bands/musicians off of my list.
If life and circumstances allow me to return to Warped Tour in 2014, I certainly hope it can be as productive and as fun as it was this year.
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When J.J. Ellis isn’t writing as the Allentown DVD Examiner, his Decent Exposure Radio can be heard on the air every Friday night from 10:30 to midnight (EST) on WXLV (wxlvradio.com) part of the iHeartRadio Network!