By Michael Hamersly
If you’re inclined to dismiss the Vans Warped Tour as just a bunch of loud punk-rock bands, you clearly haven’t been to the festival lately. Sure, the vast lineup features its fair share of straight-up punkers, young and old, but the musical diversity of the tour might surprise you.
Take the Boulder. Colo., duo 3OH!3, which in only its second year on the tour has scored a headlining slot. The group – consisting of producer Nathaniel Motte and frontman Sean Foreman – blends party-friendly electronic beats with bouncy pop and hip-hop elements. Add a video for its hit Don’t Trust Me that rivals Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake’s hilarious video spoofs on Saturday Night Live, and you’ll see why 3OH!3 (named in honor of Boulder’s area code) has become one of today’s It bands.
Warped’s commitment to diversity landed the duo on the tour.
“Our manager has actually worked closely with Kevin Lyman, who runs the Warped
Tour,” says Motte, “and he’s always been pretty cool about using different-sounding bands. Black Eyed Peas were on one year. That’s one of the cool things about Warped, having different music people can go see.”
That’s an ethic Motte can appreciate.
“Our families were into a lot of stuff, from old-school rock to jazz to classical to folk to blues,” he says. “So we’ve had all this different music in our ears since Day 1.”
Like many bands in today’s digital age of near-instant fame, 3OH!3 was incredibly surprised at the success of Don’t Trust Me.
“We knew when we wrote it that we had a cool, fun song,” says Motte, “but I don’t think we had any idea how palatable or how big it could get. It’s been a wonderful ride.”
Other bands that defy the pop-punk stereotype on the tour include indie-pop chanteuse LIGHTS; art-Christian-metal band UnderOath; TAT, named for rising star Tatiana DeMaria, described as a more potty-mouthed version of Lily Allen or Kate Nash; and Shooter Jennings, son of country singers Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, who’s engaged to Sopranos actress Drea de Matteo.
The traveling festival is also a mecca for alternative lifestyles, from skate culture to underground hip-hop to eco-friendly organizations. Still, the punk aesthetic rules. One of the headlining bands is All Time Low, a young punk-pop group that shaped itself after Blink 182 and New Found Glory, and was named Band of the Year in 2008 by Alternative Press magazine.
To the guys in the band, the accolade is surreal.
“It was awesome,” says lead singer Alex Gaskarth. “Very, very cool that they even put us in the nominations for that award, and then the fact that the readers voted for us was incredible.”
For All Time Low, the whirlwind ride began a short six years ago. “What started as a band playing in a basement or a bedroom is now a band that has fully realized our sound,” Gaskarth says. “We’ve learned how to write a song, so it’s just about crafting songs that fit the standard of what we wanna do, which is catchy, pop-rock music blended with some out-of-the-box ideas that help us get away from the trend or niche that surrounds pop-punk. We’re not trying to invent the wheel, but we’re definitely trying to put our own flavor.”
Headlining bands will have a little more time to strut their stuff this year, as the tour has scaled down a bit, says Gaskarth.
“Usually it’s been half an hour, but this year they’re doing it a little differently, with only one main stage. Now, each band on the main stage gets 40 or 45 minutes, which I’m really excited for. In the past, it felt like we get up there and then before we know it, we’re done. This time it’s a full set.”
And as in the past, bands have no idea when they’re going onstage until the morning of each show.
“They draw it from a hat, pretty much,” says Gaskarth. “But it definitely keeps you on your toes, because it varies your schedule. So you have to anticipate, ahhh, your hangover, and nurse it accordingly in case you’re playing first.”
IF YOU GO: Vans Warped Tour, Noon, Saturday, July 25; Cruzan Amphitheatre, 601-7 Sansbury’s Way, West Palm Beach; 561-793-0445.