He's probably the busiest man in punk rock right now.
Aside from creating and running the Vans Warped Tour (a full-time job in and of itself), he's also the man behind the Mayhem and Taste of Chaos Tours. And yet, when you see him on-site at a Warped Tour event, he's out there, helping the bands, the fans and anyone else he can, ensuring that everyone is having a good time, and that everything goes off without a hitch.
At 2008's Warped date in Detroit, he was kind enough to take us back to his frenzied base of operations (located inside one of the many tour buses lining the streets surrounding Comerica Park), to talk about what's next for the Warped Tour, and why he's as involved with everything he is.
RC: First I have to say, I think all of this is amazing.
KL: Cool. It's great, now we've moved downtown, and we're probably going to have 20,000 people today. The kids are having a blast.
RC: How many years has it been?
KL: 14 years.
RC: And it seems to keep getting bigger every year.
KL: I think we've gotten stabilized and found our comfort zone. Once shows get bigger than 20,000 we kind of lose that experience where you can get close to stages, but this is right about the number where we can keep the show manageable with production. It's real good. It's not like the heyday of the crazy 24,000, 25,000 people up at the Silverdome. Here I think this is very comfortable for people to come to, which is important because I think downtown Detroit needs things for kids to be able to go to.
RC: How many months out of the year do you work on Warped Tour?
RC: So then what were you possibly thinking getting involved with Mayhem and Taste of Chaos? Do you just like to be that busy?
KL: (Laughs) The thing with Warped Tour is that I was honestly not making enough financially to run a business and have good people working for me, so I was still taking jobs for other people, producing things like the Sprite Liquid Mix Tour, the O Brother, Where Art Thou? with T-Bone Burnett and the Down From the Mountain movie. So I'd always still have to work for people and I'm kind of finding out later on that I am terminally unemployable, really. When you're doing this, it's my thing, I make decisions right or wrong. And I make them very quickly; that's why I'm here every day. I found that I couldn't work just to make a paycheck; I walked away from big amounts of money, like when I was doing the Cure tour and I thought they were doing it for the wrong reasons. I worked on it for six months and I said, "Don't pay me, I'm not going to do this."
So with Taste of Chaos, as I saw that punk and metal were kind of merging and the lines were getting blurry, I thought with taking Chaos indoors, it was timed out perfect. And we had a band that really wanted help launch it, which were the Used. They were very smart that year, and took less money to start up the project, to be able to put up a package of Killswitch and My Chem, and the hockey strike allowed us to get venues cheap, so it was just good timing.
So that got off the ground and now travels around the world, Sarah [also on the bus, working away - ed.] is working on the international stuff today, it goes out right after this in October. And then Mayhem, kind of begrudgingly I guess I got involved in Mayhem. What happened was, As I Lay Dying, whose playing today, and it's their last day of this year's run, came out with a record right after Warped. It came out number four or five in the charts; it was a big week with 70,000 records sold or something, and all of sudden all of the metal bands were calling and saying, "We need more bands on Warped," as we're actually trying to manage it because we just can't keep adding every band that wants to be on Warped.
So that was going on that week, and I was like, "Wow, why can't they break bands on their own tours?" Whether that's Family Values or Ozzfest, they're not developing their own headliners. Also our winter tour is sponsored by Rockstar Energy Drink and they wanted something during the summer, because they can't do Warped because I worked with Monster and I'm very loyal to the brands that have been with us. Then, around that same week, my partner and the agent on this tour, asked about Slipknot and Disturbed, and there was a lot of work to putting them together, and we were saying "No, no," and then it started coming together, and we went to New York three times, talking to labels, Revolver Magazine got involved, and everyone got excited about this concept, and it came together.
I don't want to brag, but today we're having a great day in Phoenix with 15 or 16,000 people, and 20,000 people here. That's a pretty big day for us as a company, to have 36,000 people rocking out at shows in one day.
Now, we have Mayhem, but we are turning down a lot of stuff as a company, because we want to keep the quality of what we do at least at this level. You have to be careful because these projects are very intensive, and we still have failures. We did a thing this winter, the Get a Life College Tour that really just didn't come together. We also realized that our resources were stretched about as far as they could be.
So that's how Mayhem came about, and it is a lot of work.
RC: I know, for a lot of kids, Warped is the event of the summer.
KL: Yeah. It's real young this year, too. It's moving in that direction, but it's been good. It's nice to see so many young kids here. Some people have called it the rite of passage, to go to Warped Tour, and I didn't think so. But for some reason this year it is. I have talked to so many people that it's their first or second time going to Warped Tour and they're loving it. They're having so much fun out there.