For the first time since 2001, the Vans Warped Tour will bring a plethora of top-notch pop punk and alternative rock bands to New Orleans. The traveling festival has been crisscrossing the country every summer since 1995–bringing bands by the bundle from town to town–but somehow it’s managed to avoid the Crescent City for 15 years.
The New Orleans event is set to occur on Monday, June 27 at Mardi Gras World. I had a talk with Brooks Betts of Mayday Parade about his experience with Warped Tour, his time spent in New Orleans, new music projects, and more.
Do you feel a lot of fans have been anticipating the Warped Tour to stop in New Orleans?
Yeah, I think they did it maybe eight or ten years ago, I’m not sure. But then they stopped for a long time. This is the first time New Orleans has been a date since we’ve been on the tour. I think Nashville was the same way, though. We used to skip it when the tour wasn’t doing so well, but now that it’s pretty popular we’ve added it.
How long has it been since you guys have last performed here?
We played House of Blues this past fall.
Do you feel like the alternative rock/pop punk is on a high right now, especially with events like Warped Tour still standing strong?
Uh, I think it’s always up and down in the music industry. We’ve seen things go very digital, with EDM and stuff like that being very popular amongst the college crowd, and that contends with it [rock music]. We’ve seen rock radio go away for the most part. But I think those sort of things have gone up and down through history, so maybe we’re starting to see an upswing with rock again. And regardless of the scenes we’re in, whether Warped Tour or something else, that niche market of rock and roll has always done pretty well regardless of what the mainstream does so we kind of fit in a nice little pocket.
Yeah, it seems EDM has become the next big thing.
Yeah, it’s crazy. It’s certainly competing, and even pop music is digitizing now, too. You just don’t hear guitars a lot anymore in the mainstream. But still, like I was saying, I think it will come back around. Everything always does. A great example is the eighties, when it became so processed and digitized to the point where there was sort of a new movement, especially with rock in the nineties, where people got tired of that overly-processed digital sound and moved into that organic nineties sound.
Have you guys gotten familiar with the culture here?
Well, as much as a tourist can, we’ve come in and played New Orleans many times. We’ve gotten days off there, maybe that has to do with the gaps between cities in the south, but we’ve gotten chances to venture out. Honestly, I feel like the better places to go are over on the East side. I think it’s real cool because the bands aren’t playing what you normally hear in the French Quarter. We also used to play in this small hole-in-the-wall in Metairie. But yeah we’ve spent a lot of time in New Orleans.
What are some of your favorite aspects of the tour?
Warped Tour is cool because it’s pretty simple. You’re out there all day, then you play a 30-minute set. It’s a quick and easy set, no one’s playing longer than thirty minutes, you play your popular songs, you’ve played them a thousand times but it doesn’t matter because you’re having a good time, it’s always a great crowd, there’s usually a meet-and-greet or a signing. It’s kind of like summer camp.
How are interactions with the other bands? Is it like one big club?
It can be, it’s a lot of fun. You find bands that you click well with and stuff. What’s funny is that it’s kind of like high school. It can get cliquey at times and people can be catty but they’re all really cool. I’m not talking down on it, but it’s interesting how it can be like that. But, yeah, you find groups you work well within and it ends up being a lot of fun.
How does it feel to be considered at the top of a genre you watched emerge only a decade or two ago?
It feels good, but it also keeps you on your toes. I think when you’ve been a band this long it can be kind of scary, especially because you see a lot of bands come and go. Somehow we’ve been able to persevere through all of that, but since we’ve persevered for ten years now we have to figure out how to stay on top. It’s more straightforward to climb up here, I think. Keeping it, as we get older, is going to be a harder thing to do.
I can see that. When you’re coming up, the goal is to get discovered and be successful. After you’ve made it, you kind of have to make your own goals.
Yeah, you do and you have to figure out how to reinvent yourself, as well. Because, I mean, you could keep doing the same thing but I don’t think that will stay in power forever. I’m sure that works for some bands. You want to stay true to what you always did, and it’s easy to do that when you’re doing what you love, but, at the same time, you have to try and take some chances and try to progress, a lot of that being musically.
Since this style of rock is still relatively new, do you think that a lot of the fans you guys have are fans of the bands you listened to as teenagers?
No, I don’t think so. Actually, it’s really interesting, we’ll have meet-and-greets before shows and we’ll have a playlist playing over the front of house. And there’ll be bands like Taking Back Sunday and Jimmy Eat World playing over the speakers. Once, there was a Dashboard song playing and, just for fun, we asked them if they knew who Dashboard was and they had no clue. But that’s not to say they won’t learn about them. Maybe we could be an intro band into that music scene for them, but I don’t necessarily think they do know what we grew up on or listen to any of it.
How do you personally feel you’ve progressed and changed from your earlier stuff, like Tales Told By Dead Friends, to the newer works like Monsters and Black Lines?
It’s been ten years, so it’s probably the difference between what we listened to then and what’s come out since. We’ve always listened to newer music, so I think we’re always inspired by new material. And maybe we were really set in an area of rock we wanted to play back then, but also a little bit tired of doing the same thing so we maybe even pulled from older influences. I think with Black Lines we started to do something more toward the nineties style and brought in some of that influence. I guess we felt we could get away with it as opposed to having to stick with just the pop rock stuff. So, it’s just a constant evolution. Things change and we’re always inspired by new music.
Did you ever have an instance where fans expressed negativity because of these changes?
Yeah, I think so. I think some people are always going to feel nostalgic about older records. Everyone does that. I’ve done that with bands that I like. Sometimes it can be hard for me to get into new albums by older bands, but I think if the songs are there then there’s at least a handful of the old stuff they can hold on to. But, at the same time, you make new fans by experimenting with different sounds. It expands your audience, and the old music is always there. They can always go back and listen to that. We try not to change completely. We try to give a little bit of everything we’ve always done on every record. And it’s hard to appease everyone. But, also, if you put out some really good material in the beginning it’s hard to match it. That’s one reason why it’s a good idea not to always try to replicate yourself. You’re not going to write “Miserable At Best” on every record, you just can’t. So you have to try out different sounds in order to create a special track like that.
What’s it like in the community back at home [in Tallahassee, FL]?
It’s pretty familiar. There’s a lot of people we grew up around and always stayed friends with. We’re a pretty tight-knit community because it’s not a huge town. But then at the same time it seems like there’s been a fall-off with the whole music scene, at least for rock. We’re a big college town. So because of that, a lot of people would rather go to a club than go to a venue and see a band play. So it’s always been tough, I think, for rock musicians in this city, which is why we had to leave to get our name out. That just wasn’t going to happen in Tallahassee. We could generate our band here, but there was a cap on it how far it could go. But it can be tough and I don’t know any smaller bands coming up out of this city.
Are you guys working on anything of your own after the tour?
Well, we’ve always got stuff we’re writing. I’ve got a handful of stuff, so do the other guys. We’ll put together some tracks in the studio to see if it’s anything we want to release. We’ve got some ten year anniversaries coming up for a couple of our record releases, so maybe we’ll add a couple tracks to those and do some special editions. But, other than that it’s just touring and getting ready for another big record. Kind of like clockwork. We’ll probably take a bit longer with this one than we have in the past and see if that’ll give us some better material. But we’re always in the process of working on the next one.
The Vans Warped Tour will take over Mardi Gras World in New Orleans on Monday, June 27.