Kevin Lyman Discusses This Year's Mayhem Festival
Band Photo: In Flames (?)
Kevin Lyman has had a hand in the creation of Warped Tour and Mayhem Festival, to name just a few of the noteworthy projects he has been involved with over the past two-plus decades. Starting out as a club promoter in Los Angeles, his idea to have a yearly outdoor summer festival conducted in parking lots with Warped Tour has turned into one of the most well-known tours out there today. Along with John Reese, Lyman started the Rockstar Mayhem Festival a few years back to give the spotlight to metal and hard rock acts.
This year’s line-up is a powerhouse, with headliners Godsmack, Disturbed, and Megadeth on tap, as well as Machine Head, In Flames, and Trivium supporting. I had the chance to talk to Lyman in early February about the semantics of running a major festival, the process behind choosing acts, and the possibility of taking the festival overseas in the near future.
Heavytothebone2: Can you give me a little background on how the Rockstar Mayhem Festival started back in 2008?
We’ve been working on Taste of Chaos together, me and John Reese, and I had a lot of metal bands wanting to play on the Warped Tour that I had. We started seeing bands crossing over into that audience. We were sitting around talking one day, trying to figure out what was going on in the metal scene, and how maybe we can help some of the young bands develop over there. We were looking at maybe, ‘Hey, if they had their own festival for metal kids, that really focused a lot on developing acts and side-stage bands in some way, maybe we can develop some new headliners for that scene.’
At that point, Disturbed and Slipknot were talking about getting together, maybe try to figure out a way to work together. Started some flights back and forth, a bunch of meetings, time talking through it, and kind of came up with the first Mayhem Festival.
Heavytothebone2: What did you want to do with the festival originally that made it different from other metal tours like Ozzfest?
One of the things we did was try to identify the best side-stage bands possible. I think one of the things we would do is...paying the side-stage bands was a big thing and sitting with the labels and trying to decide what would help them in developing their artists. We tried to involve the whole metal community. We sat with people like Revolver Magazine from the beginning and said, ‘Hey, if you had your own festival, how would you like to see it?’ So we got a lot of input from the community before we started it.
Heavytothebone2: Did you use that approach for the other tours you started, like Warped Tour and Taste of Chaos?
Warped Tour was pretty much something I started. I worked in the clubs of LA for 12 years and I thought it was a way to bring together that community. I grew up a little bit more in the punk world and that’s what Warped Tour was. Taste of Chaos was an indoor Warped Tour with some of the heavier bands, merging bands like Killswitch Engage with My Chemical Romance, and things like that. What I like doing is trying to deliver the best package for the price you can and I think once again this year’s tour is going to develop and bring value to the metal fans.
Heavytothebone2: When did you start getting into metal?
Working at the clubs in LA back in the 80’s, I worked two-three nights a week at the punk clubs, and three-four nights a week at the metal clubs. My exposure on a level of production, my background was doing production, I used to do...the big heavy metal conventions when they were held out here in Los Angeles, I used to do all the production on them. So I’ve always been exposed to the music. As those bands were starting to drift over to Warped Tour, like As I Lay Dying and Every Time I Die and that type of music wanting to play on the Warped Tour, I started to get reintroduced to metal in a lot of ways.
Heavytothebone2: What kind of process do you go through each year to select the bands for the festival?
It’s interesting in metal because I think there needs to be development of some new headliners. If you really look at it, a lot of these bands have been around many years now and kind of repackaging as headliners. Trying to move that up to hopefully one day where we’ll get a band like Five Finger Death Punch, who started out on one of our small stages, they moved up to a main stage next year. I think they are a year or two away from being a headliner. Obviously, you get so much instant feedback from kids as you look to see who they are talking about and finding bands like Unearth, who have been around for a while, but they could maybe come back and really blow up that side-stage. Trying to find something new, like Straight Line Stitch, with a really strong female voice, is going to be pretty cool.
Heavytothebone2: This year features a mix of both first-time bands and returning bands. What do you think it is about the festival that brings bands coming back for more?
I think we’re pretty straight-ahead guys. You’re out there doing business, but try to keep it as professional as possible, but as relaxed as possible. Everyone’s gotten to know that we are pretty good to work with. The bands enjoy being out there. It’s not a really high-pressure situation. Everyone’s out there having fun during the summer. The backstage parties are well-renowned for being a good time. You’re out there doing business, but you’re having a good time, and I think were straight-ahead business guys. So people don’t mind being part of our program.
Heavytothebone2: In your mind, how does this year’s line-up compare with previous ones?
For me, it’s cool having almost three headliners with Disturbed, Godsmack and Megadeth. All have been headliners in their own right, kind of figuring out how to all work together on this. I think if you go down the bill, for me, Machine Head, In Flames and Trivium are pretty awesome. It’s just a good, solid thing. You work with what might be available, whose on cycle, whose touring, but I think for every band that was available, we put together a very strong show. To deliver it at the price we do, I don’t think you can ask for more. Well, you could ask for more, but I don’t know who could deliver more.
Heavytothebone2: How important are determining ticket prices, especially in this economical time?
I think it’s super important to deliver value. Everyone has limited dollars and I really saw that on Warped and Mayhem. It’s hard because you’re working with the fees on top of the tickets. People are only going to be able to have X amount of dollars for entertainment in any given month. You have to deliver the best possible show for people’s hard-earned dollars. It’s constantly a challenge and you’ve got people like Rockstar and Jagermeister who come in and help us off-set some of the operation costs so we can keep the ticket price right.
Heavytothebone2: Is there any process in determining the order of the bands involved in each stage?
That’s a major part of it. Working it through with the agents and the managers and everyone understanding where it’s at. There might be some other bands that you wanted and can’t figure out where to put them on the bill or they can’t agree to where they fit on the bill. It’s absolutely something we have to take into account.
Heavytothebone2: Have you ever had any struggles in determining what bands are playing in each stage?
There’s always some discussions and things like that, but I think a lot of times, it’s just the amount of stage space you have, what you have available production-wise. I think we’ve been able to always come up with some equitable plan because of the background we come from. We’re not just producers who aren’t really speaking from experience. I was the first stage manager of Lollapalooza in 1991. I’ve worked on stages my whole life. John has been around tours. So we’re not just speaking without experience.
Heavytothebone2: When looking at venues for the festival, what factors do you consider in deciding which ones to use?
This configuration and the type of production we’re bringing works in amphitheaters. Warped Tour, we can pretty much play parking lots. This being a big production for the main stage, it’ll be amphitheaters. It’s routing and to be honest, with metal, it can hard sometimes because there are a few cities that are still scared of metal in some ways. You have to get it approved by the city the line-up and some places we’ve got, ‘This show would play really well, but you guys can’t play here.’ Even though I’ve never really seen any problems at the show.
Heavytothebone2: If you can, go through a typical day on the tour for yourself.
A typical day is load-in is at eight in the morning. Everyone gets to work setting it up. You’ve got earlier doors with Mayhem; it’s 1 p.m. doors. The festival grounds are usually going while they are still setting up the main stage. The road is a life of routine in a lot of ways. You like all the little surprises and the things that go along with the road, but it’s how you settle into that routine and everyone gets in there and does their job most efficiently.
Everyone just gets into it and then we open up the amphitheater and let it run general admission for the first couple of bands. The show’s over at 11 p.m., everything is packed up by 1 a.m., hopefully you’ll catch a little barbecue or something after the show, and then you just jump in a bus and you go do it again. Touring-wise, it can get very routine. If you can create a good routine, and you try to create some fun around it, then you are putting on a good tour.
Heavytothebone2: How does this tour compare in workload to the Warped Tour and the other various tours you’ve been involved with over the years?
This one is definitely a little bit more production, with the lights and sound and that type of set-up. They’re all a lot more work than just traveling with two bands. You have to kind of tweak and be on your game at all times. The people that work for us are developed into specialist that can work either Mayhem, my country tour, Warped Tour. Right now, it’s just more like trying to line-up all the right people to put them on the right tour for the summer.
Heavytothebone2: Are there any plans to take the festival overseas?
We have a meeting next week to discuss some potential ideas about that; no exact plans. We still do Taste of Chaos internationally. That tour still travels around the world, but right now, I know we do have a meeting coming up to discuss some ideas.
Heavytothebone2: If the tour was to go overseas, would there be any differences between this one and the overseas one?
You try not to. That was a problem when I took Warped Tour. We used to travel around the world with it, but kids started saying like, ‘Wow, it’s not like the U.S.’ because it’s hard to duplicate all those tents and all the craziness with Warped Tour. Taste of Chaos transferred over really well because like what you would have seen in the states, it’s very much what we saw overseas. I think if we took Mayhem overseas, you wouldn’t have the amphitheater setup, so we would probably get the festival grounds or fairground setups. I think we can deliver a really good show with that.
Heavytothebone2: What’s the best part about being involved with all these festivals?
Oh God, just being around music. I know it’s a very simple thing to say, but I still love music. I love the live music experience. I’m not really a studio guy. I don’t like that routine at the studio. I like being out on the road. There’s a lot of people like your lighting guys and your sound guys, they kind of want things to be set up the same way every day. I like to have to be fluid and be on your toes because as a producer of a festival, you have to be able to address problems really quick, right or wrong. You have to make quick decisions. There’s no real thinking too much, you got to be able to have instinct and reaction. That’s kind of how I live my life.
Heavytothebone2: You’ve been involved with festivals for over two decades. How, in your eyes, have you seen the music scene change from the late 80’s/early 90’s to today?
In some way, I think it’s harder to develop those new long-term headliners. I think bands now, they can get popular very quick, but do they have to goods to deliver it over the long haul? I think that’s what the challenge is right now. I think that’s a challenge to the whole touring industry and music industry because if you really look at the big headliners of today, they’ve been around many years.
You can maybe take a band that is developing into that headliner, like Rise Against, who has been around about a decade, starting to turn into that true headliner. You can learn everything you want to know about a band in ten minutes. It used to take a little time and a little development, but now it seems every time I turn around, there’s another band that is going to be huge and then six months later, you haven’t heard about them.
Heavytothebone2: If you could make the ultimate festival, with any band past or present involved, what would it look like?
I think a really cool show would have been Motorhead and the Ramones together. I never got to work with The Clash or Joe Strummer. It would have to do with a lot of those bands I’ll never get a chance to tour with. I like music in general. It’s not really metal, but getting to work with Willie Nelson on my country music tour...he’s as punk or metal and hardcore as anybody I get a chance to work with. For what we do, we do it really well, and I’m proud of what we do. We’re waiting for some kid to do it better than us so I can retire, but until then, I got to get in shape to go out on another summer of parking lots.
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