Since the Nineties, Vans Warped Tour has been a constant, integral part of Pierre Bouvier’s life. He played the tour a few times with Reset, and later, with bandmate Chuck Comeau, formed Simple Plan. Warped Tour helped Simple Plan not only find their footing in the early Aughts but has remained a way for the group to stay connected with their heroes, friends and fans with over 10 years of playing the tour.
Following news that Vans Warped Tour would cease to exist following the 2018 trek, Bouvier spoke with Rolling Stone about his personal history with founder Kevin Lyman and the Warped community, as well as the state of the scene the festival brought to prominence.
When we first played Warped Tour with Simple Plan, I already had a lot of experience with Warped Tour on my own, just attending and being part of it with other bands. I remember playing the Toronto show, and our way of doing it was super DIY. We went around the entire crowd all day along with a couple Walkmans to play our five-song demo. We’d walk up to people and say “Hey do you want to hear some music? We’re playing at 1 o’clock at whatever-stage-we’re playing-at.” We would go out and recruit fans one-on-one. It was this one time a year where all us like-minded punk rock and pop-punk fans would get to see each other, meet each other and be around people who were similar to us outside our friends and bandmates. We would realize in each city that there were so many people who enjoy Blink-182 and Green Day and Face to Face and Offspring and Pennywise and all these cool bands you don’t see on MTV or hear on the radio.
Of course, this was a time before social media exploded. Being able to tap into something like that was a lot harder. It wasn’t like we could press a button on our phone and find each other. You had to find these alternative music stores or go to Warped Tour and get a glimpse of who these bands were and what this culture was like. It was a really special time of year when these bands came around.
Either the year before or after we played for the first time as Simple Plan, Chuck and I attended Warped as fans. Because of our experiences with our previous plan, we had a relationship with some of the guys from Blink-182 since we had played some shows together. I know that Chuck had hung out with Mark [Hoppus] quite a bit. I think it was at the Toronto Warped Tour we basically waited outside their tour bus for them to emerge so we can possibly intercept them and play them our newest demo we had recorded in Montreal. That was how you did it back then: you would find bands you liked and play them your song.
I have a vivid memory of being outside Blink’s tour bus, hoping they would come out so we could say hi. I remember feeling so stupid and thinking “Man, what are we doing here? They don’t want to talk to us!” Chuck was like “No, man! I know Mark, and he’ll be happy to see me!” So we waited for hours, and they finally come out and we pass along the demo. That demo had an early version of the song “I’d Do Anything,” which ended up being our second single off our first album. Mark really loved the demo and started corresponding with Chuck. Then we thought it would be the coolest thing as little pop-punk boys from Montreal to ask Mark if he would sing on the song, which he ended up doing. Basically the Warped Tour is a huge factor in how the band got some notoriety and excitement and hype around it. It ended up being a big hit for us.
That vibe was really important. Everyone is the same on Warped. All the tour buses are parked together. Everybody eats the same catering. It allows people to hopefully catch a glimpse of their musical heroes.
I think for a lot of our fans and fellow bands, we’ve always been considered on the poppier side of Warped Tour. We’ve had a lot of mainstream success and radio support, and there are a lot of people who may not be hardcore Warped Tour fans who may know our band that heard our songs. But it was always important for us to remain part of that scene and not just be an MTV pop-punk band. This tour is where our music started, and where we as fans started. It’s important for us to keep being part of it.
We’ve always made a conscious effort to go, even though there were some years it financially didn’t make much sense to do Warped Tour; because there’s so many bands, it’s not a huge moneymaker for anybody. We could’ve taken more lucrative offers somewhere else, but it was important for us to go play – and possibly lose some money but to connect with our fans. [Playing] the Warped Tour as a band is an experience like no other. It’s like going to summer camp.
Kevin Lyman [Warped Tour’s founder] and his team really handpicked bands that are part of a style. If you like Green Day, Blink-182, Simple Plan or Good Charlotte and so many other bands, you’re probably going to like the band playing on any stage. That’s what cool – it gives an opportunity to bands in this style … they could expose their music to a potential crowd that already kind of likes the style that they’re doing.
Also, it didn’t always work the way Kevin envisioned it, but it kept bands humble. If you went on Warped Tour and thought you were cool but acted like a dick or above everyone else, there’s a chance you might get kicked off the tour. There was even a year that I believe Alien Ant Farm had a bit of an attitude when their Michael Jackson cover was blowing up and got kicked off the tour because of it. It’s humbling, and at the time could’ve been frustrating.
You can go see someone who is on the verge like Katy Perry, Sugar Ray or even Eminem … on a small stage at a random time, and it’ll be chaos and mayhem. That was part of the magic.
For us, we played Warped in 2002 and it was right when No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls came out and we started blowing up. Our pay on that tour was peanuts — maybe $200, $300 a day — and we were playing a small stage that could barely accommodate the crowds coming to see us. At the end of the tour, Kevin asked us to do it the following year and we agreed to a $500 a day contract for 2003. As that year progressed, we became so huge with a platinum record and everything blowing up. We came back to Kevin and said we needed more money, and he said “Nope! We agreed on a handshake for $500.” At the time it was so frustrating. We were one of the biggest bands on the bill and were getting paid shit. Looking back, it’s part of the mentality.
That’s what is cool about it. You can go see someone who is on the verge like Katy Perry, Sugar Ray or even Eminem. You can see them on a small stage at a random time, and it’ll be chaos and mayhem. That was part of the magic. We’re all the same, and now that we know Kevin a little better, I do think that’s what he was trying to achieve: not to create a bunch of asshole rock stars. I think some people took it the wrong way, but I get it.
But Warped Tour was part of a generation. Over the last five years, it’s not as tightknit and genre-specific as it used to be. Back in 2000, all the bands on Warped had a similar sound, where now, and because it’s only normal that music is evolving and changing, there’s a lot more things. From electronic music to people like Machine Gun Kelly and Twenty One Pilots. It’s no longer just bands playing guitars and drums and rocking out. It wasn’t sustainable as it once was anymore
It’s going to have to be replaced by something, one way or another. I think it’s a shame that something like that can’t keep going and exist and be a place for people to exist and discover new things outside of their phone or social media or Spotify. Then again, that’s where the future is going. That’s evolution and how our parents feel about us and how we’re gonna feel about our kids.
It’s a shame that that this style and culture can’t sustain itself as it used to. There will always be alternative styles and music and cultures. By the time my kids are in high school, I’m sure there will be things they love that will make me go “What the hell is this?” For them, that will be their Warped Tour.
Even the style of music that Vans Warped Tour represented at the beginning and even halfway through, I don’t know that that style of music will get a lot of new pioneers. I don’t know if there will be another Blink-182. There will be other people who are alternative and different, but all the pop-punk pioneers are doing things that are nothing like what they used to do. Is it because they got bored of it? Have all those bases been covered? Have all those songs been written? I don’t know.
As told to Brittany Spanos