We are halfway across the stretch of sizzling hot pavement when a pant-shitting roar erupts from our right. Glancing over, we notice that a porcelain-skinned horde, several thousand strong, are suddenly bearing down on us at a full sprint, braying like Wildlings storming the Wall.
Today Metal Hammer has arrived in the dusty desert town of Pomona, California, where we have been invited to spend the day with metalcore legends Every Time I Die for an all-access look at a day in their life on this year’s mammoth Warped trek. If we survive.
The Buffalo, New York-based quintet have a strong claim to one of the most impassioned fanbases on this year’s tour, galvanised by the band’s electrifying fusion of riotous hardcore tempos and bone-powdering metalcore riffage. They are notorious for their humorous lyrics and party-friendly ethos, and this year they return to Warped with a brand-new album, From Parts Unknown. Tapping into the bare-knuckled pugnacity of 2003’s Hot Damn!, the new record sees the band sidestepping the experimental foraging of 2012’s Ex-Lives and doubling down on pure aggression for a speaker-blowing return to roots.
Fortunately, we elude the army of skinny jean-wearing barbarians and we finally arrive at the backstage compound – a jaw-dropping fleet of tour buses, trucks and trailers that transport more than 100 bands, their crews and the tour staff throughout the two-month campaign. Skateboarding roadies carrying piles of t-shirts thread the alleys between vehicles, while tattooed tour managers on tricked-out bicycles bark orders into two-way radios clipped to their shoulders. Finding the right tour bus proves easy, as we notice a bus in the front row flanked by some damp shorts draped over a flimsy laundry rack and a cardboard trash box with ‘ETID’ scrawled across the front.
Vocalist Keith Buckley emerges to greet us, apparently still in the early stages of awakening. Good-natured and quick to chuckle, Keith explains that they spent the previous evening patrolling the casinos of Las Vegas and that a few of the lads are nursing some rather exquisite hangovers. Inside, bassist Stephen Micciche is sprawled out on the couch next to guitarist and brother-of-Keith, Jordan Buckley, who furtively hammers his thumbs into his phone in a spirited bid to reach the next level of The Simpsons: Tapped Out. We note that the television is turned to a children’s cartoon station, although nobody is paying it any real attention.
Two titanic canisters of whey protein rest near the sink, next to a half-empty bottle of Very Old Barton Kentucky Bourbon – undoubtedly the chief culprit behind the ghastly pallor of some of the musicians’ faces. Sitting by the bunks, drummer Ryan ‘Legs’ Leger plays with a stuffed pink dog while staring out the window.
Only Stephen appears in buoyant spirits. He effuses that the night before, he won nearly $400 in a casino, explaining: “I actually won $150 by accident – I put $100 in a machine and hit ‘Max Bet,’ because I thought it was two dollars, but it was a $100 bet and I got a blackjack.” The money, he advises, has already been earmarked for some band t-shirt purchases.
An enduring hallmark of the 19-year-old festival tour is that the schedule changes every day. Bands aren’t notified of their set time until the morning of each stop, and therefore virtually every ticket holder arrives when doors open so as not to miss their favourites. Mercifully, their tour manager has reported that today’s set time is 2.30pm, which gives them a bit of time to ease into the day.
Escaping the bus, we sit down outside to catch some rays with Keith. Unlike their last stint on Warped, this year brings the added pressure of supporting a new album and Keith is anxious to debut the new material for fans. “I wanted it to be heavier and faster and harder than anything we’d ever done,” he tells us, “because I think people thought that our last album showed us to be running out of gas and I just wanted to remind them that that’s not the issue with us.”
As the wizened veterans of this year’s tour, we wonder if they continue to indulge their notoriously hard-charging party habits. “We’re allowed to start drinking as soon as we wake up,” he chuckles. “Not all of us do, but on a day like today when we play kind of early, I might have a drink around noon, just to kind of take the edge off, because you know you’re going to have to perform in a little bit. But when we play late, I won’t even touch a drink until it’s around showtime.”
Inside the bus, the various members fix their breakfasts before venturing out into the madness of Warped. For Legs, it’s two scoops of protein powder in a bottle of water. Stephen nukes a cup of macaroni and cheese, turning to assure us – apropos of nothing – that there is, in fact, no whiskey in the cup. Meanwhile, Keith ambles over to the bottle of bourbon and, with a smile, dispenses a generous measure into a can of energy drink. The day has officially begun.
We locate guitarist Andy Williams wandering between the buses. Built like a tank and bearing the grim countenance of a professional leg-breaker, he’s surprisingly the nervous one.
“Playing the new material kind of sucks for the first couple of shows,” he says. “I realise I’ve just stood there. I don’t want to hit a bad note. The whole time, my inner monologue is ‘Don’t fuck up! Don’t fuck up! Shit, you look whack!’” he laughs.
Jordan relaxes in an empty t-shirt stand in the Warped merchant village, perched behind a neon pink tip jar with three graphically rendered penises dangling over the exhortation to “DIP YOUR TIP.” Jordan is easily the quietest of the bunch, reserved but intensely polite.
“I think it’s important to write good songs,” he tells us. “If we start with great songs, the fans appreciate it and they stick with you. Once you start writing a bad record, you’re done. Luckily – knock on wood – people seem to like the records we’ve done.”
By 1.30pm, it’s time to prepare for the show. Behind the Monster stage we find ETID’s equipment tent, where Legs is sitting atop an equipment case, methodically removing coloured flecks of skin from the newest tattoo on his chest. He is still shaking off the vestiges of last night’s festivities. “One night out and I’m fucked for the next two days,” he grouses. “We still do a bit of drinking, but not like we used to in the old days.”
ETID assemble behind the stage, some pacing restlessly as the stomp of Also Sprach Zarathustra rumbles from the PA. Just as the horns approach their iconic climax, the five men turn towards each other, throw their hands together, and erupt into a shout, dashing up the ramp and diving into their shotgun-blast opener, Floater.
With only a 30-minute set, Keith heads into the crowd before the first song reaches its halfway point. “Bang your motherfucking heads!” he bellows. The subdued tangle of hungover musicians we met a few hours ago are nowhere to be found; they have morphed into a storm of buzzsaw riffage and frenzied tempos. Sweating, bouncing and howling into the sun, the band have drawn the entire Warped audience out from their shady hovels to declare their thunderous allegiance.
Jordan pinballs about the stage, leaping across the risers and windmilling like Pete Townshend. When they play Thirst, from the new album, it’s impossible to miss the score of kids in the front row singing along, even though the album is still almost two weeks from hitting the shelves.
“This is the best show thus far,” Keith declares. “It’s going to be hard to beat this one…”
When the set finishes, the band turn for a victory photo with the rapturous crowd behind them, but Andy is nowhere to be seen. We soon realise that as the last song stormed to a close, he darted into the audience to finish, remembering to hold his guitar up to identify himself in the photo.
Jordan and Keith make for the bus to change, while the other three cool off in their equipment tent. A girl approaches with a young boy in a foot cast who declares himself a massive fan. This earns him a few shots with the band as well as an autographed drumstick from Legs. Eventually, one-by-one, the boys disappear.
Later, we spy Keith coming back from the bus. We ask him how it feels to be the elder statesmen of Warped. “I was nervous about it,” he replies, “because I knew that the last time we did this tour we were the old guys too, ha ha! I just feel like we’re revitalised. Maybe it’s the new record, or maybe it’s the people we’re around, but we don’t feel old right now.” Given the performance we just saw, we couldn’t agree more.
From Parts Unknown _is out now via Epitaph _