Sierra Kusterbeck of Versa Emerge
Home: Redington Shores
VersaEmerge's sound: Edgy, dramatic, emo-driven pop-punk.
Albums: Three EPs, including their latest, self-titled release in February. They're writing their full-length debut.
You'll dig them if you also like: Paramore, Hey Monday, All Time Low, Automatic Loveletter.
Their story: Remember in Almost Famous, when the young Rolling Stone reporter lies about his age to get closer to the band? VersaEmerge singer Sierra Kusterbeck can relate. "I was 16 years old," she says, recalling her 2007 audition for the Port St. Lucie pop-punk group. "I actually told them I was 17, and my birthday was about to come up, so they thought I was turning 18 — but I was 16 turning 17. It was really funny." The lie paid off for the Redington Shores resident. Kusterbeck clicked immediately with the boys of VersaEmerge, and shortly after she joined the band, the group signed with Fueled By Ramen records. Sunday's concert will be the first full-on hometown show for Kusterbeck, who studied musical theater at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School. That the show is at Vinoy Park for the Warped Tour, a show Kusterbeck attended several times growing up, is all the sweeter. "All my friends, my mom are going to be there," she said. "It's going to be awesome."
Her sound: Radio-friendly, pop-rock singer-songwriter.
Most recent album: With One Word, released in March.
You'll dig her if you also like: Alanis Morissette, Pink, Kate Voegele, Rachael Yamagata, Anna Nalick.
Her story: Singing Etta James' At Last at a friend's wedding may not sound like a great career move. But when your friends work for the Warped Tour, and Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman is in the audience, such a performance can be all it takes to get invited to join the tour. It's only the latest lucky moment in Grace's career. The daughter of a Nashville music booking agent, Grace studied musical theater at Harpeth Hall, a prestigious private girls' school whose alumni include Amy Grant and Reese Witherspoon. While still a teenager, she landed a ballad, Black Roses Red, on the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants soundtrack. And today — get ready for a serious hard left — Grace is the co-host of The New American Thunder, a motorcycle show on the Speed Channel that will film its second season this fall. (She's a Harley-Davidson enthusiast who rides an Iron 883 Sportster.) So to recap: Nashville child star . . . turned soundtrack balladeer . . . turned motorcycle expert . . . turned Warped Tour performer. Yeah, sounds about right.
Meg & Dia
Ages: Meg Frampton (guitar), 24; Dia Frampton (vocals), 21
Home: St. George, Utah, though Meg now lives in Austin, Texas
Their sound: Quirky alt-rock that straddles the line between indie and pop.
Most recent album: here, here and here, released April 21 on Sire Records.
You'll dig them if you also like: Eisley, Rilo Kiley, Marie Digby, Kate Nash.
Their story: This is the third Warped Tour for alt-popsters Meg & Dia, so guitarist Meg Frampton knows just what to expect. "I came totally prepared," she said by phone during a Warped Tour stop in Pennsylvania. "I brought my books and my yoga mat, and I know where all the secret showers are." Wait. Hold up. Secret showers? "In Montreal," she explained, "there's this swimming pool, and you just have to say 'Bonjour' and pretend that you're French. You walk with a lot of conviction, and you beeline it to the left, and there's a women's locker room, and a secret shower in there. In St. Petersburg, there's another pool and another locker room, and they're pretty free about it." The sisters and their band have toured with Cute Is What We Aim For and Angels and Airwaves, thanks in part to literate lyrics that range from idiosyncratic to downright dark ("My boyfriend used my palm as an ashtray / and that was on his good days / My scar looks like a bear or a rabbit / They say it's just his bad habits.").
Her sound: Bouncy indie pop with lots of synths and keytars.
Albums: A self-titled EP; her forthcoming full-length LP, The Listening, is due in September.
You'll dig her if you also like: Imogen Heap, Dido, Chairlift.
Her story: With her sugary voice, trusty keytar and model-gorgeous looks, Lights doesn't seem like your prototypical Warped Tour artist. But the 22-year-old Canadian does possess one big Warped bona fide: a giant Wonder Woman tatooo across her back. "She's battling Giganta," said the singer. "It's the cover of Wonder Woman 2, Vol. 3, and it's cool because it's very symbolic. I'm a small person, and she's fighting this huge giant who's 300 feet tall, but she can still beat her, and she can still look good doing it." An aspiring comic artist herself, the former Valerie Poxleitner is already a hero in her homeland. At this year's Juno Awards — the Canadian equivalent of the Grammys — she picked up the Best New Artist award, a prize previously won by Avril Lavigne, Nelly Furtado and Feist.
Maria Brink of In This Moment
Age: "I'm old enough to have a kid," she laughs.
Hometown: Albany, N.Y.; she now lives in Los Angeles.
Their sound: Melodic, energetic metal with punk and screamo elements.
Most recent album: The Dream (Ultra Violet Edition), a deluxe rerelease that came out June 30.
You'll dig them if you also like: Taking Back Sunday, Killswitch Engage, My Chemical Romance, Lacuna Coil. Also, Brink sings a little like Pat Benatar.
Her story: A mom at 15, a Los Angeles transplant at 22, a Playboy model at 31, In This Moment singer Maria Brink has already lived the full life of a rock star. "We've gotten to do Ozzfest twice; we got to do the mainstage in 2008 with Metallica," Brink said by phone recently. "We got to tour with Ozzy Osbourne and Megadeth and Five Finger Death Punch and Papa Roach. Now we're doing Warped Tour, and maybe we'll get to do Mayhem. We just try to work really hard and be really professional, and make a name for ourselves." Mission accomplished in the metal world, where the buxom, tattooed Brink is one of the thrasher scene's premiere sex symbols. Not so much in the world of Warped. "These kids, they don't read Revolver magazine and Metal Hammer. They read AP. It's a whole other scene," Brink said. "It's really good for us to have 13-year-old girls that we wouldn't necessarily see at Ozzfest learning who we are."
When you think of the Warped Tour, you think of raucous punk and metal bands like Less Than Jake, Bad Religion and Tampa's own Underoath. But this year's tour has an unexpectedly strong pop flavor, from dance-rockers 3OH!3 and Cash Cash to indie group Dear and the Headlights to Southern troubadour Shooter Jennings. Leading this eclectic infusion are the women of Warped '09, a group of talented ladies whose music crisscrosses all genres. We caught up with some of the female artists on this year's tour. Here are their stories. Jay Cridlin, Times staff writer
Sierra Kusterbeck of VersaEmerge
Meg & Dia
Maria Brink of In This Moment
Meet the women of Warped Tour: Sierra Kusterbeck, Alana Grace, Meg & Dia, Lights and Maria Brink
Sierra Kusterbeck of Versa Emerge
>> Vans Warped Tour
The show, featuring Bad Religion, Less Than Jake, Underoath, Senses Fail, Saosin, All Time Low, Anti-Flag, the White Tie Affair and dozens of other bands, is Sunday at Vinoy Park in downtown St. Petersburg. Gates open at 11 a.m.; the show will run from noon to about 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $35. Get a complete band lineup at warpedtour.com. And for more with the women of Warped, including songs and photos, visit the SoundCheck blog at blogs.tampabay.com/tbt.