By Jay Cridlin
Times Staff Writer
After the streamers and confetti had dropped, and after the singer had surfed the crowd in a human hamster ball, and after the stagehand in a pink jockstrap and a Darth Vader mask finished firing T-shirts into the crowd, A Day To Remember exited the stage to find their dressing room filled with balloons.
Filled as in FILLED. To the ceiling, in every corner, were hundreds of balloons, a smirking gift from another band on the bill.
"It's one of the coolest tour pranks I think has ever happened," A Day To Remember singer Jeremy McKinnon said, recalling that night at Jannus Live in April. "Our crew went in before us and popped half of them before we got up there, so they wouldn't be there when we came offstage, but we still saw a ton of them. I thought the idea of them doing it was incredible."
A prank that big, that brash, that primed to pop? Of course McKinnon loved it.
A Day To Remember may not be a household name just yet, but they're getting there, and faster than anyone ever imagined. Picked by MTV as one of 10 artists to watch in 2011, the hardcore group from sleepy Ocala sold out sizeable venues coast to coast on their recent spring tour, including Jannus Live. This summer, they're headlining the Vans Warped Tour, which hits Vinoy Park on Sunday.
"We literally draw 3,000 to 5,000 people everywhere we go in the world right now," McKinnon said by phone from a Warped Tour stop in Pennsylvania. "We do that in Australia, we do that in Europe, we do that in America, we do that in South America. If it grows from there, bring it on."
Few could have seen this coming in 2006, when the band signed with Victory Records before McKinnon was old enough to drink. The band had a unique sound, thick and sludgy as death metal in some spots, but peppy and melodic in others. It's a style some have dubbed "pop-mosh," and it was always infused with a heavy dose of humor (their debut video, for the song The Plot to Bomb the Panhandle, featured porn star Ron Jeremy).
Ocala had a small but tight-knit hardcore scene, but McKinnon and his bandmates spent a lot of time at punk shows in Gainesville, including several by their current Warped tourmates Less Than Jake.
"Every time I saw them, they did something that was cool, funny and creative," McKinnon said. "They were fun to watch live, they had a good time on stage, they weren't super-serious. But they weren't so goofy that it was stupid. It was just a really cool vibe and I always loved that. I've said to them a million times on this tour, 'We wouldn't be the band we are without stuff like that.' "
A Day To Remember now channels that spirit in their live shows. About three years ago, they began turning their concerts into outsized spectacles, a la the Flaming Lips or Blink-182. That means costumed stagehands; showers of confetti, toilet paper and beach balls; and McKinnon rolling atop mosh pits in an inflatable globe.
And on Warped? "Let's just say the stage doubles in size when we play," McKinnon said.
Such free-spirited showmanship is normally unheard of in the oh-so-serious hardcore metal community, which is one reason A Day To Remember has built such a dedicated following.
"There's nothing that makes me happier than hearing people walking out of shows like, 'That was the craziest thing I've ever seen in my life!' " McKinnon said. "Not only do they love your band even more, but they're walking out and telling every person they come in contact with, 'Dude, you have got to see this show the next time it comes around.' Guess what? They're coming, and they're bringing all their friends."
They're buying records, too. A Day To Remember's latest album, What Separates Me From You, debuted at No. 11 on the Billboard charts, and the single All I Want hit No. 10 on alternative radio.
A mainstream hit from a metal band from Marion County? Yeah, even McKinnon is a little surprised.
"We're five normal dudes that are average at what we do — we just really care about what we do," he said. "We came from absolutely nothing, and we're doing larger-than-life stuff now. And we continue to grow. The sky's the limit."
Jay Cridlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.