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 six female artists on this year's Warped Tour. Here are their stories. — Jay Cridlin firstname.lastname@example.org
Sierra Kusterbeck of VersaEmerge
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." 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. Kusterbeck was studying musical theater at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School when she heard on MySpace that VersaEmerge's members, whose previous band had recently broken up, were looking for a new singer. She didn't have a demo, and the band lived three hours away, but that didn't stop her from trying out. Her mom, she said, was cool with it. "I begged her, for sure, but I didn't have to beg her to say yes, because she had a good feeling about it," Kusterbeck said. "She trusted the fact that these are hardworking boys, and we're going to do all we can. This isn't just some stupid garage band that these kids are doing on the weekend, it's every single day of your life, it's all you think about, it's all you breathe, eat, sleep. It's all about the band."
Her sound: Bouncy indie pop with lots of synths and keytars.
Albums: A self-titled EP; her forthcoming full-length LP, The Listening, 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 tattoo 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." A comic artist herself, the former Valerie Poxleitner is already a hero in her homeland. At this year's Juno Awards — the Canadian Grammys — she won Best New Artist, a prize previously won by Avril Lavigne, Nelly Furtado and Feist. But she's just as thrilled to be on the Warped Tour — as a teen, her favorite bands included Silverstein, Underoath and Less Than Jake. "With my music, I always strive to stay honest, say what I mean and not fake anything. I think lyrically, what I'm saying is not that far off from what NOFX is saying. She laughs. "The music might sound a little different."
Meg & Dia
Age: Meg Frampton (guitar), 24; Dia Frampton (vocals), 21
Home: St. George, Utah, though Meg now lives in Austin.
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 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." Keeping clean on tour isn't the only thing the Frampton sisters, Meg and Dia, are good at. Their five-piece band's literate lyrics 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."). For Meg, 24, and Dia, 21, forming a grownup band together was never really the plan. "I fought it until the bitter end," Meg said. "When we were younger, I started my own punk-rock band, and I had my best friend play drums, and my little sister would follow me around. I said, 'No, of course she can't be in my band! It's my band, and I'm older, so get out of here!' Then one day she started singing, and she had this amazing voice, so I put my tail between my legs and said, 'You know what? You're a freaking kickass singer.'" The rest is history.
Home: Nashville, Tenn.
Her sound: Radio-friendly singer-songwriter pop-rock.
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 a very blessed occasion. "It was their first dance, so it was nerve-wracking as it is," laughs singer-songwriter Alana Grace. "I didn't want to mess up their video. I didn't really treat it as an audition." But after Lyman heard — and liked — Grace's music, he invited her to join the tour. The daughter of a Nashville music booking agent, Grace studied musical theater at Harpeth Hall, a prestigious private girl's school whose alumni include Amy Grant and Reese Witherspoon. As a teenager, she landed a ballad, Black Roses Red, on the soundtrack to the movie Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. 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. "My dad's been riding since I was about 4 years old," she said.)
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. "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 top sex symbols. Not so much in the world of Warped, where fans' tastes lean more toward pop and punk. "It's completely different than anything we've ever done," Brink said. "These kids, they don't read Revolver magazine and Metal Hammer. They read AP. It's a whole other scene. It's really good for us to have 13-year-old girls that we wouldn't necessarily see at Ozzfest learning who we are." In This Moment's pounding cover of Blondie's Call Me is no doubt winning some the band new fans. "I just thought it would be really cool to put our own little twist on it," Brink said. "It felt like a good summer song."
Age: Melissa Marie Green, 20; Allison Green, 17; Dani Artaud, 21.
Hometown: Los Angeles
Their sound: Trashy electro pop-rap that sounds like Tila Tequila covering old-school Beastie Boys.
Most recent album: An EP, Just Got Paid, Let's Get Laid, that came out in June. Their full-length debut will come out in early 2010.
You'll dig them if you also like: Yo Majesty, Lady Gaga, Northern State, Chromeo, Kid Sister
Their story: Sisters Melissa and Allison Green were just teens when they posted a few of their foulmouthed, semi-jokey hip-pop songs about alcohol, sex and money on MySpace. Let's just say Disney didn't exactly come calling. But after a string of sold-out tour dates, Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz took notice — the Millionaires' latest EP, Just Got Paid, Let's Get Laid, was just released on his Decaydence label. The Millionaires' stage persona — a trio of slutty party girls who only care about where their next Bacardi shots are coming from — has led to a predictable cavalcade of criticism. "We're the first underaged girls to say anything that we want and get away with it," Melissa says. "If we were to change, we would just blend in with every other pop artist. We're doing something different, and that's why we're getting so much attention." In reality, Melissa says, the Millionaires are nothing like their stage personas suggest — Allison studies graphic design at Cal-Fullerton, and Melissa is a math major at Long Beach State who says she wants to be a math teacher or an accountant. And during a day off this week in Boston, the last thing on Melissa's mind was partying. "We just haven't had the time to do any laundry," she said, "so I'm pretty much going to take the time to wash all my clothes today." Party on.