Katy Perry at Waffle House, Gwen Stefani's rise to fame, and the band who got away
Credit: Lilly Lawrence/Getty Images

The 21st season of The Warped Tour kicks off tonight in Pomona, California. In the two decades since founder and music industry vet Kevin Lyman (at the time he was already an alum of the Lollapalooza tour as well as Goldenvoice, the company behind Coachella Music Festival) began his traveling punk festival, it has provided a vehicle for Katy Perry, Blink-182 and Eminem to break big and a home to indie label favorites like Paramore, Fall Out Boy, No Doubt, and Panic! At the Disco.

Before its 41-city run kicks off, EW caught up with the tour’s founder, Kevin Lyman, to discuss watching Gwen Stefani cut her teeth on tour, watching Perry wait tables for fans at Waffle House, and who he thinks will emerge as the star of 2015. Here are some of his favorite memories.

On Katy Perry, who first appeared on the bill in 2008, the same year she dropped “I Kissed A Girl”: “Katy is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever had. Fans didn’t see it in the beginning because she was doing all this radio promo and taking meetings and working around the clock so she wasn’t always at the after-parties or hanging out — we have a yearbook on tour and she actually got voted ‘laziest.’ But when I told her that, she took a whole bottle of Patron, drank it, and I just remember seeing her dancing on the back of my bus.I had to deal with the hangover that came with that [laughs]. And she came to Waffle House—we used to take fans to Waffle House every night after the shows—one night and she dressed up in a waitress uniform and served everyone pancakes. But you truly saw her sense of humor, which is her best asset, to this day. We saw her grow hugely but she always kept the humor about herself out there at a very hardworking time for her.”

On making Gwen Stefani a star: “They were a young band out there that I got to watch evolve—as I was getting my feet under myself, they were getting their feet under them. The first time I saw them I said, ‘Get everyone out of the clown suit and let [Gwen Stefani] be a star. That’s how I’ve been with female artists. Like with Paramore, it’s like, you have to let the star come forward—sometimes it’s really hard because they want to be one of the band. Like with Echosmith, Sydney is going to be the star. The band guys are great but she’s the star. And usually that means a couple of people will leave the band because they can’t get past it, I tell the band guys, “You’ll have a nice living and you’ll be able to go out to a nice restaurant and not be bothered, but you won’t be the star.” As soon as Gwen stepped out, the band was able to take off. Originally there was hesitation on her part, but she became herself and grew into herself.”

The band that got away: “I said no to 5 Seconds of Summer but that actually ended up working out better for them in the end. They got on that tour with One Direction and look at them now.”

On working with Echosmith: “They came to my office two years ago with acoustic guitars and I actually needed to find some girls to be role models for these girls coming to warped—I was trying to get Hayley from Paramore to come back but management will never let them come back. And Sydney walked in at 15 and I said ‘This is her, give her a couple of years,’ so I put them on half the tour and then immediately said they could stay on the whole tour. Sydney is a star.”

Who he’d take on the road every year if he could: “Unfortunately it can’t happen, because Bradley [Nowell, from a heroin overdose at age 28] died, but Sublime. I think they would have been that synonymous band for us—I’d have them with me every summer. And you know, I wish Rancid would come back more, but it’s a physically brutal tour. So for some bands it’s just that they physically can’t do the tour anymore.”

On who will be the breakout star of 2015: “Usually I can sense which one or two bands will blow up through the summer butthere’s actually quite a few this year. There’s Bebe Rexha who wrote “The Monster” for Eminem and Rihanna, and she’s starting to get some radio play for her new song, “Hey Mama” with Nicki Minaj, and she’s the lead singer for the band Pete Wentz created, Black Cards.

There’s also a band called Night Riots. Their song “Contagion” was sent to SiriusXM just as a test and it went to number one on alt-XM. And then I’m thinking—and you have to just get past their named—Mooseblood. You would think a band called Mooseblood is an emo band but they’re very indie living, ’80-influenced that I think they have a great chance of breaking.

And then there’s a total Dark Horse called The Karma Killers, they have some really cool songs. I think by the end of the summer it will be happening for them.”

The craziest band he ever had with him: “You could probably write a whole book about the antics of Pennywise early on in their career. Kenny Fletcher is pretty notorious for his antics on the road, getting in fights and whatnot. Now, most of the artists are pretty serious about working out there and the antics happen more on social media.”

The coolest thing he’s seen at one of his shows: “I think it was that first time when Less Than Jake was like, ‘Let’s do a giant circle pit.’ He got like 3,000 kids going around in a giant circle. It was kind of like an epic thing, that he could even get that many people to cooperate.”