Louder isn't always better. That's the thinking behind the Acoustic Basement Stage, a new addition to the Warped Tour that made its debut this past summer. While ranting and raging is definitely what Warped is all about, the Acoustic Basement Stage offered a bit of relief from the controlled chaos that was display on the main stage (and the majority of the side stages, for that matter).
Credit for the concept goes to Therefore I Am's Brian Marquis, the guy who originally came up with the idea for an unplugged stage on the Warped Tour. His band played the Warped Tour in 2009 but broke up in late 2010 and Marquis subsequently moved to Los Angeles to devote his attention to working on some solo material markedly different from the noisy punk rock he put out with Therefore I Am.
"I was in the process of trying to find where I fit in doing my solo stuff," says Marquis. "I had been part of the punk and hardcore and underground community but my music is lighter and I didn't want to go into pop singer-songwriter oblivion."
So Marquis took his idea of adding a stage for solo artists to Warped founder Kevin Lyman, who immediately signed off on the deal.
"Out on the road, it became more than just another stage at Warped," says Marquis. "As the only stage with a theme, it was different. All of us just didn't get along but we hung out. Someone would break a guitar string, and we'd help him fix it. The camaraderie that I saw out there made me want to do a separate satellite tour."
That camaraderie certainly appealed to Geoff Rickly, who along with singer-songwriter Koji and I Am the Avalanche/The Movielife's Vinnie Caruana, has joined Marquis on the tour. Best known as the lead screamer in post-hardcore act Thursday, Rickly played acoustic for the first time in March of 2012 at the request of a Dallas club owner. He says performing without any accompaniment was a rough transition.
"I thought it was a cool idea so I learned a bunch of songs and I was pretty crap at it," says Rickly, who had to first learn to play guitar. "My feet shook so bad because I was so nervous to be on stage alone that I could barely keep a beat. And that was just when I was playing Thursday songs that I had played a million times. I had no expectation of doing that again."
But Rickly kept at it, practicing in the privacy of his own home. He even wrote a few solo tracks and then accepted an invitation to perform on the Warped Tour's Acoustic Basement stage even though he was skeptical that the noise from other stages would be so loud that no one could hear his set (and that was actually the case at the Blossom date of the tour where Rickly was drowned out as he played under a small tent).
"But then I thought that would be perfect for me," he says. "I realized I could do it and on my recent tour with [Circa Survive singer] Anthony Green I could finally let go of my stage fright. I realize I'm not going to be the best guitar player and I'm not the most technical singer. The thing that's great about playing on the acoustic is that you're just a person there telling a story and you can bring lulls to the music and then explode out of nowhere. People react on a more personal level when there's not a giant light show and a huge loud band and all these things that are overwhelming your senses. I can engage people's nervous systems."
Rickly, who has released one acoustic "mixtape" through his website and says he has another one ready to be released this spring, says the set he played on the Warped Tour regularly changed and he anticipates that will also be the case for the current tour.
"In the beginning, I was doing a Buzzcocks' cover and then I realized the Buzzcocks weren't real different for me," he says. "They're something that Thursday used to cover. So then I started doing an Usher song and doing it my way and that felt a lot more exciting. I wrote a song while we were on Warped Tour and that's become a favorite of the live set. That's the cool thing about this tour is that you can just decide a song is ready and play it that day."
Marquis takes a similar approach and covers tunes by Thrice, Lucero, Ryan Adams and Bruce Springsteen while testing out some original works-in-progress from his forthcoming solo album.
"Punk rock is so rigid," he says. "You don't see someone jam. You play the punk or hardcore song and that's it. It's so different to be out there in a raw way without distortion and without jumping around like an idiot. I really like that."