Travis Myers is the guy behind Altercation Records, Upstart Fest, and the Punk Rock Comedy Tour. I got to sit down with this prolific (and busy!) punk rocker to talk about his latest projects and how it all got started. Read the full interview below.
GinaVenz (Dying Scene): Let’s start with the basics–tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into the punk scene.
Travis Myers: I’m a lifelong Punk Rocker, I was just always attracted to the music, I don’t know why. It made me feel something special that radio rock didn’t do for me…I can try to get deep but how deep can you be at 13…it was just the sound, and maybe the honesty that attracted me I don’t know but it’s something I just couldn’t say no to and still can’t.
DS: How did Altercation Records get started?
TM: Oooh, that’s a long answer, but the short of it is, it started out as a magazine that my partner JT Habersaat and his now wife Hot Donna had started before we knew one another. I helped him out a little with it and one day had this bright idea to put some of these amazing bands we were meeting and interviewing out with a label of the same name…and that was the start of it all.
DS: You’ve got a couple big things cookin’ for the fall (Upstart Fest and the Punk Comedy Tour). Tell us a little bit about them.
TM: Upstart Fest started out four years ago as a one day show…I was tired of having big acts come through and never being able to get our bands on the shows because they were package tours that someone on the other side of the country put together & had no regard for any local. So we did our own thing with 12 bands who were all great and really well respected on their own and it was great, a real all-for-one and one-for-all kind of thing…and I think it was Kyle of Two Fisted Law who said I wish we could do this again tomorrow, and that spawned the ideal Less than a year later I got [in touch] with four venues that we regularly did shows at in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, and Upstart Fest did a 4 day tour…then last year it expanded to nine dates and this year it’s nine again.
DS: Where did you get the idea to start a punk comedy tour?
TM: That is my partner JT’s baby, he is a professional comedian who tours all over and has opened for countless comedians like Doug Stanhope, Janine Garafalo, and Brian Possien to name a few. He put this punk comedy tour together and takes it out once or more a year and only plays rock venues as opposed to comedy venues. It’s really a cool and different approach and works really well…both the comedians and the fans seem to really dig it.
DS: Punks tend to be funny as hell. Are the comedians actually musicians, or associated with the scene in some way?
TM: Sometimes, yeah…Mike Weibe from Riverboat Gamblers, Joe Sib from Side One Dummy Records, Billy Milano from MOD and Dave Krum Bum of the Krum Bums are a few of the punks that have done it, and it is also regularly featured on festivals like Punk Rock Bowling, Fun Fun Fun Fest and things like that…and even the comedians who aren’t musicians are punks at heart. Really, I think most comedians in general have a punk attitude…they kind of have to to be in that crazy business.
DS: Let’s get back to Upstart Fest. The tour is called “The Northeast’s biggest punk rock party.” How do you live up to that, year after year?
TM: Well to be honest I don’t know if we do! It certainly is not a huge festival like Warped or Riot Fest or anything like that, but it is wholeheartedly an all-out punk rock party. The smaller venues hold less than 200 people, and largest about 900, so numbers wise we aren’t the biggest I’m sure, but I will say that you will rarely ever find a better lineup at a single show that includes national and locals at each and every stop or a stronger punk spirit than at Upstart.
DS: How much work is really involved in planning something that big? When do you start planning for next year’s Upstart?
TM: It’s a fuck load of work…and not because it’s hard it’s just that there is something to take care of every day for about 9 months of the year.
DS: Who are you most excited to see at this year’s Upstart Fest?
TM: Ha! Sorry Gina, no way I’m answering that! I got over 20 bands to deal with for two weeks and I don’t need any of them thinking I like one more than the next. But I will say in all honesty that I really do like to see the smaller bands that I have never seen before, it’s usually the opening acts that impress me the most probably because they are new… to me at least. I am of course stoked to have all the headliners we have this year…Svetlanas coming back to the states again for this, and to have Left Alone coming over from LA and The Virus who just reunited to be doing every date as well as The Sharp Lads who are just so crazy good I don’t know how else to describe them.
DS: What surprises you most about today’s punk scene?
TM: That it’s still alive and vibrant, and fighting against all odds. People always say stupid shit like punk is dead, ska is dead, hardcore just isn’t the same anymore…I say fuck you…punk is not only very much alive, it’s never been more relevant. There are kids in every town in the country with a guitar and an opinion that needs to be heard, and therefore punk is and will always be.
DS: I think the cool thing about Upstart is that you bring the show to different venues, rather than having one big festival-style show. Was that a conscious choice, or just a function of logistics?
TM: Absolutely a conscious choice. I want smaller bands from NY to be seen in Philly and smaller bands from NJ to be seen in Cambridge or Portland and so on. You have half the bands that tour all over regularly but the others have a hard time getting their name out, with Upstart many–unfortunately not all–will go to a city they have never been before and probably couldn’t land a show if they wanted to. Also, every band gets its name on the poster, and gets some national coverage and that’s a pretty big thing for many bands who simply can’t afford to get their name out there with everything being so expensive these days. So yes, it is a conscious decision, and if we had the funds we would take it to every city.
DS: There’s lots of us out here who book shows and aspire to behind-the-scenes greatness in the punk scene. Do you have any advice for them? What about for the bands who want to get signed to a label like Altercation? What’re you looking for and what should the bands be focusing on to get your attention?
TM: I’m still working on the greatness myself, thanks. As far as advice for the behind the scene types like you and me, or for the bands who create the music we hold so dear, it’s really the same answer: Don’t ever quit. And be honest with yourself and everyone you deal with. Music, especially this punk shit we love so much is a lose-lose proposition, but there is also a bit of a last man standing thing to it…if you are honest and true you will get a reputation for being that way. You certainly won’t make everyone happy, but if you always try to do the right thing, people in the real scene, the long lasting scene, will soon come to know and respect you for it and things will get easier and you will become more productive as an artist, writer, promoter, whatever your end is. I really believe that–never quit and always be true and you’ll do alright in the end, and at least always respect yourself for what you tried to do…I hope that wasn’t too mushy for you.
Not at all.