VersaEmerge - Sierra Kusterbeck

  • June 26th, 2010
  • Mountain View, California

During my trip down to California for the first two dates of the 2010 Vans Warped Tour, I did a total of twenty interviews with different bands and behind the scenes people. My interview with Sierra Kusterbeck of VersaEmerge was one of the last ones I did over the weekend and yet it was one of my favourite ones to do. Why? Because Kusterbeck was so genuinely excited to do it.

Despite doing interviews all day, Kusterbeck was eager to do another one when I tracked her down behind the Glamour Kills Stage and during our short fifteen minute conversation, she was excited, honest, sincere and knowledgeable – all of which made for an entertaining interview with an alternative rock band that will surely make a name for themselves in the years to come. After all, this is their second time playing Warped Tour and yet they only just now released their debut full length – Fixed At Zero.

Bobby: Starting with the basics today is the second day of the 2010 Vans Warped Tour. Are you excited?

VersaEmergeSierra: Umm… yeah! I’m super excited. It’s only the second day and it’s already been absolutely insane.

Bobby: You guys have been touring for quite a few years now but you’re still relatively new to the whole touring thing. Do you think you’ll take the opportunity of being on Warped Tour to look at the more veteran bands and kind of learn a thing or two from them?

Sierra: Oh yeah, always. Even last year we learned so much. Doing Warped last year taught us basically how to be a good touring band and how to handle it. This is really the best prep for a young band like us and we definitely took notes from everything.

Bobby: So you did do it last year, do you have any advice for bands doing it for the first time this year?

Sierra: Just work really hard and don’t get caught up in hanging out. Even though it’s great – you make so many friends – but I feel like a lot of bands kind of lose sight. It’s about the music and it’s about promoting yourself and it’s about the fans and a lot of people kind of forget that.

Bobby: It is a lot about promoting yourself; with so many bands playing the times overlap which means the bands have to go out and fight for an audience and convince people to come and watch you guys. Do you have any plans to go out there and convince people to come watch you guys?

Sierra: I mean we walk the line with signs and we try and sell CDs, the kids are really reluctant to buy your CDs because they don’t know what it sounds like.

Bobby: Do you do the whole headphones thing?

Sierra: We do sometimes. But it’s really tough, kids are tough, they don’t want to give you the time of day and some of them just really don’t give a shit. They want to come, see their band, that’s it. You know, I can talk someone’s ear off and I can be real sweet and I’m a girl so I can get attention a little bit better. But we try and we walk around with signs and the stage also matters. Last year we played on a smaller stage and this year we’re on a bigger stage, so that’s progress. When people walk by, it’s my job to get their attention and make them want to walk over and watch us.

Bobby: You guys are on the AP stage right?

Sierra: The Glamour Kills stage, right next to it.

Bobby: Do you think having to go out and self-promote, talk to the bands, hand out fliers, kind of re-invigorates the whole DIY ethic of punk past?

Sierra: I mean, it’s definitely DIY for sure. I think that’s what so cool about it because the Vans Warped Tour is a punk rock tour. Like it started off as a punk rock tour and that’s what bands did back in the day, they did it themselves. Now we have internet and we have Twitter and we have all this stuff and it’s definitely more helpful but it’s kind of cool to have to go back to doing it yourself.

Bobby: And not having to rely on Twitter.

Sierra: Yeah, it’s really cool.

Bobby: Like you said, Warped Tour started off as a punk tour. Lately Warped Tour and Kevin Lyman has received a lot of flack – particularly last year with Brokencyde and Millionaires – for the expansion of the style and sound of it. What’s your whole take on the “Warped Tour should only be punk bands” debate?

Sierra: I totally disagree because punk bands aren’t alive anymore – not as much. There’s not as many punk bands any more. Music changes, it does not stay the same and you can’t fight against it. Like punk bands have grown from bands before their time and that’s why they’re punk. From genres before them and then that genre has changed to this and that and this and that. It’s all forever changing.

Although some of it sucks – yeah. A lot of it sucks; but that’s what it is and you can’t fight it. You gotta role with it and you gotta please everybody, not just yourself.

Bobby: It’s like the evolution of the sound. It’s kind of cool to trace back the sound and how you can have a tour that can have new bands like you guys or Hey Monday and then  GBH or Adolescents.

Sierra: Exactly. That’s what’s really cool about Warped Tour – that it’s so diverse. You’ve got ska bands, and then you’ve got GBH who is fricken on the tour and they’re this legendary punk band. Then you’ve got us, you’ve got The Cab, you’ve got Andrew WK and Motion City Soundtrack. It’s all over the place.

Bobby: Do you think it’s good that you can go in and watch your two, three, four favourite bands but then you walk around and you can discover either an old school band or a new school band that you may never have known?

Sierra: Exactly, that’s what really cool. A lot of kids last year who had never heard of us and would probably never give us the time of day if they saw our picture would walk by the stage and catch it and be interested and come buy the record. And they would have never, never ever heard of us if it wasn’t for Warped Tour.

Bobby: One thing that’s interesting about Warped Tour is that a lot of bands are releasing a new album just in time for the tour. Like you guys released Fixed at Zero on Tuesday; did you plan it to coincide with Warped Tour or was it just a coincidence?

Sierra: No, we definitely planned it because when we did the record we knew it had to come out before Warped Tour. We knew we were doing Warped so we made sure of it.

Bobby: How important do you think Warped is to promoting a new album?

Sierra: I think it’s kind of perfect because we’re out here, it’s our first record – we’re still a baby band in the beginning stages of our careers – so it’s just like release the record and then go out on a huge tour where there’s a guaranteed crowd, a guaranteed crowd. If we did our own tour, maybe we could draw two hundred kids rather than thousands.

Bobby: So it’s just a lot bigger pool to pull from.

Sierra: Yeah, for sure.

Bobby: Even though this is your first album, people seem to be learning your songs quite quickly. I remember I was watching you guys play live at the PureVolume house where you guys did an acoustic take of Fixed At Zero and everybody already knew all the words. You were quite surprised at it; are you surprised at how quickly everyone is latching on to you and memorizing all the lyrics?

Sierra: Yeah, that’s really surprising. I mean, when we did Warped last year, we just had the EP and nobody knew who we were really and then towards the end of Warped, kids were singing the words and getting into it. I’m like “wow.” And then playing a song that we’ve never even released – the record’s nowhere near out – and kids are sitting there singing, it just blew my mind. It’s really cool that kids care that much.

We definitely have a cult following which is really cool. We call them VersaVultures for the new record and I think it’s honestly the most surreal thing ever; especially because I want to be a writer. I love writing more than anything, I love writing lyrics – that is my passion besides singing. I just love it. It’s the only way that I can truly express myself and the fact that kids sing my lyrics is the best feeling in the world.

Bobby: Yeah, you’re hearing something that you wrote sung by at you by hundreds of kids all at once – it’s kind of surreal.

Sierra: It’s literally my guts laid out on the table and everyone’s singing it and enjoying it with me. So it’s really a great personal feeling.

Bobby: You joined the band in 2007 replacing Spencer Pearson right?

Sierra: Yeah.

VersaEmergeBobby: What made the band decide to go from a male vocalist to a female vocalist?

Sierra: You know, that’s a good damn question because they didn’t know they wanted a girl. Blake kind of just saw something in me. When we first met, we wrote The Authors together just to try it out and our chemistry working together and writing together – it clicked.  He had to convince the rest of the band that I should be in it but when we met and we wrote that, we were like “okay, we should work together.”

Bobby: Now I read online that they were asking for auditions online and you lied about your age to get an audition, saying you were eighteen when you were only sixteen. Is that true?

Sierra: Umm… yep. [laughs]

Bobby: What was their reaction when they found out that you had lied about your age?

Sierra: I don’t really remember. I think I just tried to block it out of my head because I lie about a lot of things and then I block out the reactions. I think they were probably shocked and were like “what the hell?!?!” – but whatever.

Bobby: It worked out in the end.

Sierra: Yeah. It worked out.

Bobby: Punk music and alternative rock has always been predominately a male oriented music scene. Now if you look at the Warped Tour set list this time, there is quite a few female fronted bands.

Sierra: Tons.

Bobby: There’s Automatic Loveletter, Hey Monday, you guys, The Pretty Reckless, Eyes Set To Kill. Are you glad to see that there are a lot more female fronted bands and are you surprised to see that there are a lot more female fronted bands?

Sierra: I’m definitely glad. Like I said – well, I’m not sure if I said it yet, I may have said it last interview – but me and Juliet from Automatic Loveletter are really close, we’re super good friends. I know the Eyes Set To Kill girls really well. It’s really cool because we all have common ground  and we’re all doing the same thing so that makes its all easier to deal with. Personally, and we’ve all said it too whenever we all hang out, like we just don’t like girls. That’s why we like to be touring with guys all our lives because girls are just catty and very competitive. But because we’re all in the same boat, it’s not so much a competition but it’s a team and I think that’s really cool. I’m glad to see a bunch of girls out here. Last year I was like one of the only ones, so it’s nice.

Bobby: The whole female fronted punk band isn’t anything new. There’s Blondie, there’s X, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Hole, Runaways. But there was a few years where it was pretty much all male dominated. Why do you think suddenly there are a lot more girls coming forward?

Sierra: Because they saw that they could do it. I don’t know if I was one of the newest ones, but of course you have Hayley. She was like the only one around at the time and like damn, she’s killing it. We can do that too. I mean, that’s how I felt and that’s why when I got in and it started happening, all these girls are like “we’re going to go for it too.” Even locally, I see so many bands with chick singers now because it’s more accepting. Dudes who play are like “oh yeah, that girl fronted band is doing really well so we could do it if we got a girl.” Maybe kind of the wrong mindset, but I think that girls should just get involved and kind of go for it.

Bobby: At the same time, do you think sometimes the press kind of harps on it too much? Who cares if it’s a girl singer or a girl guitarist or whatever, shouldn’t it be more about the music?

Sierra: Yeah, but the thing is, people – especially younger kids – music isn’t dying, but it’s dumbing down and people don’t make as great music as they used to; and if you have a girl to look at – aka tits – of course, people are going to be a little bit more interested. It’s just inevitable.

Bobby: Just a few more questions. Like Warped Tour itself is a pretty cool tour but there’s so much more to than just the music. There’s the Oompa Loompas, there’s the skate ramp and stuff. There’s a unique atmosphere to the tour, how would you describe the atmosphere of the Vans Warped Tour?

Sierra: It’s a travelling circus. It’s just straight out madness. Yes, it’s about the music but they have the skate ramp and that goes back to the punk days. It was punk and skateboarding, that’s what Warped Tour was about. It’s cool that they still have the ramp and people can skate. Of course they’re promoting the shoe which is all about skating and stuff like that. Then you have all the sponsors – Wonka which is cool; it’s just one more fun thing that kids can do.

They have a lot of really good causes too. They lure you in with all the fun, free stuff but you’re getting a moral, a lesson out of everything here. I think it’s just everybody’s trying to do something good.

Bobby: At the same time, there’s also a cool atmosphere between the bands. Just walking around last night in the parking lot, all the bands are hanging out and becoming friends – like you said you were good friends with Juliet which in a way opens up the door for really cool collaborations that always end up happening at Warped Tour.

Sierra: Exactly, exactly, yeah.

Bobby: What would be your dream Warped Tour collaboration to see or take part in?

Sierra: I think I would love to see… I would love to go on stage with Andrew WK. I think that’s for sure.

Bobby: He’s been the answer for everybody.

Sierra: Really? Because who the hell doesn’t want to go party on stage with Andrew WK? That would be awesome!

I love singing with people on stage, I think it’s really fun so I would love to sing with anybody really. Especially Mike Posner, he’s on the radio right now and his song, I love it. I would love to sing with him – I still gotta meet him.

But that’s the thing about, like you said, hanging out backstage. Last year some of our favourite bands that we grew up listening to, like Underoath, everyone’s equal, we’re all just hanging out and now we’re really close friends with everybody.

Bobby: Of course this is the sixteen year of the Vans Warped Tour, so what is some of your fondest memories of Warped Tours long gone?

Sierra: Ones that I went to before I was on it?

Bobby: Went to or played, either or.

Sierra: Before I was on Warped Tour, the first year I ever went, I went specifically to see From Autumn to Ashes. They were like my favourite band at the time and it was such a great show. I had an absolute blast. And being on Warped Tour is really cool. My favourite memories are just the barbecues. Sometimes there will be a few people left, it’s like three in the morning and somebody would just blast the stereo and everybody, it doesn’t matter who you are or how shy you are – dance circle. Just dancing and everyone’s just having a good time. No judgement whatsoever. It’s just a truly, good, good time.

Bobby: Awesome, thank you very much.

Sierra: Thank you.