Interview: Tyler Walker of SXSWendy’s

Hear the story behind SXSWendy’s from its creator, Tyler Walker.

interviewTylerWalker

SXSW was a total blast, but while we had a killer time doing hilarious #sxswank stuff, the best party in all of downtown was easily SXSWendy’s. The DIT mini-festival first set up camp by the Wendy’s on East 7th and Brushy last year and has since evolved into an epic three-day event featuring killer artists including Persona La Ave, Bubbly Mommy Gun, Moon Lasso, Michael Parallax, Zorch, Dark Sister, Chrome Sparks, and Delicate Steve. It wasn’t all fun times and parking lot Frosty’s though—a series of complaints, generator troubles, and cease and desist letters displaced the festival from location after location. Even when the mounting challenges were at their most discouraging, SXSWendy’s never said die—the dedicated crew scrambled to find a new home every time they got displaced and pulled the whole thing off without missing a night.

SXSWendy’s is a total team effort, but one of the founding ringleaders is Tyler Walker, who performs as Meth Dad and plays drums with Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt (both of which played Wendy’s this year). We talked to Tyler about SXSWendy’s, corporate sponsorship, the Tour de Fun festival in Tennessee, and friend-sourced festivals.


How did SXSWendy’s start? 

It was three years ago—it wasn’t really planned to be any kind of yearly festival, it was more like…my old band Blastoids and this band called Religious Girls, we were all sleeping on a school bus and we were like, “wait, what if we set up on the sidewalk and we just play? It’s worth a shot!” So we just did that. And a huge crowd of people showed up, just wondering what was going on, just seeing it.

And we were like, we should just do this the next night and invite some other friends too. So we set up in the same spot, by Wendy’s, and us two played again and our friends Brainstorm and our friends Unstoppable Death Machines.

We had so much fun so we were like maybe we should just make this an actual event and do it again next year. So we did.

And we’re planning on doing it again next year too.

How did it end up being at Wendy’s?

Well it slowly evolved away from Wendy’s, sadly. We got a cease and desist letter from SouthBy and i’m waiting on a cease and desist letter from Wendy’s. The first spot we had we got kicked out of and the second spot we had we got kicked out, the third spot…

So we’re thinking of finding a legitimate space next year and calling it South Fry South Friendy’s.

I caught the show at the Chain Drive. That was the third spot you found, right? 

Yea, the people at Chain Drive were really nice. It was either at the Chain Drive or it wasn’t going to happen that night, you know?

Why did you get kicked out of your original spots?

[Last year] the first time we got shut down was by the cops because Wendy’s complained.

The second time…it was perfect, we moved it across the street and the cops came by, and we were like “oh my god, this is it, we’re going to get shut down.” I was like “Do you need me to turn off the music, sir?” and he was like…”No man, I’m just wondering what band this is, they’re killer!”

And I thought, “This is awesome!”

That is so awesome.

And then the owner of the building we were hanging out in front of was like, “You know, we’re watching it on security cameras” and I was like, “Oh no, this is the end,’” and he was like…”Y’all clean the place clean and y’all have fun!”

And I thought, “This is insane! Everybody’s cool with this.”

And I guess since last year the building we do it in front of went under new management and this guy was not happy with the situation this year. So we had to move it another block back. And then it lasted two nights there but then the owner of that place freaked out because someone tagged his building. I mean, I feel like it wasn’t our fault, it’s just that you have a bajillion people in Austin at the same time, so somebody’s going to tag your building. But that man didn’t understand that. He also called me a pencil-dicked Yankee.

One of the reasons SXSWendy’s is so great is that it’s right in the middle of downtown. I feel like a lot of DIT shows are always super far out of the way, so you have to really commit to them, and that discourages a lot of people from going. 

Yea, they’re always like way out past the community college or across the river. Our whole thing was that we have so many friends who are doing DIY / DIT shows and stuff, but they’re so far away. So our whole thing was that we have this thing inside the inner circle downtown.

We liked it a lot too because people will be like, “Yo where are you?” and we can be like “Follow the Wendy’s sign.” It’s really high, you can see it from downtown.

It’s also sort of funny, because corporate presence is such a big part of SXSW. All of these bands are playing these massive corporately sponsored stages. So this is actually kind of a play on that.

We were actually thinking about next year maybe even proposing it to Wendy’s. Like, they can hand out free square patties, a free Frosty or two…I think for next year we’re trying to write a very professional corporate letter to them to propose the idea. And if they shoot it down, whatever, we’ll keep playing it anyway.

You can be like, “We already have the T-shirts!”

And they’ll be like, “We already have the lawsuit!”

 I feel like this year especially I’ve been seeing a lot of bands who got their start in smaller DIY / DIT communities now getting to the level where they’re playing all these large corporate shows, and there are definitely mixed reactions. So I was wondering what your take on that was.

I’m definitely not against it because that’s like SouthBy’s thing. It’s funny, someone wrote a blog about SXSWendy’s before SouthBy this year and they were like, “Who knew that someone as corporate as Wendy’s would be throwing shows?”

And they were unaware that it wasn’t really a Wendy’s show but we were like “What do you mean? There are people playing on life-size Doritos, this is the most corporate festival in the entire face of the earth.” Everybody has a sponsor, everybody’s giving you free shit.

Like, it’s such a corporate landscape that you might as well run with it?

Exactly.

Also, this year you guys were a lot more visible via having a Twitter account. Did that blow up your spot at all? Like, do you think that contributed to getting shut down?

We got the cease and desist letter from SouthBy Incorporated and I was unaware that they owned the words “South By,” they owned the letters “SXSW”…they owned so many logos…that’s why we had to change it to southFRY.

I tried to work my way around it with this attorney but they were just not having it. And as a joke they were like “Put it as southFRY SouthWendy’s and I was like, “Ok,” and they were like, “Cool, that works. Thanks, man!”

 Wait, the cease and desist was because of the name?

Yea, SouthBy Incorporated sent me a cease and desist letter like four times. They were like, “You are throwing shows unaffiliated with the regional festival, blah blah blah. Here is the Facebook account, you need to change the name.”

That’s all they were asking. They didn’t even talk about the Twitter because I guess on Twitter you can pretty much put your handle as whatever.

I think the Twitter actually really helped because we could make it known that the location was changed or the event was canceled or whatever. It’s so easy to just tell people to follow the Twitter for updates.

Whoa. The idea of owning the letters “SXSW” is hilarious because so many people were tweeting hashtags like “sxswtf” or “sxswasted” or whatever. It’s hilarious to imagine SouthBy chasing down all those people, giving everyone cease and desist letters.

sxsohwell.

So what would an official SXSWendy’s look like? 

I wouldn’t even know how to go about it. But the only step forward is like, maybe I should try. I’m a very optimistic person but I can see myself trying and them just being like, no shut up kid, not taking me seriously. But some people think it might work, so I guess it’s worth a shot. I would still make it free.

We’ll probably get some bigger acts next year too for sure. But I’ll always rep my homes before bigger acts. The whole festival is about friendship and having fun and all that.

We’re all about bringing friends. Like Michael Parallax, he had never been to SouthBy, so we were like, “You have to come,” and he was like “I don’t have any shows,” and we were like, “Well play Wendy’s, people will go crazy.” And he did and multiple people have been like, “The Michael Parallax set was the most beautiful thing,” and I was like, “I know, right!”

He was so good! Definitely one of our favorite experiences of the whole fest. So many acts were so good. Religious Girls were crazy too, those guys were amazing.

Yea, always. I love that band. I’ve been on tour with that band a couple of times, they’re good friends of mine. And they’re OG. I was with them and Unstoppable Death Machines at the very first SXSWendy’s, so they have like the VIP access card and they get to play any year they want to.

VIP! SXSWendy’s platinum badge!

All the Frosty’s you want! Backstage premium!

So besides this, do you book any other festivals, mini-fests, anything?

I put up some shows in Nashville and around Tennessee a lot when I’m home, but that’s very very rare, just because I’m never there, often I’m just on the road. I think I’ve been in Nashville like 10 days out of four months. So I’m just paying for a room to store my laptop and my bed. But I have some friends there and I love that town a lot.

I put on this event [in Murfreesboro] the past three years called Tour de Fun, which was a bicycle-themed music festival. All local acts from the middle Tennessee area played. Like 40 bands played and it was all one day and it was all by bike. Two bands play here, everyone gets on their bikes, bikes to the next place, everyone sees three bands, everyone gets on their bikes…so it was like 40 bands, each band got 15 minutes, and it wasn’t more than 2 miles in-between each venue. And we got close to 2,000 people to show up. It got a little crazy.

That’s so fun. That sounds a lot like the FMLY rides in LA.

Yea, it’s like that! Except it’s a whole day—it starts at 10 in the morning and goes until 4 in the morning.

That’s insane. 

Yea. It’s really fun. I’m sad to say I couldn’t do it this year because I moved away from that town. I live in Nashville now, and I was on tour so much that I couldn’t put it together. But I’m thinking of maybe transferring it to Nashville. Maybe doing one in Denver in a couple of years. I think it would be cool to just move to a different town for a year and set up this awesome festival and leave and move to another town and do the same thing.

Like a traveling carnival of awesome.

Exactly. A traveling carnival of awesome.


Catch Tyler on tour with Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt through April 10th and catch SXSWendy’s in whatever form it appears in Austin in 2014.