Interview: Tor Hyams

I've been sitting on a bunch of interviews from my trips to Austin last September. With the music world once again congregating in Austin for SXSW, it's high time I transcribed and shared them with you.

Given the South By Southwest connection, I thought it appropriate to kick things off with Tor Hyams, who will be speaking at a kids music panel at SXSW Friday.

Among the many roles that California-based Hyams has is producing the Kidzapalooza stage at Lollapalooza and the Austin Kiddie Limits stage at the Austin City Limits Festival, not to mention the Little State stage at the Big State Festival. It was backstage at ACL 2007 that I caught up with Hyams and talked about producing those events and his thoughts about the future of kids music festivals.

Zooglobble: What's been the best part about the Austin Kiddie Limits stage?
Tor Hyams: The best part about the Austin Kiddie Limits is, I have to say, Austin. People are really different. There's no airs about anybody, they're very open and honest and willing to have a good time, and that makes what we do a lot easier.

You produce Kidzapalooza, Austin Kiddie Limits, and the kids stage at the Big State Festival. Big State is more country, while the other two are more rock. How did you decide who you would try to get for Kidzapalooza as opposed to Austin Kiddie Limits?
In Kidzapalooza, we go a little harder-edged. It's just a different energy to that place than here. This is more of a roots-rock kind of energy, where Kidzapalooza is more of hard-rock kind of energy. Some bands fit into both, like the Sippy Cups. Some bands don't work in both. For example, we had the Blisters, Jeff Tweedy's son's band, at Kidzapalooza, but they're from Chicago, and they're kids. It would've been hard to get them out here. I think they would've done well here, but it's just a different thing. So it's really who fits more the roots-rock mold or even country crossover acts do well, but Austin's such a dynamic city that I think you could any kind of act on stage here and it would work.

I saw a quote from Charles Attal, the head of C3 Productions who sort of described the festival circuit as a land grab -- there are a lot of opportunities in a lot of other places to establish these festivals. Do you think a kids stage is something C3 or other entities would be looking towards doing?

Yeah, it's something I'm looking towards doing right away, especially with the Kidzapalooza brand, if not both. Obviously, Kidzapalooza would be a little easier to transport because it doesn't have a city's name in it, but Austin Kiddie Limits is a great brand and it could easily travel. In fact, in a way the kids idea could move even faster than the grown-up idea. There's less at stake, the ticket prices aren't as high -- parents just like going out and seeing great music.

The difference in what we do here and at Chicago is that we have legitimate recording acts on stage. Whether they're signed or not, it doesn't matter, but are they playing real music for the whole family as opposed to dumbing it down. So if you're dumbing it down, you're talking to the wrong people. We believe children are much more in tune and intelligent than grown-ups are because as grown-ups we forget a lot of this stuff, the purity of why we're here and what we're supposed to be doing.

James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem at his set on Friday said Austin Kiddie Limits was great because nobody in the audience is reading the blogs saying, 'That guy is over.' They're either crying and asking mommy to go home or they love it.
Yeah, that's right, there's no hip factor to contend with. "Oh, they didn't play all their songs from their first album that we loved." It's really a pure place where it's really just about the music. The other thing about kids watching as opposed to teenagers or grown-ups watching is that you really have to be good. Kids don't care about who you are, what you're wearing, what the image is. They feel that stuff, the energy of the performer, and if you're not good, they'll walk away, they don't care. They get nothing out of it besides the purity of the music. Some of the main stage performers who come over here get a little nervous because they know that, just because they are whoever they are does not guarantee them an audience.

Do you go out to solicit the special guests, or do they come to you?
Both, really. This year, I went out to Big Sam's Funky Nation from New Orleans. I love them, and they agreed to play. But then you have Ziggy Marley, who asked us. It's really just got to be like that, because they're not getting extra money, we don't pay them. It's really got to be a labor of love. We're not as well funded as the other stages, obviously, and so if they want to do it, we let them do it, and we're happy to have them. It's wonderful for the kids and obviously it gives the parents something extra, too.

Any future plans, anything you're looking forward to doing?
I want to take Kidzapalooza on the road to several different cities, not the whole country, but several different major cities. This year is the biggest year we've done for Austin Kiddie Limits yet and I want next year to be better. Every year I think there's no way we can top that, but there's always a way. Whether it's just making parents more comfortable or whatever. Which is why I like working these things so much because it's always a challenge and that's what gets me going.