Now entering its fourth year, the sprawling Memphis Punk Fest is quietly becoming one of the city's finest underground music festivals. Founder Tyler Miller, originally from Union City, Tennessee, is as invested in the Memphis punk scene as anyone could fathomably be. In addition to bringing countless touring punk bands to town all year round via his booking and promotion company, Memphis Punk Promotions, he's also a well-seasoned musician with several local punk bands, including Los Psychosis, SVU, and Evil Army. Miller spoke to the Flyer this week about his three-day, multi-venue festival.
The Memphis Flyer: How did you first get into punk rock?
Tyler Miller: I liked bands like the Clash and Ramones like anyone else when I was younger. Then I started discovering more bands via dial-up connection when I got internet. I was around 13 when I started getting really into the music and went to my first concert, which was a battle of the bands in Paducah, Kentucky because a band on Myspace my older friends showed me was playing.
When did you get involved in the punk scene in Memphis?
I moved here in 2010 and was in college for two semesters. I lost my scholarships due to me skipping the first two weeks of music theory. From there, I started couch surfing again and living with people I met at parties. The McAdoo house was the first place I booked a show at for one of the house parties we threw, but as far as punk music, my first show was in 2011 at Dru's Place. I couldn't find anyone to play guitar in a band with, so I traded my guitar for a drum set when Los Psychosis told me I could play drums if I had a set. Next thing I know, there was a show booked, and I got booed off stage.
How long have you been in Evil Army?
I joined Evil Army in 2013 when I got a call from Rob Evil about how he heard I could play bass and asked if I'd be able to come over that night and learn their songs. We left, I think, the next day for Brooklyn and did around 15 cities. I remember listening to them on YouTube or maybe Myspace when I was younger, and the thrash metal part of me really dug it. I didn't know they were from here until after about two years of living in Memphis. I enjoy the band and am always surprised with Rob's talent no matter how many shows we play together. He's a really amazing writer and underappreciated sound engineer.
What inspired you to put on the first Memphis Punk Fest?
I was living on Jack Simon's (Brister Street Productions) couch when he was planning the second Brister Fest and throwing around ideas on his "magic board." We talked about doing a DIY/grassroots-style fest like his but for punk bands. All the inspiration was carried with me from the all-ages punk scene in Paducah.
I noticed people didn't communicate like that down in Memphis and thought it would be a good start to bringing together the music community. I started the "Memphis Punk Rock" group page on Facebook and Memphis Punk Promotions so the festival would have some sort of entity behind it rather than it being cast off. I'm proud to say I've hosted for over 250 bands on tour since I've started Memphis Punk Promotions and the Fest.
Did you think you'd still be doing it four years later?
I really enjoy the idea of doing the festival forever, but it is a lot of hard work and constant planning. I start booking bands as early as October for June of next year for the festival. Dedication to the music is very important to me, and it would mean the world if some people would help carry on the festival if I decide to not do it again. But, then again, pulling it off every year has been a miracle with all the costs. I pay for the flyers, badges, overheads, and do every bit of promotion virtually by myself. Sure, you can go to this other festival with $150 tickets sponsored by Monster Energy and Whole Foods or whatever, but when it comes to punk rock, I feel like this is more true to the roots. The show goers pay for the whole festival every year. I never make but a couple bucks, which is more than satisfying.
What are you doing differently now in year four?
Over my time here, I've met and learned from some of the greats of Memphis punks and heard stories about how things were at their peak, which inspired me to try to get more of these long-running musicians involved. I was stoked with how quick a response I got from bands like the Subteens, Pezz, Fresh Flesh, and the Drawls. Other than not having so many out-of-town bands on the festival, I'm keeping the same goal: make it affordable. Oh yeah, and BYO nerf guns.
How big is this year's festival?
Thirty bands and eight comedians over three days in six different venues.