In this modern age, people feel the need to document almost everything. For instance, you stand in a crowd to watch a popular band and your view is obstructed by a sea of cell phones held in the air. It seems the world is slowly forgetting how to capture special moment, let alone tell the story of what happened without tangible proof. Fortunately, there’s no need to worry about the art form of storytelling going the way of the buffalo. Through my days of touring I ran into a pretty intense individual by the name of Brian Diaz, and he’s stepped up to the plate with a new book, 1800 Miles To Nowhere. From his early days in a touring band to the last few years guitar teching for the likes of Guns N' Roses and Fall Out Boy, someone had to let us know what went on behind the scenes…
Noisey: From what I remember, you were in the ska world with Edna's Goldfish. What other notable bands have you been in, and can you describe how being in a band was then versus now? Does it seem easier with technology or harder with the over-saturated market and internet?
Brian Diaz: I started out in the ridiculous business of touring in 1997 when I was in Edna’s Goldfish. We were very small-time, and we were very DIY, but we managed to put out a couple of records, we toured the US numerous times and went to Europe a few times as well. I was also in a band called the Reunion Show from 2000 until the summer of 2003 when I quit and started teching for bands. That band did things on a slightly bigger scale. And by that, I mean we eventually had a bigger trailer on our van than in my previous bands. We didn’t have GPS and iPhones and laptops. We called people from landlines and I’m pretty sure we had one cell phone between the six of us. No real crew to speak of. For a few tours with Edna’s Goldfish, my old roommate Brian came out as our “roadie” which basically meant he drove the van and woke us up and helped us lug stuff around. I mainly bummed smokes off him while he watched the merch that no one was buying anyway.
There was a lot more uncertainty back then when you were doing that type of touring. We were making handshake deals and booking shows by cold-calling promoters and bands we didn’t even know. Even though it was well-worn territory for a lot bands, doing the laps back and forth across the country, things changed quickly a lot of the time. I feel like it would have been easier to have some able to access us while we were in the middle of a long drive to tell us something was canceled and not to bother to drive there or whatever. There were definitely more surprises back then. We were so young though and didn’t really know better or anticipate that some of us would be doing this nearly 20 years later. I turned 22 on tour in 1998. That’s probably the median age of a lot of these bands now. When you’re 22, you think you know it all. You know nothing. Bands now think you can just throw a few songs online and when you reach a certain number of “likes,” you can go on tour and hundreds of people will show up. The internet leveled the playing field to the point where anyone can compete with the big guys, but you have to realize that to get to their level doesn’t happen overnight. Internet popularity is fleeting and bands are basing their metrics off of that, which is extremely dangerous. They will burn out faster because of it. I’d see these bands on Warped Tour when I toured with Motion City Soundtrack that were in their own buses on out there blowing all their cash. I would think to myself, if that were the Reunion Show or Edna’s Goldfish, we would have driven ourselves in van no matter how miserable it was. I don’t know if it’s because we didn’t know any better or because we couldn’t afford it, or maybe because we were “too punk” for that in our minds. Young bands see what all the big bands are doing and they want to emulate that. They want to have all access laminates, tour buses, big road cases, fancy gear, and road crew. You can’t do that at first. They don’t even need all that. You need to build up to that or you’re going to blow all your money and burn out before you give yourself a fair chance. Focus on songs and if you’re good all the extras will come later.
Guns N' Roses closing in Beirut
What led you to becoming a guitar tech? Was that always your role when touring with bands of any size, or did you have other jobs? Who have you teched for and how is it different than being in a band?
When I quit the Reunion Show in 2003, over some bullshit fight and personality conflict I was having, I didn’t think about what I was going to do next because I didn’t, in my mind, know how to do anything else. I had basically wasted the time I had, not really having a fall back plan. Basically what happened was, while I was wallowing in depression, I got a call from Brian Lane [drummer of Brand New], and he asked me if I would be interested in coming out on a tour with them and Dashboard Confessional as a guitar tech. They had just started touring in a bus and were about to do the biggest tour they had done up to that point and didn’t have a real crew except a drum tech. I didn’t really know what my exact responsibilities were but I was willing to learn, mainly because it meant that I could go back on tour. I had, for a short period before that, in between tours, sold merch and tour managed a band I was friends with, but I wasn’t super into that idea. I wasn’t fully done with being in a band and being on stage yet. I still had it in me to go out and play.
When I finally started working with Brand New and making some money, my perspective changed. I was always into gear and guitars so this was a chance to work in that realm, but now I was getting paid. Around that time, I decided to move to Chicago and basically start my life over. That was 2003 and I moved back to New York City in 2010. I had been there long enough. In that time, I ended up working for Motion City Soundtrack and then Fall Out Boy who I still work for to this day. I’ve also worked for Primus, Sum 41, Anthrax, and most recently Guns N’ Roses, which was the biggest trip of my life. Surreal for the most part. With a lot of these bands, my responsibilities have varied, but mainly I have always been a guitar tech.
Guns N' Roses selfie in Australia
What was the inspiration for writing your book and what was the final straw in getting it done? I've heard for years, people talk about writing their memoirs or crazy tour stories, but it just stays word of mouth forever.
I was always a big fan of Henry Rollins and especially of his Black Flag-era work. Get In The Van was like the touring bible at the time. I wanted so badly to have that same experience Black Flag had. I wanted the grit and the struggle. For a couple of years when I was in Edna’s Goldfish, I kept tour journals. I would write whatever happened that day into these Marble notebooks. There were some classic stuff in there, there was sad stuff, and there were times when I was pissed off, lonely, sick… whatever. It was all in there. It wasn’t close to as gnarly as what Rollins experienced, but it was my experience. At the time, I just wrote it all down and forgot about it. I didn’t ever look at those two years of journals in sequence and see my growth as a person and as musician, or how things did in fact change and get better for us over time. I just put them in a box and saved them for a long time without ever reading them again.
Do you feel like your stories stand out and the way you wrote them differ than the norm?
People always talk about doing the "tour stories" book and they always said to me, “You have so many great stories." I didn’t really believe that, but I would once in a while post these short things on Myspace in the early 2000s and people thought it was hilarious. I quit touring for a half a year in 2006 to get my head together and I remember saying something like, “Now that I have all this free time, I’m doing a book!” but I didn’t even take myself seriously then. Fast forward to 2012. I had moved into a new apartment in Brooklyn and in the process, found the Marble composition notebooks that I had kept tour journals in. I showed them to my girlfriend Meghann Wright, who herself is a touring musician, and she was like, “Why don’t you rewrite some of this and make a book out of it?” I thought the idea was ridiculous because I had absolutely no experience in proper writing. Anything I had ever done had been on personal blogs or Myspace or in these notebooks. I guess she really got the idea in her head that I was going to do this whether I wanted to or not, and kept on pressing me. Finally, we were in Chicago and I was driving by this area of the city where Hot Doug’s is. A few friends of mine including Chris Gutierrez of Dead Stop Publishing used to go there every Thursday. I mentioned that he self published a bunch of books and released a couple of others for other people. She started asking when I was going to start working on this thing, and we got into the argument again where she was telling me that I was wasting all these good stories and I was telling her that I couldn’t do it. Finally I had enough. She was right. I was limiting myself. It was something I had never tried, and what’s the worst that could happen anyway? I gave in and contacted Chris and sent him some of the stories I had. Turns out he really liked it and wanted to put them into book form.
That was the beginning of a year of stops and starts in trying to do this thing. I would write stuff and then delete it all. I would quit. I would have bursts where I remembered all this crazy shit and wrote down way too much. I was drinking a lot during that year and I was doing a bunch of coke, especially during the Guns N' Roses residence in Las Vegas. I spent over a month in Vegas, which I briefly document in the book. That was sort of the final straw in non-productivity for me. That was in October and November of 2012. Starting that January, I started to clean up my act and started to turn things around and I was able to finish writing. It’s not even that big of a book, but as an inexperienced writer, it was an undertaking for sure. Meghann’s prodding got me going on this so she’s the first person I dedicated it to when I did the layout.
Personally, I don’t think my stories are anything that people haven’t heard before. Everyone tells me how excited they are to read all the crazy, wild shit that goes on backstage or whatever, but what they don’t know is they are going to read a story that is very personal to me. It’s more about me as a person than a blow by blow account of what happened on tour from the years 1997 to now. Is it factual? Yes. Is it as exciting and sensational as a book by Slash or Keith Richards? Probably not. But, this is that same type of story told by someone from this specific scene and I don’t know that there are too many like that out there. Maybe that’s why people from the scene I came up in are stoked to read it. We didn’t have private jets and strippers and stadium shows. This is what I lived through and this is what made me who I am today.
WIth Pete Wentz
Can you share a bit of one of your stories?
Jakarta, Indonesia with Guns N’ Roses in 2012 was crazy. We were doing a show at this outdoor pavilion type place. The grounds were dirt and the stage didn’t have a whole lot of coverage. We came in early in the day and it was pouring rain directly onto the stage and onto all our cases which had been unloaded there. Torrential tropical, island country in the Pacific style. A bunch of the crew was standing on the stage trying to figure out what the hell we’re going to do because at this point, there is a good two inches of rain accumulated. There were things floating by us on the stage and we were standing there watching the grounds become a giant pool of mud. Lighting truss that had been left on there were now covered and mostly stuck in the mud pool. Some of us ran back through the rain to the catering room which is infested with flies and mosquitos, and some people ran off to the makeshift crew room tent where rats were running out of their flooded holes in the ground so they didn’t drown. At some point, our stage manager noticed that the stage is slowly sinking, so on top of the very real possibility that someone could be electrocuted, the stage is completely unsafe for a show. Since there was no way to fix this, the only option was to pack up what we had already unloaded, put it back in the truck, and try to find another venue to host the show. Turns out that Sting was in town at an indoor venue that night. So after loading out our gear in the rain and heading back to the hotel for a quick nap, we all got ourselves back in some vans at midnight over to another venue where Sting’s crew had left all their lights, sound and staging for us to use. At 1 AM, we loaded in our gear, dried it all off, did our soundcheck, and before we flew out of Jakarta to Japan, Guns N’ Roses took the stage at 11 AM, which apparently was the earliest show they had ever played in their history.
Well, actually it was at 11:15. You didn’t think Axl was going on right on time, did you?
As most people in the touring world know, there's a lot of bizarre stuff that goes on with constant travel and packed schedules. Do you want to stay on the road for as long as you can or do you have an age set in your mind to finally settle down?
Like I said before, normal people don’t do this forever. I’d like to think that I’m normal and doing this as my sort of go between until I figure out what it is I really want to do, but who am I kidding?
Jonathan Diener is the drummer for the Swellers and tours in a Suzuki Sidekick. Follow him on Twitter - @jonodiener