Brian Diaz recently published his first book, 1800 Miles To Nowhere. The book chronicles Brian’s nearly 2 decades of touring. From starting with his band, Edna’s Goldfish, to touring with some of Rock’s biggest acts (no joke, huge), Brian gives us a view into his very unique life. We were able to catch up with Brian, talking about the old days with Edna’s, transitioning to a behind the scenes role, and Axl Rose (yes, that Axl Rose).
Let’s go back to the very beginning, was touring with Edna’s Goldfish your first experience on the road with a band? Who were some of the first bands that took you out?
Edna’s Goldfish was the first band I ever took seriously. It was the first band that I ever played a show outside of Long Island with and most definitely the first I ever toured with. Back in the very early days we would just chart our own territory and play random shows across the country to a random assortment of people. We didn’t really know how to get other bands to tour with us so we kind of did the rogue thing for a while. Eventually other bands took notice and we started getting our first tours from bands like The Toasters and Less Than Jake. They were mostly short tours but we ended up out on the road on lots of smaller short tours with bands like that.
What were your first impressions of touring and being on the road?
Since we had never really left Long Island we didn’t realize how insular our scene was. There was so much going on out there that had nothing to do with what we were doing on Long Island, yet it was familiar and similar. We found that people were excited that new bands were coming to check out and play shows with their local scene bands. That was kind of cool. It definitely opened the door for us to start a venue on Long Island to bring out bands that we had met. Gary Henderson spearheaded that idea with Deja One.
It seemed that Edna’s Goldfish was consistently playing shows. Did you feel that playing shows was out of necessity as a band or was there also romance to it that everyone in the band enjoyed?
There was definitely a necessity to it. There were bills to pay, both personal and band. We had to keep the lights on, keep the van running, keep ourselves paid, and on and on. There was a level of romantic thought about being away from home for so long and kind of being this weird pirate, but honestly a lot of times we needed to do a string of shows just so we could make rent. Not to say that it wasn’t enjoyable. Living day to day can be pretty grueling especially when you are relying on something as fickle as music.
When Edna’s broke up, it seemed that you jumped right back out there with the Reunion Show, what was the transition like into touring with new bandmates?
Transitioning to a new band wasn’t that hard for me. I knew the guys already and had played on the side with all of them at some point. I was pretty involved in the non-ska scene on Long Island so there was always interest there in starting a band that would play in that scene and hopefully do a record and tour. I guess I’m pretty lucky in that I was able to put out multiple records with two different bands over the years and experience a certain level of indie success with it. That rarely happens even once, so I don’t take it for granted.
As a performer playing hundreds of shows in front of thousands of people over the course of multiple bands, what sort of reflections do you have back to that period of your life?
It was definitely more carefree, but I wish I had the insight I have now. I wish I could go back and snap up the opportunities that I had been presented and kind of brushed off in the name of being “punk” or “keeping it real”. I always loved, and will always love being in front of a group of people and performing. It’s always been with me, and I feel like knowing what it was like back then won’t keep me away from it much longer. There’s a lot that I wish we could have done over or done differently but there’s no sense in trying to imagine what it would have been like if we had. That’s the past and it played itself out the best way that it possibly could have.
After hearing you left the Reunion Show, the next time I saw you on stage you were a tech for Brand New on the Dashboard Confessional tour in 2004. What prompted your decision to move behind the scenes?
After being in a band for so long and beating myself into the ground for pocket change for years and years it was definitely time to try to figure life out and it was just circumstance that Brand New was looking for a guitar tech. I had a guitar tech of my own when I was in The Reunion Show sometime toward the end, so I knew what I had to do kind of. It was money and it meant that I could still tour which at the time was very attractive to me. I needed to take my mind off of playing and writing music for a little while. I never meant for it to last 10 years, but yet here we are.
What capacities have you worked on with different tours? Have you ever tour managed or do you mainly tech for various bands?
Mostly I have been a guitar and bass tech. I did tour manage Motion City Soundtrack, which I documented part of in my book. I was also production manager and stage manager for them. I sold merch and “tour managed” (Coolie did all the work in reality) the Pilfers once on a tour with Buju Banton and on their own headlining tour. That was actually my first experience as a crew guy. I hated selling merch.
You have toured with everyone from Fall Out Boy to Anthrax to Motion City Soundtrack to Guns N Roses. How far in advance do you book yourself out and how do you find your next jobs?
I try to keep myself busy constantly but there are always gaps in what I do. Sometimes I need that break now and then to make myself feel normal. It’s definitely hard to be gone for 4 months straight and then walk right into another tour that lasts 4 months with all new people. I try to keep myself with one band for as long as possible, which usually is throughout an album cycle, which typically lasts a year to a year and a half. When it seems like it’s starting to wind down is when I’ll try to look for my next job.
Having worked with so many musicians, have you ever had to fight off being starstruck from meeting someone?
The first time I met Axl Rose was definitely weird. That’s a childhood idol of mine and it was weird being in his presence. He is a living legend and a true rock star. They don’t make ’em like that anymore. I had to play it cool though because Tommy Stinson was introducing him to me and I’m there working for his band so I can’t be all super fan. Over time I just realized that he’s a guy like everyone else. He likes his Stellas and his BBQ ribs and rock ‘n’ roll. He’s just a guy. A really, really incredibly famous guy.
When did you start to write stories about being the road and what prompted you to begin?
I always kept notebooks of things that were going on while I was touring with Edna’s Goldfish. That was pre-internet so this was how I was able to log what was happening and I always thought it would be neat to have it all written down. I was a big fan of Henry Rollins’ “Get In The Van” which was years of journals he kept when he toured with Black Flag. I sort of envisioned myself doing the ska punk version of that. When I moved back to New York from Chicago I had put the notebooks into a box that ended up in my apartment on a shelf. I took them down one day and started reading them to my girlfriend and she told me I should start blogging them. I didn’t want to put the exact entries from those journals in there as there was no real context. Instead I decided to use them as guide points to write out actual short stories that were about those things.
‘1800 Miles To Nowhere’ is a song off of Elements of Transition about being on the road. Was it a no-brainer to use as both the title of your blog and recent book?
It actually didn’t come to me for a while. It was sitting there the whole time and I never really gave it much thought. I was originally going to call it “You Won’t Believe Me” which was after a line in a song off the Josh Freese solo record, as weird as that sounds. The song was basically a 3 minute brag about going to a party at the Playboy Mansion and doing coke off some strippers tits. When I was writing the book and telling people that I was writing about my experiences on the road I think this is what they imagined. Stories of excess and partying. But, as I was writing it I started to realize that it wasn’t really about that and the title “You Won’t Believe Me” didn’t really apply. It was all very believable and very relatable for someone who had been on tour or had traveled.
David Galea, trumpet player for Edna’s Goldfish, got married this past summer and I was in the wedding. As a gift for all the groomsmen he gave us a personalized Louisville Slugger bat with our favorite team and a quote engraved on the barrel. They all had inside jokes on the other guys’ bats, but mine said “1800 Miles To Nowhere” and it brought me through a range of emotions. I saw every second of tour flash before my eyes. I realized that tour wasn’t about the crazy party times, it was about that loneliness and the long hours. We weren’t famous rock stars. We were just regular people trying to make our way together. That night I decided to call the book 1800 Miles To Nowhere. It made sense finally.
How did you go about assembling stories for the book?
It was easy to get the first half of it done because I had amassed a lot of stories and half stories from writing for so long, but when I started to trim down the content and make it into a book form and sort of thinly threaded story it got hard. I really had to sit down and decide what it was I was going to write about and sometimes it took me forever to get it together. I would go a month without writing a thing and realize that I had this sort of loose deadline on this book if I ever wanted to get it out in a reasonable time frame. It’s not like it’s a fucking novel, it’s like 200 pages, but it was tough writing even that much, especially since I wanted a lot of it to be exclusive stuff I had never released before.
What do you hope a reader gets out of your book?
I would hope that they would get a little bit of insight into the boredom and repetition of touring. If you go into it thinking you’re reading the indie rock, ska punk, roadie diary equivalent of Motley Crue’s “The Dirt” you hopefully come out of it realizing that it’s more of a story of me and how I ended up where I am. I want people to know this, and I’m going to steal this from Henry Rollins (sort of). I am a 37 year old male who grew up in the suburbs of New York City. I am of slightly above average intelligence. I have been places in the world that most people dream of and done things that a lot of people give up on before they get the chance. I am not the American dream but I am goddamn close. If I can do it, anyone can do it. I don’t just mean playing music. I mean playing music, working for rock stars, being on stages, meeting your idols, writing a book, acting… doing whatever it is you want to do. And, it’s never too late.
Throughout your tenure in both Edna’s Goldfish and the Reunion Show you have been praised for your songwriting, singing, and live shows. Do you have any plans to make new music again in the future?
I always have plans for something. I recently did a solo show that went okay. I think with a little practice and a little persuasion I could do it again.