Saying Brian Keith Diaz is the Backline Tech for Fall Out Boy is about 1/20th of his story. With a career spanning two decades, Brian has worked with nearly every Stars and Scars beloved band. In our most extensive Tour Life interview yet, Brian breaks down his journey from on stage to backstage and everywhere (several countries!) in between.
S&S: Where are you from?
Brian: Originally, I’m from Long Island, New York, but I’ve lived in Chicago, New York City, and currently live in Los Angeles.
S&S: How and when did you become a Backline Tech? Did you start out in a band?
Brian: I was in two bands that released several records and toured the US and Europe from 1997-2003. When I was in my last band, The Reunion Show, I was doing all my own teching, but we briefly had a tech towards the end of our touring life. We did a bunch of tours with our friends from Long Island, Brand New. When The Reunion Show finally called it quits, I wasn’t totally ready to give up touring yet, but I also didn’t really like the idea of having to start over from the bottom. Right around that time in the summer of 2003, Brand New was really starting to pick up steam, and Brian Lane (drummer) called me asked if I wanted to join them on tour as a guitar tech. I was sort of bummed at first, because I didn’t like the idea of working for people that I considered friends, and I wasn’t entirely sure what my job really would be. I still wanted to be IN a band, but that changed pretty quickly. My first two shows with them were a college show, and then we did Jimmy Kimmel Live a couple of days before we started tour. Yeah, my 2nd show ever as a tech was a live TV show. Crazy. First tour was opening for Dashboard Confessional and MxPx. I ended up learning a lot on that tour. One of MxPx’s techs, Neil, showed me the ropes, and basically gave me the rundown on how, if I wanted to, I could make a career out of this. I credit him a lot with steering me in the right direction.
S&S: What bands have you worked with on the road?
Brian: My longest term band has been Fall Out Boy. I have been with them since the end of 2006. I have missed only a handful of shows in that all of that time because of other obligations. Before that, I had been with Motion City Soundtrack from 2004-2006. I continued to join them on and off whenever Fall Out Boy had a break until about 2009. Then when FOB went on their infamous hiatus around that time, I worked for a number of bands including Primus, Sum 41, Garbage, Anthrax, and Guns N’ Roses. I’ve also toured with Good Charlotte, All Time Low, Bayside, and City & Colour amongst others that I probably did one or two shows with.
S&S: Take us through a typical day for you on tour.
Brian: It’s hard to pin down a “typical” day since everything varies so much. Depending on the size of the tour, I may one of the first crew people to load in, or I may be waiting around for all the lights, video, and audio to get in place before I can start my job. Typically, on a Fall Out Boy tour when production is in full swing, the first thing that happens is they load in lights and build all the video walls and staging – ramps and stairs and catwalks, etc. By then, it’s usually midday, so we’ll hit up some lunch and wait for a call from our stage manager that they’re ready to load in backline. From then on, the day is pretty much the same usually. I open my cases and my workbox, and I pull out the main show instruments. For Pete (Wentz, Fall Out Boy bassist), he usually plays three different basses every show. I check to make sure he didn’t bang them up too bad, check that all the wireless connections and knobs are still working right, make sure the strings still have life in them, and change them if necessary. Sometimes, I need to do some electronics work, or I need to fix a neck on a bass, or I need to repair some cables. That’s usually my next project. Basically, we just fill time doing maintenance until we do a line and soundcheck, where I end up singing and playing an FOB song, as the band usually does not sound check themselves. Between sound check and show time, I’m usually free to do whatever. Sometimes, I have some more tech work to do, other times I will try to walk around nearby and check out some coffee shops or find a restaurant I want to eat dinner at. If we are really in the middle of nowhere, a lot more time gets spent on the bus, or if I can I bring a bike, I ride around. Lately, before show time I have been shooting photos of the opening bands.
S&S: What are the best and most difficult aspects of being on tour?
Brian: The hardest part is leaving home for months at a time and being away from my girlfriend. I really do love being at home (I’m writing this from my living room right now!) even though I love to travel as well. My girlfriend, Julie Grant, is the operations manager for Vans Warped Tour, so she understands my touring life thankfully, but unfortunately isn’t home at the moment, which is the exact opposite of how it usually is. Maintaining a relationship is difficult enough, but adding in the element of being gone for long periods just makes it harder. I think it’s more sad than anything else. Other than that, it’s the usual difficulty of missing important events like friends’ birthdays and weddings and stuff like that. Eventually, people start to think of you as the “guy who can never make it,” and they stop inviting you to things. It stings a little, but it’s part of the job. Also, just having to leave your comforts behind. Like not being to find that coffee you like or being away from Mexican food. Those are just small examples, but when you’re away from something for so long, you really start to miss it, and when you’re home you appreciate it that much more.
With the bad, there’s also the good. At this point, I have made some of my closest friends on tour. I get to see people and places all over the United States and the rest of the world. I try not to take that for granted. I have been given this amazing opportunity to explore so much of the planet. Most people don’t even see a tenth of what I see in year in their entire lives. And to get paid for that? It’s truly a unique experience.
S&S: Which has been more fun – DIY stripped down van tours or big time bus/plane stadium runs?
Brian: I do miss the van tours sometimes. Mostly because it was new and we were still in our 20s and reckless. Everything was new and unpredictable. I made some great friends during that time period and learned valuable lessons. But touring on the big arena and amphitheater tours has a certain level of comfort that’s hard to pry yourself away from once you get used to it. I will NEVER get used to flying all the time, no matter how much we do it. Some of the most physically and mentally taxing tours have been the ones where you fly nearly every day. It sounds great on paper, and then you’re waking up at 5am every day to drive to some airport an hour away and get herded like cattle, and then land and go straight to work. Not fun.
S&S: How much of the rock star excess behavior is still alive on the road today?
Brian: Depends on who you’re talking about. There are some people who still push the limits, but they burn out quick. If you want to live like that you can, but you aren’t around long for touring. Touring is so mentally and physically draining that adding an element that will slow you down is just going to lessen your lifespan. I watch younger bands and their crews party together, and believe me, that shit is super fun. Nothing like doing an awesome show, partying with your bosses, and passing out in your first tour bus. That’s fun as fuck. But, I’m 40 years old now. No one wants to see some guy who can’t control himself getting wasted every night and making a scene. As far as the bands go, how they want to behave is their business. As a crew member, I’m there to work, not to join the party. Well, not EVERY party anyway. Everyone should be smart enough to apply their own limits. There are definitely camps whose unspoken rule is just “show up to work on time and do your job,” but why would you want to do that feeling like crap? I don’t know. It’s just not the 80s anymore.
S&S: How do you like to spend downtime on tour?
Brian: On days off, I usually disappear from the hotel and bring a camera and some headphones with me. I’ll walk for miles and miles and shoot as much as I can. I recently got back into shooting film which is something I haven’t done since the 90s. I’m also a big craft beer nerd, so I’ll hit breweries in whatever towns we are in. I was doing a lot of writing in the past for various websites, but I’ve been spending a lot of my free time now with the photography stuff. If we have been going for a few days in a row without a break, I tend to spend a little extra time in the hotel relaxing and catching up on TV shows and podcasts before I go on my walkabouts. I listen to a lot of multi-hour long comedy shows (The Best Show, Never Not Funny, etc.), so those are great for just putting on and listening to while I go for long walks. It’s so important to me to have that alone time, especially since every other day I’m in a bus with up to 11 other people – I’m around the band, I’m around the rest of the other bands and local crew, etc. I like to eat alone and do things on my own schedule and just clear my head
S&S: 2017 must be pretty exciting for you – It’s your anniversary! I’m sure you could write a book about all of your experiences on the road over the past 20 years (oh wait, you did), but what are some of your favorite tour memories?
Brian: I did write a book! That’s weird.
One of the greatest experiences I’ve had was working for Motion City Soundtrack when they played Chicago on Warped Tour 2005. This was the same year as Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, Offspring, All American Rejects, among others. The lineup was incredibly stacked. This was also the summer that “Sugar We’re Going Down” broke big, and at the same time, Motion City had “Everything Is Alright” all over the radio and MTV. It was a pretty wild time for all of us, adjusting to newfound fame and exploding crowds. The Chicago show was insane because MCS was scheduled to play AFTER Fall Out Boy, in their hometown. MCS went on in the amphitheater at almost 8pm, the last band of a long, hot day. We were expecting everyone to file out after FOB and head home, but little by little, the amphitheater and the lawn started to fill up. Hordes of people from the tour came to watch from the stage, so much so that we had to tape off the ground so people knew not to get in the band’s way. They ended up playing for over 10,000 people that night. I still get goosebumps thinking about that.
Two years ago, my 39th birthday fell on a show day after a day off in Brussels, Belgium. Usually, I come up to play bass on the last song while Pete jumps into the crowd to sing. I grabbed his bass to start playing, and he grabbed the mic and the band stopped playing and brought out a cake and had a crowd of 5,000 people singing happy birthday to me. It was one of my favorite birthdays. Sometimes, it’s hard to spend it so far away from home, but those guys always make sure I have a memorable one.
Another memory I mention a lot actually happened five years ago today in Tel Aviv, Israel. It was my first time there, and I was with Guns N’ Roses. We had two days off, and I spent the whole first day at the beach. I was in the water looking out at a beautiful sunset and a bunch of our crew were in the water. I just turned around to everyone, threw my hands in the air and yelled out, “WE’RE ALL GETTING PAID TO DO THIS RIGHT NOW!!!” and everyone started screaming and cheering and splashing around. It’s stuff like that which I can never duplicate again that stays burned in my mind.
S&S: Have you formed any special relationships with band members or tour mates?
Brian: Over the years of touring with Motion City Soundtrack, I became very close friends with Jesse Johnson (keyboards). I was the best man in his wedding, and I’m very close with him and his family. We even moved out to California at the same time. Not intentionally, but he helped me get all my stuff out there, and when I was on tour and our boxes showed up, he unloaded them all into my new apartment. I’m really good friends with the Bayside guys, but we had been friends long before I worked with them. I went to high school with Nick (bassist), and Anthony Raneri and I text each other pretty much every day. We decided that we are in each other’s top five people we talk to. Obviously, after 11 years of touring with FOB, I’m close with those guys.
As far as crews go, the current Fall Out Boy crew is super tight. We have an ongoing group text that we are constantly on with each other even when we’re home. It’s mostly just dumb pictures and talk about frequent flyer miles. I became really good friends with a few of the Guns N’ Roses crew, and I see them as regularly as I can when we are all home. I even visited one of them and his family down in Brazil. Just yesterday, I popped in to a Garbage rehearsal and said hi to all of them there. Shirley Manson, Butch Vig, and Billy Bush were as warm and welcoming as always. It’s pretty crazy how quickly you become extended family with these people that you spend so much time with.
S&S: Have the friends you’ve made on tour been in the game as long as you have? Is the nomadic crew lifestyle one that many people adopt for the long haul, or do you tend to see guys/gals cycle in and out?
Brian: There is definitely a lot of turnover in crew people. A lot of it has to do with managing expectations, and part of it is hinged on something you asked about earlier. When people come out on tour to just join the party, it may last a little while, but when your work starts to slip or other people get tired of your antics, you’re looking at a long bus ride back home. If you are in this for the long haul, you try to develop as much of a routine and a schedule for yourself as you can. A lot of the people that I do long term tours with now have been at it for 5, 10, 15 or more years. A lot of the production, tour, and stage managers have worked for larger bands and have been around for quite some time. If you find yourself in it for as long as I have been doing this, it’s hard to think of working a “normal” job. The more years that you tack on, the more foreign that idea becomes.
S&S: As a fellow photographer, I love your concert photo work – especially on film. How and when did you get interested in photography?
Brian: Thanks! I’ve been working at it for the last two years, slowly but surely. A long, long time ago when I was very briefly in college, I tried my hand at it, and I’ve always been around photographers, so the interest was always there. A few years ago, I started to post a bunch of pictures on Instagram and on my personal site, and people were like, “Oh that’s great, what are you shooting with?” and I was just like, “…my phone.” So, I finally caved and bought a Canon DSLR. It was the first camera I owned since I had a film camera in the 90s. I spend a lot of time reading photo blogs and books and just appreciating the art of live concert photography and street photography. It’s definitely a more serious habit now. The film thing is fairly new. I got a film camera to play around with, and Robert Ortiz, who is Mark from Blink 182’s bass tech, suggested I learn how to develop it at home because it was way cheaper. He kind of steered me in that direction. He is a lot like me, in that on his days off, he just brings his camera out with him and goes on long walks and takes photos of stuff he finds interesting. We talk a lot online about cameras and photos. Taking live photos is definitely my favorite because there’s so much action and emotion. It also makes those long festival days pretty tolerable and fun. I look at the schedule and I’m all, “Ohhh, I can shoot these guys on this stage and then run over to this other stage before I have to be back to my stage for set change.” A new thing I’ve been working on is taking these super wide shots of venues when they’re empty and posting it with some history about the place. It’s pretty interesting to find out what some of these places used to be or what they were used for. I have a bunch of them up on Instagram under the hashtag #venuehistory.
S&S: What do you do when you’re not on the road? Does time off make you miss touring or invoke a desire to stay home?
Brian: Well, obviously the photo stuff takes up a lot of my time and keeps me occupied. I try to go see shows and shoot as much as possible. I read a lot and try to catch up on writing. When I have a fair amount of time, I sometimes meet up with some friends to write music. When Julie is home from tour, which is three-fifths of the year, I spend as much time as possible with her. Right now, I’m home alone, so the desire to stay home is pretty minimal. It’s fun to go see friends and go hiking, ride my bike around, and play music, but I also realize when I’m home, I’m not making any money. I do some guitar tech work from home now and then, but it’s not something I do all the time. It’s more just for a little side cash and to keep myself busy. I always look forward to Fall Out Boy tours because between the band and the crew, that’s like my extended family.
S&S: What tours do you have coming up (bands/dates)?
Brian: I have a short tour filling in for a guitar tech friend of mine with a Canadian metal band called Oni. Just going over to Europe for a couple of weeks with them, and then right after that, I start to gear up for a full record cycle of touring with Fall Out Boy. It always starts the same way. We do some TV and radio, some smaller warm up promo shows around the album release, and then sometimes we hit a few international spots, and then we do a big tour. This time we are doing a big arena run starting in October with blackbear opening. It’s a big production and should be a really fun one. I’m excited to hear them play the new songs live and see people’s reactions.
S&S: What are some life lessons you’ve learned on the road?
Brian: Always maintain your relationships and take care of things at home. You don’t want to deal with a whirlwind of problems when you come home.
Take time to enjoy the places that you’re in and “do the thing.” I wrote a bit about this in my book, but about 10 years ago, I landed in Japan after a long travel day. I was ready to call it a night and go to sleep, but our monitor guy gave me advice that I still carry to this day. He told me, “You’ve gotta go do the thing. You can’t go to sleep now. Who knows if you’ll be back here again? You want to remember the last time you came to Japan as the time you went to sleep in the hotel?” I ended up walking around and taking in all the lights and sounds for a few hours. I always make sure that wherever I am, I “do the thing” as if it was the last time I’d be there. I think that’s so important. We are all blessed to have this experience of traveling around the world. It’s unfortunate when people don’t take advantage of it.
Another important thing to remember is that touring happens in a bubble. In the 20 years I’ve been doing this, it hasn’t been all roses. You definitely hit points where everyone is burnt out and these really small problems become extremely magnified. When you live in the sort of environment where a lot of your daily things are taken care of for you – food, travel, hotels, spending cash – you start to lose focus of how minimal things can start to affect the group in general. Before you know it, you’re flipping out on a production assistant because they got you the wrong thing from Starbucks. It’s super petty, and you need to pull yourself out of that mindset and step back and look at it for what it is – small stuff. Some road crew just love to complain. They thrive on it, and they can’t wait to make someone’s life a living hell. That’s a really shitty way to go through life, as a touring person or not. Have I complained on tour? Absolutely. I definitely look back on some of it and say, “I probably could have handled that better.” I try to lay low these days. There’s no point in stirring the pot, because all it does is get other people heated up for no reason.
Oh…and one time a former tour manager of mine, Henry Bordeaux, handed me an envelope with my per diems (daily spending cash, usually paid out weekly or monthly). Before he let go of it, he looked me in the eye and said, “Hey. Lose the envelope before you lose the envelope,” which at the time I thought was pretty funny. But the first time someone I know just took their envelope and left it somewhere, losing about $800 in cash, I was like, “Ohhhhhh! Lose the envelope. Got it.” Henry has all these great little things that he would say. “Always carry a spare” was one of my favorites. He used to have this giant oversized carabiner that he would keep in his bag for his pass and keys. We were in an airport in France, and they took it away from him thinking it was some kind of weapon. He was super bummed out, and on the plane he was like, “I’m just mad I have to use my backup” and I was like, “Oh, you have ANOTHER one?” and he said, “Always carry a spare!”
S&S: What advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a Backline Tech?
Brian: If you are young and just starting out and you are in a band, I would suggest learning a lot about your instrument. Learn how the insides and the electronics work. Learn how to take it apart and put it back together. Learn how to make and fix cables. Buy some tools and a solid tuner. You never know when being in a band is going to end, and this can be a fun stopgap between touring and “real life,” or it can end up being a career. Read a few books about guitar and/or drum maintenance and try to fix your own stuff when it breaks.
If you aren’t in a band, maybe offer to help out a local band in your town that’s starting to play a lot of shows. Offer to set up their gear. You may not get paid, or you may make gas money, or money for pizza. Another good foot in the door is to be a stagehand at a local venue. You’ll see a lot of bands with techs coming through. Watch and learn what they do daily. I’m not saying hover over them (please, please, please don’t do this), but just take mental notes and chat a little with people if they’re willing. Like any other job in the world, the more prepared you come into your first day of work, the better off you’re going to be and the better advantage you’re going to have over other people going out for that same job.
And always remember that you’re still learning. Even when you have been doing it for 20 years. There’s always some new thing to figure out or some new way of doing something. Don’t be stubborn. There’s always someone who knows more than you. If you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room.
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Tour Life is a new Stars and Scars featured section where we interview the “behind the scenes” rock stars on tour with bands – managers, security, instrument technicians, drivers, photographers, videographers, light and sound technicians, merchandisers, etc. Know someone who would be a great fit for Tour Life? Email firstname.lastname@example.org