The Road Warrior

Reno, Drum Tech and Stage Manager

By Matthew Halverson May 11, 2010 Published in the June 2010 issue of Seattle Met

HIS MOM AND DAD know him as Christopher McLendon, but the guys in Death Cab for Cutie, AFI, and Jimmy Eat World just call him Reno. And for the last 11 years, the 30-year-old punk rock roadie has been traveling the world by plane, bus, and cramped little van with those indie bands and a handful of others. (Capitol Hill is home for the odd week here and there when he gets to crash between tours.) He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t smoke—heck, he’s vegan—but his amp still goes to 11.

I GREW UP IN RENO, NEVADA— the kind of place you hope to move away from. The first tour I went out on, there were four Chrises. So I became Chris Reno, and then just Reno. But it could have been worse. I have a friend whose nickname is Pork Chop.

I DON’T KNOW WHY, but I have this idea that it’s kind of a slur, kind of a put-down to be called a roadie. When I hear “roadie,” I think of a 45-year-old guy with a ponytail and a fanny pack, wearing black sweatpants and talking about Metallica. But, essentially, I am a roadie. I’m on the road with bands.

WHEN A GUITAR CUTS OUT, it’s like, Is it the guitar? Is it the cable? Is it the foot pedal? Is it the amp? Is it the speaker? But with drums, it’s much simpler. If something falls over, you can see that it fell over and pick it up.

THE END OF THE STAGE IS WHERE IT STOPS FOR ME. So beyond the stage, if there’s 60,000 people or 600 people, I don’t feel any more or less nervous, or any more or less pressure.

ALL THAT WILD BACKSTAGE DEBAUCHERY was something that happened in the ’80s. People would be surprised how mellow it is now. If you went backstage with any of the bands that I work with, you might see six guys on their Apple laptops, sitting there with their headphones on.

HONESTLY, THE SECRET TO GETTING BACKSTAGE is to look like you know where you’re going. If you just walk in with confidence and act like you’re supposed to be there, no one’s going to question you, because you could be a friend of the band. Who wants to be the guy who says, “Can I see your pass?”


IT DEFINITELY HELPS to like the bands you tour with. If it were somebody whose music I didn’t really like, it would be hard to listen to them every day and say, “Hey, good show.”

I’M MUCH MORE SELECTIVE ABOUT THE CONCERTS I GO TO WHEN I’M HOME, because the last thing I want to do when I have time off from working rock shows is go to a rock show.

I MISS BEING ABLE TO HAVE A DOG. I miss being able to have, like, a plant. I miss being able to just go home and listen to records—like on my turntable, actual records. I’m away nine months of the year, so all of my relationships at home suffer for that.

I DIDN’T LIVE ANYWHERE for, like, two years a few years ago. It seemed like a smart idea, since I was on the road so much, to just stay in a hotel. And it worked for a while, but it gets really hard to not have a home to go to. Even though I’m only here for a week out of every couple months, it’s nice just to come home to my house and have a closet and have my records there.

I REALLY DON’T DO SOUVENIRS which is kind of regrettable. And I rarely take photographs anymore. It’s a “been there, done that” and “I’ll be here again in six months” kind of thing.

I WOULD LOVE TO DO A VAN TOUR AGAIN. You have eight people crammed into a van, you’re stopping at gas stations, you’re seeing roadside attractions. Everyone should experience the camaraderie that comes from being in a van full of empty soda bottles and coffee cups, with everyone listening to the same music.

IF YOU ASKED ME WHEN I WAS 17 what I wanted to do when I grew up, I would have said, “Go to rock shows and hang out with my friends.” And somehow I managed to do it.

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WHEN YOU’RE ON THE ROAD, YOU’RE NOT JUST AN EMPLOYEE OF THE BAND. You’re traveling together. You’re with these people 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You spend more time with them than you do with anyone else. So a big part of it is just fitting in with people and getting along with people and having healthy relationships with people.

I KNOW PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN FIRED BECAUSE THEY COULDN’T FIT IN. When you’re on a 14-hour bus ride and no one wants to be around you, you’re not going to have a job when the bus ride is over.

I THINK I ACTUALLY HAVE REMARKABLY GOOD HEARING, considering I’ve been to a rock show just about every day for the last 10 years. Like, I’m still able to hear the high notes, which a lot of people that I’m around can’t.

THERE ARE DEFINITELY LOTS OF NIGHTMARE STORIES of guys in bands freaking out and throwing the guitar or their drum sticks or kicking the drum because they’re unhappy with the sound or what’s happening on stage. I’ve never had to deal with someone yelling at me because something was broken or didn’t sound right. But I’ve seen it happen to other people. And when it does happen, it’s hard to watch because you know that sometimes in those situations, there’s nothing you can do. Sometimes something just breaks in the middle of a show, and if you can’t figure it out in five seconds, then the show stops.

YOU HAVE TO BE HAPPY AWAY FROM HOME. If you’re missing home, you’re not going to be a good roadie because if your head is someone else, you’re going to be miserable the entire time. You have to be happy traveling and be happy in a different city every day. To have that adventuring, exploring spirit is really important.

SOMETHING THAT I WILL NEVER DO, EVER, IS GO TO A FESTIVAL. I don’t understand how anybody could possibly enjoy being at a festival. For me, a two-band bill is perfect. Because if there’s 20 bands, you’re not going to be able to see all of them anyway. For me, I wouldn’t want to show up at a field somewhere or in a stadium at 10 in the morning and stay outside and stand there until midnight, watching 20 bands play. It sounds like a nightmare.

THE ENTIRE COUNTRY OF ITALY IS PROBABLY MY LEAST FAVORITE PLACE TO GO TO. For some reason, I just really don’t like it. I don’t want to say anything super negative, but I don’t like the people, I don’t like the venues, I don’t like the work ethic, I don’t like the food. There’s really nothing about Italy that I like.

PEOPLE LOOK AT RIDERS, ESPECIALLY FOOD RIDERS, and go, “Oh, that’s crazy to ask for 20 bottles of Pelligrino water.” When you ask for a specific brand of something, people think that that’s demanding. But in reality, it’s just because it makes it easy for the people filling the rider to know what to get. Like if you go to the grocery store yourself, you know exactly what you want, exactly what you’re looking for, but if you had to make a list for someone else and just said, “Get me water, get me some cheese, get me some sandwich meat, and get me a box of cookies,” who knows what you’re going to get?

I’VE HAD A RELATIONSHIP FOR THE PAST FEW YEARS THAT’S ON AGAIN, OFF AGAIN. That’s kind of a touchy subject. She lives in New York. I live here. She’s in medical school, and I’m on the road. It just doesn’t work.

I LOVE VINYL. I love buying records, and I have a huge vinyl collection at home. I love to just sit there and listen to records and flip them over and spend the time doing that. But on the road, it’s not really possible.

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