Stick it to me
The 20-year-old Sticker Guy is throwing a giant birthday party
When traveling, there are certain questions that are often heard whenever one mentions that one is from Reno: “That’s near Las Vegas, right?” and “What do people from Reno think of that show Reno 911?” are a couple of the most common, and most irritating, offenders. In certain circles, whenever visiting underground rock ’n’ roll clubs, for example, one is just as likely to encounter this question: “Do you know Sticker Guy?”
If you’ve ever been asked this question and had to respond to the negative, here are the basics: Sticker Guy is a business that creates stickers—adhesive-backed vinyl shapes that one might attach to the bumper of a car, the bottom of skateboard deck, or the outside of a guitar case. These stickers might promote a business, a joke, a political cause, or a musical group.
Sticker Guy has been in the business of making stickers for 20 years—since March 1993. To celebrate its anniversary, Sticker Guy is throwing a giant party. More than 20 bands—including a few legendary groups that many locals probably never thought they’d get a chance to see at all, let alone here in the Truckee Meadows—from half a dozen countries will rock stages at four different venues in the valley over the course of three days. There will also be DJs, international party animals, strange reunions, new encounters, and, it seems safe to predict, plenty of drinking, dancing, hooting and hollering. The party is billed as Debauch-a-Reno 2, and it’s actually a sequel to two separate events from five years ago: Sticker Guy’s 15-year anniversary party and the first Debauch-a-Reno, a showcase of bands on Slovenly Recordings, Sticker Guy’s sister business.
Sticker Guy is also a guy. And that guy’s name is Pete Menchetti.
If you’ve lived in Reno long, you might have met him. He’s the guy who owns the bright red, seven-person bike that sometimes rolls the streets of Reno, especially at night when the weather’s warm. He picks up friends and strangers alike on the bike and sometimes has rock bands play on it with miniature amps—he calls it the Rocktocycle. He’s got an easygoing charm, and usually has the bemused, observational air of a guy who’s always taking in the scene—and likes what he sees. He knows a lot about obscure, underground rock ’n’ roll—he owns a record label, the aforementioned Slovenly—and often DJs parties and events, playing upbeat, international rock of the type that has a good beat and can easily be danced to. He dresses like a rocker—usually sporting a leather jacket—but isn’t stupid about it. He plays the drums. He’s closing in on 40 but looks half that. He’s of Italian descent and looks it. He speaks a bunch of different languages and spends part of the year living in Amsterdam and a big chunk of the rest of it traveling around the world, tour managing bands, meeting with record distributors, and DJ-ing festivals.
But back in 1993, he was a teenager who worked at a car wash.
“I was already hanging out, thanks to a fake ID, and seeing bands, ’cause that’s what I was into even then,” says Menchetti. He was making fliers and helping his friends’ bands book shows. At one show, he saw a band called Willard, and they had stickers. “I didn’t much like the band, but the stickers were awesome.”
Menchetti was inspired. He wanted to add making stickers alongside booking shows and making fliers to the list of things he did to help promote his friends’ bands. And he wanted to make high-quality, weatherproof, vinyl stickers, not the lousy paper ones that dissolve in the rain. He tried making them himself in his bathtub, but wasn’t happy with the results. He tried a few different local print shops, but again wasn’t happy with the results. Finally, he called Nevada Loose Leaf, a company that made three-ring binders.
“I got a call one day from Pete,” says Jay Jones, who was then a co-owner of Nevada Loose Leaf. “I didn’t know him. He just called up and asked if I could print on vinyl. Three-ring binders are made from vinyl, so I said, yeah, sure. Two days later, he came in. … He was 19. He had dreadlocks down below his shoulders, black horn-rimmed glasses, and he was wearing a brown trench coat. I thought someone had sent a hitman to kill me.”
But it was actually a beginning-of-a-beautiful-friendship-type moment, a perfect business connection. Jones had the technical know-how that Menchetti was looking for, and Menchetti had the vision: Independent rock bands would buy stickers, especially if they were high-quality stickers that were also really inexpensive. And he knew the scene, and had the enthusiasm to drum up support.
A few years later, in ’97, Nevada Loose Leaf closed up shop, and Jones started Pressworks, a printing company that works almost exclusively with Sticker Guy. The two businesses are now next door to each other in industrial Sparks.
“My agreement with Pete from the beginning was, I don’t sell stickers, and he doesn’t find someone else to do his printing,” says Jones. “Primarily, I’m a contract printer for Sticker Guy.”
“Without him, Sticker Guy would still be in the bathtub,” says Menchetti about Jones.
At first, when Menchetti began advertising for the company, it didn’t attract much business. For the first five or six months, Menchetti wasn’t sure if the business would make it. But then the orders started rolling in. This was back in the pre-internet days when life moved at the pace of snail mail, so in hindsight it’s probably not that much of a surprise that it took a few months to catch on. Nowadays, of course, the vast majority of Sticker Guy’s business is done online.
By ’94, Menchetti had quit his job at the car wash, moved out of his parents’ house and, with a few friends, into a house on Ryland Street. That house had a basement, and they started hosting underground rock shows there. And for a few years in the mid-to-late ’90s, the Ryland House, as it was known, was a central hub of punk rock in Reno.
Over the years, the business has grown steadily. Sticker Guy currently has six employees. Pressworks has two—Jones’ son and daughter work alongside him.
“It’s become a very reliable source of income,” says Menchetti.
Jones describes Menchetti as “a world traveler.” On one of his recent world sojourns, tour managing and DJ-ing, Menchetti went from Amsterdam to Russia, China, Korea, Japan, Malaysia and Ethiopia.
“And everywhere I went, every country, I met someone who knew about Sticker Guy,” he says. “The one that really blew me away was Ethiopia.”
In Ethiopia, it was a Norwegian guy who worked for a record label that was going to reissue some old Ethiopian records.
Because of his globetrotting schedule, Menchetti isn’t always at the office. So, much of the day-to-day operations of Sticker Guy are handled by Menchetti’s staff, many of whom have been with the company for years, including longtime manager David Bruce, who has worked there for 10 years.
Bruce describes the staff as all heavily involved in music. He’s a DJ himself, primarily spinning old rock ’n’ roll, soul and R&B, and is also known for the propaganda-like stickers adorned with his face that seem to show up in the least likely places around town, especially in the bathrooms of every bar in town. It’s a high contrast image of an expressionless guy with glasses and a beard, usually over a red background, looking a little like a nerdy, Latino Chairman Mao.
Bruce makes his personal stickers using whatever extra space is left over on a sheet of vinyl after laying out a sticker design.
“Instead of throwing the waste away, I thought, what would be the stupidest sticker on the planet?” he says. “And I like very old-school propaganda imagery, so I made a design of my face, and now it’s all over the place. A couple of years ago somebody sent me a picture. They were on tour in Rome, and right after they got off the plane, they were all jet-lagged, and they went to a record store … and right on the front door is my fucking stupid face.”
Because of the stickers with his face, many people think that Bruce is the Sticker Guy.
“Sometimes people confuse me for Sticker Guy,” he says. “That’s not fair because I’m not the fucking Sticker Guy. But because I have a sticker that’s a guy’s face, and I work with Sticker Guy, I can see how people make that connection.”
Bruce says most of their customers have very specific ideas about what they want.
“But sometimes people want their hand held, and they want to be told, ‘Hey this looks good’ and ‘This looks bad,’” he says. “Sometimes we get asked too subjective of a question, like, ‘What makes a good sticker?’ I don’t know. What makes a good pizza? Everyone has their own taste. … The big two things that we just immediately refund money and tell them no, take your business elsewhere, is racist and homophobic stuff. Sometimes these fucking people—racists, that is—they call back, and they’re like, ‘Fucking faggot! Why are you canceling my order?’ And I try to tell them, ‘Dude, why don’t you start your own racist sticker company? Corner the market!’”
Sticker Guy does primarily smaller runs of stickers—unlike other companies, they have no minimum quantity order. That, along with the high-quality and inexpensive rates, and the fact that everyone on staff is involved in music and known around the local scene, is why, locally at least, stickers are almost always the first pieces of merchandise every new band gets.
A year after launching Sticker Guy, with some of that company’s first profits, Menchetti decided to start a record label, 702 Records. (This was back in the days when there was one area code for the whole state.) The label mostly put out records by the top local bands of the day—like Fall Silent, Crushstory and the Atomiks—as well as records by regional acts that used to play Reno regularly, like the great New Mexico garage pop band Scared of Chaka (members of which went on to play with the Shins).
In 2002, Menchetti relaunched the label as Slovenly Recordings. Whereas 702 was a label primarily defined by geography—many of the bands didn’t have much in common musically, they were all just either from here or visited often enough to have impact on the local scene—Slovenly is a label with a more particular aesthetic.
“It’s loud, distorted rock ’n’ roll—some people call it garage rock,” says Bazooka Joe Almeida, who’s now the Slovenly label manager. “Rock ’n’ roll really encompasses so much for us. It can include surf, go-go, soul, rhythm & blues, noise, punk, garage—all kinds of things.”
The label is also distinctly international—with bands hailing from Canada, Puerto Rico, Greece, the Netherlands, France, Colombia, as well as all over the U.S., and many of these bands will be coming to town for the sprawling music fest celebrating Sticker Guy’s anniversary, Debauch-A-Reno 2. The event runs March 22-24, at multiple venues throughout the valley including The Alley, Holland Project and 40 Mile Saloon. There will be over 25 bands, as well as more than half a dozen DJs. The bands will include a big chunk of the Slovenly roster, a slate of some of the best local acts, and a couple of headliners sure to make underground rock ’n’ roll aficionados drop their jaws: the Gories and the Sonics.
The Gories was a Detroit band in the late ’80s and early ’90s that played bluesy garage rock, primal and dirty, and drawn almost in a straight line from the originator, Bo Diddley, with just a bit more Cramps-style psycho raunch in the mix. The group was hugely influential on the Detroit rock scene that spawned the White Stripes a decade later, as well as influencing legions among the newer garage revivalists like the Black Lips.
The Sonics is a legendary group, sort of proto-proto-punks. Starting in the early ’60s, the group played faster, louder and more intensely than anyone had before and few have since. Their sound was derived from Little Richard, but dirtier, harder hitting, and more distorted. The group was at least 15 years ahead of its time and over before the end of the ’60s, but not before providing the blueprints for decades of rock ’n’ roll.
Reunion shows by both groups are rare occasions to be celebrated, and extra rare on the west coast, and unbelievable for Reno. How unbelievable? When Jello Biafra, the former lead singer of the Dead Kennedys, and an underground music legend in his own right, heard that the Sonics were playing, he contacted Menchetti if he could come up from the Bay Area and play a DJ set. Menchetti agreed, of course. (See Musicbeat, page 25.)
“In an alternate universe of rock ’n’ roll, this is an event of seismic, earth-shattering proportions,” says Danny Kroha of the Gories. “In an alternate rock ’n’ roll universe, because there is a total alternate rock ’n’ roll universe, where bands like The Sonics and the Stooges and the New York Dolls, Them, and Shadows of the Knight are heroes the world over to a certain segment of the population that’s in this underground. And amongst this underground group of people all over the world—we’re talking Japan, South America, all over Europe, Australia—bands like these, like the Sonics, are revered just like people in the mainstream revere the Rolling Stones or the Beatles.”
Also, it’s important to note, that, at Debauch-A-Reno 2, all the bands will have plenty of stickers.