Stuck on Reno

The Riffbrokers

The Riffbrokers make barely enough money on tour to cover the costs of repairing their van.<br>

The Riffbrokers make barely enough money on tour to cover the costs of repairing their van.

The Riffbrokers will keep on visiting Reno. They promise they’ll return before October.

Bands don’t come back to Reno. If you go to local shows often, you know it’s hard to get good bands to come to town, especially more than once. Blame it on the scene, blame it on the casinos, the mountains, the weather, whatever. It takes a rare breed of band to come back to the town where they lost any money they might have made. Some of the best bands to come out of Reno never looked back.

The twangy power-pop threesome known as The Riffbrokers has come back multiple times. They dig this place.

The Riffbrokers are Nick Millward, 31, on guitar and vocals, Heather Burnett, 29, on bass and backing vocals and Dustin Miller, 33, on drums and backing vocals. This Seattle-based band regularly makes the summer pilgrimage to our little mountain town of neon. They’ve been together since the autumn of 1999, after leaving the remnants of other bands behind. While playing in one such band, Millward met Mark Earnest, a man who has had his hand in many local bands, like Gro and The Vitriolics. He and Earnest struck up a friendship, and after The Riffbrokers were up and running, Earnest helped them book a show here. Sight unseen, they came to town and played their strings off.

“They were amazing at that show,” Earnest says. “Such a great combo of that pop, melodic thing and crunchier stuff like The Replacements. Just a lot of heart.”

Since that first show, they’ve come back for more—more strippers, outdoor booze and indoor smoking. In the song “Parking Fine,” Millward observes, “In this world of powerful distractions/we lose our place and our traction.” The Riffbrokers pay no attention to the slippage. No matter how many people are in the room, they claim the stage like it’s their own pirate ship and dare anyone to take it.

Their self-produced CD, Your Superhero In That Bar, is a great combination of Brit-pop and Midwestern rock. From the first jaded crush chords of “Hatcheted Heart” to the halfway apologetic chorus of “Remind Me To” to the last drop of the drinking song “Attractive Nuisance” about the girl you know you shouldn’t want, Your Superhero is a fantastic debut CD. Millward’s voice eerily sounds like Elvis Costello’s, if he were slightly less angry and sounded like a country band gone punk.

They are a real working band. They make the music, record the music and get out there and sell the music. They started their own label, Unsmashable Records, to help promote themselves and bands they like. Touring, while it might not make a lot of money, is one of The Riffbrokers’ favorite parts of being a band, although repairs to their van eat up a lot of the profits.

“They don’t have huge egos that demand inflation constantly,” Earnest says. “They get off their butts and tour hard … They think about the songs more than the image.”

After a few trips, Reno has begun to grow on them. The Riffbrokers know what a cool scene we’ve got in Reno. Even though they take pleasure in Reno’s ladies, likker and luck, it’s the scene they come back for.

“This is a real rock town, by the way," Millward says, "not jaded like Seattle." Well, Nick, we are jaded … but it’s in a good way.