By Dave Pehling
RENO, Nev. (CBS SF) — In this era of tough economic times for independent businesses, any company that manages to survive for a quarter century deserves to be celebrated. Reno resident Pete Menchetti has been obsessed with music since he was a small child and found a great way to connect with both local bands and touring punk rock acts when he founded his company Sticker Guy in the early ’90s. Established to the point where “Do you know Sticker Guy?” has become a standard questions when discussing anything related to the music scene in Reno, Menchetti has become something of a local legend over the course of 25 years in the sticker business.
While not a musician himself, he has also had a hand in a number of other music-related ventures. Not long after getting Sticker Guy off the ground working extensively with groups and record labels, Menchetti would also start his own 702 Records. The imprint would put out a several dozen records by punk bands including Scared of Chaka, the Atomiks and East Bay groups like the Loudmouths and Three Miles Down over the course of eight years before dissolving so Menchetti could launch a new label with more of a garage-rock focus.
Since launching in 2002, Slovenly Recordings has become one of the great champions of filthy, blown-out, back-to-basics rock and roll, issuing albums from an ever-growing stable of notable garage-punk acts from the U.S. (The Spits, Black Lips, Personal and the Pizzas, Nightmare Boyzzz, Dirty Fences and Choke Chains) and abroad (Italy’s the Rippers, New Zealand neanderthals the Cavemen, France’s Les Lullies, Japan’s Gūtara Kyo and Spain’s Wau Y Los Arrghs!!!) from it’s main Reno headquarters and satellite offices in Berlin, Tokyo and Dallastown, Pennsylvania.
In addition to running Slovenly and Sticker Guy, Menchetti stays busy with his regular concert promotions, including the upcoming Debauch-a-Reno #3 that will mark the 25th anniversary of his sticker business. Drawing on many of the above-mentioned best bands on the Slovenly roster as well iconic garage-rock acts from the Bay Area and beyond, the sold-out three-day festival at Jub Jub’s Thirst Parlor will include such infamous crews as Bay Area trash-rock greats the Mummies, Memphis reprobates Oblivions and Reigning Sound (which both feature main songwriter and guitarist Greg Cartwright), SF favorites Okmoniks and Italian thugs Destroy All Gondolas to name just a few.
Besides the two marathon nights of music planned, Debauch-a-Reno is also going to host a record fair as well as a special bonus road trip by chartered bus to nearby Virginia City for a surprise party on Sunday afternoon before revelers can return for one last blowout show Sunday night. CBS SF recently met with Menchetti while he was visiting San Francisco to talk about his entry into the sticker and music business, the mechanics of running an international garage-rock label, his plans for Debauch-a-Reno #3 and some of the bands that will be stopping in San Francisco at the Elbo Room and the Hemlock Tavern before and after the festival..
CBS SF: So when I was doing research for our interview, I read that Slovenly Recordings was founded in 2002, but the big Debauch-A-Reno Fest is celebrating the 25th anniversary of your sticker business. How old were you when you became “Sticker Guy?”
Pete “Sticker Guy” Menchetti: I started when I was 19.
CBS SF: So was that your entry point into working with music and punk rock?
Pete “Sticker Guy” Menchetti: I’ve been into music since I was really young. I have a photo of me with my first record that my mom gave me when I was like five years old. But yeah, I was always into music. I never really played, but all my friends were in bands. I was basically going to every show that I could in Reno back then. I was kind of a metalhead when I was a teenager and then I got into punk. But I like all kinds of rock and roll and went to ska shows too.
I was doing graphic design for a local club in Reno called the Ice House. Most places where shows happened were 21 and over, but I had a fake ID. One band that came through had really good stickers, and I just became determined to start making stickers for all my friends’ bands. And that’s how Sticker Guy started basically. I hooked up with a local screen printer in Reno and we’ve been working together for 25 years now.
CBS SF: I figured doing stickers you probably had some kind of graphic design background. Did you study in school or just learn on your own?
Pete “Sticker Guy” Menchetti: I did a little bit. But I dropped out of college because of the sticker printing company. I got to busy. And also because I was like, “Eh. To hell with this! I’ll come back when I’m 35 or 40 like everybody else in my class.” I was studying computer science, actually. That was my major. But I did do one graphic design class, so I studied a little bit. But looking back at the flyers that I made for that club, man they were terrible!
CBS SF: So you were doing flyers, posters, maybe calendars? That kind of thing for the club?
Pete “Sticker Guy” Menchetti: Yeah. I did all that. And it was awful. [laughs] It was terrible clip art and fonts. It was all computer based. It was awful.
CBS SF: After starting out with your friends’ bands, did you expand by hitting up other bands that came through town? Or were you working with labels?
Pete “Sticker Guy” Menchetti: Yeah, in the beginning I was mainly reaching out to bands. The first of stickers that I did was all local bands, including Seven Seconds. And then I started sending out ads to Maximum Rocknroll and Flipside and all those old rock fanzines. And then another thing that helped spread the word about Sticker Guy was as soon as I moved out of my mom’s house, I moved into a house with a basement and we started doing shows.
So we had bands coming from all over the place and I always gave them stickers and offered them cheap printing and it just grew from there. I became known as Sticker Guy Pete. That was sort of my identity or nickname or whatever. That’s why I’ve got a Sticker Guy tattoo. I’m not really trying to advertise the company on my arm. [laughs]
CBS SF: It’s funny in this age when physical media has kind of gone by the wayside that making stickers is still a sustainable business…
Pete “Sticker Guy” Menchetti: I’ve been making my living from it for 25 years now. It’s funded the record label, because a record is something that’s not sustainable. [laughs] Maybe if you’re putting out commercial music…
CBS SF: Stuff with a more narrow niche appeal has to be harder.
Pete “Sticker Guy” Menchetti: Yeah. I mean, it’s hard to sell a thousand copies of a record these days. And that’s when you barely start to break even, is once you’ve sold a thousand. So imagine putting out 15 records a year.
CBS SF: And Slovenly puts out a lot of records it seems. One thing I was wondering looking at the label is how it works on the international level that it does? I know there are multiple offices all over the place. Are you working with multiple partners?
Pete “Sticker Guy” Menchetti: Besides Reno — we’re at the Sticker Guy warehouse; that’s our main warehouse. We’re also distributing Crypt Records out of there, which is really exciting — we also have a Pennsylvania office with Bazooka Joe and Christine. They run the mail order and Joe is in charge of production and promotion and distribution. He coordinates all that from there. Christine does accounting — which she also does for Sticker Guy — and runs the mail order and kind of does a little bit of everything.
And then we have an office in Germany in Berlin. It’s in the Wowsville Record Store and is run by a woman from the Basque country named Oihane Follones, an old friend of ours. She has a long history of working with record shops. When she was living in London, she worked for Sounds That Swing and No Hit Records, which is like a subsidiary. And we also have a small office in Tokyo. Another old friend — named Rin Ishioka, who I met in 1997 — basically coordinates everything in Japan for us. Which unfortunately is a sort of dying market. It’s nothing like it used to be…
CBS SF: You mean as far kids being interested?
Pete “Sticker Guy” Menchetti: Yeah. It’s really sad. I don’t know what the hell is happening.
CBS SF: It seems like there are still great Japanese bands, but I guess they are almost like legacy bands that were around in the ’80s and ’90s that still tour or have reunited…
Pete “Sticker Guy” Menchetti: Yeah, I’ve been over there seven or eight times. The first few times I went was in the late ’90s or early 2000s. The last few times I’ve gone in the last five years has been like night and day. There’s still stuff happening, but it’s not like it was before. Ask anybody who has been running a label for 20 years, and they’ll tell you they used to ship a hundred copies or more of a record to Japan. Now it’s maybe ten.
CBS SF: I was trying to remember what my first encounter with Slovenly was. I think it might have been the Rippers. I got their record Why Should I Care About You? and loved it. Did they ever play here?
Pete “Sticker Guy” Menchetti: Yeah, but it’s been a long time. They came in 2007 I think? I was trying to do showcases at South By Southwest and had them play there. And they played San Francisco. I think they played the Hemlock.
CBS SF: I guess going back even further, I wrote a review of an album by Th’ Losin’ Streaks when I was still freelancing for the SF Weekly…
Pete “Sticker Guy” Menchetti: They only have the one album. They were supposed to do a second album on Little Steven’s label — I think it was called Wicked Cool Records or something — but it never came out. They weren’t happy with the recording. But I heard they were just back in the studio, so that’s cool.
CBS SF: As much as I enjoyed Iggy and the Buzzcocks at Burger Boogaloo last year, I sort of thought Th’ Losin’ Streaks stole the show. I hadn’t seen them in…I don’t know how long, but I’d guess at least ten or twelve years. Back when Sounds of Violence came out in 2004, I would see them as often as I could. I have friends from Sacramento who knew Mike from other bands. Once I saw them I was sold. They were definitely a personal high point for me at the Boogaloo.
Pete “Sticker Guy” Menchetti: That’s cool. I’m looking forward to seeing them in Reno. I have to decide where to put them in the line-up.
CBS SF: I guess that brings us to the upcoming third edition of Debauch-A-Reno. You’ve done it twice before. So has it been like every five years since you started?
Pete “Sticker Guy” Menchetti: Yeah, so I forgot to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Sticker Guy. I guess I was like twelve years in and thought, “Aw s–t! I completely spaced celebrating ten years of Sticker Guy!” So I planned on doing it for the 15th. That was the first one in 2008. For that we got Scared of Chaka back together. They hadn’t played in a long time, so that brought people from all over the country to Reno. That was cool. The Spits also played that.
But that wasn’t Debauch-A-Reno. I had such a good time doing that event that I decided to start Debauch-A-Reno. I did another party six months later with Okmoniks and the Subsonics and Head and all these other bands. And then for the 20th, we had the Sonics and the Gories and a huge list of bands.
CBS SF: So were they always full weekend affairs, or did they grow over time?
Pete “Sticker Guy” Menchetti: The last one was a three-day deal. We had music Friday and Saturday nights, and then Sunday we did a show at an all-ages place that had a bar across the street and we ping ponged the stages. This year we’ve got two night shows and a day on Saturday. And then Sunday, we’ve got the bus trip up to Virginia City during the day and at night we’re going to have a show at the same bar that we did last time.
So yeah, it’s going to be an action-packed weekend and kind of a marathon. I’m wondering how everybody is going to hold up, including myself [laughs]. The first night starts at 8 and our DJs will be scheduled until 7 a.m.
CBS SF: And the live bands will be going later than 2 a.m. I figure?
Pete “Sticker Guy” Menchetti: The live bands on the main stage will be until 2, but we’re going to have a 4 a.m. surprise act on Friday and Saturday. I guess I shouldn’t say surprise. It will be announced who it is before then, but it’s going to someone everyone is going to want to see. We’re trying to get all you poor people who live in states where the bars have to close at 2 a.m. ready…
CBS SF: Yeah, this is what happens when you just can keep drinking. I know there’s a guy from San Francisco in the state legislature who has introduced a bill to extend the serving hours for bars, but it hasn’t taken yet.
Pete “Sticker Guy” Menchetti: I just don’t understand why can’t we as adults decide when it’s time to go home. I also don’t understand what the f— they were thinking when they decided that all bars should close at the same time when a lot of people are driving. Make them hurry up and finish their drinks and then get out into their cars at the same time. I just makes no sense.
CBS SF: The second edition of Debauch-a-Reno had bands from six different countries and this time around is another international showcase with bands from New Zealand, Japan, France and Italy. I figure some of those bands are parlaying their trip to play Reno with a full blown U.S. tour or at least some other dates?
Pete “Sticker Guy” Menchetti: Yeah, Gütara Kyo from Japan are playing a show at the Hemlock on April 17th with Destroy All Gondolas from Italy. The band from France — Les Lullies — is starting in New York City and then they go up to Canada and come across Canada before coming down from Seattle. I think Reno is the last gig if not one of their last gigs.
And the Cavemen from New Zealand are going to Brazil and then Mexico before coming up the West Coast. So if they survive [laughs], they will be in Reno. They are supposed to play on April 12 here in San Francisco at the Elbo Room with Control Freaks and Les Lullies. That is a show not to miss.