In the eyes of OK Go frontman Damian Kulash, roadies belong to a special fraternity: "They are modern pirates, mercenaries," he says, discussing his crew before his band played a headlining show at New York's Bowery Ballroom. Over the course of the day – from early afternoon load-in to late night load-out – Rolling Stone followed these pirates as they tested equipment, blasted confetti and literally set the stage for a bright, energetic night of music. Here is their behind-the-scenes experience.
"The people we have now are fucking spectacular," Kulash says, "but we once had a guy who liked to shave his eyebrows off so we wouldn't know what he was thinking. We've had people who wore chainmail. We had a tour manager and a front of house manager who got arrested on the median strip of I-35 in Austin, Texas, at 7:35 a.m. for wrestling naked. And these are the people who were meant to be babysitting us."
"As a roadie, you're the first ones up and the last ones to go to bed," says tour manager Christian Coffey. "You work all day, maybe have an hour break before the show." Roadies are not only responsible for technical duties such as mixing and lighting, but they also unload the trucks and assemble/disassemble the equipment. Because OK Go travel with their own lights and soundboards (and, of course, instruments), this is a particularly serious undertaking.
"This is a very bright, very energetic, upbeat show," says lighting technician Alex Picard. "It's dynamic in that it will get moody, too, which always creates awesome lighting."
"There's a lot of problem-solving throughout the day," says front-of-house manager Justin Andrew, caught here bringing a handful of cords to the front of the stage. "Earlier today, I ended spending an hour and a half rebuilding a microphone with a camera attached that we have. That needed to get done, so that was an hour I didn't have on something else. You just get it done."
"It's a pretty thankless job. Oftentimes musicians are assholes," says Kulash. "It doesn't pay all that well. It's not a lavish existence. You're living on a bus with 10 to 12 people, and a bus is an amazing vehicle but it's a really shitty apartment for 12 people."
"I'm a backline tech, which is a fancy way of saying 'guitar tuner,'" says Darrell Brazil. "My first tour was Tenacious D. I was a set carpenter and responsible for their giant inflatable penis. God's work, there."
Stage manager Jim Schamberg says that a life on the road can take a toll on a personal level: "Being away from my fiancée and my kiddie is a little tough." Here he checks levels with bassist Tim Nordwind.
"This crew is pretty much geeky cool guys," says drummer Dan Konopka. "Past groups have been more debaucherous – drinking, drugging, partying – but these guys aren't trying to kill themselves. I've always gotten along with our techs. I hang out with those guys in a social context probably more than my own bandmates because they're more fun."
As tour manager, Coffey is responsible for scheduling the tour and supervising every other roadie's responsibilities – and, not least, making sure the bus leaves town with everyone onboard. He likens the job to "herding cats."
OK Go's confetti-strewn finale (started here by Jonathan Burlew) is a thrill for the audience, but an obstacle for lighting tech Alex Picard. "The hardest part of my job is, at the end of the night, after all the confetti is covering everything, making sure that all my stuff goes in the right place and gets where it needs to go," he says. "It's really important to stay organized in this job and I need to keep a steady mindset. I get anal about it."
"Roadies are a very tight group and a small group, nationwide," says tour manager Christian Coffey, who has held other road jobs on past tours. "You get jobs on referrals, in a continual circle of recommendations. For the most part, there's no turn in your résumé and have an interview."
"Everyone else's party is your job," says Kulash. "You could also say that about bands, but when we're done, we're done. [Roadies] still have three hours of bullshit left to do." Tonight, the post-show work begins after Nordwind fields audience questions.
"Roadies are a total luxury. I don't even like to call them roadies – they're professionals," says drummer Dan Konpka. "I'm just so grateful because for so long, we had to set up our own gear and tear it down at night. They do it for us every day, and they do it well. Every day, I come in and things are set up perfectly."
When asked how he unwinds on the bus, stage manager Schamberg doen't miss a beat. "Does beer count?" The crew also watches plenty of Seinfeld and noodles around with electronics. Adds Picard, "We're a bunch of buddies having a good time. We play with weird looper instruments. The other night, our guitar tech pulled the entertainment center out and started patching things into it. Geeky things like that."
"The one upside this job has that no other job has: Other than the other roadies in the crew, you never have to deal with the same people twice in the row," says Kulash. "It's the opposite of a desk job – and your boss is crazy, so that may be fun."