I'm not sure when it was I first met Danny Nicoletto. His brother-in-law is a dear friend of mine, and I think I first encountered Danny through the music of his old band. He grew up in the town where I went to college, Valparaiso, Indiana, and eventually moved to Nashville where his sister and brother-in-law lived, and was pursuing music.
Along the way Danny learned the ropes of a good road crew person by roadie-ing, serving as a guitar tech, and also road managing artists and tours. It's a life that has morphed from the stereotype of a guy in black sweats, mullet and a fanny pack sprinting on and off stage to a profession where there are well paid and in-demand lifers who are the backbone of making live music an amazing experience.
And while Danny still clocks his time on the road with bands like Jimmy Eat World and Band Of Horses, his other passion is a craft pasta company that he and his brother started over a year ago. Nicoletto's Pasta is building a sterling reputation in "it town" Nashville, with chefs and music celebs jumping on board.
It was fun to take some time and learn from Danny about the ways that his two vocations mix and match. From experiencing great pasta as he's traveled with bands, to the discipline of being on the road and how that transfers to the discipline of crafting something consistently great, to being able to improvise when the best laid plans go sideways, Danny's got a unique set of experiences and skills that ave given him insight to his latest venture. Enjoy the chat!
Q: You spent several years on the road with artists like Jimmy Eat World, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, and Band of Horses. What’s the day-to-day experience for someone on a crew for those artists? What are the biggest misconceptions people have about what life on the road is like?
A: The morning begins waking up in a parking lot or in front of a venue on a busy street. After stumbling out of your bunk to the front lounge of the bus, I'd pull my phone out and yelp search the best coffee. From there I would walk sometimes miles to get my caffeine fix, one of my favorite parts of the day. After a few rounds I'd then make my way back to get ready for load in and setting up gear on a dark stage until soundcheck. If everything is working, strings changed, and band is happy, we usually have a couple hours for dinner before the show. The great part about touring is being able to visit some of the best restaurants, breweries and coffee shops around the world. Once the show is over and we are all packed and loaded up, we either roll to the next city or airport, or we have a few hours to chill with friends at a nearby bar. The touring lifestyle isn't for everyone. It's filled with so much momentum that some days you don't know where you are or where you were the day before. You share a living space with 11 other dudes and your bedroom isn't much bigger than your school locker. You go to bed at night either happy you had a successful show or stressed on how you are going to fix a broken piece of gear in only a few hours the following day. Yes, this job is unlike many: you aren't in an office, you have to adapt daily, you struggle with long distance relationships and you get really good at playing Tetris in a trailer.
Q: A recent Wall Street Journal article (http://on.wsj.com/1aW5Eg9) talked about how tech work on the road can be lucrative, and you seemed to be getting to a level of working with larger, more established acts. What are the pros and cons of a life on the road?
A: I suppose it's like most industries, the longer you are involved and working on your craft, the more you will be recognized and connected. Since most crew positions are not annually salaried, you become a private contractor and receive a per-show or weekly rate. When a band decides to take a year off to write a new record, you can be displaced without any work. It's always a struggle when that happens because the higher wages you make while on tour need to stretch throughout those times. Over the last few years I have had some consistent work in the in-between times because of good management and tour personnel helping pair you with their other artists.
Q: You and your brother recently started your own home made pasta company - how did that come about? How did you find the time to do that while touring the globe?
A: I'd like to think it's because of my love for spaghetti and meatballs! I mean it's one of the most comforting meals and if you have the best pasta and meatballs you won't want to stop eating. After my dad passed away in 2013, my brother Ryan and I wanted to open an Italian cafe. We constantly talked about our love for Italian food, Vespas, and fresh pasta. Plus our last name seemed fitting for a place. The ideas, budgets, and our time involved to bootstrap a restaurant didn't work at that time so we decided to start with manufacturing a product. We started acquiring equipment for fresh pasta manufacturing over the next 2 years and found a space in East Nashville that we converted to our pasta factory. By taking this route with our company, we were able to balance pasta and our other jobs at the same time.
Q: What were the biggest challenges about starting your own company? Where did you see the greatest opportunity?
A: Ryan and I have always had an entrepreneurial bug in us. When we were both teenagers we promoted concerts in our hometown of Valparaiso, Indiana. Ryan successfully started a petition and street team to get the city to develop a skate park while promoting local punk rock shows to raise money for it. We both wanted to open our own place focused around artisan pasta and a modern Italian experience. Peroni, Vespas, meatballs... You name it! Now that we are in full pasta production, the build out is complete, the permits were issued, and we are in several specialty stores and restaurants in Nashville, we are challenged with growing our business in an efficient way as well as having time to meet with local chefs to determine their specific needs for their own restaurants. There's a lot of opportunity for us in both the fresh and dried pasta industry. We focus our pasta on specialty milled and heritage grains, we'd love to share our unique pasta to chefs and consumers on a local and national level.
Q: What’s the most enjoyable part of your work as a startup? What’s the least?
A: That feeling of acquiring equipment to manufacture is one of my favorite. It's like Christmas every time we get new Italian made machinery that helps us produce a quality product. I remember the first machine we purchased, we rented a van and drove to Cleveland in the middle of a snowy winter to purchase a cutter / laminator machine that we had no idea if it even worked because it was 3 phase European power. We took a risk and bought it for $4,000 and drove it back to Nashville. There's a learning experience in any start up, you learn how to sell, to build, to market and all along you hope you are doing the right thing. You try to keep costs down and do as much yourself until you feel like falling over from exhaustion. It is a completely different feeling than touring. It's a risk and you have to be ok with that. Things might fail, and there are no guarantees. We sink our energy day after day into something that we hope makes people happy with what we create, and that alone is an incredible feeling that makes it all worth while.
Q: What’s coming up in the next year?
A: We have been in business for only 11 months and we are about to enter the busy pasta season as it gets colder around the holidays. Looking to our future, we will aim to grow our production line to offer more fresh varieties including stuffed gnocchi and ravioli. We want to be a part of our Nashville community and hopefully one day have a retail shop. There's a lot we would like to do with our pasta, we hope people love and support what we have to offer and we will continue making the best noodles we can. As far as touring goes, I'm splitting my time with the current schedules of Band of Horses, Jimmy Eat World, and Kevin Costner & Modern West. Plenty to keep me busy!