Raleigh cartoonist and drummer Brian Walsby is five days away from finishing his first month on the road with the Melvins, possibly his favorite band of the last two decades. As the California quartet made its way east from a show in Santa Barbara July 16, Walsby managed the merchandise, selling records and discs and shirts to clubs full of people he's lovingly typecast.
"You have the rare cool fan that comes up, really nice, that knows what he wants. Then you've got drunk fucking idiots, and they're neck-and-neck with super-hyper-obsessive Melvins fans," Walsby says, while doing laundry in Northhampton, Mass., enjoying a day off after a run of nine shows in as many days. "They know everything. They have calculated last night when [Melvins drummer] Dale Crover picked his nose out in the parking lot and wrote about it online."
It's not really that different from his last job at Whole Foods on Wade Avenue in Raleigh, Walsby says, laughing. Instead of people asking about artisan bread and vegan options, he's dealing goods to a different demographic, one wondering about limited-edition records and T-shirt sizes.
Walsby, 42, has drummed in a dozen Triangle rock bands since he moved to Raleigh in the summer of 1986. From Wwax and Patty Duke Syndrome to Polvo and, most recently, Double Negative, he's constantly been behind the kit with someone. Since 2004, he's also released three collections of his comics, black-and-white ruminations on a life spent loving rock music and trying to like jazz. After those books sold well, Walsby decided he was done wasting time in the service industry. He quit Whole Foods in March.
"I figured [I needed to] start trying to figure out something to do to better myself and use whatever talents I had, whether it was writing or drawing or whatever," says Walsby. "I didn't want to wake up eight years from now, at 50 years old, and realize I was still working at Whole Foods."
Walsby stumbled into a job with the Melvins in much the same way he met the band 22 years ago—by accident. He moved here from California after becoming pen pals with Raleigh's Corrosion of Conformity. The Melvins crashed with C.O.C.'s Reed Mullen after their first show in the state on a humid July night in 1986. Walsby lived just down the street. By the end of the band's Chapel Hill set, Walsby—a C.O.C. and Black Flag fan who treasured punk rock that wasn't pure—had new heroes.
"They played their original stuff, and they basically cleared the entire room. Me and maybe 10 other people—no, not even 10 other people, five people maybe—sat and watched them," explains Walsby, reciting the names of those who survived the set with him. "The baton had been passed. We were like, 'Whoa, this is it.'"
He kept in touch with the Melvins, visiting the band in California several times and meeting up with them whenever they ventured south. In 2006, he toured with the Melvins for two weeks, selling and signing copies of his first two Manchild books. His third set of illustrations, released last year by Bifocal Media, included a CD of otherwise-lost Melvins demos that he'd kept on tape since 1988. After Walsby mentioned to Melvins founder Buzz Osborne that he'd quit his longtime grocery store gig, Osborne invited him to come work on the road.
When this six-week run ends, it will mark Walsby's longest tour yet: In 1997, he spent a month on the road drumming for Polvo's final tour. Double Negative made a nine-day trek to Canada last year. But this is the first time he's been on the road with a girlfriend and mortgage back home, and the first time he hasn't been playing his own music onstage each night. As much as he likes being on the road with one of his favorite bands and some of his favorite people, he says tours eventually end for a reason: "There are a bunch of other guys out here, too, and being around a bunch of other guys like that and not having any privacy, missing people, sleeping in your bed, your little routine ... It's rough at times. I'm having a good time, but I'll be glad to be back."
Just don't look for him at Whole Foods come September.
Brian Walsby's band, Double Negative, will open for the Melvins and Big Business Saturday, Aug. 16, at Cat's Cradle. "I'm looking forward to that, but I think we're also kind of nervous, or at least I am," says Walsby. "I want to pander to them." Double Negative also plays with Polvo at the Cradle Sunday, Aug. 17, in a benefit for Cy Rawls.