Brian Walsby is an artist and musician whose name you could recognize from any number of things. A fixture of California’s 80s punk scene, Mr. Walsby was best known as a frequent contributor to zines like Maximum Rock and Roll and Flipside, as well as covers to singles like 7 Seconds’ Walk Together, Rock Together. Later relocating to North Carolina, he would go on to play in a slew of bands that included members of Superchunk, Corrosion of Conformity, and even Ryan Adams’ Patty Duke Syndrome. More recently, he has produced six volumes of his autobiographical comic Manchild, played in bands like Double Negative, and now The Davidians, and for the last eight years has toured with the Melvins, selling their merch and his artwork.
When I saw the Melvins last year at Trees, I didn’t know Brian Walsby. But, scoping out the merch table I was instantly drawn to the Melvins posters that parodied rock and roll and punk album covers. Without hesitation I purchased his spoof of the Misfits Horror Business, where he included the caption “Another Dumbass Who Will Buy Anything With The Crimson Skull On It.” I hung it on my wall at home and for days just laughed at how totally awesome it was. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really make out the artists name, so I posted it to a Melvins fan group on Facebook and got an answer in an instant.
I sent a friend a link to some of Brian’s work and he replied with, “I love the Black Flag album covers he makes fun of.” “I don’t think he’s making fun of them,” I replied. “No, he’s making fun of them. And it’s great.” I began to find myself thinking about the fine line between homage and parody, as well as the comedic roots of punk rock artwork in general. When I saw the Melvins had booked another tour passing through Dallas, I reached out to Brian for an interview. He kindly agreed and a few months later we got to chat between Melvins and Napalm Death sound checks and I had the chance to learn a little more about his art, music, and history with the Melvins. Enjoy!
the void report: How long have you been touring with the Melvins?
Brian Walsby: Probably eight or nine years, now. I met them in 1986 on their first ever tour, this was the summer of 86, and they went on this massively unsuccessful tour (laughs); and I met them then and we became friends. I started touring with them maybe about the time the two drummer line-up started, eight or nine years, ago…nine years I think.
the void report: Have you always sold your art on tour?
Brian Walsby: That started on the tour before I was officially employed. The first tour I did was the Senile Animal tour. I wasn’t working, I was just hanging out. Another guy was doing the merch, a guy name John Raymond. John Raymond is the brother of Dan Raymond who is really good friends with Buzz, going back to high school…before high school. He didn’t really like it, so I came on board.
But, before all that happened I was just sitting around not doing anything, on that first tour, and just kind of started drawing stuff on the back of posters and one thing lead to another and it occurred to me, “maybe I could draw some stuff and sell them,” or whatever. That’s how it started. So, I would just get feedback from the guys and they would just encourage me to make really horrible posters. I was a little sheepish about, but I got up to speed. Some of them, the early ones were pretty brutal and they weren’t very good. But, the brutality of them, even the worse thing I’ve ever drawn…it’s like the worse it is the better it is for the person who’s buying it. But, the early ones were pretty…like… “burn in hell you junkie” and stuff about their friend Kurt Cobain, but they just said, “He had a really sick sense of humor, he would love this stuff.” So, if they’re not worried about it, you know…
the void report: Do the Melvins have some kind of quality control over what goes out? Or if it makes them laugh it’s good?
Brian Walsby: Yeah, well, I’ve never been censored or anything.
the void report: No, just your comment before about them getting you up to speed…
Brian Walsby: Yeah, getting me up to speed. It wasn’t like I wasn’t drawing stuff that was offensive enough, it wasn’t anything like that. It was just kind of getting used to the idea of cranking out posters. And the early ones, the first couple of tours, they weren’t very good. I’ve kind of got them refined now and I’m really surprised that people still like them and I’m grateful. But, I’m still selling them. It’s cool little art. Little trinkets, souvenirs. And people will send me pictures of some of them in frames in their homes. Some of them are pretty inappropriate and they’ll have a picture of the inappropriate poster with their children (laughs).
the void report: So, when are you doing these posters? In a hotel room? On the bus?
Brian Walsby: I did about 200 of them at home before the tour.
the void report: Okay, so you don’t really do any on the road?
Brian Walsby: No, I end up doing that. The 200 is just a head start. Eventually, I will sell all of those and have to do more.
the void report: So, when you’re doing them on the road…I just have it in my head you do them on the bus, but I realize that’s probably not the best place to draw.
Brian Walsby: I have done them in vehicles. It depends on what you’re riding in. But, if I can’t do them in a vehicle, if there’s not enough room, what I’ll do is just make a bunch in the hotel room. I get up early anyway. So, I’ll draw as many as I can, maybe nine or ten in a day. Some are kind of easy to draw, so I’ll stick with them, like the Peanuts stuff is easy, Beavis and Butthead, that’s not really hard to draw.
the void report: I’ve seen The Simpsons.
Brian Walsby: Yeah, the Simpson is not the most difficult thing to do. I just do a bunch of those and try to keep the momentum going.
the void report: So, you did 200 hundred before the tour. You could potentially make another 200?
Brian Walsby: Yeah, yeah.
the void report: Wow, so you’re selling about 400 of these on a tour?
Brian Walsby: Uh…yeah…about that. I don’t have an exact figure, really.
the void report: That’s impressive!
Brian Walsby: There was a 2-month tour and yeah, I think I sold about 400.
the void report: How do you keep track of what you’ve done in the past?
Brian Walsby: I don’t! (laughs) I just wing it. There’s not a whole lot of thinking involved.
the void report: (laughs) It’s more of a zen thing.
Brian Walsby: It’s just sort of an extra perk of working with the Melvins. The first thing is the merch and t-shirts, multiple trips to the van, especially on off days, moving stuff in and out, and I’m kind of anal about things. And no matter how anal I am, I still can’t get on top of it. It’s an endless thing. We’re going to Austin tonight and will probably sell a lot of stuff here, so when I get to Austin I’ll be pulling things out and maybe I’ll want to do a few posters. It’s a lot of work, it actually is. Everybody works pretty hard on the tour. It’s always been like that. But, it took some time to get used to.
the void report: So, where is the line between homage and parody?
Brian Walsby: Oh God…
the void report: Or is there?
Brian Walsby: That’s a tough one. Well, if I draw something about…I can’t help but notice, this probably goes for other people who do a similar sort of thing that I’m doing. When I’m doing stuff where I personally have an appreciation for it, then I’m going to want to take more time and that would maybe be more of an homage. A parody would be maybe anything else. But, there are things that are kind of half and half. If I’m drawing something about something I don’t really care about, it’s probably going to be more of a parody than a homage. They’re not all winners. And beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. But, if I get too clever I know nobody’s going to buy it. But, at the same time I’m surprised by what gets sold. Like, “Can I sell a Harry Nilsson one?” And I did. That’s about as out there as you can get. I don’t really have a whole lot of time to worry about it. Or think about it. Definitely not cranking out masterpieces of artwork. It’s cool. It’s off-the-cuff and people seem to like it. It’s not labored over and I think that’s kind of cool. But, I couldn’t sit back and say that any of this is some kind of masterful piece of artwork. It’s just fun, in the moment, Mad Magazine kind of stuff.
the void report: I bring it up because when I was at this show last year, I didn’t know who you were.
Brian Walsby: I got beaned in the head by these two sullen teenagers.
the void report: What? At the show last year?
Brian Walsby: Yeah, with a quarter. They were being know-it-all, smart-ass teenagers and I lipped off to them and was a total jerk to get back at them. And they were kind of taken aback and disappeared. Then out of nowhere, I was selling some stuff, and wham this quarter hit me right in the head. But, then I thought, if I was them I probably would have done that (laughs). If I was those guys and then here’s this stupid asshole just giving me shit for being this excitable smart ass kid, I probably would’ve gone out of sight and just hurled a half dollar as hard as I could. So, I was like, I can’t really blame them. Yeah, that was the last time I was here.
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the void report: Well, last year I got your poster that parodied the Misfits Horror Business. But, I didn’t know who you were. So, I posted on this cool Melvins fan group page on Facebook, “Hey guys, check out this rad poster! Anyone know who the artist is?” And instantly they told me and I felt kind of dumb. But, no more than usual. So, I looked up some of your work and sent a link to a friend of mine. He tells me, “I love when he makes fun of the Black Flag covers.”
Brian Walsby: Yeah, well I really like Black Flag and that’s always a good parody.
the void report: Well I said, “I’m not sure he’s making fun of them.”
Brian Walsby: I really like Black Flag and I know Buzz and Dale do, too. It’s just kind of like, their history is such an interesting and strange history, especially now. So, I’m paying tribute to a big influence on everybody. Plus, they’ve got a bunch of funny looking art.
the void report: I’m a big Raymond Pettibon fan.
Brian Walsby: Me too. I don’t think there’s any reason why he would’ve ever heard of me and I’m sure if he did he probably would think I’m a total asshole. But, he was definitely a huge influence on me as a kid. That had a lot to do with his association with Black Flag. So, I’m always up for a good Raymond Pettibon parody and I’ve done hundreds of those.
the void report: Well, I always loved his art on the Black Flag albums. And that’s what caught my attention with your Melvins stuff. Those were the CDs I didn’t want my parents to see (laughs).
Brian Walsby: Oh yeah, the stuff is creepy. And you don’t want to explain to your parents when they ask “What is this?” Especially the cover to Slip It In.
the void report: So, what’s going on with the Davidians?
Brian Walsby: We went out in January and played about a weeks worth of shows with a band from Perth, Australia called Helta Skelta. They’re a really good band, kind of like an Australian version of Wire, or something. We didn’t know who they were, or whatever, but we all got along well. And the Davidians is not a really serious, well, I don’t want to say not serious, but it’s a band that came out of the ashes of Double Negative. It’s cool. It’s still rooted, for lack of a better word, in aggressive punk rock, hardcore kind of music, I guess. But, we found a guitar player who plays kind of weird stuff, kind of a cross between Rowland S. Howard of the Birthday Party and Greg Sage of the Wipers. He knows about Greg Sage, but he doesn’t really know about Rowland S. Howard. So, his playing is a little strange and his songs are a little stranger than the Double Negative songs. We recorded eight songs for a twelve inch coming out on a record label called Sorry State Records, out of North Carolina. But, you know, it’s just like play when you can.
the void report: When is this twelve inch coming out?
Brian Walsby: I have no idea. (laughs)
the void report: (laughs) Do you know what it’s called?
Brian Walsby: Yeah, it’s called City Trends. I have no idea what that means. The younger guys in the band do. I guess it’s some kind of urban hip-hop thing. But, I don’t know. I’m kind of out of touch. I still enjoy playing a lot, but I don’t do it as much. I still listen to music as much as I ever did, but playing it has dropped down a lot and seeing it has dropped down a lot.
the void report: Well, I’m sure when you get off tour you’re not dying to get out to another club.
Brian Walsby: Yeah, it’s a cross between that and there’s not really anybody I want to see. I’d like to see more, but when I get home the last thing I’m going to do is go out to the local bar with a bunch of drunk idiots and listen to shitty local bands. I just don’t want to do that.
the void report: As a drummer, do you and Dale ever talk drums?
Brian Walsby: Oh yeah, well a long time ago. But, he likes a lot of the same people I do, like Clive Burr of Iron Maiden. All the usual suspects, nobody really off the beaten path.
the void report: But, do you and Dale ever talk about stuff? Like you see him do something on a song and ask him about? I dunno, like technical stuff?
Brian Walsby: I think Dale now is better than he’s ever been. He’s got the brute force and everything and people are always like “He hits harder than anybody!” And well, at one time, he certainly probably did; but his strength is that he has this timing that just can’t be duplicated. He can do anything. He’s better now than he was even 10 years ago.
the void report: Hey, I really appreciate you taking the time. Do you have anything else going on that you want to mention?
Brian Walsby: Thanks, I appreciate it. I do other stuff, I have some comic books, Manchild, I only have a few left on this trip. Hopefully, I’ll find a new publisher and get another one out soon. And there will be another tour in the fall and I’ll probably be back for that.