Guidance counselors don't typically tell their students to quit school. But that's exactly the advice Melvins drummer Dale Crover received, and it helped kick-start a long and successful music career.

Crover was trying to decide whether to embark on a Melvins tour that would lead to a string of absences, he recalls in the following excerpt from Brian Walsby's Self Empunishment, a new book featuring dozens of conversations with self-reliant and self-employed musicians and artists.

It was the first time that I had ever talked to him. I would see him in the hallway and it turned out that he was a counselor. We played shows on the weekends and sometimes on the weekdays and because of that, I started missing a lot of school. I was much more interested in practicing and playing and I wasn't doing good in most of my classes with the exception, of course, of band.

I knew what I wanted to do. I knew even in grade school that I wanted to be a drummer. I loved Kiss, and I didn't want to be in a band like Kiss, I wanted to be in Kiss. I never even thought about going to college. I am sure that my parents would have wanted that, but I knew what I wanted to do. So we started to do little tours and stuff. I am trying to think of when this tour was. I think it was the tour where we met you [in 1986], and I remember talking to this guy about this tour and saying, "I want to go on this tour but I am going to miss school for it. What should I do?" And he said, "This is what you want to do. Obviously you know what you want to do in life. My advice to you is to drop out, quit school, go on this tour and when you come back – if you want to come back – you just re-register. It will be no big deal." And so I said, "Oh. Okay." It made perfect sense. So that is what I did, and I never looked back.

Walsby, who first made his name writing letters and drawing cartoons for numerous magazines in the hardcore / punk scene of the early '80s, has been a fixture for the past decade at Melvins concerts. He can be found behind the merchandise desk, drawing and selling one-of-a-kind illustrations featuring the band taking over famous album covers, movie posters, photographs and whatever else is on his mind that day.

"Working for the Melvins was a nice thing to have done for that amount of time. They do things pretty differently than most bands," Walsby tells UCR in an exclusive interview. "They are very realistic about things and have no delusions of grandeur at all. And on top of that, they are sort of like a 'cult' band, like Voivod or Napalm Death. That means that at this point, they can go anywhere in the world and a certain amount of people will always show up to see them.

"Working merch for a band of any note means you are like the 'ambassador' to the group – which is nice sometimes and sometimes not," Walsby explains when asked about the touring lifestyle. "It’s just the way it goes. I think people that don’t really know a lot about that lifestyle think it’s glamorous and exciting, but in reality it’s almost never any of those things. It’s basically work – a job. It’s a good job, but it’s a job. There’s a lot of traveling and hanging out waiting for shows to start, and it can be pretty boring at times. The mentality a lot in rock 'n' roll is one of mostly bad habits, like becoming an alcoholic or whatever. After the first full Melvins tour I understood why those things can happen. You have to have a zen-like attitude towards it."

Walsby says that many of the 34 people featured in Self Empunishment wound up leaving the music industry altogether. "One person I interviewed, Monty Colvin, had a pretty brutal story," Walsby said. "He was / is in a band from Texas called Galactic Cowboys and they got signed to Geffen Records six months or so after the band formed – which is pretty crazy, but I guess normal for how things were in the music industry when it was a money-making industry, before the internet really took off and stuff.

"Anyways, the Galactic Cowboys were signed at the same time as Nirvana, and both of their records came out at the same time. You can see what ended up happening," Walsby added. "But aside from Monty, a lot of the musicians I talked to never had such a story. I think the majority of them never had a lot of faith in the music industry in the first place. So, eventually it was all about getting on with things and making things happen for them outside of that sort of thing – which means if you want something done, you might as well control that and do it yourself. That’s what most if not all of the musicians in my book did, if not right away then always eventually."

With nearly all live converts and cultural events canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Walsby is one of countless music industry people whose 2020 plans were scuttled. Still, he remains somewhat optimistic about the future of concert-going.

"I think people will probably appreciate the act of seeing live music a lot more, and I think that you are going to have a really crazy outpouring of music and recordings in the future," Walsby said. "I don’t see how that could not happen. But I also think it’s going to be a really tough period too, watching people re-build that sort of world. It’s going to be interesting, but human beings tend to be pretty adaptable anyways, so we will see."
 

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