As a musician, Raleigh’s Brian Walsby has spent decades tracing hardcore punk into indie rock and, most recently with Double Negative, back again. In that same span, he’s traced his observations on the history of Raleigh’s underground music scene through the comics he publishes.
But now in his 50s, Walsby’s not so interested in keeping up with rock. To wit, in his new “Middle Aged Rebel” series of comics, he offers a glimpse of the other side, like getting out of the house to have dinner with a friend rather than simply going to shows.
On a weekday afternoon, while his daughter, Willow, plays in the next room, Walsby explains that he is willfully distant from the latest happenings of any sort of “scene.” He’s OK with that.
“Music is just less special because there’s so much of it. There’s other things people are interested in doing, like staring into their cell phones or playing video games or whatever,” he says. “You’re kind of asking a lot for somebody to even show up and watch you.”
But he’s not quite done. In fact, Walsby’s latest venture, the kind-of-hardcore quartet Davidians, has just released the great eight-song LP, City Trends. It builds from hardcore’s well-worn template to embrace extra dynamics and texture—in a word, nuance—that seems antithetical to hardcore’s impulsive spasms.
The band counts three former members of Double Negative among its ranks: Walsby, bassist Justin Gray, and singer Cameron Craig. Guitarist Colin Swanson-White moved south from Minneapolis, where he was in several moody, goth-inflected bands, to jumpstart Davidians.
“We were really lucky to find Colin,” Walsby says. “He plays in a way that’s pretty unique for the world he came out of—the punk-rock, house-party thing.”
Rather than stick to punk’s stripped down aesthetic, Swanson-White summons outsider influences with his hollow-body guitar. His tonal range pushes Davidians well past punk purism. On “We Make What The World Takes,” for example, Swanson-White lets his riffs chime with a bright power-pop tone. And because the songwriting process starts with Gray’s bass riffs, Swanson-White’s guitar is freer to fill negative space with swells of ringing reverb.
“The playing field of Davidians is pretty wide open,” Walsby agrees.
Recorded in Raleigh with producer Greg Elkins, City Trends follows two previous, self-produced EPs with a fuller, more rhythm-heavy sound. “There was not a lot of second-guessing or agonizing or even planning,” Walsby says. “We just let [Elkins] do whatever he thought was best, and we kind of agreed with everything. We’re all pretty happy with it.”
For Davidians, that may be enough: Comparing Davidians to his experience in Double Negative, which toured overseas and rose into a prominent position within the hardcore revival, Walsby wonders if timing helped the prior band find success more quickly.
“We saw that audience and some of those house parties, and it was easy to decide, ‘Hey, we could be a part of this,’” he says. “The tide was in. There was no shortage of people that wanted to help us.”
Davidians, he says, may be more niche—“A lot of those kids maybe moved on and got into other things.”
That’s something Walsby can understand, too. No longer the voracious hardcore fan of his younger days, Walsby is content with the opportunities this band gives him.
“At this point in time, to be able to play, even at the smallest level, is a really cool thing,” he says. “I still like playing drums, and because I don’t get to do it as often as I used to, it makes it more special.”
After all, with audiences pulled to more and more instant sources of entertainment, and the expenses and logistics of doing “what most people in their 20s do, which is hop in the van for six months and throw their lives away” proving decreasingly enticing, Davidians aren’t inclined to force their way into acclaim. While the band hopes to play some out-of-town gigs, and maybe a short tour next year, the likelihood of full-time van-dwelling is low.
“I don’t think any of us are really interested in spending lots of money, playing to two people 3,000 miles from home,” Walsby says. “Those days are over.”