Although guitarist/vocalist Rob Fetters, bassist/vocalist Bob Nyswonger and drummer/vocalist Chris Arduser stopped playing regularly in their psychodots configuration two decades ago, save for their annual Thanksgiving-time soirees in Dayton, Ohio and Cincinnati, they’ve been together in numerous bands over the past 45 years, the raisins and The Bears (with guitar giant Adrian Belew) most prominently.
During a recent interview, Arduser points out an early ’70s flyer attached to a counter in Fetters’ Sayler Park studio advertising two Sylvania, Ohio high school bands.
“The band Bob and I were in was called Legs. We weren’t very serious, we loved Frank Zappa and the Mothers,” Arduser says. “Bob was Legs’ lead singer. He had weird makeup, a seersucker jacket and his instrument was the strobe light. Bob and Rob were in a more serious band called The Red Hot Tots.”
This apparently comes as a four-and-a-half-decade-old surprise to Fetters, who shoots a look at Nyswonger.
“So you were you double dipping that thing?” he says with mock indignation.
“I double dipped that gig!” Nyswonger says, with the pride of a guy who went on to perfect the quadruple dip.
If a full-blown psychodots reunion ever came to fruition, the three musicians would have to shoehorn it into seriously overbooked day planners. Arduser is playing regularly with Blessid Union of Souls, Brian Lovely’s recently rejuvenated Flying Underground and The Bluebirds Trio. His solo work continues, and his longstanding band, The Graveblankets, could return, as Arduser often performs with ’blankets guitarist George Cunningham.
“It’s always been a free-floating idea,” Arduser says. “George and I have been enjoying the duo gigs. What little money there is gets split two ways.”
Nyswonger balances his real estate business with his musical pursuits, including his primary band project, Tickled Pink, which is working on a new album. He squeezes in studio and live work with Mike Tittel’s New Sincerity Works, occasional forays with The Bluebirds, the odd reunion of the band Bucket and any available session work.
“I just try to be involved with the Cincinnati music community,” Nyswonger says. “I played a gig with (Cincinnati Power Pop singer/songwriter) Roger (Klug) over the summer, which was very challenging, interesting and fun, and I did the gig with Peter Obermark’s band (Copper) for his CD release. I just got done doing a session with a guy named Kaleb Hensley, who’s doing a Roots kind of record, and that’s a cultural area I haven’t really delved into for a while.”
Fetters makes music full time from his Hobbit-sized studio, juggling commercial clients (“I’m a commercial music whore…”), production duties (most recently for Dawg Yawp and a new artist named Hutski, whose debut he's just finished) and his own solo work, including his long-awaited third album, 2014’s Cincinnati Entertainment Awards-nominated Saint Ain’t.
“Dawg Yawp is doing just great, and that’s been really cool for me because it’s the first time where I’ve been consistently in a mentor position. I’m Uncle Satan to those guys. Or Auntie Satan, I prefer,” Fetters says. “And I write songs and record them. I probably have an album and a half’s worth of material, but I’m really not sure how I’m going to do the next record. I could almost go in too many directions, and I want to have a direction. I’ll finish it before I die. Or before I go to the gulag.”
The poster for this year’s psychodots appearances declares them the 666th-annual Thanksgiving shows, which, in light of recent electoral events, seems somewhat prescient. They’re quick to contextualize that headline.
“Well, they all have been (the 666th),” says Nyswonger with a wry smile.
“We’ve been into the satanic thing for a long time,” Fetters says. “It’s amused us, and every once in awhile it becomes real. Eh, it’s all going to work out. I don’t want to leave the country.”
Even though the sign-of-the-beast show count is vastly inflated, there have been many psychodots Thanksgiving gigs. The tradition dates back to the band’s birth, when guitarist/vocalist Adrian Belew’s schedule swelled with solo work. The three remaining Bears wanted to remain active, so psychodots was created in the late ’80s.
Probably the best news to emerge from this year’s run-up to Thanksgiving is Fetters’ pronouncement that psychodots may actually hit the studio in the future for a new album. That promise is exciting, but it’s almost incidental to the fact that these guys will never not play together.
They tell endless tales about each other from every epoch they’ve lived through, including when Arduser inhaled a toothpick at the start of a Bears gig and nearly choked to death (because of his dark perspective, the other two refer to him as “Deathy”). A book should accompany that new album.
All of this supports the notion that the glue-bound psychodots transcend mere camaraderie or chemistry.
“We grew up together, we were exposed to the same things, we went to the same shows,” Fetters says. “It was just electrifying to us. And we got quickly influenced by English Pop and American bands influenced by English Pop. It’s in our blood, and it’s something our other projects don’t come close to.
“We’ve played with a zillion different musicians and always have. Another thing that makes it fun is that it is an open marriage and there’s no jealousy. I’ll just say it — I don’t know a better drummer than Chris or a better bass player than Bob.”
“We make our own particular batch of noise,” Arduser says.
“We have a commonality in the way we communicate musically and we appreciate the same stuff,” says Nyswonger. “The fact is I respect the hell out these guys, and that will keep me coming back.”
“You could be nicer about it,” Fetters interjects, which sparks laughter, more banter and more evidence of the airtight bond between three of the greatest musicians to call Cincinnati home.
It’s November and psychodots have emerged to again prove that they’re the best annual band on the planet. That’s something for which to be thankful.
PSYCHODOTS play Woodward Theater Friday. Tickets/more info: woodwardtheater.com.