Once upon a time, legendary music industry mogul and record producer Clive Davis visited Cincinnati. The rumor making its way through the grapevine was that his intentions were to offer The Raisins a lucrative contract. Although he departed the city without signing The Raisins, music lore has it that his departing words were, “They’re an embarrassment of riches.”
While The Raisins didn’t land a deal, the missed opportunity did little to dismantle or deter the band. In fact, they did find a fan in Adrian Belew (and teamed with him for The Bears) renamed themselves Psychodots and have spent the better part of several decades delivering exquisite rock nuggets that are undeniable ear candy to fans of solid and studied songcraft.
Ghettoblaster recently chatted with Rob Fetters about the band’s legacy, success and the band’s love affair with Dayton, Ohio.
Is it true that the band changed its name from the Raisins to avoid confusion with the California Raisins, which was a commercial phenomenon in the late ‘80s?
Nope, I don’t know where that rumor came from. We just wanted to start fresh and a girl in the audience yelled, “You guys are Psychodots!” She wasn’t tripping – just had the inspiration – and we felt like the name made sense considering our own psychedelic experiences during our wayward youth.
Did the Raisins once have a brush with Clive Davis? Were you devastated when he left without giving the band a deal, or did it work out in the long run?
Yep. He expressed a desire to sign us, flew to Cincinnati to see a live performance, then nixed the idea. I think it was worse for our management team than the band. It really took the wind out of them. We were very unfocussed, which made us an interesting live band on one hand but hard to market on the other. But eventually the failure led to the formation of The Bears.
How did Adrian Belew’s support of the band help the Psychodots to find new audiences?
Although it’s fantastic when somebody infamous says terrible things about you, it’s still helpful when a nice person with credibility and fame does the opposite. Adrian’s the latter; the strange thing to me is how many people have no idea who he is, either! But of course it helped leave a tiny national footprint when we toured with him as an opener and as his backing band on a solo tour. People saw the dots, The Bears, and Adrian solo all for one ticket price.
26 years is a long time to keep a band going, especially without a series of mainstream radio hits or reaching commercial success, right? Do you see it that way? What is it about the band that makes it continue to work for you?
Actually, it’s even longer than that: Chris and Bob and I have played together off and on since 1971 or so. We’re like brothers without the family baggage. Sometimes our partnership becomes weirdly transcendent of all worldly concerns. Warren Buffett says success is not about money and glory, it’s only working with people you want to work with. I agree with Uncle Warren. There is no slacking in the dots, and we’re not afraid to be hard on each other when we need to be. It’s an honor to play with these guys.
How much of the band’s success in the ‘90s would you attribute to support from college radio stations like 97X and Cincinnati’s WNKU?
Wait, on the previous question you asserted we weren’t successful! OK, college radio was a huge factor in giving us legitimacy and support. I miss 97X and do all I can to make sure its fate does not occur for WNKU – or WYSO or any other public radio station, for that matter.
Success is a relative term that means different things to different folks I guess and I’m using it fast and loose. But I think there is a difference between commercial/mainstream success (becoming a household name) and success in the indie underground, which Psychodots seem to have enjoyed. There are ofcourse some bands who have enjoyed both…REM and Violent Femmes come to mind for me. Do you not see it that way?
I agree – success involves a much more complicated equation than “I got more than you, she has more than me.” I try to not waste my life going down the “compare and despair” route; materially, as long as I make enough money to pay the bills and taxes and list my sole occupation on my 1040 as musician/composer I think I’m doing OK. Money is like shit: absolutely vital for fertilization and helping things to grow, but if that’s all you have you’re just another asshole. Artistic success is simpler to quantify but more difficult to achieve. It’s like a three-legged stool: inspiration/idea, skilled creation of the work, transmission of the idea to the observer. If any one of those components is missing it may sell, people may like it, but it ain’t no masterpiece. It’s that holy trinity magic trick that keeps me interested in making music, not the commerce. I want to make a three minute-long masterpiece.
When did you begin visiting Dayton and what has the Psychodots’ relationship been like with the city?
Well, it all started in the ‘80s with The Raisins playing to 12 people on Tuesday nights and grew up to bigger gigs at Gilly’s and Canal Street Tavern on weekends. We’ve always referred to the place as “Fair Dayton”: we’ve been treated very kindly here for many years. The club management has been a real plus. Mick Montgomery for so many years was a force of nature and trustworthy partner, one-of-a-kind. That said, Jerry Gillotti is old school in the best sense of the words. It really takes balls and skill to survive the live music business the way he has. Both of those guys are people I’ve never had to sign contracts with. They keep their end of the deal and we wouldn’t dare not keeping ours.
I seem to remember Psychodots playing Canal Street Tavern quite a bit in the ‘90s and one of your final performances before going on hiatus in ’96 was at CST? The show coming up is at Gilly’s though. Why this venue rather than Canal Public House?
Mick left and the new management made us wait too long outside in the cold last year when we loaded in for sound check. So I called Jerry and asked if he wanted us. He answered, “What took you so long?” We’re not prima donnas but you usually only get one chance to be rude to us, especially Mr. Arduser. All great drummers are dangerous, you know.
Psychodots played Bunbury this year, right? Has it been cool to see big music festivals and events set up camp in Cincinnati and have success?
Yes, we played on an absolutely lovely Friday night. Cincinnati has always been a treasure trove full of musicians and people who support them. It’s cool to have the festivals and even better to be invited to play. Sean Rhiney and Bill Donabedien (who started MidPoint and Bunbury) are old fans of Psychodots. They were in a band together called Clabbergirl and are incredibly imaginative. It helps that they ooze integrity. I’ve told them both I wish they would run for public office.
What are your favorite Psychodots songs and why?
I’m sorry, the list changes and all I can say is we cherry pick our compositions for Psychodot consumption so I more or less love all of them. That said, my desert island pick would be “Sad Little Monkeys” from our first album. It’s just so weird and bittersweet and true. Bob wrote it, but I can really feel it.
Several of you have gone on to solo careers. Why continue to return to Psychodots?
I guess Psychodots are like an open marriage. We welcome musical promiscuity and don’t consider it to be a moral shortcoming to play the field. The dots are just a special thing. How many bands are there that have played together since the members were in middle school, but still keep making new stuff up? Plus, our fans would make life hell for us if we didn’t do it. They know where we live.
What are you currently undertaking as a solo artist? Do any Rob Fetters solo songs make it into the Psychodots set or is it strictly the hits?
My last solo album, Saint Ain’t, is almost a year old and people tell me they love it as much as I do. If anybody hates it they haven’t said so… to my face. Plus, it’s well into the black, which is miraculous to me. The dots play a bunch of my solo tunes. I can’t find anyone better to help me perform that stuff.
(For more information on Psychodots, please visit psychodots.com.)