Three-minute masterpiece

Psychodots return to Gilly’s

By Tim Anderl

Photo: Bob Nyswonger, Chris Arduser and Rob Fetters of Psychodots; photo: Charles Madden

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 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 up 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.

Dayton City Paper recently chatted with guitarist Rob Fetters about the band’s legacy, its success and its love affair with Dayton.

Is it true the band changed its name from The Raisins to avoid confusion with The California Raisins, which was a commercial phenomenon in the late ’80s?

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. – Rob Fetters

The Raisins once had a brush with Clive Davis, right?

Yep. He expressed a desire to sign us, flew to Cincinnati to see a live performance, then nixed the idea. We were very unfocused, which made us an interesting live band on one hand, but hard to market on the other. Eventually the failure led to the formation of The Bears. – RF

How did Adrian Belew’s support of the band help 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. It helped us 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. – RF

Twenty-six years is a long time to keep a band going, especially without a series of mainstream radio hits or reaching commercial success.

Actually, it’s even longer than that: Chris [Arduser] and Bob [Nyswonger] 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. – RF

Success is a relative term that means different things to different folks. But I think there is a difference between commercial/mainstream success and success in the indie underground, which Psychodots seems to have enjoyed …

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. – RF

What has Psychodots’ relationship been like with the city?

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. [Canal Street Tavern owner] Mick Montgomery, for so many years, was a force of nature and trustworthy partner, one-of-a-kind. That said, [Gilly’s owner] 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. – RF

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, the Dots play a bunch of my solo tunes. I can’t find anyone better to help me perform that stuff. – RF

Psychodots will perform at Gilly’s, 132 S. Jefferson St. on Wednesday, Nov. 26. Tickets are $15 in advance, $17 at the door. The show begins at 8 p.m. For more information on the show, please visit Psychodots’ Facebook page at facebook.com/psychodots or gillysjazz.com. For more information on Psychodots, please visit psychodots.com.

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