Track By Track : Psychodots - Awkwardsville

By John A. Wilcox

This Psychodots album is much loved by this Wilcox. I asked my pal Rob Fetters to take us all through it! Take it away Rob...

Awkwardsville was recorded at Sound Images in Cincinnati in early 1995. SI was a polished, first-class commercial facility at the time, equipped with MCI/Sony 24-track machines, MCI mix console, and a plethora of high quality outboard hardware and microphones. The company could afford the good stuff by churning out a stream of post-scores and jingles created by an accomplished team of engineers and composers. Sometimes I assisted lead composer Jeff Bruner; after he taught me how to use a computer and DAW he moved to California and I got his job. Since Bob Nyswonger, Chris (Deathy) Arduser, and I also gigged as SI session players, it wasn�t hard to talk the owner into letting us subvert the straight-laced purpose of the joint and make some �art�. Analog recording technology was on the cusp of going digitally in the box for worse and better; we took hours doing studio tricks that a couple years later took minutes to achieve. Dale �Smitty� Smith was SI�s head engineer and our partner in crime. Among many talents, Smitty was fearlessly adept at cutting and splicing recording tape to edit our songs; exciting to witness and mostly a lost art these days.

Deathy is responsible for the title. I�ll be forever grateful that he invented a perfect name for the place our minds exist. Each song on Awkwardsville is buried there. C�mon everybody: lets exhume!

Track 1: Mattress (Fetters)
RF: Sticks out as particular pain in the ass to record because to get it wrong enough we used my old Roland R5 drum machine for the verse bass line holding its own in A major scale. Bob did not dig being usurped by a bot. Deathy, perhaps because of his Swiss heritage, had no problem playing with the machine. I just played fast and held on tight in a minor scale I learned from Ravi Shankar via Beatle George. How and why it worked together, I dunno.

Track 2: Prairie Dog Town (Fetters)
RF: Is revenge pop inspired by one too many 10-hour drives across Kansas in a van full of musicians. Made ghost-like by the combo of Roland guitar synth and the decrepit Mellotron we bought for $100 from the legendary QCA studio when they closed shop, the We�re too hip to screw around lyric is for music snobs who crawl out of the woodwork everywhere, even in Ohio. Especially in Ohio.

Track 3: Hell (Arduser)
RF: Is a tune we played to great dramatic effect when we opened for Adrian Belew on his Here tour in �94, so it was pretty much paint the numbers and do what Deathy told us to do. I almost argued with him over his gritty vocal delivery but it�s a harrowing song describing torture and impending death; best not sung with ironic sweetness. Abandon all hope.

Track 4: Bed Of Nails (Nyswonger)
RF: Music aside, I�ve always felt, lyric-wise, Bob�s as close to Ray Davies as an Ohio musician�s gonna get without being a fawning imitator. Adrian and I agree on this; something about his witty articulation of things gone wrong where everything had been so good. It was tough to sing; glad I was running marathons then so I didn�t run out of breath.

Track 5: Joy And Madness (Fetters)
RF: I love where this bittersweet song came from: two weeks into the lives of the Fetters twins and total exhaustion. Jeff Bruner helped with the warm Kurzweil synth and our beautiful friend, Karin Bergquist of Over The Rhine, sang a delicate, floaty response to my call. Unfortunately, at my behest, I now realize we recorded it about 20% too fast. You can hear it the right speed at one of my house concerts these days and you�ll probably get choked up. Alas, no Karin.

Track 6: Lucky Me (Fetters)
RF: My wife, Swany, wondered aloud when would she appear in one of my songs? (Apparently, Moaner didn�t count.) She was all the muse I needed to quickly pen this biographically accurate love song.

Track 7: When There�s Rain (Arduser)
RF: Could have been an �east meets Midwest� Bears song. (Can you hear it? Just add Adrian�s N. African zurna guitar emulation and we�d be there.) I remember sticking vocal passages into an Eventide sampler, playing it backwards, and endlessly pushing a button with a horrid time latency to trigger playback as we tried to track it in sync to 2� tape in several places. Oh, Jesus, it took a whole afternoon. Smitty wanted to kill me and then I wanted to kill him and then we got it right� and I don�t think any listener ever commented on how cool we thought it was.

Track 8: More To Life (Nyswonger)
RF: See the above description of Bed Of Nails� I repeat my high regard for the compositional skill of Bob Nyswonger. More makes me leave my body and go to the Awkwardsville of our youth: Sylvania, Ohio, USA. I remember during tracking realizing the dots sound like dots because I push the beat on guitar, Bob drags it on bass, and Chris Arduser nails it like a Swiss watch. When we went too far Smitty would say �I could drive a truck through the gaps!� and make us tighten up with the Swiss man.

Track 9: Moaner (Fetters)
RF: Got me in hot water. When the record came out more than one woman I know suggested I wrote it about her. Nope: originally, I was inspired to write it while watching a TV documentary about a Mennonite community in Paraguay where Nazi war criminals hid out. There was a bucolic scene where a Woodstock hippy-ish mom sang to her cows while her husband amorously observed her. A frickin� Nazi farm hand was in the picture, too. My mind wandered, then pounced on religion-istas and politicians, fatally including the word moist in a lyric. Oh, the shame! Of course, I still believe we�re all moaners if we�re lucky.

Track 10: Human Bean (Arduser)
RF: Is Deathy at his best but he gave himself zero credit, maybe because it came so naturally to him. It�s kind of NRBQ-ish but with shark�s teeth and timeless social observation.

Track 11: Playing Dead (Fetters)
RF: An opus in F#. Wake up in Awkwardsville for 40 years straight and this is a song you, too, could write: a music and word cycle stubbornly spinning in the goddamn place you were born to die: your fragmented mind.


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