Psychic Wheels
by Kevin J. Elliott

In Columbus, Ohio, there is simply no lack of garage bands. In fact, there’s likely a higher quotient of bands mired in those waters per capita than anywhere else on the planet, save Memphis. We are, after all, the place the Cheater Slicks call home and are a populace of denizens who find the dive bar the most comfortable of locales. Squeaking in at second is pop, which, coupled with the usual gnarled and jangled varietals, is pretty much equivalent to the aforementioned garage-type stuff. Lately the girl-group bug has bitten quite a few, with Spector-ish echoes and femme harmonies beginning to take center stage. Nowhere though is there a convergence of all three, intermingling with each other to heighten moods and raise the flag for psychedelia in our burg. That’s where the Psychic Wheels come rolling in (pardon the pun). Out of the ashes of the little played Columbus band Burglar, Spencer Morgan and Skip Scoppa knew that there was a crossroads where all of those points met and formed Psychic Wheels as a medium to find that place. Soon recruiting Molly Davis on bass, the trio began to toil in the basement, crafting their own brand of “death pop,” which draws inspiration from the reverb drenched, slashing minimalism of The Jesus and Mary Chain and the dour naivete of Beat Happening, Morgan’s sub-bellow being extremely reminiscent of that of Calvin Johnson.

Their first release, the Sequined Mess EP just released on Spinning Records Records, shows that initial spark expanding into something more substantial and less reliant on those tropes of which they were religiously obsessed with and still are. Rounding out the now quintet are Morgan’s wife Kate and Ryan “Tito” Ida, who formerly played with the equally lysergic Main Street Gospel. “Magic Spells,” the true gem and heart of the record, shows that there is life beyond garage rock and that the genre has many more threads which can be pulled. It’s quite amazing that on this EP, there are so many shades of that distorted devotion. On “You’re Gonna Die (Before You Fall in Love)” and “No No,” the two songs in which Davis’ and Morgan’s vocals take center stage, they even start to divulge a love for the wooly alternative grooves of Throwing Muses and The Breeders. But with most bands of this ilk, the greatest arena in which to enjoy them is live, where the energy of this record spills over into a hypnotic euphoria. I recently caught up with Morgan to discuss how the Psychic Wheels came to be and to find out exactly where they are headed.

How did Psychic Wheels form? Was it something you were doing on your own before starting the band?

Spencer Morgan: Skip and I started coming up with a songwriting style and a few bizarre song ideas. We were too afraid of weirding out most of our friends by asking them to play with us, but Molly liked the same kind of music so she was a natural choice. It didn’t matter that she didn’t play bass. After a while, we got Kate and Neil, and then Tito, to fill out the sound.

Were you in any other bands before Psychic Wheels? How did those bands compare to what you are doing now?

SM: Skip and I were in Burglar together, Tito and Skip were in the Main Street Gospel, and Skip is now in the Regrettes. Those bands don’t seem to have much in common, but they all strove to be lush and layered in their own ways. Psychic Wheels is a different animal, a kind of experiment in playing with a different angle of pop songwriting.

There’s certainly a vintage psychedelic feel to the music, so I’m interested in what records informed the band when you started?

SM: Jangly ’60s psychedelic, surf, garage, and Spector-esque bubblegum pop all play a big part. The Velvet Underground encapsulated much of those sounds and beyond, so they’re an obvious touchstone. Punk bands from ’70s, particularly The Ramones, The Cramps and the Misfits, are a huge influence. Then we take a lot from late-80s bands like The Vaselines, Black Tambourine, The Pixies, and some post-punk and shoegaze sounds. The Magnetic Fields, Outrageous Cherry, and modern garage bands like Thee Oh Sees and The Black Lips inspire us too.

I’m hearing a lot of influence from The Jesus and Mary Chain and Beat Happening. What things do you like to add to your songwriting to differentiate yourself from those influences?

SM: We’d be bald-faced lying if we said The Jesus and Mary Chain sound wasn’t part of the goal from day one. We do want to emulate that to an extent, because we love that style of twisted, minimalist pop with distortion and reverb. There’s plenty to be done with a simple format like that, like rock & roll and punk. We want to bring our own style to it as much as we want pay homage to the bands we love. I think we have a dynamic and a variety of sounds ranging from fast to slow, soft to really loud, guy/girl vocals and other things.

Is there a particular aesthetic that you want to convey with Psychic Wheels?

SM: I don’t think we’ve figured out if we’re a psychedelic pop band or a punk band, and that’s part of the fun. I think the music reflects that in an interesting way. We want elements of both to come through and create songs that are ethereal, but short and simple. It’s also important to be as catchy as possible. And a little weird.

The 7-inch is a pretty solid representation of this aesthetic I think, so when you get to the point of making a full-length, how do you want to expand the sound of Psychic Wheels?

SM: We have a lot of songs, and next we want to present a more complete spectrum with more varied song styles, and a full-length record is the proper place to do that.

Fill in the blanks:
In 10th grade I was listening to _____ in the _____, doing _____ with _____ wishing I was _____.

SM: In the 10th grade, I was listening to Nirvana in the cafeteria, doing my homework for the next period with my friends wishing I was in art class.