In the Thick of It
by Stephen Slaybaugh

In the pantheon of Columbus, Ohio’s small but fertile music scene, the name Ron House looms large. From the early ’80s, House presided over a number of bands, as well as the record-buying public at large, singing in such notable acts as the Great Plains and Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments while manning the counter at the predominant shops on the college town’s main drag. (Thurston Moore called House “the rock god of record store employees” and described his vocals as “peanut-butter smeared” (sic) in issue #6 of the defunct Sonic Youth fanclub zine, Sonic Death.)

But during the last decade, House had seemingly stepped down from his post as grand poobah. Aside from the odd band reunion show or reissue, the always magniloquent vocalist hadn’t been heard on record since 2002’s Obsessed, and even that was an anomalistic album of acoustic songs largely sung from another man’s point of view and missing the caustic wit for which House is known.

But in 2007, an ad hoc group of musicians ended up pulling Ron back into the fray. House had thrown his hat into the ring that is the Rock Potluck, an annual event in Columbus where local musicians are randomly matched and given an afternoon to come up with a couple songs before performing them live that night, and was paired with four musicians who he hardly knew: John Olexovitch (The Lindsey), Bobby Silver (Brainbow), Brett Burleson (Bygones and countless jazz combos) and Zac Szymusiak (Washington Beach Bums). This new collaboration sparked something, and the then-named Sandwich ended up lasting longer than their prescribed 24 hours.

Now, a single and a spelling change later, Psandwich has released its full-length debut, Northren Psych on Columbus Discount Records. While House differentiates the album by calling it a psych record and makes allusions to growing mystical in his old age, it’s nice to hear his vitriolic caw backed by a noisy ruckus once again. I caught up with Ron to discuss his new band and new record.

You formed for a Potluck, right?

Ron House: Yeah, I knew Zac and John a little bit from coming into Used Kids, but I didn’t know Bobby or Brett at all. It was a blind date that will resonate into resin, or at least vinyl. We came up with “Assisted Living” at our first practice and never looked back, because Bob Dylan told us not to.

Had you done one of those before?

RH: No, I hadn’t played anything except a few reunion gigs for six years.

Was there an instantaneous rapport between the guys in the group?

RH: Yeah, not only were they great musicians, but they were fun to hang with too.

Did you miss having a band?

RH: I didn’t know I missed it until I had it again.

Were you itching to do something or was it this particular band that sparked your interest in making new music?

RH: I was getting stimulated by lots of new “old” music, like psych, soul and KBD punk, but it was the band that sparked wanting to make music.

Like the song (“Something to Prove”) on the album says, did you feel like you had something to prove, like you’ve still got it?

RH: Yeah, sure. Mostly I want to contribute to music a bit of what I get out of it. My belief system is based on The 13th Floor Elevators’ “Slip Inside This House,” and it makes you want to do something.

Being the most experienced member of the band, do the guys follow your cues?

RH: I don’t lead the jamming or make any decisions like gigs or technical things, but when it came to recording, I wrote a bunch of songs and brought them in. I had written “Little White Cords” before the band, on a slow day at Used Kids when no one was coming in. After the Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments played your show at the Bell House in 2008, I wrote those last few songs on the record. I didn’t tell them how to play them, but I gave them the chords.

How would you contrast Psandwich to the Slave Apartments?

RH: They’re both basically indie rock, I admit, but I think Psandwich is a little freer and open. TJSA was harder, mostly.

Are the spellings of the band and album name significant?

RH: “Psandwich” was merely a spelling to escape the million bands named Sandwich. We do not endorse psychedelic use! “Northren” is a bad play on Northern Soul, like when ignorant eBay sellers misspell it.

The lyrics seem more freeform than Slave Apartment songs. Is that accurate?

RH: Yeah, though, I occasionally lapse into irony when not paying attention. Then I need the crushing wave of human history to spank me and make me translate their scream.

How would you describe your aspirations for the band?

RH: My ambitions are sure to end in failure. I aspire to a society based on peace and love and great music.