The True Story of The Psychopaths
An interview with David Arvedon by Aram Heller and Erik Lindgren
David Arvedon has been making crazy, off-the-wall music that somehow fits just right for nearly 30 years now. Beginning with the Psychopaths he wrote the classic song “Till the Stroke of Dawn” (about Count Dracula) which was released in 1967. After that he went on to release another 45 under the name of the Psychopaths in 1970 as well as a self-released 8-track tape and LP. More recently he released The Trilogy (three cassette albums) and a 45 with Psycho’s Psychopaths. David’s philosophy in songwriting is a bit different from the typical musician. Witness…
The main crux, actually, of what I’m doing and I think is very very important to add. A lot of people think that the Psychopaths are crazy, that I’m crazy, that I’m off the wall, that I’m nuts, that I’m bizarre. I’m doing this intentionally. Because I kind of made a decision. Everybody else, all the other musicians are writing songs about life on it’s face value. You read things in the newspaper that make you cry, you see little kids dying of cancer, you see wars, you see all kinds of things that are just very very painful—very serious. This is why I don’t like serious movies as well. I feel that the function of entertainment should be to take people away from the serious. Take people away from the mundane. Give them something to laugh about. Maybe shake them up a little bit and get them crazy. Take them a little bit away from reality. There’s plenty of reality out there. Life is full of it. There are plenty of people like Woody Allen who specialize in reality. Me, I’m filling in the gaps. I’m taking up where everybody else leaves off. Let everybody else deal with reality, reality is their product. My product is that which does not necessarily fit within reality. This is how I expect to produce my entertainment, and I just hope that some people get a charge out of it, they get a kick out of it. Maybe I shock the hell out of some people and put a little bit of enjoyment in their life that way by shocking the hell out of them.
The following is a small part of a long interview with David conducted by Aram Heller and Erik Lindgren on September 12, 1995. The interview covered his entire career as well as some related (and not) topics of interest. David proved to be very easy to interview and provided us with an in-depth insight into his music. He has two sides. One very serious one which he applies to his every-day life, and one bizarre side which relates to his music. Most of this interview concerns the Psychopaths, but there are various tid-bits from the rest of the interview that show his bizarre side. It’s important to note, that even with the bizarre comments David was quite frank; he was not being bizarre for the sake of being bizarre. Arf! Arf! Records is preparing a reissue of material from the 8-track and LP as well as some previously unreleased tapes. The reissue will contain more of this interview.
AHWhy did you start singing?
DABasically as a means of self expression. To kind of put a few points across; make a statement.
AHWhen did you start singing?
DABack around 1966–67.
AHIs that because you saw the Beatles, or was there some other reason?
DAJust I guess you could say seeing a few of the bands that I liked, like the Beatles, the Stones and listening to a little music back then and there and just coming to the conclusion that these guys had something to say. And I have something else to say and music is the medium of doing that.
AHSo did you see some of the bands that were at your high school? Were they influences maybe?
DANo. I saw some of the bands at my high school, but I really didn’t particularly think they were all that good. I did see that they were getting a lot of publicity and a lot of support. But I didn’t really see that much there musically.
ELDo you recall any bands?
DAWell we had this local band at Newton High called the Rockin’ Ramrods.
AHDo you remember a band called the Strangers?
DANo, I don’t.
AHAfter you graduated high school in 1965, you went to Brandeis. Did you play in any bands then? Or did you just start singing?
DAI just kind of started singing. Kind of putting a few pieces of material together. Doing a few songs on my own type of thing.
AHSo you were starting to write songs too.
ELDid you record them professionally?
DANot until later. Not until I’d say ’69 was probably about the first.
ELDid you do home demos?
DAOccasionally, yeah. Maybe around ’67–’68.
ELAre there any songs in your repertoire past or present that go way back then?
AHSo there you were at Brandeis. How did you meet up with the rest of the Psychopaths?
DAIt was kind of funny how it happened. My father had a customer of his who would come in and buy stuff for himself at my father’s place of business. And he was telling my father that he had a son in a band who was a drummer and they was looking for an agent and maybe I was the guy. So I kind of met up with this guy and we got together. He lived in Dorchester. So we got together in his basement.
ELWhat was his name?
DAHis name was Guy Licciardi. So anyway, it was me, it was him, some guy by the name of Steve Hunt who was kind of a hurtin’ buckaroo. He was the bass player. He had some problems. (laughs) And a guy by the name of John Walker who was the lead guitar player.
AHSo they were all in Dorchester?
ELAnd who was the singer? John Walker?
DAJohn Walker was, and then after he was, I was. And we kind of both were.
AHBut you actually performed with them?
AHWhen did the 45, “Till the Stroke of Dawn” come out?
DAThat one came out…(discussion of date finally came down to)…might have been like the summer of ’67. Or the…September. Yeah, September ’67. That rings a bell. Cause I remember I was going back to college when the record came out. And we put the record in the jukebox at Brandeis. It was up in North Hall in the snack bar. And “Till the Stroke of Dawn” and “See the Girl” ended up in the jukebox. And people kept playing it back then.
AHSo do you know how many copies were pressed?
DAI think about 1000.
AHNow when you were with that band, did you record anything else?
DANo, those were the only two. Well actually, I take that back, because some of the members of the band stayed with me. One of the members.
AHWhich was who?
DAJohn Walker. He stayed with me as a guitar player. We kind of met up with these guys in Brookline around 1970.
AHWhen you were with the Psychopaths, around ’67–’68, you did those two songs. And you were playing out live?
DAYes we were.
AHWere you playing clubs?
DANo. We were doing colleges. We did mostly…we did Brandeis University quite often.
AHWere you the only one going there?
AHWhat about the rest of them. Were they working or in high school?
DANo they were…um…I think John Walker might have been in college. The others were working.
AHWere they about your age. A year one way or another?
DAYeah. Pretty much.
AHSo how long did that band last?
DAIntact, the way it was, maybe less than a couple years.
AHSo by ’68–’69, you were starting to do other things.
DAWell, there was a little bit of a gap around ’69 where I didn’t do anything. And then I’d say maybe around 1970 or so was when I met up with the new people.
AHThe Psychopaths was the first band you were in, but then the second band with John Walker was the first band that your band that you were the leader of?
DAKind of in a way. I was the leader of the band when we were doing my material. But they had their own stuff that they were doing as well.
AHThis was the Psychopaths or the second band?
DAThis was the second group of Psychopaths.
ELThe first Psychopaths, what were some of the other songs you did?
DAWe did, the calypso version of “Aggimated”…
AHReally! All the way back then?
DAYes. And we did, “Buckets of Water,” and let see…
ELDid you do cover versions? Beatles songs?
DANo, we never did any cover versions at all. Oh, I take that back. We did a couple. “Till the Midnight Hour,” what else, “Wipe Out.”
ELWere you a surf band? Instrumentals?
DAYeah, mostly a lot of instrumentals.
ELWhat did you play, tambourine?
DANot much, I kind of just stood there and looked like a fool.
AHDo you know what any of those other guys are doing now? Did you stay in touch with them?
DANo. No I do not.
ELNow you told me something about the first bunch of Psychopaths wanting to kind of use your van.
DAWhat happened, is at the time I was a wholesaler of electronic supplies. I sold radios, cassette recorders, clock radios. That type of stuff. And Bunny Licciardi, who was the drummer of my band, had occasion on a couple times to ask me while we were rehearsing if he could borrow the car to go uptown and pick up something. Whatever. Coffee. Or pick up something for somebody and use my car. I had my samples, my radio samples in the trunk of the car. After he used the car, I noticed the samples were gone. So obviously what he did was, you know, it was obvious what he did. Then when I questioned him…actually what happened is we were at the recording session.
ELAt what studio?
DAAt Ace Recording Studio in Boston. I knew that he had taken the radios. And of course he denied it at the time. So what I did is I had all his drums. I had his drum set in a rented U-Haul. And by the time we were done with the session, he was too tired to move his drums back into his house in Dorchester. So I took the drums back with me, in my U-Haul, to my place down at Nantasket Beach—my parents’ cottage there. And I put his drums in my garage down at Nantasket Beach. So I said to him, “OK Bunny,” that’s what he liked to be called, his real name was Guy, “if you want your drums back, you’re going to have give me back my radios. Otherwise, I’m selling your drums.” Then he concocted some kind of a story that, well there was somebody that was going to beat him up if he didn’t give him the radios. And you know, it was a whole bunch of bull.
ELDid you get the radios?
DAI never got the radios, because obviously he sold them and he didn’t have any money. I don’t recall if I sold his drums or if I got… I think eventually I got paid for them. Because his drums were worth a lot more than my radios. So that’s basically how the first group ended. It ended on, I guess you could say, a sour note. Or a sour beat.
AHWhen you were at Ace, there was a song you wanted to record?
DAYes, we were going to be doing “Buckets of Water” instead of “See the Girl.”
AHThat was going to be the original flip. But that never happened?
DARight, because basically what happened is the band held me hostage. Once again it was Bunny Licciardi, he said “We ain’t going to be doing ‘Buckets of Water.’” He said, “We’re going to be doing ‘See the Girl’” and another song which was garbage that I didn’t even write. And basically we kind of reached an agreement, a settlement, right in the recording session as to which songs we would be recording. I guess you could say it was a little bit of blackmail. Because we had gone into that session fully expecting, or at least I was fully expecting we were going to be doing “Buckets of Water” and “Till the Stroke of Dawn.” So instead, “Buckets of Water” never got put down. And “Buckets of Water,” these guys played pretty good.
ELThere’s no tape that exists of that?
DANothing. Nothing at all.
AHDid you sing on this record?
DAOn the first record, I didn’t sing. It was John Walker that did the vocals.
AHSo you sat in the studio and didn’t sing.
ELDid you have any involvement on the record?
DAI sang a little bit. I did a few backup vocals on “Till the Stroke of Dawn.” And I produced it and that was it.
ELDid you record it in one day?
AHDavid Lloyd Company was your father’s company?
DAYes it was.
AHWhen you were playing live, and doing songs like “Buckets of Water,” what did people think? Did people like it?
DAOh, they really did like it. They liked it an awful lot.
AHWas there a showman aspect to it?
DAThere certainly was.
ELWhat did you do show wise?
DAWell you know, a lot of the same crazy type of things that I would do now.
DAOh yeah, I had a cowboy suit which was like a rhinestone studded cowboy suit. I had a long gold silk shirt which was about, maybe came down to below my knees. It was pretty wild looking. I would make really bizarre faces. That is one of the things I can do quite well. Kind of like this… And um, you know the whole audience participation thing. I always get into picking somebody out of the audience at random. Especially if it was somebody that I knew. I would be singing a song and then after I was done with it I would say, all of a sudden, out of the blue, “Hey Jeff, you’re putting on weight, aren’t you.” Just like that. Totally out of the blue so nobody would expect to have it coming. I would just all of a sudden put out an aside which had no frame of reference to anything that had gone previously. Or would come afterwards. I would throw something in the middle that didn’t fit anywhere. Like, “Gee, you know I almost fell off the streetcar.” And then keep going on to the next song. And people would get flipped. I guess that’s what they call a knuckleball, in baseball.
Random Answers to Random Questions
ELWhat do you think about the band Nirvana?
DAI’m really not that familiar with them, I don’t even recall hearing them. There are plenty of bands I’ve never heard.
ELHave you heard the Ramones?
DAI’ve heard them a few times.
ELDo you like them?
DAThey’re all right. You know, I can take them or leave them.
ELWhat do you think about Captain and Toneille?
DANot much. I have heard them, maybe once.
ELDo you think the Dave Clark Five are good?
DAI like the Dave Clark Five. I like them a lot. Very standard straight-forward rock, but I like the material, I like the melody, I like the way it was recorded. I like it.
EL(After playing 2 selections from the Shaggs’ Philosophy of the World) What do you think about the Shaggs?
DAThe idea is good for the first 10–12 seconds, and then it starts to wear thin. Maybe they might be a bit better than Mrs. Miller.
AHWho’s Mrs. Miller?
DAShe was that old lady that did cover versions of all the big hits. And did it in a really horrible voice.
ELSo your reaction to the song “Foot Foot.” What did you think about that? The song that started with a drum solo.
DANot much. It didn’t move me. Especially musically.
ELIs it better than Bruce Springsteen?
DAActually no. I don’t like Bruce Springsteen particularly. But this is not as good as Bruce Springsteen.
ELAnd what did you say about Frank Zappa?
DAI like his material a lot better than the Shaggs. A lot better.
AHWhat is the significance of Watertown Square?
DAWatertown Square…and this is actually pretty funny. I figured that I would take a place at random, and just keep repeating and repeating and repeating and repeating until the world was sick and tired of hearing of that place. And Watertown Square was the place that I chose. So I figured I would screw everybody up mentally. And I would keep referring to the place so that eventually everybody would ask that precise question. What is the significance of Watertown Square? There is no significance to Watertown Square! But I’m going to use it and use it and use it again. Just to screw people up!
AHHow long have you been doing that for with Watertown Square?
DAActually…I just started. You know, within the last two or three years.
AHIt does run through the entire Trilogy and then some.
AHOK David, tell us about the Aardvark.
DAThe Aardvark… Ok… Well, let’s see, where do I begin about the Aardvark…
ELHow long has the Aardvark been around?
DAWell, the Aardvark has been around since 1946. Actually who was it that said “I am the Walrus”? Was it John Lennon? Ok, well I am the Aardvark! (much laughter) Well of course my last name, Arvedon. People who couldn’t pronounce it right used to call me Aardvark. Then one time after dinner at Brandeis we were playing football with a frisbee. You know, throw the frisbee up and down in front of the Quadrangle. And I caught the frisbee for a touchdown. And the guy that I caught it against was named Doug Salerno. I beat him. He was trying to cover me man for man, and I beat him. And he said, “You Aardvark, I can’t believe you beat me.” So after that I was known as the ‘Aardvark Man.’ And you know, the name stuck and the name fit. And I always had a fascination for aardvarks for one reason. And that’s because they would always get confused with anteaters. And I have always been trying to put this into perspective and the answer to this question. What is actually the difference between an aardvark and an anteater? I mean, who really knows? I mean an anteater might be an aardvark that only that only eats ants.
AHI though the anteater had a longer nose.
DAMaybe it does. But you know, this is something I’ve always found fascinating. Just to actually see an aardvark in person. See what it would look like or…and of course, the other thing about aardvark is it is actually the first real word in the dictionary. So that puts another little bit of prime significance for it that way. I mean you open the dictionary. You start reading the dictionary. What do you come to first? A-A aardvark. The letter A, Ah. Which is denoting that you have one thing. And then the third thing is aardvark. Which is a real honest-to-goodness word. So, you know, obviously that word has a lot of significance somewhere. I mean the word is out there. It’s like a concept. It’s like anything else. Like ah, the universe is constructed of many concepts. And the concepts are all out there. Humanity and intelligence, the function of humanity and intelligence is to take these concepts and put them in an orderly fashion. Now what I’ve done, which is slightly different, is to take these concepts and put them in a disorderly fashion. In other words, an idea is a prearranged set of concepts. You take certain concepts. They have a logical sequence to them. You put them together, you have an idea. You have a logical train of thought. Somebody has to get out of the car, close the doors, put money in the meter, get what they need from the car, walk to where they’re going, ring a bell, go into where it is they should be, stay there for a certain amount of time and then leave. That’s an orderly concept. An orderly train of thought. It has logical significance. What I’ve done, which is totally different from that, is I’ve taken things out of context. I’ll take an idea from here, an idea from there. They may have a commonality, but the commonality is not readily apparent to most people. And it’s certainly not logical. Like this aardvark routine. I mean there is an idea of an aardvark. There is an idea that there’s this place called Watertown Square. There is no logical connection between an aardvark and Watertown Square. I’ve created that connection. And it is certainly not logical, but now that connection exists.