My association with Psychic Teens was a complete fluke. I had seen their first LP, “Teen” around here and there and it’s extremely simple cover art, for whatever reason, made me think they were some kind of pop-punk band in the Screeching Weasel vein. Whatever the case I didn’t think I would be interested in them.
Around this time I had discovered another Pennsylvania-based band called Tile whom I thought were just amazing and I considered pursuing them in regards to putting out a record. I saw they were playing a show at Siren Records in Doylestown, PA, a store I hold in high regard and a place I had been familiar with playing before (for real, take a gander at Siren Records if you ever find yourself in the quaint burg of Doylestown). The lineup for the show featured Tile and Psychic Teens. It was kind of a drive for me, but there was enough cool stuff close by (what’s up Vegan Treats) to make it worth the hike. Plus, I wanted to see what Tile were like live, and as people, before I hit them up about recording something for the label.
As it turned out this was probably the worst show Tile ever played. They got through about three songs, broke a guitar, and then gave up. I was heartbroken. It was a rough night for them and temporarily soured my opinion on them. I’d like to add, though, Tile are one of my current favorite bands and I highly suggest getting all of their records right now and playing them repeatedly until your head falls off.
Feeling let down I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stick around and just drive back to Syracuse. I watched the second band, who were decent, and then figured I came all this way, I may as well see if I was right about this Psychic Teens band before taking off, as they were headlining.
Turns out I was totally wrong. They lurched through weird post-punk, goth, and noise rock dirges all the while incredibly intense strobe lights pulsated from behind them. Guitars screamed as frontman Larry Ragone remained hidden behind dark shades the entire set and belted out spooky, low-register vocals over everything. I was thoroughly shocked. I stuck around for a good portion of their set and then decided to hit the road since I had a long drive ahead. Before departing I left some money on their merch table and grabbed a CD for the drive home, which had their second LP “Come”, as well as their first LP on one disc.
I started listening to it as soon as I began my drive and was so drawn in by the sounds that I wasn’t paying attention and totally got lost in the weird labyrinth of roads that is Eastern PA. I eventually made it home, listening to Psychic Teens almost the entire drive on repeat. I had just never heard a band that combined influences like that and made it work in this new and original way.
Afterwards I dug in more and saw that they had made a couple of really funny and unique videos for their songs and had toured a bit as well. I also learned that their drummer, Dave Cherasaro, had briefly done time in Gods and Queens, another Philly-area band that I adored. So I figured I was in good company by listening to this trio. I reached out to them to see about having them come up around my way to play a show and they ended up coming through on a few occasions, as they had other friends in the region they had played shows with before. I also continued to travel to go see the band- Asbury Park with Coliseum and Child Bite, Ithaca with Restorations, and more.
As I got to know them I reached out about releasing some material for them. They had recently released an amazing 7” through Reptilian Records and were on the cusp of releasing their third LP, “Nerve” when I offered.
What ended up occurring was Psychic Teens released their third record through channels they already had set up, and not long after they reconvened and recorded the “Hex” 12” EP as a follow up since “Nerve” was a considerably huge undertaking. For five songs “Hex” is pretty long and feels almost like a full length record.
Since that release Psychic Teens has remained active on and off as they all have adult lives, and also all play together in a second band called Ex-Maid with their friend (and occasional PT collaborator) Miranda Taylor.
But since it’s been awhile I got back in touch with Dave Cherasaro to discuss the band a bit and the making of the most-excellent “Hex” record from Psychic Teens.
Psychic Teens (l to r): Dave, Larry, Joe
I initially wrote off your band because I thought the art on your first release, “Teen”, resembled something a pop-punk band might use.
That’s funny. It wasn’t necessarily intended to be a stand alone release like that, like a whole album. The original intention was to be a combination of a couple of songs to put on the internet as a demo and then see if somebody wanted to do a 7”. It was sort of a brain dump of the first 7 songs that we wrote, we went into the studio to record them, and they weren’t even all complete when we went into the studio, and there was one in particular that we weren’t sure if we were even going to use it and we ended up using it. It’s a song that we still play, whereas a number of them have not been played in awhile.
I think the art on all the releases since then are more indicative of what you do insofar as being a bit unsettling, or oddly mysterious. It seems like you all put a fair amount of thought into the artistic presentation side of the band.
And so Larry (Ragone, guitars, vocals) is the one who sourced a lot of that. He has been the person who found the artists that he liked and artists he wanted to work with. He went to them and figured out how to work with them and what parameters they wanted to work in. But that first release Larry did the artwork. He did that himself.
I think a little bit of it was that art was really a placeholder to put up on a bandcamp page with two songs, and then it morphed into ‘this is going to be a record’. Our friend started a label and put it out. So we ran with it and tried to make it a little more interesting than just the heart with the ‘X’ through it by doing the large die-cut ‘X’ sticker that was on the outside sleeve of the LP version.
I think that sort of mysterious, but oddly inviting, art plays out as well in the song syllable record titles and song titles as well.
Yeah, I agree.
After meeting you all it became apparent that a big part of Psychic Teens is approaching your music from the perspective of serious record collectors.
Yeah, that makes perfect sense. We all like records. You are correct, we do all collect. We want to have something that looks good as a record package. We want something we would be interested in. We want something that we would want if we hadn’t put it out. I think I would be a little embarrassed to admit how much time on Psychic Teens tours we spent in record stores. That was pretty much our M.O. on every tour we have done. We definitely have detoured through towns we weren’t even playing so that we could go to record stores on long drives just to break up the day. We definitely spent a lot of time on Psychic Teens tours in record stores.
I can’t think of, offhand, of any towns, or cities, that we went to where we didn’t try to find at least one record store.
Tell me this- when you would book tours would you purposefully book tours to places where you knew there were good record stores.
No, we don’t have that much booking clout. It’s more of ‘we just want to find a show where we can find a show’ and we will find a record store somewhere.
You’re not that obsessive.
I’ve always liked the idea of how you had described Psychic Teens tours- they’re like vacations to visit record stores in different cities and then play shows. I never got the impression that you treated the band like a career sort of thing.
For sure, that’s 100% how we have viewed the band. We had the joke saying, and it still rings true, that Psychic Teens are regular adults. We have never tried to make the band a full-time thing because I think we all are a little too old and maybe a little too far past that point in our life. So we’re going to go out when we can. We all work. We’re going to take time off from work, but we’re going to have fun on that time off as best as we can. So just like with the artwork and the record collecting, you hit the nail on the head. We try to have fun and do as much as we can.
So rewind a bit and give me an idea of how the band came together and also how you came to choosing the style of music you played. It’s a pretty niche mix of subgenres.
Well, the impetus of Psychic Teens was Larry. He wrote the first few songs and had these ideas in his head and wanted to do a band. I think he had a very specific influence in mind, and I don’t want to particularly call him out on it and name it, but I think it was a little bit bigger of a band than you would think given all the subgenres in there.
So Larry wanted to do the band and he then approached me because we had been in a band together a couple years before that kind of fell apart. So then we reached out to Joe (DeCarolis, bassist) because Larry and Joe have been friends forever and their old bands were on split 7”s together, played like 100 shows together. And in-between when Larry and I were in a band him and Joe were in a band together that kind of fell apart after they recorded a demo and maybe never played shows or anything together.
You know that story of the insular world where everyone is trading band members. So this is the combination that we came to this time.
I like, too, that you guys are Philly, or Philly-adjacent, and there has always been a wealth of bands to emerge from that region that are really onto something original. I don’t think there’s a ‘Philly sound’, but instead a lot of bands all trying to do something different and keep it exciting.
Yeah, it’s very interesting how that has all played out over time.
How did the band come to use strobe lights and lights when playing? Was that something you did right from the beginning or add them in eventually?
It took a little while. I think it came about maybe 6 months after we started playing shows. It was intended to keep it interesting for ourselves and do something a little different. There was one or two of our early shows where we tried to bring a projector and project stuff on us, or behind us, and that ended quickly. We realized that was too much effort to have a laptop, to have a projector, to keep things going, and that wasn’t for us.
I had done another band, the story of all stories- and we had done the whole lights thing with cheap $10 Home Depot pots. So I had some of that stuff. I think one time Larry came to practice and was like, ‘I got a really good deal on a stobelight on Craigslist’.
It was this crazy strobe light that works very well. We’ve played larger venues and it’s still effective in a large venue.
He got it on Craigslist and met some guy in a diner parking lot, or something, and got this crazy stobelight for pretty cheap.
Can you describe a bit of the process around writing and recording “Hex”? It wasn’t that long after “Nerve” had been released that things came together for that record.
I think it didn’t seem like it was that long for other people, but for us it seemed really long. And I think part of that was the process of writing and recording “Nerve”. It took a long time to get everything together for that record because we entered the studio recording drum tracks a whole year before that LP was finally out. We had spent a year and half, or two years, writing “Nerve”. During that time we also did a live score for “The Shining”, which is a really long movie.
So we were writing all these songs for “Nerve”, and then took a break to do “The Shining” thing, and then pulled two songs off our writing to do a 7” with Reptilian Records, and by the time we finally got done and figured we were ready to record the “Nerve” songs it had been a really long time of writing and rehearsing those songs into the ground so that they were ready.
So after we went in and recorded we had a really long break where we were waiting on the availability of the studio to mix, and in that time frame we started the writing process again because that’s just kind of what we do. We like to write and practice, and always moving forward.
So I think before “Nerve” was even fully done we had laid the groundwork for a couple of the songs from “Hex”. Those songs were some of the easiest songs we had ever written, and I don’t mean that in a way where we didn’t just phone it in.
We had over thought those “Nerve” songs so much we wanted to get back to something more towards how we started as a band. We just wrote songs that went with what came through and not over-thinking a structure, or a part. It was a bit more of an organic experience.
I think that does shine through on “Hex”. Even though a couple songs are on the slower and longer side it just has a bit more of a feeling of being immediate, if that makes sense. “Nerve” definitely sounds a bit more planned out and deliberate and “Hex” feels a little looser.
I agree. I do like having a bit of the over-rehearsed thing. But we spent so much time collectively between writing, rehearsing, and then recording and mixing “Nerve”. And when we went to press that record it was at that peak of records taking a long time to get back from the pressing plant-era. I mean, we knew it was going to take a long time to get back from the pressing plant so we planned our release show so far out and then our records came in really early. We had them sitting in our basement for so long just because had built in this really long lead time to be on the safe side.
And all that time we thought let’s just write new songs, and play new songs, and not over-think it, and that’s what bore “Hex”.
Check those neat-o records out!
I also recall “Hex” going pretty quick. It wasn’t a super-long turnaround. Maybe that too made me think it was a pretty quick follow up to “Nerve”.
Also, with that record, which I think confuses people to this day, is the packaging on it. The spine is on the bottom, you can turn it around and it’s still the same thing, and then the sticker could be turned anyway and was still the same. Was it deliberate to be that confusing?
I honestly don’t remember. But it was likely just an idea to do something different and put the spine on the bottom and the opening is on the top. As for the artwork, if you look at it long enough you see what side is right-side up. But at a glance it is a little confusing, and the sticker did not help matters out at all.
(laughs) Yeah, for sure. So at this point the band has been pretty quiet for a bit and Ex-Maid seems to be the current focus. Do you see yourselves keeping on with Psychic Teens, but just putting it on the back burner for now while Ex-Maid does stuff?
Yeah, I think that’s the idea. As people get older and everybody is doing more stuff we have hit a couple of scheduling bumps where we just didn’t get enough time to practice on a regular basis. It has caused some newer songs we had to not necessarily fall apart, but never really made it from that rough stage to the completion stage. And when we have had the time to practice we have put that effort into Ex-Maid. And some of the Ex-Maid stuff takes a bit longer because there is a fourth member and some of it takes more time because there’s a lot more stuff that happens in New Jersey than happens in Philadelphia, so there’s a bit more travel investment if we’re playing shows up in New Brunswick or Asbury Park. That’s historically where we have played more than Philly.
What has been the best and worst thing about doing Psychic Teens?
I will forever say the best part is getting together in the basement and writing songs, playing the songs we have, coming up with new parts. That’s my favorite part. But at the same time I mentioned earlier that Psychic Teens the intention was never to do anything specific. We’re just three friends playing together in a band, and I think overall the best part was that we have exceeded any expectations we ever had for ourselves. We have played out more, put out more music, we’ve been together longer, played better shows, and done some longer tours than any other band we had all done before. Psychic Teens has gotten more accomplished than we ever intended to do.
Worst part? I don’t know. I might have to get back to you on that one. We’re all friends. There’s no hate. The worst part sometimes is the cycles of writing and then pausing to record and trying to figure out when to play shows. It takes away a little bit of the fun of being in a band and playing shows.
What about that show in Ithaca in the record store? Wasn’t that a really bad one because everything kept breaking on you?
Oh yeah, if you want to talk about really bad shows I can talk to you about specific bad shows. And yes, that was a really bad show for us. That whole tour was a specifically ‘everything-is-breaking’ tour. It was a really great tour because we had a really great time and the shows were really fun, most of them anyway, but we were renting a van that we were perpetually having issues with. It wasn’t anybody’s fault but we were renting this van that had just been tuned up and fixed and ready to go and we got right outside of Baltimore and it died. We place we rented it from brought us another van, and we got into the other van and a day or two later that one started having problems. So we spent an entire day in Kentucky getting the catalytic converter fixed while that same rental company was trying to get us another van. We eventually got it fixed and we kept going on. And then the day of that Ithaca show, right before Ithaca we went to some state park, maybe Watkins Glen? So we were just walking around and when we got back to the van it just wouldn’t start. I don’t even know what the final verdict was, something was off with the transmission, we had to put it in neutral just to start it. So we drive to Ithaca, which is all hills, and the transmission was having trouble going from first to second, so that was a good day.
And the night before that show we were in Buffalo and Larry dropped his amp, so his amp wasn’t working right in Ithaca, which is a problem.
It’s funny because for a band that loves records, and record stores, and record shopping, I can tell you that two of our absolute worst shows were in record stores. And that was one of them.
(laughs) So there ya go, there’s a ‘worst of’! You think things will be great because you’re in a record store and it ends up sucking.
We have had good shows in record stores. We have just had two particularly bad ones in record stores.
What was the other one?
There was a record store we played in Jersey City. I don’t think it’s open anymore. We played there right before “Nerve” came out. So we played this store with a band that Joe was friends with and I’m not sure if it was conveyed to the store that we were a ‘loud’ band and I think the record store was expecting something not as loud. Like we were going to play with combo amps or something. But there was a problem with our volume.
That’s been a particular issue at a couple of places. We’ve been cut short at a couple shows because we were told that we were too loud and we were told that we had to stop.
But that’s not the worst part of the band because that’s like some little badge of honor!
Yeah, right! I can appreciate that part.
I got some records at some really great prices at that Ithaca show though so that was the silver lining!
There’s always a silver lining!
And now, if you'd like, you can get yourself a copy of "Hex" on LP, or CD, or digital, and it will be super cheap for the next week. We're talking $5 for LPs, $4 for CDs and $3 for digital download. And you can get it all HERE. Let's hope to hear more from Psychic Teens in the future, but in the meantime, check out their other band Ex-Maid.