If you look past the roaring crowds and glitzy lifestyle, fronting the most popular all-psychology-faculty band in northeast Ohio may not be as glamorous as it seems.
For one thing, says Kent State University psychology professor John Dunlosky, PhD, it's difficult for him to go out to dinner without being approached by fans seeking autographs.
"It's a cross I have to bear," he says. "Of course, it's just something you have to deal with at this level."
It wasn't always this way. When Wire Mother formed in 2004, fame and fortune were the furthest thing from their minds, say drummer Joel Hughes, PhD, and guitarist John Updegraff, PhD. The band members--all Kent State University psychology professors--just wanted to play classic rock with a behavioral health flair. In fact, the band name was inspired by Harry Harlow's famous experiments that found infant monkeys preferred to cling to a cloth monkey even when a wire "mother" provided food.
For two years, the band mostly played at local bars for free drinks and to unwind after demanding days in their health psychology labs. It all changed on Sept. 3, 2006, when Wire Mother played Kent State's Social Colloquium, the annual welcome party that psychology faculty throw for new students. That night, dozens of undergraduate and graduate students became fans.
Wire Mother's popularity traveled by word of mouth and pirated recordings, and they began drawing crowds upwards of 50 people across the state, including a show in Hudson, Ohio, where they reportedly raked in $100.
Later that year, the band released what would become their biggest hit, "Where is My Mind/Psycho Killer," an unlikely mash-up of songs by the alternative rock bands The Pixies and The Talking Heads.
Despite the band's growing popularity, Dunlosky felt that it needed more singing talent, so he recruited two clinical psychologists: singer Mary Beth Spitznagel, PhD, and vocalist and keyboard player Patrick Palmieri, PhD. Dunlosky also enlisted his wife, cognitive psychologist Katherine Rawson, PhD, to sing and play bass.
With five out of six band members wanting to belt lyrics these days, sometimes "all this talent is too much of a good thing," Hughes says.
"There has been some tension about how many songs you get to sing lead on, not unlike Fleetwood Mac," Hughes says. "We compare ourselves to Fleetwood Mac a lot."
Adding to the tension is Dunlosky's psychology conference travel schedule, which he lets get in the way of band obligations, some band members say. In fact, Wire Mother did not play at the 2007 Social Colloquium, as their lead singer spoke at a psychology conference that night.
"John is getting too famous as a psychologist," says Hughes. "He travels a lot to do speaking, and we haven't had many practices in the last couple of months."
Dunlosky dismisses such concerns. And whenever he feels his artistic vision is becoming clouded by the trappings of academic success, Dunlosky recalls a meeting he had as a graduate student, when his mentor told him, 'You know that you are here to be a psychologist, not a rock star,'" Dunlosky recalls.
"I sure fooled him."
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