Speakeasy with Vess Ruhtenberg 

An Indianapolis favorite son in the realm of indie pop, Vess Ruhtenberg reflects on past "girlfriends" and fighting the good fight. His current project Hoti (ho-tie) is a swaggering T-Rex-esque rock outfit featuring notables LonPaul Ellrich, Devon Ashley and Sean McGary.

What can be said about Hoti?

It's old and new friends of mine who are some of the best musicians around. It's a band that's utilizing everything we've learned up to this point without utilizing nostalgia to say it.

Do you ever feel doomed to follow the creative path your talent has dictated, for better or worse?

I sometimes feel doomed because being a musician, recently I've noticed that instead of people saying, 'Thanks a lot for hanging around," and, "It's great that you're still here," they say, "How come you didn't leave?" which makes me think ... uh oh. They're not happy I stayed, they wish I'd left!

Couldn't that be more an indictment of the climate?

Indiana needs to be either shaken awake or smothered to death with a giant throw pillow. In a nutshell, I fear I've stayed to fight a battle that no one is fighting with me. I was arrogant and I thought I could help change it and make it a different place and instead maybe I've just been a liberal standing in the middle of the Republican convention screaming my head off.

Is there a past project whose end you still lament?

It's sort of like saying is there any girlfriend you regret having and the answer would be no. I have [been lucky] to have some great ex-girlfriends bandwise. Everything ends when it should, but if a good band is good it never really ends. People want the Zero Boys to play this year and the first record was made 25 years ago and maybe the Pieces were only supposed to make that one record.

Speaking of ex-girlfriends, what of United States Three?

UST formed because Zero Boys ended and Mark Cutsinger kept coming over to my house every day at 3. The first record was a happy, goofy hello and we grew up in four years. [By the end] I wasn't playing with Mark anymore, I wasn't with the same girl those songs were loosely based around ... Sometimes you have to kill off Hercule Poirot to move on. It was so perfect; the last song on the last record ended with "We love you. Bye bye."

What is the most bizarre thing you've ever witnessed while on tour?

Oral sex by homeless people in a Laundromat on the River Bonn in Hamburg, Germany.

When was this?

Sometime around 1990 with Paul Mahern while out with the Zero Boys. We were in Europe, doing our laundry and writing our postcards and looked up and saw exactly that ... in a Laundromat. You can't go anywhere, your clothes are wet! [laughing] Your clothes are spinning around at 90 mph in some German industrial dirt kicker. It was horrifying.

Are you writing it all down?

Someday I do think that I would write a more interesting book than an album. When I think about the things I've seen and done ... from meeting Paul Mahern in 1984 to Benchmark [Records] three years ago, I think I could write quite a story. Get me drunk at Moe & Johnny's and I'll tell it all to you. [laughing]

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