Friday, July 31, 2009

Quintron and Miss Pussycat

My interview with eccentric New Orleans electronic organ and puppeteer duo, Quintron and Miss Pussycat.

Quintron and Miss Pussycat.

Quintron and Miss Pussycat.

By Andrea Warner

Pop music is no stranger to curious duos — Sonny & Cher, Captain & Tennille, and Wham! come to mind — but few can match the oddness of the organ-driven, dance-happy, puppet-pioneering indie-swamp-rock pair, Quintron & Miss Pussycat.

Their monikers sound like the names of characters in a twisted fairytale — which, as it turns out, isn’t far off the mark. Quintron is the mad inventor who spends his time wielding soldering irons in his underground lair, crafting futuristic musical instruments like his famous Drum Buddy (more on that later). Miss Pussycat, his wife and collaborator, is a chipper puppeteer who thrives in a world of make-believe, the kind of woman who says in complete earnestness when one phones for an interview, “Hold on, I have to go through the trapdoor to get Quintron for you.” Come one, come all to the circus of the Spellcaster Lodge, otherwise known as Quintron and Miss Pussycat’s home (and secret nightclub), nestled defiantly in New Orleans’ 9th Ward.

The couple are about to embark on a cross-continent tour in support of their new album, Too Thirsty 4 Love, a mixed bag of dizzying, booty-scootin’ indie-rock that mixes elements of punk, techno, pop, and funk. Quintron, who’s cultivated a reputation for being infamously facetious with media (he once did an interview from a wheelchair, claiming he’d been injured in a fall from a roller coaster at an amusement park), is currently hard at work repairing the damage done to his invention, the Drum Buddy, on a recent flight.

“We just went to play [the Sled Island festival] in Calgary, and good ol’ United Airlines destroyed my Drum Buddy,” he says, by way of explaining why he’s holding a soldering iron in one hand and the phone in the other. “I invented and built it, and it’s very rare and precious, and United Airlines played basketball with it, so I’m having to rebuild the entire thing before this tour.”

The Drum Buddy is almost more legendary than the puppet shows that kick-off the duo’s gigs, and Quintron sounds like a proud papa/total nerd while describing his creation. “It’s a light-activated analog synth,” he says. “It kind of has some of the same design elements that a battle DJ mixer would have, like for really, really playing vinyl as an instrument. But instead of a rotating record, it’s a rotating can, and as the holes emit light into the receptors, it charges and discharges these oscillators. It’s also sort of akin to an old-fashioned music box.”

Though he offhandedly attributes his love of music to autism (he had a “compulsive need to rock back and forth and hum”), Quintron’s sound is deeply rooted in the eccentric vibe and rich history of New Orleans, a place that he’s grateful to call home.

“When you’re entrenched in some place, you get things done faster,” he says. “I know where everything is, I know everyone. It’s kind of a good-ol’-boy town, and I’m a good ol’ boy, and that fuckin’ sucks, but it sure makes life a whole lot easier when you’re one of ’em.”

Quintron credits that phenomena with keeping life a little bit simpler; knowing the courthouse clerk will help one bypass the queue, or avoid getting taken for big bucks trying to get the car fixed. New Orleans has been Quintron and Miss Pussycat’s home for a number of years, and the pair’s Spellcaster Lodge was among the casualties of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but has since been resurrected. Quintron’s voice takes on a weary tone as he bluntly states he’s “sick of New Orleans being defined by this one tragedy.”

“New Orleans has recovered remarkably well, given the degree of destruction,” he says. “There are areas that have not come back, and that’s really tragic. But, all in all, the parts that are doing good are doing really, really, well. New Orleans grew more than any other American city [in the last census year], so people are moving here and things are happening. That said, it’s still totally fucked up and crazy and lawless and falling apart, and there are still hurricanes and termites that eat your house, and I think we’re also the murder capital again this year — good for us, hurrah, hurrah. So there’s all those things. You gotta be faced with death to love life as much as New Orleans people love life, I guess.”

Quintron & Miss Pussycat play Saturday, Aug. 1 at the Media Club (695 Cambie), 7 pm. Tickets $15 from Ticketmaster, Zulu, and Red Cat.

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