Innovative and absurd: An interview with Quintron

Quintron spends part of his time inventing innovative musical devices. — photo by Gary Lavourde

Quintron and Miss Pussycat w/ zZz

The Mill – October 6 at 8 p.m. ($12)

It’s difficult to put a finger on the mystery of New Orleans — the vast wasteland of the crescent city and its perpetual soirees are both alarming and captivating at the same time. Inventor and organist Mr. Quintron, along with his partner, peppy puppeteer Miss Pussycat, embody this spirit with their transcendent, R&B dance stomp and psychedelic puppet shows. Their elaborately decorated and themed nightclub, the Spellcasters Lodge, stands as a bastion of resilience to Hurricane Katrina on St. Claude Avenue in the Ninth Ward — a testament that art, music and all-night dance parties raging with positive excitement can thrive in a broken, but amazing city like New Orleans.

In the early ‘90s, Panacea Theriac — a.k.a. Miss Pussycat — created a performance space on Piety Street called the Pussycat Caverns, which held themed shows and parties and hosted a number of bands, including Iowa City’s Radar Dolls. Iowa City native Nicholas Ray, guitarist for such bands as American Death Ray, described his experience at Pussycat Caverns.

“It was in a sort of abandoned manufacturing space with nothing around it in the neighborhood back then,” he said. “Quintron was making weird sounds and dance music on his organ and Panacea was doing her puppet shows, and somehow they decided to combine the two. That night we played really badly and had a lot of fun.”

In earlier years, Quintron would stalk the stage like a mad scientist, strangling an electric guitar and howling through a contact mic he would hold in his teeth. Then he would sit at his organ and play raw, deconstructed gospel R&B, performing groovy songs like “9th Ward Breakdown,” “Do The Stomp” and “Bug Attack.”

Today, his sets are a different experience. Quintron sits perched at his organ set-up along with his greatest invention of all time — the light-controlled drum machine called the Drum Buddy — while Miss Pussycat sings back-up and cheerleads the crowd with her homemade maracas. They have perfected the organics of the sweaty, soul dance party with perfectly crafted, sing-along anthems and instant New Orleans classics like “Witch in the Club,” “Jamskate” and “Ring the Alarm.” They are pied pipers with altruistic intentions, a pair of ringleaders you could follow off the edge of the earth.

“A Quintron and Miss Pussycat show equals puppets, organ jams and partying,” said Quintron. “Just like always, no radical left turns into rock opera for us. We wanna be dependable like the Ramones or Dodge vans from the ‘70s.”

Part of what make their performances so captivating are Quintron’s inventions and Miss Pussycat’s wondrous, absurdly comic and very lysergic puppet shows.

Lately, Quintron has been working on his invention the Weather Witch, a drone synthesizer controlled by wind, rain and temperature. The analogous theme in Quintron’s inventions is the production of ambient sound, or sounds that you hear in everyday life, and it’s so perfect that he returns to those native to his home in New Orleans’ Bywater. Quintron often experiments with emulating these sounds with archaic instrumentation or synthesis that don’t necessarily sound like the real thing.

“I have always lived within earshot of a train. I got trains on the brain I guess,” said Quintron. “I think the organ train imitation on These Hands is pretty good. I hate it when people complain about getting ‘caught by the train.’ To me that’s like a lucky thing, like you are taking time out to bow before an ancient dinosaur or a bald eagle or something. Actually, just yesterday I got caught by one and I could see really well into the engineer’s quarters and it totally looked like a DJ booth!”

During a tenure at the New Orleans Museum of Art in 2010, Quintron took field recordings of New Orleans that became serene sound collages for his album, Sucre Du Sauvage.

“Those field recordings for Sucre Du Sauvage were all done in a huge nature preserve in downtown New Orleans called City Park,” explained Quintron. “It’s like a very well-manicured swamp and I basically lived there for three months while making that album. Ducks make some crazy sounds but nothing compares to a goose. My friend told me that ‘Geese are the Moog of poultry.’”

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The themes of Miss Pussycat’s puppet shows vary wildly. From talking sewing machines that take acid to Trixie and Marsha, the woodland heroes of her puppet soap opera Trixie and the Treetrunks, her creations are supernatural, paranormal, otherworldly and deviously wondrous.

In 2002, Miss Pussycat revealed her first puppet show video about two river rats that win a trip to the North Pole, North Pole Nutrias. A follow-up video, Electric Swamp, featured a termite rave and co-starred her friends and frequent collaborators the late, great Ernie K-Doe, who penned the 1961 hit “Mother In Law,” and his wife Antoinette.

Over the summer, Miss Pussycat built an astonishing 106 puppets for her “Anthropomorphizer” residency at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans. For three months, she created new puppets inside the museum with her sewing machine, fabric and fur, all while visible to the public through a giant window at the corner of St. Joseph and Camp Streets.

“She has totally outdone herself, (it’s) really incredible,” said Quintron. “Her work this summer has totally blown my mind, like the most innovative, beautiful puppets she has ever built. And some of those are coming on tour. I don’t wanna give too much [of the show] away but let’s just say there might be a giant furry cake with an alien tongue who terrorizes Iowa.”

Quintron also excitedly stressed that for the first time ever Miss Pussycat will sell small, inexpensive puppets on their tour — part of the consistently amazing products for sale at their merch tables, including records, DVDs, rare cassette tapes, buttons, t-shirts, personalized pencils and more odd and wacky stuff.

Quintron may also bring his latest prototype, the Singing House, which has made the rounds around the Ninth Ward over the last year and has been tested in various conditions in the city’s wild, unpredictable weather.

“I think I’m gonna bring a prototype on this tour and use it at the beginning or the end of every show. Even though we are not playing outside, you can still get the drift,” said Quintron. “I can’t really discuss it at this point other than to tell you that the Singing House is now called The Weather Witch and we hope to bring one to Iowa. When the time comes for the Witches to fly, the world will know.”

Mr. Quintron and Miss Pussycat perform at The Mill on Sunday, Oct. 6 with openers zZz. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance or $12 the day of the show.

Brendan Lee Spengler’s first Mardi Gras at the Spellcasters Lodge was a cross between Easy Rider and The Muppet Show.

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