We Interviewed Quintron and Miss Pussycat During a Horrible Storm
“We got a hurricane to deal with. Why don't you call when it’s ground zero time—like in the middle of the worst shit?” This was from Quintron’s email back to me with very specific instructions of when to call him for an interview. I had been asking to speak with him and Miss Pussycat for some time now. Only now, Hurricane Isaac was barreling down on the Gulf Coast and he wanted me to do the interview right when the eye of the storm passed over Orleans Parish. They live in the Ninth Ward.
“Probably Tuesday night late or Wednesday early—like 2 a.m.” He was referring to the storm’s ETA and even linked a site for the local weather radar to ensure my accuracy. “OK, but you have to call when the eye is passing over New Orleans,” he repeated. “That will be our moment of rest and hopefully just an insane, nonviolent meeting with our maker.”
The storm’s threat was real as they expected anywhere from 85 to 100 mph winds. He wrote that they were busy boarding up (later he told me he used pieces of wood from Miss P’s puppet theater stage and screwed them to the windows in preparation). He was right. Isaac made a punctual arrival. In fact it came on the eve of the seven-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which not only devastated the region, but did significant damage to their Spellcaster Lodge—a place that seems every bit as enchanted as their live stage shows.
I took his instruction in stride and accepted Isaac as a gift from the storm gods. Besides, I'd wanted to talk to him about his inventions, particularly one of his latest called The Singing House, a drone synthesizer that’s actually rigged to their home and is manipulated by the weather. To grossly oversimplify: it converts elements like raindrops and the clockwork occurrence of the rising and setting sun into electronic sound. According to its promo video, “No two days sound the same.” I’m curious as to what it all sounds like during a hurricane.
While they hunkered down (most residents reportedly decided to ride it out) I went into meteorologist mode and watched Isaac get upgraded from a tropical storm. Eventually it would top out as a Category 1 hurricane (the lowest on a scale from 1 to 5). I juggled between Twitter’s Isaac hashtag, the NOAA’s radar, and even watched NOLA’s local live weather stream on the news. I kept an eye on the eye, but much like the National Hurricane Center’s ‘Cone of Uncertainty’ the conditions were unpredictable.
As Isaac began to lose its symmetry the eye of the storm dissipated and the weatherman announced it had become stationary. I panicked and thought to myself that I’d lost my window of opportunity. What if Quintron doesn’t talk to me because of a technicality? It seemed unfair. Nature was being dually cruel to us. I made the phone call anyways, motivated by my heightened anticipation, but there was no answer, so I left a message.
The next few days were jumbled with miscommunication, hit or miss texts, a presumed pocket message from Mr. Q, until ultimately he left a coherent voicemail that revealed he had lost power and couldn’t charge his phone. With each passing day the storm continued to downgrade and by Thursday Isaac was merely a rain-dumping depression that caused widespread and long-lasting outages. He apologized for us not connecting and said the storm was a 48-hour event.
In his message he lapsed into a pseudo-Southern drawl when he said he was “Drivin’ around, lookin’ for gas.” My mind instantly wandered, imagining Q&P cruising the bayou in a puppet-stuffed Lincoln Town Car, kinda like the stage prop for his organ where it’s adorned with a shiny grill—hood ornament included. In reality he was rolling around in an old white beat up Dodge Ram van, searching for generator gas to keep his fridge running and for other basic necessities.
He said the storm was really insane and a lot worse than what people thought it was going to be. I figured he was referring to the rain since he’d mentioned dealing with Spellcaster again. When we finally spoke that Friday, it was the same day Mitt Romney (fresh from the Republican National Convention in Tampa) made his way up, supposedly to assess and bring attention to the damage. At that point NBC News reported about 500,000 homes and businesses in the area were still without power.
They seemed relatively okay so I dove in with questions about the Singing House. The contraption may seem quirky or toy-like upon first glance, but it’s actually a sophisticated synthesizer system and was the product of 10 years of cerebral planning before he actually cranked out a prototype in a matter of about four months. A minimalistic (he claimed it uses less of a current than a transistor radio and that it plugs into an amplifier) piece of musical ingenuity, I gathered from our conversation his invention must in part be sparked by obsession, but is equally inspired by his various influence.
“I’m still working on it now,” he explained. “There’s two of them. There’s one up the street. I haven’t checked on that.” I’m surprised to learn that another exists as part of the Music Box art installation project in New Orleans where instruments are temporarily built in shacks and shanties.
A self-taught, self-professed high-school grad with a knack for electronics, (not to mention a dad who was an electrical engineer growing up) he keeps the conversation technical, delving in music theory and how the whole idea of the house is based on the consonance of drone. “Nothing is random. It can’t just be a strange noise maker. It has to be healthy. It has to blend into life.” He articulated his fondness of the E major chord, a lower bass tone, which emanates from the house.
By now Mr. Q was way over my head as he elaborated on one of his influences, Harry Partch who was a composer and pioneering instrument creator. A “true American spirit” was the words he used to describe him. He mentioned root notes, semitone and how Partch wrote operas in the 1930s. I’d have to look him up myself to discover microtonalism and the fact that he designed some gnarly, alien-looking stringed and percussion instruments.
I moved on because I wanted him to talk about the alleged health benefits from these soothing sounds. In the Singing House’s demo video it’s said to promote “healing and mental relaxation” according to preliminary studies. Could this just be placebo or the simple gratification of him having created such a thing?
“I’m not a doctor,” he said. “But when the human brain is taking in constant drone it has a soothing effect on the central nervous system.” He alluded to how it’s helped him with his own health issues, but declined to go into detail. He simply mentioned how the sounds from each individual sensor occupy different spots in your psyche. I told him the lightning sensor reminded me of the sound of a Theremin.
We get back on topic and he talked about how things did get a little “irritating” in Isaac’s 100 mph winds. He mimicked the more annoying sounds of the house giving a quick, “bonk, bonk, bonk”, an imitation that probably doesn’t do the house justice of when the action was actually going down. Fortunately he does have some recordings of demonstrations from the singing house, but none from during the hurricane.
While they aren’t working on a new album, he told me the project he’s most excited about are the scenes being shot for Trixie and the Treetrunks: Mystery in Old Bathbath, his and Miss P’s latest puppet movie. During their 24 hours of being completely powerless, they threw a party that involved people coming over to their house, filming underwater puppet scenes, and the rescuing of actual fish. He said I should talk about that with Miss P. herself. Our conversation wrapped up and he muttered into the phone, “I hope that wasn’t boring.” He checked to see if she was even around. She was, so I called her next.
By contrast Miss P. seemed more laid back. It was like casually shooting the shit with an old friend. Despite their difference in tone I began to see distinct parallels in taste that bind them. After a quick greeting she set the scene for me in an almost cartoon-like voice. “I’m sitting in front of the faaan,” she said in her own slight drawl. She told me she’s originally from Antlers, Oklahoma and made a point of how that’s not quite the South. I already knew from our brief previous meeting on the Bruise Cruise that her upbringing involved the Christian community, including choir and Christian puppet youth ministry.
“When I was 14 or 15 I decided, these people suck. I don’t wanna go to church anymore. I do believe in the Holy Spirit. It’s not so off. Jesus or God; it’s a word. We personify things.” Then she asked if I grew up going to church, again a testament to her more conversational style (she had already asked where I grew up and would continue to have questions for me throughout our talk). I was still reeling from the God-talk nodding silently in complete agreement before I could process the flashbacks of growing up in Michigan and going to St. Joe’s Catholic Church every week until I was 19. But I felt I knew what she was getting at about the power of spirited music.
She shared a story of her and Quintron attending Sunday evening service at the Ebenezer Baptist Church. “Sometimes they have good bands.” She explained how the production went on for four hours and that at one point they felt like leaving, but didn’t want to impose. “There was no sneaking out the back door.” The two ended up eating a hot-dog dinner at church served by teenagers, not before witnessing congregation members drop to the floor in ecstasy. “They put a sheet over you so you don’t expose yourself,” she explained in cases where a woman who might have a skirt on is shrouded so they don’t feel inhibited and are free to roll around.
It’s not so different at a Quintron, Miss Pussycat live show. They’re in front of us with an organ and puppets preaching freedom and the audience is uninhibited. I’ve seen it enough to know that their live set takes me somewhere inexplicable, where I transcend both inside of myself and beyond the walls of the venue. It’s like becoming inverted, but then shining. Miss P. described what may have been a similar experience for her when she once saw NOLA legends and R&B singers, the late Ernie & Antoinette K-Doe. Upon hitting a high note, both “pure and beautiful” it became apparent that they were space aliens. At least that’s how she explained it.
For now the two are in between tours with Europe on the horizon. They made the rare trek to the West Coast, where Miss P. visited Disneyland (she’s a huge Walt Disney fan calling him a “self-made man and true visionary”) and rode the Matterhorn. “I don’t like Pocahontas. I love Silly Symphonies,” she said referring to her preference of the more whimsical collaborations between Disney and composer Carl Stalling during the 20s and 30s.
She turned to her very near future and even offered me travel tips like, “fly into Spain” when going to Europe because it’s cheaper. She asked if I’ve ever been. I answered “no”, but that I have the desire. Apparently there’s a puppet museum in Leon that she’s excited to see along with the neo-Gothic architecture by someone I didn’t know named Gaudi whose buildings “look like they’re melting”.
“What is this for? Do you just write it and then figure it out?” she asked curiously. In short I tell her it’s for Vice, but the real reason was that I just wanted to talk to a couple of my heroes—the inventors, the weirdoes, the creative types.
Photos by Dallis Willard