Quix*o*tic's music kind of sounds like it's made by the spooky kids in the back of your high school art class.
Quix*o*tic’s music kind of sounds like it’s made by the spooky kids in the back of your high school art class, the ones who wore all black, hid behind their bangs, and were into bands with German names. As we should all know by now, these are also the kids who ended up being way cooler than anyone else from your shitty hometown.
The members of Quix*o*tic are not goths. It’s dark but not dramatic. Themes of ghouls, betrayal, and death wishes may come up but remain completely angst-free. So how does Quix*o*tic reply to allegations of being “bummed”? “I suppose so,” says guitarist, vocalist, and occasional drummer Christina Billotte. “What we do is definitely not major key music.”
Quix*o*tic’s sound is an unprecedented mix of girl groups like The Crystals, soul like The Miracles, punk, garage rock like The Gories, and dark Americana like blues or gospel. Nobody sounds like Quix*o*tic, but after hearing them you’ll wish more people did. One of the key elements that makes this band so special is that two of its three members are siblings: the inimitable Billotte sisters.
Christina admits to having been into ska when she was a teenager (which is kind of okay since she grew up in Washington, DC). Later, she formed two seminal all-female bands. There was Autoclave, which also included future luminary Mary Timony (Helium), and then there was Slant 6, the woefully short-lived combo that she led in the early ’90s. Slant 6’s two records, both released by Dischord, are worth seeking out today (right after you buy Quix*o*tic’s brand new second album, Mortal Mirror).
Christina’s little sister, Mira (drums, vocals) sings like an absolute angel, sometimes like a punk Nina Simone in her world-weary phrasing, especially on the darkly tropical song “The Breeze.” She also plays drums with an alarming inventiveness and deceptive simplicity. In fact, a hallmark of Quix*o*tic’s music is its subtlety. Christina’s guitar lines sound like scales from a different culture, somewhere between The Cramps’ favorite graveyard and Egypt. Christina sings in this honest and simply textured way that can disarm you quicker than any over-emotive diva clichés. The Billotte sisters put their voices to thrilling use on Mortal Mirror during their excellently selected covers. Christina does the soul chestnuts “Sitting in the Park” and “Tell It Like It Is,” and she makes both of them achingly beautiful. The latter is crushed-out mix-tape material par excellence. Mira takes on Black Sabbath’s “Lord Of This World,” which seems a little incongruous, but actually makes a lot of sense since Sabbath and Quix*o*tic share a sort of morbid but empowered outlook.
Surprisingly, the two weren’t raised in a particularly musical household. Christina was given her first guitar when she was fourteen. “There was this friend of my parents, a French guy, who I used to babysit for,” she says, “and I always used to play around with his bass when I was there. One day he had to leave the country, so he just gave it to me.” When Mira was 18, she also received a bass for her birthday from Christina and their mom but still the two didn’t play together for a couple of years. “Eventually we got together to just do a one-off project, and the band developed out of that,” says Christina.
Bassist Mick Barr, a new addition to the band, is also one half of Orthrelm, a prog/metal outfit whose shows consist of scarily intricate 30-minute guitar and drum solos, kind of like Joe Satriani if he was cool and addicted to meth. As Christina tells it, “Mick is an amazing musician. He totally holds everything together in the band.” To hear Mick harness his obviously spastic and immense talent to be a part of a group as moody and toned-down as Quix*o*tic is amazing. He’s a virtuoso musician and hopefully there will be a bust of him in the guitar gods’ secret headquarters one day.
Last spring, Quix*o*tic played at L.A.’s Sonic Youth-curated All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, joining such groundbreaking avant-gardists as Black Dice, Deerhoof, Merzbow, and Eddie Vedder (eh?). This August they’ll be playing with the venerable Youth again, on the West Coast leg of their American tour. They’ll also be at this month’s Ladyfest DC. Go out and see them. Quix*o*tic, both live and recorded, is like visiting the world’s prettiest graveyard. Bask in it.