In two recent phone conversations, Quintron discussed his St. Louis roots, the discomfort of recording as an exhibit, and his new title of Grammy nominee. Miss Pussycat shared some secrets to making her puppet shows, and fun things to do with rubberized fabric.
Robin Wheeler: You do have a St. Louis connection…
Quintron: Very much. If I can say I'm from anywhere, which is hard being a military brat … I've lived in New Orleans longer than I've lived anywhere in my life, but I had my formative growing-up years in St. Louis, Missouri.
RW: Of course, the question that follows is, where did you go to high school?
Q: Parkway North. My dad worked at McDonnell Douglas and we lived in Florissant for a long time. Then we moved to Creve Couer. He was in the National Guard and he was also an engineer.
RW: How did you come about recording your new album in the art museum in New Orleans?
Q: The curator of the contemporary wing of the New Orleans Museum of Art asked us to do something. She wanted to do, like, a retrospective exhibit of our work. She wanted to do something for a show. I'm not a visual artist. Miss Pussycat's a visual artist, and that makes sense, with her puppets. She's a painter and photographer.
I was like, I don't know what you want me to do because I don't do that kind of thing. So I thought, well, I know. I'll use this opportunity to make a really weird experiment on myself [laughs]. Set up a recording studio and record an album in the museum. We had full 24-hour access. It was like we were employees and could be there anytime, day or night.
I ended up doing a lot of work when people weren't there because I found it very difficult to work with the public there. I thought I could tune them out, but I couldn't. I couldn't. It was really annoying and I hated it when people were there, actually. I devised all kinds of ways to make it work. I'd turn my back to the public and rope myself off. I'd blast white noise in the room so I could just tune out the chatter, and nothing ever lifted the veil of extreme uncomfortableness. That part of the experiment was a failure, in a way. But having access to the museum -- the whole experience -- I wouldn't trade for the world. I'm happy with the album. I wouldn't have made that record in any other circumstances.
RW: Did the extreme uncomfortableness affect the final product?
Q: The uncomfortableness wasn't a factor because I wasn't recording anything during my uncomfortable periods. I would just leave. I had no interest in capturing me, being freaked out by being looked at by a bunch of people. I didn't want to go there; I wanted to make a good record. I wanted to make a good rock and roll half-record and the other half a strange adventure into the swamp. I think the fact that I was there so many hours, ten plus hours a day, made me really get into the details of everything, sonically. That wouldn't have happened anyplace else. I was literally just forcing myself to go to work, like a regular job, so I started paying attention to stuff. Really, really detailed stuff that I wouldn't have done otherwise.
RW: Who's using the Drum Buddy these days?
Q: There's a DJ in New Orleans who just bought the last one. DJ MC Microphone. Nels Cline of Wilco is using his. Laurie Anderson's using one. Fred Armisen from "Saturday Night Live" and "Portlandia" owns one. He's an amazing musician, actually, but I don't know how much time he has to mess with it. There are a lot other people you may not have heard of. Several people in New Orleans, a bunch of German and Austrian electronic artists.
RW: When you created it did you have any idea it would reach that far?
Q: No. You don't really realize things until they're happening. I made it for myself. I really had the intention to only make one of my own.
RW: Can you tell us a bit about the Singing House? Will we see it in St. Louis?
Q: The Singing House isn't portable yet. It's an analog drone synthesizer. And by drone I mean it's always tuned to one major chord, and that chord is being constantly modulated, 24 hours a day, by the weather -- light conditions, wind speed, whether it's raining or not, whether there's a lightning storm or not, humidity. Those all affect the sound and slowly change it throughout the day.
RW: What was the inspiration for using the weather to create music? With living in New Orleans and the connection you had with Hurricane Katrina...
Q: No, it wasn't about that at all. This thing would work just as well on the North Pole. It's not so much about the weather in New Orleans as having an audio representation of what is occurring around us and changing all the time. Because the weather is never the same for any two moments. Ever. It's like a snowflake. To transcribe the weather conditions into sound was something I was really interested in. Again, like the Drum Buddy, I wanted to realize it so bad I had to do it. And it worked out.
RW: What has become of the post-Katrina marching band you were a part of in the Ninth Ward?
Q: We marched the year after Katrina and we're going strong. We take a year off now and then but we just released our first album after 15 years. We'll have that available in St. Louis. It's a compilation of these extra recordings we've made over the years. The last year we did it, in the middle of a parade in Mardi Gras, we actually marched into the studio, played through our cycle, and marched out mid-parade. It's a pretty awesome document of street parade, New Orleans Mardi Gras music.
RW: What's the mood in the Ninth Ward seven years after the hurricane?
Q: New Orleans has come back really strong. Of course Katrina changed the landscape and demographic, and some neighborhoods are not coming back, and some are really, really, really doing well.
RW: How did the Grammy-nominated collaboration with Steve Riley and the Mamou Players come about?
Q: Just from living in the same part of the country and seeing and hearing each others' music. We have a mutual producer friend who hooked us up and told him, "You have to do this song by Quintron." He came over with his band to Spellcaster, which is our studio and house in New Orleans. We recorded it live there, and I played on it. Mixed it and produced it someplace else, and sure enough, Grammy nomination.
RW: Are we going to see Trixie and the Treetrunks in St. Louis?
Miss Pussycat: No, you won't. You'll be seeing Starla Marla and Honeybear. They're friends but they're a different group of puppets. Trixie and the Treetrunks is a really specific group, and they go on and on and on. This is a different, new group.
I really love this puppet show's soundtrack. I think it's one of the best ones I've recorded in ten years. Because it's got the voice of Bridget, the bartender from the Saturn Bar. She's got this great accent. And my friend Cammy, who's fifteen and lives across the street. The voices are just so good. I went in to record Bridget at the Saturn Bar one day and there were customers in there. We asked if they could please be quiet, and we bought them drinks. Just please, be quiet while we record. And then I got one of them to be the voice of Dracula.
RW: How do you find people to be the voices?
MP: I can surely think about who has a good voice. I do the voice of Trixies, and the voice of Christy Corncob. I do a lot of the voices, but I really like having other people do the voices and I'm always looking for who's got a good voice. You know, somebody who works at the store in the neighborhood, I'll really try to get them to do a voice someday.
RW: I so clearly remember the first of your puppet shows I saw. I saw it twice when you were opening for the White Stripes. There's still lines from it that get stuck in my head nine years later.
MP: I'm going to guess what the line is that's stuck in your head. [sings] Magical miniature ponies!
MP: That one got stuck in a lot of peoples' heads.
RW: From the craft perspective, how are the puppets made? Is that all you?
MP: The puppets are mostly sewn mouth-puppets, except the spaceship is made from aluminum foil. I really like aluminum foil as sculpting material. The other puppet is an alien. Her name used to be Jackie Jo Jackson, then I cut her arm off and I didn't like her very much. Now she's a space alien. She is a beautiful puppet, but she's so scary. Her mouth doesn't move because she's mad. She's made from cast neoprene [a rubberized fabric used in wet suits]. I went to puppet camp one summer and took a workshop on how to make molds and cast neoprene. You'll see.
RW: Musically, what have you been doing with the shows?
MP: Quintron wrote two new songs and they're great. I'm just trying to learn them. And they're beautiful.
We're working on a new puppet movie. It'll be finished this summer, and hopefully next time we come through St. Louis it'll be on DVD. Or I can just show it at an AMC movie theater [laughs].
RW: And we can all pay 10 bucks to see it!
KDHX welcomes Quintron and Miss Pussycat to the Firebird on Friday, May 18.