It’s damn near impossible to succinctly describe the work of New Orleans husband-and-wife pair Quintron & Miss Pussycat. Swamp-tech dance music backed by avant-garde puppetry? Electronic noise jolted by naturalistic pulses? Mad scientist inventions brought to life by weather-borne vibrations? How about latter-day saints of new, weird American ingenuity?
All of these assessments are accurate, though none encompass the whole of Robert “Quintron” Rolston and Panacea “Miss Pussycat” Theriac. Quintron grew up in Mobile, Alabama, and St. Louis, Missouri, before moving to Chicago and eventually New Orleans, where he perfected his organ-and-drum-machine-driven one-man-band show. Meanwhile, Miss Pussycat was raised in a religious Oklahoma household, where she studied puppetry and oil painting before opening the Pussycat Caverns puppet theater in New Orleans. That’s where the two met in the early ’90s.
Since then, they’ve merged their outsider art in compelling, often inexplicable ways. Quintron is responsible for the Spit Machine, a saliva-fueled hand organ; the Drum Buddy, a light-activated analog synthesizer; and, most recently, the Weather Warlock, a drone synthesizer that converts weather patterns into electronic sound. Theriac has produced several absurd full-length puppet movies famous in New Orleans for featuring the gumbo-laced voices and personalities of local political, culinary, musical and literary celebrities.
But it’s the overall package that defines Quintron & Miss Pussycat. On tour, she puts on puppet shows before backing his concerts. DIY up to their eyeballs, they operate their own label, Rhinestone Records, and their own private club, the Spellcaster Lodge in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward (they live upstairs). Yet the couple are also road warriors, spending a good chunk of the year performing in dive bars, pizza parlors and, lately, art museums, libraries and universities. By day, they give educational presentations to schoolchildren and lectures on their creativity; they’ve exhibited work and made records inside the New Orleans Museum of Art, and this year marks their second consecutive Art Basel Miami Beach appearance next month. But by night, their raucous live show takes over. It’s a blend that Quintron says he and his wife are comfortable with.
“I’m from a music background and don’t necessarily feel a strong personal connection with the art world,” Quintron says. “To be appreciated in that realm is certainly nice, but I think it has a lot wrong with it — or a lot I don’t understand.”
Quintron & Miss Pussycat’s current tour, which ends this week at Sun-Ray Cinema, follows up their October album, Spellcaster II: Death in Space. Mostly instrumental and built around psychedelic sounds created by broken organs, vibraphones and the aforementioned Weather Warlock, it’s a departure from the duo’s past party-jam aesthetic. It was originally written as the soundtrack for a Big Easy filmmaker’s sci-fi flick, and Quintron says it’s a long-awaited continuation of his 1997 debut album, Spellcaster. Yet everything still revolves around their fascination with rhythm.
“It’s very organ-focused and mood-oriented rather than song-oriented,” Quintron says of the new album and tour set list. “A lot of it is really incidental, improvised stuff for drones, so we only play half the record live. Some pieces are purely studio creations made on weird, old instruments that I couldn’t take on tour, like a Lowrey Magic Genie, which is one of my favorite ’70s-era synth organs. I’m a drummer in my deepest soul, but this record doesn’t have such a heavy reliance on the drum machine. It’s more pulsing from the organs.”
The most intriguing pulses, however, come from the Weather Warlock, which has sensors that detect changes in sunlight, wind, rain and temperature and carry that information via copper wires to a synthesizer, which then emits drones based around an E major chord. (Sounds generated by the original device can be streamed 24/7 at weatherfortheblind.org.) But Quintron has brought a more recent prototype, which he completed during a residency at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation in Captiva, Florida, earlier this year, on the road for three special performances in Chicago, Brooklyn and Miami (on Dec. 7 — road trip, anyone?).
“I finished this one in Florida by tuning it to the very intense UVs that are part of the climate there, where it was always very windy with tropical rain that would blow in and out,” Quintron says. “Different from New Orleans but not that dissimilar. It has to be played at sunset, though, which is not the most convenient time for everybody. We played it for the first time [on Nov. 13] in Chicago, and I didn’t realize sunset is so fucking early up here. The UV started activating the sun sensor at 4:15 p.m. But it was awesome. A super-heavy loud rock thing. I wanted it to be totally in tune with what the weather was doing but kind of represent the more evil side of Mother Nature.”