LEAVING THE SMART BITS IN WITH QUINTRON & MISS PUSSYCAT


“Quintron does not suffer fools,” said our EIC Dan before sending me into the lion’s den: Quintron and Miss Pussycat’s home, recording/invention studio, infrequent event space, and soon-to-be electronics repair shop—The Spellcaster Lodge. I headed there to discuss Q and P’s new book, Europa My Mirror, a memoir about their most recent European tour, written by Quintron and anchored by Miss P’s endearingly odd illustrations, published in December via Goner Records.

The book begins with a juicy anecdote about a miserable night in Barcelona, setting the tone for a typical tour journal replete with tall tales of hilarious mishaps and redeeming near-death experiences. But Quintron quickly changes direction, trading in rote writing on groupies and drugs (mostly) for insights on the experience of the working musician, the North American in Europe, and (very briefly) the descendant of European colonizers in New Orleans. He also discusses his introduction to vinyl and tells the story of refusing to build Lou Reed a Drum Buddy (the “mechanically-rotating, light-activated drum machine” that’s become a staple in Quintron’s live show). Quintron is prone to waxing philosophical, but his airtight prose makes even his broadest pontifications bearable, and he’s got some fascinating takes.

Dan was right about Quintron’s attitude toward fools. He called me on my vagaries and turned me down flat when I asked questions he felt were weighted. We began our interview one-on-one while Miss P finished up at a ceramics workshop near the Spellcaster.


Photo: Lefty Parker

I don’t usually love long-form tour journals. They’re always so over-written. Obviously, there’s some inherent self-indulgence to this type of writing, but to me, your book felt concise and self-edited. What kind of writing experience have you had?
Quintron: None, really, other than writing letters and essays and writing for myself. This is the first thing I’ve ever published. I’ve gone through phases of voracious reading in my life, so I’d say it’s mostly from reading bad writing and reading good writing. And a lot of rock bios and autobios are bad writing, but they’re still enjoyable. There’s something to love in that genre because it’s not about the writer—especially if it’s not ghostwritten. There’s a lot to love about the honesty of the self-indulgence. But that said, I’m a big fan of sparse, concise crime fiction. That’s my shit.

Who in particular?
Q: My go-to guy is Charles Willeford. And my friend Tim turned me onto James Hadley Chase. He was a British writer who was writing from the vantage point of a tough-guy private eye living in Florida. So he’s writing from this southern United States perspective, but there are all these Britishisms that get thrown in there. It’s really wrong and awesome and wonderful. Jim Thompson, of course. Elmore Leonard. Sorry they’re all men, but that was my introduction to the genre. I love a lot of female writers too, but within that genre, I cut my teeth on those guys.

How about within that tour diary canon?
Q: No, because usually those books are just one-offs. And I really don’t enjoy or read a lot of the rock essayist stuff—like Rolling Stone writers who go on and on and on about the importance of whatever they’re going on and on about the importance of. Of course, Lester Bangs’s Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung. That’s an example of a rock critic who really went there as a writer. And again, what’s great about it is its self-indulgence. He had the benefit of being a terrible musician but a brilliant writer, and knowing that. Johnny Ramone’s autobiography is incredible. And Dee Dee Ramone’s autobiography—he obviously didn’t have an editor because there are full passages that are repeated, misspellings galore. He clearly did not listen to whatever voices were saying, “Hey, man. You might wanna double-think this before you put it out.” That’s a really good one. Please Kill Me [The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain] is a masterpiece of eyewitness writing. It’s really well put-together and was kind of a game changer. Everything started to be like that.

Your book’s foreword is wild. It begins: “At the climax of my first Quintron and Miss Pussycat concert in New Orleans, a woman in the audience jumped on stage and whipped off her clothes to reveal a pubis tattooed with flames.” Can you talk about your relationship with the guy behind it, Timothy Lachin? Was he on tour with you at all?
Q: Nope. Tim is one of a handful of licensed Freudian psychoanalysts living in Paris, which houses the only university at which you can get a degree to practice Freudian psychoanalysis. He’s from New Orleans, so I’ve known him forever from here. But mostly, our relationship grew as he was living in Paris. We’ve been going on tour in Europe every couple years for decades, and he developed into a writer and was showing me his stuff—first non-fiction and then fiction—and it really blew me away. It’s such a wonderful thing when you have a friend whose work you’re not just loving because they’re your friend and it’s part of your scene and hurrah for the home team. It’s like, “Man, this is world class.” Brilliant, groundbreaking ideas and challenging and very well-executed. He’s the one who taught me to self-edit extensively and pushed me to publish. And I pushed him to publish his first fiction also. He’s younger than me, but miles ahead of me as a writer, and it made sense to me for him to write the foreword. And yeah, it’s a trip. He’s a big crime fiction fan too, and if you read a lot of crime fiction, it’s the school of “Call me Ishmael.” The first line has got to be like, “That’s the one!” In a way, it’s show-bizzy. The first line of Tim’s first published novel is, “Trey was a wigger and a baller.” And it’s like, “Woah, what’s gonna happen here? I’m gonna keep going.”

It was just you, Miss P, and Jonathan Parish in the van the whole tour. I’ve seen Jonathan play a couple times as Patrick Shuttleswerth, and obviously, he’s always at the One Eyed Jacks shows. He seems like a big personality. You seem like a big personality too and you describe yourself as a control freak. How does that work?
Q: We worked really well together. Jonathan is an extremely talented sound person; one of the best I’ve ever been around. His ears are golden. Every tour is difficult and everybody has disagreements and breakdowns. But unless you’ve worked with somebody or played in a band with them, you’re never really gonna be friends—and that includes married people—until you really work through stuff with them on something that you both independently give a shit about. That’s what being in a band is, or being on tour. That’s part of friendship. That’s part of building real relationships: getting in a vehicle, finding trouble and finding your way out of it together, surviving the banalities of daily life and one another’s idiosyncrasies. So that’s how that works. And I wouldn’t say either one of us has a big personality. I know everybody else would disagree. Maybe we negate each other or something.

[Enter Miss Pussycat.]
Miss Pussycat: Hi there!

Hi, I’m Raphael.
MP: Hi, Raphael. I’m Miss Pussycat. How’s it going so far?
Q: Terrible. Super awkward. It’s just been silent for ten minutes straight.

Yeah, I was really hoping another person would get here. Literally anybody. Actually, this is perfect timing, because I was about to get into the meat of the book. What I liked most about the illustrations was your ability to find the bizarre in the simple. Can you talk about the genesis of the drawings? Were they sketches you did in real time or were they from memory?
MP: For the most part, they were not done on tour. I always bring a sketchbook with me everywhere. And it’s more like I’m coming up with ideas than trying to illustrate what’s happening. Normally, it’s just how I come up with ideas for puppet shows or ceramic mugs or whatever. But most of these drawings were done way after the fact, from memory.
Q: You lived it all.
MP: I lived it all. There’s the illustration of our friend Tim with the leather jacket and the beret and there’s the little girl with the puppet from France. And it’s from memory. It’s just like, “Oh, yes. I remember this.”
Q: What I love about your drawings—and we had this disagreement this morning when you said you can’t draw, and you always say that about yourself, and you totally can draw. You can draw a person or a box or a house or whatever—is they’re not labored over. I was like, “Here are the stories. I need pictures of this and this and this and maybe this, and you remember that one day that this happened?” And it was done in a day.
MP: No, it wasn’t done in a day. It was a little more than a day. It was about a week.
Q: You’re quick, and they’re not obsessively detailed. It’s in the same spirit as the kind of music that I like, the way you draw.
MP: I’m usually trying to communicate something or remember something or come up with an idea or figure out, “OK, if the arm’s here then this has to go here” and “Oh, the eyes should be wider apart or closer together.” I’m definitely not trying to capture reality. But those were memories. It was like, “OK, this is the essence of the policeman.” It was my memories and trying to convey that essence… So it was pretty quick, but I worked on them for more than a day.
[Quintron leaves and returns with a copy of the book, opens to the illustration on the cover page (featured above)]
Q: This is the one that almost made the cover.
MP: Oh yeah. Everybody loves drugs.
Q: That was on the cover until the final cut.
MP: That’s really how I felt when that happened. We smoked—what did we do?
Q: DMT. I guess we can say that because it’s in the book.
MP: I’ve done a lot of drugs, but—
Q: You’re kind of a teetotaler—
MP: I’m kind of a teetotaler, and have been for like a decade. I mean, maybe I’ll smoke pot a few times a year, but maybe not. But I love drugs. I love what they represent and what they can do to you in a good way. But they just make me too fucked up to function most of the time. I’m not functional on drugs. Some people are. But smoking DMT was really fun and I felt horrible for days afterward.
Q: And it was the one and only time, and I really did have that epiphany about Lou Reed, literally almost crying at the realization of what this man represented and the power that he wielded so expertly. And it was because of this hedonistic, one-night drug trip with really good friends.
MP: Such a bonding experience. One of the best things about drugs is that communal bond, because you can’t have that experience with anyone else unless they’re there doing the same thing. And it’s not like going to the shopping mall. Unless you go to the shopping mall really high together.
Q: Or seeing a film.
MP: A really weird film.
Q: A film where you’re saying all the lines.

I was going to ask you about this later, but you brought up Lou Reed. Who has the balls to turn that guy down?
Q: Me. It was the right choice. I’m not a real instrument-making company with an office. Maybe I will be someday. [Gestures at the beginnings of his electronics repair shop and invention studio.] I just foresaw a lot of potential trouble. I don’t really wanna go into it. Obviously, I should have made him [a Drum Buddy], but I was still living hand-to-mouth like he was for a long time. So I had to protect myself.

The book starts with a terrible experience of some really shitty places and people in Barcelona. The writing is pretty ruthless, but it graciously leaves out the names of said people and places. Was there a temptation to put people’s business out in the street?
Q: No, because I don’t even know any of their names or anything. I was writing metaphorically. I wasn’t getting badge numbers from the cops or the DJ’s name or anything. It’s more a metaphorical commentary on the kind of thing that happens to bands all the time in Europe where you’re playing second fiddle to somebody playing records from the city that you’re from. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve played shows in Europe and the headliner is a DJ playing New Orleans music, whereas we play our music and we’re rushed offstage so that some European DJ can play music from where we’re from.

Was there a push and pull between wanting to give readers something juicy to chew on and not wanting to reveal industry secrets, or wanting to keep the magic intact? A lot of people read these books for insider scoops on the industry.
Q: What kind of scoops?
MP: This is not a book on how to succeed.

No, I mean the people who read tour diaries thinking, “I’ll get something juicy about this artist that I would never hear otherwise.” How do you decide how much to reveal?
Q: Well, a lot of books like that are written after bands have broken up and a rift has happened, usually between two band members, two opposing leaders, whatever. And there’s nothing like that going on with us. This was really an attempt to artfully craft some vision of our experience of what a touring band goes through in going to Europe. And we’ve been doing it since long before the Internet and long before the Euro, so we had some insight into all that stuff.
MP: To me, especially with Europe, but on tour in general, you just cannot believe the weird stuff that happens. Every day, you’re trying to figure out how to get to the show, and the craziest things happen! In the story about Barcelona at the beginning, you don’t even go into some of the other things that happened that day. Like the Drum Buddy was broken.
Q: Oh, fuck. I forgot about that.
MP: Yeah, and Jonathan thought he broke it. And we came to find out it was just a wire that came loose or something. But there was like a day and a half where he just felt horrible, and we were like, “Oh my God, the Drum Buddy’s broken. What do we do?” But it wasn’t. So many things happen that are really crazy on tour. And it’s what [Quintron] says at the beginning [of the book]: It’s the, “Being broken down on the side of the road with a dull spear;” those are the more interesting stories than the “Everything was so great!” I just read a biography of [Muppets creator] Jim Henson, and… this writer’s point of view was so glowing. It’s like, “He never had to struggle. He was perfect from day one. Everything just fell into his lap, and he got better and better and better until he died!” There’s no way that’s true. There had to be some horrible things: puppets that caught on fire, puppeteers who broke their arms falling off a ladder during a Mardi Gras show. But the writer left all that out. It just made him look amazing, like some special hero, when the more interesting part is the weird, bad stuff.
Q: But that said, I was not interested in delving into our relationship or anything personal about Jonathan. It’s not about that. Or even like a lot of these books are stories about redemptions—“I had such a crazy, debaucherous life! Now here’s a picture of me and my two kids.” No, I’m still fucking doing all the same shit. In two weeks, I’m gonna go on another tour.

In your chapter on couchsurfing, you talk about a young promoter who you stayed with in Portugal: “This kid, who puts on weekly shows, plays in a harsh punk band, and edits a local music zine, has far less in common with me than his nutty, keychain-collecting father.” What’s your initial reaction to that type of person, and to my generation in general?
Q: Well, it’s person-to-person. But I think we’re both super thankful that anybody at all gives a shit and still wants to go see live music, especially stuff that’s not promoted and forced down your throat by a large record label. The nature of the business is that it’s mostly younger people that really have genuine enthusiasm. And in Europe, although a lot of stuff is state-funded, a lot of the scene is run by really genuinely passionate young music fans that are really into it for all the right reasons. So I’m happy when I meet those people. And this kid—I was kind of hard on him at the end of that story for the sake of the writing, but he was responsible for us even playing in that part of Portugal.

Do you try to keep up with the newest trends in certain genres?
Q: No. I think it’s a mistake to consider music to be anything that needs to be caught up with, actually. So no. I like what I like and I still go see bands and I still have friends that are your age or younger that are making the kind of music that I love and get off on. But it’s not a commodity. It’s not a stock whose value is going up or down. It has been proven by 30 years of touring that there are always gonna be people that want to see visceral, raw, live rock‘n’roll or noise or whatever you want to call it, ‘til the end of humankind. I gave up on winning the lottery long ago. Miss P?

This was really an attempt to artfully craft some vision of our experience of what a touring band goes through in going to Europe. And we’ve been doing it since long before the Internet and long before the Euro, so we had some insight into all that stuff.”

Yeah, does the same go for you with puppetry, film, ceramics?
MP: I try to keep up with other puppeteers’ art, sure. But I don’t think of it as trends. Puppetry is such a weird thing that it’s kind of beyond genre, although there’s marionettes, I guess. But I don’t think that’s really what you’re talking about.
Q: There’s keeping up with technology and equipment, and I totally do that because I’m really interested in it. Like, “There’s a new amplifier that’s the size of a breadbox and it’s a thousand watts!” Techniques and gear—stuff like that. And you have puppetry conferences all the time, right?
MP: I love being in the audience, actually. I love having my mind blown. I’m like, “Knock my socks off!” That’s what I want. So I wouldn’t say I’m trying to keep up with genres or trends, but I do love certain artists… I’m not above writing fan letters. I try to let people know when I really like their work. I love being inspired by people—people who are very different from me or similar… musicians or puppeteers or artists or sculptors. I love [abstract sculptor] Matthew Ronay’s work. I’ve never met him, but maybe someday I will. Or [experimental video artist] Ryan Trecartin. But I love to be in the audience and have that experience. It’s something I really revere. So in that way, I’m very interested in the world around me and what’s going on. But as far as my own work, I just hunker down.

In your story about playing in Brussels right after the terrorist attacks, you talk about ownership of tragedy. Who gets to make art about tragedy? Is it only the people who directly experienced it?
Q: Well there’s that and there’s the stuff about people coming to New Orleans and making Katrina art. And I’m not gonna sit here and tell you or anybody else who gets to make art about tragedy. That’s too general of a question. What is the art? What is the medium? What is that person’s connection to the city? It would be stupid of me to make a rule about that. It was something I wanted to address in long form without just spewing an opinion. But the Brussels thing in particular—the whole gist of that was, “It’s not me. I don’t get to make art about that. I just get to make friends and hang out with those people and be there for a day or a weekend and commiserate and celebrate. But I’m not gonna make any kind of statement or artwork about the horrible thing these people and their families and friends have just gone through.” It’s understandable when people feel violated and used and two-dimensionalized when other people come from outside and use their story as a convenient backdrop or frontdrop for some melodramatic statement.

That leads me to a point you make about cultural access in your story about getting rejected from Berghain. There’s a stereotype of the ugly American lumbering around, inhaling culture without absorbing anything. What right do we have to freely sample other cultures?
Q: I’m not gonna talk about that in an interview about this book. That’s such a can of worms. It’s a very modern, contemporary can of worms. I know what you’re getting at and it’s definitely a conversation that’s worth having all the time, rationally, in person, not on social media. And it’s very relevant to a lot of stuff that’s happening in New Orleans right now. But this is a huge, long discussion that I don’t want to be quoted on.

Fair. Not trying to grill you about gentrification, but you call out Brooklyn people and Connecticut people on two separate occasions in the book, which is funny, because I was born in Brooklyn and moved to Connecticut during middle school.
Q: Well it’s kind of bullshit that I used Connecticut. I guess I indulged in the same bad behavior that I referenced on the opposite side of the fence.

But you do sort of start to give guidelines on how an outsider should act when engaging with a culture that isn’t his own. In what is essentially the book’s title passage (the part where you call Europe your “mirror”), you talk about walking “with a delicate balance of shame, pride, and empathy.” What does that look like in more concrete terms for someone like me—a northeast transplant in New Orleans?
Q: Look before you leap, I suppose. It’s classic. Think before you speak, look before you leap. Apologize when it is obviously necessary to do so. Try not to see anybody else as a cartoon enemy. Always imagine first that they could be your brother or your best friend before you see them as a cartoon enemy. Some people are cartoon enemies, but the road to real peace and dialogue is to imagine everybody as a well-known brother or sister first… and a cartoon enemy later. Again, I’m being too vague, but this topic is a big old can of worms.

This is not a book on how to succeed.”

Getting back to the book, my favorite chapter was “The Secret Teenage News” because it offered insight into your past and your influences and us music journalists are suckers for that sort of thing. There’s some interesting writing in there on the “artist” versus the “critic,” the encyclopedic music know-it-all. Do you think they can ever occupy the same space?
Q: Yeah, and they do sometimes. I can think of a couple examples of people I know whose artwork I really respect. And I think it’s different for musicians and writers. A lot of the greatest writers in history have written a lot of criticism and have encyclopedic knowledge of other writers. I think it’s just the nature of that artform too. It’s like consuming data. With music, it’s kind of rare. There’s an unwritten rule that musicians shouldn’t become critics and critics shouldn’t be musicians. What do you think, seriously?

 

 

I don’t know. I personally grew up wanting to be a musician, and at some point realized I wasn’t cut out for the rigorous practicing required to master the craft of jazz piano, which is what I was into. But I definitely respect writing more when it comes from a place of experience. I think you need to live it and I sometimes feel like a faker because I’m never sure if I’m living it.
Q: There’s this girl from Brooklyn. A late 20s/early 30s club kid. As a fan, she’s really into the DJ scene. Total crazy party animal. And the way she writes about electronic music is similar to the way Lester Bangs writes about rock‘n’roll. She wasn’t DJing, but she hung out with the DJ for sure, and really went there for days on end. I like that engagement. I can’t remember her name. I wrote her a fan letter and she didn’t write me back. She came and hung out in New Orleans for a week and wrote this brilliant piece on staying up for days with all these crazy DJs and riding around town.

Yeah, I think you need to be a fan, at least. If you’re not a fan, why even bother?
Q: Some of the best writing on rock‘n’roll has been by groupies—you know, from the age of groupies… people that weren’t necessarily in bands. Well, some of them were in bands, actually.
MP: Pamela Des Barres.
Q: Yeah. They weren’t writing from an office as an assignment. They were passionately in love with this music.
MP: They were having fun. If the writer’s not having fun when they’re writing about music or a scene, it’s probably not something I want to read.
Q: Miss P’s written a lot of articles about other artists that she likes.
MP: Well, some.
Q: You’re working on something right now!
MP: It’s nice because you get to interview people you want to talk to. But it takes so much time. Oh my gosh, are you gonna transcribe this?

Yeah.
MP: Oh my God, I just transcribed this interview that was like two hours long, and it was 20,971 words when I finally finished transcribing it, and I’m not fast. And now I have to narrow it down to like 2,000 words.
Q: Do you want a beer?

Sure, thanks.
Q: It’s room temperature, but it’s a very fancy Belgian beer.
MP: So do you have a transcription app? Is there like a secret thing you can download where you put in the MP3 and it just spits it out to you?

I’ve tried those. They don’t work. They’re horrible, the ones I’ve tried. At least the free ones are. I guess I could try actually buying one.
MP: I was looking them up today. I have another interview I have to transcribe of a puppeteer and I’m like, “I can’t do it!”

Yeah, it takes a while. I kind of enjoy doing it, because you get to go back through and remember the whole interview. For the ANTIGRAVITY ones, since they’re published in transcript, I do it myself because if I said something really stupid, I can edit it very lightly so it doesn’t sound quite so bad.
Q: That’s what writing is all about: taking out all the dumb shit you say and leaving the smart bits in.

Last thing: In terms of craft and the art that’s come before you, do you need to read the book before you throw it out?
MP: What do you mean?

“We play our music and we’re rushed offstage so that some European DJ can play music from where we’re from.”

Do you need to learn from the masters before you can create your own style?
MP: Oh. No, I don’t think so. I mean, I’m a real history buff, actually. And I love reading about art and puppetry. Puppetry is such a weird technical thing. It’s like, “I would never figure this arm joint out unless I go and find this book that’s out of print and study it.” And it just makes me a better puppeteer to know how to make things move and do things better. That’s the fun; I love the research. But I definitely go to the beat of my own drum. I don’t have that problem. I usually just have something burning inside me that I try to figure out how to do.

There’s a renewed interest in “outsider art,” which I think is a term that could somewhat be applied to both of you. And that’s all about not following the traditional canon.
MP: Well I don’t think you have to follow any path. I can’t follow a path.
Q: Life is too short to read all the books. There’s so many. You would die before you finished all the books—before you got started!
MP: But I’ve had this thought when I was stoned, actually (I’ve had this thought more than once in my life)—what if I went back and reread every book I’ve ever read, starting with childhood?” And how weird that would be.
Q: Oh, don’t do that.
MP: But sometimes, when I’ve been stoned, I’ll start cleaning the house, and I’ll be like, “OK, what if when I get done, I try to make it look the way it did before I cleaned it, just for fun?”
Q: People are gonna think you’re a stoner from this interview. And you’re the least druggie person I know.

I’ll put in the part about how you don’t do drugs to balance it out.
MP: I try to keep an open mind. But yeah, I don’t think you have to do what anybody tells you to do. I don’t think you have to be good at tryouts. I’m horrible at tryouts. I never get things that way. That just doesn’t work for me. You just kind of make up your own world and make up your own rules, and that’s what works. But I still like reading books and studying how to do what I do.
Q: You’re using [the book thing] as a metaphor.

Yeah.
Q: But every musician knows that you’re gonna hit a wall of creativity. And the more you play, the more you practice, the more you’re able to express yourself. But to me, the key is to keep writing the book as much as you can. That’s what’s gonna open up your world.

Europa My Mirror is available now on Goner-Records.com. A Kindle version is also available. Quintron and Miss Pussycat will play a late set at DBA with Tav Falco’s Panther Burns on Saturday, May 5. Quintron’s Weather Warlock (a weather-controlled synthesizer) will play a set at NoizeFest 2018 on Sunday, May 6 before embarking on a Midwest/East Coast tour with Quintron, Aaron Hill (EyeHateGod), Gary Wrong, and Kunal Prakash in late May. Quintron and Miss Pussycat will then tour the western states in late June and early July, returning to New Orleans for a Poor Boys show on Saturday, July 21. For more info, check out QuintronAndMissPussycat.com.


illustrations MISS PUSSYCAT