Unlike so many touring bands who routinely dismiss Los Angeles as a plastic city, the New Orleans duo Quintron and Miss Pussycat remain fascinated by this place.
“I love Los Angeles,” Quintron says on the eve of the pair’s appearance Saturday afternoon, Sept. 29, at the Music Tastes Good festival in Long Beach. “It’s so full of secrets. Secrets are one of the greatest truths of a community. It’s a city of secret clubs, secret jewels, secret entities behind the curtain — New Orleans shares that quality with Los Angeles.”
Quintron, also known as Robert Rolston, sings along with his wife, Miss Pussycat, and is the mastermind of the group’s sound, which is a bizarre combination of primal garage rock, organ-pumped lounge interludes, funky indie pop, circus music, arty experimentation, Crescent City roots-rock and untrammeled electronic noise that the duo describe as “swamp tech.” Quintron manipulates an organ and various sound machines of his own invention, including Drum Buddy, an oscillating drum machine triggered by lights, and the Weather Warlock, an analog synthesizer that is controlled by weather patterns.
Quintron describes Los Angeles as “this epicenter of energy and American-ness like no other place. It’s magic. Audiences there — our audiences anyway — like it weird. You can go anywhere.”
His partner, Miss Pussycat (née Panacea Theriac), is attracted to this city for other reasons. “Los Angeles has some really amazing history. I’m really enamored of the history of puppetry in L.A.,” says Miss Pussycat, who designs, scripts and provides the voices for the elaborately surreal and fanciful puppet shows that are part of the duo’s concert performances. “I love the Bob Baker Marionette Theater,” she says, citing Los Angeles’ “lineage of puppeteers,” which includes Hollywood’s legendary Turnabout Theatre in the 1940s and ’50s, animator/film director George Pal and Muppets puppeteer Greg Williams, who introduced her to Baker.
“I have a lot of puppets on tour with me right now,” Miss Pussycat says. “And I’ve got hundreds of puppets at home,” all of which she made herself (“That’s the fun part,” she adds). “My puppet shows are written out and rehearsed.”
Because Music Tastes Good is a food and music festival, she intends to present one of her recurring shows, Cookie Carnival Baking Contest, as part of Quintron and Miss Pussycat’s performance on Saturday. “It’s about a goblin cake,” she says. “I can’t tell you what happens beyond that.
“I started out doing puppet shows as a kid, doing Bible stories in a Southern Baptist church,” explains Miss Pussycat, who was born and raised in Antlers, Oklahoma. “Puppetry has been used in churches and religious ceremonies. It’s a very ancient, primordial art form involving religion and ritual. I had a secret club in New Orleans called Pussycat Caverns,” where bands would perform. Because none of the groups wanted to open, Miss Pussycat staged her own puppet shows that included references to Hawkwind and Three Day Stubble. When the latter band was booked to play Pussycat Caverns, she decided, “I’ll make a Don Bolles puppet,” in honor of the former Germs and 45 Grave drummer who was playing with Three Day Stubble at the time.
“I wove this whole story,” she says, and Bolles was so charmed by the performance that he became allies with Quintron and Miss Pussycat. “He’s a good, old friend.”
“My guide to Los Angeles is Don Bolles. He loves his city as much as anyone,” Quintron says. “We’ve played some strange places in Los Angeles — remember Mr. T’s Bowl? The regular venues are so much less interesting.”
“He’s the president of music, and I’m the president of puppets,” Miss Pussycat says about Quintron. “We help each other a lot, but we definitely have our roles.”
The couple are phoning while on tour from the architectural-ecological experimental Arizona town Arcosanti. “I’m literally on a balcony on a mountaintop in the city of the future,” Quinton says, before adding a few moments later: “There are bees in the city of the future — shit!”
Quintron and Miss Pussycat have a lot going on these days. They have two tracks — covers of Roky Erickson’s “Creature With the Atom Brain” and Meri Wilson’s novelty song “Telephone Man” — on the new Dr. Demento compilation Covered in Punk, alongside such luminaries as William Shatner, Elvira, Rasputina, Nobunny, Colleen Green and The B-52s’ Fred Schneider.
“That was really fun,” Miss Pussycat says about working with Dr. Demento, who raps as a puppet reporter in the cheerily bloody video for “Creature With the Atom Brain.” “Dr. Demento is a huge influence. We made a deal — I would make a Dr. Demento puppet, and he would record a few lines. It was a daunting task; I normally don’t make human puppets. I usually make amorphic or animal puppets.”
“He’s just like a big, weird kid,” Quintron says about Dr. Demento.
Last year, Goner Records published Europa My Mirror, a wide-ranging memoir by Quintron with illustrations from Miss Pussycat. “It’s a lot of my interpretations about what it’s like to tour Europe as an American, but with a lot of left turns” into various unrelated subjects, says Quintron, who was born near Bitburg, Germany, where his father was stationed at a U.S. Air Force base. Quintron’s family moved back to the United States when he was 4, and he was raised in Mobile, Alabama, and St. Louis but has spent most of his life in New Orleans.
In August, Jack White’s Third Man Records released Occulting the Sun, a solo album Quintron recorded with his Weather Warlock live in Nashville during a solar eclipse. The Weather Warlock synthesizer translates weather signals (sunlight, wind speed, temperature and humidity) into musical tones. The sounds Quintron conjured with the Weather Warlock are eerier and more ominous than the often-lighthearted tunes he performs with Miss Pussycat.
“I’m using things that physically change their ability to conduct electricity based on the weather,” Quintron says. “These are very old-school analog synthesizers for slow, drifty drone music. You lose something when you go to digital. I’ve always been a tinkerer and a taker-aparter, and music greatly allows for inventiveness on all levels.”
Only five Weather Warlocks are in existence, and one of them will be installed at MOCA Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles as part of “One Day at a Time: Manny Farber and Termite Art,” a group exhibition curated by Helen Molesworth, which opens Oct. 14 and runs through March 11. Speakers outside MOCA will transmit sounds from the Weather Warlock for public listening 24 hours a day. “I want to put one in some extreme locations and build one for subzero temperatures,” Quintron says.
“There are about 40 Drum Buddies out there in the hands of the public,” he continues about his light-activated drum machine. Wilco guitarist Nels Cline and comedian Fred Armisen are among the celebrities who own one. “I got to play with Laurie Anderson. I went to deliver it to her. She said, ‘I must get my friend Lou. He’ll just love this.’” Next thing Quintron knew, he was jamming with Anderson and the reclusive Lou Reed. “She was playing fiddle, and Lou played guitar through Drum Buddy, which acts like a guitar filter,” Quintron recalls. “Laurie Anderson was as delightful and elflike as you’d imagine, and Lou was as grumpy as you’d imagine.” But Quintron says that Reed grew warmer once he became fascinated by Drum Buddy’s sonic properties.
Quintron and Miss Pussycat’s other celebrity encounters range from Memphis garage-punk band Oblivians, who used Quintron as a guest musician on their 1997 gospel-infused album The Oblivians … Play Nine Songs With Mr. Quintron, to The Cramps, who invited the couple to go on tour with them.
“Oblivians are one of those perfect bands,” Quintron says. “Everybody brought something different to the table. It’s a perfect puzzle.” Quintron describes Oblivians singer-guitarist Greg Cartwright as having “the soul of a dinosaur and the voice to match.”
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“It was very exciting to get to do that,” Miss Pussycat says about the tour with The Cramps. “It was amazing to get to watch them every night. Their crowd was really tough. Some of the shows were really violent; it was pretty scary. You never knew what it was going to be like.”
Quintron and Miss Pussycat have played unusual covers, such as Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy,” in the past but the song has been dropped from their recent sets. “The covers kind of come and go rapidly because you get tired of them,” he explains, although he says the pair still remake Henry Mancini’s theme from The Pink Panther. “My favorite Los Angeles song is Missing Persons’ ‘Walking in L.A.,’” he adds.
Talking about the set in Long Beach on Saturday, Quintron says, “It’ll be a rockin’ dance party with a puppet show. ... I like surprises. We don’t make set lists. I have a cache of 100 songs. We feel what the event is, the vibe, how to go fast or how to go slow. To jam or not to jam. Every room — and every audience — is different.”
Quintron and Miss Pussycat perform at Music Tastes Good, 386 E. Shoreline Drive, Long Beach; Sat., Sept. 29, 2:50 p.m.; $85-$300. The festival continues Sun., Sept. 30, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. mtglb.co.