Miss Pussycat would have to be one of the most fascinating people that I have spoken to all year, that’s saying a lot because I’ve spoken to over 100 creative individuals this year. She’s a puppeteer, musician – one half of the dynamic music duo that is Quintron & Miss Pussycat that play a unique style of music all their own ‘swamp tech’- artist, seamstress and secret club owner. I came to Q&MP’s music thanks to my Jhonny who put their song Fly Like A Rat on a mixtape for my driving adventures, the driving organ and Miss P’s vocals won my heart instantly – I listened to the song on repeat eight times! We spoke the day after Q&MP’s annual Halloween live spectacular bash while Miss Pussycat was nursing a hangover.
MISS PUSSYCAT: The show was amazing! It was super fun! It was great! Do you guys have Halloween down in Australia?
From what I can tell, each year it is starting to get a little more popular. A lot of people I think see it as more of a US kind of thing. There were a few kids around my neighbourhood trick-or-treating and I’ve never really seen that before here.
MP: Did you dress up?
No, I didn’t. I went to sleep early.
MP: Oh oww aww. It’s so fun! In Europe I think they consider it the same kind of way, like a really commercial US holiday. It’s the best [laughs] it’s so good!
What it is it that you love so much about Halloween?
MP: Because it’s really evil, you get to listen to Halloween records, there’s candy and it’s all spiders, ghosts and witches—the dark side! People dress up as dumb stuff like a sexy nurse. It is a really pagan holiday. It’s just really fun to celebrate the dark side [laughs]. It’s a good time!
I saw a YouTube clip of Quintron & Miss Pussycat doing a Halloween live show a few years ago playing Fly Like A Rat (you were wearing a witches outfit)…
MP: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah that was a good year. That was really fun! Quintron and I both dressed as witches and our maraca players were dressed as witches. I wore that witches outfit a week ago just for fun, it’s so good. This year we were ‘clouds of doom.’ That was pretty good too. Everyone dresses up in New Orleans. The French Quarter is really crazy and fun, you know, it’s a good time. Everything is dark and creepy.
Clouds of Doom would be an awesome name for a band.
MP: Yeah it would! ‘Clouds’ with anything. Yeah.
What first drew you to living in New Orleans? You are originally from Oklahoma.
MP: It was just some kind of a weird fluke. I had to say the city really drew me to itself in a bizarre way. I didn’t have any friends here, I didn’t have any family here, I didn’t have a job waiting here for me, I had nothing. I had no good reason to move to New Orleans. I’m going to tell you something that only a couple of my friends know, I’ve never really talked about it. When I got to New Orleans, like I said, I didn’t have any friends and I just kind of showed up here. I went into this café, this book store and I was reading the paper to see if there were any rooms for rent anywhere or what the job market looked like in the classifieds. This guy came and sat down and said, ‘if you’re looking for a place to live you can talk to The Judge.’ I’m like, The Judge? Well ok. He said, ‘we’ll just wait around because there is going to be a meeting and there you can talk to The Judge. So I’m waiting around and I talked to The Judge he said, ‘are you on food stamps?’ If you’re poor and haven’t got any money you can get food vouchers, that’s what food stamps are. I said, no I don’t have food stamps. The Judge was like, ‘ok well you have to go get food stamps and when you get them you give those food stamps to me and that will be your rent to live here.’ What actually happened was that I moved into a halfway house. I didn’t know that’s what I was moving into. There’s this place called the Abstract Café and it was full of these people that had just got out of jail, prison or a drugs and alcohol rehabilitation facility—and I moved into this place! I had to go to AA meetings; Alcoholic Anonymous meetings at night. I had just graduated from college. I was definitely really in a strange place but I lived there for three months.
It was this really special, crazy place. They were actually squatting in the place that he was renting me a room in. They didn’t own it, they were like, oh we’ll just take this over! He had all these crazy people run the shop and café. The Judge really tried to help people. He’d go and pick people up from jail that had just gotten out of the drunk tank. The Judge had a really nice car, a Mercedes. He made the people get in the trunk of his car to drive them to this place to live because he didn’t want them to pee on his car [laughs]. It was this totally insane place. I was just like, wow! This is the weirdest city I have ever… I couldn’t imagine anything weirder than were I am.
Finally I saved my money and was able to rent somewhere else. Everyone was really nice to me there. It just really was a strange situation to be in. I rented this other building which eventually became Pussycat Caverns; it was a secret nightclub that I ran. That building just kind of changed my life. It had a stage in the building and people started asking if they could put on shows there. Bands wanted to play there. It was really easy, all of a sudden I was promoting shows at an illegal venue but nobody cared about that. New Orleans just had its own plan for me.
I spoke to Sean Yseult the other month, she lives in New Orleans too. She was telling me how amazing it is. She said it’s really hard for someone to describe how magical it is.
MP: Yeah it’s true. Have you ever been here?
No. It’s somewhere I have always been fascinated about. I’d love to go there.
MP: Yes! You should definitely come for a visit. Have you ever been to the States?
Yes, but mostly just places on the west coast.
MP: New Orleans is really special. You should totally come visit.
How would you describe Mardi Gras to someone that has never been?
MP: Oh Mardi Gras is great! It’s the best, it’s even better than Halloween [laughs]. It starts on Epiphany the start of the Twelfth Night of Christmas. There’s a whole carnival season that goes from January 6 ’til Lenten starts, that’s usually the day before Ash Wednesday. Then you give up the flesh because Jesus goes to the wilderness and gives up the flesh. It’s a really debaucherous time, everybody is indulging their senses because then they quit doing something for Lenten. There are parades. There’s lots of marching bands. People have different traditions, neighbourhoods have traditions and families have traditions, it’s just so beautiful. Then there are all these different clubs that put on the parades. They have these private balls with these crazy decorations. There’s a king and a queen of all these different organisations, the different crews.
For the most part since I’ve lived in ’Orleans, my blue collar job to fall back upon besides puppet shows or being in a band is that I’m a seamstress. I work for different Mardi Gras costume designers. You get to see into this secret little world and secret organisations. People have their clubhouse and their dens where they keep their floats, crowns and sceptres. It’s really cool, it’s really special. It all builds up into a frenzy for Fat Tuesday (that’s the final day). By then everyone in the city is just so ragged and so beat [laughs]. You’re so exhausted and it’s beautiful because you get up early on Fat Tuesday and you walk around see the Mardi Gras Indians or parades. It’s like you’re forced to party and really push yourself. Like you just have to do it! It’s very strange.
Do you have any of your own traditions?
MP: Oh yeah definitely. I almost always, since forever, put on a big Mardi Gras show in the Spellcaster Lodge. Before that it was at Pussycat Caverns. Spellcaster Lodge is a secret club I run with Quintron. We usually have a big underwater dance club maritime ball. The theme is underwater and people dress as fish, sailors, sharks, mermaids or Neptune. We’re always throwing this special party that we think about all year.
We also have a marching band. It’s a neighbourhood thing. The marching band has been going on for over ten years. I think it started in 1996. It’s the 9th Ward Marching Band. Our colours are red, white and silver. We’re in parades and practice.
I always watch the meeting of the court on Fat Tuesday because that’s when Comus and Rex meet. Rex is the King of the Carnival; Comus isn’t a king he is a god. Comus has a cup, a chalice and it’s full of spirits. If you drink out of his cup then you will have the head of an animal and you won’t be able to get out of the forest. It’s just a bizarre thing. I really love it. Then it’s the scattered tattered wings of a butterfly of winter and then they lower the curtain and carnival is over. I like to watch that, it’s live on television. It’s very slow. It is a ritual.
You first met Quintron when he came to play for Mardi Gras at Pussycat Caverns?
MP: Yes that was pretty special. I was booking a Mardi Gras show at Pussycat Caverns and it was going to be with the Demolition Doll Rods and this band Quintron, who I had never met or I hadn’t even seen pictures of (it was before the internet). I was going to do this puppet show. I had this whole crazy puppet show about a sea monster. The cops came to that show and were like, ‘oh no! You can’t do this show.’ The neighbours complained. We waited for the police to leave. The Doll Rods didn’t play but Quintron did and I did a puppet show. It was just the most amazing, insane journey to the centre of the Earth Mardi Gras. To me Mardi Gras is our anniversary. Mardi Gras is intense. It’s spiritual and intense, beautiful, dangerous and crazy.
Does performing together come naturally for you and Quintron?
MP: Yeah it does. At this point we’ve been doing show together for quite a while so it’s like falling off a log.
Growing up did your parents encourage you in the arts? I’ve read that you took piano lessons and played trumpet and tuba.
MP: Yeah. I grew up in a really, really small town in Oklahoma (Antlers, Oklahoma) it’s the deer hunting capital of the world! I was in marching band and took music lessons but I don’t think I was very good though [laughs]. I actually did puppet shows when I was a kid. I don’t think it was because anyone particularly encouraged me though. I don’t know if that’s why anyone does anything. I just can’t help it. It’s like obsessive compulsive disorder. I really can’t help it, it is so fun!
When did you first pick up the maracas?
MP: Maracas was definitely a later in life development. Quintron and I were already doing shows together but it was pretty much I did a puppet show and he played music, he played organ. At some point within that first year of doing shows together he got me a pair of maracas – these really special pair of maracas that I still have – from then I just started playing maracas with him.
What do you love most about playing them?
MP: I think because it’s easy [laughs] and I like I can make little maraca covers for them to match my dresses. There’s a group of my friends that play maracas with me sometimes for shows, like last night. We come up with little routines. We’re like Shelia E [laughs]. I like the way they sound.
You mentioned you make maraca covers; do you make your own clothes?
MP: Pretty much. Right now I have on a skirt that I made. I make all of my clothes for live shows. I do make most of my clothes. I don’t like shopping. I can never find what I want ever. I always know what I want and look for it and look for it and can never find it. It’s just easier to make my own clothes.
You have a special dress pattern that you use that you call ‘The Dress.’
MP: It is The Dress! It actually goes back to a Mardi Gras. My friend Olivia Wilde and I were making dresses for the maritime ball and we decided to make underwater dance club dresses. She had this pattern and we altered it. We used pale blue fabric and then we made pinafores out of clear plastic to go over the dresses. The rule with the dress was there are no rules. We applied all of these pictures of the Titanic, sharks, goldfish and waves all over our dresses and we had little bonnets. The bonnets had big puff balls on top. That was the first ‘The Dress.’ Then it evolved. Now The Dress is pieces from five different patterns. We change the sleeves or the collar. It can have long sleeves, short or puffy sleeves; it can have a Peter Pan collar, or a collar that looks like a tongue! The belts are usually crocheted out of yarn. Usually one sleeve is a different colour. I’m trying to develop a new dress. I’ve been working on it since early spring last year. The thing about The Dress is that it’s really good but it’s kind of tight. I have casual wear dresses but for live shows I wear The Dress and it’s really hard to do a puppet show in it because it’s tight up top. I can’t move my arms. A lot of times I end up taking my dress off behind the puppet theatre to be able to do the puppet show. It’s embarrassing, if there is a mezzanine people can see me back there without my dress on. I thought I have to come up with a better pattern. I’m working on a new dress that is puppeteering friendly.
As well as your dress and maracas covers matching for live shows you also make an organ cover for Quintron. In a previous interview you mentioned that colour scheme is important.
MP: Yes, it is. Colour is one of my favourite things. What something is made out of can affect the colour; the texture affects the colour. There are colour combinations too, I’ve always been drawn to baby blue and bright orange. I love those two colours together. There is this one colour blue that I really like it’s called Honolulu Blue. Orange is definitely one of my favourite colours too. I love fluorescent colours combined with pastel colours. Lately I like yellow a lot, yellow is really special. I like yellow and orange together and yellow and pink together. I like pink and red together but I don’t like orange and red together, it’s just too hot and weird. It’s like you want to have a cool warm colour and a warm warm colour. It’s all about warm and cool.
If you’re doing a puppet show colours can really help you. You want to have your main characters standout from the background so you have them wear a colour dress that nobody else has worn and it’s different from the background and sky—everyone will know that that puppet is special. If it’s a bad character, a lot of times they’ll wear fluorescent yellow so you never want the good puppet, your lead character, to be that colour because then they would be on the same team. It’s just a way of organising your values I guess.
The Honolulu colour that you just mentioned wasn’t it the colour used to paint the space you guys worked from when you became artists in residency at the New Orleans Museum of Art?
MP: Yes! That was so great! The curator Miranda Lash asked me if I wanted to have the walls painted, any colour that I wanted. I knew exactly what colour I wanted, I wanted that blue colour! They painted this huge room that colour for me, it was great!
Since you’ve lived in New Orleans the museum has always been a really special place for you right?
MP: It is. That was the other thing that drew me to New Orleans, this painting by Dorothea Tanning. She is still alive, she’s over a century old. She’s one of my favourite painters. One of her main paintings Guardian Angel was in the collection at NOMA. I found that out from looking at a plate in a book. Her work is rare to see. That museum has always been my oasis or sanctuary. New Orleans can be a really gritty city, it can be really harsh sometime, it can be very tumultuous and then here is this beautiful palace with marvel and oil paintings. I love the museum. It was very special to get to do a show there. I felt like it’s my house [laughs].
I wanted to ask you about your puppets. What do they mean to you?
MP: They mean a lot of different things because there are so many of them. I studied art in college. I studied all different kinds of things like painting, sculpture, glass blowing, printmaking, colour photography. I like to make things. I was in the Christian Puppetry Youth Ministry when I was a kid but I didn’t take it that seriously. After I got out of college and moved to New Orleans I started doing these shows at Pussycat Caverns. I was mostly booking bands, I wasn’t in a band at that time and I was sitting there one day and thought I should do a puppet show, so I did.
I thought the puppets should start a band and I’ll try to convince everyone in the world that they have a band. That was the beginning of Flossie & the Unicorns. I made a zine for them and all these stories about Princess Pandora Stardust, Flossie and Snicklefritz the guitar playing turtle. Nobody wants to go on first. Bands never want to go on first because there’s this whole pecking order thing but to me it was great! I’ll go on first then I didn’t have to pay another band. It was a practical weird thing I did and it took off. I haven’t really stopped doing puppet shows since.
What I’ve discovered and why I think I keep doing it is because it’s the greatest art project of all time! I feel like maybe when the Dada’s… like when you first make a collage when you’re a kid, oh this is so cool I can cut up magazines and paste things together! I felt like doing a puppet show and making everything myself, I had discovered the greatest art from. It’s unassuming and it involves sewing, painting, sculpture and writing and parapsychology, recording – electronic soundtracks are really fun to make. It was also a way for me to be around people that I liked being around. I didn’t really fit into the art world but I love going to museums and I love art but the art world is kind of evil. I always thought that being around bands and rock clubs was more fun. I just made it work out.
What do the puppets mean to me? Well it’s a parallel universe. I think they have a life of their own after a certain point. They tell me the story. I’ll think it’s going to go one way and then it goes another. Right now I’m working on a new movie. I’m working on Trixie & the Tree Trunks part two.
I saw that your Kickstarter goal to fund it had been reached.
MP: Yes it has! I have until January 6th then it’s over. I reached my goal pretty early. With that one there are these certain characters where I know that there is not certain stuff in the script but I just know it’s going to happen—that’s the best! I don’t know what but I know there’s something. When you don’t know something that’s the best, it’s like a surprise! You follow a path long enough and hopefully end up a place somewhere that you don’t know where you are. That’s what puppets do for me.
Flossie & the Unicorns were invited to do a Peel Session once weren’t they?
MP: Yeah! They got to do a Peel Session. John Peel was still alive. I didn’t meet him though, he wasn’t there. It was pretty great. We got to go to the BBC recording studios, there were two engineers and it was on reel-to-reel tape.
As you mentioned earlier you throw parties at Spellcaster Lodge, I once read a comment from you in an interview that said you think there’s an art to throwing a party.
MP: I like having parties, I like having people over even though I can be a pretty private person. I like to hang out in my own little world most of the time and invite people in so that’s kind of what a party is to me.
Just to back track to the Kickstarter funded project for a moment, I noticed one of the rewards for people who donate money is a limousine ride with you and Quintron.
MP: Yeah! Somebody got it and luckily they’re a really nice person. At first I was like, oh my gosh Quintron! What if you’re trapped by someone really creepy? The limousine is pretty special. Antoinette K-Doe gave us that limousine the night that Obama was elected president [laughs].
Music-wise will there be anything new from you guys soon?
MP: We released an album Sucre Du Sauvage that came out early last summer. It’s the recordings that we did at the New Orleans Museum of Art. There’s going to be a record of the 9th Ward Marching Band come out really soon, after that I’m not really sure.
Quintron has a new invention that he is working on called The Singing House. It’s a synthesizer that he built that’s controlled by the weather. You leave it on in your house all the time. It’s really nice, it’s really weird. Part of it is controlled by the wind, part of it is controlled by the sunlight, another sound is for the sunrise and the sunset, there’s a sound for the full moon or lightning and there is a special sound for rain. You leave it on and its very drone-y and peaceful sounding. It speeds up if the wind is going faster.
What’s one of the greatest things you’ve learned from Quintron?
MP: I’ve learned so many things from him! The list could go on and on. He taught me to make a marshmallow casserole [laughs]. That’s pretty good!
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