Futuristic glam-rock unit Psychotica is always one step ahead of itself. They signed a recording contract -- with Rick Rubin's American Records, no less -- before playing their first public gig. They are touring -- on the bill of Lollapalooza, no less -- before the actual release of their debut album. And while they are nowhere near being a household name, their lead singer is already featured in a future-of-rock exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum in Cleveland -- fastened to a cross, no less, with Saran Wrap.
Psychotica is the brainchild of singer-songwriter Patrick Briggs, a flamboyant, androgynous performer who claims his aim is to bring the "fabulousness" back to rock and roll. Both his alienlike appearance and dramatic vocals hark back to the Ziggy Stardust era of David Bowie, and the band's theatrical sound borrows heavily from the songbooks of strange bedfellows including Led Zeppelin, Bauhaus, and A Flock of Seagulls.
Amid the testosterone-charged Lollapalooza bill that's top-heavy with no-frills guitar bands such as Metallica, Soundgarden, and Screaming Trees, the gender-bending Psychotica and their effects-laden stage show will give metalheads something to gawk at for a while. Briggs has a fondness for stalking back and forth across the stage in the nude, with his privates tucked between his legs to give off that swanky sexless look. He has also has been known to open a show by emerging from a giant smoke-filled, chrome-plated egg.
Briggs says his less-than-conventional appearance and spectacular on-stage behavior is a way of confronting and dealing with his less-than-idyllic childhood, which was spent hustling on the streets of New York City. "I think I've metamorphosed visually into what I feel inside," says Briggs during a phone interview from his hotel room in Bennington, Vermont, during a tour break. "I've felt a bit alien all my life. I lived my entire teen years on the street and had the typical abusive-crap childhood. I've just got to get some of that stuff out. To me, having gone from selling my body on a street corner fifteen years ago to standing on a stage and performing for 10,000 kids is a miracle."
Psychotica was formed a little over a year ago by Briggs and several regulars, including ex-White Zombie guitarist Ena Kustabi, at the New York City glam club Squeezebox at Don Hill's. It was there that the band's meteoric rise began, when a representative from the management company Ventrue Entertainment happened into a rehearsal. Impressed with what she heard, the rep discussed the possibility of signing the band to American. Right there, on the spot. "I told her she was full of shit, but then it just happened," Briggs recalls. "Everything's been totally wrong, but it's all worked out. I just refuse to try to control it."
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Advance hype for the band and their eponymous debut album has been intense, and with it has come something of a backlash. Critics have been calling Psychotica Lollapalooza's conflict-of-interest band, since the group's booking agent and record label liaison are among the festival organizers. Briggs, naturally, bristles at the complaint: "Before the tour, one of the people from our camp -- the most important person in making the decision, I'd say -- voted against putting us on. But they had tested us on Lollapalooza's second stage during last year's New York stops, and the reaction was so overwhelming they decided to go with us. Across the board the reaction has been so supportive, and when someone is in [our] position, people are always trying to pick it apart. But I love what we do, so I'm having a ball. Anyone outside of it can say what they want. It doesn't matter to me as long as I love it."
No doubt Briggs also loves Psychotica the album, but it remains to be seen if audiences will love it too. The record is a collection of atmospheric numbers with grinding riffs, haunting keyboard lines, and brooding lyrics that explore everything from the banality of the rock and roll lifestyle ("Stop") to the depths of Briggs's alienation ("Everybody's dead/everybody's gone/and I'm all alone" he laments in "Ice Planet Hell"). "Little Prince" is a Beatles-esque slice of psychedelic balladry, and for fun the band throws in a squalling, guitar-splattered cover of Devo's synth-pop relic "Freedom of Choice."
"The record speaks about how I've felt inadequate as a man," Briggs explains. "I think it addresses things most men don't feel comfortable addressing, and I discuss how inadequate I feel men are compared to women. I like to hide some of the darkness in metaphor. That way you get your shit out and laugh at it at the same time. These kids pay not to hear me whine about how fucked up I am. You have to make it listenable and entertaining."
Psychotica performs at Lollapalooza today, Thursday, July 18, at the South Florida Fairgrounds, 601 Sansbury's Way, West Palm Beach; 407-795-8883. Showtime is noon. Tickets cost $35.