Dancing with Mr. Q

In truly inspiring do-it-yourself fashion, Mr. Quintron, “The Amazing Spellcaster,” has created a minientertainment empire based in New Orleans's tough Ninth Ward. His music: four albums of organ/theramin/contraption sound, from noise to go-go R&B. Think Korla Pandit in a junkyard, eyes to outer space. His club: the Spellcaster Lodge, host to touring notables such as Andre Williams, Demolition Doll Rods, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and the Make-Up, as well as local rap and rock acts, including the phenomenal MC Tricotomy. His invention: the Drum Buddy, a light-activated scratchable rhythm-machine synthesizer on the verge of mass production. His touring act: a frenzied, inspirational one-man band, accompanied by Miss Pussycat's surreal puppet shows, which include “Electric Guitar Lessons for Animals,” with exploding puppets, simultaneously innocent and skewed. As befits someone so used to doing things his own way, Mr. Quintron is extremely wary of being misrepresented by the media. Here's an attempt to wrestle some magic out of the mind of a true 21st-century, street-level pioneer.

New Times: So what's different about your show as opposed to any old rock and roll show?

Quintron: Miss Pussycat's a puppeteer, and I'm a one-man band, and it makes a pretty good show.

How is it different from staying home and watching TV?

We have really nice clothes. And puppets.

You spent some time in Miami a few years back, didn't you?

We were in Miami for a couple of months because MTV Latino hired us to do puppetry and animation for several commercial spots for MTV shows, and then they used Quintron music for openers for different segments on MTV Latino.

And you have a new record coming out now?

Two. The Drum Buddy Demo Record, which is a demonstration record for the Drum Buddy instrument, which is my invention that I've been working on for five or six years now. It's actually patented and going into production this fall and there's an infomercial being shot for it.

The Drum Buddy is made of record player parts and light bulbs?

Nope, it's built from scratch. No record player parts. Everybody thinks that, because it looks somewhat similar to a record player but the motor is completely different. You can precisely control the speed of rotation so you can synch up the Drum Buddy to a drum machine or to a record or a live band or whatever.

And the Drum Buddy makes music out of light?

It's light activated. The music, the beats, the sounds are all made from very raw analog synth circuits, transistor oscillators. When the little holes (in the canisterlike metal cylinder surrounding the light source) pass by the cadmium sulfite sensor, it sends voltage to that circuit and it does something. For some circuits the light is a trigger, for some of them it controls the pitch of the sound, and for some of them it filters the sound. And then it's got lots of other tricked-out knobs and switches and stuff so you can play it.

It's like scratching a synthesizer, in a way.

That's exactly it. You get some crazy sounds.

What's the other record coming out?

That's the Quintron record, Unmasked Light Year of Infinity Man. That's coming out on Bulb.

Is that more sort of R&B-type stuff like the last few records have been moving toward?

Well, I guess. I do an Ernie K. Doe song, “A Certain Girl,” and “You Don't Own Me”; Leslie Gore made that famous.

When you started out, your first album was more freeform noise, organ, guitar, trumpet, theramin, birds ...

In my mind it was dance music. I really didn't know.

Was that the idea?

That's what I thought. I didn't really have the right instruments. I hadn't figured out that you have to have melody until a little bit later.

How did you work your way from playing five instruments at once to playing the organ?

It's not different. I play Hammond church organ, so you're playing pedals with your feet, two manuals, plus I've got another organ and singing in the mouth machine (a treated microphone), and then the Drum Buddy. It's just as much of a one-man band.

Did your music change when you moved from Chicago to New Orleans?

Yeah, I'm sure it did, but it was all there in Chicago and St. Louis. We used to cover Louis Armstrong songs. The whole Chicago scene was so hung up on art music and really, really difficult stuff, and if people like it then it must be bad, that attitude. That was one of the reasons I left Chicago; the whole scene was going in that direction. We're different. We're really flamboyant, and there's a lot to look at, and we put on a dance party. I'm definitely not into new for the sake of new. I really don't care. And really in the South it's too hot for that stuff! It's too hot to make a bunch of noise and make people uncomfortable and feel sick. It's too hot!

Relief from the shitty life that we have is good music and dancing, and having good stuff to look at, and really fucked-up crazy things to think about, and new sounds and songs done in ways you've never heard before, but still you've gotta make the ladies dance. When you're playing a small-time circuit, who shows up? Other musicians. And their girlfriends, who are almost always not musicians. And musicians are always really threatened by people not knowing how to play and not giving a fuck. These musician guys can't figure out if I know what I'm doing or not, and if they should like it or not. But girls don't care about stuff like that!

All right. Anything else?

They rented our old tour van for an episode of Cops.

For what?

As a bad-guy car.

Did it say “Quintron” on it?

Yeah, it had a “Q” on it. But we've got a new car now. We got a new red Mercedes! 1978! '78 Benz. Put the car in the interview. Be sure to mention that.

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Eric Friedl