Hello Kitty

A little-known genre of New Orleans music

Quintron and Miss Pussycat make happy music. Granted, it sounds very raw and punk. Quintron, a veritable one-man band who can pound on drums (or rather, a contraption he calls a "drum buddy"), play the organ, and sing simultaneously, produces records that sound as if they were made in a dark, sweaty basement. He still sounds like he's having fun, though.

Live, Quintron and Miss Pussycat bounce through dance songs like "Swamp Buggy Baddass" and "Fly Like a Rat." Quintron works his drum buddy, and Miss Pussycat shakes the maracas, shouting out lyrics like a cheerleader. Before each concert, she usually gives a 15-minute puppet show starring cute alligators. "I went to a Christian puppet youth ministry when I was in junior high school in church. That's where I got my start," she says.

For Swamp Tech, the couple's latest CD/DVD release, she even made a puppet mini-movie called Electric Swamp. (You can view clips of it on their Web site, www.quintronandmisspussycat.com.) "Quintron's the president of the musical kingdom, and I'm the president of the puppet kingdom," she adds.

In real life, however, Quintron and Miss Pussycat aren't having a lot of fun right now. When Hurricane Katrina devastated the old city in August 2005, these longtime residents of New Orleans' Ninth Ward district were washed out like everyone else. Quintron was out of town visiting relatives, and Miss Pussycat managed to board up their house and evacuate with their musical equipment. But Quintron's nightclub, the Spellcaster Lodge, was flooded with two feet of water, and he's still struggling to repair the damage. (He hopes to reopen it by Labor Day.)

Now, as summer is setting in and the 2006 hurricane season has begun, an ominous tension is descending upon New Orleans. Quintron tells of trash strewn around the city, people committing suicide, and a discomforting anxiety among his friends. "It's fucking crazy here," he says.

"The first hurricane of the season is in the gulf," says Miss Pussycat. "I don't think it'll come to us — Hurricane Alberto — but it really affects everyone here in a low-key way. Everyone's aware that there's a storm and it's hurricane season now.

"New Orleans is not dying. It's coming back," she says. "But it's a long road."

On the surface, Swamp Tech sounds different compared to what outsiders usually associate with New Orleans: brass band jazz and blues, bounce music, and thug rap à la Cash Money Records. But Miss Pussycat says New Orleans' music culture isn't so clear-cut.

"All of these things really overlap," she says.

She tells a story about the late rhythm and blues singer Ernie K-Doe. "He played music with punk bands like the McGillicuddys, and Quintron, and got them to learn his songs, like 'Mother-in-Law.' And then he took these bands under his wing and had a show at [K-Doe's club, the Mother in Law Lounge].

"I mean, this is a man who had a No. 1 hit," continues Miss Pussycat, in reference to "Mother-in-Law," which topped the music charts in 1961. "He still was like, 'I can listen to these punk bands, and make them play "Mother-in-Law," and I'll sing with them, and we'll do a couple of special shows.' So that's the really special thing about the music scene here." Sonically distinct from other N'awlins musical forms, Quintron and Miss Pussycat's chugging, grungy numbers are rooted in old '60s garage rock and soul.

These days, Quintron's working on new music. But unlike many of the tribute albums made post-Katrina, he insists his next record won't be sad and elegiac, but as upbeat and funky as before. "Who says you can't make party music after the apocalypse?" he asks. "If you think about the history of New Orleans in general, it's been plagued with violence and turmoil and poverty forever. And the happiest music in the world comes from New Orleans, and it's in reaction to that.

"What I naturally want to do right now is make the most bouncy, happiest shit possible. It's the only thing I want to hear. It's the only release from hell."

 
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