The freaky new face of American invention

Photo by Gary Lavourde

When he’s not belting out swampy party tunes alongside his wife Miss Pussycat’s puppet shows, Quintron is inventing the kinds of instruments we’ve never even thought of.

His latest invention, the Weather Warlock, has been in the works for years. It’s an analogue synthesizer emitting drone sounds that reacts to changes in wind direction, moisture and U.V. levels.

“Oh, nothing is ever finished,” says Quintron when I ask about the state of the Weather Warlock, which is heard on the new Quintron & Miss Pussycat record Spellcaster II: Death in Space.

“It’s presentable. I would say that it’s in the final prototyping stages where it really has its own soul now, but you can always make a better one.”

Quintron spent four weeks last spring in Captiva, Florida doing a residency at the estate of the artist Robert Rauschenberg, where he focused on the Weather Warlock and Miss Pussycat made an inflatable stage for puppet shows that fits in her purse.

Despite all his different projects — inventing instruments, performing with Miss Pussycat and leading of the Ninth Ward Marching Band during Carnival season in New Orleans — he says he always tends to obsess over one thing at a time.

What the residency did provide was access to a gymnasium-size studio and tool shops for a month.

“That took a lot of clutter out of life,” he says.

The Weather Warlock manipulates a droning E chord, Mr. Q saying his choice of sounds was “an intuitive, artistic response to the sounds that make me happy.”

Working with analogue audio sounds, he experiments with different circuits, and then solders in place what he likes.

“Building circuits is like very, very slowly playing an acoustic guitar,” he says. “It’s hearing things and adding capacitors and taking components away.”

The invention gets most of what it needs from the weather, and uses low voltage to power the synthesizer. He says the most difficult part was getting it to survive the weather he was trying to capture.

“To sit in the rain is one thing, but to sit in the rain for six months and endure that intense U.V. that we have in New Orleans too, the elements started breaking down,” he says. “There’s a lot of field testing, it’s still undergoing transformation.”

He’s bringing the Weather Warlock along on tour. For a few U.S. dates he’ll play as Weather for the Dead, a band that only performs at sunset, building a wall of distortion around the Warlock’s drone.

It’s “a super heavy loud rock thing”, completely different than the live stream of another Weather Warlock back home in New Orleans.

“If you hook up these variables, this energy that is provided for you, it’s like having a baby sit there and play your synthesizer for you all year long [...] when the weather is playing it, you have a true element of liveness,” he says.

“I would call this live music.”

In the long-term he’d like to set up other Weather Warlock base stations, offering live streams of the weather provided by a “club of nerds” around the world. At one point there were talks of doing distribution through Jack White’s Third Man Records.

In 2012 he posted a video of an early Weather Warlock prototype, explaining how the sensors work. He's made a mock infomercial for one of his earlier projects, the Drum Buddy. It’s clear he wants to share his inventions, but going into mass production would ruin it for him.

“I’m pretty choosey about who the stuff goes to,” he says. “I’ve never gone into full-on bonkers Drum Buddy production.”

“I still like that it’s specially my thing and it’s associated with my music. There’s a few of them out there, but it would make me sad if there were millions.”

Instead he says he’s part of what he hopes his whole country starts doing: appreciating hand-made things, craftsmanship and that their products were made at home.

He says that's how to bring manufacturing back to the United States, and it’s pretty clear he’s a believer in the power of American invention. After all, he’s mounted the grill of an old Cadillac to the front of his organ rig.

Quintron & Miss Pussycat are playing le Divan Orange November 21, part of the M for Montreal festival.