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WALTER SICKERT
& THE ARMY OF TOYS

by Joel Simches

Walter Sickert &
the Army of Broken Toys have been exciting and warping the artistic
minded for the last several years. From the initial core of Walter
and Edrie, their army has spread to encompass some of the finest artistic
and musical minds in Boston. Their live shows have been epic and
over the top, having toured with the Tiger Lillies, Amanda Palmer, Jaggery,
and so many others. Most recently they performed at the Steam
Punk World’s Fair, dazzling audiences with touches of burlesque and
cabaret mixed with the imagery of Lewis Carroll and a Pythonesque sense
of farce. The band is releasing their first full-length,
Steamship Killers, featuring the current core of nearly a dozen
musicians, replete with Walter’s exquisitely demented artwork and
twisted songs of death and squids.

I
caught up with them as they prepare for a tour to promote the release
of
Steamship Killers. The tour starts with their release party at Club 939
in Boston with Jaggery on June 4, to be followed by a brief tour of
the Northeast.

Noise: Did you intend that this would grow into
a 19-piece band?

Walter: Yes, but I don’t think it’s done growing…
I think that you don’t know how many pieces it’s going to be in
the end.

Noise: So who is involved in the band right now?

Edrie: Well, we have a sort of set list of
musicians—Jojo calls it “A Queer Ape”—so there’s anywhere
from four to thirteen onstage at any one time actually playing instruments.
And the core of the band is Rachel Jaysom on viola. She graduated
from the Boston Conservatory and is a super awesome viola player—she
can play in any style. We went to her graduating recital and it
was the first time they had ever had a standing ovation at a graduating
recital and there were so many people we couldn’t all fit in the room.
Her professor was a little freaked out. We also have Terrance [TJ] Horn
on drums. We met him at a movie store when he disparaged my movie
selection and then Walter asked him to join the band.

Noise: Which movie?

Edrie: The store that he worked at was going
out of business and my absolute favorite movie was, like, a dollar!

Walter: Which was….

Edrie [giggling]: It’s about a horse.

Walter: Oh, come on… give the name..

Edrie: I don’t remember!

Walter: Wasn’t it Black
Beauty
?

Noise: Black
Stallion
?

Walter: Oh, no… A
Man From Snowy River
.

Edrie: Yeah, so it was A
Man From Snowy River
, which
is legitimately a horrible movie, but it has horses and cowboys and
horse tricks in it. So I handed it to check out and he’s like “Whoa,
this movie SUUUCKS.” Thanks, and Walter’s like, “join the band.”

Walter: We gave him a CD after he told her the movie
sucked. We had him come to a show as a rabbit to the Mayfair…
which was the very first time that the Army of Toys played a live show
that wasn’t just the two of us.

Noise: Was that the first time? Because you had
Mitchell Ahern come and play the electric crutch and the vacuum cleaner
at the Abbey.

Walter: Well, it was the two of us and then the third
or fourth person would always be someone who played something really
bizarre. E. Stephen Curator played the hedge trimmer at Church
show and an electric saw at another show.

Noise: How do you play an
electric
saw?

Walter: He’d have an electric saw and a piece of
metal and somehow he was banging the metal against the blade as the
blade would spin and it had no musical value, but it was really cool
and noisy.

Edrie: And scary, ’cause I couldn’t see what
he was doing.

Noise: But your music has always had a blend of
music and art, so why would it make a difference between having a violin
player and an electric saw player?

Walter: I don’t think it makes a difference. I
think that’s evident how we feel about it on the new record. “Revenge
of the Rats” has a cello mixed with a kazoo. I think the most important
part about it is just getting across the emotion or painting the mental
landscape with the sound and if it’s a saw that does that, or an electric
kazoo or a crutch, well, you know, great!

Noise: Getting back to the other members.

Edrie: We also have Madeline Ripley on violin and
she plays in a lot of different ensembles. She’s constantly busy.
She played with the Dropkick Murphys when they came to town. She’s
played with Humanwine a couple of times. We also have JoJo the Burlesque
Poetess, who started out as the comic relief and read some poetry. Then
she bought a ukulele on tour and now she plays that in the band, which
is kind of crazy. Then there’s Meff on rhythm guitar. She and
TJ have been best friends their whole lives and I think he was nervous
about hanging out with us so he brought Meff along and after three practices
she’s like, “Oh there’s a guitar sitting here mind if I just play
along?” and she played and we were like, “Holy shit! She plays really
well,” so she was automatically in the band… am I missing anybody?

Walter: Probably. Kevin Corzett?

Edrie: Oh Kevin! (laughs) There’s not a single
band in Boston that he hasn’t played with… but for us he plays clarinet.

Noise: He has a Klezmerish approach that seems
to work so well for the music.

Edrie: And we forgot to talk about Mike
Leggio from What Time is It Mr. Fox? on bass, who shows up to
all our shows… even though we give him nothing but wine.

Walter: He’s a classy fox, that one!

Noise: Edrie, you’re singing, too. Before
you did a lot of silent bits, playing with toys and walking into the
audience. Now you’re leading band, leading the audience in chants,
so it seems you’ve grown within the band.

Edrie: It’s true. I’m taking over.

Walter: Yeah. Pretty soon all are songs will
be about horses and cowboys. I think they already are… The band
came together kinda like Eddie & the Cruisers. We went to
see Rachel play beautiful classical music at her school. She’s an
incredibly talented musician and we’re like, “Dammit we need to
have her in the band!” Our drummer is a punk rock drummer. Our
violin player plays in Irish rock bands and Meff wears a moustache.
It’s like the…

Noise: …Commitments.

Walter: Yeah, It’s like the Commitments… or Captain
Planet.

Noise: Now how did you hook up with Mali Sastri
and the rest of Jaggery. You’ve been doing a lot of shows with
the double lineup.

Walter: I literally bumped into Mali outside T.T.’s.
We were both really drunk and she said, “I know who you are and heard
of you!” And I said, “Who the hell are you” and she said, “I’m
Mali.” And I’m like, “I’ve heard of you, too.” We became friends
quickly and she invited us to the Cloud Club to see her play and then
after that we were there all the time, playing shows.

Edrie: It’s fun touring with them because we can
take a lighter version of the band and intersperse even more musicians
so we can have Daniel Schubmehl play drums for us and Tony Leva from
Jaggery play bass for us. On the next tour we’re actually bringing
almost everybody, but we’re still going to switch back and forth musicians.

Noise: It seems like an easy fit, because even with
the diverse styles, everyone is so like-minded towards the music and
the artistic ethic you are trying to achieve.

Edrie: We started out creating song structures that
either Walter could play just by himself, or I could add a little bit
to, so the songs stand on their own as a guy with a guitar or a guy
with a piano and everything else is just extra. We let people create
the parts around the influence that Walter’s songs are. We can
add as many people as we want. We could be a huge marching band
as long as people follow the structure. Walter leads and we follow him.

Walter: Everybody in the band has an understanding
and a desire to be part of “the show” itself, not just play music,
but present it as an experience.

Noise: Lainey Schooltree did your last EP and has
also worked on this new album. How did she become involved with
you?

Edrie: I’ve known Lainey for a really long time
as a part of the Steamy Bohemians and when she started going to school
for sound engineering she needed some people to work with.

Noise: A “guinea pig” band?

Edrie: And we were the perfect guinea pig band,
because we were like, “Oh we’d love to do an EP… in a studio.”

Walter: That we can’t afford.

Edrie: And we really liked how things came
out. She’s not only super conscientious and very detail oriented,
which I like, but she’s also kinda flakey and crazy, which Walter
likes. So it’s a good combination between that orderliness that I
kind of need to make sure that things are actually getting done and
the artistic part that Walter needs to make sure we’re getting a piece
of art out of it as opposed to a studio album.

Noise: What is the biggest difference sonically
between the EP and the new album?

Walter: We have the whole band in the studio,
pretty much. There’s no electric crutch.

Noise: Did you keep the mimes and the puppeteers?

Walter: Oh yeah. We’re mime heavy!
Great name for a band. We’re Land Mime!

Edrie: [Groans]

Noise: With all your artwork as such an integral
part of the visual element of the band, I understand you’ve been invited
to do some art and design for Art Beat in Davis Square this year?

Walter: Yeah, I’m the artist doing all the
work for it… for everything… from dog tags to flyers to street banners.

Edrie: And T-shirts!

Noise: How did that come about?

Edrie: We applied to play Art Beat… and when I
apply to places I always send a little link of Walter’s art. The theme
this year is water, and I happened to send a picture of a squid coming
out of the water into a boat and the organizers said, “That’s exactly
what we want.”

Walter: So in July in Somerville there will
be tons of squids with eyeballs and teeth.

Edrie: And tentacles.

Noise: That’s the way you always imagined Somerville
could be.

Walter: It is!

Noise: What advice would you give to the scores
of musicians, conceptual artists, and performers who are drawn to what
you guys do?

Edrie: I think you should just put yourself
out there and you never know what’s going to happen. A year
ago when we did Mayfair we never thought that we would actually continue
to play with a huge band and be able to sustain it. We’ve realized
it’s helped us grow as musicians. I like Jojo’s advice, which
is, “Rock out with your frock out!”

Walter: My advice is do exactly what you want to
do and don’t worry about it. My God, if you have a desire, do
it, because what you have in mind is unique to yourself. As long as
you find a way to outlet that energy, it’s gonna be a positive experience.
Don’t hold back and don’t be afraid of what people think about it.
Fuck ’em! As long as you do it for yourself. It’s pretty much what
Edrie said, but she didn’t drop the F-bomb.

Edrie: I don’t normally.

Walter: That’s bullshit!

Steamship
Killers
is due on June 1.

www.armyoftoys.com

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