WALTER SICKERT & THE ARMY OF BROKEN TOYS
by Meghan Chiampa
Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys are a septet of seaside carnival Steamcrunk intergalactic wizardry. Musically talented as wildly theatrical, the Toys talk about their deep-set philosophy of their performance and art.
They will be playing a Dia de los Muertos show at Cuisine En Locale on November 1st. The Toys talk to The Noise about that show and have plans for a tour next summer, lots of new music and scoring video games (Walter is working with American McGee scoring a short film based on his Alice video game).
Noise: I have been following your band for almost seven years—since at Jerkus Circus at the Lizard Lounge. I remember it was only Edrie and Walter. How long have you guys been a duo? A full band? Where did it begin and why?
Edrie: Walter and I met when I was running an artists collective called the Cracked Ceiling Society. I would sponsor shows at the Lily Pad and bring in crazy avant-garde acts to do whatever it was they wanted to do. Walter’s band came in and they blew everyone away. Such a confusing and delightful mixture of weird and awesome. Walter and I each had a life partner at that point. It seems those two people got to know each other quite well (unbeknownst to Walter and I) and ran off together soon after. This threw Walter and me into a strange place where we had to call each other with updates on sightings of the two and where my stolen car and credit cards had gone off too… Neither one of us saw the other partner again. To cope with the heart-ripping loss, Walter wrote some songs and gave them to me; I stuck them in the CD player in the car and drove around some rural roads listening to them at full volume. They were so sweet, sad, and beautiful that I called Walter, crying, and sang harmony to one of the songs over the phone. A few weeks later we put on a duo show at the Sky Bar and the rest is history. We were a duo for a couple of years before other Broken Toys started to come into our lives. Now we’re a seven-piece in our fifth year and couldn’t be happier with how things are going.
Noise: Your sound is quite unique and only can be simply described as a SteamCRUNK seaside horror carnival rock on mescaline. What have some of your influences (musically) been over the years?
Walter: My fascination with music started when I was very young. My grandmother would sing songs to me about monsters and giants and tell me stories about the devil. I began playing piano on her old house piano that had a family of mice living in it; we called it the mouse piano. When I was living on a boat with my dad he would play songs on a salt water-warped acoustic guitar. That was my music education until the boat burned down and the woods got paved.
Noise: You’ve been together for a long time, how has your sound evolved? Obviously the addition of more Broken Toys switched things up?
Edrie: Our sound has evolved a lot, we started out as a two piece, but for many shows we’d invite random guest musicians up on stage to play with us. Anything from a trombone to a chainsaw and everything in between. Some of those guest musicians ended up staying a while and the band grew one Broken Toy at a time. We met Jojo who would play the interrupting cow routine by heckling us in the middle of a song, we’d invite her on stage and she would do a spoken word burlesque act during our set. Once, when we were on tour together, Jojo bought a ukulele and ended up playing it and joined the band.
Walter: The seven of us are very much a family, but we love collaborating with other musicians, artists, performers.
Noise: I love the outward costuming style (you guys have cool outfits) of WS; you have been known to wear a beautiful feather headdress, lots of corsets. Is there a method to the madness? Do you consider yourselves in costume on the stage or is what the audience experiencing the real deal? How important do you think it is for a band to have an outward style or costume stage presence? Does it work more for you because of the carnival puppet show style of the music?
Walter: My handmade headdresses allow me to tap into the great energy of the invisible god monsters of artistic expression. They also provide me with a psychic link to the band and audience. I think when you make music from another world; you tend to look like you’re from another world, in whatever way that manifests itself.
Edrie: Everyone on stage is exactly how they are off stage. We’re not consciously different—we just are different. Walter—and Jojo dress like that all of the time. Rachel is super put together and maybe doesn’t do the corset off stage all of the time, but certainly the shoes and everything else. You’ll find Meff being a dandy any time you see her and Mike has a Rat-Pack style regardless of where he is. TJ always has that fresh-from- the-factory je ne sais quoi combined with the occasional animal head. I tell people I wear various wigs because I love how differently people treat me depending on if I have purple hair, a jet black bob, or long flowing red locks, but I actually just have a collection of interchangeable heads.
Noise: You’ve been lucky (talented) enough to play and collaborate with some very successful artists like Amanda Palmer, Neil Gaiman, John Zorn, and American McGee (I know there is more—fill me in). How has this experience been for the band? Who else would you love to play with or build a project with (national or local)?
Walter: The goal with the Toys is to have musical projects that are unique and exciting and somewhat out of the normal realm of rock band. That’s why we are honored and excited to be working with American McGee scoring a short film based on his Alice video game. We’re also working with director Ian McDonald on a film called Some Freaks which is in principal photography now.
Edrie: In addition to the yearly events like live scoring silent films at the historic Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH (this year we’re doing Nosferatu on October 29), and our yearly collaboration with First Night Boston, we’re working with the Slaughterhouse Sweethearts on a remake of the Labyrinth, and on a new collaboration for 2015 with Company One to put on Shockheaded Peter which is being directed by Stephen Bogart (who did Cabaret with Amanda Palmer). Shockheaded Peter was first performed by our friends the Tiger Lillies some years ago. Our version will be the Boston premiere of the musical and will have music and visuals in the Broken Toys style. We’re also planning a movie/album combination project for which we will be running a Kickstarter later this fall with the goal of the album coming out in time for our July tour.
Noise: Your next show is your annual Day of the Dead show. Can you tell me more about it?
Edrie: Cuisine en Locale has been putting on a Muertos show for a few years. Last year we helped them christen their new space at the old Anthony’s in Somerville. It was a spectacular event with sugar skulls, drinks, fabulous food, and amazing music including us and a mariachi band. We’re doing it again this year on November 1. Look for more exciting surprises including a possible collaboration between the Toys and the mariachi band.
Walter: We think it’s important to celebrate those we’ve lost and the life we have and there’s no better way to do that than with awesome friends, insane music, flowing booze, fantastic food, and sex, but we don’t know if the sex will happen at the party.
Noise: Why are the Toys broken? You have a bunch of weirdos coming from really bizarre backgrounds who’ve all found each other in Boston and make art together. Do you think there is an advantage to being broken? Do you think being rugged and damaged helps influence art? People argue that all the time.
Walter: Everybody is broken in some way. Some people are smart enough to admit it and make it work for them. I think like-minded Broken Toys seem to find each other. Being broken is to have lived, to have been played with, and if you haven’t lived what the hell are you creating about? All of us are broken toys. Broken is beautiful. We are the nerd table in the lunchroom. We are the island of misfit toys in an ocean of sameness. We are an army of art-spraying love -shot wounds. We want nothing less than everyone to join us in animalistic self-expression and the freedom to be weird and accepted. A revolution of Love & Tentacles! No shame, just kindness and the unknown.
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