INTERVIEW AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY CARLOS DETRES
It was the night before my recent trip to New York when I first heard Dr. Sick perform at Mimi's in the upstairs section of the bar. He and his band were performing intriguing covers of "Closer" by Nine Inch Nails and I believe in Metallica was in there, which is not too unusual except that it was done in an old timey style. The songs performed with such bravado and energy and the connection to the past revealed how timeless these songs I love are. I was immediately hooked into their performance and thought, "I have to interview this guy."
Dr. Sick is a multi-instrumentalist originally from Upstate New York who works regularly throughout New Orleans as a musician, playing drums, trombone, guitar, drums and more. He has also acted in a commercial and produces burlesque shows, as you'll read more about below. We drank some rum and talked at length about music, New Orleans and travel.
I really enjoy seeing you perform and feel that I’m actually getting a show. Is there a particular philosophy you have about performing live?
I don't know about philosophy, but there is an amount of technique required for live performance. I'm in a bunch of different projects, so my approach changes drastically from gig to gig. When I play Cabaret music and Klezmer with the Salt Wives, I adopt a somewhat dry, almost creepy demeanor, like a cartoon version of Vincent Price. When I play punk country fiddle with the Rotten Cores, I scream and head bang and jump off furniture. When I'm leading the band and singing, I try to cold read the audience, which requires more direct eye contact, sometimes in uncomfortable doses if I'm really feeling it. Plus, the songs I write or choose to cover generally have an excess of built in "show biz" qualities. It's more satisfying to me to find a slightly different character for every song.
Can you discuss your Gypsy Jukebox project and how it came to be?
I really enjoyed performing with that project, but it's only happened once live so far. I guess the best way to describe the project is that the audience gets to pick whatever song they want to hear by literally any band, and we play it in the style of Django Reinhardt. Sometimes if I know enough of the words I will sing it in a French accent, but most of the time we just play the melody and the chord changes and then solo, just like gypsy jazz from yesteryear. I had the idea after a mash-up challenge that I developed where my other band, Sextette, will play any song by any band, but only in the style of any other specific band. Like Led Zeppelin as performed by Bjork, for example. When people in the audience make requests, I find it pretty uninventive, so I wanted to develop something more interactive and fun, and there's a wealth of brilliant musicians in New Orleans who are ready to contribute to projects like that one. I think the players appreciate the challenge, and it breaks up the monotony of playing similar jazz songs every day.
How did you land your upcoming touring gig with the Squirrel Nut Zippers?
How did I land the gig? That's an extremely long story, but I do have something of a resume that put me on a short list of violinists that would fit that bill. I was a member of the Austin-based band the Asylum Street Spankers for a few years, I also play in New Orleans with the Tom Cats occasionally, which introduced me to the trombone player from the Zippers. I was actually performing weekends in Florida, and flew back to New Orleans to audition, so that said, I'd guess from a scale of 1 to 10 I am a solid 8 as far as excited for upcoming tour with these guys.
How are you involved in the burlesque scene?
Actually, I'm happy to say I'm about to perform my 10th anniversary show as a burlesque announcer and producer. Here in New Orleans I perform at the House of Blues fairly regularly, I've produced a couple different monthly shows, and I truly believe that New Orleans has the most inspired burlesque scene in the country. New York is way up there as well, and Dallas has an incredible scene. I travel to different festivals, I've won different competitions with some groups that have been a part of, and get occasional phone calls from different people like Xena Zeitgeist and the Snake Oil Festival to announce their shows or arrange live music.
What’s one of your favorite New Orleans venues to perform and why?
Too many to name. Too hard to explain. Frenchmen Street is packed with great venues that I play at regularly for many different reasons, but I also enjoy playing at Howlin Wolf, House of Blues, the Garden District in general, the river bend, Mid-City, Bywater.
What are some upcoming projects you’re excited about?
I'll be in Los Angeles at the beginning of June as part of a theater installation put on by Immersive as a one man band, that's exciting. I've got a CD release show in Austin on June 24th for the record I produced for the wildly talented Amanda Kitchens, that's at the Rattle Inn. That show is doubly magical because it's also the ten year reunion of my first burlesque troupe the Carousel Cabaret. I'm also musical director for the Unholy Roller Revival June 26 @ Howlin' Wolf, featuring burlesque, sideshow, the Asylum Chorus and Ben Wisdom as our dirty preacher. Right after I go on tour with the Squirrel Nut Zippers.
If readers would like to learn more about your music and other performances, where can they find you online?
Whenever you type my name as Dr. Sick, Google will take you to a lot of websites that have nothing to do with me, like WebMD and any pill ripping off Viagra. Not to mention Facebook threatened to kick me off for using my stage name, and made me send a photocopy of my legal ID, forcing me to change my name. If anyone wants to find me, you can go to most social media sites and look for my handle, @fiddlekiller . I of course have a fan page, and website, but I don't use those as much because they're limiting as far as promotion. To hear samples of my songs, go to reverbnation.com/sickspack .