It seems just about every "rock star" these days claims to be inspired by the music they listened to and maybe didn’t listen to during their impressionable youth. While quite a bit of that nostalgic name-dropping may be simple posturing, Psychotica vocalist Pat Briggs’s experiences during the late-70’s disco/new wave era left a definite impression on him.
"New wave was the thing I grasped onto, more so than disco," Briggs said. "It was really a sort of fun, magical time, because it was sort of ‘anything goes.’ Everybody was getting dressed up and having fun. There didn’t seem like there was a lot of boundaries going on, sexually or musically or whatever."
Briggs has undoubtedly absorbed a boundless, colorful life, from selling his body as a male prostitute and performing in drag shows to acting in the first New York staging of the Broadway production Rent and being placed on display at Cleveland’s Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. For a figure who is virtually an invisible commodity to the music mainstream to be cast in fiberglass at the ultimate homage to the macho world of rock, Briggs was understandably surprised by the offer and ultimately thought it would be fun to do. "When it [the Hall of Fame] opened, they wanted to sort of take a chance and put a band in there they thought would become noticed over the next few years. "We happened to be the victims," Briggs says with a laugh. "It was a great honor."
Certainly a few tourists may be caught off-guard seeing Briggs’s mock crucifixion display next to, say, Eric Clapton’s guitar, but it might be a dose of forced enlightenment. Encompassing strong doses of Goth, industrial, glam, and metal with the new-wave highlights, as well as Briggs’s openly gay sexuality and androgynous image, Psychotica is hard to ignore. Since their self-titled debut in ’96, Briggs and company have been through label changes, personnel shifts and creative adjustments. Now on Zero Hour, Psychotica released the full length album Espina early last year, which wasn’t the original plan. Briggs explained he had been working on a screenplay (as well as a book) and wasn’t quite ready for a lengthy recording session. "It was supposed to be a four-to-six song EP, which was the reason it was going to be on Zero Hour. And everybody just started screeching about it, because they liked it. So they asked us to make it a full-length and add some more songs. I just went with the flow. I was two days sober when I started this record."
Briggs had dealt with bouts of addiction and the healing process of sobriety before. During the recording of their first album, Briggs suffered an injury. "I thought I was Elizabeth Taylor and got hooked on pills," he said with a laugh. Later, however, his new-found sobriety gave him the focus he needed to realize Espina. The music on the album itself from what could be considered standard Goth/industrial fare ("Ding Dong Dead"), a disco cover (Donna Summers hit "MacArthur Park") and even a bagpipe (!) instrumental ("Psychopharmacologist") is a kind of Pat Briggs-101 survey course, with his varying personalities taking turn at the mike. The core of the band - Briggs, guitarist/bassist Ena Paul Kostabi and cellist Enrique Tiru Velez - remained for this outing with a revolving cast of guest musicians brought in during the actual recording process.
Though Briggs said he prefers to write songs about his past experiences ("I write very few songs about present stuff," he said) and although he is very comfortable with expressing himself onstage, he cautioned that he doesn’t want to preach to the audience. "I’m not big on this whole trend of doing a therapy session in front of the audience live. I think it'’ really draining for them -they don't come here for that."
What really looked draining is the black rubber body suit covered (literally) with 2-foot-ling, green plant-like appendages that Briggs wore during his performance. Live, Psychotica have almost a symphonic quality: bass, guitar, drums, keyboards and Briggs’s Andrew Eldritch-meets-David Bowie vocals provide a full spectrum attack. The Sapphire Supper Club’s younger-than-expected, cross-dressing Goth crowd seemed to really take to the band’s passionate performance.
Backstage, my suspicions of Briggs’s uncomfortable attire (he had looked much happier in the red cowboy hat, black T-shirt, and white shorts he had on during soundcheck) were confirmed, as he said he couldn’t wait to get out of the bloody-hot body suit. As I watched Briggs wrestling with an assistant to peel himself out of his suit, I thought back to something he had said during our pre-soundcheck interview about the fans who go to Psychotica’s shows: "My kids are all misfits. It’s the misfit crowd. They want to know that there is someone there for them, so I always try to do it as much as I can." Maybe that is why Psychotica is not so much about preaching, but releasing and exploring boundaries.
Thanks to Jordan Shirkey for typing this out!