a short history of Psychotica

by Elizabeth V. Bouras

Imagine a band who gets signed to a major label after their first rehearsal, is invited to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at their first gig and asked to play Lollapalooza at their second. Sound totally crazy? But it all happened to the New York group Psychotica.

Psychotica started early in 1994 in a small downtown club in New York City called Don Hill's, managed by one Patrick Briggs. Briggs' own life story could fill a book (at this point a movie is actually being discussed). Born in Southern California, he was drawn to the theater at a young age, making his stage debut at the age of 8 in a community theater version of "The Seven Year Itch". He ran away in his early teens to escape an abusive home and supported himself hustling on the streets through his teenage years. He credits prostitution with having saved his life, remarking that otherwise he might not have escaped alive. He eventually pulled himself together & kicked a serious drug habit.

promo picture of Psychotica Even after all he's been through he lives without regrets. "I don't think I'll ever get rid of a lot of that stuff. In some ways I hope I don't because it sort of carved me into who I am now. It's not a bad thing anymore. Now it has helped me do something positive. Had I been an accountant in LA instead of a prostitute, I probably wouldn't be doing what I am now and be as happy as I am."

From LA he moved to Hawaii and worked as a dancer in hotels (in his words "sort of tacky-choreographed Solid Gold type shows"), then moved with a friend to NYC where he danced at the Pyramid and the Cat Club (owned by Don Hill) and bartended at Mars.

He worked his way up to managing Don's next club while pursuing his ambition of starting a band. Unfortunately at this time the metal "big hair bands" were at their peak in popularity, and Pat made his biggest mistake in allowing the record companies who signed him to completely mold him into what they wanted him to be. He constantly struggled with the A&R reps who wanted to tone down his personality and repress his sexuality, constantly telling him "you can't be too wild". His glam metal outfit R U Ready narrowly missed record releases with several companies, including Mechanic, which went under eight weeks before their album was set to debut. Pat describes this period as the lowest point in his life; ashamed that he'd let others take control of his life, he essentially locked himself in his house for a year and set about reinventing himself.

Enter Michael Schmidt, a talented young fashion designer who'd worked for the likes of Madonna and co-managed Don Hill's. Briggs and Schmidt set up a partnership & took over the club every Friday night to create their own ongoing party. They gathered a post punk house band and invited local drag queens to sing along and MC the affair-- and so SqueezeBox was born. It attracted a hip stylish crowd of widely-mixed gender preferences looking for entertainment on the cutting edge, as well as performers like Joey Ramone, Green Day, Marc Almond, Courtney Love and Debbie Harry. And always one to juggle a number of projects at once, Pat also joined the original cast of the then unknown off-Broadway musical Rent - a present-day Lower East Side update of La Boheme - playing the part of Professor Tom Collins.

Tommy Salmorin, a bartender at Don Hill's, kept urging Pat to start a band with him to perform at SqueezeBox, but Pat, soured by the music industry, steadfastly resisted until Tommy assured him that it would be "just for fun". So on July 22, 1994 to provide another act for Squeezebox they got some musician friends together and gave their first performance as Psychotica. Squeezebox mistress of ceremonies Misstress Formicka introduced them to the crowd and Pat was carried through the audience strapped to a cross amidst wild strobe lights, clad only in "pants" of clear saran wrap and thigh high blue glitter platform boots. They opened with "This Town" (originally performed by the Go-Gos) and their short set included covers old New Wave hits by Bow Wow Wow ("I Want Candy"), and X Ray Spex ("Oh Bondage, Up Yours!") along with some early originals.

They enjoyed themselves so much they decided to write some original material and chose the name Psychotica after a song Pat had written. Between the two of them they knew plenty of interested musicians. Tommy brought in two guys he'd been in a punk band called Youth Gone Mad with - drummer Buz and guitarist Ena Kostabi, who'd been the original guitarist for White Zombie in their infancy. (He appears on their first 7" "Gods on Voodoo Moon")

* Pat invited along Enrique Tiru-Velez, a talented cellist from a classical music conservatory and completely traditional music background. Enrique had caught Pat's attention a few years prior when he'd booked Enrique's previous band Nine Ways to Sunday. Nine Ways had been an eclectic ensemble also consisting of former members of art-rock band Polyrock and soon-to-be Nine Inch Nail Charlie Clouser.

Pat also brought along Reeka, a tall Swedish girl he'd met in a coffee shop where she waitressed. They'd gotten to talking and when he mentioned he managed a club, she'd given him a copy of her demo tape. He'd been blown away by how off the wall it was - as bizarre as his own music. He invited her to join on backup vocals where her strange reggae rapping complemented his smooth Bowie-esque vocals.

As he said in the July 10, 1996 issue of NJ's The Aquarian:

"I just think kids are bored with spending their money, that they don't have very much of going to see teen angst. They've got enough of that already. I think they want to get out of that and escape into another world that's not their own. That's what made music popular in the first place. From Elvis to the Beatles, kids could get out of whatever oppression they had to deal with in their own lives. It's like, oh my God, this is a fantasy world. It's sex, it's decadent, it's fun, it's rocking - there's a total positive energy. I think they are really just hungry for... they want something to change, they don't have the power to do it for themselves, and they go to a show and see somebody utilize whatever power they do have, to do it. We've had an instantaneous warm reception from them, I've never been in a band that was like this, ever, where kids instantaneously were like, Oh my God, I love this."

Several days before their first "serious" show as Psychotica, a woman, who'd heard their rehearsal while walking by outside,entered Don Hill's. She identified herself as Amanda Sheere-Deeme, an A&R rep from American Recordings, and expressed interest in signing them on the spot. Pat, completely uninterested in record company types after his prior experiences, blew her off and told her "if you are serious then do it. If you aren't, I don't want to hear about it."

As it turned out she'd only been exposed to half the show since at the rehearsals they'd just been in their day clothes. Pat also had plans to make Psychotica a theatrical and visually stunning event. After all, he felt most of today's music was too boring - who really wants to watch a bunch of grungy-looking guys in their street clothes wailing away on guitar? What he loved and missed were the more visually interesting bands especially from the late '70's/early 80's New Wave era and singers like Nina Hagen and Klaus Nomi, Devo and Bow Wow Wow, as well as Kabuki theater and cabaret acts. And glamour, in his opinion long missing from rock n' roll.

Acquainted with many local young fashion designers, he gathered an array of wild costumes & developed his trademark look: a metallic silver mohawk (achieved by slathering his hair in clay facial masque and spray painting over it with florist's spray!) and a dayglo stripe across the eyes, often joined by various glued-on jewels.

They started the show with a bang; Pat clad only in saran wrap hanging on a spinning giant silver cross. They opened with their song "What is God?", the lyrics metaphorically reflecting Pat's views on organized religion. (To quote Pat: "I have a very sort of belligerent idea of organized religion") The crowd went wild and after the show he was approached by someone who said "Psychotica is the future of rock & roll! I wanna put you in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame!". "Yeah right", thought Pat, "sure you do".

Within a week the contract from American Recordings arrived; Amanda was for real and quite serious. And the fellow babbling madly about the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame turned out to be designer Steven Sprouse, who really did want to include them in the exhibit tracing the course of rock fashion - from Bowie and Iggy Pop on up through to the likes of Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson - which he was building for the Ahmet M. Ertegun Hall.

The continued building up a reputation for their outrageous shows as they gigged in various clubs in New York. At some Pat was carried forth on stage encased in a giant chrome egg that opened to reveal him inside amidst colored smoke singing "New Man". Folks were shocked to see his nude seemingly-genderless body emerging from the egg though he'd conceived of it as best representing birth in keeping with the song's lyrics.

They were invited to play the second stage at Lollapalooza's New York appearance in 1995 (Pat had previously MC'd the Lollapalooza second stage as his drag alter ego "Torment") and made the transition from a small trendy club to a wider audience outside, gasp, in the day. He was offered a part in the Broadway run of "Rent" but turned it down due to time constraints and his general dislike of the attitudes in that scene. About this time, film director Sylvia Sichel saw Pat's photo in Interview magazine and knew he was exactly what she needed to play the part of the openly gay punk singer Luke in her forthcoming film All Over Me.

Juggling his full plate again, Pat alternated between filming the movie and recording Psychotica's debut album with NYC punk producer Don Fury. Besides co-writing with the other band members he also worked with other musicians, and collaborated with Pittsburgh-based David Werner on "Blue Fear" and ex-Banshee John Carruthers on the catchy "Barcelona". In homage to their New Wave influences they covered "Freedom of Choice" by long-time favorites Devo.

Meanwhile Iggy Pop saw the exhibit at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and was intrigued enough to check them out and invite them to open for his tour in the spring of '96, and techno whiz Moby heard the buzz and joined in to contribute a remix of "Cybernation" for their album.

From there they were invited to open the mainstage of Lollapalooza and spent the summer of '96 on the road opening for Metallica, Soundgarden, Rancid and the Ramones, taking their show to hundreds of thousands more people. As Reeka was unable to join due to visa problems they enlisted another local NYC talent, Sophia Ramos, singer for a band called Sophia's Toy - a petite Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx - to join in on backing vocals for that tour. The Lollapalooza audience was hardly prepared for Pat's entrance on the cross in a silver rubber jumpsuit! They were easily the most "alternative" act on the mostly metal-oriented bill but nevertheless attracted a lot of new fans. With the album yet to come out they issued a 4-track CD of demos they sold after shows and autographed for any interested new fans and onlookers. Late in the Lollapalooza tour - on July 23, 1996 - the self-titled debut album finally arrived.

Barely off the road from Lollapalooza, they went back out on a national club tour with outrageous shock-rock troupe The Impotent Sea Snakes on what they called the "Glitterball" tour, and from there straight to an opening shot in far larger clubs and small arenas with Tool.

Exhausted after most of a year on the road they returned home to NYC to regroup. After Christmas of '96 drummer Buz was dismissed due to his excessive party habits on the road and inability to play some of the more difficult material live. Early in 1997 Tommy Salmorin also left and hooked up with Buz to form an industrial metal band "Numb". Rapper Reeka also wandered off to parts unknown.

In 1997 they took it easy and did just a handful of shows along the east coast and one festival ("Apple Rock" in Modena, NY) with Greta Brinkmen and Pete Asarisi from the Squeezebox house band on bass and drums. They played some new material that would evolve into some of the songs on 1998's "Espina" album, such as "Now and Always" which mutated into "Bleeding". Pat also spent a good portion of '97 finishing his autobiography "The Tom Sawyer Complex", telling the story of his childhood and how he ended up living on the streets of LA, which has been optioned for film and is currently in pre-production. The only 1997 release was a very limited clear vinyl 7" of "We Are The Dead", a song that they felt would be too out of place on an album as it's much more "punk" sounding than their usual style. It is still available from the fan club.

Meanwhile fans got to see Pat in the film All Over Me "All Over Me" (released April 25, 1997) where he received many excellent reviews for his portrayal of Luke who dies tragically all too early in the film.

1998 was a more active year for Psychotica. Pat and Ena went into the studio to record "Espina" with producer Doug DiAngeles (known for his work with Love and Rockets, NIN, Pet Shop Boys etc) and Doug ended up joining them along on the road that summer as well with his friend Tom Brayton on drums. Eric Petersen from the NYC band Echodrive became the new bassist and Clint Walsh (a friend of Greta's from the Squeezebox band) joined as the 2nd guitarist. They originally went in to the studio to record an EP, expecting to do a full length album later in the year, but their new label Zero Hour Records was so impressed they insisted they go right back into the studio and add a few songs so that they could release it as a full length album. "Espina" contained several new songs, 2 cover songs (Jimmy Webb's "MacArthur Park" and Glampire's "Breakable) plus remakes of "Rain" and "Valentine" from their first EP retitled "Too Late" and "February 14, 1979".

"Espina" was released June 9, 1998 while Pat flew off to Puerto Rico for a week to celebrate his birthday. He returned June 19th to find his friends had organized a surprize birthday party in his honor at Squeezebox and the entertainment included former members Sophia Ramos and Enrique Tiru performing together

To celebrate the release of Espina Psychotica played two consecutive nights in New York at Don Hill's - Friday at Squeezebox and Saturday was a special fan club show free to all members. On July 9th they hit the road for a two month tour of the US and some of Canada with Florida band Jack Off Jill opening. Along the way special guests were added to the bill - they were joined in LA and San Francisco by Switchblade Symphony, in Seattle by Genitorturers, and in Chicago by the Impotent Sea Snakes which made for some pretty wild times on the road. Their fan base expanded considerably and included many fans willing to travel hundreds and in some cases thousands of miles to attend multiple shows. Towards the end of the tour they were followed by a caravan of cars!

In late Fall of '98 Pat and Ena signed with Red Ant Records who also included Love and Rockets and Bauhaus on their roster. They moved out to LA for a few months to begin the demos that eventually would become "Pandemic", the latest album, and rerecorded "MacArthur Park" again with eurodisco guru Giorgio Moroder who producer Donna Summer's huge hit version of it in the late 1970's. The original intention was to record the whole album in LA but instead Pat and Ena ended up going to England for 6 weeks in early 1999 to record at Great Lindford Manor in Milton Keynes with producer Jon Fryer, known for his work for most of the 4AD roster (This Mortal Coil, Clan of Xymox, Cocteau Twins) plus such artists as NIN, Stabbing Westward, Gravity Kills. After the recording was finished they flew to NY with Fryer to mix at Battery Studios.

In April of 1999 Psychotica fans got to be the first to hear "Pandemic" in two special listening parties held in LA and NYC where they were invited in to hear the album and rate each song to vote for the forthcoming single. For a while everything looked golden - even famed fashion photographer and video director Matthew Rolston (who'd directed videos for Madonna and Marilyn Manson, among others) wanted to work with Psychotica after seeing Pat performing at the LA club Makeup.

Then it all fell quickly apart as Red Ant declared bankruptcy and were unable to finance the release of "Pandemic". It sits still unreleased and I only hope that some day another company is able to buy it out from Red Ant

Pat meanwhile moved out to LA and co-founded the trendy monthly club night night event "Make Up" at the El Rey Theater on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles along with LA DJ/club promoters Jason Lavitt and Joseph Brooks (Shout, Cherry, Coven 13, Flash) to bring the west coast a glitter rock event similar in organization to Squeezebox but on a much grander scale, again with drag divas fronting for a house band that includes members of Plexi and L7. Pat hosted the show with his drag alter ego "Torment". It turned into an instant success - after only two monthly events the LA Times voted it the best new dance club and E! television filmed an hour long documentary on the club called "Hollywood Nights", still shown in reruns and featuring tracks from the unreleased "Pandemic" album. A one off special Makeup night in Las Vegas the night before Halloween of 1999 yielded a second E! television special. An album of songs (composed of glam rock covers as well as originals) was recorded by Pat (as Torment) and many of the regular Makeup performers under the name "World Dominatrix" that was due for release on Atomic Pop records late in 1999 but remains unreleased.

Late in 1999 Pat split from Makeup and started work on his next project. In early 2000 he started Glitterdome, another monthly club night much like Squeezebox and Makeup held in Atlanta, GA the 3rd Friday of each month at the Chamber and Tampa, FL the 3rd Saturday of each month at the Tampa Masquerade. Pat currently resides in Atlanta, GA

Original version of this article copyright 1997 Operator's Manual. This expanded and updated version copyright 1999, 2000 Elizabeth Victoria Bouras. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission the author is prohibited.