Splatter-painted marauders in rubber suits and bunny gas masks wielding bullhorns and machine guns.
Skeletons playing guitar.
Visual and sound effects galore.
An inclusive outer-body experience.
You never know what to expect from Walter Sickert and the ARmy of BRoken TOys. Multiples more than the sum of its parts, the troupe builds worlds and characters to inhabit them, leaving no beat or inch of space undecorated. As they put it, the band is “spinners of a charming, demented fairy tale that gathers new characters all the time,” while “at the heart of the colorful fantasy is Walter Sickert, the writer, ringleader, and conjurer.”
This time out, with 10 years of bold experimentation behind them, the ARmy resurfaces once again with War Gospel, a “dystopian guerrilla opera” and “visual song-cycle that speaks to our times, both reflecting the current political climate and transcending the divisive us vs. them mentality that debilitates progress.” Sickert calls it “a purposeful collaboration with local LGBTQIA+ & PoC artists,” and an effort “to bring all marginalized voices to the forefront of our fight.”
To complement the massive multilateral undertaking, the ARmy is designing a live spectacle for the Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Science, all while sticking to its annual seasonal schedule of live-scoring Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde in New Hampshire, and performing a music and dance tribute to The Nightmare Before Christmas at OBERON.
Yeah, it’s gonna be a busy season.
“We’re super DIY,” Edrie says. “It’s not like we have all this help.”
Yet they make it work in spectacular fashion. In order to have so much fun with their fans, the ARmy puts in more work than, frankly, any group I’ve ever interviewed. From ornate sets and album art stemming from the breathtaking brilliance of Sickert’s visual imagination, to the music itself—a glowing cauldron of vocals, percussion, standup bass, and glockenspiel, for starters—the process requires significant commitment.
“I’m really lucky,” says Edrie, who sings, plays the accordion and other instruments, and acts as the band’s manager plus publicist. She explains how for the first hour and a half of their meetups, everyone eats dinner together and chats about life outside of music before getting down to business. Once they’re situated, out come the magic markers and oak tag. “We write up what needs to be done by who and when,” Edrie adds, “and then we stick to the plan as much as we can.
“The band members all come to rehearsals and our meetings ready to do stuff—even all the crazy ideas that Walter throws out there. … Maybe I shouldn’t call them ‘crazy,’ but …”
“No, they’re crazy,” Sickert certifies. “Like a mosh pit in a cemetery.”
Edrie continues, “We get together, we have big idea boards, we write out plans for this year, next year, five years from now, and we sort of figure out what things sort of resonate with us, how we want to give back to the community, like with a trans rights benefit, and what things we want to make huge.”
Huge, of course, is how they’re known to do things. No gig is too small to go big. Asked about the band doing something as simple as a porch fest set between its major tours and projects, Edrie says, less than half-jokingly, “I project managed the fuck out of that.”
And to think it all began when Sickert, heartbroken over an ex, called their then-friend Edrie asking if it would be okay to send over an acoustic song that Sickert wrote. She obliged, adored it, and returned the track with backup vocals. A few weeks later, they were on a stage together, singing side by side in front of a pile of broken toys.
“I had never performed like that before,” Edrie says.
A decade later, Edrie and Sickert have a four-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Wednesday Alice, and the ARmy has been marching ever since, breaking toys and boundaries abroad and winning recognition at home as well with multiple Boston Music Awards noms. In 2018, Sickert, who identifies as nonbinary, was nominated for vocalist of the year on the first-ever BMA slate that didn’t segregate by gender, allowing them to finally feel that they may accept this nomination “unproblematically.” This year, Walter’s up for top vocalist again, while the whole outfit is in the race for best rock band honors. It all comes in the midst of dropping a series of eight original videos for War Gospel and planning their most ornate Planetarium takeover to date.
“This will be our third time doing [the Museum of Science],” Edrie says. “The first time was a lot of communication—we had to talk to the board of directors, because they hadn’t had music up until then.”
As further evidence that the ARmy of BRoken TOys shapes the creative world that we live in, at the very least in Greater Boston, it was actually Edrie who convinced the MoS to use its illuminated dome for live concerts. Next week, the band will embark on its third multisensory odyssey in that many years; since it fertilized the terrain in 2017, other Boston standouts, including STL GLD and Hallelujah the Hills, have also embraced the space. There was a learning curve, but now Edrie and Walter say the staff is one of the best they have ever worked with, from assisting with the unique acoustic needs of the room to making the place feel like home for the band’s dedicated crowd while also helping reach out to new demographics.
“I had to assure them that musicians would treat their space with respect,” Edrie says.
For a band that wants to build a better planet, there couldn’t be a sweeter metaphor than the promised raucous yet respectful show at the Museum of Science. If you are inclined to create instead of destroy, to include rather than build walls, and to have your eyes and ears popping out of your melon the whole time, then theirs is a world you will want to visit.
“If I could have any wish I wanted,” Sickert says, “I’d wake up tomorrow and all of the kids would be free, and all of the politicians would be in cages.”
Walter Sickert and the ARmyof BRoken TOys plays the MoS Planetarium on 10.17. The band will also live score Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde at the Music Hall in New Hampshire on 10.24, and on 12.6 and 12.7 will be at OBERON for Something Strange, a live music and dance tribute to The Nightmare Before Christmas.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.