Although they haven’t performed live in over two years, every week someone asks Patrick Fuellbeck about Death By Art School. “We haven’t played since 2019, but people still come up to me nearly every time I go out and they bring up Death By Art School,” tells Patrick. Part avante garde theatre, part musical parody, Death By Art School has kept its hooks in the Peterborough music scene for the past eighteen years. Now that pandemic mitigation measures seem to be lifting and venues are once again open for business, the group is coming for another round of insanity with a brand-new album and live performances by the end of spring 2022. “The slogan I came up with is it’s the ‘Greatest Show in the History of the Universe.’” Patrick says with a smirk, “We like to push the boundaries and be really silly and shock people.”
On a cold Wednesday night in March, I’m visiting Patrick at his home in downtown Peterborough. We’ve never met in person before, but I have seen him many times at The Only Café, and after exchanging all the names of different people we know in common; we not only find the connections that bind us and our community together, but I realize that I remember seeing Patrick perform many times in long gone, yet fondly remembered, establishments such as The Union Theatre and Sidewinders. Patrick was still in high school then, and I was in university and that seems like a lifetime ago, but it just shows how long Death By Art School has been going.
Donning bizarre costumes and combining shock theatrics with hip hop, Death By Art School has seen different incarnations and has evolved many times, but Patrick has been the sole constant element of the group during its lifetime. “I was in a band in high school called Ritalin Milkshake,” Patrick begins after I ask him about the group’s history. “We played a lot, but after a couple of years, that band broke up. My band mate James Cope started making beats and approached me to do lyrics and vocals for his project. He said he had a project called Death By Art School. We didn’t talk about it as being a performance piece. That was not a thing. It was just experimental music.”
“I have to be honest; I don’t remember how we decided to start wearing costumes,” Patrick continues. “I just wanted to start wearing things. I was the only one on vocals then, so it was me dancing around with James in the background. Later Evan Doherty joined me on vocals, and it evolved into more of a hip hop thing. Then we wanted to do themes for the shows. We’d come up with costumes, and Evan did sets. He’s a very artistic guy. But about five years ago Evan and James both said they didn’t want to do it anymore. James said he was too busy, and I said, ‘James, it was your baby. Can I keep doing this?” James said, “Yeah, you can do anything you want with it.’ Well, that was fantastic, because I want to keep doing it as long as I possibly can.”
“So, I was looking for another vocalist, and I met Bradley Boyle, and I thought he’d be perfect for this. He was very excited, and he learned all the lyrics and we did the first comeback show in 2018 at the Gordon Best. Then Glenn Pierce, who plays bass and guitar, and I do the beats mostly. Glenn does the music; I do the lyrics and Bradley shows up and looks pretty. We’re really experimental still. We put a lot of time in planning shows.”
So just what are these shows that have put Death by Art School on the map? From dressing up as old ladies, to Patrick and Bradley getting married on stage in a mock ceremony, Patrick admits that the performance pieces have often come before actually recording music. “Our upcoming album is only our second album in eighteen years,” he laughs. “Before that we focused on the live shows, but with the new guys we thought we should actually record something, to prove we had done it.”
“The biggest craziest show we ever did, which we still can’t beat, was we performed a live surgery on stage,” Patrick tells. “We did a live vasectomy reversal surgery to represent something that happened in my life. I had an early vasectomy, and then a reversal, and we decided to make fun of it. So, we decided to do a live surgery. People saw the poster and thought “Oh my god, what is this?” The place was packed because people wanted to see it. Evan made an enormous paper mache cock and balls, and we hung it from the ceiling. Evan had this giant scalpel, and I was in the corner wearing an operating gown, and when he would cut the balls, I would scream ‘Ahhh’ and there would be blood on my gown. We used the cock and balls as a piñata, and when we burst it open there was candy and Barbie heads and people rushed to rip it apart. It was the best show that we’d ever done because it was just so out there. We still haven’t topped it, but I do have a good idea for our upcoming album release party.”
Just finishing production at the hands of producer Matt Scholey, Death By Art School’s next album should be dropping this coming spring with new live shows hitting the stage once the group is sure that they can have a capacity crowd without fear of another COVID related lock down. “The new album is called fullCOCKY,” Patrick tells. “I like to write lyrics that portray us as being full of ourselves. We act like we are the biggest band in the world, when in reality we are pretty modest guys. It’s kind of hilarious, so this album has more lyrics about us being the best in the world. It’s funny to make fun of ourselves, and a lot of hip hop artists have a bit of an ego. So, I thought it’d be funny because we’re not really like this.”
The follow up to 2019’s FauxCocky (the theme in the title is evident), fullCOCKY will reflect the current direction of Death By Art School much more prominently. “Although he wasn’t on it, the first album used all of James Cope’s beats.” Patrick says. “For the new one I am trying to go for a more traditional 90’s hip-hop style. It’s not weird sounds. You’ll see a contrast for sure.”
While the return of Death By Art School has an interesting enough story to tell, Patrick has another narrative to tell. Along with Death By Art School, and other projects such as writing a poetry book for children, and creating and successfully funding a board game, Patrick has been doing independent research on the rare disease that has affected his mobility. Diagnosed with Adrenomyeloneuropathy (AMN) in his 20’s, the condition that affects the spinal cord has limited Patrick’s mobility, and with little to no support offered to aid him medically, Patrick made the bold decision to come up with his own strategies to find a cure.
“When I was sixteen my adrenal glands kind of bunked out on me and I almost died,” Patrick explains. “They put me on steroids, which I’m on now and I need to take them to live. Quite often people just have that and they’re fine, but for some reason, later in life, some people get further neurological issues. So, in my early twenties I started having neurological symptoms and I realized that I had AMN.”
“I remember getting the diagnosis and I said to the doctors, ‘Well, what am I supposed to do now?’ and they said, ‘What do you mean?’ They didn’t have anything to tell me. They basically said, ‘See you later.’ A lot of people get diagnosed with something, and then that becomes who they are. Well, I don’t find that productive. I find my condition to be a challenge, but it’s not who I am at all. It has given me a lot of empathy toward others. It’s changed my whole outlook on life. I could feel sorry for myself and lay in bed all day, but that’s not living.”
Instead, Patrick took matters in his own hands. “I am educated in holistic nutrition, so that helped,” he says. “I was researching natural symptom management, and that’s something I understood. I found a lot more relief with natural stuff rather than any prescription. Then I was looking at actual treatment for cures. A lot of the research I did at first was for multiple sclerosis, because it’s sort of similar, and then I try to come up with different ideas.”
Most recently Patrick made an unexpected breakthrough which has given him hope that he might have found something that will be able to increase his mobility. “I was watching YouTube with my daughter, and this video came up in the algorithm about this Doctor David Sinclair out of Harvard,” Patrick reveals. “Dr. Sinclair has been researching the longevity molecule NMN (Nicotinamide Mononucleotide), which is a precursor to NAD+ (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide), that is a powerful and essential molecule that is found in every cell of the body, which declines as we age. It is theorized that a decline is NAD leads to many of the age-related diseases we see today. My personal theory is, that the disease process, and the symptoms I experience, seem synonymous with many of the symptoms of age-related diseases like decline in mobility, nerve damage and mitochondrial dysfunction. My thoughts are that if I can raise NAD levels with a precursor such as NMN, I can reverse the disease process.
“I don’t have an age-related disease, but it seems like some of the damage I’ve had done to me is like aging. So maybe this could give me a little boost to heal some of the damage. I’ve been doing it for a month now and I’ve started to notice a difference. I’ve had a few people mention that it looks like I’m walking better, which is pretty phenomenal if they’re noticing that. Stiffness is a big symptom I have, especially when I’ve been sitting for a while. But when I’m out I feel like I’m gliding along. It’s kind of exciting.”
While Patrick still faces some mobility issues and points out that Peterborough isn’t the most accessible city for people with movement disabilities, he radiates with positivity when he speaks of his findings, and his determination only strengthens his character and bold ideas. “Researching and understanding this empowers me,” he states. “Without it I felt alone and sometimes hopeless because there was no guidance for me. But now I feel like I have some control over the disease. Even if I never cure it, at least I died trying. I don’t see any other option. It’s exciting for me to research this. I mean, if I can figure this out, then how many people can I help? Now that’d be a great idea for a show!”
Release dates for fullCOCKY and upcoming shows for Death By Art School are still yet to be announced, but you can check out previous performances on YouTube, and listen to FauxCOCKY on Spotify.