Train Keeps A-Rollin'

The Piersons carry on as a trio for CD release party and for their sidelined brother

In the midst of this adolescent rock 'n' roll play, Sedillo and Moore were the prime actors, with everyone else getting caught in the crosshairs. Longtime, low-key drummer Tony Chadwick managed to stay out of the fray, but newly hired guitarist Michael "Johnny" Walker, who joined after the recording of Humbucker, quickly tired of the constant backbiting, quitting after nine months.

"We were staging a battle of wills. That was the nature of the band at the time. Scott had some humdingers in his day. He'd love to piss people off. Of course, instead of being embarrassed by it, I would just laugh. To see him go up to people and just tear them to pieces and say, 'You look old. You look fat. You're getting wrinkles.' He was like a naughty little boy," says Sedillo, pausing for a long time. "I miss that more than anything."

The combination of booze and barbs was a natural for the band. From its beginnings in 1991, the Piersons were besotted in their emulation of the ramshackle Replacements, as much in their fondness for imbibing as for hiding heart-on-their-sleeve sentiments in three-minute punk-pop blasts. For Sedillo, hearing the Mats scream through "IOU" was one of the two most galvanizing moments of his musical life. The other was seeing Doug Hopkins.

Last chance gasp: The Piersons, clockwise from top left, Patrick Sedillo, Jimmy Campisano, Tony Chadwick and Scott Moore.
Angela Koscal
Last chance gasp: The Piersons, clockwise from top left, Patrick Sedillo, Jimmy Campisano, Tony Chadwick and Scott Moore.
A boyishly innocent-looking Moore: "There really can't be a Piersons without him."
A boyishly innocent-looking Moore: "There really can't be a Piersons without him."

"When I moved to Tempe in '91, I walked down Mill Avenue and went to Long Wong's for the first time. I looked inside and saw the Gin Blossoms onstage and Doug up there with his boots and beer bottles strewn all over the place. It was the CD release party for Up and Crumbling. I was too afraid to go in. But I went in the next week and saw Dead Hot Workshop, and that was it."

Recalling an early Tempe scene bursting at the seams with energy and creativity, Sedillo cites the environment as a crucial alternative to the popular face of the era's rock 'n' roll. "It wasn't what was going on at the time in music with Def Leppard, Queensrÿche, Guns N' Roses and Whitesnake. Seeing that made me think I could make the songs I was writing work. So we weaseled our way into the scene."

After being bounced out of the Gin Blossoms, Hopkins co-produced the Piersons' second offering, a ragged seven-song cassette called Last Chance Gas. The tape secured the band a spot at the annual New Music Seminar in Manhattan. Winning the showcase slot ultimately proved a Pyrrhic victory. The New York appearance was a disaster; the episode was just the first of several where high expectations went unfulfilled. A series of such disappointments led to the eventual departure of founding member and original lead guitarist Doug Nichols.

Continuing as a trio, the group's local buzz continued throughout the mid-'90s. The Piersons' shows were raucous affairs that often found the band and audience fighting with and against each other amid a hail of liquor and feedback. Signature anthems like "Wasted," "Pink Dress" and "Not Now Alice" trafficked in a hybrid of sounds and styles that perfectly matched the band's Moore-coined motto "Too pussy for punks. Too punk for pussies."

While the quality of Sedillo's songwriting matured, the band's hardscrabble behavior didn't. Few labels were willing to take a chance on such a group of diligent reprobates. Fortunately, it was just that reputation that attracted maverick record-store magnate Brad Singer, who signed the Piersons as one of the original acts to his fledgling Tempe-based imprint, Epiphany Records.

However, the 1995 release of Humbucker-- a 14-song collection of the group's best early material -- turned out to be less a triumph than a reality check.

"After Humbucker is when things started showing cracks," admits Sedillo. "That's when we realized we weren't the kind of band that was going to court success. We were unable or unwilling to play that whole game because we could see what it had done to our friends. Doug [Hopkins] had gotten terribly burned by the music industry. The same thing had happened to Dead Hot Workshop. We were never the kind of guys to go kiss ass and open up for people we didn't respect. We were never cut out to do things like play the halftime of a football game, y'know?"

It was in this somewhat dispirited atmosphere that the band made a follow-up, Appleberry Wine. Released in 1997, the disc is not without its fair share of intriguing moments: the lounge jazz cool of "Tease," the polite acoustica of "California Eyes," the bluesy "Lightning Speed." Despite the clutch of increasingly diverse songs accompanying the expected beer burners, the band regards the record as creative and personal defeat. To find the real problem with the album, you'd have to start at the bottom, or lack thereof.

"One night the record came on while we were sitting in Long Wong's and we realized there was no bass on it, it was mixed so low," says Sedillo, plucking at an imaginary instrument. "Jim Swafford [who produced both Epiphany albums] and I weren't getting along in the studio during the making of Appleberry. We were recording at Phase Four studios, a really sterile environment, expensive as hell. And there was a lot of personal stuff -- Scott was going through a divorce at the time. At a certain point I just walked out of the mixing sessions, just gave up on it."

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