By Melissa Fossum
By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
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Always a combustible unit, the Piersons were making a slow lurch toward what seemed an increasingly inevitable end. One marker along that path came after an extended winter tour of the U.S. and Canada. The nightmarish jaunt made it perfectly clear that the unyielding and often demoralizing grind of the road -- especially the kind that young indie bands are forced to undertake -- was not for them.
"When we got back, we decided, 'We can't go on the road like that again.' It was just too much. No money, freezing cold. Epiphany would send fliers out and you'd see that same stack on the bar or in somebody's office when you got there because no one could be bothered to put them up. And once Appleberry Wine had done all it was gonna do saleswise, we were back to playing Monday nights at Long Wong's," sighs Sedillo.
The final straw in the Piersons' demise came with the unexpected death of their benefactor and label head, Singer, who succumbed from complications of lupus in May 1998.
Already embittered by recent experiences and charging headlong into their own self-destruction, the Piersons took Singer's passing as a sign. "The thing with Brad really hit us hard. It forced us to think about our own mortality. It was like, 'Um, I'm not gonna be next. What we should do is just stop.'"
Wary of being claimed by the same fatalistic rock excess that had already received many denizens of the Tempe scene as sacrifice, Sedillo elected to put the band on indefinite hiatus. The decision was made in part to salvage the music, but more important, to salvage the band members themselves.
The Piersons played a quietly announced final show during a memorial concert for Singer and disappeared for the rest of the year.
The time off proved to be a rejuvenating experience, with Sedillo, Moore and Chadwick renewing their friendship outside of the context of the group. "We had worked together so long that we had forgotten that we enjoyed each other's company as friends," says Sedillo.
The respite from performing also saw a sort of personal growth for the band members. Sedillo and Moore in particular seemed to shy away from the antics and stances that had marked them as two of the most notoriously difficult talents in local music.
"I think we grew up during that period. And we realized that we all missed it a little bit. We hadn't played in six months and we were kind of bored. I felt like, 'It's fall, the students are back, everyone's playing, we should play, too.'"
Late that year, Sedillo ran into guitarist Jimmy Campisano, veteran of Valley combos Since I Was Six and Slugger. In the early '90s, Campisano had played with Moore in a female-fronted band called Short Term Memory Loss. "He said, 'You guys gotta get the Piersons back together,'" remembers Sedillo. "So I told Jimmy I'd only do it if he came and did it with us."
With Campisano on board, the band restarted in earnest last year. Playing far more sparingly than before, the group's energy was instead focused on leaving behind a proper valediction.
"Not to compare us to the Beatles, but they didn't let it go at Let It Be -- they made one last great album. We thought, 'Let's not leave it at Appleberry Wine. Let's make one really good record, one that we're in change of.'"
Recorded in fits and starts over 18 months, the bulk of the material on Last Train Down was written during the band's breakup and in the wake of Sedillo and Moore's personal breakups with longtime girlfriends and wives. Not surprisingly, the album's lyrics teem with a disillusionment of club and love life. As Sedillo puts it, the kind of songs written "after the show's done, you put your guitar in your case and go home to an empty apartment and think, 'Man, this sucks.'"
From the "Dear John" letter chronicle "Refrigerator," the organ-colored dirge "Wreckage" -- a tribute to late and wonderful Tempe weirdo Elvis Del Monte -- to the hopeful longing of "I Think I'm Gonna Fall," the album is the summation of a decade's worth of dive bars, broken rock dreams, cheating girlfriends and the peculiar emptiness last call leaves behind.
The poppy "Jenny Don't Go Away" (in part, a winking follow-up to the Beat Angels' "Hungover With Jenny") subtly lifts its melody from the Beach Boys "That's Not Me" and offers a scruffier version of Brian Wilson's adolescent melancholia.
"It's really about how desperate and lonely the bar life is. A lot of these songs are all about looking for something that, thankfully, I found," says Sedillo, pointing to a picture of his fiancée.
While the lion's share of the songs are new compositions, the title track -- a Townshendian power chorder -- is an old chestnut (which originally appeared on Zia's Adios compilation in 1995), and the disc closes with another blast from the past, a punked-up rendition of Carole King's "So Far Away."
Campisano, making his first recorded appearance with the band, offers a much-needed second guitar texture, bolstering the heavier numbers ("Vitamin C," "Raincoat") with the appropriate fire and infusing the quieter numbers with a counterpoint to Sedillo's distinctive tones.