Radio Active

The Piersons' Patti Sedillo finds a kinder, gentler life on the AM airwaves

There's only one serious drawback to being a musician: the musician's lifestyle. Sure, that sounds a bit like the old Thurston Howell III line about how the only problem with poverty is being poor, but in this case the issues go a little deeper than that.

Most people get into music for the pure joy they get from producing a sound on an instrument or wailing to their heart's content into a microphone. But once it becomes a career choice, they tend to find that the trappings aren't particularly healthy. Granted, it sounds like a pretty sweet deal on the surface. If you achieve even a modest degree of local success, you get your ego massaged by applauding audiences, you have people handing you free drinks, and you get encouraged to remain frozen in a state of emotional adolescence, even when you're old enough to be the grandparent of an adolescent.

For Patti Sedillo, better known as Patti Pierson, the former front man of the hard-drinking, rabble-rousing rock band The Piersons, the alarm bells started going off in May 1998 when Zia Records founder -- and owner of The Piersons' record label, Epiphany -- Brad Singer died from a mysterious infection. Self-destructiveness, as an aesthetic choice, had lost its thrill.

Patti Sedillo, left, with The Holy Ones.
Patti Sedillo, left, with The Holy Ones.

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scheduled for Thursday, February 28, Showtime is 9:30 p.m.
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"When Brad died, I knew that something needed to give," Sedillo says. "I'd just come back from Brad's funeral and we did that final send-off, and that's when I decided to take a break from The Piersons and see what else was going on. I was really worried at the time that I was gonna be next, because we were living that rock 'n' roll sort of lifestyle."

That fall, Sedillo registered for two classes at Arizona State University. As time went on, he got more and more into the idea of being a college student, steadily increasing his workload, and switching his major from English to broadcast journalism.

This semester, a markedly more mature and content Sedillo has found a way to merge his two major passions -- broadcasting and live music -- by hosting a two-hour Sunday radio show (6 to 8 p.m.) for ASU's station The Blaze (1260 AM and online at www.theblaze1260.gq.nu) that features some of the best songwriters and musicians from the Tempe scene, chatting and jamming in a relaxed setting. Already, he's thinking about putting together a CD of on-air live performances.

"I had the opportunity to do this radio show," Sedillo says. "It was a new class, an upper-division elective, which I needed. It's an hour a week of lectures, and two hours on the air."

The class is taught by longtime local-radio favorite Leah Miller Collins, herself a proud veteran of The Blaze. "She asked me if I had anything in mind," Sedillo says. "The first thing I could think of was Terry Garvin, Brent Babb and Mark Zubia. I thought, 'Every time I've heard these guys on the radio, they maybe get 15 minutes,' 'cause it's commercial radio. This is a two-hour show, so I can talk to them from a guitar player's point of view, or about songwriting."

If Sedillo has used any model for the show, it's the BBC-TV music program Later, hosted by former Squeeze keyboard player Jools Holland. Sedillo liked Holland's knack for making intelligent musical choices, talking to musicians in a shared language, and allowing the performers on his show to cut loose.

Sedillo christened the Sunday night show three weeks ago with Terry Garvin and Chris Hansen Orf of the Zen Lunatics. The duo played together for an hour, and spent the second hour as guest DJs, bringing in some of their favorite records to play.

"Terry brought in this CD with a bunch of old television commercials and theme songs, and it wouldn't play," Sedillo says. "It was skipping on the air. So that was funny."

For Sedillo -- who's scheduled to graduate in December -- the show is but a small manifestation of a change in philosophy over the last few years. He got married in November 2000, moved out of his starving-artist pad into a nice Tempe house, and realized that playing music could no longer be the sole purpose of his life.

"Something about the musician's lifestyle is not conducive to a lengthy life," he says. "I still love playing and writing music, but I don't love just playing and writing music. That's the thing. 'Cause when I was just doing that, I was pretty depressed, most of the time."

Going to school became his way of battling his own self-destructive impulses. "My whole mantra was just, 'Stay busy.' Staying busy is a good way to keep surviving."

That mantra has helped Sedillo overcome some extreme emotional jolts, particularly the critical injuries suffered by Piersons' bassist -- and Sedillo's longtime friend -- Scott Moore at the hands of a Tempe motorist in the fall of 2000. The band had re-formed a year earlier and completed a new CD "to finish it up right" when Moore was injured. They had planned a Sunday band meeting to discuss the design of their CD cover, but Moore's life was irrevocably altered three days earlier.

Sedillo was shocked that the band's end would come so tragically, but he says even before Moore's accident, he knew The Piersons had become a musical dead end.

"It got to the point where the three of us could only play a certain type of song: three chords, maybe a fourth, up-tempo, eighth-notes. Once I started veering away from that, people would say, 'Play songs like The Piersons used to play.'"

Over the last year, Sedillo quietly worked on demos of new songs. Some of the tunes were Beatles-esque piano excursions, material that would have probably been considered wimpy by his former bandmates. But Sedillo found encouragement from his old friend Garvin, who helped him develop the demos, and is now playing bass in Sedillo's new band The Holy Ones (former Grievous Angel John Fogarty is on drums).

Between his 15 hours of classes, his radio show, his on-campus computer job and the new band, Sedillo frequently finds himself exhausted these days, but is quick to note, "What do I have to complain about when Scotti can't even walk to the mailbox to check the mail?"

Sedillo adds: "For him to be in that kind of limbo is kind of allegorical, because it happened on Mill Avenue, and the whole scene is in limbo, waiting to go this way or that."


Dress Informally: This month's Songwriters' Ball at Emerald Lounge will be a double-showcase for two of the finest pop songwriters you're likely to catch in one area code at any time. Adam Marsland of L.A. pop band Cockeyed Ghost will be in town for a 45-minute acoustic set, while local renaissance man Vic Masters will lead his new three-piece backing band, The Torchbearers (featuring Beat Angels bassist Kevin Pate, and two members of Joined), through an appropriately smoldering 30 minutes of his originals. The Ball will also feature shorter sets from a parade of local troubadours, including members of Velveteen Dream, Sugar High and World Class Thugs.

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