When the Piersons formed two years ago, its members had two major things in common: a distaste for the live music in Tempe bars and the inability to play their instruments.
And the Piersons had a goal, too. To play a single night--any night--onstage at Long Wong's, the dark and smoky Mill Avenue bar renowned as the Gin Blossoms' stomping grounds. At a time when the Tempe music scene had become dominated by vapid Blossoms clones churning out forgettable pop songs, the Piersons focused on one missing element--energy.
And it worked. Today the band regularly packs Long Wong's on the bar's best nights, even playing the cherished New Year's Eve slot last week.
The Piersons' energy appears to be unstoppable. The band has logged more than 150 shows in the past 18 months and released two tapes, the most recent of which, Last Chance Gas, was co-produced with late Gin Blossoms founder Doug Hopkins. It is available this week.
On the patio outside Long Wong's, the band members--drummer Tony Chadwick, guitarist Doug Nichols, singer Patrick Sedillo and bassist Scott Moore--gather quietly around a table for an interview. In blue jeans and Converse sneakers, they look more like ASU students than MTV-generation musicians. Despite a steady stream of cigarettes and pitchers of Budweiser, their attention is focused--albeit nervously--on the small tape recorder at the center of the table.
Though confident under dim stage lights and a thick cigarette haze, offstage the band is hesitant and uncomfortable. The members seem oblivious to their local success, and they certainly don't like talking about it. When Sedillo was initially contacted about an interview, he followed his own long pause with a simple, "Why?"
Why indeed. The Piersons' story isn't one of fabulous fame and success from nowhere, or of rock debauchery and excess. It's simply the tale of a local band playing, wishing and hoping its way into something bigger. It began over beers a while back; that's one element that has remained constant. After gentle prodding and continuous pitchers, the members begin talking about their early shows. Warm summer nights barbecuing sloppy, Replacements-style tunes in the backyard of "Piersonland," a house rented by Moore and Sedillo near downtown Tempe. Curious neighbors were attracted by the volume, hip underagers by the fliers, and a steady stream of keg beer kept them all coming back. It was those early gigs that gave the band a chance to tighten up musically and practice original material. The group slowly began landing club dates, shows the band now recalls with embarrassed laughter.
"We got to play Chuy's once," says Sedillo, remembering a bad gig at the club that was once the cornerstone of Tempe nightlife. "But we sucked then."
Memories of their first shows at Tony's New Yorker Club and Long Wong's weren't much better. Moore, who often displays an annoying, defeatist demeanor, turns positive as he recalls his bandmates' untested musicianship during early gigs.
"In the early days, Doug and Patrick couldn't tune their asses out of a hole in the ground," he offers with a smile.
Only Moore and Chadwick had been in bands prior to the Piersons. Moore's was a stint with the short-lived Short Term Memory Loss. Chadwick's earlier endeavor was also a quickie, drumming for a "silly hippie band" that called itself Four Peace.
"We are living examples of the audience jumping onstage and saying, 'We're going to do it ourselves,'" Sedillo explains. "We had guitars, and we were simply bored out of our skulls."
And Chadwick is apparently bored with the interview; he wanders off across the parking lot without a word. The drummer, who lives quietly away from the Piersons scene at his parents' house in Glendale, is the band's oddest element. Though he disassociates himself socially from the band, musically, he is the member that keeps the others on track.
"If we're fucking up, Tony will hit the cymbal really hard--and you know he's pissed and that you have to get your shit together," Sedillo says. Nichols nods in agreement.
But Moore isn't listening. In Chadwick's exit, Moore sees his own opportunity to disappear. The band's youngest and only married member, he suddenly realizes he was supposed to be home an hour ago. Adios.
"He's tremendously insecure," Nichols whispers as Moore walks away, "but he's the bass player."
Only Sedillo, Nichols and beer remain at the table. Neither the cold December weather nor the departure of the other two Piersons can slake their thirsts. And the waitress keeps the pitchers coming.
Sedillo is the band's reluctant front man. He grew up in Phoenix, attending St. Mary's High School, where he spent more of his time sitting in his car strumming a cheap guitar than making friends. It's this evasiveness that would seem to make him an unlikely candidate for the band's most visual spot.
"I never expected to sing," he agrees, gesturing with a glowing Marlboro Medium. "I auditioned as a guitarist for a lot of bands before we started the Piersons. I'd walk in with a bottle of wine and play the same thing over and over, but no one would have me."
The Gin Blossoms' "Found Out About You" comes through the bar's small outdoor speakers, spurring Sedillo and Nichols to talk about their own upcoming release. On the surface, the Piersons' sound seems to owe little to the familiar slick pop playing over the radio, but they are quick to point to the Blossoms as a major influence.
"They definitely paved the road we're following," says Sedillo. "We have a different sound, and I can't see us ever having the huge success of the Gin Blossoms, but they definitely opened things up for everyone here."
Last Chance Gas includes audible tributes to the Blossoms' sound; no doubt due to having Hopkins himself acting as co-producer. Hopkins' presence--combined with the band's insistence on recording all the tracks live--nearly made the engineer crazy.
"He freaked out when we told him we wanted to do it all live," Sedillo recalls. "And when he found out Doug was going to help produce, the first thing he said was, 'I don't allow a lot of drinking in the studio.' That lasted about five minutes into the second night."
Musically, the seven-song tape probably won't change the minds of critics who dismiss the band as Replacements wanna-bes. But it does show a strong improvement over the Piersons' debut release, not only musically and lyrically, but in the production quality, as well. And as far as Replacements comparisons go, the band isn't too concerned.
"I'd rather be compared to Paul Westerberg than, say, Michael Bolton," Sedillo says proudly.
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"The influence is definitely there," Nichols agrees. "But we're growing out of that and into what the Piersons are, rather than what the Replacements were."
What the Piersons may lack in originality they make up for with an unfaltering onstage energy rarely found in the local scene. That energy has resulted in an ever-increasing fan base; where once the quartet hoped only for a gig at Wong's, now it's dreaming in terms of national acceptance. A record deal, a booking agent, a tour bus. CDs in the stores, for God's sake.
But those things are still a long way off; it looks like the band will have to be happy with its tape for the time being. And Saturday nights at Long Wong's, which, after all, still aren't that bad. "Long Wong's on a Saturday night," Sedillo says, grinning over his cigarette. "That's the best gig in town."
Piersons will perform on Friday, January 7, at Tony's New Yorker Club in Tempe, with Giant Sand, and Slims. Showtime is 8 p.m.; and Saturday, January 8, at Long Wong's in Tempe. Showtime is 10 p.m.
Troy Fuss is editor of ASU's State Press Magazine.