Talk about your double-edged compliments. For six years now, the Piersons have patiently nodded while fans tell them how much their tough-but-tender songs and whiskey-soaked roadhouse punk call to mind the Replacements. There are worse things in the world than being compared to one of the greatest bands ever to take a stage--imagine having someone say that you're a vocal doppelganger for Bobby Goldsboro--but it can be a heavy piece of luggage to cart around. Implicit in such a comparison is the idea that you can never match the level of your influence, that you're forever doomed to carry around their shadow.
Piersons guitarist Patrick Sedillo understandably grew weary of the Mats references that followed the band's 1996 Epiphany Records debut album, Humbucker, and he adjusted for it with the band's 1997 Epiphany album, Appleberry Wine. The result was a more eclectic offering, with tentative stabs at R&B and pretty acoustic pop. Unfortunately, like the Replacements, the Piersons found that artistic growth was accompanied by a disintegration of group unity.
"With Humbucker, everybody kept saying, 'They're just like the Replacements,'" Sedillo says. "And so for the next record I just decided, 'I don't want that anymore, that's kind of a big burden to carry around.' So I tried to make it as different as I could from Humbucker. Some people dug it and some didn't. I guess that's what art's all about. But at the same time as that was happening, there was personal friction going on in our own personal lives outside the band, and when we brought it to the band, we couldn't communicate anymore."
Four weeks ago, Sedillo finally decided to salvage his friendships with bandmates Scott Moore (bassist) and Tony Chadwick (drums) by pulling the plug on the band.
"One night, Scottie and I were sitting at the bar and hanging out and talking, and I turned to him, and for some reason, I said, 'We should sell our van and split up the money, 'cause we could all really use it,'" Sedillo says. "And he said, 'Why?' And I said, 'Well, we're not gonna tour again, are we?' I didn't feel that I could go back on the road in this band.
"It was a drunken thing to say, but we woke up in the morning and we talked, and by the next night we had all agreed that maybe it's a good time to take a break."
Whether the "break" will be permanent or merely a summer sabbatical is up for grabs at the moment. When Sedillo talks about the Piersons, he sounds like someone who's just closed a chapter of his autobiography, but he repeatedly hedges his bets by leaving open the possibility that this trio might link up again after satisfying its musical wanderlust. Even Sedillo seems unsure whether the band's May 24 show at Bash on Ash meant farewell or merely au revoir.
"It's the last one, for a while," he says. "We don't know if it's permanent or temporary. But for at least the summer. I definitely want to try to do some new things."
Sedillo insists that the breakup has nothing to do with the recent death of Epiphany founder Brad Singer, saying that his decision was made the week before Singer's May 3 death. He does concede, however, that Singer's passing "definitely put the stamp on it," leaving the band with a label whose future is in considerable doubt.
Sedillo describes Singer as a father figure for the band (they often referred to him as "Dad Singer") but reluctantly says that Epiphany's limited resources strained the band's personal relationships on a west-coast tour last October.
"It's hard for me to say, because Brad just passed away, but the conditions on that tour, we had to watch everything we did because we had next to no money on the road," he says. "Although we did appreciate Brad's generosity, the label wasn't big enough and there just wasn't enough to go on the road for three weeks at a time. And to put your life behind you, leave home and stuff. So when we got back from that tour, I just told myself, 'I can't go on the road like that again.'
"Since then, we had been playing around town, but our personalities had been going separate ways. We'd meet up to play once or twice a week, but it felt like it had run its course. I think I was the one who felt like I'd like to try something else."
Sedillo hasn't determined what that "something else" might entail, but he knows he won't be lacking for material. "I can't stop writing songs," he says, adding, "it's almost like a curse."
A new start for the raspy-throated front man might also allow him to venture clear of those Westerbergian shadows, which dominated all discussion of the Piersons' music. Like their beloved Mats, they were never shy about imbibing of the spirits, and if a barroom ruckus resulted, so be it. Eventually, their rowdy rep took on a life of its own.
"That [image] followed us around, that the three of us together were trouble," Sedillo says. "That might have been true in '95 or '96. We had a reputation that preceded us. Even though we eventually grew out of it in some respects, sometimes we'd also play up to it because that's what people expected of us, to be troublemakers and stuff, which kind of got people's attention off the music. And then maybe you don't get hired by a certain bar because they don't want to attract the wrong kind of crowd."
In any event, Sedillo would prefer to leave Piersons loyalists wanting more rather than wistfully contemplating the band's past. In other words, he'd rather be Jim Brown--who retired with a few prime years ahead--than Marcus Allen--who hung on well past his best days.
"I'd rather that people say, 'God, they were a great band,' instead of sticking together for years and years and having people say, 'They used to be a great band,'" he says. "We gave it our best shot. I'm very proud of being in the Piersons. Tony and Scott are two of the best musicians I've ever met. I'm proud to have worked with them, but it's definitely time to see what else is out there."
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Phunk Attack: Phunk Junkeez celebrate the release of their much-anticipated new Trauma Records CD, Fear of a Wack Planet, with a free show at Gibson's in Tempe on Saturday, May 30. The show, dubbed a "Freek Prevue," is scheduled for 8 p.m.
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