"Going down into town tonight/To drink our fill and start a fight."
So goes a line from "Helen Reddy," the "hear me roar" opening track from the Piersons' tempestuous debut CD, Humbucker, scheduled to hit shops Tuesday.
Maybe it's the put-up-or-shut-up seriousness of finally being encoded in digital oxide, but to watch this Tempe band lately is to know it finally means business. No more huddling over the drum kit wondering what song to do next or savaging equipment onstage in fits of frustration. The Piersons even have set lists now. And, best of all, the boys recently tossed the spangly guitar work of former Orphans guitarist Michael Johnny Walker into their fray.
"My newest theory on performing," says Piersons guitarist and singer/songwriter Patrick "Patti" Sedillo, "is if you hold back onstage, you don't belong on one."
For the past half-hour, Patti periodically has been hurling bottle caps at Scott Moore's forehead every time the bassist leans over to interject an opinion into atape recorder. It's a drizzly Monday nightoutside the Piersons' practice pad, a warehouse located about a hundred pacesbehind Minder Binder's on South McClintock in Tempe. Inside, three of the band's four members are settling in for an interview. Everyone either has had too much beer or not enough, and some serious equalizing is under way.
New guy Walker is already comfortable enough at Chez Piersons to tell all and sundry where they can shove it whenever necessary--which, with this bunch, is often. Drummer Tony Chadwick, known in many quarters as the "Sensible Pierson," is sensibly indisposed at a hospital this fine February night with a minor back injury. In his place to witness the ensuing carnage is Brad Singer, founder/owner of the band's label Epiphany Records.
About ten minutes into the interview, I leave the circle for maybe 30 seconds and return to find the room teeming with bull's-eye sarcasm, flying beer bottles and a puddle of foaming Killian's Red spreading over and around my Radio Shack recorder, which is remarkably still recording.
Patti: (laughing at Scott) You spill beer on everything.
Moore: Mike did it!
Walker: (irritated) I didn't touch a fuckin' beer! Who threw the beer at him, Patti?
Patti: (arrogantly, to noone in particular) I did, you drunken fool!
Walker: (laughs cautiously) Everybody in this town hates us because of Patti's mouth.
Singer: You guys are gonna be on the road for how long? With another band? Aw, Jesus!
"A band like this willonly work if it'steetering on the brink," Patti explains after the "brew"haha. "The brink of destruction or the brink of greatness."
In mere seconds, thecloudburst passes and Moore wistfully recounts the first time he heard his future band in 1992.
"It was at an outdoor party, and they were trying to be an alternative band at the time, playing pop songs," recaps the bass player. "But they fucked all of 'em up. I sat on the ground, listened and thought to myself, 'These guys suck, I wanna be in their band,' 'cause here were a bunch of guys who knew everything they wanted to do and nothing all at the same time."
Patti and Moore wear the "shamblism" of their band's early days like badges of honor. "We used to get all frustrated," says Patti, laughing between sips of Bud, "'cause we sucked. Scotty used to throw his bass down instead of hitting the last note of the last song at our shows. So I started throwing my guitar down. Then it got abig split down the backand so I stopped doing it. I had a '91 Rickenbacker, but it felt like a '71 after three years of the Piersons."
Despite cracked equipment, the frustrated foursome, which then included guitarist Doug Nichols, managed to secureregular gigs at Long Wong's and now-defunct Valley clubs like Edsel's Atticand Tony's New Yorker Club. In addition, the group self-released two tapes,most notably Last Chance Gas, a ragged-but-right, seven-song jamboree coproduced by late Gin Blossoms cofounder Doug Hopkins that was released in 1994. The next February, Gas received some belated praise in Cake magazine, a Minneapolis pop publication that heralded the Piersons as spiritual descendants of Twin City sons the Replacements. "Sloppy and memorable," the 'zine decreed.
Nowadays, the guys are quick to put considerable distance between Humbucker and such early burps in their musical development. "The tapes we'd always made before were just pop songs on punk tapes," says Patti. "The results of low budgets, musical inability and too much beer."
Moore agrees. "This time we made a strong point not to drink in the studio. When we did Last Chance Gas, we went into the studio with the intent to get fucked up."
Nevertheless, Last Chance snagged the Piersons an invite to perform at the NewMusic Seminar, an annual rock showcase conference in New York City. "They even asked us how many mike stands we needed," recalls Patti, reliving the fleeting optimism of the moment. As it turned out,the group's dream gig was a 1a.m. Tuesday slot at the A.K.A. Club onWest Houston Street, just a hop, skip and a piss from the Bowery. The band proceeded to play what Patti and Moore both classify as "the worst-ever Piersons show."
"We were all so nervous, thinking that all these people with laminated passes were record agents," says Patti, shuddering at the memory. "We were pretty unstable too, doing our chemical of choice or whatever. My girlfriend at the time said she literally prayed we wouldn't get signed because we wouldn't have been able to handle it."
Her prayers were answered, even though the Piersons' weren't--the band left the seminar empty-handed. "Those people didn't give a flying fuck about us," Patti says, sighing bitterly.
It's three years later, and the band's disillusionment with "da biz" is still in full bloom.
"We don't fit in with the Bushes and Offsprings of the world. But then that's the whole point."
Even at a local level, the Piersons have had serious identity problems. Moore classifies the band's misfit sound as being "too pussy for punks and too punk for pussies."
Since its beginning, the group has embraced the punk ethics of DIY, but with rather DUI tendencies. When the band signed a recording contract with Epiphany last summer, on a Friday night at Wong's, Moore promptly spilled Budweiser all overit.
Before the Piersons went into the studio to record Humbucker, the band's manager, Charles Levy, signed on producer/handler Jim Swafford, who gamely managed tokeep the band away from firewater during the grueling ten-hour sessions (staff members at ASU's radio station KASR weren't so lucky--the four band members reportedly downed a case of beer in the studio during an hourlong guest deejay spot in late February).
"Jim started coming to our rehearsals and arranging our songs," Patti says. "He's set in his ideas. We'd argue every day, but, in the end, we'd come away knowing we'd done good work. He also had us do the rhythm tracks on Friday and Saturday nights when we weren't playing, which was smart because we were so geared up to play really well on those nights."
Ironically, Walker is the most prominent band member on the cover of Humbucker, even though he didn't join the band until after the album was in the can (Patti handled lead duty). Nevertheless, the other members of the Piersons agree their new guitarist has earned his place.
"Getting Michael in the band is like a dream come true," says Patti. "Because when someone has your back covered musically, you can improvise and take things to another level."
Walker and Patti met about two years ago during a chance jam session with X founder John Doe. "I'd never met John Doe before," Patti says. "I was just sitting on the patio at Wong's and I recognized him because he'd just done an acoustic gig at the Congo that night. I said, 'Hey, John, how ya doing?' And he looks at me and says, 'You wanna go in and play guitar? We're gonna play 'Wild Thing' and 'Folsom Prison Blues.'"
Natch, Patti nodded.
Walker was onstage with a band called BStrange at the time. "My God, I'm playing and I see John Doe walk in," he recalls. "X is one of my all-time favorite bands. The reason I play a silver-sparkle Gretch is because Billy Zoom from X did." The jam went off and, in 1995, when the Piersons needed a guitarist, Patti knew whom to call. But it wasn't Doe.
It's now March 2 at Gibson's, site of therelease party for the Beat Angels' newalbum Unhappy Hour. Seven bands are scheduled to pull short-duty sets tonight, and things are seriously behind schedule when the Piersons bound onstage.
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"We're only going to do four songs because somebody fucked up," cracks Pattibefore the band blitzkriegs through the first three tunes from the Humbucker CD, plus a fist-pounding "Train Kept aRollin'" that would've done the Yardbirds proud.
Thinking back to the band's drunken revelry of a few weeks ago, a major point ofcontention in the Piersons camp was thefirst handful of reviews for the recent local-music compilation Exile on Cameron Harper Street, which lumped the band intothat derned ambiguous "desert rock" category. It's obvious to anyone who rode this brief roller coaster of a set at Gibson's that the Piersons are just a plain, old-fashioned rock 'n' roll band. The boys inthe band may call a certain dry, netherregion home, but they're no more desert than the Standells or the early Kinks were.
After their set, the Piersons bolt for a headlining gig at Cannery Row a few blocks away. Soon enough, however, theband will throw its own late-night/earlymorning CD-release party.
"It'll be kind of a rave," promises Patti, "with smart drinks for stupid people." And presumably vice versa.