Patrice Pike: On A Mission

This magazine’s history with Patrice Pike goes back to our first few months. She was one of the first shows I reviewed, and that show still remains one of my favorites. Her performance with the Black Box Reunion at Off Broadway in June 2002 was a tour de force with a energy and talent from the moment she bound on the stage. One moment she rocked and the next she sang a gentle little hymn; at one point in the show, Pike actually scatted (and did a great job of it).

Patrice Pike is hard to describe in words. You want to call her “pixie” because she is a petite blond ball of energy, but there are the tattoos which would not fit well on Tinkerbell. The music she has created—both with Sister Seven and as a solo artist—is earnest, sexy, and tight. She also has a grasp of the music business that few other performers have. Sister Seven was promoted as “the next big thing” by no less than Arista’s Clive Davis, but it was not to be; the band splintered, Davis left Arista, and Pike made her own way. Since 2000, she has formed her own company with fellow Sister Seven bandmate Wayne Sutton (ZaneWayne Records). She has released several disks and toured…Lord, has she toured across the West and the Midwest, crisscrossing the clubs and bars and building a reputation for herself as a singer/songwriter/storyteller and advocate.

Pike is also genuinely fun and interesting to talk with, as we did about her future, touring, and Joan of Arc.

So, what are you up to these days?
There is a lot going on. I’ve worked on a lot of recordings over the last year and I want to put a new record out next year. We are working out how we want to do that—whether through ZainWayne or with a bigger label that has more structure—but that is mindful about a lot of things that are important to me, especially artistic content.

I have a wonderful band that I am touring with. We have done a lot of festivals and traveled the West Coast often. I have been working with a friend there who publishes a magazine in the Sierra Mountains. He approached me because he saw that I have a lot of the same philosophical beliefs on environmental sustainability and business. He tries to communicate these ideas using various types of artists, including musicians, fine artists, and writers. We are trying to get the word out about buying products from businesses based locally that harbor a sense of community.

You, more than most, are aware of how the music business is constantly changing. How have you reacted to those changes?
A lot of things have happened in the music business. This is the first time in a long time that record executives and companies are paying attention to alternative ways of promoting. They have to. The popularity of downloads and different ways that people can make their music available to the public has taken much of the control out of their realm. Artists can do a lot of the things for themselves; that gives a better balance of power. In some cases, it allows the artist to pay for their masters and deliver a complete album to a label. The label can function as an umbrella for marketing and distribution.

So really, all this change isn’t necessarily a bad thing?
A lot of young people grow up thinking, “I want to be a pop star.” There are so many more bands now than there were in the late ’80s. The talent pool is massive. There is a lot of competition and there is a big transformation in the record business. There are a lot of new younger people in the business, yet there is this old guard, old-school executives who did it a different way, and they have a big learning curve ahead of them. That is what brings that window of opportunity. You can look at it as a big old mess or you can look at it as an opportunity, if you are a positive person, and how that opportunity applies to you and how you can influence it.

Who are your influences?
A lot of my influences have been those people I grew up listening to. The older music I like is the Motown stuff; my parents turned me on to that: Stevie Wonder, Aretha, soul, R&B. My stepdad was a musician and so he was into a lot of the songwriters from the ’60s and ’70s, like Cream and Jimi Hendrix. As I got older, I was checking out music that appealed to me, including Peter Gabriel, both in Genesis and solo. I was in to people that blew me away as singers: Annie Lennox, Aretha Franklin, Tori Amos. They are people who combined great singing and terrific melodies. When I went to art school, I always looked for people who were doing interesting arrangements and loved to play their instruments. Of course, I have also heard a lot traveling around with my bands, hanging out and traveling on the road swapping music in the van.

Your hometown is Austin, Texas. How is it for music?
Texas is a good place to be for music. Austin has always been a big music town, but Dallas was, too; before I was born, there was a heavy blues scene going on in Dallas. Deep Ellum was a red-light district where all the jazz and blues musicians played that really influenced music all over the country. There was a big blues scene in Texas and that seemed to influence a lot of musician who were in between rock and country music, like Jerry Jeff Walker. And, of course, there is a whole list of country musicians from Texas that are considered rebels.

Austin is a great place to be; because we have great weather, we can have a lot of outdoor concerts. There is SXSW in March and Austin City Limits in September, and all these free concerts in the park in the summer and a tons of clubs…you are going to see a lot of great bands throughout the year. Austin City Limits Festival just had its third year and was ridiculously well attended, like 70,000 over three days; the last night was headlined by Ben Harper, who was awesome. I was watching from the back of this huge stage while Ben Harper performed in front of 70,000 people…people as far as you can see in the night. I have traveled a lot of places in the country and had many chances to move. Although Texas gets a bad rap around the country for some of what we have turned out politically, Austin is like a little oasis of really beautiful culture.

You tour a lot. How do you maintain your enthusiasm?
I did five tours in 2004 and I think I am going to be on the road even more in 2005. It is really important for me to be healthy. I practice yoga, I try to get sleep when I can, I read a lot of good books that inspire me. I also try to tour with a good band. These guys are so much fun to travel with and that can make all the difference in the world when you are on the road. If your only common ground is music, it can be kind of stressful. My energy level is so much higher when I have the support of a band that I like hanging out with.

You are a very literate songwriter. Any books you want to recommend?
A good author in general is Daniel Quinn, who wrote Ishmael and the story “Beyond Symbolization.” Ishmael is the first of several books in a series and it is really challenges in a fiction context the story that we have told of ourselves about the way the world works—in context with how we think it works, in that we are the most important species. The main character is a gorilla…that can talk telepathically to humans. It challenges the idea that we have nothing to learn from nature, which works in such a balanced way.

The Chomsky Reader is a really important book to read right now, especially with all the stuff that has been going down. Noam Chomsky is someone that everyday people should read, because a lot of the stuff that we know about history is really skewed, not a really holistic point of view.

One of my favorite fiction books which is really sort of in-between fiction and non-fiction [is] Mark Twain’s Joan of Arc. He was very much a social critic and his perspective on the world and American culture was often biting. People didn’t like these books as much because they weren’t as typically funny as his other books. This one is certainly not funny. This is his favorite book, though, and he was so fascinated by her that people who have analyzed the book say that the character of the squire in the book is actually him putting himself in the book to live out that fantasy. I am fascinated with her because she is just such an amazing person who came to head the French and defeat the English. She is a person who has greatly influenced me through my life.

Patrice Pike headlines the Playback STL Santastock show at Lil’ Nikki’s, 1551 S. Soulard. Also on the bill are Miles of Wire, Brandy Johnson, and Domani; $7 ($5 with a canned good); 8:30 p.m.

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