Austin360 Artist of the Month: Pike & Sutton rise again, beyond Sister 7
This year was shaping up to be a big one for Pike & Sutton — and maybe it still will be. The group’s debut album, “Heart Is a Compass,” comes out Friday and marks the return of a songwriting team that made major waves in Austin in the 1990s as the core of roots-jam band Sister 7. The coronavirus pandemic has affected most everything, including their plans this spring. But they’re pushing forth with a positive attitude that matches the uplifting spirit of their music.
“On the upside, we did finish making our record,” says firebrand singer Patrice Pike, who reconnected with Sister 7 guitarist Wayne Sutton to form this new band with deep connections. “Everyone’s committed to keep the vinyl and everything rolling so that we’ll have music to put out there. You have to look at the bright side of things and really focus on what you do have as much as you can, as opposed to what you don’t.”
“Heart Is a Compass” will be a very welcome and timely gift to fans of Sister 7, and for those who’ve long been regulars of their Thursday night residency at the Saxon Pub. Pike got the gig nine years ago and didn’t expect it to last as long as it has, but when Sutton started joining her for the shows, it rekindled a creative spark that stretched back to their teenage years in Dallas.
“Even though we were always close friends,” Pike explains, “we started having these conversations about scheduling writing sessions together. That was cool, because we were able to just dive right into something that already had a lot of neural pathways from years of working together. And then it pulled together all the things we had been learning about ourselves individually, finding our musical tools separate from each other.”
“Heart Is a Compass” no doubt will strike a chord with fans of their previous bands, though it’s also different, perhaps more song-focused than jam-oriented. “Our songs that we’re doing now do not sound like some of the songs we had out on the radio” back then, Pike suggests. “And there’s no ‘Sweet Love’ that’s 15 minutes long, but it’s definitely groovy and fierce.”
Out of respect to their other Sister 7 bandmates, they decided it was best to use a different name for this project. But there are distinct historical connections. The album includes contributions from John Thomasson, who now tours with big-league country band Little Big Town but was the original bassist in Little Sister, the early-’90s predecessor to Sister 7. Drummer Rob Kidd, who also plays in Golden Dawn Arkestra, shared bills with Sister 7 in his 1990s band the Gingerbreadmen. And the duo met percussionist John Bush in Dallas in the 1980s when he was playing with Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians. Keyboardist Jay Stiles, a Canadian expat who’s also played with David Pulkingham, Suzanna Choffel and others, is the one relative newcomer in the Pike & Sutton lineup.
They made the record in Santa Fe, N.M., with producer Jim Watts and engineer Bill Palmer, and began releasing early singles last fall, shortly before performing at the 2019 Austin City Limits Music Festival. Big things were in the works for early 2020, with some high-profile gigs lined up for South by Southwest and then a trip to South America to play Lollapalooza Chile.
» RELATED: Our interview with Pike & Sutton at ACL Fest
SXSW, of course, never happened. Lollapalooza Chile has been rescheduled for November. Pike & Sutton had to scrap April record release gigs in Austin, Dallas and Houston. Adapting to the age of coronavirus was a necessity — but reversing course was not an option.
“We’re not going to just not put our record out,” Pike says. “A lot of people have been waiting for this. We had people order it back in the fall. It’s really important to keep your commitments, I think, in times of trouble, and to just lift people up.”
One way she’s been doing that is through livestream performances. Last month, Pike began airing shows from her living room on Thursday and Sunday evenings, playing solo in part because she’s only recently recovered from her own health scare. She had the symptoms of COVID-19 but was not able to get tested, so she does not know if she had the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Fans from all over have tuned in to the online shows, which have consistently attracted hundreds of Facebook Live viewers. They’re tipping well, too. Pike is sharing her take with bandmates and with sidelined staffers at both the Saxon Pub and One-2-One Bar. On Sunday, she told fans during the livestream that she’s brought in around $2,400 for the cause so far.
“I’m really glad everybody’s able to start doing that,” Pike said, noting that she’s eager to play online shows with Sutton soon. They did a 30-minute set together last weekend for an Instagram takeover of the Lollapalooza Chile page, and on Friday, they’ll celebrate the album’s release date with a listening party and live chat at 5 p.m. on the Pike & Sutton Facebook page.
Meanwhile, Sutton is now planning to do his own solo livestream event at 8 p.m. Monday, April 6. A guitar teacher when not playing gigs, he’s been busy figuring out how to give lessons online, “learning a whole bunch of computer stuff that I didn’t know a couple weeks ago,” he says. “We’re all trying to adapt to it and figure it out, but I’ve done it with students from age 7 to 60 so far, and it’s been really good.
“And then I’m trying to figure out when to do my own livestream. I certainly want to play with Patrice when I can, but I’ve written almost 10 songs over the last two months, so I thought it might be cool to do a livestream and play just all new songs.”
» RELATED: Check out the Austin360 Livestream List
This fall, Pike hopes to be back on track with her long-running benefit concert for the Step Onward Foundation, which she co-founded many years ago to help at-risk youth. “It got started after I met a young woman out on the road touring,” she recalls. “We became pen pals, and I found out that she left home when she was a teenager. We both had that in common, so we started talking about it. And that really spurred a lot of memories for me of all the at-risk young adults we’ve met on the street touring over the years.”
Since the foundation’s first fundraising concert 15 years ago, it has raised more than $1 million. “Pretty good for a small grassrooots nonprofit!” Pike says with a mix of joy and pride. This year’s show is set for Sept. 12 at Hotel Ella. Will it stay on track as scheduled? “Who knows?” Pike shrugs, ready to roll with whatever happens.
“We’re just hoping the world gets to a better place by then.”
Core members: Patrice Pike, lead vocals, guitar, percussion; Wayne Sutton, guitar
Releases: “Heart Is a Compass” (2020)
Record release listening party & online chat: Friday, 5 p.m., facebook.com/PikeandSutton.
More information: Find Pike & Sutton’s music to stream and purchase their album at pikeandsutton.com.