In the mid-1990s, not long after my pilgrimage from Boston to Austin in search of more country western music pastures, a gay booking agent told me I must see a band he’d been frequently hosting called Sister Seven. I took his recommendation to heart and went. The stage of prestigious Sixth Street venue Steamboat was overflowing with musicians—it seemed like there were a hundred of them. Out of their midst a tiny girl with a big voice emerged and wailed, easily soaring above the vast instrumentation. She wasn’t country. She wasn’t one thing. She and her giant band were their own hybrid of jam, blues, rock and soul. The Live Music Capitol of The World was very much alive that night. Their residency at the club would become legendary and their vocalist, out lesbian Patrice Pike, would garner international recognition on Rockstar: Supernova, television’s precursor to The Voice.
This month, Pike rejoins Sister Seven bandmate Wayne Sutton for Texas dates and a tour of California, the southwest, and the PNW showcasing both their band and solo work. On Sunday in Seattle, Pike & Sutton play The Strawberry Festival on Vashon Island at 3 pm and Hattie’s Hat in Ballard, 8—10 pm, with Jamie Nova.
Patrice took some time while on the road this week to answer a few questions from SGS Contributing Editor, Xanna Don’t.
Xanna: What inspired you and Wayne Sutton, with whom you also founded the record label, ZainWayne, to revisit your Sister Seven collaboration and tour together?
Patrice: Wayne and I have collaborated on a lot of recordings since Sister Seven stopped making albums and we realized as I’ve been touring around the country there are still a lot of people that love what we do together and don’t realize we are making a new record now and touring. We want to pull all the different groups together from over the years who love the music and bring new fresh arrangements to some of the past tunes while showcasing how we do our solo material as a unit.
Xanna: You’ve always been an out lesbian performer. Do you think visibility and performing at Pride celebrations are still important?
Patrice: I definitely think visibility is important although I’ve found some pride celebrations are not booking live bands as much. For me, I chose to come out right away in my career in the interest of honesty and activism for the safety and honor of our community. Some folks stay closeted until they are successful, but to each their own. All in all, I’m grateful those of us who have been out and are coming out as youth are moving the needle towards safety and security for ourselves, our loved ones and for our full expression.
Xanna: You were on reality TV before it so heavily dominated television airwaves. A vocalist from Season 1, Rockstar: INXS, Atlanta’s Heather Lutrell, icily referred to it as “that show,” and Rebecca Loebe, who’s lived in both Atlanta and Austin described her participation on The Voice, Season 1, as being very dependent on “casting.” What was your experience as a contestant on Rockstar: Supernova like?
Patrice: A friend recommended me to the casting people as a songwriter and solid vocalist. That seemed to be what they wanted me for and I wanted simply to continue to be able to make a good living and take care of my family. It was a good way for me to reach audiences I wouldn’t have otherwise necessarily reached. I had actually never watched a reality show so I didn’t get that the editing could really skew what was happening and change perceptions. I just rocked people’s faces off with my performances and came home feeling good about not screwing anyone over. That was my agenda and I am happy with that.
Xanna: How do feel about the epidemic of cities becoming less and less affordable for musicians and artists? Both Seattle and Austin have exploded with big money craving downtown condos. Can creative people hang in there? Has being the co-founder of the Step Onward Foundation, which assists young people who’ve experienced homelessness, informed your opinion on this critical trend?
Patrice: There is no doubt that not only for creatives in visual art, music, dance and so on we are reaching a crisis level of unaffordability in housing and healthy food. That is true also for a vast majority of the working class. The trend toward co-housing is one of the only things keeping us housed. Youth who are not upper middle class and financially and relationally privileged are either graduating high school or dropping out to necessarily work and are often terrified because the cost of living is crazy in cities and in rural areas the jobs are limited and open mostly to “who you know.” It’s an epic time to make decisions and act fiercely and effectively to fight for a living wage and create beyond the antiquated nuclear family model. We will survive by pulling together. It’s all we have to do. I was just talking last night about organizing more collectives of artists locally and across state lines to help promote each other and share information. We can do it.