This was how my interview with Sebastian Pigott, actor-cum-rocker-cum-writer, most acclaimed thus far for his role as Kai Booker on CBC’s Being Erica, actually began. In spite of my best efforts to propel towards the questionnaire that I had spent days researching and devising, I couldn’t help it –I’m a sucker for a good music debate. Luckily for me, it would seem that Pigott’s interest was equally peaked by this proposition, as it didn’t take long for him to merit a rebuttal after I made the following cynical assertion:
SP: “But, if you do something special in anything, it rises to the top. We’re currently encountering a new landscape – a time for real opportunity – and a new order has already started to arrange itself. Taking out the middle man with music and journalism can only be good for artists.”
While I was willing to accede the final element of his above, these early comments coupled with the fact that his big musical break came about as a result of a six-week long stint on Canadian Idol, indicated to me that he was clearly a traditionalist: someone who purports the notion that if you do something well and you work hard at it, you will be rewarded for your efforts.
He suggested that promotion and the “elevation of oneself” are the primary keys to success. This supported my view that luck (and looks) always play a necessary part in the equation. But this wasn’t exactly the case.
After Pigott and his brother Oliver’s Canadian Idol stint, Oliver landed a songwriting deal from BMG, while Sebastian designated himself as “professionally unemployed.”
Pigott’s musical journey hardly constitutes that of an overnight success. His first gig took place at Jimmy’s Bar in Portugal, at the tender age of 10. As he tells it, he and his brother opened for a fifties cover band called The Pink Cadillacs and were compensated a whopping 5000 escudos (roughly 40 bucks Canadian). He has obviously come a long way since, but importantly, it wasn’t without paying his dues. In an interview he conducted in accordance with his appearance on Canadian Idol in 2008, he recalled his experiences of being in high school bands: “nothing tests you [as a performer] like having to hawk tickets to friends, being the last band to get on stage, and realizing nobody’s listening,” he said.
Despite his relative TV fame, when it comes to music Pigott maintains a very DIY work ethic. The brothers’ entire album Pigottry, including all pre- and post-production costs, did not exceed the $2000 mark. They were awarded a Videofact grant for the filming of their single “Rich Man” (to be released officially on Feb 14, 2010 at Rancho Relaxo, Toronto), meaning this whole secondary career of his, so far, has set him back very little in regards to pocket change. But as a December article in The Toronto Star so rightly observed, slick production (and its associated $100,000 per song price-tag) is really no longer a requisite for recognition: the brothers’ version of “Alien Like You”, the track Sebastian performed on his final episode of Being Erica, has already attained top five status in Cdbaby’s music charts.
Aside from his desire to maintain control over his own masters and publishing rights, Pigott justified his decision to remain indie:
SP: “These days you get more debt when you end up going with labels, as it’s in their interest to spend money – this comes out of your tab. But I mean, the big record companies are also struggling. They are not able to pour money into acts like they did before, so they’re looking for ‘approved commodities’ to take on the road that they don’t have to worry about. Far more often, and it’s becoming this way more and more, it’s about the people who go out and play shows – building fanbases in more of a grassroots way. Like I said before, it’s a new landscape and no one knows how to navigate it yet. As we saw with Kai, music is getting marketed through TV…There’s definitely more to come. We haven’t seen the end of this evolution/revolution.”
Because he made mention of the drug-addled rockstar he recently portrayed on TV, I felt it presented the opportune moment to question him about how he felt about the long-standing association of rock’n’roll with a sex and drug-laden lifestyle.
“An artist is someone who goes through as much as they can. They go to these places within themselves and explore things, and everything in life is a part of that. To condemn drugs out right is shortsighted, but they’re pretty goddamn dangerous too. Long-term, I haven’t seen anyone who’s benefited from them,” he said.
To play the devil’s advocate momentarily (I’m straight-edge), I mentioned the dialogues that suggest bands like The Beatles, for example, wrote their greatest works while high. Though Pigott acknowledged that said artists’ consumption of narcotics may have allowed them to undercover and express previously unchartered aspects of their creativity, he remained firm in his view, stating, “Real working musicians who succeed long term get off of that shit. Most musicians and artists, in general, encounter that stuff in various ways, but it doesn’t lead to any longevity or genuine creativity.”
As our interview came to a close, it seems we were once again destined to be drawn back into a musical debate. Because Sebastian’s casting onto CBC’s Being Erica was largely a result of his memorable ascension into the Top Eight on last season’s Canadian Idol (apparently he completely bombed his audition for the role), I couldn’t help but wonder what his real thoughts were in regards to reality television and its place in “star-making” (if it belonged there, at all).
His initial argument:
“Doing Canadian Idol was a huge help to me – it definitely helps to attain huge levels of fame – but no, I don’t believe that rockstardom is dead – look at what Lady Gaga has done in the last year, it’s brilliant – the whole package has been brilliantly conceived.”
A little revised:
“(To achieve rockstardom) – it just needs to be done in a creative way. I was actually trying to think, in the last couple days, where do I hear new songs anymore? I don’t listen to the radio anymore, people aren’t buying albums anymore – it’s all singles…”
Okay so maybe, you’re onto something:
“You may be right, it may be an era that has passed – this remains to be seen. ACDC, Aerosmith, Jimi Hendrix, Queen, The Beatles, Nirvana – the titans of each era – where’s that today?”
Well Sebastian, I may have my opinions, but one thing is for sure. I strongly believe that if we want to stand a chance in hell to combat the complete and utter disintegration of everything artistic (and therefore everything worth value) in our world, the starting point is to stand behind true artists like the Pigott brothers who are not just talented, and fairly nice to look at (if I do say so myself), but moreover, multi-faceted, intelligent, and genuine.
Maybe a bit green or maybe I’m just too bitter, but I assure you, after all of the artists I’ve met in my day, the Pigott Brothers are the real deal. Trust me, you can’t manufacture something that just isn’t there for under $2000 – especially, not in today’s economy.
For more information on the Pigott brothers, check out www.myspace.com/pigottbrothers . They will be playing Rancho Relaxo February 14 to celebrate the video release of their song “Rich Man.”