After a tenure in the '90s band Sister Seven, Patrice Pike and Wayne Sutton are hardly strangers to the rock and Americana worlds. But the forthcoming album Heart Is a Compass — whose track "Together" is premiering exclusively below — marks the first time they've released something as a duo, Pike & Sutton.
"Y'know, we met in high school and formed Sister Seven when we were 21, 22, and did all kinds of stuff together," Pike, an Austin/Texas Music Hall of Fame inductee and co-founder, tells Billboard, "but we've never done a project where we've written all the songs together. Wayne told me that and I was shocked. And we hadn't written a whole body of work together since the last Sister Seven record. So (Pike & Sutton) was our chance to do that."
The duo was hatched about two and a half years ago, according to Pike. Because she had custody of a niece with bone marrow failure, Pike was spending more time in Austin, and the two began a weekly residency, which yielded the 2019 live EP The Evolution of Pike & Sutton Live and led to booking at last year's Austin City Limits Festival. "That's how we started putting this together, sonically and musically and creatively," she recalls. "Through that process we had conversations about really wanting to write together." Sutton adds that, "The first songs we wrote were 'Bright as the Sun' and 'Hands Up,' and that definitely kick-started everything. We knew the record would be really eclectic — it's just who we are, not 'It's gonna be this style of record' or anything like that. It just developed over time."
Heart Is a Compass, due out April 3, points in many directions, though at its heart it’s what Pike calls "very groove-oriented, soul-oriented" with touches of pop, blues, rock and, in the case of "Together," funk.
The last song to be written and recorded for the album, "Together" came together while Pike & Sutton was recording with co-producer Jim Watts (Emmylou Harris, Ben Harper, Jenny Lewis, Kelly Clarkson) in Santa Fe, N.M., when weather canceled Sutton's flight back home to Austin. Granted an extra night to record, they turned to a song that Pike says "wasn't really finished, but since we had the time and it was a really good vibe, kind of uptempo song, everyone was like, 'Yeah, let's do it.' It was very spontaneous. Everyone was feeling it." The song itself, meanwhile, bears a couple layers of meaning for Pike and Sutton, as well as the world at large.
"The song is about creating a safe place for people to come together and transcend all the bullshit that's going on," Pike says. "But in retrospect it’s kind of about Wayne and I, too. We've been in our friendship throughout the years. We've been through a lot. When people continue to make music together throughout their whole lives, something special happens. So I think those two things are in that song."
Pike and Sutton were joined on Heart Is A Compass by original Sister Seven bassist John Thomasson, now Little Big Town's music director, as well as Edie Brickell & New Bohemians' John Bush, Golden Dawn Arkestra's Robb Kidd and others. The duo will be playing showcases at South By Southwest in March, just before performing at Lollapalooza Chile later in the month. Pike & Sutton is also talking to several different agents to line up touring in support of the album.
"We just want to put a positive message out there — our way of saying we really disagree with a lot of things that are going, but we're not angry," Sutton says. "It's important for Patrice and I both to express our desire to create a better world." Pike adds that, "All this different people who have listened to us over the years, in Sister Seven or whatever, are finding out that we're making this music and they're giving us feedback that it's making them feel really good, which is awesome."