She has a voice and stage presence that has been described by Richard Skanse writing for Rolling Stone as “Tina Turner, Bessie Smith, Janis Joplin, and Robert Plant all wrapped up in a tiny but explosive package.”
In her cover shot for The Austin Chronicle taken at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, she’s the ultimate rock star, her tattoos and bling blazing, microphone in hand, giving a wide-eyed shout-out to an adoring crowd showing her the love.
Patrice Pike had her DNA delivered and placed inside the International Space Station and she has been named to the Texas Music Hall of Fame at a remarkably young age. She’s won national-level awards for her singing and songwriting, and three songs on her next CD release will debut in a computer-based method that’s a historical first.
During her career, she has shared stages with The Dave Matthews Band, the Indigo Girls, Sarah MacLachlan, Natalie Merchant, the Allman Brothers Band, Sinead O’Connor and many more.
Her fans also know that Pike hung in there for a significant stint on the prime-time reality TV show “Rock Star: Supernova” where she performed one of her own songs, “Beautiful Thing,” to 38 million people across the globe.
But when she comes up behind an interviewer waiting for her in a South Austin coffee shop, her voice, smile and unassuming presence are as gentle as a Texas rain shower on an April afternoon.
No doubt, this powerful, thoughtful woman is a centered set of extremes set in a diminutive package of energy, intelligence, and yes, beauty.
And what a physical presence she is. No doubt, her whole tattoo-decorated body is testimony to a person’s past experiences imprinting themselves on their present and future. Pike smiles and says, “Almost all of my tattoos were inspired by my mom’s book collection.” (She read a lot as a kid – and she still does.)
The first tattoo she shows is of a Tibetan he-she graceful dragon on the underside of her left forearm. “On some days, it’s a he and some days, it’s a she,” Pike says.
Then, in a perfect spark of yin and yang, there’s the one of Joan of Arc on her right shoulder, the power spot for her most-admired historical figure. “I used to read everything I could about Joan of Arc and how she led France to victory as a teenager. And Mark Twain’s Joan of Arc is still one of my very favorite books. It’s one of the few non-comedic books he spent twelve years researching and writing it.”
The story of that triumphant woman is a template for the self-confidence and bravery Pike showed when she was all of fifteen. “I had previously experienced a pretty normal childhood” she says.
“All of a sudden, I was alone with my mother and sister and new step-dad in a trailer in a rural area way outside of Dallas. I had to ride my bike 10 miles to get anywhere in the middle of Texas summers with no air-conditioning to go home to, which sounds spoiled perhaps. But to a teenager whose hopes and dreams were slipping away, I felt lost and lonely.”
Pike left home at 15 and was admitted to Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, the nationally acclaimed Dallas arts magnet school, which she says “saved my life”.
It was there she met other uber talented kids – like singer Erykah Badu and jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove, who was one of her pals. The school has also produced some other pretty well-known singers like Edie Brickell and Norah Jones. It’s also where visiting speaker Wynton Marsalis sat Pike down and told her, “You don’t have to be any particular kind of musician, just do what you love.”
Now, Pike is doing what she loves in a whole new way.
Her last CD that was a full-blown commercial release was “Unraveling” in 2006. Her next one is set to come out this year – but there’s a twist in store for her fans.
Online and In Space
Soon after she performs at South by Southwest this year, three of the songs on her next CD are slated to debut via a popular worldwide video game.
Her blue-gray eyes gleam as she says, “In this video game’s next release, I’m going to be a guitar-playing avatar and players can go on a quest to hear my concert. They can also work commands to make me slay demons! I think my weapon’s going to be a guitar.”
To counter the obvious remark about no-kill policies, she says, “I’m striving for non-violent living, in terms of both physical and emotional worlds, but some things have to be destroyed or transformed to find happiness.”
The game has 1.8 million users around the world and the songs will be free to play. “I’ll check facts on that, but I don’t think that anytime in history, anyone has debuted songs in a video game. And I’ve been in the studio recording the words that my avatar will be speaking onscreen,” Pike says. “We’ll have the entire animated Patrice Pike Band in there. You can get a membership to go into higher levels of the game, too. It’s a fun game in the sprit of not taking things too seriously.”
That’s just part of this exciting time in her life. The presidential inauguration is happening just a few days later and she’s set up with a place to stay with a friend in Washington D.C., about a mile from the Capitol.
What’s more, last Oct. 12, her DNA was rocketed into space to reside at The International Space Station along with that of guitarist Eric Johnson, physicist Stephen Hawking, American Gladiator Matt Morgan and samples from many other famous people in conjunction with a developing project called Planet Make-Over.
Planet Make-Over is an entertainment-based web destination that was created to harness the power of social networking with a goal of educating as many people as possible about what they can do to lessen global warming.
Part of the public relations built in to the program was this project to send celebrities’ DNA into space along with video game developer Richard Garriott when he visited the International Space Station last fall. (He paid $30,000,000 for the privilege.) Pike’s DNA was part of the collection Garriott assembled to preserve a digital time capsule of the human race.
“I was proud to be chosen for that honor,” Pike says. “Having my digitized DNA on Richard’s Immortality Drive is pretty amazing. Richard told me that he mistakenly forgot to put his DNA on the drive. He seems like such a wonderful, creative guy who is the ultimate adventurer. I am grateful he included me. I got to see him host a movie at the IMAX showing the space center in 3D. It was incredible. Sometimes life hands you unexpected surprises and that was certainly one of the most interesting so far.”
Here on Earth
Pike likes having a presence in space, but she’s just as proud of what she has done with a very down-to earth organization called The Grace Foundation of Texas.
“In 2004, I met a woman named Grace who survived being homeless in California and I was touched by her story. We became the closest of friends and getting to know her was the catalyst for me to put The Grace Foundation together. Pike’s friend Todd Young, was her co-founder on the project. “I was having a meal with him and we decided to try and raise money to help Grace with her medical bills and such.
“When I met her, I knew it was an important life-changing experience. It was like I met myself in a body with a spirit who had made a few slightly different decisions than I made when I left home, but the consequences were staggering. She started as a kid in a talented and gifted program, who traveled to Russia as a prodigy child violinist with high pre-SAT scores. She wanted to go to MIT. Unfortunately there was a lot of abuse at home and she left. One hardship led to another and she found herself barely surviving the streets of Los Angeles as a 13-year-old tiny girl. Can you imagine? Grace developed a terminal heart condition. When I met her she had very little chance to live and was headed into heart surgery within weeks. She came out on the road with my band and before we knew it she was moving to Austin, getting a second opinion and was on the way to recovery. It is a miracle born from community, and great will power and was the beginning of The Grace Foundation.
“Pike and Young decided that they were going to raise money to help one person, they might as well try to get enough together to help more people in the same situation.”
“We’ve had fundraisers – the first was at One World Theatre and the rest at La Zona Rosa. Our band played concerts at all of them. We’ve tried to make them upscale charity events but with a laid-back concert atmosphere.”
They also had a remarkable auction item at the benefits: Dallas-based Cuban-American artist Rolando Diaz, who left home himself when he was a teenager, did a painting onstage while the concert was going on and it was auctioned off at the end. “It’s great how when you put something together, people come around who have something in common and make amazing things happen.”
Pike says they raised $60,000 the first year alone. “Now we’re The Grace Foundation of Texas, because we’re expanding to Houston and Dallas. Our foundation provides resources for young adult survivors of homelessness, either from poverty, neglect, lack of connectedness or aging out of foster care, among other causes. Grace was removed from her home as a child but was sent back. It wasn’t safe. Another interesting fact is that one-in-four foster kids will end up homeless when they age out. That means thousands and thousands of new homeless youth. We are proud and grateful to be an emerging part of expanded consciousness for the solution.”
She adds that, this year, they have four young people on scholarship with funds they’ve raised. The nonprofit Austin Community Foundation and LifeWorks have been collaborators in their efforts.
Getting back to the Pike who played on the international stage, there was that Rock Star: Supernova episode back in 2006 when she appeared as a contestant on the CBS prime time reality show. The winner would get to be the lead singer for the band Supernova and go on an international tour.
What did she learn?
“I learned about reality TV – I’d never even seen it before. I also learned something about myself – that I was capable of maintaining my values under great pressure, even though that wasn’t the winning strategy. I chose songs that were meaningful and had good messages.”
She adds, “I also found out what it’s like to be locked up in a mansion for two months!”
As observers have pointed out, she also managed to steer clear of the drama in the house. “But life itself is always dramatic. Ultimately that band broke up within six weeks of forming. It was never revealed that I was already a professional musician until the last episode. No one saw who I really am, but I found great strength in knowing I was true to myself and I honored my values. Because of that, it was a great experience. When I returned home, I played the Austin City Limits Festival. Charlie Jones of C3 Presents walked on-stage unexpectedly and said, ‘Hi, I’m the Executive Producer of this festival. The woman standing behind me is one of the reasons this festival exists. Please welcome my friend Patrice Pike.’ Those moments make all the crazy times and hard work worth it.” she says.
Real Life & Dreams.
So how is life going for Patrice these days?
Obviously, the Patrice Pike Band is the center of her professional world. Guitarist Matthew Johnson, bass player Glenn MacGregor, drummer Brad Evilsizer, and Pike are busy in the studio recording pre-production for the songs that will be on the next CD.
“Last year we focused on gigs in Austin, the Midwest and the West Coast. Now we can’t wait to finish this record so that we can go back to Europe. I’d love to get some more concerts in Canada and New Zealand and possibly Asia as well. We’ve been juggling a lot of projects, but it’s all starting to gel.”
As for her personal life, it comes back to that he-she dragon tattoo on her left forearm. Pike has been honest and open in the press about her bisexuality in a time that has been polarized by conservative politics and the progressive movement.
“There was a lot of energy generated from that statement in an interview years ago. We as a LGBT community need to have an ongoing dialogue about identifying ourselves. There is diversity within the human family and we should try to communicate rather than staying with labels,” Pike says.
“Since it is important to be out, I chose to be specific. If we want to be free, let’s really be honest. Letting people know who we are in our lives is necessary and we should acknowledge it so we can have an opportunity for real equality and freedom. We as a community recognize that homophobia and sexism hurt everyone, inciting violence and hatred and creating pain and suffering and fear.”
Pike says that after the article appeared in which she said that she is bisexual, a woman walked up to her at one of her shows and obviously wanted to talk. “This lady was definitely dressed to reflect an alternative, punk, artsy lifestyle. She told me, ‘I appreciated your honesty – it made me feel safe and comfortable about being myself.’ The same night another person told me she actively boycotted my shows because of what I had revealed. She then said, ‘I am so sorry I did that. You are really inspiring. Thank you.’”
With the subject of sexuality igniting fires in American culture and media over the last decade, Pike says “many people have had to choose sides.”
“I’ve made a commitment to focus on my music and play as much of it as I can in spaces where everyone is accepted. I want everyone at our concerts to feel free and safe and have fun. That is important to me – to have a mixed fan base.”
Does she have any regrets? “No, that’s not a useful way of looking at life, when you’re feeling sorry for yourself. Because of the choices I’ve made, even if there have been some mistakes, I’ve made them turn for the better. Then doors open. It’s all about positive communication and believing in your dreams.”