Meeting Kai Booker: My melodious match with the actor who doesn't just “play” a musician on TV
This was how my interview with Pigott, actor-cum-rocker-cum-writer, most acclaimed thus far for his role as Kai Booker on CBC's Being Erica, actually began — about the music biz. Today's music biz especially. What can I say? I'm a sucker for a good music debate.
RCP: “The biz is completely over-saturated with talentless wannabes as a result of both the accessibility of technology and the move towards socially-oriented modes of publicity which have empowered everyone and anyone to feel like they deserve to be heard, or worse, they're entitled to be famous.”
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 argument — that eliminating “the middle man” is likely a step in the right direction — these early comments of his, coupled with the fact that his “big musical break” came about as a result of a six-week long stint on a reality TV show, 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.
Shortly after uttering the above rebuttal, he went on further to suggest that promotion and the “elevation of oneself” are the primary keys to success. This only offered more support for my aforementioned characterization of him as in my view, luck (and looks) always play a necessary part in the equation.
Accordingly, I surmised that Pigott was a tad overly optimistic, but I was also willing to admit my own jadedness was likely clouding my judgment. In his defense, it didn't take long for me to discern how charismatic and inspiring he is. And, upon learning more of his and his brother's circumstances, I came to the realization that I may have judged him prematurely.
While his brother Oliver got a “wham, bam, thank you m'am” songwriting deal from BMG in his early 20s just a year and a half ago, Sebastian designated himself as “professionally unemployed.” So, as much as I hate to admit I suffered from a little “foot-in-mouth” syndrome when I started to come down hard on the idea of him being an “overnight success;” a topic which was raised as a consequence of our discussion on the lack of information available on the web about his early career.
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 50s cover band called, The Pink Cadillacs, and were compensated a whopping 5000 escudos (roughly 40 bucks Canadian). Suffice it to say, he has come a long way since; but importantly, it wasn't without paying his dues either. In an interview he conducted around his time 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.”
Irrespective of our differing opinions, our mentalities did harmonize in regards to one important aspect of musicianship: the choice to remain indie. As we were reviewing some necessary formalities for this piece, like the release dates of his disc, he proudly told me his entire album, including all pre- and post-production costs, did not exceed the $2,000 mark. Moreover, he was awarded a VideoFact grant for the filming of Rich Man - which will be released February 14 at Rancho Relaxo in Toronto - meaning this whole secondary career of his has set him back very little in regards to pocket change. But as a December article in The Toronto Star 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 in the following words:
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...It's about the people who go out and play shows - building fan bases in more of a grassroots way...As we saw with Kai, music is getting marketed through TV.”
As our interview came to a close, it seems we were again drawn back into a musical debate. Because Pigott'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, I couldn't help but wonder what his real thoughts were in regards to reality television and its place in “star-making.” While Pigott originally maintained a defensive position to my rather radical claim, I explained the rationale informing my view and eventually we saw more eye to eye.
His initial argument:
“Doing Canadian Idol was a huge help to me...but no, I don't believe that rock stardom is dead - look at what Lady Gaga has done in the last year, it's brilliant - the whole package has been brilliantly conceived. (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...”
“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?”
That is a question for which I too have long searched the answer. The only reasonable conclusion I've been able to come up with is it was NEVER really the labels that held ultimate sovereignty in the music marketplace. No, like any other business, music is sold as a commodity which requires a buying public. While I could wildly wield my finger at all of the various sources that are to blame for the public's increasing disinterest in actually consuming music legally, at this point it really wouldn't accomplish much. The diagnosis has been prognosticated, and I, like most musicians, want to get some sort of cure enacted. Whether or not that's possible, to steal a line from Mr. Pigott, “it remains to be seen.”
With that said however, I do strongly believe that if we want ro stand a chance in hell to combat the complete disintegration of everything artistic in our world, the starting point is to stand behind true artists like Pigott and his brother who are not just talented and fairly nice to look at; trust me, you can't manufacture something that just isn't there for under $2,000 — especially, not in today's economy. They are the real deal.