Pylon Reenactment Society revives Athens musical heyday by breathing new life into the legacy of Pylon. Their danceable blend of new wave, post-punk and alternative rock influenced the 1980s and beyond throughout Athens and the American underground music scene. Some may say they are more like a tribute band these days but perhaps they lie somewhere in-between as they are headed by original Pylon member, Vanessa Briscoe (now Briscoe Hay) who’s vocal textures and phrasing defined the band’s original unique sound.
Founded in 2014, Pylon Reenactment Society began when Vanessa gathered members of Athens all star bands Casper & the Cookies, The Glands, and Big Atomic to create a one-off gig exploring Athens’ rich art and music scene from 1975-1985. Today they are Vanessa Briscoe Hay (vocals), Jason NeSmith (guitar and backing vocals), Kay Stanton (bass and backing vocals), Joe Rowe (drums and backing vocals), and Damon Denton (keyboard).
Pylon Reenactment Society recently recorded a 6-song EP at Josiah Mazzaschi’s studio The Cave, entitled “Part Time Punks Session” (Chunklet Industries), which is now distributed by Revolver U.S.A. This all transpired after Michael Stock, Part Time Punks DJ and organizer, invited the band to record exclusive tracks for his ‘Part Time Punks’ radio show on KXLU.
“I was struck by the energy of the performances and the quality of the recording. It reminded me somewhat of Pylon’s recording of ‘Gyrate’. That record had also been done very quickly with the band playing together and a minimum of overdubs,” says Pylon Reenactment Society front woman Vanessa Briscoe Hay. “This way of recording can lend a dynamic live feeling if done properly and if you have a good performance. An elusive goal had been achieved and not really noticed for what it was: something really good.”
Pylon Reenactment Society photo by Jason Thrasher
When Rolling Stone named R.E.M. “America’s Best Band” in November 1987, R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry said, “We’re not the best rock ‘n’ roll band in America”, then quickly gave the title to Pylon, one of Athens’ favorite local bands. (wiki) Another front-runner of the Athens music scene were the B52s, who were instrumental in helping guide Pylon to the next level. However, just after three studio albums, a handful of singles and EPs, and a few break ups and reunions along the way, Pylon would officially call it quits after the fatal loss of their guitarist, Randy Bewley on February 25, 2009. Pylon was, and always will be comprised of Hay, Bewley, Michael Lachowski, and Curtis Crowe.
Torched Magazine is happy to have had the opportunity to talk with Vanessa regarding reviving Pylon’s legacy in Pylon Reenactment Society, their inspiration behind the ‘Part Time Punks Session’, and how it all came together..plus more!
TM – What was the inspiration behind your latest release ‘Part Time Punks Session’ EP? Could you briefly describe the music-making process?
Vanessa – The inspiration for PRS is Pylon. Pylon came about during what is now called the post punk era. We were art students who created music like we were making art work, but instead of visual, it was sonic and the process truly varied from song to song. We were together on and off from 1979 until our guitarist Randy Bewley passed away in 2009.
Pylon Reenactment Society learned some Pylon songs for what were going to be “one off” shows for Art Rocks Athens in 2014 & 2015. Art Rocks Athens had a series of events that explored the connection between the art and music scene in Athens, Ga 1975-85. We learned the Pylon material from our own perspectives. Of course everyone in the band started by listening to Pylon recordings. I had worked with both Kay Stanton and Jason NeSmith from Casper & the Cookies before on a recording project called Supercluster. We added Damon Denton on Keyboard to add textures and sounds. Joe Rowe came highly recommended as a drummer. The best part of working with these people is not only are they good players, they are great to work with as well. Pylon Reenactment Society have gotten such positive feedback, we have continued to perform.
Pylon Reenactment Society photo by John Boydston
In 2016, Pylon Reenactment Society had been touring a little here and there on our own and with Dressy Bessy. We were out on the west coast to perform in four cities in December including the once a month Part Time Punks event which is curated by Michael Stock who has a long running show also called Part Time Punks on KXLU. He records bands who perform at this event at the Echoplex for later rebroadcast and for use on fundraising CDs for the station. We wanted a good clean recording that sounded as live as possible. Josiah Mazzaschi at The Cave helped us get the sound that we wanted. The whole session was just a few hours with very few overdubs..
I had no intention of releasing this until I was urged to do so by our media relations person Michelle Roche. I had given it to her to find a promo track for some dates we had opening for Cindy Wilson. Michelle said we should consider releasing them. She has a long history of working in the music business, so I took a serious listen and agreed with her. Something cool had happened. Live energy, a solid performance and a good recording were all present. Kind of a holy grail had been achieved and I hadn’t even noticed. I wrote Michael Stock and he graciously gave us permission to press and release it. Henry Owings from Chunklet helped us put it out.
TM – Pylon’s celebrated history came to a sudden end in 2009 with the loss of your guitarist, Randy Bewley. How have you been able to overcome this tragedy and carry on?
Vanessa – I find that keeping busy is therapeutic for me. I was pretty sad for awhile. Randy was an old friend who I had worked closely together with on and off for years. I had two projects that we were working on when he died, which weren’t quite finished. One was Chomp More for Pylon on DFA. We had finished the restoration and mastering process, but decisions regarding graphics and business odds and ends associated with it still needed attention. Supercluster, which was a recording project he worked on with me, still needed 3 more songs completed with guitar overdubs, graphics, business odds and ends. Bradford Cox from Deerhunter came in and recorded guitar parts and Jason NeSmith and the rest of Supercluster helped me get it finished.
I threw myself into working on these two projects as well as working my day job as an RN and the process of work helped clear my head. Both projects came out in October, 2009. I do not want anyone to forget Randy Bewley. He was a creative and gifted artist and musician.
Pylon press photo by Laura Levine
TM – Who or what are some of your creative influences?
Vanessa – Back at the beginning of Pylon, minimalism in art and music was a huge influence as was the first wave of music and punk, Eraserhead, and No wave music. As time passed on, I was inspired by everyday things and my band mates. We became a little world unto ourselves.
TM – What was it like working with KXLU’s Part Time Punks DJ and organizer Michael Stock on this release?
Vanessa – He has been extremely generous and kind to us. I can’t thank him enough. His energy and love of music are extremely inspiring.
TM – Who else has been fundamental in this process to bring this to the masses on vinyl and other formats?
Vanessa – A lot of people and friends and our families. Josiah Mazzaschi at The Cave studio in LA did an incredible job of recording and mixing us in just a few hours.
Jason NeSmith mastered it at Chase Park Transduction in Athens, GA.
Adam Smith cut the lacquers exactly how I wanted them to be cut so it sounds loud and clean.
Musicol in Ohio did a great job pressing them.
Graphics were done by my old band mate here in Athens, Michael Lachowski and Bill Gridley in Orlando, FL did design and graphics too. Jason Thrasher (who has a book coming out) took the back photo. My daughter Hana Hay printed our t shirts at Shirtworks here in Athens. My daughter Victoria sells merch for us sometimes and my husband Bob has done quite a few errands for us.
Henry Owings from Chunklet got all of the pieces together from the pressings to distribution by revolver USA in San Francisco.
TM – Do you have any hobbies outside of music that help to rejuvenate your creativity?
Vanessa – I paint, take a few photos, garden and write. When I do any of those things, I am usually on an obsessional jag until the inspiration passes.
TM – Are your lyrics generic or based on real experiences?
Vanessa – For the most part inspired by real life, but then made more universal. A few were inspired by activities-like the lyrics for K came from a scrabble game between Michael Lachowski and I while writing songs for the album Chomp.
Pylon photo by Jimmy Ellison
TM – What kind of advice would you give to a newer musician who is just starting out?
Vanessa – Play what you want to play. You know what you like and what your limitations are. Don’t quit your day job. If it’s going somewhere, don’t sign your publishing away- get a lawyer and an accountant.
TM – I’ve read about you and seen posts about this new album all over the place. How have you managed to get the word out about this release?
Vanessa – I got help from the best – Shauna McLarnon (Shameless Promotion PR) and Michelle Roche Media Relations. Also, there are still a lot of Pylon fans out there in every age group you can imagine (the youngest I have talked to recently is 9!) who have been extremely supportive. I can’t thank them enough.
Pylon Reenactment Society feature photo by Jason Thrasher
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