Pylon Reenactment Society
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Pylon Reenactment Society

Athens, Georgia, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2014 | INDIE

Athens, Georgia, United States | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2014
Band Rock Post-punk


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"The Pylon Reenactment Society Pays Tribute"

The Pylon Reenactment Society Pays Tribute
By Bobby Moore
Pylon’s legacy lives way beyond “Cool” appearing in a Lexus commercial, as evidenced by growing interest in singer Vanessa Briscoe Hay’s all-Athens tribute act, the Pylon Reenactment Society. The project was born in May 2014, when local musician Jason NeSmith asked Hay to perform a 15-minute set of Pylon material for the first Art Rocks Athens. In August 2015, a second annual celebration of Athens’ art and music scenes from 1975–1985 found Hay and friends performing a full opening set for Atlanta new-wave pioneer Kevin Dunn and the B-52s’ Fred Schneider.

“That set went over really well,” Hay says. “Our friends in Dressy Bessy heard about that show and asked us to open for them on four slots of their national tour to promote their new album. We said ‘heck yeah!’”

Hay makes a point to differentiate these sets from the Pylon canon. “Pylon died when Randy [Bewley] passed away,” she says. “We do try to be faithful in spirit, and I have the blessing of Michael Lachowski and Curtis Crowe. I sure wouldn't do it if they disagreed in any way.”

NeSmith doubles as Hay’s guitarist, while fellow Casper and the Cookies member Kay Stanton plays bass. Both have played with Hay before in “Appalachian wave” collective Supercluster. The Glands drummer Joe Rowe and local keyboardist Damon Denton round out the re-enactors. “We have added a keyboard player for some songs, but Pylon did a little bit of doubling up in the studio,” Hay says. “And there is keyboard on some parts of Chomp, so it is not out of the spirit of Pylon.”

The band name is an inside joke from Pylon’s third run that first surfaced in a 2010 Georgia Music magazine feature. In the article, bassist Lachowski likens the band’s 2005–2008 comeback to being in a Pylon Historical Reenactment Society. “I don't remember who said it first, but basically we were having to relearn everything and called ourselves that at practice,” Hay says. “When I had to put a name on this project to set itself apart from Pylon, I shortened it a little. We only have one original member and can't call ourselves Pylon—although I know there are other touring bands out there that only have one original member.”

For Stanton, unraveling Pylon songs has magnified the band’s mystique. “When I get in there and start dissecting a song, I can't tell you how many times I've thought, ‘How the hell did they do that?” she says.

Learning Bewley’s guitar parts has not demystified the band’s aura for NeSmith, either. “The more I got into them, the more convinced I became that what they did was very special, but the less certain I was about how they did it,” he says. “Even befriending them didn't really help to explain the process. They are all pretty regular people in most ways. But together they worked on another level that maybe even they didn't understand.”

Rowe, a part of regional indie rock lore in his own right, mirrors his bandmates’ reverence for the songs and story behind Pylon. “When I moved to Athens in the fall of 1987 to go to the UGA school of music, one of the first things I did was go to Wuxtry Records and buy two cassette tapes,” he says. “One was a record by The Fall and the other was Gyrate by Pylon. I vividly remember driving around Athens' hilly one-way streets, playing those Pylon songs over and over. For me, they fit in perfectly with all the other stuff that I was listening to: Devo, Gang of Four, Sonic Youth… I quickly started playing in bands in Athens and dropped out of school.”

Denton is the odd man out in some ways—a classically trained pianist instead of a punk rocker, filling a role absent from the Pylon live set. Still, he finds these songs are not the complete opposite of classical compositions. “Being in a Pylon project is exciting for me because my classical/contemporary piano world is mostly acoustic and unplugged,” he explains. “Pylon is similar to me only in that it’s like chamber music: a quintet. The music has historic placement, which amps up its live show effects.”

The enduring legacies of 1980’s Gyrate and 1983’s Chomp should provide plenty of fuel for future Reenactment Society sets. Still, Hay does not rule out the possibility of new, non-canon material. “It would be fun to write a Pylon Reenactment Society song done in the spirit of Pylon,” Hay says. - Flagpole Magazine

"Interview: Pylon's Vanessa Briscoe Hay"

Interview: Pylon's Vanessa Briscoe Hay
Legendary Athens frontwoman pays tribute to her trailblazing band.

The original Athens, Ga. band, Pylon. A new double-live album has been released featuring a show from 1983.
The original Athens, Ga. band, Pylon. A new double-live album has been released featuring a show from 1983.
What people used to call the “college rock” genre back in the '80s didn’t start with those great early R.E.M. albums. You know, the ones before Michael Stipe and crew started annunciating, graduating to global fame and increasingly adventurous facial hair.

A whole lot more shaking was going on in the small college town of Athens, Ga. during that same period. There were so many unique bands down there - including Stipe’s personal favorite, Pylon – it makes you wonder if someone was tampering with the water fountains. Or maybe the record stores.

Pylon was a southern band, but not one you would associate with American rock by any stretch. Their songs were taut, bass-heavy, angular affairs played in steamy clubs filled with pogoing fans; the group was inspired by fellow townies, the B-52s, as well as British post-punk such as Gang of Four, who they later toured alongside.

“Taking the most common pop line-up, bass-drums-vocal-guitar, and turning it on its head, they managed to create a sound and songs that were distinctly theirs and incapable of being mimicked or copied," Stipe wrote in the liner notes to a reissue of the band’s seminal 1980 debut, “Gyrate." "Believe me, because I tried.”

And they were not named after the Faulkner novel, I've learned.

“I don't know where that started . . . We were artists and the idea of having a visual element to the name appealed to us," says lead singer Vanessa Briscoe Hay. "At first we were going to call ourselves diagonal, but use the symbol and not the word. Pylon probably had more in common with bands from Manchester and Leeds at the time.”

After releasing two classic albums, Pylon broke up early in 1983 when they said things stopped being fun. They regrouped a couple times before the death of original guitarist Randy Bewley, who helped forge their sound with his alternate tunings.

“Pylon was the four original members: Randy Bewley, Michael Lachowski, Curtis Crowe and me,” says Briscoe Hay. “When he died, that was the end of Pylon. None of us were considered replaceable. Randy was an amazing guitarist and not really like anyone else. We miss him tremendously.”

If you missed any version of the band, you’ll get a unique chance this week (thanks to Steady Sounds) to hear their music when Pylon Reenactment Society, featuring Briscoe Hay, shares a bill with Denver's Dressy Bessy and locals Positive No at Strange Matter on Wednesday. Other band members in PRS include Athens musicians Jason NeSmith and Kay Stanton from Casper & the Cookies and Joe Rowe from the Glands.

Richmond's Armistead Wellford, bassist and multi-instrumentalist with the Athens band, Love Tractor, was a card-carrying fan from their musical heyday together. Lately, he says he put together a version of Love Tractor called We Love Tractor that played with PRS in Atlanta and Athens at the end of July.

"They were awesome gigs and we shared drummers --Joe Rowe from the Glands, absolutely fabulous drummer. PRS has the same explosive energy that Pylon had in 1980-83," Wellford recalls. "When I tell people about the show this Wednesday, I just call them Pylon 'cause it will be like seeing Pylon dynamic wise, but now there's two girls in the band instead of just Vanessa. I predict a great show, especially for people that never had the chance to see Pylon- it's timeless."

Style caught up with Briscoe Hay by e-mail yesterday for a few last-minute questions before the show.

Style Weekly: So how are the shows going so far?

Briscoe Hay: They have been going really well. It is just amazing the response that we have received so far. People have very fond memories of Pylon. We have been steadily adding songs to our setlist from the first two albums by Pylon since we first performed for 15 minutes at Art Rocks Athens Foundation event a little more than two years ago. We have a keyboardist, but he won't be able to make it for this short tour.

Has doing this tribute group surprised you or given you any insight or greater appreciation for Pylon that you may have missed back in the day?

It has made me think about the creative process and how unusual and different it is for different people. Pylon worked differently, but we were not trained musicians. I think it is more important to have the spirit of Pylon than play note perfect. The people that I am working with now are exceptional musicians and they have the greatest respect for the music that Pylon created. Back in the day, I had the insight even at that time, that some nights when we were performing live, we were greater that the sum of our parts. I felt lucky then and I do now to have the opportunity to play this music.

If you had to drop it in a nutshell, what made Athens special back then, and how would you say it’s changed today?

There was a real connection between the art and music scene. I think that still exists, but it is maybe skewed by the sheer number of bands who only view themselves as musicians. It was a slower paced place and there weren't as many clubs. We only had a few back then. It was more of a house party scene. Athens was a smaller community. But, I have visited many places across the US and it's still one of my favorite places anywhere and it's my home. - Style Weekly

"Last Night: The Pylon Reenactment Society @ Johnny Brenda’s"

September 26, 2016

By Chris Sikich

There’s another universe where the house playlist always features some Pylon. Out of Athens, Georgia, and predating R.E.M., Pylon came up with a rock/dance combination that still feels ahead of its time. When the Pylon Reenactment Society descended upon Johnny Brenda’s on Sunday night, Philadelphia entered this other universe.

This isn’t your typical tribute band; original Pylon frontwoman Vanessa Briscoe Hay also fronts this fiery reconstruction.

Things started off with a bang; namely “Cool” — the defining song of Pylon’s oeuvre. Immediately, the reenactors show off their skills: Kay Stanton on bass, Jason Ne Smith on guitar and Joe Rowe on drums. The crowd fed off their livewire energy during a set that spanned Pylon’s career. The show ended with “M-Train” and Hay swiveling the mic into the crowd. - Philly Voice


Still working on that hot first release.



When people talk about the beginnings of the music scene in Athens, GA the discussion usually begins “The B-52’s, R.E.M., ….” Those who know will continue the list, “Pylon.” They were every Athens band’s favorite Athens band. Their musical naïveté, southern upbringing, art school smarts, and house-party roots exploded together to create something quite improbably amazing, hitting the listener on mental, physical, and spiritual levels simultaneously. On the surface, their angular guitar parts and propulsive rhythm section had something in common with UK post-punk bands like Gang of Four and PiL. But Pylon was more fun and less studied. And they had a secret weapon in Vanessa Briscoe Hay, whose inimitable vocal textures and phrasing defined the band’s sound for most listeners.
Pylon’s celebrated history came to a sudden end with the death of iconic guitarist Randy Bewley in 2009. Pylon was and always will be Vanessa, Randy, Michael, and Curtis. It is a certainty that the band will not reform with a new guitarist.
But hey, kids. Everything is still cool! Vanessa has gathered members of Athens bands Casper & the Cookies, The Glands, and  pianist Damon Denton to create Pylon Reenactment Society. Is it a cover band if Vanessa is singing? Technically, it’s the next best thing. PRS are here to have fun and perform in the spirit of Pylon. Don’t be discouraged! Let’s dance!

Band Members