Posts Tagged ‘Gyrate’

In October 1979, 23-year-old Dacula, Ga., native Vanessa Briscoe was just biding her time in Athens after finishing her art degree at the University of Georgia, waiting for her husband to graduate so they could move to Atlanta or New York or whatever other metropolitan city came calling. She was working one of her two jobs, answering phones in the catalogue department of the downtown JC Penney, when her friend Randy Bewley showed up to ask a question she’d never imagined being asked.

“Would you like to come and audition tonight for our band?”

Four decades and three careers later, she’s never moved away from Athens, though that band, influential post-punk quartet Pylon, provided the chance to spend plenty of time in other cities.

The history of Pylon has been compiled into Pylon Box, a 4-LP set with art book released earlier this month, capturing most of the band’s music, posters and story told by music journalist Stephen Deusner, along with remembrances from many of the musicians who were shaped by those early recordings: members of R.E.M., Sleater-Kinney, The B-52s, Deerhunter, Sonic Youth, Mission of Burma, Gang of Four, The dB’s and others.

The original idea for Pylon was more performance-art project than serious musical ambition. The college town’s first breakout stars The B-52s had just left for New York, leaving a huge hole in the budding music scene. When art students and the more eclectic townies wanted to throw a party, they needed someone to step in and play. Bewley played guitar with his fellow art major Michael Lachowski on bass and upstairs neighbour Curtis Crowe on drums. When Vanessa (now Briscoe Hay) showed up for that first audition, she had no idea what to expect.

“They had a music-stand setup which had an orange vinyl notebook, which was appropriate, and it has some lyrics in it,” she said. “The band didn’t have a name at this point, either. They’d play a song and I’d look at the lyrics. And I was thinking, whoever wrote these lyrics wasn’t really thinking about how this melody went. I just tried to make it fit—I might extend the word or I might shorten it or whatever. All I was trying to do was trying to find my little place inside this machine that they had.”

The next day, Bewley called to tell her she was in and to explain the premise of the band. “What we’re planning to do,” he said, “is to go to New York, get written up in New York Rocker and then disband.” “I was like, ‘Wow, that’s not gonna take up too much time out of my life.”

In a way, she was right. After playing several shows around town—including the second-ever show at Crowe’s new 40 Watt Club—the band travelled to New York at the invitation of The B-52s, even getting a mention in New York Rocker. Pylon burned bright for a few years, touring the U.S. and putting out an EP and two full-length studio albums, 1980’s Gyrate and 1983’s Chomp before the band members surprised everyone but each other by calling it quits soon after getting invited to open for U2. Briscoe Hay has no regrets.

“I was super happy to make that decision at the time,” she says. “You know, we wildly exceeded our expectations. I mean, we didn’t ever have what you hear about all these bands on Behind the Music. I just look at that and go, ‘Gosh, I really got off easy.’ We never had internal stressors and nobody was addicted to heroin. Nobody ran off with somebody else’s wife. We were really good friends. We still are. I think, in retrospect, it was a good life decision.” Instead, she got a job managing a Kinko’s in Athens. She had her first daughter in 1987. And when interest in the band picked up again after R.E.M. covered “Crazy”—and drummer Bill Berry declared Pylon the best rock ’n’ roll band in America—she had another chance to get up on stage and channel the energy of a dozen whirling dervishes with a reunion in 1989, opening a stretch of shows on R.E.M.’s Green tour.

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“I think it was Michael [Stipe] that talked with the guys, and they said ‘We think the world might be ready for you now.’ And I was like, ‘I’ve got a toddler. I have a full-time job. So if we’re gonna do this, this is going to have to be done businesslike. We did some really high-profile shows. We attended the last leg of the U.S. tour of Green with R.E.M. and went out there with B-52s and played some festivals.”

I got to see one of those shows at the relocated 40 Watt—maybe the same show that a 17-year-old Corin Tucker watched from just outside. “Vanessa was so lively onstage,” she recalls in the book that accompanies the new box set. “She gave this really visceral, physical performance that was different from anything I’d ever seen before. Music was so terrible at that time, especially hair metal where women were only sex objects and had no agency in the musical world. So seeing this band that was fronted by a woman who was such a protagonist onstage was so exciting to me as a teenager. That’s when Tracy [Sawyer] and I said we’re starting our own band! And we went back and started Heavens to Betsy.”

Briscoe Hay was a master at shifting from a calm, quiet demeanor onstage to all-out thrashing, screaming and amping up the crowd. And Bewley’s guitar served as the perfect complement.

“‘Feast on My Heart’ made it onto a lot of mixtapes I made,” Tucker’s Sleater-Kinney bandmate Carrie Brownstein also wrote in the new book. “It has a bluntness to it, but the metaphor is so vivid. It just seemed like that’s what we were all trying to say. This is a place of rawness and earnestness that we’re all trying to get at. We were all trying to honour these parts of ourselves and share them with each other. With Sleater-Kinney, if I was trying to convey an idea to Corin, sometimes we would just sit around and listen to Pylon and talk about things. And we returned to Pylon again and again for inspiration over the years, both vocally and in terms of playing guitar. There’s an endless supply of great riffs in these songs, because the guitar doesn’t have to get out of the way of the vocals like it does in so much blues and rock music. In Pylon songs the riff repeats as a counterpoint to Vanessa’s vocals, so they’re competing or creating a conversation. It adds tension to the song. That’s what Sleater-Kinney were always trying to do—make the songs sound more dire, more like conversations.”

In 1991, after Briscoe Hay gave up her job to focus on the band, Bewley decided he didn’t want to continue. Pylon operated as a four-way dictatorship, so if one member was done, they all were. Instead she took the opportunity to go back to school.

“I didn’t really like managing a store that much,” she says. “I wanted to do something that maybe has an impact on people’s lives. So I thought about teaching and nursing. We have a lot of both in both sides of my family. And I was like, ‘Well, teaching would be easy.’ I just had to get a teaching certificate because I had a BFA already. But I tried substitute teaching to be sure I could do it, and I failed miserably at it.” Her principal said that was because she smiled too much. But she had cousins and an aunt who were nurses, and she’d helped members of her family recovering from strokes. After some more schooling, in 1994 she became a registered nurse, a job from which she recently retired after 21 years. There were other Pylon shows along the way, and it was Bewley who got things started again in 2004.

“He came and talked to us individually and said, ‘Hey guys, I really miss y’all. Can we get together just for fun?’ And so we did and we played some shows. We flew to New York and California and put out the DFA reissues. And then he passed away in 2009. And that was the end of that.” Without one of its members, there couldn’t be a Pylon. Briscoe Hay has performed periodically since 2014 as the Pylon Reenactment Society with some other Athens musicians, even releasing a couple of singles and playing Primavera Sound in Barcelona.

But the music lives on in Pylon Box, which includes bonus tracks like an untitled instrumental recorded in 1978, before Briscoe Hay had even joined the band, and Razz Tape, which predated the band’s first EP. The band has had a lasting impact on countless musicians, and Briscoe Hay didn’t have to give up all aspects of her life to do it.

And then they quietly called it a night, destined to be an obscure if important footnote at a key moment in music history. A new box preserves the legacy, the rare band that didn’t release a single throwaway. It could be argued that Pylon pulled the plug too soon, but I’m grateful for what they left behind. It’s never too late to fall in love, again, with a great band.

gyrate (2020 reissue)

And how about Pylon? You remember Pylon, right? Oh lord. Pull up a chair… While the B52’s were the first to break the seal on Athens, Georgia as a hotbed of artistic intrigue in the late-70’s, and R.E.M. would become the cities most famous sons, Pylon were arguably the city’s favourite band and deepest influence on their emerging peers.

In the late 1970’s Athens, Georgia was buzzing with a raw but sophisticated music scene.

The turn of the decade began producing new sounds from bands like the B-52’s, R.E.M. and art-rock luminaries, Pylon. before they were a band, Pylon were art-school students at the university of Georgia: four kids invigorated by big ideas about art and creativity and society. in 1980 the band released its first record, “Gyrate” and began touring across the country in support of the release. they would soon develop a following across the country. shortly thereafter, Pylon went back into the studio. they gleefully pulled their songs apart and put them back together in new shapes, revealing a band of self-proclaimed non-musicians who had transformed gradually but noticeably into real ones. Now more than three decades later, both studio recordings have been remastered from their original audio tapes and are set for release on New West Records

Athens, Georgia may have been the breeding ground for the B-52’s, but in 1978 it was, for the most part, still a sleepy college town with few places for bands to play when Pylon began to cohere. (It’s worth remembering that the B-52’s had almost exclusively played house parties before moving to New York and becoming a sensation.) Like more than a few great and original groups, Pylon came together without much of a support system or many first hand influences; they were young people creating their own art and making their own fun with it. While it wasn’t their first release (the epochal “Cool”/”Dub” single preceded it by seven months), 1980’s Gyrate caught Pylon on tape when they were still clearly fascinated with their own creative possibilities, though they were tight enough to sound elemental and straightforward rather than amateurish. The skittery chiming of Randy Bewley’s guitar and the expressive whisper-to-a-scream report of Vanessa Briscoe Hay’s vocals give this music plenty of brains, and the lean, minimal rhythms generated by bassist Michael Lachowski and drummer Curtis Crowe lend it all a strong, muscular body; at a time when America was just falling out of love with disco, Gyrate was a reminder that there was more than one way to make music for dancing. As smart as this music was, it was also fun and engaging in a way that many of their peers and followers were not.

Gyrate is full of joy and subtle, surreal wit, and if it sometimes sounds like the work of arty grad students, they’re still grad students who want to cut loose and get in the groove, and that’s exactly what they do. Gyrate is a classic touchstone of the American underground scene of the ’80s, and it sounds as fresh, challenging, and exciting as the day it was released. R.E.M. would become a lot more famous, but Pylon were the band that made the world aware that there was something remarkable happening in Athens, and this was their first triumph.

Pylon band photo

Athens, Georgia art rock group Pylon have announced a new 4xLP box set. “Pylon Box” arrives November 6th via New West Records. The set includes remastered versions of both of their studio albums—1980’s “Gyrate” and 1983’s “Chomp”—as well as the group’s first-ever recording, Razz Tape, and more. Listen to “The Human Body” (from Razz Tape) and a live version of “3 x 3”, and scroll down to see a teaser video for the box set. band that married post-punk, new wave, dance and funk, will be celebrated this fall with a new box vinyl box set that collects newly remastered pressings of their first two albums and adds two records of rarities and early recordings.

The songs on Gyrate and Chomp have been remastered from the original tapes and pressed to vinyl for the first time in roughly 35 years. 18 of Pylon Box’s 47 tracks are previously unreleased recordings. A limited number of box sets will be issued with coloured vinyl.

The set also includes an 11-song collection titled Extra, which features a recording from the group before frontwoman Vanessa Briscoe Hay joined the band, as well as a 200-page hardbound, full-colour book with archival images. It features writing by the B-52’s’ Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson, members of Gang of Four, Sleater-Kinney’s Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein, Steve Albini, and more. Each copy of “Pylon Box” will be autographed by Pylon’s surviving members: Vanessa Briscoe Hay, Michael Lachowski, and Curtis Crowe.

Pylon spoke about the new box, their influences early on, and more. Here’s an excerpt of what Vanessa Briscoe Hay said about Razz Tape:

Chris [Razz] wanted to record us. He’d recorded us at Chapter Three or at a party or something. He was just a nut about wanting to record things. And so we said sure. I don’t remember that we ever used this for anything, but it was late summer or early fall because it was so warm. I remember that.

I was set up in the hall outside of where [Michael] and Curtis and Randy were. And he kept the tape machine in the hall, which was outside of Michael in my studio, and it was also the band’s practice space. He set the mic up for me in the hall. There were two mics in the room: one was for the drums and the other mic was shared by both the bass and the guitar. Y’all couldn’t see me; I couldn’t see you.

We had some songs that we were trying out that were very recently written. “Read a Book” has the instrumental version; I hadn’t written the lyrics for it, yet. And we’d just written “Cool.” We just went through it. We just plowed through it. It’s not overdubbed, but that’s just what it is. And I cringe at some of the things, but the overall sound and feeling of it is very spontaneous. It’s a beautiful record just because of that and, of course, we threw out a bunch of those songs and they were never recorded.

Pylon formed in 1979 at the University of Georgia. They were contemporaries of Athens groups like the B-52’s, R.E.M., and others.
Pylon Box’ is coming November 6th, Colour Vinyl Version Limited to 500 Copies Worldwide.
This comprehensive set includes:

The studio albums ‘Gyrate’ and ‘Chomp’ – newly remastered from the original tapes, and available on vinyl for the first time in more than 30 years
‘Extra’ – a collection of singles, B-sides, rarities and live recordings
‘Razz Tape’ – the first-ever Pylon recording, a 13-song unreleased session that predates our 1979 debut single, “Cool”/”Dub”
Plus a 200 page, full-colour, hardbound book featuring a treasure trove of never before seen images and artifacts from the band’s personal archives, and writings by R.E.M., Kate Pierson of The B-52’s, Corin Tucker & Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney, Steve Albini, Jon King & Hugo Burnham of Gang of Four, and many more
47 tracks including 18 unreleased recordings
‘Gyrate’ and ‘Chomp’ are also available in exclusive coloured vinyl from New West Records (clear editions), Vinyl Me, Please (marble handpour editions), and from independent record stores (opaque red and teal editions).

”Like the Velvet Underground before them, Pylon could be your favourite band’s favourite band.”
NPR Music

Pylon Box Set