Pylon's living history
Vanessa Hay keeps the music of beloved Athens' legend alive
The story of how the Pylon Reenactment Society came into being is filled with twists and turns.
In the grand history of Athens, Georgia, and the golden era of Alternative rock that captured the world's attention in the late 1970s and early '80s, R.E.M. and the B-52's will be forever lauded, right alongside Pylon. Outside of Georgia, fame and notoriety eluded Pylon, but the group's blend of funky new wave rhythms and post-punk ingenuity on display in songs such as "Cool," "Crazy" and "M-Train" has proven equally timeless.
Nearly 40 years after the group's initial1978-1983 run, the band briefly reunited at the end of the decade, and then again in the mid 2000s. But the 2009 death of founding guitarist Randy Bewley ended Pylon for good. But the story doesn't end here.
In 2007, New York-based label DFA reissued Pylon's debut album, Gyrate, and in 2009 reissued the group's second album, Chomp.
A few years later, in 2014, the Art Rocks Athens Foundation, an organization whose mission is to unearth, catalog and showcase the art that came up around the scene in Athens, wanted some music for its inaugural event. Executive committee member Jason NeSmith reached out to Pylon vocalist Vanessa Briscoe Hay to perform. "I had already been playing with Vanessa in a band called Supercluster," NeSmith says. "And because she's so integral to the scene then and now it would have been wrong if I didn't offer her a place to make some kind of music."
Hay agreed that, in showing the connection between the Athens art and music scenes between '75 and '85, revisiting Pylon's music was in order.
The group she put together, which includes NeSmith (of Casper & the Cookies, Richard Lloyd's band and more) on guitar, along with bass player Kay Stanton (Casper & the Cookies), drummer Joe Rowe (of the Glands) and keyboard player Damon Denton, wouldn't be called Pylon. Honoring the memory of Bewley meant that using the old band's name "wouldn't have been right or fair," Hay says.
The Pylon Reenactment Society faithfully conjures the spirit of prime-era Pylon, and does it without slavishly copying the original music. "I'm using Randy's tunings, and we pay homage respectfully to that sound." NeSmith says. "But we're different people, and we also have our own idiosyncrasies."
Hay adds: "We had to totally re-learn all the material, so we jokingly called ourselves the Pylon Historical Reenactment Society."
After what was initially planned as a one-off gig, the band dropped the "Historical" from its name and began playing occasional shows. In 2016, PRS did two rounds of touring with Denver, Colorado, indie rock outfit Dressy Bessy, supporting its Kingsized album.
"We had so much fun doing those shows that we've intermittently booked some more," Hay says.
The group has traveled as far as Los Angeles, Detroit and Chicago. But the group isn't likely to mount a full tour anytime soon. "Two members have full time jobs," Hay says. "And almost everybody is involved in another project."
Pylon's music still sounds fresh in 2017. The group's stylistic and bass-heavy new wave songs sound just as relevant now as they did nearly 40 years ago."It's quality, startlingly new music even today," NeSmith says. "That's why DFA Records re-released their records."
Hay agrees. "If you're going to do it," she says, "you might as well have fun with it, right?"