August 7, 2008
Pylon Back Together, and Will Be Playing the Werehouse
By Ed Bumgardner, Winston-Salem Journal, N.C.
Aug. 7--Bassist Michael Lachowski knows that his band Pylon, along with pals The B-52s and R.E.M., helped make Athens, Ga., the center of the alternative-rock universe. He also is quick to point out that Pylon, unlike the other two bands, was never really geared toward immersing itself into the dubious inner-workings of show business that brought about fame and fortune.
The band formed in 1979 and split in 1983 when it decided that making music and touring had ceased to be fun. The realization that the band's end might have been premature spurred a reunion in 1989 that led to another split in 1991. The band has again reunited; it will perform at The Werehouse as part of the Revolve Film and Music Festival.
"We've come to see Pylon's role in the bigger picture, but to be honest, we have never really felt like we were really a part of the whole show-business thing, and still don't, so nothing has really changed," Lachowski said. "We treated the entire music industry with detached indifference. We were more like these art-purist types who didn't want our specific palette of ideas and sounds to morph into something beyond the discipline of what we did."
He paused, then laughed. "To translate -- we were tourists who knew we weren't there to stay."
Pylon's influence was subtle, something that grew over time as the band's classic, near-perfect album Gravity, released in 1980, rolled through the rock underground. Lack of solos made each song an ensemble experience -- minimalist and precise. The band's determination to promote the value of space created an oddly angular breed of dance-rock, colored by splats of guitar, driven by a locked-in groove, deceptively simple and repetitive. The overall experience was trance-like and infinitely danceable.
Singer Vanessa Briscoe (now Briscoe-Hay) essentially invented the whisper-to-a-scream style of singing that has become common in alternative music. She wrapped melodies around bass lines, using her voice like paint applied to canvas. The seemingingly feral unpredictability of her singing created tension within orderly arrangements. It was a distinctive and original sound, born of experimentation, not direct musical influence. Nobody sounded like Pylon.
"I honestly can't tell you how we did it, outside of Michael and I took these ideas and played them for hours," said guitarist Randy Bewley, wryly. "Our binge rehearsals drove our future drummer, Curtis -- he lived upstairs from where we rehearsed -- so crazy that he finally brought some drums down to help us move on. Then Vanessa just dropped in.
"It was like, 'Oops. We made a 45 single. Oops, we made an album. Oops, we're in England. Hey, we're broke. Oops, it's not fun anymore. Let's stop.' So we did, 100 per cent. We never thought that what we had done made a difference."
Brewley and Lachowski intensely disliked the experience of opening for such bands as U2 and R.E.M., as they knew that they would be playing for mass audiences that did not know Pylon's music. "If someone didn't have sufficient indoctrination into what we did, they weren't gonna get it. And if they didn't get it -- well, I have heard boos." Lachowski said. "The other side of that is when we did open for like-minded bands -- Talking Heads, Gang of Four, PIL -- the experience was great. But it didn't happen much." Bewley said that the decision to go out again, came as more and more people told them how much Pylon had meant to them. "You never know when you are doing it if you are having an influence or not," Lachowski said. "There was a time when I would occasionally look back and think, 'What if?' But I'm over that. This time around, it's about having fun making music with each other.
Lachowski described the re-reunion as the "Pylon Reenactment Society," in that the band sat down and had to-re-learn its own material. "At first, we didn't know whether to laugh or cry," he said. "But it came back pretty quickly, and is extremely faithful to the way we have always played.
"I think we understand that Pylon has been in remission for so much of its life that we tend to live more in people's memory -- so we can't screw it up now.
"This music isn't just ours. It belongs to everybody who loves it."
Want to go?
Pylon will perform at 9:30 p.m. Friday at The Werehouse, 211 E. Third St., part of the Revolve Film and Music Festival (www.revolvefestival.com). Gravel Truck, with Mitch Easter and friends performing the songs of Let's Active, will open. Admission is $10. There are no advance ticket sales.
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