Vanessa Briscoe Hay’s top 5 Pylon songs

Athens’ music icon reflects on a post-punk legacy

More than 35 years after Pylon released its debut album, Gyrate, the slithering bass lines, dance floor drums, and ramshackle guitar laid down by Athens’ seminal post-punk quartet still resonate with countless young bands. Pylon never reached the same level of notoriety as hometown peers R.E.M. and the B-52’s, despite those group’s singing their praise throughout their respective careers.

After three albums, Gyrate (1980), Chomp (1983), and Chain (1990), and playing occasional reunion shows, Pylon finally called it quits in 2009 following the death of guitarist Randy Bewley. This year, singer Vanessa Briscoe Hay has assembled a new cast of musicians, dubbed the Pylon Reenactment Society, featuring Jason NeSmith (guitar), Kay Stanton (bass), Joe Rowe (drums), and Damon Denton (keyboard) — Hay is the only original Pylon member. The mission: Breathe new life into Pylon’s songs. Before bringing the group to Atlanta, she took a few minutes to talk about her five favorite Pylon songs, and to muse on what they mean to her after all these years.

5) “Feast on My Heart” from the album Gyrate

I wrote these lyrics with a former roommate Craig Woodall. We opened Shakespeare at random to Titus Andronicus and translated the dialogue we found into modern words. The song itself is a true rocker and so much fun to perform. Guitarist Randy Bewley, Michael Lachowski and drummer Curtis Crowe blew me away every time we did this live. This was recorded at Stone Mountain Studio with Bruce Baxter and Kevin Dunn. Mission of Burma asked me to come into Atlanta to the Earl a few years ago just to sing this one song with them. I got off work, my husband Bob Hay drove me there, I sang it at the end of their first set and he drove me back to Athens because I had to get up a 5 a.m. for my job as a Registered Nurse. It was nice to see them again and an honor to be remembered by such a great band. I am retired now and I salute all you rockers and nurses everywhere! Two of the hardest and most rewarding jobs there are.

4) “Crazy” from the album Chomp

This one is fun to sing live. I was going through a lot of changes in my life at the time and I guess I was trying to give myself a little encouragement. We recorded two versions of this. One while we were first starting to record Chomp with Bruce Baxter for DB Records at this enormous studio in Atlanta which did religious choirs and such. At some point after that session, we started discussions about taking another approach to recording and asked Chris Stamey to be our producer and got his bandmate Gene Holder to come on as engineer at Mitch Easter’s studio. That board he had was on its last legs and about to be replaced, but they worked a sort of magic there by sheer will and using a new technology to us called the Noisegate to record and mix. R.E.M. went on to record this song and the money sure came in handy years later when I had a lot of medical bills from my daughter Victoria’s brain tumor surgery. R.E.M. continued to be huge supporters of us and performed that song live and asked us to open for them on a leg of the Green tour after we came out of our first retirement.

3) “Danger” from the album Gyrate

“Danger” was a song that was great to play live. It never came out exactly the same way. We recorded it at Stone Mountain Studio in 1980 for our first album, Gyrate, with Bruce Baxter and Kevin Dunn there. Love Tractor guitarist Mark Cline used to joke that he was going to pay someone to write more lyrics, but it obviously has all the lyrics it needs. Probably our best dance song live. James Murphy from DFA had it as part of his DJ set for years and that is what led them to asking if they could reissue our first two albums.

2) “K” from the album Chomp

This song that fell together by chance. The lyrics came from a scrabble game that bassist Michael Lachowski and I played together in a session where we were consciously trying to write lyrics. When we first performed this song live, it fell completely apart. We were sort of embarrassed, but our friend John Seawright came up to us after the show and was raving about that new song. We went back and listened to the tape of it and realized that it was better than what we were originally trying to do. So we spent hours dissecting that tape and learning the song the way it accidentally happened. Chris Stamey and Gene Holder from the DBs worked with us at Mitch Easter’s studio to make it happen in an interesting way.

1) “Cool” b/w “Dub” (7-inch)

When asked by producer and DB Records owner Danny Beard to record our first single in 1979, we rehearsed two other songs practically to death prior to going into the studio. When we heard them, we realized they weren’t fresh anymore and begged Danny for one more day of studio time to record two songs, which we had just written. They were recorded at Stone Mountain Studio (no longer exists) on Buford Highway on a board which it turns out the original version of “Freebird” was recorded on. The recording engineer was Bruce Baxter and his way of dealing with us was to try to get as faithful of a live sound as possible. Kevin Dunn was the producer and worked with Bruce to get the sound right. I was always singing in the “red zone.” Randy’s guitar line is one of the best he ever wrote. The other side of the single was “Dub” and we didn’t have an ending for it. They just shone a flashlight when we were running out of time. All our friends who were there for the recording came in and chanted, “breakfast.” That’s why the song has a fadeout. We were into everything being new and fresh and purposely left this off our first album. That mistake was rectified by the release of Gyrate + in 2007.