Pylon never took themselves seriously. They tried out a few lead singers before they arrived at Vanessa Briscoe Hay, but she fit best.“We were going to go to New York and play a show, get written up in New York Rocker and then disband,” she said. “They told me this at the beginning. I was just hanging out, waiting on my first husband to graduate. I thought, ‘This won’t take too much time out of my life. This will be [a] fun thing to do while I’m hanging around town.”
Four art school students at the University of Georgia gave music a shot in 1978. It was around the time that The B-52s were introducing Athens to the world with “Rock Lobster.” They were both a bit before Love Tractor. And while R.E.M. took the Athens scene to new heights, Murmur, the band’s full-length debut, was released as Pylon was taking its first final bow.
“We made a pact in the very beginning that when it ceased to be fun, we would break up,” Hay said. “The whole thing was turning into more of a business venture. We played a few dates with U2 and turned down more. Our booking agent asked us, ‘If you’re not going to do that, why are you in this business?’”
Chomp was released and the band continued to tour. And when the tour concluded, the band parted ways, leaving behind a catalog that inspired R.E.M. Several Pylon covers would appear on R.E.M. records throughout the years, including “Crazy” from Chomp, which was a B-Side that is most easily accessible on Dead Letter Office.
When Randy Bewley died in 2009, “Pylon” was no more. Hay had given up on music entirely, and she was working as an RN (she has since retired). She married and raised a couple of daughters who are now 24 and 30.
“They tell me about things [in the Athens scene],” Hay said. “I didn’t know about the Elephant 6 Collective (Apples in Stereo, Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, Beulah, Elf Power and of Montreal, among others) until my older daughter, Hannah, told me about them. Olivia Tremor Control – that’s some of the best stuff that’s ever come out of anywhere.”
Hay’s music career gained new life in 2014, when Art Rocks Athens put together a show that explored the connection between the art and music of Athens between 1975-1985. Jason NeSmith, who had been in Supercluster with Hay was responsible for booking the musical acts, and he approached Hay about putting something together. She’d not performed since Bewley’s death, but she felt like Pylon needed to be represented at a show focusing on a window that was so integral to the band’s history.
NeSmith brought his band from Casper and the Cookies to back Hay, and for 20 minutes, the collaborative performed Pylon songs.
“I decided, since it wasn’t Pylon and I was the only original member, we should call it something new,” she said. “The third time Pylon had gotten together, we were calling ourselves – at rehearsal – the Pylon Historical Reenactment Society. Because we were relearning all of our material. So I thought I’d shorten it – because it wasn’t Pylon; but it was Pylon music.”
A year passed, and the Art Rocks show returned. NeSmith again asked Hay to perform. “You can have a longer set this time,” NeSmith insisted. “Fred Schneider [of the B-52s] is coming down.”
NeSmith and Hay recruited a new band, and Athens loved it. Cindy Wilson [B-52s] and Mike Mills [R.E.M.] were there. It led to several dates with Dressy Bessy; which led to a version of the Pylon Reenactment Society playing a few shows each year since.
NeSmith, Kay Stanton (Supercluster), Joe Rowe (Love Tractor) and Damon Denton (Big Atomic) will back Hay in the version of the Pylon Reenactment Society that comes to Saturn this week. It’s Hay’s first trip to Birmingham since the original incarnation of Pylon, which played that show at The Nick.
“It was near an expressway,” Hay recalled. “And I think there was chicken wire.”
Pylon Reenactment Society came to Saturn on Thursday, July 27. Lolly and the Pops opened.