Dusty Gannon aka Goth Dad brings humor, therapy, glam to Athens music

Dusty Gannon, also know as Goth Dad, practices with his band, Vision Video, in the week leading up to AthFest, the beloved outdoor music festival in Athens. Vision Video headlined the Saturday night performances for the first time, a big step for the band. which includes bass player Dan Geller, Emily Fredock on vocals and synthesizer and drummer Jason Fusco.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Combined ShapeCaption
Dusty Gannon, also know as Goth Dad, practices with his band, Vision Video, in the week leading up to AthFest, the beloved outdoor music festival in Athens. Vision Video headlined the Saturday night performances for the first time, a big step for the band. which includes bass player Dan Geller, Emily Fredock on vocals and synthesizer and drummer Jason Fusco. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Gannon’s band Vision Video revives ‘80s music, and makes darkness smile.

Vision Video, Athens’ favorite glammed-up Goth band, had just launched into the encore at their Saturday night AthFest headlining show when their audience erupted into screams and tears.

The tears came from 28-year-old twins Danielle and Allison Barrow, who heard the first pounding measures of “Transmission” by Joy Division and were overwhelmed.

Combined ShapeCaption
Vision Video perform as headliners on Saturday night at the AthFest outdoor music festival. Photos: Garrett Cardoso

Credit: Garrett Cardoso

Vision Video perform as headliners on Saturday night at the AthFest outdoor music festival. Photos: Garrett Cardoso

Credit: Garrett Cardoso

Combined ShapeCaption
Vision Video perform as headliners on Saturday night at the AthFest outdoor music festival. Photos: Garrett Cardoso

Credit: Garrett Cardoso

Credit: Garrett Cardoso

“We listened to punk music when we were young,” Danielle explained after the show, “so it was just...you know Joy Division will probably never play again, so it was just a joy to hear it here.”

The post-punk sensibility of Vision Video, led by the charismatic Dusty Gannon, is like a spooky, bouncy transmission from the 1980s, an echo of black lipstick, dark lyrics and totally danceable beats.

For some it’s a sentimental throwback to a fabulous decade of their youth. “I grew up with the whole punk scene,” said Pete Clark, as he stood outside the Vision Video merchandise table. A native of Liverpool, he said he is “on the other side of 40.” Clark saw Joy Division when they were still called Warsaw. Now an Athens resident, he felt the love, dancing on Hull Street with his American wife, Adrienne Quintana, to the sounds of Vision Video playing the original tune, “Kandahar.”

Combined ShapeCaption
Vision Video perform as headliners on Saturday night at the AthFest outdoor music festival. Photos: Garrett Cardoso

Credit: Garrett Cardoso

Vision Video perform as headliners on Saturday night at the AthFest outdoor music festival. Photos: Garrett Cardoso

Credit: Garrett Cardoso

Combined ShapeCaption
Vision Video perform as headliners on Saturday night at the AthFest outdoor music festival. Photos: Garrett Cardoso

Credit: Garrett Cardoso

Credit: Garrett Cardoso

Many of Clark and Quintana’s generation have shared this feeling with their children, which is why her daughter Tess Hegarty joined in the street dance, while Vision Video sweated on stage. “We used to listen to it to annoy our parents,” said Quintana. “Now we listen to it with our kids.”

For the fans, the music is a form of sweet transport, but for Gannon, 35, his music is a matter of survival. “This band, the music itself, has literally saved my life,” he said.

At war

A military brat born in Germany, Dustin Gannon moved around a lot and generally felt like an oddball wherever he went.

When his parents relocated to a rural area outside Athens, he showed up at Oglethorpe County High School wearing eyeliner, drawing predictable commentary from the good old boys.

He didn’t care. “I saw through ... the bully mentality,” said Gannon. “When people see that you’re unflappable, that you don’t care what they think of you, it takes the air out of their (efforts) to chastise you.”

On the other hand, school was boring, and the learning was minimal. He dropped out of school to go to work full-time, and eventually, like his father, he enlisted.

In 2012, he found himself in Afghanistan, in charge of a rifle platoon patrolling Kandahar on foot.

While Gannon scribbled down song lyrics about his experiences there, he didn’t realize the impact that living in a combat zone had on his mental health until he was back in the U.S., working as a firefighter and an EMT.

He spoke about that moment, and the beginnings of Vision Video, after a rehearsal at his Athens bungalow, where a hearse is parked outside and the walls inside are decorated with framed horror movie posters, many from the 1980s (”Re-Animator,” “Videodrome,” “Nightmare on Elm Street.”)

Combined ShapeCaption
Dusty Gannon, leader of the band Vision Video, got a certain amount of grief from the men at his day job as a firefighter, but then a few fellows from Station 18 showed up at his AthFest concert. Photo: Dusty Gannon

Credit: Dusty Gannon

Dusty Gannon, leader of the band Vision Video, got a certain amount of grief from the men at his day job as a firefighter, but then a few fellows from Station 18 showed up at his AthFest concert. Photo: Dusty Gannon

Credit: Dusty Gannon

Combined ShapeCaption
Dusty Gannon, leader of the band Vision Video, got a certain amount of grief from the men at his day job as a firefighter, but then a few fellows from Station 18 showed up at his AthFest concert. Photo: Dusty Gannon

Credit: Dusty Gannon

Credit: Dusty Gannon

“In 2018, when I was writing the music for the first record, I was broken, I was mentally ill,” said Gannon, cuddling his cat, Lt. Ellen Ripley. Practicing the tunes from “Inked in Red” with his bandmates, Emily Fredock (keyboards), Dan Geller (bass) and Jason Fusco (drums), “it really allowed me to keep my head above water.”

Goth returns

The music also struck a chord with an Athens audience. The band’s performance as the Saturday headliner at the beloved AthFest demonstrates that they’ve leveled up, and Gannon gooses the attention with leather booty shorts, fishnet stockings and elaborate makeup.

The message he sends is “be happy being weird,” and Danielle Barrow finds that message reassuring. “He’s so comfortable wearing, whatever, that it’s a nice support for people who are different,” she said.

Combined ShapeCaption
Emily Fredock is a classically-trained pianist who plays synthesizer and sings with Vision Video. Photos: Garrett Cardoso

Credit: Garrett Cardoso

Emily Fredock is a classically-trained pianist who plays synthesizer and sings with Vision Video. Photos: Garrett Cardoso

Credit: Garrett Cardoso

Combined ShapeCaption
Emily Fredock is a classically-trained pianist who plays synthesizer and sings with Vision Video. Photos: Garrett Cardoso

Credit: Garrett Cardoso

Credit: Garrett Cardoso

Gannon grew up listening to The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees and it is the music that he still loves.

He also loves to put on a show, hence the heavy mascara and black lipstick. “Athens is famous for bands that just stand there,” he said, and he sees things from the viewpoint of the ticket-buyer: “If I’m going to pay for an experience, it should be exciting.”

Gannon is adept at enlarging his audience through clever videos posted on Instagram and TikTok. About a year ago his online audience witnessed a new wrinkle in the Gannon persona, when he introduced Goth Dad.

A kind of “Father Knows Best” figure with a “don’t ya know” midwestern accent, Goth Dad dispenses corny jokes while in full Alice Cooper makeup. The contrast is hilarious and sometimes subtly reassuring, especially when he tells his “Baby Bats” how much he loves them. (Here’s a Goth Dad joke: “The other day a guy tried to sell me a casket, and I told him, ya know that’s the LAST thing I need!”)

Goth Dad had his own panel at Dragon Con and the lines were out the door. It’s a fun act, and though Gannon isn’t sure how long he will keep it up, it has helped win him hundreds of thousands of followers online.

His bandmates say they are confident that their music will satisfy any curious Goth Dad converts who show up at gigs. “It’s a welcome challenge to win people over with the music,” said Fusco, “because he’s already won them over with the personality.”

The music features lead vocals and a wash of guitar from Gannon, harmony vocals and synthesizer from Fredock and propulsive bass and tom-tom-heavy drums from Geller and Fusco. The dark lyrics (“Draw your breath and say goodbye/It’s such a beautiful day to die”) sneak in under guise of dance-floor rockers.

Combined ShapeCaption
Dusty Gannon began writing lyrics to songs when he was stationed in Afghanistan as leader of a 30-person rifle platoon. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtma

Dusty Gannon began writing lyrics to songs when he was stationed in Afghanistan as leader of a 30-person rifle platoon. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtma

Combined ShapeCaption
Dusty Gannon began writing lyrics to songs when he was stationed in Afghanistan as leader of a 30-person rifle platoon. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtma

Credit: Jenni Girtma

Currently Gannon has taken a hiatus from his job as a firefighter and the band is touring to support a new album, “Haunted Hours,” which will bring them to Terminal West on July 14.

Is it Goth? Of course it is, though it’s energized with a party beat. Gannon clearly nods to his predecessors when he says, “it was time maybe for this kind of music to come back, to assuage people’s existential dread with the world.”


MUSIC PREVIEW

Vision Video featuring Dusty Gannon

8 p.m. July 14. $15-18. Terminal West, King Plow Arts Center, 887 W. Marietta St., Atlanta. 404-876-5566, terminalwestatl.com.