Inspired by original band, Pylon Reenactment Society releases own new album

Pylon Reenactment Society is Gregory Sanders (from left), Kay Stanton, Jason NeSmith and Vanessa Briscoe Hay.

Credit: Amy Ware

Credit: Amy Ware

Pylon Reenactment Society is Gregory Sanders (from left), Kay Stanton, Jason NeSmith and Vanessa Briscoe Hay.

In the pantheon of legendary bands from Athens, Pylon is often cited as one of the most iconic. The band was originally formed as a short-term project in 1979 by Randall Bewley, Michael Lachowski, Curtis Crowe and Vanessa Briscoe Hay with the intent to play a show in New York, get some press and then dissolve. But the four University of Georgia art students inadvertently created a unique and influential sound that ultimately inspired several generations of musicians.

“The four of us were Pylon,” vocalist Hay said recently, as she reflected on the band’s legacy. Active in three distinct eras, the group’s career officially ended in 2009. “When Randy died, that was the end of the band, but people kept asking about it and wanting to buy the records.”

A decade ago, Hay began performing some of the band’s material as a nod to the legacy. Reissue campaigns by the DFA and New West labels also made most of the Pylon catalog available again as interest continued to grow. “I didn’t want people to forget Pylon and I’m glad they didn’t,” she said. “Playing those songs was an inspiration to me personally.”

Athens-based band Pylon Reenactment Society, photographed at Muir Woods National Monument Park in January while on a West Coast tour. From left: Vanessa Briscoe Hay, Kay Stanton, Jason NeSmith and Gregory Sanders. (Courtesy of Hana Hay)

Credit: Hana Hay

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Credit: Hana Hay

Eventually christening the project Pylon Reenactment Society (or PRS, for short), Hay revisited the band’s catalog, joined by a core group of reverential fans. Today, the songs continue to be reborn for audiences that may not have been aware of Pylon in it’s earlier incarnations. But Hay is quick to note that Pylon Reenactment Society is not a tribute band, it’s a stand-alone project.

“That’s why we called it PRS in the first place. It was from a joke we’d made back when Pylon had gotten back together to play in 2004. But now, we’re not trying to be Pylon because that would be impossible. You see a lot of these ‘60s and ‘70s bands still calling themselves by their old name and they aren’t those bands anymore, either. That was never our intention but it’s still nice to see people reacting to songs from 40 years ago.”

Added guitarist Jason NeSmith, “It was a challenge. But we weren’t trying to sound exactly like those records because no one can play those songs like Randy, Michael and Curtis, so we didn’t even think of it that way. We just used their sound as a guide more than anything else.”

The nostalgia factor is only a part of the appeal, Hay added. “A lot of the people we see at shows probably weren’t even born yet when the records were new,” Hay said and laughed. “But Pylon is our guiding star, and we are as inspired by it as anyone else.”

“Pylon is our guiding star, and we are as inspired by it as anyone else,” said Vanessa Briscoe Hay, shown here with the original Pylon lineup: Randy Bewley (from left), Curtis Crowe, Hay and Michael Lachowski. Photo: Brian Shanley

Credit: Brian Shanley

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Credit: Brian Shanley

Before the pandemic, the current lineup — bassist Kay Stanton and drummer Gregory Sanders along with Hay and NeSmith — began to add new material to the shows.

While revisiting the original tunes, the band began to jam and had begun to explore new material at rehearsals and soundchecks.

“That was interesting,” Stanton said. “I’d played with both Vanessa and Jason before this band, and we have our own sound. Yes, it’s informed by some of the same influences as Pylon were, but I think we sound more like ourselves than anyone else. We’re not copying anyone. In Pylon, Michael was a truly unique musician with his own musical language. I don’t think it’s possible to duplicate anything he wrote.”

Pylon Reenactment Society members Gregory Sanders (clockwise from top left), Kay Stanton, Jason NeSmith and Vanessa Briscoe Hay pose for an update of Pylon's four-portrait cover for its 1980 album "Gyrate."

Credit: Photo by Keith Bennett

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Credit: Photo by Keith Bennett

As new songs continued to pop up in the live sets, the band slowly began to record them. “It’s been amazing to see the way the shows have changed over the years,” Sanders said. “I am thrilled to be able to add to the history of the original material by playing [the newer material]. To jam out the new stuff is such an incredible responsibility because we’re all fans of the [original] songs. Now our current sets are about half older stuff and half new, and the reaction has just been incredible. It all seems to work together as this new thing.”

This week PRS will release its first full-length album via Athens-based Strolling Bones Records. “Magnet Factory” is a collection of 11 tracks that deftly recall the kinetic New Wave energy of the original Pylon ethos, tempered by a decidedly pop mindset. Nine of the songs are new, and two — “3x3″ and “Heaven (In Your Eyes)” — were written by Pylon’s original lineup in 1979. Hay prefers to call them cover songs.

“Jason found those when we were working on the box set [the 4-LP “Pylon Box”] a few years ago. We wrote them for our first album, and we’d play them live sometimes. After we listened to the old tapes, they seemed to just fit into what we’re doing now — and so I guess if we’re gonna cover somebody, why not Pylon?” she laughed. But even the archival songs resonate with the current sound of the new combo.

After a decade of revisiting her former band’s legacy, Hay said there’s no reason to live in the past. “I’m happy to be in a band that continues to grow. That’s why we started this whole thing, to play live, and now we’re touring more than we ever have before. We’ve re-created as we reenacted, so we may have to update the name!”


MUSIC PREVIEW

Pylon Reenactment Society

Strolling Bones Records presents the “Magnet Factory” album release party. 8 p.m. Feb. 9. $10 in advance. Hendershot’s, 237 Prince Ave., Athens. hendershotsathens.com

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