PYLON – Chomp (1983)

Hey Folks! I’ve been a lazy bum with this damn thing but fortunately, my friend Amanda decided she wanted to contribute and well, the next couple of posts will be from her. Enjoy!

Hi all. Thanks for having me, thanks for reading. I’m Amanda and I’ll be something of a color commentator for Goose in the coming weeks. Mainly I’m gonna write about southern bands because I’m southern and I’m doing this for free so I get to do whatever the fuck I want. Also – who wants to read another shitty think piece about Purple Rain? Not me. Anyway, here we go…

Experimental, manic, and bastions of their scene, Pylon blew me the fuck away the first time I heard them as a teenager. Lead singer Vanessa Briscoe Hay emotes and yells with ferocity, while the rest of the band churns out rhythms that are impossible not to dance to. It’s largely understood (in the south anyway), that Pylon is responsible for the post-punk revival of jangle pop… more on that later.

When it came to discovering a band from Athens, GA (no, not that band… or that other one) I was stoked for many reasons as 1. They came to fruition a mere 45 minutes from my hometown and 2. I fucking looooove experimental bands with accents… outsider art that feels like home.

Over the course of their very, very short tenure Pylon managed to churn out 3 stellar studio albums and countless singles and EPs. Their seminal record (to me, anyway) is 1983’s Chomp, a concise 12 song record that solidifies their place as alt-rock royalty. Chomp followed the local success of 1980’s Gyrate, and artfully expounded on the very Gen X notions of disinterest and melancholy.

Arguably the band’s most recognizable song, “Crazy” was indicative of the time. In it, Briscoe Hay sharply laments the ambiguity of the everyday:

You’re funny and you don’t know why

You’re funny and you can’t even cry

… Listen

Nothing can hurt you unless you want it to

There are no answers

Only reasons to be strong

By the end of the song her voice is frenzied, pleading. This antipathy is clear from the jump – the first song on the record, “K,” a driving, melodic reminder that “Life is nothing but death and taxes/ And all the trees that get the axes.”

Not all of Chomp’s songs are quite so biting. “No Clocks” is a sweet little reminder of the first days of a relationship, culling lyrical inspiration from The Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” “Italian Movie Theme” doesn’t have vocals at all – focusing instead on the superb guitar playing of Randy Bewley and the forceful, danceable rhythm section of Michael Lachowski and Curtis Crowe.

Pylon’s innovation and influence can’t be stated enough. Contemporaries of the wildly successful B-52s, Pylon was a delightful anthesis to their sugary, celebratory presence. They were danceable, yet dark – Briscoe Hay especially vocal about the jaded perils of daily life and working musicianship.

These sentiments are expressed most concisely in the 1987 cult film Athens, GA: Inside/Out. The band had since broken up, the members returning to their local jobs – Briscoe Hay working at a Xerox store and Lachowski managing a bike shop. When asked if she missed it, the curiously soft-spoken (compared to her wild stage persona) Briscoe Hay didn’t skip a beat: “No, not really… We quit while we were still having a good time… I never planned on being a musician – it’s not like any big loss in my life that I’m not in a band anymore.”

The final nail in the coffin was the band’s refusal to tour with U2. Lachowski explains: “we had a booking agent that called us up and was workin’ real hard … tryin’ to get us opening up for U2, couple of dates around and wanted us to open up for them on the whole tour if possible, but, uh, the story being that I guess is just that we weren’t too excited about the idea of opening up for ‘em… it was the wrong crowd for us…”

Fortunately, in 2016, The Pylon Reenactment Society (Bewley died in 2009 and the group refused to tour under their original name without him) did a small reunion tour to back something of a greatest hits album Pylon: Live. I got to meet and hang out with the band (my college Rhetoric professor was a longtime acquaintance of Michael’s) and they were the most lovely, welcoming group of people I’d ever met. Somewhere there’s a picture of me sitting on Vanessa Briscoe Hay’s lap, drunk and teary-eyed that I got to meet my hero. The show was at a smallish venue, The Earl in East Atlanta Village (tickets to the Athens show sold out immediately), and the whole production felt like a family reunion… but fun. Lots of strange old people with Deep South accents drinking, dancing, and talking about the good ol’ days.

Way, way ahead of their time and still fucking incredible, Pylon is well worth a listen. Here’s a wonderfully bonkers video for their song “Beep” directed by bassist Michael Lachowski and for y’all record freaks, here’s the album on Discogs (it’s well worth the $50 for an original pressing): https://www.discogs.com/Pylon-Chomp/release/1638701

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