Pylon Reenactment Society keeps the fun-first art-pop band alive
Vanessa Briscoe Hay is a retired nurse with quite a reputation. In March, mainstream-culture magazine Paste ranked her No. 24 out of “The 25 Best Frontwomen of All Time,” alongside Stevie Nicks, Karen O and Beyoncé. She played house parties with the B-52s before they blew up, and shared a stage with U2 on its first U.S. stadium tour.
Now, with two adult children and free time, Briscoe Hay, 63, says she wants to get the band back together. More importantly, she wants to have fun.
“The motivation for me is to find something to delight in every day cuz I’m getting old,” she says with a laugh. “I just want to enjoy my time here on Earth, making a little art and a little crafts. Making new friends. Getting to travel a little bit. I think it’s all good.”
The band is Pylon Reenactment Society. The band was Pylon, the post-punk four-piece who are synonymous with the late ‘70s music scene in Athens, Georgia. Whose song “Crazy” was covered by R.E.M., whose history is colored with cordial breakups and reunions until 2009, when guitarist Randall Bewley passed away after a heart attack and the troupe called it quits entirely.
The sole original member of Pylon, Briscoe Hay has been the driving force in reviving the old band’s tunes through its Reenactment Society iteration which, formed in 2014, grew from a tribute-esque band into a wholly new project.
“It’s not Pylon Jr. anymore,” Briscoe Hay says. “We do have our own sound now, and now we’re writing new material, so it’s exciting.”
Listen to “Messenger,” PRS’ newly released single, and you’ll think: post-punk. A danceable backbeat, a poppy bass-line, a radio-simple guitar lick on low overdrive, and airy synth keys united by Briscoe Hay’s Southern-tinged howls.
Her singing style is unique enough to warrant a spot on an all-time list: playful, sometimes atonal and always freewheeling.
“I don’t come from right field or center field. I come from left field I guess,” she said. “I didn’t try to sound like anybody [starting out] because I didn’t know how to do that.”
Good times were the original motivation for starting the band in 1979, Briscoe Hay says. Art school classmates at the University of Georgia in Athens, their goal was to get written up in the now-defunct punk magazine New York Rocker, then break up. Instead, they were propelled by fellow Athenians the B-52s.
The band peaked by their second album, 1983’s Chomp, where they were asked to open for U2. Night after night, audiences didn’t bite, and displeased, they decided to get off the tour and disband.
"[Our booking agent] asked us, ‘Why are you in this business if you don’t want to take an offer like this?'” she says, “We started questioning ourselves, ‘Well why are we in this business? Well, maybe we shouldn’t be in this business, we’re not businesspeople.'”
With a full album planned for the next year, PRS’ guiding star is ironically Pylon.
“It’s gotta have that great bass drum sound,” she says. “It’s gotta leave some space sometimes. It’s gotta be a little quirky, too. It’s not all about love or hate or baby daddy or baby momma. Whatever it is lyrically it’s gotta come from a more artistic bent, too.”
But without being pretentious, she added. “It’s also gotta be fun.”