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 Everett True

Song of the day – 363: Supercluster (a love song to Athens GA, part one)

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I dunno, man. There are crap ways to write emails to Collapse Board, and there are cool ways. And then there are ways so fucking super-cool, they leave me near breathless.

Take this one from Athens, GA band Supercluster, for example. I’m just going to go ahead and reproduce the entire email, if you don’t mind. I’m that taken by it.

From: Vanessa Briscoe Hay

Hey Collapse Board:

I just looked at collapse board for the first time to check out Tunabunny’s video and thought you might want to look at our video that just came out this past week. Forgive me if I am over reaching here. We don’t use a publicist and I am sending information to a few places/blogs that I personally like. I like your site.

My daughter Hana (Green Thrift Grocery) shot this video and edited it using her sony handycam. We put out a call for friends to dress up like zombies and shot it the next day.

The song was written by seminal Athens, GA band the Side Effects in 1980 who were notable for debuting the same night as REM. Although they obviously never achieved REMs success, they are fondly remembered in the Athens community. It is side B of a single that we released on Cloud Recordings this spring.

Supercluster are a multi generational Athens, GA recording collective who include members of other Athens bands including Pylon, Casper & the Cookies, New Sound of Numbers, Squalls, Of Montreal, North Georgia Bluegrass.

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OK. Now, apologies if I’ve embarrassed anyone by reprinting this email without permission, but let me try and explain several thoughts running through my head as I read through this …

  • Ain’t Athens GA neat? Confused, crazy, wired, dorky … do ALL the bands there sound this fun? Man, it seems like folk there really know how to have themselves a time. No one ever comes to visit, right? The retards kids have to learn how to amuse themselves. Ain’t no one gonna pop their balloons.
  • This sound is so glorious! It’s like if (early) B-52s and Pylon remained the best-known bands from Athens instead of … goddammit, what was that band’s name again? Coldplay?
  • I love music that confuses me.
  • Anyone who has the immense good sense to namecheck Tunabunny to me deserves a listen whatever. I was going to save the following for a future post but … fuck it. Any excuse to run a Tunabunny video.

  • Man, that guitar sound is fine. Just cool and annoying like that issue of Bitchy Bitch you ain’t NEVER gonna track down.
  • Man, love the rasp in the voice, the stuttering drums.
  • Man, that vocalist sure is fine – sounds uncannily like the chick from Pylon, actually. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all. One of the greatest guitar/dance/art rock bands of all time, certainly round these parts. Damn straight. And if you don’t agree the following is like the fucking greatest song of all time – least for today – than you can go fuck yourself and take all your damn Fleet Foxes-loving friends with you. Seriously. You prick.

I know we’re running off the subject here a little, but here’s an interview I conducted with Pylon, November 2007 for Plan B Magazine.

Pylon, the great lost no wave band of the early 80s. Championed by R.E.M. and The B-52s (all three bands hailed from Athens, Georgia). Supported U2 on their first US tour. Split in 1983, after releasing several singles and two awesome albums – the minimalist, jagged Gyrate (1980) and more experimental Chomp (1983). Reformed a few times since. Made some of my favourite dance music, this side of The Slits.

Think Numbers, Radio 4, Gang Gang Dance, !!!, Prinzhorn Dance School…DFA Records are doing something new? Well, sure, but no. Try playing Numbers’ debut or !!!’s incredible 2004 outing Louden Up Now next to ‘Stop It’ from Gyrate and tell me you can’t hear the direct linkage. Listen up. But DFA are the first to admit Pylon’s tremendous influence, by making the long-awaited transition of Gyrate onto CD, Gyrate Plus.

Pylon started in March 1979 and sound like it: four art students at the University Of Georgia and contemporaries of Gang Of Four, Mission Of Burma and Talking Heads. All bands share a similar aggression, a ‘geek’ cool, a love for James Brown’s severe funk and desire to turn it into something other. All bands have a near-brutal fluidity. Guitars were a necessary evil, it seemed. It was all about the dance, moving your ass. Words were a necessary evil too. It was all about the rhythm, where it moved you. Lyrics were kept to an absolute minimum, brief excerpts and insights, mutating in moments from a whisper to a scream. You could hear that singer Vanessa Hay could’ve been Belinda Carlisle if she wanted. She clearly didn’t want. The funk was precise, borderline harsh in its repetition and three-note guitar solos. Band leader Michael Lachowski’s bass was tremendous. Pylon were all about the dance, the silences in between the dancing, the dance. All of the time.

How did Gyrate come about?
Vanessa: “We had recorded the single ‘Cool’/’Dub’ for DB Records [‘Rock Lobster’ by The B-52s was their first single] and it had done well. They asked us to record a follow-up album and we went to the same studio and recorded it and mixed it in around three days.”

Were you after a particular sound?
Vanessa: “We felt that we could approach recording like we had approached learning how to play our instruments – by doing it. We didn’t understand ‘production values’ but we did understand that we didn’t want a pop-sounding record where the vocals are twice as loud as the rest of the instruments. It was very important to us that each instrument was balanced and of equal importance.”

Were you listening to any other bands at the time?
Vanessa: “We were listening to the new wave, punk and electronic music that was filtering down to Athens through our local record store Chapter 3 Records, and reading about new music in New York Rocker. Athens had a house party scene where a very eclectic mix of music was played and danced to, including older R&B, James Brown, surf music, country music mixed in with new singles and albums. We had had our very own party band in Athens – The B-52s, who had just taken off for New York.”
Michael: “Oh yeah, we had tons of influence. A long list of bands that we adored, knew of, listened to because we knew we should – in lots of styles but all from the new energy of the time when everyone was hot to experiment. Some of the main groups constantly on our turntables around the house, art studio and parties at the time: The B-52s, Sex Pistols, PiL, Gang Of Four, Television, Roxy Music, Eno, Elvis Costello, Jam, Ramones, Talking Heads, Stranglers, DNA, DAF, Pere Ubu, Cabaret Voltaire, Residents, Devo, Feelies. Out of all of those the ones that still kill me are Ramones, Suicide and Television. Permanently.”

Could you give me an insight into the lyrics? Why so few words … um, if you get my meaning.
Vanessa: “Michael wrote most of the early lyrics and they were handed to me at my first audition neatly typed up in a notebook. They conveyed a lot of meaning in just a few words. It was both fun and a challenge to stretch them out and work them into the music and know when to be quiet. Music is silence too, you know. I began to write some lyrics and I co-wrote some with Michael. We used different methods to write lyrics with almost every song. ‘Feast On My Heart’ was written with a friend one afternoon. We opened up a copy of Shakespeare randomly and translated what he had written into modern lingo. ‘K’ [from Chomp] was the result of a Scrabble game between Michael and me.”

Pylon were all about restraint. Was this at odds with other music at the time?
Vanessa: “I don’t think it was at odds, it was more of a counterpoint. There were bands who were even more restrained than us, like Kraftwerk and The Flying Lizards.”

What were you all doing back then? And now?
Vanessa: Michael and I had recently graduated from the University of Georgia art school. I had a temporary job in the JC Penney catalogue centre, answering phones. Curtis [Crowe, drums] and Randy [Bewley, guitar] were both still in school at UGA. Curtis did some carpentry work and then opened the 40 Watt Club in 1981. Randy, until a few years ago, was an elementary art school teacher. Curtis is a construction coordinator for the TV/film industry. Michael has a graphic design business called Candy, DJs and has a magazine called Young, Foxy And Free. I am mother of two girls and am a registered nurse at a local hospital since 1994. I also have a recording project called FFFM that I am working on with Randy and my husband, among others.”

R.E.M. have always been vocal in their love for Pylon. Do you have any other famous fans?
Vanessa: “The B-52s have always been big supporters of our band. The Gang Of Four and Mission Of Burma have always been very kind to us as well. When Mission Of Burma played in Atlanta this year, they learned ‘Feast On My Heart’ and I sang it with them. I had a great time! We do run into bands who like us. I once had a conversation, after my teenage daughter had ditched me at a Sleater-Kinney show, with all three members of Sleater-Kinney. The look on her face when she saw me talking to them was priceless … !”

Were you aware of DFA before they picked up on Gyrate? Are you aware of their roster now? Do you feel you fit in?
Vanessa: “I was not aware of DFA. Michael had them on his short list as a label to approach once we had Gyrate restored and re-mastered. They approached us first and Michael went up to New York to talk with them. I think it’s a good fit. At DFA there is the same spirit of play and ‘let’s see what kind of fun sounds we can make’ and a lot of danceability.”
Michael: “Oh yeah, I was so aware of DFA. I loved them. I freaked when they sent an email cuz it was the only label I really knew that interested me. It was a love fest when I met them, and I’m waiting for the rest of Pylon and DFA to meet soon!”

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You still here? Good. Wanting to check out more Pylon – and quite possibly some Supercluster as well? Don’t blame you. Tell you what. Let’s break for a couple of hours, while you go and buy some music online – hint: start with Gyrate Plus and work outwards – and then we’ll reconvene. See you tomorrow.

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