Interviews by Jason Gross, Part 2
PSF: How would you compare Pylon's second record (Chomp) to the first one?
VANESSA: That was record was recorded over more of a period of time, several songs were done with Bruce Braxter at the Christian Music Studio in Atlanta. They usually had choirs in there, it was a gigantic room. We did several songs, one of them was "M Train." I remember that the vocals were done in one take. We didn't quite have quite enough songs so we had to take a break. It was the process of how we were writting songs at the time. Sometimes songs songs would just come right out but other times a song might take a long time for us to develop it because we would just get in there and jam and have a happy accident. Then we'd go back in and run the tape again and learn how to play that accident and then turn that into a part of a song. So it was a little slow writting the songs.
We saw that we wanted to try Mitch Easter's Drive-In Studio and get Chris Stamey and Gene Holder (of the dB's) to produce the rest of the record. That was in Mitch's parents' garage- his mom would make us coffee and muffins. We went in and hashed out the riffs and did that fairly quickly. I think that's the last record done with that particular board- I'd ask him to change the volume on my voice. If you listen to my voice, it clips in and out because they couldn't gradually do that so all of a sudden it just pops up.
MICHAEL: We really didn't have all that much to pick from to find the best. We even ended up making one up in the studio using a non-traditional songwriting technique. That was 'Yo-Yo.' I feel somewhat responsible for that. At the time, I was really interested in hip-hop at the time, like early Arthur Baker and Afrika Bambaataa. I was totally into that- seven minute long, repetitive, mundane-type songs. With me trying to express that to the band and with Chris Stamey trying to do that, I wanted something to show our influence from that. I don't think it really stands up, it's always short of what I had in my head. It was an all-night do-or-die session where we needed this to have enough tracks down. I fell asleep and when I woke up, they put all kinds of shit on it.
CURTIS: Technically, it was better recorded. We were better musicians by then. We had pretty much learned how to play our instruments by then. We were a little more savvy in the studio so we were able to explore a little more and just know about what we finally wanted to end up with. Musically, I think we were starting to explore more avenues. It was kind of one of those mid-level period where we were starting to run into some question marks about where we were going to go. I think it's a good album though. I think it stands up well.
PSF: You were talking about different directions for the band. What kind of things did you mean?
CURTIS: I think that it's that the kind of music that we played was a type of thing that ran the risk of running dry if you didn't somehow maintain a fresh perspective all the time. Not to say that it was intrinsically a shallow well, it's just that it required more effort than some bands. I don't know though 'cause I haven't been in other bands that I could relate it to. All I know is that with Pylon in particular, the style of music that we wrote and played depended real heavily on improvisation. Improvisation is the kind of thing that is the most difficult muse to follow.
PSF: You think the band played off each other?
CURTIS: Oh, most definitely. That's how a good many of our songs were written. Like that song "K" (from Chomp) was written at a show one night. We played a song that none of us knew. We just had one little piece, a riff, that we liked. We got up there and we crashed and burned. We thought 'never, never will we do that again.' It was the most embarassing thing we'd done. Then the sound man came back and said 'WHAT... WAS THAT... YOU WERE PLAYING?' We said 'yeah, we know, we'll never do it again.' He said 'NOOOOO. IT WAS INCREDIBLE! IT WAS GREAT! I GOT IT ON TAPE!' We listened to the tape and we were like 'wow, you're right- it IS cool.' We spent the rest of the year trying to figure out what we had played that night. We had to write down charts and try to figure out how we got from there to here. It took us forever to learn how to play that song the way that we had played it before automatically. What you hear on the record now is a faithful note-for-note rendition of that complete train crash that we accidentally ran into that one night.
PSF: What happened between the release of the second record and the first break-up of the band?
CURTIS: We did a few tours, we played with U2 and Public Image Limited and Talking Heads. Of all the bands to open up for, U2 were probably the hardest. It was like opening for Jesus Christ. Their fans were the singularly most rabid rock and roll fans I've ever seen. There were girls in TEARS out in the crowd. It was like opening for the Beatles. It would have been a fantasic learning experience (ED NOTE: Pylon didn't stay on for the whole tour) and probably gotten us some exposure. At the same time, you would probably be boo'd off the stage four nights out of five doing that (opening for them).
We were actually starting to get out there and be a band. I think that it was one of these things that none of really intended to be in a BAND. It was kind of something that we did while we were in college to entertain ourselves. We never really took it seriously, the whole being-in-a-band business. It started looking too serious for us and we all just decided to bag it. (laughs)
MICHAEL: When I found out about the U2 tour, we were all pissed off and no one wanted to do it. I told him (the booking agent) that and he said 'then what the fuck are you doing? why are you in a band? what are you trying to do?' Being asked those things just proved that we couldn't go on forever saying 'we're just doing this 'cause we wanna have fun.' There were just too many decisions to make and you can't make them all with that kind of statement of purpose. Having those kinds of conversations were driving us crazy. That wasn't the kind of thing we wanted to do. I don't think anyone at the time could care less if that was our living.
PSF: Usually bands try to grab a brass ring when they see it.
CURTIS: Yeah but for us, I think it was the fact that we'd been together for four and a half years. A band is a marriage. It really is- it's a four-way dictatorship disguised as a marriage. It's one of those things where you get a whole lot of togetherness, I mean a LOT of togetherness. You eat with people, live on the road with them. I mean, 24-7 you're with them. We'd just had about enough togetherness. I think all of us, some more than others, said 'it would be swell if we could all find our own lives now.' It was like 'who are we other than members of this band?' It was the only real identity that any of us had formed up to that point.
PSF: With the touring, did the band fall apart after that?
VANESSA: I think that's exactly what was happening. I was still enjoying it but we'd gotten up to the point where we knew to get up to the next level. Nobody was really approaching us. It was really strange, there were no major labels. One guy flew down to see us but I don't know what happened with that. We were not really getting anyone to speak to us but we didn't have a manager (we did that ourselves) and we didn't have a lawyer. We were really doing it all, it was a totally democratic band. I don't think we knew how to get up to that next level. We thought we should be moving up because when we put our singles out and they would do really well, especially the club dance rotation. "M Train" go in the top 10 on the Billboard dance charts. I remember that someone was driving past my mother's house and it came on the radio and said 'oh my god!' They went up to the house and pulled her out- 'your daughter's on the regular Atlanta radio! Not just the college station!' They were flabbergasted. So we were expecting SOMETHING to happen.
Curtis in particular said 'I feel like I'm banging my head against the wall.' It was a mutual decision then. 'Let's just quit while we're having a good time.' That was kind of the pact we made from the beginning. Then we hear after we broke up, 'our label's been discussing you with great interest and had meetings about your band.' But nobody ever came and talked to us so you don't know if that was just talk. We were probably at the top level we could have been for an indie band. As far as it being a right or wrong decision, I don't know and I don't really have any regrets about it. You can't change the past.
PSF: After those kind of incidents, why did the band decide it would be good to get together again?
MICHAEL: I think we were broken up for about four years and there was a lot of discovery of what we had done by people that weren't really around at the time we started. It seemed like our reputation wouldn't die and there was all this interest. It came up so often. Within a year of the break-up, everything was changing in music, not just the core little elite group. It got way more widespread, almost mainstream. It seemed like the ground was way more fertile and there was a lot of continuing interest in what we had done. What made it come to a head for us was a more personal sequence of events. Randy got into a motorcycle accident and had a long recovery. He lost his job and none of us had important jobs anyway. Somehow this was just the right time and the subject came up between us. 'What do you think about us getting back together?' We decided to approach it very tentatively and try it out but we were aiming to get back together- we weren't aiming just to do a reunion show. We also knew that if the reunion effort didn't work out, that would be OK too.
The reformation thing was really fun. I think we all just enjoyed playing music again. We even enjoyed writing songs again. When we did finally reform, we dedicated ourselves to the task much more as adults. We knew that we wouldn't go through all that work if we weren't going to treat it straight-forwardly in a business and artistic way. So we made an effort to have management and legal representation. We negotiated for good record contracts. It was a much different attitude for us.
Another episode that led to us reforming at that time was that db records finally decided that CD's were going to be the future of music. Before we got to reform, I was working with the other band members to select songs to go on a 'greatest hits' CD, Hits, which was just a compilation. I had actually cut a video for 'Beep.' Just going through all that work brought a lot of band back into contact with each other.
CURTIS: R.E.M. let us use their rehearsal studio to practice in. We REALLY wanted to secretly practice and it was the only sound-proof rehearsal studio in town. Their equipment was set up and we went in there and it was really funny. The first time, there was a really awkward moment- we hadn't played together in five years. It was a small town but we didn't even cross paths that much in that time. We got together and ran through four or five songs and almost did them SEEMLESSLY. It was like 'wow, we can still do this!'
Then it was getting up to speed. After we'd done that at four or five practices, we'd go to the 40 Watt Club which was just a few doors down the street and get pitchers of beer to bring back. By that time, they figured out what we were doing. They said 'some night went you want to, come on down and play. We'd be glad to have you.' So one night, we got through rehearsing and there was a local band there without a crowd. We said 'after you guys get through, would you mind if we played?' They said 'you can play right now!' So we just pulled our gear down the street and set up. The place was packed and we were hooked. We said 'OK, we can do this.'
PSF: How was the music different then?
VANESSA: We were older. I think it's just like starting from ground level. We had more of an idea of how to weed out songs. Sometimes it was just as spontaneous, sometimes there was a little bit more discussion about something. Anything's going to be different if you do it again- that's just reality but I still enjoyed it a lot. I think our last record (Chain) stands on its own- it's a fine record.
Some of the lyrics were more personal. In some of the songs, I was talking about real people that I knew and I'd take out their names and turn it into 'he' or 'she' or 'you.' When I was singing these songs, I was thinking about actual events or people, even though someone else could hear the song and put their own emotions on top of it. I don't think there was an "M Train" there but I think there were some good songs on that record.
MICHAEL: That album was a totally different experience. We had a different way of working and there was a lot more deliberation involved, getting the sounds just right. It was done over a longer time with a lot more overdubbing. I was fairly happy with it at the time. I just don't think it was REAL strong as an album. We toured with it and it was really fun and went real well. But being in the band, you're not always in the best position to see what's really going on.
CURTIS: But as we decided to re-enter the world, radio had not really caught on yet. There was that 'power rock' that's now the standard station in every city in the country. It was just getting started then, playing R.E.M. and the Police and the mainstream version of the new edge of rock. They looked at our stuff and said 'you guys are just too far out there.' So, we were relegated to the college stations, which is cool, it's alright. The big ticket success comes from the airplay that generates this. It wasn't really until we imploded the second time around that those (stations) really caught on and they started playing more adventurous types of rock.
PSF: How did the second break-up happen then?
CURTIS: Randy pretty much decided that he had enough. That was kind of a unilateral decision on his part. It was right before we were getting ready to do another album and a tour. We did a full tour behind Chain, almost a year's worth. We did some pretty stringent touring. There was Pylon I and then Pylon II, like there were two different Pylon's. With the first Pylon, we were just a bunch of goofy college kids who did this in their spare time. We didn't take it seriously at all. We could just get out there and play whenever it suited us. It just happened that the nature of the industry of rock and roll at that time was so fresh that it was suitable for people like us. People would rabidly show up at our shows because there weren't a whole lot of bands touring then. There was a handful travelling the country, playing at that time.
Then when we came back the second time, we said 'let's be serious about this. Let's be musicians- we can put it on our W2 (tax) forms.' So we thought that if we were actually going to do this, we had to tour and we played and worked the hardest that we'd ever done. I actually dug it. I'm one of the few people I know that really LIKES touring. I hate hearing all these whiny people singing sad songs about how tough it is on the road.
VANESSA: I'll just put that out bluntly. One of the band members, not to bad-mouth him, felt that he just couldn't do it anymore. We spent several days trying to talk him into giving this a little time and think about it. But he just made up his mind and there was nothing we could do. That was disappointing because we could see things finally coming together. But we had to let go of it and give it up because there's no way to have Pylon without any of the four members in the band. The four individuals that were in that band is that what made that band- the sum was greater than the people involved in the band.
Sure, we could have shopped for another guitar player but it would have changed the name of the band. We couldn't have played our songs. It would have been a different band. You hear the way Curtis drums or the way Michael plays his bass and Randy plays his guitar- you couldn't replace any of those people. Probably I'm the most replaceable one. You could get another vocalist. You'd still have the same MUSICAL sound of the band. It just wouldn't have worked at all though so we had to give it up.
MICHAEL: It was a crushing thing in some ways for a lot of the people involved, including our manager. To me, I was disappointed that we were going through all that. But once someone says they don't have the faith anymore, there's no way to argue that. Unfortunately, we had to stay together for nine more months because we owed so much money. It was a very strange period of time, occassionally filled with some really good moment. But we knew we were playing to stay together and make money and we wouldn't play except for weekends because no one wanted to take time off from work anymore. We ended up doing this for months, playing within shorter drives from Athens. It was hard to know if people could tell that things were on a downhill course at this point. That was unfortunate- it would have been tidier to tie it up once we said that we wouldn't get working towards future goals.
PSF: How did you feel when Randy decided to quit?
CURTIS: I was pretty bummed. I was really ticked but what can you do? Like I said, a band is just like a 'happy' marriage but sometimes it's not all happy with hugs and kisses. But you certainly put on the good face for the neighbors. All in all, for my life and my age, it was a good time as any. I just wasn't crazy about the way that it happened. I would have liked to have done one more record just because I thought we were just getting steam. That's what I thought Chain was- really a warm-up record. It felt like a really good warm-up record. I was kind of looking forward to the next one, which would have been a really kick-ass record. We were just starting to decide that we were musicians finally. We actually took time to practice and learn how to play! Isn't it crazy that a musician would actually learn how to play?
PSF: So you don't see any possibility of a reunion?
MICHAEL: I don't think so, just because that last break-up was such a bad thing. Then there's the point that it would be absurb to come back a third time after all the negativity with the last break-up. If it would happen at all, it would just be a reunion concert. The appropriateness of it is very debatable. I would be very torn if presented with the choice because going through that process would become embarassing. I would want to do it but the rational side of me wouldn't want to.
VANESSA: We were having a benefit for my daughter's school (late 1995) and I was trying to get them together for a few songs. Randy wouldn't go for it at all, he wouldn't consider it. I just got some other good bands together and an art auction for that and raised some money for the school.
CURTIS: It was such a painful break-up during that last time so I just couldn't see it happening again. It'd be tough to get us in a room together again. We still see each other and we're still friends with each other but the group really ran its course that time I think. But who knows? Never say never.
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