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 Sewing Machines on WHFR, Wednesday, August 8, 9PM 

An Interview with: Pylon

Even though Pylon might not be a household name, they are nearly legendary in the world of indie rock. Peers like R.E.M. and The B-52s not only cite Pylon as not only one of the best bands from the Athens scene but also from all of America. When DFA Records was looking to reissue albums from classic indie bands, Pylon topped their list. The End of Irony got to speak with Pylon bassist, Michael Lachowski, about the band, their reunion, and the reissues.

The End of Irony: You guys are from Athens, GA, and it's a very unique small town. What is there that makes Athens this musical mecca?
Lachowski: I haven't really completely figured that out. At first I thought it wasn't so unique...[and] it was probably a combination of having a whole lot of young people in a college town where there was not a whole lot else going on, and they kind of created their own scene. When [Pylon] first formed, there were other cities that were popping up that got talked about. We had this notion that [Athens was] one of a group of similar kind of scenes that were all responding to other bigger cultural changes in music. There was a shift going on with new bands coming out and eradicating the dinosaurs of the rock world.
The B-52s would tell the story that there was just nothing else to do. A lot of it did have to do with the art school and the art students. It seemed to me that (at least originally) many of the key instigators were people that were already involved with visual arts, but it expanded pretty quickly to include all different kinds of people. One of the themes that Pylon used that found an embrace in Athens was that we were coming at it without any background. Being inventive was prized over musicianship. That was one of the bigger factors that really got things innovative and creative fairly quickly.

You mentioned talking about begin innovative and getting rid of the dinosaurs of rock. To me it sounds fresh even though this was made thirty years ago! It's amazing.
Somehow collectively we managed to get four people on the same page about a few issues that are hard to stick with over time...and we didn't last for a long time, which was another thing to remember. We didn't put out fourteen albums or even three in a row. We just barely managed to have enough for a second album, and then we broke up up. I don't know how easy it would've been for us to be so innovative over a longer period of time.
We really joined together with a few hardcore principals. One was to be minimalist. [We had] the idea that we would honor a gap. I took seriously the idea that there would be big empty spaces between sound coming out of my bass guitar, which was as important as what I was playing. I knew I couldn't play anything dexterous or fancy, but it takes a lot of willpower to stick with that, especially as you do become more confident. That was one of the ideas that our band really had in the forefront was that emptiness and open space was beneficial.
Another one was that we wanted to make sure all four members were contributing in this kind of incredibly equal way. We expected that in the mix that you would hear the bass, hear the drums, and hear the guitar to roughly the same degree in terms of volume and prominence. Similar to that we thought that the vocals should be treated just like an instrument. That what was being said wasn't lyrically that big of a deal, it was how it was said and how it was blended in.

This was obviously way before the Internet. How did you find a lot of these things back then?
There were very few publications that wrote about the new kind of stuff we were interested in. In the UK there were three or so of those that would occasionally get to Atlanta (eventually you could get them in Athens) like New Music Express of Melody Maker. But a lot of that stuff was hard for us to figure out because they were writing in a scene that was so self-contained. [England was] a small country with organized scenes, and lots and lots of press about that scene no matter how small it was. In the United States, the only publication that was interesting to us was New York Rocker. We could get that, so that turned out to be our only conduit for finding out what was going on in music in terms of reading about it.
In terms of hearing it, we did all of that by going to this one record store where the guy that ran it was really interested in what was going on. They were talking to their distributors (or I don't know exactly how they were sorting out what to bring into the store), and they would bring in seven inch singles from The Stranglers, the Mekons, Gang of Four, Television...We were buying those from the store based on their recommendations or something we read about in one of those few publications. We had to kind of patch together our musical education. We went and played our very first show New York, and we actually got written up, [the writer] made a reference to dub and we didn't even know what that was! We had to go find out what he meant by dub. Then we heard dub reggae, which I still to this day love that style. So it was fun, because we weren't know-it-alls.

How did you guys decide to come back together in 2004? And how did you get involved in DFA?
When our band had broken up, we had been broken up big time. There was no back and forth communication between [guitarist] Randy [Bewley] and the other members of the band. He had just devoted himself to going back, getting a teaching certificate, and raising kids. For reasons of his own he just kind of put up a wall between himself and his whole Pylon persona. Somewhere about 2003, Randy showed up at one of my art exhibits and basically just wanted to break through the ice. That was a really great moment for me just personally, but then he was also asked if I would be willing to play music again, play in Pylon again, [and] Revive Pylon. It was a little awkward, but pretty exciting.
One of the projects we had already discussed before we even started playing live again was that there were a lot of people thinking that we should reissue our music, because it never had been properly put out digitally...and not very thoroughly. We started working on that project, and some helpful people that are musicians and friends of ours helped us start the technical part of that [such as] getting the tapes and figuring out where they were, going to right kinds of studios and getting it all ready. We were talking to different people about what record label that might be interested in that. In the meantime, I got an email from DFA Records. They had been talking about doing some reissues, and they all went around and wrote up a list of which band they'd like to reissue. Apparently Pylon was at the top of everyone's list. They contacted us! I was a huge fan of DFA. I had a store that sold DJ music at the time, so I was already aware of their production. When I heard from [them] I basically freaked out. I went to tell the rest of the band about it, and they had no idea what I was talking about. They had never heard of it, so I went to New York as a very willing ambassador of the band to meet with [the label]. It was a really good, very positive meeting. I was sort of the go-between. It took a while before we worked out everything. There were some delays. The first re-issue came out in 2007, and we were very pleased with it And I think they were too. Got a lot of press and made a lot of people happy.

And you got another reissue recently released?
That's the reissue of Chomp, the second Pylon record. It did come out about six week ago.

What was the availability before this?
Both of our first two records, Gyrate and Chomp, they were both released the same way in their time, which was on vinyl. I know Chomp, when it came out, was available on cassette. I never paid attention to cassette. It had never been released digitally. There was sort of a patched together effort in 1989 to make our music available on the CD format, which at the time was still pretty new. Back then I think the CD couldn't even hold 74 minutes, and even though our albums weren't long, we were trying to include our first single, which we obstinately did not included on our first album. We couldn't fit all of the songs on the CD but didn't think it justified two. It was sort of a joke, we called it Hits. Let's say we had 27 songs, and only 24 of them would fit. We didn't really pick the hits; we picked the dogs and threw those out. Whatever would fit was what we put on there, and then it got re-sequenced, so it wasn't even like listening to the first two albums. The biggest problem over time with that was that it sounded like crap.

So you guys remastered it properly this time?
Yeah, that is something we were supremely aware of when we went into this reissue project with DFA. We had already done all the audio parts for Gyrate when DFA got involved, and they were a little concerned. They [were worried about] screwing with the integrity of your material and changing it? We sent them samples of it, and they were blown away at how well it was done. [The new remastered albums have] a really good dynamic range. [They're] as faithful to the original we could make [them].

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