Vanessa Briscoe Hay, 62, lead singer of the seminal Athens’ art/post-punk band, Pylon, has ridden quite the wave from her humble beginnings. The climate in Athens, Georgia in the 1970s – especially in the Art School at the University of Georgia – nurtured a creative/cultural explosion of art and music (fueled by countless parties). The B-52’s and R.E.M. were born of the same creative spirit. After Pylon broke up (for the second time) Briscoe Hay became a nurse for twenty-one years. She has returned to performing with Pylon Reenactment Society, bringing her unique, edgy vocals and boundless energy to the stage. Photo cover by Jason Thrasher from the forthcoming book, Athens Potluck.
I met with Vanessa Briscoe Hay for two in-depth conversations at her home on the outskirts of Athens in March, 2017 – Mark Katzman
My Father and Mother were both salt of the earth type of people. My Dad worked in a cotton mill near Decatur, but they moved away to the country because they didn’t think that a city was the right place to raise children.
My Dad was really into country music. Every year, before he was married, he and his buddies from the cotton mill would jump into the car and drive to Nashville on their vacation. They saw Hank Williams twice. One of his friends wrote songs and he went with my Dad up to Nashville on one of these trips. They found Hank Snow in an alleyway between the Ryman and some bar and my Dad’s friend starts playing the song for him. Hank Snow listened to it and said, “Well, that’s good but it sounds just like blah, blah, blah.” So, that kind of broke the guy’s heart, as he thought it was such a great song. After that the guy gave up music. But thinking about it, a lot of those country songs sound alike, I mean, he was just probably getting rid of the competition. I mean, who knows?” (laughs)
From the time I was really small I was always drawing and making art and doing things. I was in the high school marching band from 6th grade on and then I got into theatre and on the debate team. It was a very small school. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but it seemed like art was winning out. So I decided to go to UGA to become an art teacher.
Athens is like a little blue raft of liberalism floating in a sea of red here in Georgia along with a few other places. Back in the 1970s Athens was a very slow, mostly conservative town. How did this art and music scene spring up? I think it was almost like a perfect storm. A particular group of people just happened to be here during the post-Vietnam time period. Students at that point in the United States didn’t necessarily have anything to rebel about, unlike in the U.K. Here in Athens a couple of things happened that contributed to the flowering of a scene: we had the University of Georgia Art Program and there were some really cool townspeople, like Ricky Wilson and the rest of his friends in what became the B-52’s, though I didn’t know them at the time. Vegetarians, students, hippies, artists all collided at parties. Energy moves around. I think it shifts from area-to-area around the world. This just happened to be the place at that time. Jimmy Carter was the President, so it was kind of cool to be from Georgia around 1976. There was an exhibition of ten pretty prominent artists who donated art to the University of Georgia Museum in Jimmy Carter’s honor. We had professors at the Lamar Dodd School of Art like Elaine de Kooning, William de Kooning‘s ex-wife, who held a Chair there for a couple of years. Visiting artists came through from all over the place.
Athens seemed to, at that point in time, have a connection to the rest of the world that wasn’t closed to what was happening everywhere else. It wasn’t about being so insulant a kind of Southern community. There truly was a bit of an international connection. About the time I was heading toward graduation a lot of the stores started leaving downtown. Downtown was on the verge of dying. All these large spaces were opening up. There were a few clubs, but they had bands that mostly played covers. The Last Resort did have some national acts come through at times.
The B-52’s debuted playing a house party in 1977 on February 14th. I wasn’t there but I heard all about it. I didn’t see the Sex Pistols, either, when they played in Atlanta for their first U.S. date. I didn’t have the money and I didn’t have good transportation, unlike some of the other art students, but I was friends with all these people and heard about what was going on. Once the B-52’s performed in New York, there was a major New York connection, you know? But at that point and time, nobody was moving here to be a musician. There had already been some interesting bands here, like The Zambo Flirts, Black Narcissus, and the UGA concert event staff brought in music from other places. We’re very close to Macon and we got some freaky things that would come up from there. Plus, Capricorn Records was still kind of a power. We’re not too many years past the Allman Brothers, but none of us at the art school were interested in Southern rock, we were interested in this music that we were hearing from other places like Ohio and England and New York. Athens turned out to be a nice little place to start something, try it out, and take it out on the road.
Michael (Lachowski) and Randy Bewley had a huge singles collection which they would pull out at parties. Besides parties, there weren’t too many opportunities to hear new music. After critique on Wednesday nights, from like 12 to 1 a.m., this guy Spencer Thorton DJ’d at a small club that was in the basement of the Georgia Hotel, and he would play new music. It wouldn’t just be like regular disco music. So we would all pile into cars after drinking our cheap beer somewhere else and just go dancing there. That’s how I first met Randy, Michael’s roommate. The first time I really ever talked to Randy was at the Waffle House at the end of one of these evenings. We were siting next to each other at the counter and he got very impressed because I was able to order something to eat with one dollar and still leave a tip. (laughs) I had one scrambled egg, toast and coffee. You know, you could just get one egg, and it was a dollar with tip. He just started talking to me and we became friends and I would go to parties at their house.
I graduated in the Spring of 1978 and just hung out around town waiting for my first husband Jimmy Ellison to get out of school. I worked two jobs. I worked for JC Penney in the catalog department part-time during the week, and then I had another job on the weekends that a lot of other artists had at DuPont. You worked only two days a week and paid really good wages for Athens. At that time we were just able to completely survive by only working two days on rotating shifts, two weeks day shift, two weeks afternoon and two weeks graveyard shift.
We were all B-52’s fans and fans of this new music and we would usually have to drive to Atlanta to see this stuff. There’s a background history of other bands, like the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band kind of thing or Carolina Beach Music, which appealed to the frat scene. A new scene was going on with the art kids and also with the El Dorado where a lot of Bohemian types met and worked. The B-52’s worked there. Kate (Pierson) and Fred (Schneider) both had jobs there and they practiced behind the El Dorado. My future husband Bob Hay also worked there. In late ’78 Randy approached Michael and said, “Hey, I want to do a band as an art project. They were into New York Rocker and all these magazines about the scene that was happening in New York. His idea was to form a band, go and play in New York, and then we break up. I think Randy started out on the drums. I think Michael settled on the bass because he thought it might be easier.
After a little bit of that they realized that they couldn’t write music that way so Randy switched to guitar and taught himself and kind of came up with a tuning that sounded good to him but he didn’t know what tuning was supposed to be. My husband, Bob Hay, who plays guitar, said it was a pretty brilliant tuning with what you can do with it. They played a tape at the intermission of the B-52’s Georgia Theatre performance in October of 1978.
Curtis (Crowe) lived upstairs from their studio. He was their landlord subletting the art studios below. He was up there one day with Bill Tabor laying around relaxing and smoking pot or something. They could hear Randy and Michael playing the same riffs over and over. Bill Tabor said, “You know what they need? A drummer.” And Curtis actually was a drummer. He’d been playing drums since he was six years old, but he wasn’t in a band or anything right then. So Curtis walked downstairs and tapped on the door and said, “Hey, you guys need a drummer?” And they were like, “Yeah.” And so he dragged his drums downstairs and they started playing together.
They auditioned some other art students to be the singer but no one was working out and they finally decided they were going to use found sounds for the vocals. For instance, they had one record that was called “Teach Your Parakeet to Talk,” and all it said was like, “Hello…how are you…hello…how are you,” over and over again, that was one side. The other side was a German shepherd barking. I guess it was sounding like an art project! Wish I could hear that recording again. And so Randy went, “Why don’t we ask Vanessa?” They just liked me. I’d been in classes with them and we were on the same wavelength.
I came into their practice space and they had a notebook set up on a music stand and Michael had already written some lyrics. There was a microphone. And they said, “Well, just try something.” They’d play a song and I looked at the lyrics and tried to do something with it to make it fit and of course they didn’t really. Which made it even funnier to me. (laughs) We did three or four songs like that and they were like, “Well thank you for coming by, we’ll let you know what we think.” So I left.
When they finally explained the premise of their idea and invited me to sing with them, I thought, “Well, I don’t have anything better to do, I guess it’s not going to take up too much of my life, or anything. We’ll go to New York and break up, and you know, get on with life or whatever.” And two weeks later we had our first show, March 9, 1979, playing with the Tone Tones above Chapter 3 Records in downtown Athens.
When we played that first time, people just stared at us. I don’t know what they were thinking about it, you know, we might have been really bad, or whatever. (laughs) Anyway, Dana (Downs), who played bass in the Tone Tones said that she liked our music right away, it didn’t sound like anything else. It just started turning into something completely it’s own. Michael and Randy were almost mathematically precise, but I wasn’t. Curtis was a rock steady drummer. And so I think that made it kind of interesting. Every single song was different, there was no formula to it. We were always joking around and kind of clowning around and having a good time. Like, let’s try practicing in the dark. We had these headsets that had lights on them and we turned all the lights off. It was pitch black; it was kind of like being at art school when we were taking what was called art in the dark. Learning how to draw on the right side of your brain by drawing in the dark. Our teacher Mike Nicholson would have us switch hands and he would project a slide and we’d draw from it, we could not look at our paper, we couldn’t see it, and then he’d turn the lights back on. It does something to your brain if you try things different ways. I think that’s what was fun about working with Pylon. We were approaching music like it was art. When we started out Michael wrote the lyrics and then I started writing most of the lyrics, but some of the lyrics we co-wrote. We give the band equal credit on all music, like a collective. We always said everything was done by Pylon. But we knew who did what; we all had our own jobs.
And then we played another show two weeks later in Curtis’s loft space, the 40 Watt space. It was almost the same reaction as the first time we performed. People were just staring at us. I was thinking, I don’t know about this, maybe we are too out there. Then we played out in the middle of the country. It was a party out in the country in Oglethorpe County called The Brick House where an artist friend of ours lived. The B-52’s had just come off the road and they all came to this party and saw us and they just went bananas and all hell broke loose with everyone dancing. The walls of the rooms became like big speaker boxes and you could feel the wind rushing in and out. I guess they recognized what we were doing for what it was and became huge supporters from then on out.
Kate and Fred said, “We’re going to help you get booked in New York, give us a tape.” So Randy went over to K-Mart and bought a multi-pack of tapes and we recorded a few songs at rehearsal and they took this tape and got us booked into Hurrah, a big club, by the owner, Jim Fouratt, who later started Danceteria.
Jim was like, “We’ll get you to open for someone. Who do you want to open for?” He named some bands but they weren’t anybody that we were into, and we were like, “No…you know, I don’t think so.” And then Fouratt said, “Well the Gang of Four are coming,” and we were like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, the Gang of Four, we like them, we have their single.” We had more in common with them than with some of the bands he had mentioned. And I’m not being pretentious or anything, it’s great how that worked out. So we opened for them, and it was a sold out show. We didn’t get written up by the New York Rocker, which was the goal. But Glenn O’Brien from Interview was there and he wrote about us in his column, Beat. He said we sounded like we “ate dub for breakfast,” and we had no idea what dub was, so we made up a song about it that ended up on our first single. (laughs) Then we were getting booked, people calling us up, and you know, stuff like that. But we were like, “Well, let’s just go have fun with it. When it stops being fun, we won’t do it anymore.”
Opening for the B-52’s in Central Park was a fluke. I was supposed to work that weekend at Dupont. The B-52’s contacted us on Thursday or Friday and the show was on Saturday, and they said that their opening band, The Plastics, couldn’t get in the country, or get permission to play, will you come and open for us? Even though it meant losing my job at DuPont, we all jumped in the van and drove straight there. I’ve got a button from that show, that’s about the only thing that I do have. People have sent me some photos. But we got there driving across the grass and stuff looking for it and it was just this enormous place, it was a big stage. It was still daytime when we were supposed to go on.
I don’t even remember if we got a sound check or not, but they were setting us up and put us in this room off to the side and all of a sudden all these guitars were showing up in our room and and I was thinking, “Oh, those are Ricky Wilson’s guitars.” And then he came in and just went over in a corner and started playing to himself and tuning his guitars. I think other people had tuned them already but he would tune them again because he did it according to however he felt about it. And I said, “Ricky what’s going on?” And he said, “There’s too much hairspray in the other room.” (laughs) And I just left him alone. He was just a real quiet guy. So we were just hanging out, and I’m exhausted, I think I had gone two days with no sleep, and then we get out there, and I look, and I knew it was going to be a lot of people, but I had no clue.
It was like a sea of people, as far as you could see there were people, up in trees, everywhere. We did our set and we were okay, it was alright, you know, but I don’t think it was the best show we ever played. But, we did it. I saw the Plastics sitting in one of the front rows and waved at them. We came off and went up into the bleachers. I just walked way way up, and as the B-52’s were playing the sun was going down and they had these beautiful lights on stage, it was a very kind of orangey-red sunset, and it was just amazing. They were so good. Amazing.
The single “Cool/Dub” came out in 1979 and did really well for an indie single. Michael and I had driven over to Atlanta to deliver this enormous poster that Watt King, one of our artist friends, had made for Pylon to Danny Beard of DB Records. It was a bunch of Xeroxed polaroid photos of various parts of our bodies and instruments. He was interested in helping us out. Michael talked to him while I wandered around Wax ‘N Facts. Danny had put out the B-52’s’ first single and one for Kevin Dunn already. Then he put out our single. Somehow it got on all the jukeboxes in New York, the writers loved it, and we would take it around to record stores when we traveled. Like 99 Records in New York. There was a record player behind the counter and the owner looked at the cover front and back and she played the A side, and then played the B side. And I’m thinking, what is this, really, you know, she is really a nice lady and just so pithy-looking and everything, what is she going to think about this record? And she just said, “I’ll take two boxes. I’m flying to London tomorrow and I will take one with me.” Later in the day, we were chased out of another record store. The guy started yelling, “I don’t like people from Georgia.” He ran us out of the store. It was a little scary at first and then we all started laughing. It was really a fun experience to go out and take these singles to record stores wherever we went, you know, because that’s what you did in those days. Gyrate came out in 1980.
We played with the B-52’s, the Talking Heads, Gang of Four, Mission of Burma, just a ton of bands. The Gyrate release show was in November of 1980 at the Channel in Boston with the Gang of Four and there were people who were at that show who still say that’s the best show they ever saw. I was the only woman in those three bands, and I didn’t even think about it at the time because it wasn’t the focus. I was an equal. I always felt like I was an equal.
We were on a UK label called Armageddon. I think they understood where we were coming from and booked us on a 2 1/2- 3 week tour over there. Our shows got off to a pretty good start. We had a tour manager who drove us around in what they called an estate car, which is like a small station wagon, and there was also a truck that had two guys that looked like they could be in Motörhead who drove the equipment around and set up sound for us. Paul Butchart came along to run sound and double as a roadie. Support was provided by the great post-punk band Medium Medium, and we played a show with the Soft Boys too. But, while we were there, John Lennon was shot over here, and suddenly it was very unpopular to be American.
We toured with U2 in 1983 on some U.S. dates. I don’t think Chomp was out yet, but we were working on it. We had a booking agent in New York. We’d been across the country and back about 3 times to various places. U2 were doing their first U.S. tour as a headliner. I believe it was for War. We were booked for three dates to open. They were arena situations, very large places, and in the process of all of that, my Grandmother died. The whole U2 tour organization were nice to us, but their audience wasn’t really our audience. The audience didn’t want to see us. It was a tough spot. Curtis said it was like opening for god or something. But, I got to see how a big tour was run. It was the first time that we had done an arena size venue. There’s a whole thing to large stages. It is really important that you are in sync. A little kick pedal was put into my monitor to stay with the drummer. I use that trick to this day. I do like to hear what the other people are doing. I like to hear myself. But, there is a disparity in sound from one place to the other onstage, and you can get out of time or off beat if you are not careful. You know, it’s interesting, it’s a whole different thing from a small, more intimate venue. You’ve got to go out there and really connect with the people. It’s broader gestures, you know. And the shows usually timed out to the minute. You have to stay on the money in your time because all those people who work those things are union people who have to be paid tremendous overtime if it goes over. So, you know, there’s a lot of things to be aware of on that size show, and we were just us four people with one person to help us with the stage stuff. We were depending on their sound people and light people, who were all very nice to us. It wasn’t anything to do with U2 or music or anything; it was a situation that was not enjoyable to us. After a few dates, they really liked us and invited us to open for their entire U.S. tour after that, but we turned them down. Our booking agent was like, “What are you doing? What does this mean?” He said, “If you don’t want to do something like this, why are you in this particular business?” He was really questioning it and so it made us kind of start thinking about winding it down at that point. It was like, well what are we doing? We’d made a pact: to break up when it wasn’t fun anymore, and it was starting to get businesslike. We were kind of tourists in the land of rock ‘n’ roll.
We broke in December of 1983 and I didn’t perform again until 1988. In the meantime I started working at Kinko’s. I was eventually promoted to be a manager. I had my first daughter Hana in 1987. Opened a store and had a baby. Bob’s band, Squalls, were very popular during that time period and touring or playing locally on most weekends.
It wasn’t like I was just sitting around twiddling my thumbs. Pylon got back together in ’88. People had seemed to not have lost interest in our band. If anything, there was more interest. The movie Athens, Ga. – Inside/Out came out with a tribute to Pylon in it. And R.E.M. recorded “Crazy” as the B side to a single of theirs. Danny Beard wanted to put out a compilation CD and we decided what would be on it. Almost every song from our first two records would fit. We decided to call it Hits, which was kind of a joke, because we really didn’t have any real hits. (laughs) There were some audio problems with Hits because it was run straight from the tapes and it wasn’t mastered. Still, it’s a pretty good CD. We decided to approach things in a more businesslike fashion. We recorded a new record, Chain. We had a manager, Jennifer Blair, and a booking agency.
R.E.M. and the B-52’s both were huge cheerleaders for us, and they were like, you know, “I think the world might be ready for you now. They might get it.” They both invited us to tour with them and we did. At that point, they were both playing arenas. And so we thought, well if we’re going to do it again, we’re going to make business-like decisions this time, we’re going to see what we really can do with this.
BREAKING UP (2)
It was 1992. We didn’t know that Randy had some kind of an internal timeline thing figured out, that he was going to give it a certain amount of time. He had two little boys and I don’t know what was going on, maybe family pressures, or internal pressures. He was a quiet guy. We’d recorded a record, Chain, and it wasn’t a bad record, but we felt like the next one was going to be a really good record. And so I made the decision to quit my job. We’re doing all this touring, we’re going to work on this music seriously. A few months after I quit my job we had a meeting and Randy said, “I’m leaving.” We spent about two days trying to talk him out of it. But he’d made up his mind, and he wouldn’t change it. That’s just how it happened. None of us were bitter, mad or anything, it was just like, well alright then. We still had to tour for almost another year. We had bought a van and we had to make payments on it, and sell it, fulfill obligations. It was a little awkward, you know, a little bit awkward, but, you know, we broke up and it was okay. We had a going out of business sale and sold most of our equipment and a lot of posters.
I worked until recently as a registered nurse at a local hospital. When Pylon broke up the second time I looked at it as an opportunity to change my career. I had a 4 year old daughter and I wanted a stable job. I wasn’t interested in going back to retail. I’d worked for Kinko’s copies, worked my way up to store manager and I just wanted to do something that would help people. I tried substitute teaching in some different schools around Clarke County and I just decided that I wasn’t cut out to be a teacher, even though it would’ve just meant going back to school for a year and getting a teaching certificate, because I have a BFA in drawing and painting. I wasn’t cut out to be a teacher. I just don’t have the right personality to do that, but I respect them highly, and god bless them, you know, because it’s not an easy job. I have several nurses in my family on both sides. I knew exactly what it was. I’d helped my grandmother after she’d had a stroke back in high school and I liked it. My mom had been a nurse’s aide. And so I went to nursing school and I discovered that I really liked it, and I stuck it out. I worked the same unit for twenty-one years. I worked in a urology unit that ended up being combined with a gynecology unit that ended up getting combined into a super-unit with nephrology. I wasn’t ever bored. I got to use my whole brain. I like people. I especially love older people, and I love their stories and their insights. I truly enjoyed being a nurse. I got to see the best and the worst of people and it was a very, very interesting job. It is very physically and mentally taxing, though.
I worked night shift for eight years so I could sleep a few hours in the daytime and then pick my daughters up from school. While in nursing school I had had my second daughter in 1993. When she was 3 and a half she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I was able to recognize some symptoms pretty early and so we went through surgery and radiation treatment with her at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. She was a different learner after that. She’s very bright and has taken a bit little longer, but she’s now in college. I went to weekend nights and I worked two days a week, then I went to weekend days. Then my Dad died and my Mom moved in and lived with us for eight years. I was able to work a couple of days per week and helped contribute to the support of the family. I retired after twenty-one years back in 2015.
PYLON REENACTMENT SOCIETY
I had been performing and recording with Kay Stanton and Jason NeSmith and many others on a project called Supercluster from about 2007 to 2013. There was a series of events that Art Rocks Athens was putting together to show the connection between the art and the music scene of Athens between the years 1975-85.
Jason NeSmith was put in charge of the music committee and putting together a concert. He approached me and asked, “Would you consider performing just a short set? You can do anything you want to do.” And thinking about the time period and the other people who were going to be performing, I said, “What do you think about doing some Pylon material? But you’ve got to help me put a band together.” So, he did. Jason played guitar, Gregory Sanders played drums and Kay Stanton played bass. Basically, his band Casper and the Cookies and me. We played 15-20 minutes that weekend in May of 2014 and it went over really well.
Art Rocks had the second part of their exhibit the following year in 2015. The first one focused more on painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture and the second part focused on film and photography. Jason said, “Do you want to do it again? We have a longer set. Fred Schneider is coming to do his solo set.” And I said okay. So we did it again. Gregory Sanders had recently had shoulder surgery, so Jason recruited the excellent drummer Joe Rowe, who’d played with the Glands. I invited Damon Denton to be our keyboard player. He’s on the UGA faculty as an accompanist. We opened for Fred Schneider and it went really well. My friends in Dressy Bessy heard about this show. They had a new album Lady Liberty coming out and I’d sung a little back up on one of the songs. They asked if we would consider coming and playing several dates opening for them. We played two shows in North Carolina and we also played Atlanta and Athens with them. It was a lot of fun and went really well. Pylon Live was came out and we did release event parties for that in Atlanta and Athens with Love Tractor and Swimming Pool Q’s. In the Fall we went back out with Dressy Bessy and played along the Northeast corridor. In the meantime, I was contacted by Shelina Louise in Los Angeles who is in a band called PANTHAR. She said Pylon was her favorite band and she really wanted us to come to Los Angeles and would help make it happen.
We went and played Part Time Punks out there with some of LA’s best new female fronted bands like Sex Stains, PANTHAR and The Tissues, and on the basis of that booking we got some other dates on the West Coast with the help of Ground Control Touring. We played with some amazing bands on the West Coast including Smokescreens, Red Pony Clock, Cruel Summer, Mall Walk and Hurry Up. Since then, Pylon Reenactment Society have also been to the Midwest. We played in Chicago with some great local bands like The Baby Magic. We also performed at Barely Human Fest in Detroit, which was centered around Dark Wave, Goth, post-punk. We headlined on a Sunday night playing at two in the morning. It was great, everybody there loved it. It has all kind of come together organically. It wasn’t like it was some master plan that I was going to get this thing back together.
When I was a child I listened to an FM radio station out of Chicago at night on my transistor radio. Then I got into some prog-rock bands back in the early ‘70s – loved all of that. Who’s eighteen, nineteen years old that doesn’t like a big show with lasers? An awareness of other types of bands started while I was in college at UGA. There was this girl Dana Downs who was in the next room over and we became friends with some people who lived in another dorm down the hill, John Seawright in particular, and he introduced me to Roxy Music and David Bowie‘s new stuff. I loved David Bowie in high school. Just a lot of things, music and ideas were percolating there. Then there was Television and the Ramones. I’ve got a Ramones guitar pick that Johnny Ramone leaned over and gave to me because I was getting squished to death in front at a show. (laughs) Elvis Costello, Devo. Devo was great. You gotta realize at that point in time, I was a real music fan. I had no intention of being a musician or singer, so I can’t rightly claim that they were influences, but I can claim that these were bands that I enjoyed. That’s what I was listening to. You know, Kraftwerk. Oh my god, I’m still a huge Kraftwerk fan. And then on the other side, here in Georgia, there’s James Brown with that funk tradition and like a lot of the funk bands. And Patti Smith. I kind of got into a little disco for a while but I didn’t like the people very much. (laughs)
The American stuff was before the British stuff, I’m sorry. I know the British people always have their version of history, you know. They had great stuff going on too. After Pylon were together, in April 1980, we got to open for PIL in Atlanta. Which was an incredible show. I love the Talking Heads. I have a soft spot for certain singer-songwriters like Leonard Cohen and Towns Van Sant, Graham Parsons, you know, from that alt-Country area and from the singer-songwriter tradition, but it’s nothing I have any interest in doing. Yet, anyway.
I think that writing and practicing are two different things. It’s like different areas of your brain. If you’re getting ready for a big show and you’ve got to get it down, you really should run through that set list and find out how long it is and how long it’s going to take you to get from one to the next. Do these few songs sound good together? Is it going to be easy for the drummer to switch over from this to that? Some conscious decisions need to be made in the sequencing. You’ve got to think of stuff like, Am I going to kill my drummer? He needs a break sometimes. (laughs) I usually make the set lists. I take them into practice and I’ll ask, What do you think about this? And we’ll play through it and see how it goes. It can be really hard to decide which songs to cut and which changes to make to the order. It’s not easy, you know, but it should appear easy.
My advice to anyone starting out as a musician would be, first of all, have fun and don’t expect that you’re going to make it. Keep your day job and keep control of your publishing, don’t sign that away. And if it looks like it’s turned into something really good, and you’ve got interest from fans, radio, venues, labels – I don’t even know if there is such a thing anymore, I really don’t – get a lawyer and an accountant, and, you know, just keep things square from the beginning.
ART & DELIGHT
I still paint some. This one is really funny. I had a dream about Bob. It was when we lived at our other house in the early 2000s. I dreamed that Bob was building me a house, but it was like a Popeye house.
Bob and the Dream House, acrylic on canvas, 2016, Vanessa Briscoe Hay
He would just get up there and nail down the board and then saw it off, and it was all kind of crooked, but it still worked. You know, that’s kind of like what life is like, isn’t it? Somehow we make it up and it works. Everybody ought to have at least a hobby, something they love, or you know like the older nurses I’ve worked with, they love their grandchildren, you know, and there are a lot of people that just take delight in something. You’ve got to find something to take delight in. I live for those moments where I can find something in my everyday life to find delight in.