Michael Lachowski on the Origin of the Pylon Sound

Michael Lachowski is currently Public Relations Coordinator at the Georgia Museum of Art. He develops and manages gallery promotions, coordinates events, and establishes connections in and out of the Athens art world. What follows are excerpts from a conversation with Michael Lachowski at the Georgia Museum of Art, April 17, 2017 – mk

The scene at art school informed the freedom that we brought to the explorations into different art forms outside of the ones that we were studying, and that extended into the idea of making music. And that came mostly from Randy. It was after the B-52’s had announced that they were moving or had already moved to New York after they had had success just based on the single with two songs on it.


Michael Lachowski

Randy and I shared a record collection in order to maximize the amount of new music we could listen to because the only way to hear it was to buy the records or listen to your friend’s records. There were no radio stations that played the cool new stuff, but we had a really cool record shop in town where the guys made excellent music recommendations and we read what was available, which was the New York Rocker and Musical Express and the Village Voice and stuff which was available at our local newsstand. And Randy said, “Come on we should start a band.” I felt like because we listened to so many albums that there were way too many groups already and it had already been done. And I was like, “Man, no, it’s too late to start a band, look at them all, there’s a lot of good bands. It’d be like too obvious we were trying to come along and copy this idea.” And he’s like, “Somebody’s got to do something for Athens, because the B-52’s are leaving. Let’s go ahead and do it.” And I think I was also pushing back a little bit because I just couldn’t envision how in the hell I was going to have a role to play in a band. I had never played an instrument. I mean, I had taken piano lessons as a kid but nothing to translate it into anything I ended up doing in Pylon. So I was coming back at him with things like, “I don’t even know like what type of thing I would play. What would it be, like an organ, or what? (laughs) And he said, “Well, what instruments really are the most compelling to you when you listen to music?” And I was like, “I don’t hear it that way. I just hear this whole thing.” And he was like, “You need to listen to some albums you really like and tease out which instruments in there seem to really be the ones that you identify with.” So I started listening to stuff and I did come up with the idea of the bass.


l to r: Michael Lachowski and Randy Bewley, photo credit: unknown

I finally started trying to tease out the various elements instead of just hearing it as a sonic tableau or composition. I started trying to find out where the threads were. And I sort of described it to him, and he said, “Oh yea, that’s the bass guitar.” And I was like, “That is the one that sounds like it would be easy to play. It only has four strings, blah, blah, blah.” (laughing) So that’s how we kind of got going.

All I really remember is that Randy thought he had tuned the guitar the way you’re supposed to. Whatever he thought, he didn’t find out until a lot later that he had it wrong. So it was just an error. He didn’t have any desire to be innovative with his tuning. That was how it came about. It was just sort of an accident. Then by the time he found out that he was doing it wrong, he really felt like it was too late to go back. He found out a long ways into it. I mean not to the point where we were in the recording studio or anything like that, but by the time somebody straightened him out about the tuning, well, he was like, “All of these songs, I can’t.” He tried to do it with the right tuning but he couldn’t figure out how to play it. So he just decided to leave it like that. (laughs) All of the songs are in that tuning.

My training was really just Randy tuning the bass for me the first time. I did get a book about how to play bass, but I don’t remember learning much from that. I’m not sure what you would learn playing the way I played, anyway. I played with a pick and could only stroke down.

That trebly sound came about a little bit by chance. I had a really crappy amplification system which wasn’t very loud and so I was always over compensating by trying to strum real hard and get it real punchy and clean. Later on we were more pro-active about maintaining that sound through the evolution of other equipment.

The lyrics I had written were like traditional and lock step. With music I envision the melody line of the lyrics of the vocals and imagine that the arrangement of the vocals would follow a particular melody that would be the same melody that would be embedded in either the bass or the guitar. In a lot of our songs the melody is really coming up a little bit more from the bass in some cases than the guitar, it switches. And so I had envisioned them a certain way also as far as meter, or whatever you call it – they were kind of locked in.

Pylon - Little Kings BW 1 (by Mike White via Flickr)

Michael Lachowski and Vanessa Briscoe Hay, 1981, photo by Mike White

Vanessa brought a lot of different qualities to the whole thing. She had the ability to de-construct all that and deliver with a different energy that was more energetic because of its fits and starts and then sometimes because of the way it kind of didn’t necessarily go where you think it would have neatly fit. And so that added way more energy to it. It was also her radical delivery style with more of an impetuous attitude about it.

We give all of the band song writing credit for lyrics and for music so it doesn’t really matter who wrote what, but it’s true that I wrote a bunch and she wrote a bunch, and we wrote together.

We had, like, three dudes and this girl. Randy and I were really similar – not similar in personality – but both control-freaks a little bit. More so than Curtis and Vanessa. We wanted to make decisions, we wanted to make things, you know? We made most of the songs in the beginning at first kind of on our own. We were the tall skinny guys that stood on the left and right side of the stage and then Curtis was like the counter-point to that, kinetic, muscular, and not as cerebral in his approach to things as Randy and I tended to be.






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