ATHENS ALTERNATE ALTERNATIVE Supercluster

It’s a
family affair for the Georgia
supergroup – or, as the members refer to themselves, a rock ‘n’ roll “dream
team.”

 

BY DEB HUNTER

 

Supercluster is quite possibly one of the most creative bands
ever to come out of Athens
– and considering the Southern city’s storied musical legacy, that’s saying a lot. Supercluster formed in 2007, and their
self-styled sound, “Appalachian Wave”, is a term they created to describe
themselves. According to vocalist Vanessa Briscoe Hay (late of Pylon), “I don’t
really know who we sound like besides Supercluster. We have a number of
influences… those influences create their own unique voice when we are all
together. Every song comes about in a different way.”

 

Supercluster considers themselves a dream team, with members
drawn from Pylon, New Sound of Numbers, Casper & The Cookies, Of Montreal,
Olivia Tremor Control, The Squalls, and North Georgia Bluegrass (to name a few).
To date they have released several recordings: the Special EP in ’07, the Waves full
length in ’09 (which featured some studio assists from Bradford Cox of
Deerhunter), plus three 7″ singles, “I Got The Answer,” “Paris Effect” and
“Things We Used to Drink.” The current lineup: Hay (synthesizer, vocals), Kay
Stanton (vocals, bass guitar), Hannah Jones (vocals, drums), John Fernandes
(guitar), Bill David (mandolin, vocals), Bob Hay (acoustic guitar), Jason
NeSmith (electric guitar, vocals, autoharp) and Bryan Poole (electric guitar).
Jones is the frontwoman of New Sound of Numbers and was the drummer for Circulatory
System. Fernandes is a member of Olivia Tremor Control. Bryan Poole
is in Of Montreal, the late b.p. helium and Elf Power who are all listed as
offshoots of the E6 collective. (The E6 collective grew out of a group of
Supercluster’s friends Will Cullen Hart, Bill Doss, Jeff Mangum and Robert
Schneider who moved to Georgia
from Louisiana.
Those friends made other musical/artistic friends in Athens and have inspired people all over the
world.) NeSmith spent time touring with Of Montreal before his current project
Casper & The Cookies

 

The bandmembers and I connected over drinks, via email and
phone calls to complete the following interview and discuss their latest
recordings (available on 7″ single) “Things We Used To Drink” and “Memory of
the Future.” Check out the animated video for the latter, below, by Hay’s
daughter Hana Hay.

 

 

 

 

BLURT: What
do you want your listening audience to know or understand about “Things We Used
to Drink”/”Memory of the Future’?

Vanessa: That the past is all around us, but to get to the
future, you have to get past it, make new things and approach the process in a
different way. This can involve uncertainty, and it does take a lot of
patience.  I wanted to learn how to write
with a different group of people and be open to their experiences and ideas.
Every song that is born comes about in a different way. Almost two years ago I
gave a simple melody line with a title to both Hannah Jones and Kay Stanton.
They each expounded on it in their own way and brought lyrics and vocals back
to practice. Supercluster came up with the rest. We started recording when we
had time around a year after that. Jason started seriously mixing it on and off
last October when he had downtime from other projects.

 

What do
you feel you and Supercluster achieved in making the new recordings?

Vanessa: We finished them and put them out! That is amazing
in itself to me. I really enjoy the process of doing something and then having
a final product in my hand. The songs are also very different from each other.
After multiple listens, I still enjoy hearing both songs.

        Jason: I think
the new single is a focused expression of a complex organism. There are many
potential directions under the banner of Appalachian Wave, and I think these
recordings balance the possibilities while retaining the raw nature of the
ongoing experiment.

 

What
message or theme are you conveying in the new recordings?

Kay: Vanessa came up with the basis of the music and also
had a list of song titles. Hannah and I each selected one. I really liked
“Things We Used to Drinkbecause it conjured up all kinds of images for me of summer in the
south. It’s like a painting and it could be ancient history, or it could be any
number of years in the future. You’re always needing to drink something;
literally or figuratively. The song truly is more about drinking in the
slowness, humidity, and sweat of summer. It’s too hot to do much, so you’re
drinking in stories being told on the porch or a good book. And don’t forget
sweet tea!

        Hannah: I like
to question the limits people place on what is knowable and possible in life,
so “Memory of the Future” seeks to express that feeling. Really, we
are all just little dots floating around in space and time, and the universe is
so much more complex and mysterious than we can possibly imagine.

 

Does
Supercluster plan on touring in the upcoming months?

Vanessa: We don’t have any current plans to tour. Right now
we are playing occasionally in our home town of Athens. I would love to go back out on the
road at some point and maybe even go to Europe.
I’m getting too old to sleep on floors, so it had better happen soon. We will
next be performing at the Georgia Theater on September
1st in Athens, Georgia with Spacetrucks and Casper
& The Cookies.

 

What
creatively inspired the music – lyrics and compositions – on “Things We Used To
Drink”/”Memory Of The Future”?

Kay: I started out with the title and changes Vanessa wrote,
and very quickly came up with the first line “Sweet southern
summer…” I think the melody for that line came straight away, too, which
doesn’t always happen. But something about those chords she had come up with
put the picture in my mind. I’m always creating little scenarios in my
head…part reality and part fiction. The line gets really blurry most of the
time.

        Hannah: The
lyrics for “Memory of the Future” were inspired by the feelings the
song title evoked in me – Vanessa had the phrase written down in a notebook,
and I chose to write lyrics based on the phrase.  I brought those and a basic drum rhythm into
the practice space, and we all wrote the music around that.  The long intro was inspired by Terry Riley’s
composition “In C”.  

 

How
much time did it take to write and record these two songs and where were they
recorded?

Vanessa: Around two years start to finish with a lot of
breaks along the way. The Waves album
came out in 2009. We record for our own Studio Mouse Productions label. John
Fernandes’ Cloud Recordings released our first 3 projects for us, but this one
is simply Studio Mouse Productions.

 

(Supercluster
doing “The Night I Died” live)

 

 

 

 

Tell me
how your past musical relationships have shaped the development of your current
recordings and musical relationships?

Vanessa: I had two past musical relationships before
Supercluster. I was in a high school marching band and I was in Pylon. The marching
band taught me that it was important to practice and to be a part of a team.
Pylon taught me how to loosen up and have fun. 
I also learned a little about the recording process and to trust my
instincts. Pylon was a democracy and I am trying to make Supercluster one, too.
Everyone in this band can sing and I want to see it happen eventually.  I am stretching my voice a little by
sometimes singing covers I never would have considered before like Ball and
Chain
. I am finally old enough to sing the blues!

 

How
have the experiences with Pylon shaped the development of Supercluster?

Vanessa: Pylon was a big part of my life on and off for 30
years. Being in Pylon was like being a member of a family. Pylon had reformed
for the third time in 2004. At first, we were like a historical re-enactment
society performing our old songs, but were actually in process of starting to
write again when Randy passed away.  I
had started having little tunes come into my head that were not Pylon type
material about the time we got back together. I think I had more time to be
creative because my two girls were older and maybe because that part of my
brain had opened back up with the reformation of Pylon.

        Anyway, I
thought why not have a recording project? In the olden days, being in two bands
would have been like taking a mistress or something, according to my bandmate
Michael Lachowski. Not cool. Happily in these days, it is more acceptable to step
outside of your band box. I met artist and musician Hannah Jones and began
recruiting members for the project with her. An early recruit was Pylon
guitarist Randy Bewley. I had two projects going on with Randy at the same
time. One was working on the re-assemblage and re-mastering of Pylon’s CD Chomp
More
for a reissue by the DFA label. The other was the recording of the CD Waves by Supercluster. Unfortunately, Randy passed away around 8 months before both
projects were completed and released. I was devastated. Making sure that they
both were finished and available was a personal tribute to him and therapeutic
for me. Bradford Cox and Jason NeSmith stepped up to the plate and completed
the guitar parts. Jason and Bryan Poole joined the band in his stead after
that. I met Bradford Cox when Pylon reformed back in 2005. When Randy passed
away and I finally wanted to continue working on Waves, he immediately came to mind as someone who had a similar
approach, if not style to Randy’s guitar playing. I asked him to come in and
help us finish the record and he did. That is a true friend.

 

What do
you feel is the next stage of growth and development for you personally and
professionally?

Vanessa: My long range plan for Supercluster is to continue
to record and release singles until we have enough material to put out a full
length project. We have recorded three singles so far with each single limited to
a pressing of 300. I also am involved in Hannah Jones’ project The New Sound of
Numbers as a backup singer/melodica player. I like hitting a small cymbal and
shaking things too. She is now recording and mixing a new release for The New
Sound of Numbers and is also working on an animation video for Memory Of The
Future
with my daughter Hana Hay. My daughter’s promo label GumballmachineRecords.com
is providing the download codes included in this single. My husband Bob is our
web designer. Guitarist Jason NeSmith is the recording/mixing engineer. Pylon’s
Michael Lachowski did the graphics. 
Everything Supercluster is connected and entwined by family and friends.
We are relying on word of mouth to spread the news about our project. We do
have a good distributor and it is also available at places like iTunes, Amazon
and through mail order at athensmusic.net.

 

Describe
what you want your musical legacy to be.

Vanessa: I don’t think we get to decide what our legacy is.
Something may capture
the imagination of future generations of music lovers. Who knows what that will
be?  For me the important thing is the
opportunity to perform and record. There is something special about sharing time
and space with other musicians. It is a gift to have others who are willing to
go out there on that tightrope with you. It is so much fun.

 

What
bands and musicians have influenced you?

Bill: Musicians who have influenced me include, but are not
limited to, Bob Dylan, Bill Monroe, Frank Zappa, The Fugs, Jethro Burns, Bob Hay,
Jason Nesmith, David Grisman, the Beatles (especially Lennon).

        Bob: Beatles,
Lovin’ Spoonful, Grateful Dead, Talking Heads. Vanessa: I grew up in a small
town called Dacula between Atlanta and Athens where the ways
were rapidly changing from rural to suburban. My father was a huge country
music fan and he did get to see his idol Hank Williams, Sr. several times. When
I was a small child he took the whole family to Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta to see Patsy
Cline and Loretta Lynn performing on a makeshift stage on a flatbed truck.
Growing up I listened to what he listened to-Johnny Cash and The Carter Family
.I began buying my own vinyl singles in elementary school at the five and
ten-pop hits of the day by bands like the 1910 Fruitgum Company, the Monkees
and the Beatles. My brother and I watched an Atlanta station that aired their homegrown
videos for top songs of the day-years before MTV. In high school, my first
cassette purchase was Credence Clearwater Revival and I discovered artists like
David Bowie. In 1977 that all changed and I began buying records by bands like
the Talking Heads, the Ramones and became a fan of Athens own B-52s. I now listen to a little of
everything including repetitious electronic music by Terry Riley and classical.

        Hannah: My
original influences are The Raincoats and The Slits. In general my musical
tastes lean towards post-punk/punk, but also towards more cosmic things like
Sun Ra.

        Kay: I have been influenced by so many bands.
Early on it was Simon and Garfunkel, Dolly Parton, and John Denver. I got
really excited about bands like Bow Wow Wow, The Ramones, and XTC in the early
’80s. Really, my influences range from The Flaming Lips to Yoko Ono to Can, and
everything in between. Jason: I cannot speak for everyone, but as a guitarist I
try to fit into the fabric of the song and pick my moments to make a spectacle
of myself. At any point in time I might be channeling the spirit of Keith Richards,
Richard Thompson, Frank Zappa, Bob Quine, Steve Cropper or Randy Bewley. I
don’t think I sound like any of them. Sometimes I don’t play anything. I just
listen.

        Bryan: Lately, my musical
influences have come from places one might say further afield. Luiz Gonzaga is
the godfather of forró, a Brazilian style of peasant accordion music from Bahia. He brought this indigenous “peasant”
music to the masses of Brazil
starting in the 1950s and remained popular until his death in 1989.  Gonzaga’s melodies and even his infectious
laughter can transport and uplift you. I’ve also been influenced by the early
electronic pioneer, Raymond Scott. His series, Soothing Sounds for Baby, in the
early ‘60s was so modern yet playful.  He
was a genius inventor and, as is often the case, a bit mad.

 

(Supercluster
promo video for “Neat In the Street,” a Side Effects cover)

 

 

 

What
did we used to drink?  What in particular
do you remember? 

Vanessa: Budweiser out of a large bathtub filled with ice
and beer or fresh out of a keg. Not an uncommon sight at many parties back in
the late ‘70s and early ‘80s…in my younger days lemonade and sweet tea.

        Kay: Back to
the first question, it’s more than just the literal definition of
“drink,” but things we DID drink (in the summer, especially) were the
ever-present sweet tea, lemonade, and the fluorescent sugar water at the bottom
of the ice pop after it had melted. But mostly we drank the air, the times in the
creeks and swimming holes, the sweat of the kids in the punk clubs, and the
moisture on the grass. We drank our grandparents’ tall tales and the trouble we
got into when our parents weren’t watching. Jason: Sweet tea, orange Crush, an
approved sip of dad’s Stroh’s. Mostly, you drink the atmosphere.

        Bob: Chocolate
malts from the local corner drug counter in Grand Rapids, Michigan
where I grew up.

 

What
inspired the song titles?

Vanessa: “Things
We Used To Drinkwas the working title for a keyboard
melody line I gave to Kay to expound on. It just popped in my head, the song
wrote the title. I keep notebooks where I write my ideas. The title for “Memory of The Future happened the exact same way. I gave that one to Hannah Jones to work on. Hannah
and Kay could have changed the titles, but they didn’t. I guess it’s like
naming a new kitten. I named the kitten, but it grew up and became its own cat.

 

Discuss
the lyrics for “Things We Used to Drink” and “Memory of the Future.”

Hannah: The lyrics for “Memory of the Future” are
based on the song title, but some of the lyrics are from phrases I had randomly
written in notebooks already. 
Appropriately!  I asked Vanessa to
do some spoken word stuff based on the lyrics and she immediately came up with
something that fit perfectly.

        Kay: Maybe
it’s because I’m a visual artist, but the title the Things We Used to Drink” brought
up a rush of memories of being a small child…a teenager… in college, and
now. All the memories were in the summer and I think I just selected a few
snapshots of different times. Something about the heat and humidity in Georgia just
makes me feel slightly drunk and dreamy all the time. All the memories of being
young look like hazy old color photos from the seventies.

        The first
verse is a memory of being elementary school age. I remember sitting in my yard
under the sprinkler. It was just too hot to move, and you were always
sweaty…no matter what. There were no air conditioners in the schools, so you
did what you could to stay cool. But everything always felt damp. And you would
just lie around in the front yard or the hammock and all you could focus on was
being cool. You didn’t worry about needing to do anything or be anywhere. You
just wanted to have that moment of coolness. But there was something oddly
pleasant about it, because it was summer and everything was OK.

        The second
verse would have been college time or early twenties when I started going to
shows all the time. If it was hot outside, it was amped up even more inside the
dive bar/clubs we would go to for shows. It never slowed us down. We would
dance our asses off, and the sweat just felt cleansing. You wouldn’t need booze
because the way the lights looked through the smoke and evaporated smoke made
you feel like you had been chugging beer all night. Of course, we were probably
on the brink of heat exhaustion.

        The final
verse could be any time in the south. In the summer, you sit on your front porch
with a glass of… and just swing and try to stir up a breeze. The best,
though, is when a thunderstorm begins to move through, and you get the sudden
muting of the sun just before the leaves start whispering as the wind picks up.
It’s the sweetest lover’s kiss of summer. You know that the oppression of 93%
humidity will break for a moment and you can take a full breath again.

        “Tastes
like time…tastes like wine…” is just about the memories and how they
feel like a wonderful drunken dream.

 

If you
could spend 24 hours with any one person, who would it be?

Hannah: Fred Astaire.

        Jason: Isaac
Asimov, author of one of my favorite books, 2001. He seems to know enough about
the past and present to be generally correct about
the future.

        Bryan: I’ve always
thought of a real situation of hanging out with Jimi Hendrix in the now. It
would take longer than 24 hours because he would be completely freaked out. We
would have to start quite slow. He wouldn’t be allowed outside for a while. I
would need to teach him about some various changes that have occurred since
1970.  Of course, I’d play him some music
I thought he would appreciate, but he’d probably like Santana or Weather
Report. Who knows what he’d think of Yngwie Malmsteen.  If Hendrix had lived, he would’ve made some
awful jazz fusion record.  Just like I
think John Lennon would’ve made a bad rap record.  But I think Hendrix and I could get along.
I’d just have to guide him down the right path before I set him free.

        Vanessa: I can
think of a lot of artists, writers and musicians with whom I would like to
spend a day, but if I could just pick one living or dead it would probably be
Georgia O’Keeffe. She had a very long and fruitful career and was constantly
looking for new inspiration. I think she would have a lot to teach me and I
would be willing to learn. I would love to hang out with her in New Mexico at her house.

Bob: Robert Burns.

 

***

 

Well, I’ll drink to that, and I recommend that you do the
same. While you’re mixing that drink go ahead, download and purchase the latest
Supercluster recordings at AthensMusic.net. And for a good time – we do mean a
REALLY GOOD time – check out the band’s official YouTube channel (as
“Sprclstr”) for the above clips and loads more.

 

[Photo Credit: Michael
Lachowski. Above: (L to R) Jason NeSmith, Bob Hay, John
Fernandes, Bryan Poole, Hannah Jones, Heather MacIntosh, Kay Stanton, Vanessa
Hay, Bill David.]

 

Leave a Reply