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STEREO EMBERS EXCLUSIVE ADVANCE STREAM – Full-Length “SUA” from Is/Ought Gap, One of the Original Athens GA Scene’s Most Respected, Legendary Bands (Includes Track-by-Track from Co-Founder Bryan Cook)

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Like some lost version of an imagined American post-punk Lost Horizons, one of this country’s most vibrant and historically essential bands from one of this country’s most vibrant and essential scenes, having first taken off in 1981 before eventually disintegrating in mid-air later that decade, has crash-landed here in 2024 with a petrol burst of verve and ingenuity that not only transcends eras and the presumptions that come with them but rewrites that whole Shangri-La thing as a plucky, instantly immortal bastion of sharp songwriting and even sharper attitude, the all of it undiminished since its initial flurries triggered some seriously fevered whisperings throughout that storied Athens demimonde. Were one a seer of sorts back in yonder climes it’s possible that one would have seen it all playing out like this: what began as a none-more inspired, scene-integral act with the curious but spot-on name Is/Ought Gap would become one of those shadow acts that nearly overshadows but at the very least matches fire-for-indie-fire the inspired essence of scene mates Pylon, REM, Love Tractor and the B-52’s, is back amongst us with the ‘full-length that was meant to be,’ released tomorrow, April 5th, on the ever-reliable HHBTM Records.

Called SUA (the internet says that stands for ‘special use airspace’ but however applicable that may be the actual name derives from the more willfully obscure, and therefore much cooler fact that it was formed from the second letters of the band’s name), the album, consisting of I/OG’s original recordings updated and revivified by local hero Jason Nesmith as well live tracks and a handful of originals re-recorded in 2014, skitters and carroms and pulses and seduces as it somersaults through its paces like the yet-discovered classic it, in fact, actually is. From its irreverent, chopped funk punk opener “Artsy Peace and Love” that suggests Pigbag never left the building through “Wake Up Wet”‘s cheeky early Bongos flair, “Lucky 7” cruising the pleasingly sordid wavelengths that emanated from the fringes of NYC all the way to everywhere – especially Athens G-A – back when Is/Ought Gap first formed, the wonderful garage-y yelp and skip that attends “Mad,” the band (Tom Cheek, Haynes Collins and Allen Wagner) banging along behind singer Bryan Cook like some cracked version of the Contortions meeting Dr Feelgood for an uptown brawl, the brief but boisterous “It’ll Never Be the Same Again” that found this listener recalling another of yesteryear’s Athens-based powerhouses The Method Actors (which is a very good thing, in case you’re wondering), “Grey Coat” that leans, if deftly, in to classic Nuggets/Pebbles territory with what we in the biz call ‘aplomb’ to the title track, a live rendering that to us bears a likeness to what we imagine The Velvet Underground would have sounded like were they a promising teenage garage band circa 1976 – which, again, is a very good thing indeed – SUA may well be the surprise album we’ve all been waiting for and, if you’re asking us, we can’t think of an album better suited to kick our energy up the notch it needs to help us carry the burst of spring into the timeless promise of summer. In short – we could go on but, being as astute as we know our readers are, you get the gist and the drift – SUA‘s a record you A) want, and B) need, and therefore C) will never forget. Get it here, get it now (well, OK, tomorrow the 5th) and love it forevermore.

[find Bryan Cook’s track-by-track breakdown down below]



Artsy Peace and Love

Bryan: This was a Tom riff that came from from him practicing the chord progression to a Stones song. It was one of the first songs we wrote once Haynes came to town. We would switch who played what instrument a lot in the early days of being a band, taking turns on who played bass. I could never come up with a bass line for it so Vic Varney ended up adding one when we went to record it at Songbird /studios in Atlanta. Some songs like this one and Mad never had a bass on it. Bryan Lilge joined us on a couple of live shows and added his own bass line. Later, David Barbe found a line that fit, and then most recently, Kay Stanton graced us with her cool version.

I think we wrote this at our first practice space, which was at the Mack & Payne Funeral Home, adjacent to the Morton Theater in downtown Athens. We had the bottom floor, back behind some accordion sliding doors. I think we paid $75.00 a month. At some point we discovered the casket elevator(and it worked!). The casket showroom had been upstairs, I believe.

The words reference a party that I went to over at the Limbo District/Jeremy Ayers’ house on Meigs St. My friend and I went there and were kinda green on the scene. There were some hash/tobacco cigarettes going around as well as some other things. A whole lot of giggling,  full on laughing until you cry and paranoia. I just remember after a while feeling like I needed to leave, it was all too much. Going outside didn’t really help much, but it felt better. I remember thinking it was Saturday and then realizing that it was Friday and that made me laugh and freak out even more.

Wake Up Wet

Bryan: This one was one of our later songs. It was a Haynes guitar line and Tom came up with a very cool bass line to go along with it. The music sounded so full that I didn’t feel like I needed to play on it at all. Allen’s drums really made it all gel. The words were a riff on a few different dreams I had, nothing in particular, just waking up all sweaty from running from things. And then Martin Luther King showed up for no reason at all. Maybe it was just me dreaming about him talking about dreaming…who knows?

Her Peace

Bryan: This was one of Tom’s chord progressions. The big strummed chords and then the finger picking were just so cool and didn’t really remind me of anything we had done before.  For the words, I always love a good pun or word play and while we were in the “jamming” stage of learning and arranging this song, I just blurted out “Her Peace, Her Peace” and it stuck. Then going into the studio, I really didn’t have exact words since we had only been playing it for a month or two at that point. I knew what I wanted to evoke, but the words were pretty blurry. The words included on the insert of this record are more of a transcript than “lyrics.” I still don’t have real words, only occasional phrases that I spit out, hopefully in the same order as before but sometimes not.

Lucky 7

Bryan: I think this started as a Haynes bass line. He was really growing as a bass player when this song was being written. This was written around the same time as Wake up Wet and Her Peace, sorta the third wave of our song writing. We started with some of my old piano songs that I had written before the band started, then we had a few that Tom and I came up with while he was living in Morris Hall before we were an actual band. It was just us two playing through his stereo. I had bought a used Eco violin-shaped, hollow body bass at a pawn shop in Atlanta and he had his trusty Peavy blond-wood guitar. When Haynes moved to town with his Gibson-looking guitar, we got the practice space, auditioned drummers, and worked up those early songs into a ~12 song set. Back then, the goal was being able to start and end the songs together at the same time. No intros, no fades, just 1*2*3*4 and then the cymbal crash at the end and a snare pop to show that we meant it!By the time that this song was written, Haynes had gotten a Travis Beam bass that sounded great with its airplane aluminum neck and solid, hardwood body. I think that bass was more of the reason for this song than anything else, really. Just like a favorite pen might inspire words on a page, an instrument can truly make you write a particular song. I think the words just fit and since I didn’t have to play an instrument on this song, I could concentrate on coming up with a compelling melody and arrangement.

He Said

Bryan: I think this was an early Haynes guitar riff that he showed up with. We used to try to write fast, kinda punky songs as a challenge to ourselves, to see how fast we could play them. This could easily get away from us. I kinda remember that when Vic Varney was preparing to go with us to the studio, we gave him a live tape to work with and he made up a harmony to this song that kinda took it in another direction, half county, half punk and along with my sing-song chorus and he/she, gossip words made this song a real blast to play live. I think sometimes we would play it twice because it only lasted two minutes!


Bryan: This was one of my old piano songs. I thought I was being punk, cussing and playing fast! Tom added the cool guitar lick. I had written it on piano and never really came up with a bass part – I just screamed out the lyrics and that was enough. When we went to the studio, Vic added a cool, busy, funky bass line and I added piano. To top it off we had Paul Hammond add two (or three?) saxes on it. I think I called us the Is/Ought Gap Orchestra after we heard the first playback!I remember the engineer turning off all the instruments except my voice when we were mixing it and giving me a kinda dirty look because of the “damn fucking” part of the lyrics and asked if I wanted to recut the vocals. If I remember right, he was in a band called God’s Rhythm Section, so he wasn’t really on board with my subversive swear words.


Bryan: Voices started as a jam with my little Casio VL-Tone as the bass. It also started with Haynes on vocals. He used to sing 3 or 4 songs when we first started out (Submachine Gun, Voices, 100 degrees). It seems like Tom sang a few as well in the early iteration of the band. Once Allen joined the band and added the disco-y drum part, this song became a live favorite and could go on for over 4 minutes! In the studio, Vic added the  bass line that really brought the whole song together.

It’ll Never Be The Same Again

Bryan: This was a Haynes guitar song that I added bass chords to and then Tom came up with the perfect guitar line to echo his vocal lines. This is always one of my favorite songs to play live because of the interplay between the instruments and I just like to play while Tom is singing.

Meaningless Irregular

Bryan: I think this one is a very early song written while we were still living at Myers Hall. It seems like Tom and I collaborated on the words, if I remember right. Then we went to the Funeral home and bashed it out all together. I remember Haynes singing the word “customer” with me in a leering, snarling voice and us just having a blast singing and playing it together. Once we broke up the first time, this song kinda fell by the wayside. Then it reappeared and we remembered how much fun we had playing it so it was resurected and we went ahead and recorded it a few years ago in Jason’s studio. I had to dig through a couple of old live tapes and a few old Village Voices to pull the words back from the ether.

The song just really reminds me of Barnett’s Newstand in downtown Athens. I used to go there and buy clove cigarettes and various magazines, including the Village Voice. The words in one of the verses are a recitation of headlines of an issue of the Voice: “Village Voice says there is no left, Ralph Nader talks to two. On the back Gerbo’s Room, hitch-hiking naked two.”

Miss Myers

Bryan: This was definitely written in the piano room at Myers Hall about Myers Hall, sorta. I remember thinking this girl there was kinda hot. She was sitting on a wall in the quad smoking a cigarette and she exhaled through her nose, smoke only came out one nostril! I could not look at her again without laughing to myself and for some reason that inspired me to include her in the song. The chords are sort of a rewrite of Steppin’ Stone and I used it as an inspiration for many songs in the future as well. There is just something cool sounding about E G A C that speaks to me.

Grey Coat

Bryan: This was a Tom guitar song that was another early one in our song book. I remember having fun trying to come up with a bass part for this song with Tom, having him play it very slowly so I could fumble my way through it on bass. I kinda remember us working through the arrangement and we thought it would be cool to play one of the chord progressions backwards, so I would yell “backwards” and that kinda stuck as part of the chorus. I also just remembered that Art in the Dark (another Athens band at the time) had a song that went something like “up and down and up and down and sideways” that kind of annoyed me so I really enjoyed yelling “backwards” as an antidote to “sideways.” I remember we had been playing Paint it Black at some shows and during practice. I kinda remember Tom having a music book with the chords to Beggars Banquet or something in it, along with other Stones songs but we still kinda just played it our own way mainly because we just couldn’t be bothered with learning it exactly. This song may have come from some of those attempts at figuring out the other Stones songs. I can’t really remember. Tom had this grey coat that he wore a lot back then, kinda loose fitting with deep pockets. When we would go see R.E.M. at Tyrone’s way back then, we would sometimes hang out at the Coffee Club afterwards and Michael would stop by and hang out.  I think he mentioned one night that he liked Tom’s coat, so that was enough inspiration to write a song! One winter day there was a big snow storm and we all were playing on Baxter hill, sliding around and drinking too much peppermint schnapps. We ended up back at the Funeral home and plugged in the electric heater and passed out a little too close to it. When we woke up, Tom’s grey coat had nearly caught fire and had a big scorch mark on one of the sleeves, ending the saga of Tom’s grey coat, only to live on in this song.


Bryan: This is one of my bass songs. When I got my first (and only) bass, I had bever played one before. The Eco bass was hollow bodied so it was a feedback monster, which was fun for a newbie like me but probably frustrated our regular soundman, Pat the Wiz! The song was basically a jam on a bass hook loosely structured. The word SUA  is a made up word that consists of the second letter of our band’s name, Is/Ought Gap.

Personality Crisis

Bryan: I found the French EP of The New York Dolls that had this song, along with three other ones. I had never owned their other records and I don’t remember any of my friends having them either. Personality Crisis became my favorite song when we first moved into 170 Barber St and I played it over and over. I got the first Savage Republic record around the same time and couldn’t quit playing it either. I think Haynes helped me figure out how to play this song, though we never really played it exactly like the Dolls record – we just did our version of it. I remember some folks thought it was an original song of ours! It was so much fun to play live, with the false ending that came back to a slow, swampy verse that kept speeding up until the end. The version on this record was from one of our post break-up shows with Peter Fancher of Club Gaga joining us on lead guitar. Some people thought that Is/Ought Gap was better after we broke up than before… I almost agree!

Feeling Called Love

Bryan: I had heard the story about Wire never having played their instruments before going into the studio and recording the Pink Flag record and halfway believed them. I had also heard Pylon’s Michael Lachoski and Peter Buck from R.E.M. talking the record up so I had to hear it. Either I went out and bought it or I borrowed it from Peter Fancher (sorry if this is the case, I still have it). I thought it was amazing! We immediately started doing Strange, then we learned 12XU and played it live a couple of times, then latched on to Feelin Called Love. R.E.M started doing Strange a year or two later and I felt kinda proud even though Peter probably had the record since it came out. Michael sang Strange with us a few times before they ended up recording it and adding it to their set for a while. Things go in strange ways sometimes.