Music Features

Is/Ought Gap Releases SUA on HHBTM Records

Is/Ought Gap

A certain feeling of opportunity descended upon Athens once the success of The B-52s was solidified, the critical acclaim of Pylon was nearly universal and, especially so, after R.E.M. began climbing the stair steps to the stars. Even in our then-tiny town scene circa early-mid 1980s, there were folks clamoring for the elusive brass ring. And, honestly, when you’re living in an environment of exceedingly low rent and an endless stream of easily obtainable service jobs—a situation that was common in Athens for probably way longer than we ever had a right to—forming a band for fun with your buddies was generally a very low-stakes affair. 

The newly released, and only relatively recently unearthed, full-length by 1980s-era Athens band Is/Ought Gap shows what creativity can blossom when “low stakes” is actually “no stakes.” That is, when it’s art for art’s sake and fun for fun’s sake.

Existing roughly between the years of 1981–1985, Is/Ought Gap is a quintessential example of what was happening at the time. The group existed at the same time as singer Bryan Cook’s other band Club Gaga and was composed of Cook, who also played bass and keyboards, Tom Cheek (guitar, bass), Haynes Collins (guitar, bass) and Allen Wagner (drums). When the band split, Cheek, Wagner and Collins moved on to form Kilkenny Cats, and Cook filled his time with the much better known Time Toy, as well as the initial lineup of supergroup Hindu Love Gods featuring all of R.E.M. (sans Michael Stipe) with Warren Zevon. 

“Is/Ought Gap broke up just as the Kilkenny Cats were forming,” Cook says. “Club Gaga and Is/Ought Gap were concurrent. I believe that Is/Ought had only been broken up a couple of months before we had our first ‘reunion’ show.” 

Before this, though, Is/Ought Gap played tons locally and recorded seven songs with producer Vic Varney (Method Actors) at Atlanta’s Songbird Studio in March 1984. These tracks were released for the first time about seven years ago as the mini-album Lucky 7. Around this same time, the band reconvened to track four more songs at Jason NeSmith’s Bel*Air Studio. Happy Happy Birthday to Me Records has joined both of these sessions, along with some choice vintage live tracks courtesy of legendary 40 Watt Club engineer Pat “The Wiz” Biddle. This new collection is titled SUA, and it is a wonderful snapshot of a band that, had they not been proactive in capturing themselves, may have well been lost in the sands of Athens time. The live tracks, in particular, are a choice set of tunes that truly display the band’s brash yet honest take on, well, everything. These include live recordings of the album’s title track and “Artsy Peace and Love,” as well as covers of the New York Dolls’ “Personality Crisis” and Wire’s “Feeling Called Love.” 

The upcoming release show counts as only the fourth time in the past four decades that Is/Ought Gap has reunited. The first was, as Cook recalls, the opening night of the Rockfish Palace, which wasn’t too long after the group’s initial split. The others were for Art Rocks Athens in 2014 and the release of Lucky 7 in 2017. 

Is/Ought Gap cranked out a rhythmic and boisterous music that only really had far-flung peers, and the one most often name-dropped wasn’t even on their radar at the time. Cook says, “People have mentioned noticing Pere Ubu to me about Is/Ought Gap and Time Toy. To be honest, I had not heard them back then. I had read their name in Maximum Rocknroll and other places but had never heard them except for one song on the URGH! A Music War album, and that didn’t really stand out to me back then. When I saw them open for The Pixies at the Georgia Theatre [in November 1991], it kinda clicked as far as what people saw in comparing me and [Pere Ubu singer] David Thomas—we both bellowed earnestly and danced funny.”

When the band celebrates the release of SUA this week at Nowhere Bar it’ll be the entire original lineup performing—with Haynes Collins even flying over from the UK to join the crew—as well as the aforementioned Jason NeSmith who has worked and played with the group since 2014. When asked if there are any other special things lined up for this show, Cook mentioned, “We have invited Bill Oglesby (Gravity Creeps, Strange Attractors, The Heathens) to join us on sax on the two songs that Paul Hammond originally played on when we did the first studio recording. That’ll be fun! We may have some other special guests join us as well, things are still coming together.” 

WHO: Is/Ought Gap, The Asymptomatics
WHEN: Friday, Apr. 12, 7 p.m. (doors), 9:30 p.m. (show)
WHERE: Nowhere Bar