A Canadian cult band of the highest order, Hamilton’s Simply Saucer are an outfit that have spent 40+ years in the margins, popular enough to be (sorta) known and yet basically unheard by most.
They’ve drawn comparisons to the Velvet Underground, Pink Floyd, various Krautrock artists and the like. All accurate in part but really, Simply Saucer are much more enigmatic and a legit longshot in the big picture. They somehow parlayed a single 7″ plus some demos and live tracks into a genuine global ethos–a rare feat for any Canadian talent past and present.
Toronto-based writer Jesse Locke got the Simply Saucer story down on paper. The result is Heavy Metalloid Music: The Story of Simply Saucer, a new book that details the Saucer story, handcrafted via interview with frontman Edgar Breau and a cast of characters who flesh out this story in detail.
Jesse and I recently chatted about the book, the band and why Simply Saucer is still in the conversation more than four decades later. Our conversation below. Cam in bold. Jesse in regular.
Hello! First question: When was the first time you heard of Simply Saucer? Where were you and what were you doing?
I first heard Simply Saucer shortly after the CD reissue of (the band’s only full-length) Cyborgs Revisited from Sonic Unyon in 2003. I was hanging out with my great friend and longtime musical collaborator Craig Fahner in his parent’s basement in Calgary where our old band Sudden Infant Dance Syndrome would jam. He had turned me onto many great bands like Kleenex/LiLiPUT, The Pop Group, and Television Personalities, and Simply Saucer was the latest thing he was excited about.
I can clearly remember hearing “Illegal Bodies”, the immortal 10-minute closer from Cyborgs Revisited, for the first time and absolutely losing my mind. I was a massive fan of the Velvet Underground, so discovering this band from Canada playing their own scorched version of “Sister Ray” was a revelation. Learning more about their story sealed the deal for a lifelong obsession.
What did you do next in terms of doing a “deep dive” about the band? Assume in 2003, there wasn’t a ton of info out there about them. Plus it was pre-YouTube, etc.
I didn’t immediately do a “deep dive” but over the next few years I read everything I could find about them. That included Bruce “The Mole” Mowat’s liner notes from the CD and Julian Cope’s fantastic review of Cyborgs Revisited from 2001, which I quote in my book and consider one of the best things ever written about them.
The timeline on the Simply Saucer website was another invaluable resource, but it was Liz Worth’s Toronto/Hamilton punk history book Treat Me Like Dirt (which takes its name from the lyrics of their song “Bullet Proof Nothing”) that really opened things up by allowing them to tell a concise history of the band in their own words. Once I read that, I knew there were a million more details and ripping yarns that could be spun into a full-length biography.
When did you first see the band live? How did that compare?
After moving to Toronto, the first chance I had to see Simply Saucer live was in February 2013. It was a really cool show at the Garrison with two other local favourites of mine, Lido Pimienta and The Highest Order. At that point, the reunited Saucer had been playing for several years with a five-piece, three-guitar line-up, adding some grit to their 1970s recordings.
As singer Edgar Breau says in my book, “Having three loud electric guitars on stage was not the same sound as Cyborgs Revisited. At times it felt like a brawling ‘Hammertown’ sound, but at other times it was blue-collar socialist equality. We got pretty aggressive on stage and off.” That was true, but Dan Winterman was also a member at that time, and his previous experience in experimental projects like head/phone/over/tone and The Battleship, Ethel brought some of Saucer’s original electro-rock jolt. After their set, I introduced myself to Edgar and told him I was interested in writing something about the band. At that point, I wasn’t sure if it would be a book or an article or something else entirely, but he was very open to the idea and it went from there.
How did you and Edgar keep in touch after that first meeting? Was he enthusiastic to have somebody “deep dive” into the Saucer story?
Once we had a chance to talk and I told Edgar about some of my previous work, he was definitely enthusiastic. My first interview took place in person with the original trio of Saucer members from 1973: Edgar, Paul Colilli, and David Byers. They shared a lot of great stories about the origins of the band when they were playing with six members and primarily improvising. “Playing” is the operative word there, because it really seemed like they were just messing around and trying to create versions of the albums they were hearing at that time from artists like Can, Soft Machine, and Hawkwind. Apparently there is a super early jam space recording from a guy named Wally Ley, but it’s been lost to the sands of time.
Very cool. Who were some of the other names you talked to for the book? Lots of Hamilton folks?
I spoke to current and former members of the band, 1970s contemporaries, collaborators, champions, friends, fans, and family members. That list includes Edgar’s sister Maureen Willson, Bruce “The Mole” Mowat (who wrote the book’s intro), Gary Pig Gold, Chris Houston, Bob Lanois, Byron Coley, Steve “Sparky” Park, and the great Colina Phillips. Another important aspect of the book for me was connecting the dots between Simply Saucer and other underground rock groups from Hamilton who carried on their legacy (even sharing a member in one case). The bands I focused on are The Chessmen, Thee Gnostics, Sublimatus, The Battleship, Ethel, and Zacht Automaat.
On top of that I interviewed label heads who have released Saucer’s music in recent years (Mammoth Cave, Logan Hardware/Galactic Zoo Archive, In The Red) and other Hamilton music heavyweights (TV Freaks, Hammer City/Schizophrenic Records, Strangewaves) who are carrying their torch into the future.
What was Byron Coley like to interview? One of the first legit indie “tastemakers” who came on my radar in the 1990s.
Byron was great! He’s one of my heroes too, and I’m honoured that he had nice things to say about the book. His quotes are included on the first page and the back cover.
Based on your research and conversations, what is your sense of how popular Simply Saucer got outside of Canada? Both during their 1970s run and in the decades since.
When Gary Pig Gold released their 7″ in 1978 it gained Saucer some notoriety in the US and UK. Higher profile fans included Steve Wynn from The Dream Syndicate, Cub Koda, and apparently Rodney Bingenheimer and John Peel both played it on their radio shows. The 1989 release of Cyborgs Revisited turned them into cult heroes and their reputation has grown with each subsequent reissue, culminating with the critical reception for the CD release from Sonic Unyon in 2003.
There’s been another surge in popularity in the last few years with all of the new releases and documentation of the band. I’ve been amazed by fans reaching out to me from Switzerland and recently learned that members of the Grateful Dead love Cyborgs Revisited.
That’s amazing. From what you learned, what was Edgar largely up to in the 1990s?
After Cyborgs Revisited was released in 1989, it started to gain notoriety in record collector/zine circles, but Edgar himself didn’t want to have anything to do with Simply Saucer at that time. He was only quietly musically active with home recordings of John Fahey-inspired fingerstyle guitar instrumentals (one of which can be heard on the compilation included with the book) and later forming a band called the Shadows of Ecstacy. However, Edgar spent more of his time homeschooling five children and engaging in a short, unsuccessful political run in 1999.
Did you detect there was any overlap or admiration of Simply Saucer within the 1990s shoegaze movement?
In terms of interest within the “shoegaze movement,” one of the most widely discussed moments at the time occurred when Sonic Youth opened for Neil Young at Copps Coliseum in 1991. They visited Mole Records earlier that day to buy copies of Cyborgs Revisited and then devoted a song to Saucer during their set. I’ve heard through the grapevine that Jason Pierce of Spacemen 3 is a big fan as well.
Final question: Think we’ll see any more versions of Saucer playing shows in future? What do you think is next for Edgar musically?
I’ll answer your second question first: Edgar has recently completed a new solo album with producers Adam Bentley and Jordan Mitchell that should be released in 2017. There’s one song included on my book’s compilation. It’s a lush, haunting recording based on a poem by W.B. Yeats, and the rest of the album follows suit.
As for your first question: Simply Saucer has been heavily active since reuniting in 2006. That not only includes live shows with Edgar and original bassist Kevin Christoff joined by various incarnations of members, but also the band’s first ever US tours, and recent recordings (2008’s Half Human/Half Live, and 2011’s Baby Nova EP, which won a Hamilton Music Award for ‘Punk Recording of the Year’).
Lately, the band has settled into a line-up with Edgar, Kevin, Colina, guitarist Mike Trebilcock of The Killjoys, storied keyboardist Ed Roth, and a rotating crew of drummers. Alongside Blue Rodeo’s Glenn Milchem and Crowbar’s Paul Panchezak, I’ve been lucky enough to be added to that call sheet as well. Playing drums with my favourite band at our book launch shows has been a truly unexpected epilogue, and a dream come true.
For more and to purchase Metalloid Music: The Story of Simply Saucer, visit the Eternal Cavalier Press website.