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Posts Tagged ‘Sonic Youth’

Ignored 123: Jesse Locke on Heavy Metalloid Music: The Story of Simply Saucer

In Words on January 2, 2017 at 3:33 pm

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.

simplysaucer

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.

http://www.eternalcavalierpress.com/product/heavy-metalloid-music-the-story-of-simply-saucer/

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Ignored 108: The Concert Hall was pretty cool

In Graphic on September 3, 2016 at 11:04 pm

ignored108

Ignored 80: Fakeapalooza

In Graphic on April 6, 2016 at 3:48 am

Ignored80

Ignored 71: Photos WTF

In Uncategorized on November 15, 2015 at 2:57 am

ignored71

Ignored 54: Do you like Blue Rodeo?

In Uncategorized on March 12, 2015 at 12:53 am

I talk to my high school pal Adam about Blue Rodeo, Neil Young dying (again), Oasis (a few times), everything and nothing.

Cam: Morbid question: of any active living musician, who will you be the most upset for when they die?

Adam: Funny you ask, as I was commenting to a buddy that Van Morrison feels like the guy to go now that Joe Cocker is gone.  That’ll be sad. I love Van and fell in love to Astral Weeks. Paul, without question.  Dylan, Simon, Bobby and Phil.  Springsteen will outlive us all. It’s hard to imagine the legends of rock passing.  It’s interesting for us to have grown up during the baby boomers 40s.  We saw their second acts and revered their first.  The 1960s, the British Invasion, the Summer of Love and then 1972.  All these things were within the same recent memory as August and Everything After (or Nevermind) is to us now. So rock had always been around. George dying devastated me. So did Jerry dying.

C: Astral Weeks is fantastic. Consistently one of my Top 10 faves. Yeah, Van is pretty enigmatic, at least in terms of his public persona. Which he barely has if he’s not touring. Neil Young dying is going to be brutal. That seems like it could be very personal to Canadians in our demo: an artist that we loved, our parents loved, a Canadian, somebody who was equally at home jamming with Booker T and the MGs, the Band or Sonic Youth. A total legend: both “Neil Young: the performer” and “Neil Young: the concept”. It’s crazy Jerry was only 53 when he died. Considering McCartney, Brian Wilson, etc. are now in their 70s.

A: Forgot Neil.  Yes. Harvest for our parents. Harvest Moon for us. BTW, that Barrie concert had nobody I wanted to see. On the plus side, the thing at Fort York looks super awesome.

C: Ya, I wouldn’t mind seeing Kendrick Lamar, Danny Brown and I guess Modest Mouse but nothing grabs me. it’s a very contemporary line-up so I kinda give them credit for not copping out and having AC/DC headline, a la Coachella. i think we discussed it before… i find these massive outdoor concerts are more akin to “camping” than “music event”…. the bands seem almost secondary to the experience. Do you like Blue Rodeo?

A: “Lost Together” was our wedding song, and I saw them at the big Simon & Garfunkel l show at the SkyDome back in…94? Also saw them once at the Gardens, I think. 5 Days in June was a tremendous album to hit for us at that age. It was everywhere at camp, and “5 Days in May” had a fantastic video that felt a lot like “Lovers in a Dangerous Time”. That is my favorite Toronto 1990s thing ever, my favorite BNL song, one of the greatest covers of all-time, and a video about youthful love.  Holding hands and running away from the camera in black and white still makes me feel 18.  “Diamond Mine” is also a great song too. They hit such a creative peak back then that they got to coast on being Blue Rodeo after that. Everything sounds the same, but I’ve got no gripe with them, just not any interest for anything past their greatest hits, which I like a lot. Sometimes, I love it.

C: Ya, from 1988-1993, they were in a rare place: massively popular/stadium worthy but making music that was pretty innovative and seemed very contemporary even though in other ways, it was very old. At that time, comparisons to the Band seemed farfetched but maybe not that far off? Again, it’s crazy that a song like “5 Days in May” was something that little kids listened to and enjoyed and watched the video for on MuchMusic. For anybody who loved them in that 1988-1993, they still seem like superstars even if they’ve been on commercial autopilot for the last 20 years (assumedly… I haven’t really been paying attention although I saw them at the Amphitheatre 2-3 times during that stretch). It seems they could’ve been marketed differently and been a positioned in the Wilco/Son Volt/Whiskeytown ilk or gone ina slightly different direction and been in the Widespread Panic/String Cheese conversation? Instead, they were kind of just a notch below the Tragically Hip commercially.

A: Heard some stuff off their last album that was good.  Or was that Cuddy? Have been rewatching The Last Waltz on the topic of the Band.  Wondered about best or biggest bands with multiple singers.  Ricky, Richard, Levon. How cool it is when the song goes to the guy who sings it best?

C: I guess the Beatles introduced the “multiple singers” model? Hate to say… I automatically think of the Eagles and afro-era Don Henley behind the kit. In more recent times, I think Sloan really nailed this model. Maybe part of the reason they’re now a quarter century in. Another band where I haven’t paid attention to the last 4-5 albums but I have little doubt of their continued quality.

A: I thought about it with the Eagles too as I was reading the Simmons eagles history recap in the Grantland quarterly.  Obviously the Beatles.  I met the bass player from Sloan, the one I recognize, and asked him about the baseline on “Money City Maniacs” being the same chord trough the entire verse until the chorus.  Like “Tomorrow Never Knows”!  He was appreciative. We were with our kids at Centreville on the island.

C: Good call. I still get a bit starstruck when I see musicians in public. It’s very humanizing. Some recent sightings: Damian from Fucked Up with his kids at the ROM, Ron Sexsmith walking down College, Stephen from Lowest on the Low on the subway a bunch of times. The thing that I find funny about the Eagles in retrospect: they were essentially devoid of any humour or fun. That was a VERY serious band.

A: Very serious band. I liked the Eagles.  At least their greatest hits. Just learned “Hotel California” on the ukulele.  So much fun to play and sing/scat the dueling guitar solo.

C: I like the Eagles too. I think the “seriousness” was a 1970s thing. It’s when whoever decided that rock music wasn’t just for kids anymore. It was OK for 45 year-olds to listen to the Eagles, James Taylor et all. These were seriously artists who (apparently) had something to say. I like the Carly Simon song “Anticipation”. Here’s a good question: who are the most tense bands of all-times? Artists where the acrimony on-stage was really obvious. I’d say (at times) the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and the Pixies all belonged in the top three. I feel like I’ve seen some Van Morrison performance where he seems like he’d rather be anywhere else than on-stage.

A: Carly was great. And the cover of that album? Man.  That is a good question. Knee jerk answers. In no particular order: the Beatles in that picture with Yoko there.  The Beatles in that scene filming Let It Be when George says (do your best George), “Tell me what you want me to play and I’ll play it”. Oasis. The Eagles. The Wonders, from that Tom Hanks movie.

C: Oasis. Yes, good one! I think the Kinks used to brawl on-stage too. So there’s that…. I could be imagining it but I feel like the last 3-4 years, there’s been a certain demo that is yearning for Oasis and they truly are cementing themselves as one of the most beloved bands of the last 25 years. I think people took them for granted a bit. I was in Scotland last summer and this really hit home when I saw a rowdy bunch of 20-somethings collectively slurring their way through a karaoke version of “Wonderwall”. I don’t think it’s even that great a song but it somehow has infiltrated multiple generations. People LOVE it. Although maybe just in that setting, since it does lend itself well to karaoke (not many lyrics, fairly short, everybody has heard it 10,000 times).

A: I think “Wonderwall” is one of the greatest pop songs of all-time.  Certainly of the decade. I had this experience last summer when I was five weeks into working seven days a week and I was burning out.  I was walking, exhausted through a Loblaws in the west end. “Wonderwall” comes on. I start singing to myself. It gets to the chorus and after singing, “You gonna be the one that saves me”. I burst into tears and say aloud,  “That’s not a good sign”. The point I turn to as a mild breakdown last summer.  I love that song.  “1979” came out at the same time. Great song, too. The sound on the Morning Glory album is bollocks. What would Liam say?  I also love watching Noel sing “Don’t Look Back in Anger”.  Perfect song for his voice.  At the time, I thought some of their stuff was totally and completely derivative of the Beatles (see “All Around the World”, “… Anger” opening chords, every Beatles reference etc). Noel just gave an interview that Alan Cross linked to. I still do Oasis binges through seven songs. I was way too into the Dead’s Mars Hotel (and DMB) at the time to be into Oasis.

C: “1979” is indeed great and a really strange, unique single. Nothing really like it and certainly  very dissimilar to anything in the Pumpkins discography. It’s probably hard to quantify but why do you like “Wonderwall” so much? What is the broad appeal? I think it’s totally fine but a bit boring and the vocals are slightly nasally, even by Oasis standards. I do like “Don’t Look Back in Anger”. Just the huge production values and drama of it. Very out of step with 1995 or whenever that came out. I always admired Oasis’ ambition, even when the quality of songs didn’t really match up. Plus Noel is probably Top 3 best musician interviews ever. I could listen to that guy talk for hours. Zero filter when he’s in the right mood.

A: I like the chords. I like the guitar intro. I kinda like it nasally on that one.  I love the way the drums come in after “back beat the word is on the street”. I love the baseline. I love the stings beefing up the baseline in the chorus.  love the chorus.  Maybe the right time of my life at 18.  Probably feels like a Beatles song.  A piece of magic.  It’s also one of those songs perfect to sing alone to.  Words you’ll just know by heart.  Oh, also I love “Live Forever”.  Learned how to play it on the uke.  Great fun.

C: Yup, fucking love that song too! Never acknowledged your BNL “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” comment but seriously, that might be my favourite cover version of all-time. As a 14-year old kid growing up on the Toronto city limits, that video perfectly captured the banality, boredom and humour of suburban Toronto perfectly. Such a tasteful, pitch-perfect performance for a band that was really young and unestablished at the time. I think too many people write them off as a joke band but at their finest, there was a lot to like with BNL. I really like the song “Jane” as well from their “difficult” second album.

A: I remember hearing million dollars in the big A&A on Yonge Street with Marc and us laughing about the real green dress that’s cruel.  The era of that tape. Good call on why the video is so pitch perfect.  The apartment looks just like my late grandmothers at York Mills and Leslie, but wasn’t.  And the power lines reminded me of the ones down by Finch.  Which they were just in Scarborough.  It definitely captured suburban Toronto.  Though their neighborhood was postwar bungalows.  I saw Paige in withrow once.

C: His coke bust is still likely in my Top 5 pieces of most shocking pieces of “music news” that I’ve ever heard. I don’t really know anything about those guys personally but that ordeal no doubt blindsided a lot of casual fans. In summary, drugs are horrible. It is telling that while Nirvana and Pearl Jam were blowing up stateside, Canada’s hottest new “modern rock” bands were the Barenaked Ladies and the Crash Test Dummies. The Odds were really solid as well. Supposedly there was a piece on CNN around that time that suggested that Canadian was in the midst of a “silly rock” revolution during that era, throwing names like Corky and the Juice Pigs and (for some reason) the Rheostatics into the mix.I could totally be imagining that last part but I think I read that somewhere.

A: Interesting.  And that (Steven Page’s) life blew up and the band broke up. That still doesn’t register for me.

C: I love the song “Try” by Blue Rodeo so much. Such an incredibly self-assured song from a debut album. Not an easy feat to pull off.

A: Oh man. Yes.