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Posts Tagged ‘Velvet Underground’

Ignored 143: Polite punk

In Graphic on May 18, 2017 at 2:41 am

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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.

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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.

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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/

Ignored 118: Kevin Kane on Loaded

In Podcast on November 10, 2016 at 1:55 am

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Kevin Kane (Kane and Potvin, The Grapes of Wrath) joins Cam and Sammy for a fun chat about the Velvet Underground’s 1970 sorta “swan song” Loaded. Not only do we dive deep into comparing the Velvets’ experimental vs. populace leanings, we also manage to cram in mentions of Kanye West, Stan Getz and Throbbing Gristle. A first!

Right click here to download the episode or visit The Completely Ignored Podcast on iTunes to stream this episode.

Ignored 18: Lou Reed is dead

In Uncategorized on October 30, 2013 at 6:27 pm

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Lou Reed has been dead for five days.

This is the first thing I’ve written about it/him aside from a pair of text messages and a pair of message board comments. In short, I’ll try not to make this about me. However, I feel the need to repent since I took a bit of a dig at him mere hours before the news came down.

Sorry Lou. I still mean it but that’s not to say I wasn’t a fan.

Back story: I was chatting music with a friend over coffee last Saturday, playing the “overrated/underrated/properly rated” game. After doing a customary 10 minutes on Kraftwerk (for more details, click here), I turned my attention to Lou Reed. I don’t recall the exact context but I suggested that I didn’t think Reed belonged in the same category of songwriters as Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and Van Morrison. It’s a bit of a sloppy grouping that could be best defined as “talented and prolific songwriters who have had long careers, written tons of awesome songs and tons of other songs that are probably more ‘interesting’ than ‘good’ in the traditional sense”.

I like Lou Reed. Sincerely. Maybe even really like. However, I always got the sense that Lou Reed spent parts of his career conflicted between playing a version of “Lou Reed” as demanded by fans and critics (I think “David Bowie”, “Iggy Pop” and “Tom Waits” were, at times, similarly vexed) and just going out, playing the music and not focusing on the judgements or reactions.

In my estimation, Young, Cohen and Morrison were arguably better keeping things linear for what it’s worth… which isn’t much.

Reed’s 1989 full-length New York seemed like an album, in retrospect, crafted specifically to reintroduce listeners to the critics’ “Lou Reed” after a decade of curiosities and WTF moments (case in point: “The Original Wrapper”). Even without listening to the album, the aesthetics alone beared this out. It was called simply New York. The album cover showed 2x Reeds (one smoking a cigarette and one about to kick your ass) against a wall covered with graffiti(!!!) while being flanked by street toughs(!!!) This “surly street poet” version of the REAL Lou Reed was the favourite of most listeners and New York may well have recalibrated his career and his image into eternity. I don’t think tough “Lou Reed” was REAL Lou Reed but it was the preferred version for many if nothing else.

As a result, in the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s, Reed seemed more at ease with everything. Some of his work was well received. Some of it wasn’t. The Velvet Underground briefly reunited. He played at David Bowie’s 50th birthday party. He did an album with Metallica that I’m still convinced 95 per cent of people slammed without actually listening to it.

And in general, critics gave him every benefit of the doubt. And rightfully so.

Reed would never admit it but I do think he had some heavy populist leanings and struggled with this partial desire to be a traditional rock star and celebrity. The best examples of this want may be his 1973 single “Sally Can’t Dance” (essentially the “Shiny Happy People” of Reed’s discography) and perhaps 1984’s New Sensations, an album that leading music magazine Wikipedia describes as “upbeat and fun”. Also, the effort features some weak album art.

This art-versus-art? conflict helped define Reed’s career and part of his strength was that he could normally play both sides while being beloved by most or all. Reed could swing in and out of being completely accessible and entirely dense. He was conflicted. His listeners were conflicted. But on the whole, it was always unpredictable and at times, really amazing.

So yeah, not a dig, ghost Lou.

Here are five video memories I have of Lou Reed, all of which helped shape my impression of the fella.

1. Cowboy Junkies sing “Sweet Jane”

I’m sensing I wasn’t the only suburban GTA kid who was first exposed to Reed’s music via this stellar cover. The Cowboy Junkies came crawling out of the gate and kinda owned 1988 and parts of 1989 with this stillborn take on the Velvet Underground classic. Reed himself paid homage and the Junkies ruled MuchMusic, which is incredible given un-kid-friendly this effort is. A different time, clearly. The next few years saw added Reed exposure for mainstream youth via reworkings of “Walk on the Wild Side” by A Tribe Called Quest and (uh) Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch.

2. Lou Reed sings “Dirty Blvd.”

OK, THIS was my first real exposure to tough “Lou Reed” proper as I recall “Dirty Blvd.” being in semi-heavy rotation on MuchMusic when I was 11. Initially, I thought this was Bruce Cockburn (the video was dark, it was hard to tell) and then later, I thought it was Robbie Robertson. It was very confusing. Also, this video is notable as it was shot at the peak of Reed’s worst hair phase.

3. Lou Reed sings “Vicious” (live)

It was either the solid PBS American Masters documentary or some other time capsule that showed footage of Reed during his brief early 1970s “blonde bombshell” period. Clearly influenced by the antics of his dear, dear friends Iggy Pop and David Bowie, Reed tried his hand at dancing and taking an edge of his best-known solo and group material. I dunno. I saw footage of this years ago when I was still getting a grip on his career arch and remember being really confused (and a bit uncomfortable). There was little resemblance to the stoic force who led the Velvets and to my earlier point, this is footage of a man trying something. I’m not sure what… but it’s something.

4. Chicken suit

This track from 2000’s Ecstasty is great and the video shows some rare moments of Lou levity caught on film. He ends up getting plucked a few time, perhaps symbolizing how the record industry effectively plucked his artestry? Yeah, probably not.

5. Gorillaz headline Glastonbury 2010

Reed joining the Gorillaz on-stage at Glastonbury 2010 is probably more notable for the fact it happened at all rather than for the fact it was amazing (which it wasn’t really).  Reed looks tired and the song (“Some Kind of Nature”) is pretty forgettable. That being said, it’s Reed playing alongside members of Blur and the Clash for thousands of people so it’s significant purely as an “whoa” moment. Also, it is notable for the noisy distortion that opens the track and the chance to see Reed as a gorilla, which is fairly cool.