A lot has been written about the early Canadian punk scene in the last few years. Books like Liz Worth’s Treat Me Like Dirt, Geoff Pevere’s Gods of the Hammer, and Sam Sutherland’s Perfect Youth have documented the days of The Diodes, The Viletones, DOA and Teenage Head. There is one band, although lesser known in some parts but held high and revered in others, that made such incredible music they keep getting pulled back in – even 35 years after they went their separate ways.
Hamilton, Ontario’s Simply Saucer, formed in 1973, was a huge part of the birth of the raw, garage-based pre-punk scene in Canada but remarkably never released a full album while together. They toured and released a 7” single but called it quits in 1979.
Nevertheless, the delayed debut record – Cyborgs Revisited – not released until a decade later in 1989 is considered not only a Canadian classic, but also a visionary and influential record to people like Thurston Moore and Julian Cope (read his review here: Juilan Cope Reviews Cyborgs Revisited). The indie label Sonic Unyon re-released it in 2003 with demos and live material added and the album again drew comparisons to The Velvet Underground, Stooges, 13th Floor Elevators and MC5 as well as the spacey prog of Pink Floyd and Hawkwind. It’s been called an “earth-shatteringly important record.” Just one listen to “Bullet Proof Nothing” or “Dance the Mutation” will make you a believer.
In 2008 songwriter – vocalist Edgar Breau and bassist Kevin Christoff reformed the band to release Half Human Half Live, featuring six new studio recordings and six Simply Saucer classics played for a small but passionate crowd.
This year Simply Saucer fans welcomed more new material with the release of the Baby Nova 12” EP on Schizophrenic Records. The EP features the first ever studio versions of five songs recorded in Detroit at Jim Diamond’s Ghetto Recorders studio in August of 2011, and produced by Jeff Meier (Detroit Cobras and Rocket 455). There’s even a documentary about the band in production – you can watch a teaser here: Low Profile: Simply Saucer
We are ecstatic that songwriter, vocalist and founding member, Edgar Breau was open to answering some questions:
Brian Eno famously said that said the Velvet Underground’s first album only sold 30,000 copies during its first five years but that “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.” What persuaded a bunch of guys in the steel town of Hamilton, Ontario to form a band in 1972?
Well, like many of those aforesaid bands the guys in Simply Saucer were listening to the Velvet Underground as well. One of them had seen them perform in Toronto at an outdoor festival in 1969 and the Plastic Exploding Inevitable Warhol version of the band had infamously performed at Hamilton’s McMaster University in 1966. We had found reviews of that on microfiche files at the library. Basically we were all avid record collectors everything from Sun Ra to Lighnin’ Hopkins, British hippie folk acts like Dando Shaft, Pentangle, Nick Drake, Hawkwind. I had some Coltrane, Can, John Stevens Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Keith Tippet, Nucleus, Softs, Soft Boys, Barrett, Ayers and American underground recordings as well Moby Grape, Byrds, John Fahey, Stooges, Captain Beefheart the list is very long. I met a keyboard player named Paul Colilli at my high school who turned me on to some great music as well. I was writing already in 68, 69 on an acoustic guitar, decided to buy a tele and that was the genesis of the band. The third major player was David Byers, who’s folks were from Holland and by way of relatives he had a lot of Dutch underground records sent to him like Savage Rose, Wally Tax and the Outsiders, Group 1850 and so on. Dave was a big Tim Hardin fan as well. We began jamming together and the first 6 pc highly improvisation version of the band grew out of that.
Influences aside – what led to the SS sound of using the theremin and combining the garage sound of The Stooges and VU with prog and psych – was it experimental at first?
It was highly experimental and improvisational in the beginning with long jams being the norm. David went to a place called Heathkit in Toronto and returned with a couple of audio generators. I picked up a Gibson maestro theremin. Ping eventually purchased a mini moog. The keyboard player had prog influences.
Eventually amidst all the chaos and mayhem I realized I had some significant music and lyrical song writing abilities and that led to the structured songs with the chaotic breaks in the middle.
The first six song EP was recorded with Bob and Daniel Lanois. How did you connect with the Lanois brothers?
Our manager, Rick Bissell found them somehow, they had a studio in the basement of their mother’s home in Ancaster ON. This was a couple of years before they moved on to Grant Ave. Studios.
Daniel went on to be very experimental in his production methods with “atmospheric guitars and ambient reverb” did he influence Simply Saucer, or did Simply Saucer influence him?
Dan had no influence whatsoever on us. I’m not sure of ours on him.
Dan, at the time was playing in a country band. I know during the recording process at one time he sat on the floor, covering his ears! They were highly concerned that the recording needle kept going in the red Bob Lanois later claimed that Daniel was mad at him for even recording us!…We were suspicious of them cause they didn’t seem hip to the cool records we were listening to. It’s ironic because Ping (our electronics player) was highly influenced by Eno who’s collaboration later on with Dan led to his rise in the music world. He met Eno by accident. A N.Y. radio station had a contest going in which the winners would go out on a date with Eno and the winners happened to be two girls who had recorded in Hamilton ON at Grant Ave Studio. Eno was looking for a cheap place to record so he phoned Grant Ave and introduced himself. Bob Lanois covered the phone, turned around and asked “Who the fuck is Eno?”….that story from someone who was there…an engineer at the time in the studio…
Not claiming any influence on them but when I first heard the Edge’s gtr work there was an air of familiarity about it. I had worked hard on chiming my tele with my Pearl echo chamber in the mid seventies. There were some similarities.
What happened to lead to the band breaking up in 1979?
The punk/new wave gig scene in Toronto was drying up, it wasn’t a good fit for us anyhow and our own lack of restraint had led to addiction problems in a couple of guys. In retrospect we needed to have left for London or New York at some point
How did the release of Cyborgs Revisited come about 10 years after the band called it quits?
I played a solo show at a place called the Baytides Café in 1987 and Bruce Mowat heard the Syd Barrett/Ray Davies influences. Intrigued, he asked about my own musical history. Bruce ran a local indie record store and had a fanzine as well. He was writing a history of Hamilton alt music. Simply Saucer weren’t included. I filled the story in for him. Our former manager, Rick Bissell had the original tapes from Master Sound Studios. He had moved to Saudi Arabia for a period. The tapes were lying on a closet floor and he agreed to bring them to me. Bruce contacted Bob Lanois who tweaked the live recordings from Jackson Square Mall in 1975 that became side two of Cyborgs Revisited. They had been recorded on a Tannberg tape recorder through a vocal mic. Bob did an outstanding job of bringing the music back into balance with the vocals. Bob cosigned for the loan Bruce took out to put out the limited edition vinyl. We had sent the tapes to Byron Coley who was very excited about them and urged us to release them.
Your solo material sounds nothing like Simply Saucer
In 1979 after the band broke up I sold all my gear and bought a high end acoustic guitar built my Grit Laskin who’s instruments are now in the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa ON. I had come under the spell of John Fahey, hunkered down with a young family in tow and began a new adventure learning finger style open tuning methods of playing my songs. The songs are different yes but from the same musical spirit just as Waterloo Sunset sounds nothing like You Really Got Me. My songwriting was always far more eclectic than the nine songs on Cyborgs Revisited indicate and the long term plan for Simply Saucer was more akin to bands like the Kinks and the Byrds than the more monolithic sounds of Hawkwind and some of the Krautrock influences. The other difference I suppose was that I later on became influenced by High Modernism and English eccentrics like G.K.Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc (and to my delight I realized recently how much Syd Barrett was a devote of Belloc’s Cautionary Tales). So the lyrical subject matter evolved into a much more sacramental/poetic sense of the wonder of creation than my earlier more gloomy misogynistic sci fi foreboding youth had produced.
If you could rewrite the Simply Saucer story where would you take it?
Well without any doubt I would have moved the band into a major metropolitan centre like London or New York. I could have evolved into a scary good gtr player. I had written enough material for about 4 LP’s and all of it would have come out. As it is it’s coming out soon under the title Saucerland on Chicago’s Logans Hardware label as a 2 lp set of lofi rarities.
How did the recent release of new material – the EP Baby Nova come about?
Jeff Meier of Detroit’s Rocket 455 and the Detroit Cobras was a friend. He booked Jim Diamond’s Ghetto Recorder studios in Aug of 2011 after we did a show at the Beachland Ballrooms in Cleveland and in Detroit at New City Centre Park. He arranged for McKinley Jackson to sit in on keys and we recorded 5 songs over the space of two days. The songs were seventies classic Simply Saucer material that had never been given a studio treatment. It felt very liberating to finally commit them to tape.
What are the band’s plans for the near future?
California label In the Red are set to reissue Cyborgs Revisited in a vinyl deluxe edition. We are beginning work on a new studio LP entitled Alien Cornfield. We just did a show with the Dream Syndicate in Toronto and are getting offers to play further afield including in the U.S. The present lineup of the band which includes myself of course and the only other constant member, Kevin Christoff is an extremely exciting outfit, the analogue synth is back in the band and we are ready to have another kick at the can.
Jesse Locke – Managing Editor of music site Weird Canada dropped us a line to tell us that he is working on a book chronicling Simply Saucer and has written liner notes for a couple of releases you can find here at Mammoth Cave Recording.