Dance the Mutation by David Solomon

An authorized bio of Simply Saucer

David Solomon is a music journalist and musician, co founder of the mysterious English cult band, Daona

Adhttp://Dance the Mutation: Simply Saucer “Simply Saucer are a divine mix of early Pink Floyd (with Syd Barrett still mercifully intact) and The Velvet Underground (when Andy Warhol was at the helm and urging them towards the Exploding Plastic Inevitable). They are all this and more: a Suicide with a lust for life; a Silver Apples that are running with electronic juice! Sheer, ecstatic, underground bliss…” Edwin Pouncey, New Musical Express, December 1990 The indigenous peoples that first settled the bay area around what is now the modern day Canadian city of Hamilton, Ontario historically referred to it as Macassa, or ‘beautiful waters.’ Given Hamilton’s position, sandwiched between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario within the boundaries of the enormous and awe-inspiring area of the Great Lakes, one can easily see why. An interesting characteristic of water as a body is that sound seems to be amplified when it moves over it. So if you were, by chance, sitting in a boat on a lake, and heard an explosion, the sound would seem louder to you than to a person an equivalent distance from the explosion on land. The reason for this strange phenomenon would be that the water in the lake would cool the air above its surface, slowing down the sound waves and causing a refraction – or bending of the sound waves – such that more sound would reach you in the boat. Indeed those aboard the boats off the Eastern Seaboard of the United States in 1968 experienced exactly this when Blue Cheer unleashed the full force of their ferocious sonic attack from Pier 57 New York. So, although any sound waves emanating from New York or Cambridge, England would have been too feint to make out in Hamilton, given that across the other side of Lake Erie lie Ann Arbour and Detroit, one cannot help but wonder whether the noise generated by Michigan’s binary star system, The Stooges and the MC5, was heard a little louder and more profoundly in Hamilton than in most other places. Why? Because in the early 1970s the city was home to a band that CREEM magazine once referred to as a “buried treasure” of underground music: Simply Saucer. Like some monstrous basilisk, Simply Saucer were a Frankenstein fusion of Detroit proto-punk guitar fury with primitive electronica and the astral improv of Syd Barrett. Between 1974 and 1975 they recorded an album’s worth of material which then sat gathering dust for 15 years until its eventual release in the late 1980s, and which, even now, is only starting to really garner the widespread respect and acclaim that it so patently deserves. Towards the end of the film Blade Runner, in the languid haze of his penthouse boudoir, Dr Tyrell tells his creation, the dying replicant Roy Batty, “The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long. And you have burned so very, very brightly haven’t you Roy?” Simply Saucer, too, may not have burned for long, but they burned very, very brightly. ~ Edgar Breau and Paul Colilli had known each other since they were students together at Bishop Ryan High School. As well as their official curricular activities in the classroom, the two young Hamiltonian punks shared an obsessive study of out there music, purchased at a number of leading record emporia such as Hamilton’s Melody Lane and Bob Moody’s Record Bar and Toronto’s Sam the Record Man. Anything not available over the counter could also be purchased through a number of import record catalogues. Hoovering up all the primo quality discs, Colilli and Breau inducted themselves into some of the highlights of psyche British music from the late 60s and early 70s, the Move, the Herd and Soft Machine, and, prime inter pares, Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd. As Breau recalls, “There was a California English import catalogue and I sent away for the catalogue. So I got the Barrett album when that came out, and Kevin Ayres records like and Joy of a Toy. I was an Anglophile, big time…so I got them from catalogues.” Eager for more, as time progressed the two young men expanded their knowledge of the far frontiers of rock music still further, taking trips to well-stocked record store in Buffalo, New York and loading up on the Velvet Underground, the Flamin’ Groovies, Hawkwind, the Kinks, the Pink Fairies, the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, the Seeds, Can, Faust and Sun Ra. Along with Kevin Christoff, who Breau had meet at Sir Wilfred Laurier High School, and mutual friend Imants Krumins, the four amigos would hold evening sessions in which wine would be put away by the vatload and records soundclashed on the turntable. In Vino Veritas as they say, and in retrospect, with Sister Ray bleeding into Interstellar Overdrive and then We Travel the Spaceways, this was surely only ever heading in once direction…. Not content with just listening to music however, Breau himself had begun to play guitar at an early age, learning his chops on an acoustic that his uncle had given him, and even playing the odd show at school, until he took the final leap and went electric. “Eventually I ended up buying a Fender Telecaster, it was a ’67 blonde Telecaster, as I heard that Syd Barrett played a Tele. And I began writing songs and jamming with [Paul Collili] at his home. I was writing songs fairly early on.” In early 1972 Breau had taken a road trip to Vancouver. “I had read, a little bit late, Keroauc’s On the Road and Ken Keysey’s Acid Test, and I had a friend who was into doing this On the Road trip. He was a big Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Captain Beefheart fan, the whole kind of hippy trip, more so than me, I wouldn’t characterise myself in that way. Anyway, so we drove across Canada to Vancouver and had our On the Road adventures, and when I came back from that trip I decided to leave school and put a band together.” True to his word, on returning to Hamilton later in the year Breau hooked up again with Colilli to begin rehearsing the first embryonic stages of a band. Inside a month the band had expanded to being a trio, Dave Byers have been drafted in to provide electronics and assist with the somewhat avant-garde instrumentation that the band was at that time using. Travelling a similar pathway to the one that Iggy, Ron and Scott had travelled as The Pyschedelic Stooges prior to their reconfiguration as a four-piece guitar band, the trio used improvised and found objects as instrumentation, exploring free-form and noise experimentation in the manner of their illustrious influences. With the addition of drummer Neil DeMerchant and Edgar’s foster brother John LaPlante (going under the unforgettable stage name of Ping Romany) on Theremin and audio generators, the growing demands for space by both man and machine prompted a move into Byers’ spacious two floor downtown loft. Like a seed germinating in good soil, the band, free of the constraints of any trendy scene, with the right personnel and a glorious Heath Robinson mixture of instrumentation, had all the right conditions to continue their exploration of sonic possibilities. In spring of 1973 Kevin Christoff joined the band after Edgar Breau’s brother Paul had asked him nonchalantly if he could play “weird bass”, thus pushing the headcount up to six, and for the next six months the band rarely left the confines of the loft, honing their set in splendid isolation. Some reel to reel recording of the band were made during these rehearsal sessions (sadly now lost to the mists of time), but like organic life slowly evolving from the Primitive Ooze, a coherent band was now starting to emerge from the musical experiments. “The songs were long and mainly improvised, very weird stuff. There was nowhere in town where we could play, and that was the problem. No-one would book us. It wasn’t anything like today where there are niche clubs or markets. Now there’s places to go to play alternative music, Blues clubs, funk, Hip Hop, whatever, and you’ve got the infrastructure to support it. There was none of that then; it was just devotees of those bands and that music. It was more what I would call underground music, that’s what we called it back then, it was not commercial rock on the radio.” In October 1973 the band finally left the loft and decamped to a cheap and empty storefront on Hamilton’s Kenilworth Street in the city’s east end. Christened ‘the Office,’ Kenilworth Street would form the focal point for the band, who rehearsed there daily. Although the band had lost Byers during this process, they had however gained a name, becoming known as Simply Saucer, tipping a nod to the Floyd’s second album, A Saucer Full of Secrets, and to obscure British folk Prog outfit Just Us. Trimmed down to five once more, Simply Saucer continued distilling their unique sound, fusing the diverse strands of musical DNA from their forebears, combining some formal structure with free form and improvised passages, and arriving at a musical identity which, though shaped by their proto-punk, improv and Krautrock influences, was decidedly their own. “Yeah” says Breau, “There was a certain artistic, not exactly affectation, but a deliberate turning away from the mainstream not only musically but in some ways socially. We were similar to the French linguistic deconstructionists who wanted to start all over again with language. Music was something to be deployed like a weapon against the unsuspecting audience. Unfortunately at the time there WAS NO audience for our music which was chaotic and very much improvised.” ~ Here Breau puts his finger straight on to one of the main sticking points for the artists who wanted to really push the musical boundaries of the early 1970s – audiences, by and large, simply weren’t ready for it. Only a decade before, singles such as the Beatles ‘I Wanna Hold You Hand’ were blowing the minds of young people everywhere, and prefiguring the emergence of the ‘serious’ genre of Rock music, which would gradually coalesce throughout the 1960s, and, for a short, glorious while, what was radical and what was commercial walked hand in hand. However, very quickly, commercially successful Rock hardened into a very conservative affair, dominated by Rock licks and Blues-derived song structures. Those working outside of such restrictions often found themselves in Chapel Perilous. The early years of the Velvet Underground, as Wheeler Dixon of the Figures of Light attests, witnessed some hugely dissonant and aggressive musical activity, yet by the end of even the Lou Reed stage of their career (let alone the VU of the Squeeze album) their sound had perforce become much gentler and more pastoral, even if little more successful in commercial terms. Similarly Pink Floyd moved broadly away from the long improv pieces that were their hallmark in the underground days of the UFO club, Syd Barrett’s natural talent for melody enabling them to write a suite of much more conventional pop songs for their debut album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, in 1967. Only the presence of Interstellar Overdrive on side two really hints at the kind of material they had previously been playing almost exclusively. Following the failure of Iggy and the Stooges’ Raw Power album in 1973 (despite David Bowie’s patronage), guitarist James Williamson had begun to move their search and destroy approach into a more FM radio friendly direction, with a hope that songs such as Consolation Prizes, Joanna and Sell Your Love would finally give them the commercial success that had so far eluded them. The restrictive nature of musical genres was not confined solely to Rock though. Miles Davis was, by the early 1970s, creating an unprecedented template that fused Jazz, Rock, Funk, Experimental and Indian music, to which he gave expression on a series of masterpieces including On the Corner, Get Up With It and Big Fun. These albums were light years ahead, certainly too far ahead of what his critics and audiences could comprehend, and consequently they fell damagingly between differing musical stools. Their critical and commercial rejection angered and embittered Davis, who, after two concerts in Japan on 1st February 1975, packed up his instruments, retired to his New York townhouse and didn’t leave it again for five dark years. For a man who had revolutionised music several times over, and given so many latterly successful musicians their inspiration and their first start, those five years of depression and drug and alcohol supercharged disintegration, like Norma Desmond of Sunset Boulevard gone truly to the bad, are a shameful symbol of the conservatism that made it so difficult to do something new and unique in the early part of the 1970s. Five years before, Davis, his nose constantly twitching in the wind for new musical ideas and developments, had praised the spirit and originality of The Stooges when he had seen and hung out backstage with them during their residency at Unganos on New York’s West 70th Street in August 1970. It takes one to know one they say. Miles was punk in every sense of the word. Given their respective situations by the end of the decade, Miles isolated and hallucinating within his mental hall of mirrors and the Ashetons broke and languishing in obscurity, the rewards for the pioneers were disgracefully small. Although by 1973 Led Zeppelin and The Eagles were filling stadia across Europe and North America, their easy to digest lyrical content and comfortable song structures were not challenging to their audience or anyone else. For those wanting to pursue more experimental, innovative and confrontational ideas, any kind of commercial success was difficult to attain. The Velvet Underground and Pink Floyd had operated in huge global cities such as New York and London, where there were enough metropolitan hipsters weaned on Free Jazz, Experimental and modernist Classical music to potentially give them an audience. Miles Davis was an acknowledged fountainhead of modern post-War music with almost three decades of recording under his belt. If even they struggled to make their music palatable to the record-buying and gig-going public, what hope was there for Simply Saucer, unknown, unsigned and operating out of a small industrial town such as Hamilton? The answer was, almost none. But fuck it, that’s the nature of punk, to rebel and contest regardless of what the likes of Joe Public might or might not be able to take. Audience or no, finally Hamilton’s contribution to musical top table were getting ready to roll. ~ Another piece of the Saucer jigsaw fell gently into place when the band acquired record store owner Rick Bissell as their manager, “We invited him down to a practice and he asked us if he could manage the band.” Simple as that. Bissell, to his credit, acknowledged the need to get the band out playing live shows, and duly set about using his obvious talents as a salesman to make this happen. Simply Saucer’s live debut followed soon afterwards at St Alban's Anglican Church on Brittania Street in the east end of Hamilton in June 1974. The band played three sets, the second of which consisted of single piece entitled ‘Noise’ which was entirely improvised and featured Breau playing an audio generator and DeMarchant a grating and percussive violin. In the middle of the piece, the only time that Simply Saucer ever performed it, fights began breaking out in the audience and eventually the cops arrived to haul away several of the combatants. Once the Saucer was airborne, Bissell kept it aloft with a string of gigs through southern Ontario, “Some of the places we played were really obscure, out of the way, small town high schools. He was a good salesman, he would pitch the band and the schools would have no idea what they were in for. He had us playing in arenas, outdoor shows, that sort of thing.” Although Simply Saucer were more than ready to rise to the challenge of live performance, it is not quite so certain whether small town Ontario was ready for the challenge of Simply Saucer: the band’s brand of in-yer-face psyched-up punk electronica was not perhaps the backdrop for prom night smooching that some of those that booked the band expected. “We did a prom, a high school prom. Rick sold the Principle of the High School on us as a High School prom band, and he said, ‘Yeah, they’re perfect for the prom.’ So we did one set and the Principle came into the dressing room just begging us to turn down, almost on the point of tears. We went back out and left the volume up high and at one point there was this conga line that developed and they all got into this kind of snake, a giant snake line, and they were all dancing to one of the songs.” The image of a Prom Night conga line shimmying away not to Everybody Salsa by Gary’s Gang, but to Nazi Apocalypse by Simply Saucer, is truly one to cherish. Elsewhere however, and a dark foreshadow of later difficulties, the gigs went slightly less smoothly, the band emptying out an arena in Ottawa and having the brakes of their Cadillac deliberately cut after a show at St Catherine’s High School. “[The audience reactions] were mixed. We did a gig in a club just outside Toronto in Oakville, Ontario, it was called the Galaxy 707 club. Ping (and I didn’t know he was going to do this), but in the dressing room he had dressed up in a skin diving outfit, you know, the flippers, the goggles, the air tank on the back, the whole bit, and we went out and started playing and we did about two songs, and Rick Bissell came and said ‘OK guys, that’s it,’ and we said ‘Why, what’s the matter?’ and he said ‘They’re pulling the plug on you, they’re throwing you out of here.’ They actually physically picked up the drummer, he was giving them a bit lip about it, and the bouncers actually threw him out, so that was it for that show. We didn’t make a big impression on the owner of the bar. He was pretty uptight about what we were doing.” Quite what made the bar owner so uptight about a proto-punk audio generator player dressed as a SCUBA diver remains unknown. But hey, fuck him. In July 1974, new manager Bissell booked the band in to Master Sound Recording Studio in Ancaster in order to record six songs in demo form, the demo then acting as a calling card for the band to secure further gigs and hopefully a record contract. MSR, despite the impressive name, was somewhat more modest in reality, run by owners and producers Robert and Daniel Lanois out of the basement of their mother’s house. Somewhat improbably, given such unassuming circumstances, the Lanois brothers were already on the path to international success, Daniel graduating over the coming years to producing such blockbuster international unit-shifters as U2, Bob Dylan, Sinead O’Connor and Peter Gabriel. Over a hectic next two days the Lanois Brothers captured the buzzsaw urgency and originality of Simply Saucer’s well honed sound on six tracks, Instant Pleasure, Electro Rock, Nazi Apocalypse, Mole Machine, Bullet Proof Nothing and Here Come the Cyborgs (Part 1). Edgar Breau recalls “Bob did most of the recording, though Dan helped as well when he was around. I wasn't sure just where their musical tastes lay so I brought a copy of The Stooges’ Raw Power and The Velvet Underground's White Light White Heat to give Bob an idea of what we wanted. Bob took it all in stride, was very professional and interested in the electronics we were using.” And God bless Lanois Junior for the job he did in recording what incredibly, and sadly, proved to be the lion’s share of Simple Saucer’s recorded legacy. The six MSR tracks reveal a band that has assimilated a huge range of influences, reconciling those that conflict, and evolved far beyond mere slavish copyism to produce something exceptional. “When I wrote all those songs I was living in this storefront, just a narrow store, black walls, I had no bath, I had no shower, I had no bed, I was sleeping on a piece of sponge, about a one inch think piece of sponge. There were no comforts. It was pretty horrendous. I was kind of like a street person almost, you know, I didn’t have a proper home. But I had the time to work out all the arrangements for the songs, all those instrumental sections. I would have stuff worked out and when the guys would come round at night for rehearsal I could say ‘Here’s the structure of the song, here’s the changes.’ Usually there was a section where we improvised, and all that improvisation came from the earlier six piece band, we had learned to play like that. What I did was start writing songs that did have a structure, even a more pop thing, but I left room for the band to go wild and freak out, and that was our sound. That became sort of our trademark. [The songs] were bookended by a structure.” Mixing a furious guitar sound with pulsing electronics, Simply Saucer’s sound has its tap roots in the noisefests of the Velvets, the wide-eyed spacey headrush of Syd’s Floyd and the dynamic futurism of Krautrock. Yet there is also a melodic ability that underpins the band’s material and allows them to deftly pull off the difficult feat of melding the structured and the freeform into a coherent whole. Instant Pleasure has the short, jagged style that would become de rigueur in Punk a few years later, with Breau, every inch the smart-talking American punk, thrashing the guitar over a squall of whooping and swooping electronics. Electro Rock, slower in tempo, sounds like a nastier version of the Modern Lovers, but one that segueing into and out of an extended and ear-splitting middle section in which guitar and electronics once more play out a dynamic battle for control and supremacy, with a particularly wonderful passage of Ron Asheton-like wah wah guitar counterpointed by a rising and hysterical electronic pitch. Nazi Apocalypse (Nazis again!) recycles Syd’s riff to Lucifer Sam, but strips out the Acid felines of the original, and instead descends with it into dark cyanide love story that references the final days of the Nazi top brass, trapped in the fetid concrete tomb of the Hitler bunker and on a one-way journey into personal obliteration – “Eva, yeah Eva Braun, bye bye honey, baby so long….” Joseph Goebbels would doubtless have been appalled by Simply Saucer’s degenerate avant gardism, but fuck it sounds great. The track ends with a furious stop-start passage that demonstrates DeMerchant’s superb ear for a drum fill. The instrumental Mole Machine is straight out of the North American sci-fi songbook, something akin to The B-52s in a really bad mood, with a throbbing Theremin sounding like some intergalactic police siren in the background. Bullet Proof Nothing with its acoustic guitar refrain and languid vocal styling merging into harder electric choruses could almost be a double for Vic Godard and the Subway Sect in their prime. Over Christoff’s gem of a bassline, forward moving, accomplished yet never showy, Breau address his unwholesome relationship in classic North American punk style, “Treat me like dirt, drive me insane, I said treat me like dirt, terrorise my brain, treat me like dirt, I’m losing my mind, treat me like dirt now, ‘cos you’re so kind.” I been dirt, and I don’t care… The final MSR track Here Come The Cyborgs (Part 1) is another blistering guitar-driven piece of trash sci-fi with the electronics poking a knitting needle in the ear. Two minutes in the tempo of the song changes, and the coda is like some crazed mash up between the Soft Machine, The Stooges and Hawkwind. Lanois’ production, part necessity driven by humble resources, part skill at never making the material too glossy when it needed to remain raw, is completely perfect for the band. Quick and dirty though the six tracks are, they show Simply Saucer as a band at the top of their game, and doing something that was truly their own, and, moreover, something thatd text

An unofficial Story of Simply Saucer by English writer and musician David Solomon

http://C:\Users\Edgar Breau\Dropbox\Dance the Mutation by David Solomon