By Christina Whipsnade & Max Dropout
If you measure a band’s underground credibility by exposure and the number a record’s pressing is limited to, then Hamilton’s Simply Saucer were probably six feet under the motherfucking downlow, but the fact that they were also twenty years ahead of schedule didn’t help much either. Stating that Saucer’s flavor wasn’t exactly en vogue with prevailing tastes during the early to mid 70s would be slightly unfair considering they were met with label resistance while attempting to provide the public with an official release, but their reluctance to tour didn’t exactly improve their chances of creating a clamouring demand for an LP. In fact, the scant fifty shows they did play between 74 and 79, mostly held at highschools and YMCA’s throughout Southern Canada merely contributed to the band’s ghost-like reputation. Until recently in fact, Saucer were ironically almost a cryptozoological myth, with only a few reported sightings and drunken eye witness accounts left in the wake their sporadic appearances.
Graciously nicking their moniker from Pink Floyd’s sophomore Saucer Full of Secrets effort, Simply Saucer was formed in the early 1970′s by prinicple songwriter Edgar Breau, along with enlisted fellow record enthusiasts and tape traders, Neil DeMerchant (drums), Kevin Christoff (bass), and John LaPlante aka Ping Romany (“electronics”). A local anomaly, their brand of proggish sophistication cum primitive punkish glee wasn’t stupid or ugly enough for Hamilton’s legendary punk scene at the time. The band did acquire a small following in eastern Canada, though, and had some mild success in the UK for their last ditch effort recording, 1978′s She’s A Dog 7″ single.
The first demo was recorded in 1974 at Bob and Daniel Lanois’ Master Sound Studio, a hidden recording space buried in the basement of the Lanois family home. It was Bob who was handed a copy of the Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat album for sonic reference before recording began. While Bob was later called upon to touch up the recordings for the long overdue 1989 release, the band didn’t mesh well with Daniel, who was worst remembered for clasping his hands over his ears when Simply Saucer first plugged in.
Saucer’s incestuous orgy of layered pedals, synthasizers, and various audio generators proved too extreme a gestation for labels, who opted to let the post apocolyptic frolick stay stuck in the womb. Adding to the discouragement and sense of alienation was the climate of Toronto’s 1970s scene, as more agressive bands like The Viletones and even Teenage Head had set a fast, dumb, knuckle throwing presedent. Saucer felt more in common with the emerging sounds of New York and Detroit acts such as the Velvets, Patti Smith, Television, and the Stooges, while band’s consciousness were gnawing on the the progressive space rock of Syd Barret-era Pink Floyd and experimantalists Neu! and Can.
Despite the disconnection, Saucer still played memorable shows in Toronto, literally tearing the ceiling down at the dilapidated Beverly Theatre and even sharing a bill with kindred spirits Pere Ubu. Around that time, singer Edgar Brau was in correspondence with Craig Bell, of Rocket From The Tombs and fellow Syd Barret Appreciation Society member. Amongst the two there was a consensus of isolation from their respective scenes. While the ardent listener is generally encouraging of unconventional artists by lashing out at anything overtly derivative, there still remains little support for bands who seek to push the boundaries of sound or challenge standards.
While handfuls of artists have held their ground over the years as audiences gradually caught up, Simply Saucer were a casualty of their own artistic will. One can only speculate that the band sought after substantial public response, acceptance, and a sense of belonging amongst their own scene by eventually jettisoning their electronic components and picking up ex-Teenage Head guitarist Steve “Sparky” Parks, in effort to adopt a more conventional pop rock sound. The band lingered on for eight more years until ultimately imploding amid a haze of drug and alcohol abuse in 1979.
Simply Saucer’s long lost demo tapes were finally given a proper release in 1989, long after the band’s end, by fan and zine publisher Bruce “Mole” Mowat on his own Mole Sound label. The release was sparked by a story in Mowat’s zine about the Hamilton punk rock scene and Simply Saucer were erroneously left out. Breau took umbrage and contacted Mowat to explain that there was another Steeltown band before Teenage Head. After tracking down the tapes – that had since made their way to Montreal with the band’s former manager – they were sent to Mowat. This buried treasure would finally see the light of day.
Cyborgs Revisited was released on vinyl, initinally, with a North American CD release on Mole Sound/Cargo in 1991. Cyborgs Revisited, the album that could have been, is a collection of forgotten demos on one side and a live set on the other (culled from a 1975 daytime performance from the rooftop of suburban Hamilton’s Jackson Square mall). Imagine the looks of the shoppers clutching their bags of polyester purchases, when they heard the first notes of the heavy metalloid dirge ring throughout the parking lot. The sound of Cyborgs Revisited varies from epic, psychedelic freak outs to Stooges-esque garage punk. Breau’s voice recalls a lispy Iggy Pop at one moment and Lou Reed’s cool, low register monotone the next. Their sound was archaic, otherworldly and utimately cool, combining complex breakdowns, agressive and sometimes meandering guitar work, arty analog electronic swirls, spooky therimin and lyrics that recall the ambition of the b-movie moral warning. Industrial Hamilton’s then dirty steel factories, already metro relics, obscuring the skies with filthy plumes of toxins, seem the perfect breeding ground for unsettling music of this nature. Also evidenced is some very premature millennial panic, with Breau’s musings on one of the album’s live tracks, “In the future, unless you have a metal body, they’re not gonna allow you to walk the streets. No Kidding.” Ultimately, this thinking wasn’t the stuff early 1970s Hamilton was ready for. But despite being thirty years old, the ambitious, experimental recordings sound new and innovative even today.
The praise for Cyborgs Revisited continued to pile up to the tone of “too little, too late”, but appreciated nonetheless. Simply Saucer had finally gotten their due and it was almost a sense of closure, from being criminally neglected for so long. But their journey didnít end here. A remastered Cyborgs Revisited was released in 2003 on Hamilton’s Sonic Unyon label. The long out of print gem, this time includes the A and B sides to the impossible to find, She’s A Dog single, selected band rehearsals from 1977 and live songs from a 1978 set. Thanks to the reissue garnering more critical acclaim, yet another generation have been exposed to the sounds of Simply Saucer. This may not be the only recordings we hear from the long defunct band. In 1977 the band plugged in at their rehearsal space and performed their entire repertoire for copyright purposes. Hopefully these recordings will too see the light of day eventually.
Edgar Breau continues to write solo with a number of projects. Perhaps for the best, Simply Saucer have never reunited, but the songs of Cyborgs Revisted still live on thanks to his post Saucer band, the Shadows Of Ecstasy with original member Kevin Christoff. His current work is acoustic with folk and blues influences. Quite a departure from Simply Saucer’s out there, sonic experimentation.
Check out http://www.sonicunyon.com for more info and mp3s.