Canadian oddity still finding new life and fresh ears for its out-of-time sound almost a half-century into the future.
Edgar Breau marvels when he’s told during this conversation that the first time the music of his legendary Hamilton psych band was encountered was back in the early ’90s in the midst of a space rock phase.
It was a happenstance purchase of his band Simply Saucer’s recording Cyborgs Revisited, distributed by now long defunct importer Cargo Records and, yeah, almost two-and-a-half decades in the rearview mirror.
“Wow, that’s a long time ago,” Breau says simply.
Sure. It’s a long time ago in the context of the situation, but not in the context of the band, itself.
They are a remarkable tale from Canada’s rock history, one that has gone on now for approaching a half century — a history that has included indifference, resurrection, redemption and, now, a lasting and living legacy.
“It’s quite an unusual story, when all is said and done,” Breau understates.
And of course, it’s not all said and done, which is why we’re chatting on this day, as he gets set to head to Calgary with a revamped version of Simply Saucer for a midnight Wednesday set at the Palomino for Sled Island.
But perhaps it’s best we go back to the beginning of the band, which was in 1973 in Steeltown, with Breau hanging around with a handful of musicians and music-lovers, who he describes as “pretty obsessive record collectors.”
That, itself, would be the “genesis of it all,” he remembers.
“The kind of music that we were listening to and the urge to outdo one another in discovering outsider music.”
He laughs. “I was pretty competitive. And that all translated into the music of the band and into the approach we took back in 1973, 1974.”
So they absorbed and made their own influences such as composers Karlheinz Stockhausen, Luciano Berio and John Cale, along with rock that was, at the time, cult favourites which would later became a little more mainstream or well-known, including Syd Barrett, Captain Beefheart, Velvet Underground, The Stooges and krautrock bands such as Can.
“We just happened to be playing the right kind of music, in a way, at the wrong time. Eventually all of those artists … eventually when people discovered that, they became canonical influences, were all part of the canon, when Bruce released the record.”
That would be a little bit later and was the aforementioned Cyborgs Revisited, which features some live recordings and sessions they did in ’74 in the basement studio of brother’s Bob and Daniel Lanois.
Those recordings would be alternately insane, beautiful, whacked-out and completely wonderful, but, not surprisingly, so out-there that it really didn’t fit into what was going on at the time. The band went through a number of lineup changes, before eventually, not surprisingly, disbanding and dispersing all together.
The end? Breau thought so.
“When the band broke up in 1979 I pretty well walked away from it, really not expecting to play in a rock ’n’ roll band again,” he says. “I sold all my gear and bought an acoustic guitar … and I was playing that up until I met Bruce Mowat, almost by accident, and he released the record in 1989.”
At that time, Breau says the reissuers among us had already picked up on and picked over the music of such “overlooked” in their own time acts as The Seeds and ? and the Mysterians, and Simply Saucer’s time was upon us.
Naturally, people began discovering them and championing them for the groundbreaking act that they were.
Breau, who had, again, long since given up on that music, admits he found it a little “disturbing” and “a lot of things had to go on in my head to reconcile what we had done,” noting that it “took a lot of years to understand it” in part because the music was also tied to his lifestyle at the time — one that was communal, carefree and so far from where he was at that point in the future.
“Eventually I realized that it was a part of what was. It wasn’t like a yin and a yang thing, that you go one way or another like a pendulum or something like that, that all of those influences, they were all me,” he says.
“And once I realized that, I realized I could dip into the Simply Saucer catalogue and do it seriously as an artistic thing rather than something that was time-bound from when I was in my twenties. I realized there was still a legitimacy.”
It became even more so when more reissues followed over the years, with unearthed rarities, and he eventually put the band back together, began performing the material live again.
That he’s been doing in different iterations over the past 10 years or so.
The current lineup features Breau, original bassist Kevin Christoff, Breau’s girlfriend and synth player Colina Phillips (who has worked with everyone from Bruce Cockburn to Alice Cooper), keyboard player Ed Roth, and Mike Trebilcock from Canadian power-pop gems The Killjoys, playing guitar and theremin.
In Calgary, expat Jesse Locke will also be drumming with them and showing them the sites of his former home.
He has, Breau says, become a good friend to the band, thanks in large part to the fact that he also wrote the definitive book on them, Heavy Metalloid Music: The Story of Simply Saucer.
Released last year on Eternal Cavalier Press, it tells all of the craziness of this amazing trip — so far.
Breau admits that he’s been inspired to write Simply Saucer material again, and that they’ll debut a new tune at Sled called Lo-Fi Garage Symphonette, which they’re hoping to release as a single.
Yes, for as unusual as the story has been, it’s not quite over yet.
“It’s a thing that’s alive, it’s not just revisiting my past,” he says. “It’s a living thing.”
Simply Saucer performs Wednesday, June 21 at midnight at the Palomino downstairs as part of this year’s Sled Island. They will also perform live on Saved By the Bell on CJSW 90.9 FM between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for theYYSCENE.ca. Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at email@example.com.