Simply Saucer’s Half Past, Half Future

Simply Saucer’s Half Past, Half Future
Simply Saucer had been broken up for ten years before their first record, 1989’s Cyborgs Revisited, was even released. Yet that lone album was quickly adopted by the underground as a long-lost masterpiece, garnering the defunct band an ever-increasing cult following. That persistent momentum has since had Saucer crowned as Canada’s answer to the Velvet Underground, and the ever-growing interest around the band is what inspired them to make a comeback with this year’s Half Human, Half Live. It’s a record that plays out with the weight that music takes on when it’s been hermetically sealed for decades. Comprised of old material that’s been newly recorded, this is the album that Simply Saucer should have released when they were first around in the early ’70s. But back then, getting a full-length record out wasn’t so easy for a band that went against the grain, especially when they were living in Hamilton, Ontario, which was definitely not the place for a band as incongruous as this one. If things had been different back then, their recognition would have come a whole lot sooner.

"I just think maybe for its time we were in the wrong place,” says Edgar Breau, Saucer founder and front-man. "But because we were isolated, maybe it helped the music along because we weren’t already part of a scene where bands can develop conformities in the music. It was the way it was and the fact that the band was unknown maybe had something to do with its rediscovery, too, so that made people wonder how this all happened, where we came from and how we could have been playing this music in Hamilton, Ontario. So it just was the way it was meant to be, I think.” Breau describes Half Human as a transitional record, a bridge between past and present. These days, Simply Saucer consists of bassist Kevin Christoff, who’s been around since the band’s earlier inceptions, along with Dan Winterman (guitar, theremin, tambourine), Joe Csontos (drums), and Steve Foster (guitar, backing vocals). While Foster and Winterman are of a younger generation than the rest of the band, they’ve worked to capture the ethos of Saucer’s earlier visions. The kick-off track, "Exit Plexit,” goes back to the band’s earliest days, while "Clearly Invisible” acts as a companion piece to "Illegal Bodies,” which appeared on Cyborgs Revisited and gives a nod to the album that launched the band’s long-delayed career. Having left room for improvisation and electronics, Half Human, Half Live is wrought with tightly haphazard slopes and freak-outs. There’s also a contrast to it all, which Breau puts as "a retro, futurist slant” that, like its history, consistently hovers between the past and the future.

"We tried to retain a kind of raw live sound that the band was known for, even in the studio tracks,” Breau says. "There wasn’t a lot of over-dubbing, it’s mainly what you hear is what you get.” Breau feels that Saucer’s story was all leading up to the here and now, and Half Human is a certain testament to that theory. One half is taken from a live performance that took place at Hamilton’s Catherine North Studios in the summer of 2007. This show in itself indicated the momentum that’s built up around this band: A couple of separate camera crews were set up; one was there to document the night for an upcoming Simply Saucer documentary. The venue was all layers of heat and sound that remained largely undisturbed by a stunned audience content to remain perfectly still and marvel at what was happening before them. While Breau says they could have made an album solely of new material, he didn’t feel the audience was ready for that. Their fans haven’t had the chance to follow the band over the years, and Breau hasn’t, either.

With influences streaming out of the Velvet Underground, the Kinks, Stooges, and Pink Floyd, to name but a few, Simply Saucer spent the earlier part of the 1970s bringing their loud, improvisational, experimental visions to southern Ontario — or at least they’d been trying. As a band that brought a barrage of unpredictability to the stage by offering a repertoire that included tearing into a 20-minute song that was nothing but screaming noise, they emptied rooms, got thrown off the stage, and even played a prom where the school’s principal was brought to the verge of tears.

As the 1977 punk explosion hit southern Ontario, Simply Saucer saw an opportunity to finally get a break. By then their line-up had already gone through several changes and their sound had been retooled into a more straight-ahead, Kinks-ian attack. But for all of the punk scene’s rebellious, non-conformist ideologies, Saucer’s struggle continued. The band remained in a constant state of antagonism with the scene around them. They released one single, 1978’s "She’s A Dog,” the recording of which was spurred by friend and manager Gary Pig Gold and paid for through a corn roast on Hamilton Mountain. By ’79, they called it quits. Ten years later, a former manager found the tapes from Simply Saucer’s now-seminal 1974 recording session (engineered in a basement by brothers Bob and Daniel Lanois) in his closet. Those tapes became Cyborgs Revisited, an album that was quickly awash in critical acclaim coming from all angles — everyone from Thurston Moore to Brian Wilson were jumping on the Saucer ship. Ever since, they’ve been hailed as Canada’s first proto-punk band, and with the release of Half Human, Half Live, they’re poised to break away from being Hamilton’s best-kept secret. It’s been a journey of rediscovery that’s as unlikely as any rock n’ roll dream come true can get, but the aesthetic of the past becoming present probably won’t last for much longer. Now that Cyborgs has allowed Simply Saucer to finally establish the history they should have had, Half Human is propelling them into a whole new chapter in their story, one that is likely to see them continue to push forward instead of dwelling on the past.

"Getting the band out to a wider audience, that’s the intent right now,” Breau says, adding that a defining moment in Saucer’s resurrection was getting the band down to New York — something that never happened for them in the 1970s. "After being together so long [back then], we really should have had a couple of LPs out and been able to tour on the strength of what we did best. Again, that’s happening now.”