Posts Tagged ‘electronic music’

Hymns of New York: Martin Rev of Suicide interviewed

August 4, 2015

Note: I originally conducted this interview for the Stool Pigeon magazine, and was published on their website in 2012. Since that doesn’t seem to be currently accessible I thought I’d reprint it here.




“Sometimes you’re surprised because you don’t realise that certain people actually know who you are, and listen to your work, and then they cover your song.”

That’s an unnecessarily humble Martin Rev, who for over forty years has been the keyboard-playing musical half of seminal New York electronic duo Suicide, alongside menacing, Elvis-from-Hell vocalist Alan Vega. Received with almost blanket hostility on their inception, and generating riots when they toured supporting the Clash and Elvis Costello, Suicide have proved influential on generations of forward-thinking artists, from Joy Division and the Jesus and Mary Chain to Spiritualized, The Horrors and MIA, whose ‘Born Free’ was based around a sample from Suicide’s 1977 classic ‘Ghost Rider.’ The latest artist to cover a Suicide song is Neneh Cherry, who has recorded a brilliant version of the band’s ‘Dream Baby Dream’ on her album with Scandinavian jazz collective The Thing.

“I was just informed about that yesterday, but I didn’t have a chance to hear it yet,” Martin growls, in his rasping Brooklyn accent . “But I heard it’s kinda cool. It was a nice surprise. Her father [jazz legend Don Cherry] was someone that I met, that I knew in a very nice way- not really personally, but Mari my wife knew him when she was growing up in California. She used to go hear Ornette [Coleman, whose band Don Cherry played in] when he was just starting out there, and she and Don were very close all those years; not always seeing each other or talking to each other but they were very good friends, and he was very significant in a couple of incidents in her life. We’d see him sometimes in New York, when he came back from Sweden. So that was a nice surprise.”

Commonly considered a part of punk or post-punk, Suicide aren’t usually imagined hanging out with the major figures of 1960s jazz. But by the time of their ground-breaking eponymous debut LP in 1977 the band were already veterans of the New York club and art circuit, following on from fellow New York electronic pioneers the Silver Apples, and contemporaries of krautrock bands like Can, although Rev insists he hadn’t heard either of these artists when Suicide started out.

“Alan [Vega] told me about Silver Apples,” he recalls. “Alan had seen Iggy [Pop, with the Stooges], and that had really changed his direction radically, and that’s when I met him soon after that. At that time I was still listening principally to jazz, and I didn’t hear a lot of other stuff. Alan told me about the German electronic scene, and said you’ve gotta hear this group Can, and maybe played me some tracks, and I related to it, because we’d already started Suicide and it was nice to know that anyone else was anywhere near that ball park. Because I already realised this was something really new, I mean I was creating music pretty much out of pure feedback at that time. But I felt there were differences in terms of the temperament and the emotion, the expression, where it was coming from. We were something much closer to my roots which were very urban, rhythm and blues, New York…”

There’s a sense with those early Suicide records that you’re almost trying to play your environment…

“Yeah, probably. You almost can’t help doing it; it’s what’s close to you, it’s what you know best. You’ve got the subway trains, the streets; it’s the construction of the décor that you grew up in, it really informs your sense of dimension and arrangement, no matter what materials you’re working with.”


Alongside Suicide, Rev has maintained an ever-evolving solo career; his last album, 2009’s Stigmata, was an electronic requiem mass for his late wife and muse Mari that fused motifs from European religious classical music to haunting vocal treatments, all built up from loops and synthesised orchestral instruments. None of which is likely to feature in Rev’s forthcoming solo show at Camden’s Purple Turtle on the 25th of May. “I tend to do more club kind of, stronger beat material when I work live, unless it’s a special kind of venue that requests a more cerebral concert type of environment,” he says. “I did something that way in Vienna a couple of years ago at a modern classical festival. But otherwise I just like to play, back to the club roots that I dig so much. And a lot of the stuff has not been recorded.”

The show will be Rev’s first performance in the UK capital since Suicide opened for Iggy and the Stooges at the Hammersmith Apollo in 2010, where the duo played their debut LP in its entirety. I asked Rev how he felt about the whole notion of such carefully curated, retrospective performances, which would seem the diametric opposite of Suicide’s onstage ethos of orchestrated chaos.

“I wouldn’t wanna play a reproductive, retrospective gig like that unless it was in a glass box maybe in a museum somewhere, and even then I would hesitate very strongly,” he admits. “The idea was broached some time before, at a time when it was apparently a kind of a trend, in the UK especially, to do live reproduction shows of your albums. It was presented very sincerely that people would really want to see that, with us going back to the original instruments, but I felt that was not going to work for me, because the energy and the edge that they had for me at that time, they’re not necessarily going to have now. So I didn’t do it. But I did in time play around with the sounds I had originally, with the rhythm machine and what not, and my idea was always that we could do old material- that hasn’t lost any of the glimmer for me- but do it in the way that I play now. So I said yeah, I’ll do it, but I wanna upgrade it like this. And finally I guess it was seen that that was the only way I was going to do it, so they said yeah, okay, and it worked out great. For me it had all the energy and edge that it ever had, and people had the same reactions they did twenty or thirty years ago. They just didn’t know what to do, they were in this suffocating space, whether they wanted to leave but they couldn’t… it was like they heard it for the first time.”

Rev obviously retains the forward-thinking, improvisatory attitude that characterised the modern jazz he was listening to, and indeed performing, prior to Suicide’ early seventies inception.

“Well, originally I was a rock n’ roll kid; I was born into the rock n’ roll era of 45s in the late 50s, so rock was the breast that I nurtured from originally,” Rev qualifies.” Jazz I got into as a pre-teenager and then all the way through my teenage years I studied it very intently. For a keyboard player, or any instrumentalist, it was as erudite, in terms of harmony and theory, as any European classical music was. It was just as deep, and in some ways you had to be more versatile, as you’re improvising all the time.”

“After the sixties so many rock groups started to say they were influenced by jazz-the Allman Brothers, Hendrix, they all started saying after a few years, yeah, they got that from listening to Coltrane, you know. I mean we’re talking about a time when John Coltrane was really cutting edge, he was reflecting the whole energy, the whole social progression, the whole social future of the time. And Miles Davis at the same time… it was still one developing generation, which means that every six months sometimes, or two years, they were overlapping each other into new movements. It hadn’t yet reached an interpretive era. So it was really, really vibrant. The same way rock n’ roll has been; its cycle started later, in the fifties, and it was like that too, with all the movements that happened in the sixties and the seventies, through punk, and even the eighties. But especially in America, jazz had a real meaning, and as an instrumentalist it was like, wow, let me try and do that. Of course, trying to do that you study, and you practise for quite a few years, and you come out of it with a lot of stuff, and then later I realised what I wanted to use and what I wasn’t gonna use.”

It’s interesting that you should say that you were drawn to the complexity of jazz, because when Suicide started out you were known for doing this very minimal, brutal, deliberately simple music that was almost seen as a reaction against people like the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead and these extemporising bands. But actually before that, you had the chops to be doing quite complex stuff.

“Yeah, I was reacting against that; I thought that had reached a turning point, and as someone living very close to the surface I couldn’t afford to actually put together a group and go to those studios, and that whole scene I was coming in on, I couldn’t compete with that kind of establishment, and I had to find a way to make music that moved me with the most minimal ways too. And then I discovered something that for me was more vibrant. Because after that many years of elaborating itself in the studios and in bands, that format had reached an end point. And rock n’ roll can be very profound in its emotion, but it’s not necessary to learn that much in terms of spurting out like that, in terms of what’s happening in jazz and classical music. So you can kind of do a lot of playing pretty early on.”

“So between the two worlds I actually came back to my roots, which was rock n’ roll. Jazz, as much as I loved it, was really music based in a generation or two before me. All the greats were born in the twenties, pretty much, at the latest the thirties, and so they listened to different things on the radio. Their pop music was Bing Crosby, standard songs. My pop music was ‘Get a job’, ‘At the Hop.’ So I came back to me, basically, but I didn’t come back to it by throwing anything away.”

Immediately before Suicide you had a band called Reverend B. What were they like? Was that in the jazz period, or had you moved more into rock n’ roll by then?

“It started as a free group. I’d have sometimes as many as between six and ten or twelve musicians, and then through the fact that there weren’t keyboards in a lot of the places I was playing, because I was playing lofts, I would borrow an electric organ off somebody, and eventually I bought like a Wurlitzer electric piano that I started Suicide with. But with the organs I started to hear the possibility of electronics and free music like that. This was a time when jazz was in its avant-garde, and free music was the current music of the day. Coltrane had already made that leap, and the most relevant people at the time were Coltrane, Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor, and it was very much centred in New York, too. So it evolved into electronic free music like that, which was still novel to me because really only Sun Ra was dabbling that way in electronics. Miles Davis was too, but in a more rhythmic, rock-oriented way. And then it started to evolve into the pure beat too, because sometimes the drummer would really sink into the electronics with a strong back beat, but with a lot of free improvisation over it. And that was what I was doing for quite a while before I met Alan. I actually played some of the first shows in the Museum of Living Artists, where I met Alan and where we started Suicide.”

And out of that you created some music that eventually was very influential. Songs like ‘Ghost Rider’; the riff in that is so minimal and simple, yet it seems like it’s been ripped off and sampled a million times since, it’s kind of like the ‘Smoke on the Water’ of electronic music. I wonder if you can remember coming up with that, and if you felt like it stood out from everything else at the time.

“I actually remember very specifically… I was rehearsing with Alan at the time, and we even had a guitar player for the first couple of shows- these were all in the museum- and they were basically coming from being visual artists, but wanting to find a way into music, using electronics. And at some point, after the first few rehearsals, which were incredible of course, energy-wise and visionary-wise, psychedelically or however you want to put it, but I was still searching for an expression that would work, as a group, that we could play gigs on. And I used to just go and crash right into the university that’s around there, which you couldn’t do now, and grab their practise rooms, just go in there and throw around ideas and just try things. And I remember this one day, I just went in and in just a few minutes I started playing ‘Rocket USA’. Just two notes really, like that, and in that so-called minimalism I heard and saw everything. It was as visual as it was audible. I heard and saw my whole… it was something very primordial to me. It was like the pictures that used to be in my room when I was a baby, which I remember were like cowboy pictures, a cowboy lassoing this or the cow jumping over the moon, all these very American, Americana-like, almost like drawn cartoon kind of things, not real paintings. And when I started playing those notes I saw all of that, I saw all that Americana… it was right. Plus it had the energy. And I just went from there to ‘Ghost Rider’ in the next few minutes, and the sound, even the register I was playing in… it was there, it was ready to find. And then I brought it back into the next time we played, around the corner in the museum, and it was a new place for everybody. It was the direction.”


That moment of epiphany has sent tremors through the entire music world ever since, that show no signs of abating. When pushed to name acts that he thinks have taken what Suicide did and then built on it, as opposed to just imitating, Rev singles out Spacemen 3 and ARE Weapons as particular favourites, while also nodding to “those guys who did ‘Tainted Love’…”

Soft Cell?

“Yeah, they said they were totally into us, but they did something different or in their own way with it. Some have really just tried to replicate us, and that’s their decision too, they try to do certain periods, like early period of Suicide; sometimes at our gigs I’m in the dressing room and the opener is like, “they’re doing you guys, but in 1974” and it sounds much more us than… it’s like hearing yourself play, 20 or 30 years before.”

You’ve always kept moving forward with your sound though; I guess you don’t pine for the days of a forty buck keyboard or whatever.

“No… I know a lot of people like to go back to analogue, but to me it’s never really been that much of a passion. Maybe I just kind of did it, for me, when I was the latest thing, too.”

So you’re still enthusiastic about the possibilities of new technology and seeing what you can do with it?

“Oh, yeah. It’s always been what spurred me on in a way. I always like found music, like found art- you know the found art movement, where they were finding things, they took a throwaway from the street and they made art out of it. Well you hear a module or something that just came out, and you can find a lot of incredible ideas out of that, and make music out of that. Now there’s less new hardware being manufactured, it’s all about software, but the combination of the two, that’s really where the freshness is- for me anyway, working in electronics and working in something that’s not a traditional, known music, you might say. If you’re interpreting, of course, you can interpret forever.”

And are you working towards a new album at all, at the moment?

“Yeah, I am. It’s been in the works for a little while and it’s really reaching that stage where I should be putting something out as a demo, or looking to put something out at some point in the near future.”

And is any of this material likely to be showcased at the gig on the 25th?

“Actually probably not, no. It’s a different thing. It’s a generalisation, but the new album is actually going on from Stigmata, for me. Towards what has been almost an open, unknown space, in many respects. But coming from that end. But who knows; after this it might come back to stuff I’m doing live.”

And finally do you think Suicide will make another studio album? It’s been ten years since American Supreme, and that came ten years after Why Be Blue, so…

“I know. One can never say. We’ve never really planned our records to any great, or maybe not to any extent. They’ve always presented themselves in one way or another, in a way that we almost couldn’t refuse to do them. There’s a general kind of environment that circles you and makes it happen. We tend not to, at this point, say okay, we gotta make a new album, like a band that says okay, it’s time to get in the studio and make a new album and try to sell it to somebody… But if it’s in the wind, so to speak, if it’s necessary, we’ll be called. One way or the other.”







Brighton Beat: Hamilton Yarns live

January 19, 2013

Hamilton Yarns seemed an unlikely choice of guest band at Synthesise Me, but their performance last night was both spellbinding and entirely appropriate. Bathed in the soft glow and turning colours of S.M.s trademark projections- courtesy, as always, of the Innerstrings Psychedelic Lightshow- the Yarns conjured up a womb-dream ambience in their packed corner of the Hotel Pellirocco bar, as insulated from the background chatter at the other end of the room as from the snowbound seafront outside.

Stripped down to their core trio, Hamilton Yarns adapted their usual acoustic, experimental-pastoral, lo-fi kraut-folk to a form more suited to Synthesise Me’s electronic music theme, and went down as well with the regular crowd of open-minded electronica buffs as with the boho girls sat cross-legged on the floor sketching the band as they played. Iain, Joss and Alistair presided over a Bagpuss antique shop of analogue synthesisers and battery-powered organs, plus autoharp, trumpet, bass guitar and Joss’s sparingly-used snare-and-cymbal drum set-up. From this coven emerged lullabies for lost spacemen, hints of early Tangerine Dream style ambience but scaled down to Farmers’ Market level, denuded of pomp and grandiosity to reveal a more satisfying and subtle pathos and poignancy instead.

Strange burbles from the ether suggested 1950s Bakelite wireless sci-fi serials, the village moon project constructed from a shed. And finally, most unlikely of all, the first- to my knowledge- Hamilton Yarns cover version; a minimalist take on Lionel Ritchie’s ‘Hello’, delivered with all the emotionally-repressed passive aggression of a red-faced municipal library pants-fumbler, incapable of eye contact but still in need of a love and affection he just can’t find among his collection of musty matchboxes and dead field mice.

Mention too must be made of Jason Williams’ extraordinary DJ set, incorporating the use of a 1970s spectrum shifter with a supposed pedigree of past owners taking in ELP and dubious pre-Numan punk-synth pioneers Rikki and the Last Days of Earth, as well as a shot glass ingeniously substituting for the centre spindle of an ex jukebox 45. One hopes for more in this vein from all concerned.

The Silver Apples- an Interview with Simeon

October 6, 2010


As the music of the late 1960s is continually reassessed, it seems to be coming true that the first shall be the last, and the wayward, uncommercial geniuses elevated to the heights at the expense of major icons like the Beatles, Dylan and the Stones, their previously pristeen reputations tarnished through sheer over-familiarity. The Velvet Underground, The Stooges and Nick Drake are now household names, while the likes of The Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Tim Buckley and the MC5 aren’t far behind. And coming up fast on the outside are The Silver Apples.

 Obscure and almost forgotten 15 years ago, the Silver Apples- a duo of Simeon Cox III on a home-made synthesiser dubbed ‘The Simeon,’ and drumming prodigy Danny Taylor-  are now hailed as pioneers of electronic music, and urban psychedelic shamans to boot. Taylor’s drumming wove trance-inducing patterns around Simeon’s freaked-out siren wails, generated, according to their first LP’s sleevenotes, from “nine audio oscillators piled on top of each other, and eighty-six manual controls to control lead, rhythm and bass pulses with hands, feet, knees and elbows.”

Brutal, hypnotic, minimal yet melodic, their haunted junkheap grooves were too much at the time even for the far-out freaks of their native New York, yet they scored a Top 100 LP with their 1968 self-titled debut LP, and were maybe set to break through the barriers that saw them consigned almost to novelty sideshow status by fans of foursquare rock, when a heavy lawsuit from Pan-Am Airlines effectively took them out of the running overnight.

The world’s most experienced airline- which went bankrupt in 1991- took umbrage over the sleeve of the Apples’ 1969 second LP Contact, which depicted our hairy heroes looking somewhat spaced in the cockpit of a Pan-Am jet, and then sat amid the inevitable smoking wreckage on the back cover, Simeon pickin’ a lonesome banjo philosophically. Previously cleared with the company, this slapstick set-up nevertheless outraged the sensibilities of some high-up exec who stumbled across it in a store, and immediately brought full corporate weight to bear, not only getting album withdrawn, not only getting the band banned from the airwaves, but threatening them with massive legal shitstorm if they so much as advertised a gig as Silver Apples anywhere in the known world. Add to that their record company, Kapp, getting subsumed into MCA in 1970, and the duo were left high and dry, the plug pulled midway through recording a third album, The Garden, tapes of which would finally see light of day in 1998.

With such a story, someone should make a film about them, you may think. And hey, funnily enough… The Silver Apples: Play Twice Before Listening is pencilled in for an early 2011 release, after being over ten years in the making. This indie documentary is a labour of love by San Francisco School of Performing Arts graduate Barak Soval, and follows on from his acclaimed Andy Warhol documentary, Valerie Says. It was to talk about the film that the esteemed Stool Pigeon music paper sent me to talk to Simeon back at the end of August, when he was playing a short UK solo tour under the Silver Apples name.

Simeon is an engaging, professionally courteous interviewee, with a boyish enthusiasm that belies his seventy-four years as much as his physical and mental alertness. There’s certainly little noticable sign of the partial paralysis that is a permanent momento of a late-night road accident on Halloween, 1999, when the Silver Apples van was forced off the road after a triumphant comeback gig in New York City, and Simeon was initially reported dead on the scene. Neither would you think him in any way impaired watching his performance later that night, before a rapt audience of devotees in Hove’s St Andrew’s Church, coloured slides and projections playing over him as classics like ‘Oscillations’ and ‘A Pox on You’ are loudly teased from his jumbled tabletop of gizmos- Holy Fuck are just one of the modern bands to owe the Apples a massive debt of influence- until finally one by one the watchers rise up from their pews to dance, as though touched by the Holy Spirit at some revivalist prayer meeting.

  Focussed and articulate, his speech is still peppered, charmingly, with slightly archaic hippy slang, and he is genuinely emotional when recalling Danny Taylor’s untimely death in 2005. A certain understandable rancour also shows when discussing the extensive bootlegging of his band’s work, despite his claims to have risen above it. Mainly though he seemed happy and relaxed: living for the moment, modest and approachable but pleased that his musical legacy is finally getting the recognition it deserves. 

A drastically shortened version of this interview originally ran in the Autumn 2010 issue of Stool Pigeon, and all photos below are the work of Sam Collins, whose work can be seen at

or at


So, about the film; when did you first hear about it, and how did they approach you?

Simeon: “Yeah, they approached me initially. I guess it was by e-mail; he just e-mailed my record label and said he was interested in doing a documentary.  He had just completed one about the Andy Warhol days in New York, and he said it was being shown at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and that it was his first full-length documentary, and that he would like to do as his second full-length documentary The Silver Apples’ role in the 1960s underground scene in New York, which he felt hasn’t been documented”.

 “As he did this Warhol piece, enough mention was made of Silver Apples that it piqued his interest, and the more he looked into it, the more he saw that the Silver Apples did play a fairly large role, even though it was very underground and very under-exposed. And so he asked permission to just follow me around. He has offices in San Francisco and in New York, and so when we were touring he could catch us at both coasts and get a lot of concert footage and do interviews, and he said that what he wanted to do was dig up people from all over the country, and eventually Europe and Asia, musicians who were well-known, who were influenced by us”.

” And we thought, that’s all very good, fine, I don’t care if you’re onstage filming me, just do what you gotta do. And so he began, and this was, I’d say ten years ago, and it’s still not released! Because, I guess in his mind, the Silver Apples story just keeps on going. Like the little bunny with the drum, y’know, it just keeps on going! So it’s finally, I guess, in its final editing stages, and there is a sort of ten-minute trailer that’s been produced, that’s out and is being pushed around now. I don’t think it has signed distribution yet, but there are several possibilities, and he’s keeping all that under his hat until he has something he can actually announce. So, I don’t, I know less than you do, probably. But that’s pretty much where it stands”.

“It’s got some fun footage of me playing with Danny, when we finally found Danny; it’s got some amazing old photographs that were dug up from the New York City archives, of us playing in the parks and things, and some interesting statements from people, from all different bands, bands that I admire a lot. Mark from Devo actually demonstrates how he used to sing ‘Oscillations’ against a little toy machine, and he sings “oscillations, oscillations,” Devo style… Blur’s in it, they talk about how it’s influenced them, through the Krautrock thing that they’ve been influenced by so much… Faust is in it, speaking of Krautrock, and they talk about the beginnings of it, and how we were definitely part of the picture of the beginnings… so it’s interesting historically. I’ve only seen the trailer a couple of times and it’s interesting because I’ve never seen the footage of me playing with Danny, and so that… I totally enjoyed that part of it.”

 You say it’s been ten years since he started making it, so that must have been not long after you came back to performing again… Is it still focussed on your involvement in the sixties, or has the focus shifted more to a document of your current, or, you know, second wave of activity?

 “Yeah, it’s kind of grown more into, I would say, the second wave part of it, just because that’s the part where he has the most stuff available. It’s really hard to get stuff prior to then. There was almost no video shot during the day, what was shot was on film, and I just don’t know how much film has survived from back then. We found some audio tapes that survived, so maybe film has the same shelf life, I don’t know, but apparently New York City does have some shots, some film, in its archives, that is of us playing, and they won’t release it for a commercial enterprise, they would only release it for a museum showing or something like that, so Barak has not been able to get his hands on that particular footage. But it’s out there. Maybe that’ll change one day. And maybe that’s one of the reasons he’s delaying the release so long, because he’s been negotiating with them for a couple of years now, once he found out they had it”.

 Also you mentioned that his starting point was that The Silver Apples were being mentioned a lot when he was making the documentary on the Warhol scene. What was your relationship with that scene? I know that you when you arrived in New York in the sixties you were originally an artist; did you have any kind of relationship with that Warhol scene and the people involved in that?

 “Yes, both socially and to a certain extent musically. Socially of course we all hung out at Max’s Kansas City and everybody knew everybody. And one of Warhol’s trips was to take somebody who had absolutely no talent, or in his mind no experience or talent or training, and make them into a, quote, “superstar” of some kind or another. People with no acting abilities… the people in the Velvet Underground were basically beginning to learn how to play their instruments, but he jump-started them into stardom, as sort of like, this is what publicity can do, this is what publicity is all about, he was a big publicity person. He did the same with Nico, putting her with the Velvet Underground once he got them established, and he wanted to do the same thing with Ultra Violet, and Ultra Violet became part of his superstar stable, as he’d call it; he wanted to put her with Silver Apples, in the same way as he’d put Nico with the Velvet Underground”.

“So we spent some time rehearsing with her, and I think we actually went out and did a couple of gigs with her, but neither Danny or I liked the idea of having a third person in the band. We felt very personal about our music, and didn’t really ever fully embrace it, and finally we just said no, we don’t want to do this. And um, it didn’t sit well with the Warhol camp, and so we were a little bit estranged from that scene after that. We just sort of said, we can live without it, we don’t need the Warhol publicity machine behind us or anything, and so we went our separate ways after that.”

 I’d imagine that you’d be aware that it might be a bit of a double-edged sword maybe, to be just seen as a Warhol project…

 “Yeah, we had already had an album that had ridden the Billboard 100 charts for ten weeks; we were fairly established, we were already dubbed ‘the New York sound’ and were commissioned by the city of New York to play all these concerts, in the city, and to entertain all the people during the hot summer days. We already had a career going, we were touring, we had a second album that we were working on, and eventually a third. And we felt like we had a career. We didn’t need this whole Warhol identification which really didn’t exist anyway; we never were really a part of it. Our studios were within blocks of each other, and our hangout was Max’s Kansas City, so we knew each other. But we just never really embraced the whole idea, and so consequently were a little bit estranged from it, or not included in the writings about it and stuff like that”.

 Did you have any kind of relationship with the Velvet Underground?

  “Only to say hi”.

 You didn’t play any concerts together?

  “No, we went to a couple of their performances. What Warhol would do, he’d rent a vast space, like a, one of his favourite places to rent was the old Armoury, up in midtown Manhattan, and he’d put on these sort of lightshow things, and have the Velvet Underground on a stage out in the middle of the floor, and he put on these big lightshows and stuff, and it was just part of the underground art scene/ happening/ performance art scene, you know. And so we went to a few of those, and also we were sort of, I guess you’d call us the house band at Max’s for about a year, we were the only band allowed to play there for a year. And so the Velvet Underground used to come up and hang out with us and watch us play”.

“I remember particularly the drummer, Moe Tucker, was just fascinated with Danny, because she was learning how to play. At that time she was just tapping on one drum, she didn’t have a cymbal, nothing, she was tapping on one drum. And that’s about all she could do, was just keep time, but she really wanted to learn how to play drums. And Danny was an amazing drummer. And so she’d just come and sit in a booth, as close to the stage as she could get, and just stare at Danny for hours”.

” The others hung out, because everybody else did. I mean, all the famous artists were there, poets and other musicians from other bands, and it was just a great hangout. All without fans coming up and wanting autographs and stuff, you know, you had to be on the list to get in, and only people in the business were up there, so it was kinda good, in that respect. It was a nice place to go where you didn’t feel like you were being ga-ga-ed at and stuff”.


 I saw a little clip of the film where you’re speaking about the influence of bluegrass, and also that, to you, you’re hearing Fats Domino as a big influence on your writing. I know that you grew up in New Orleans and before that East Tennessee mountain country; is that kind of bluegrass and rhythm and blues your first musical love, in a way?

 “In a way. My first was bluegrass because in my grandma’s house in Tennessee, there was always bluegrass on the radio. She kept it tuned to the Nashville station and there was always either bluegrass or some kind of country music on. And so as a child I just kinda had it in my background. Nobody in the family played, or anything like that, but it was just, the kind of sound, the kind of chord structures, the simple melodies, the types of harmonies, the simple melodies, those kind of things, were sort of subconsciously buried into my head, because of that childhood experience in my grandma’s house”.

“Down in New Orleans it’s a totally different scene, of course. It’s jazz on the one hand, which is sort of the traditional look of New Orleans, or sound of New Orleans, and then down in the Storyville, Rampart Street area are all of these black nightclubs where the real, to me, nitty gritty of music in New Orleans is played, or at the time, in the fifties and sixties when I grew up there. And I used to sneak out, I’d tell my mom and dad I was going to the high school to go to a dance or something, and me and a couple of buddies would ride the streetcar down to Rampart Street and go into these clubs, and watch Fats Domino, and Big Mama Thornton and Joe Turner, and all these guys who are these now-famous rhythm and blues people who developed that whole genre. And there they were just playing in bars. And so we went into these places, and we’d be the only white people in there, but nobody cared. I mean everybody thought that music was the whole trip anyway, and so everybody was there just for the music”.

“And so Fats Domino became my idol, and still is, to a certain extent. I hear him all through my music; the simple structures and the basic way he put songs together. Keep it simple. And so, I hear him all through my stuff. And I guess you could say he is the key to, when I did start going out and doing stuff, it was my latching on to his principles that guided me into where I went, in the beginning, when I was sort of like, where do I go. So that’s how he fit. I don’t actually do his kind of sounds, his chords and stuff, but it’s that idea, the approach to music that he influenced me with”.

 I think it’s that mix of very different musical instruments, certainly in the early Silver Apples stuff, that makes it very distinctive. I mean you’ve got the electronics, which you were pioneering; nobody was really doing music like that, but I think you can hear the bluegrass element on the early records, which is a very odd mix, you’ve got Danny’s amazing drumming on there, and some of the melodies are almost folky; I don’t know if that was a kind of Greenwich Village influence?

 “Yeah, it was just part of the sound of the time. I had played in a jug band before I got into rock n’ roll; I played spoons, and washtub, and sang, and all those jug band songs are very folky, kind of simple, three chord, jug band songs. It was part of the way I learned how to play music”.

 Were you consciously combining things, or was it just the things that you were absorbing, coming out? Was there a conscious decision to say, we’re going to throw this into the pot, and maybe exclude that, or was it fairly natural?

 “All we knew was that we couldn’t play one song after another that sounded just like each other. We had to have some variety. I had monkeyed around with a banjo, off and on, and could do some picking; I had monkeyed around with a recorder and could play that okay; and so we just went ahead and did it. There was no formula. It didn’t seem strange to us to put a banjo in with electronic sounds, because there’d been no precedent, you know what I mean? There was no reason for us to feel like there was anything wrong with that. So we were just doing it for variety. Now people think that was so strange, because I guess if you went to a techno, you would never hear a banjo being played”.

 So it’s like electronic music has become a lot more formalised since then.

  “Yeah, it’s now been defined, it now has parameters and things that people expect, and all musicians that want to do it well, do it within these boundaries. It’s like, if you want to play blues, you do it within the boundaries that are set up in the blues expression. But for us there were no boundaries, it was there, a wide open field for us to just play with. And so we weren’t inhibited at all, to just break out a recorder and play along like you’d play a bop thing”.   

 I guess it was undefined to the extent that you were literally building your own equipment, weren’t you?

  “Oh yeah, yeah. That was another thing; that, in many ways, would influence the way that we would write a song, whether or not I could technically do it”.

 Do you have a background in electronics?

 “No, nothing. I was strictly try this, try that. I mean, many a times I’d be, get the fire extinguisher! Smoke coming out of everything”.

 And the gear you’re using now, what relation does that have to your original gear?

 “Well, most of the oscillators are the same pieces of gear, basically. They’ve had new tubes and new parts here and there and stuff like that, so it’s not exactly the same, but… they are the same, I was using old Hewlett Packard World War Two vintage oscillators and that’s what that is. And the modernisation of it is that instead of having fifteen or twenty of these boxes that I carry around with me, all tuned to different notes that I key in with telegraph keys, now I have these same oscillators in my studio that I just sample. So I have the same sixteen buttons up there that would key in oscillators normally, what it does is it keys in the samples of those same oscillators. And so I have the same sounds, it’s just done much more conveniently and much more compact”.

 Yeah. So you have kind of taken advantage of digital technology and things being available, that you don’t have to just scavenge from scrap heaps…

  “Oh, I wouldn’t be able to do a tour like this with all that junk”.

 Okay. During the years that you weren’t playing, did you hang onto the gear; was the stuff just in the attic?

 “Yeah, it was stored at my brother’s house. Part of it was lost in Hurricane Frederick in 1979; part of his house was flooded and some of the gear just floated away, I guess. It’s maybe out in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico someplace, mixed in with all that oil. But some of it survived; enough of it so that I could reconstruct it, once I decided to come back. Plus those things are available on the internet; you can get those old oscillators still. They’re quite expensive, but you can get ‘em. I mean, I was paying two dollars, three dollars for the same oscillators that are three hundred, four hundred dollars now”.

 So what was the impetus to come back when you did for the first time, in the late nineties?

 “About a hundred people e-mailing me, saying if you will come play my club I’ll pay you x number of dollars. You really need to get this sound back out here, people want to hear it”.

 Had that been going on, had they been getting in touch for a while?

  “Yeah, over a period of time. Once the German bootleg came out, then Jack here, the guy who’s tour-managing me now, put out that ten-band tribute, I mean that came out and that got things going again. So, I mean I didn’t have a clue where Danny was, so I just decided, okay, well I have a friend who’s an electronic musician in New York, maybe he can help me put this thing together. And he found a drummer, and I said why don’t you sit in with me, just to sort of like fill in the gaps, and maybe you can help me put this thing together…”

 “We started working with the drummer, we started the same way Danny and I did: okay, this is called ‘Oscillations,’ this is how we’re gonna do this…! And the more we played as a trio, the more I began to feel like, this is not bad, if I’m gonna come back, I don’t have to come back exactly the way I was before, why not come back with this sampled, synthesiser fill-in sound, and he can do the occasional harmonies, and I felt a real nice thing. We could do the old material and we could branch out and do some new material based on what he could do. And I enjoyed playing with him. And so that’s the way I came back, as a trio”.

 I actually saw you when you played in ’98, you played in Brighton. I was at that show at the Arts Club. It was a good show. And then you did find Danny again, or did he find you?

  “No, a radio station found him. They were playing one of our songs, ‘I Have Known Love,’ on the radio; Danny’s sitting at the phone company, on his job, eating a sandwich, at lunch break. He’s got the radio on. What? That’s… us, that’s Silver Apples! What the hell? So he picks up the phone and he calls the radio station. Says, I’m astounded you’re playing Silver Apples. Oh, well, we get lots of requests for them. He says, well, I’m gonna send you guys a contribution or something, cos that’s my music. And they’re like, what, who are you? I’m Dan Taylor. Oh my god, do you know Simeon’s been trying to find you for two years!? He says well, I’ve been right here…!”

“So the radio station called me, and I caught the next train to New York, and rented a car, and drove up to his place in Kingston, and there we were, we were together for a weekend, and caught up, and decided well, okay, yeah, we’ll go find you some drums. And we went around to some second-hand shops and found him some drums and got him started again…”

 So he’d completely stopped playing?

  “Completely stopped playing. As had I. We just both decided, when the band could no longer perform, because of the problems we were having with the legalities and stuff, which had nothing to do with me and Danny as musicians or as people, we loved each other, and so when we couldn’t be Silver Apples anymore we just didn’t want to be musicians anymore. If we couldn’t be Silver Apples we just wouldn’t want to do anything. I mean, I maybe could have got a job as a session man, add little two dots and boop-boop-boops to things, on peoples’ records, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do. And Danny didn’t just want to go and play in a straight rock n’ roll band again, after the Silver Apples experience, where he could do all this creativity. So we just neither one of us played music again”.

“And it was amazing, after we found the drums for him and got him together for a rehearsal with me, it was as if we’d just finished a gig at Max’s Kansas City and were working on a new song. We just fell right back into it so quick it was amazing. And so with only a couple of days rehearsal, we were ready to go back out again. And of course we had bookings like crazy at that point, and were playing in New York, we played three gigs in New York, and then we had a van accident, and couldn’t play anymore”.               

 And that was when you broke your neck…

 “Yeah. Yeah, I couldn’t play after that. For two years I couldn’t play, going through very serious spinal rehabilitation. Yeah, I was a mess”.

 And then, by the time you gradually recovered, then of course we lost Danny, sadly.

 “Yeah. The timing was amazing. By the time I was back on my feet he was so sick that he couldn’t play, and wheelchair bound and then, eventually, his heart just failed. He was only 55 years old”.

 But now you’re back out on the road again…

  “Well, I decided it would be unfair to ask a drummer to fill Danny’s shoes. And Silver Apples wouldn’t work without a drummer who was trying to drum like Danny, doing the patterning instead of the beats, and that kind of stuff. So I just decided that since we are in the age of sampling, why not just sample Danny from all of the tapes of rehearsals that I have of him, just sitting there, playing his drums. I’ve got all his sounds and I’m totally familiar with his patterns, and the way he played. I can always go back to the source, the records, and figure things out. And so I just have him sampled and sequenced. He’s still my rhythm section. All the drums that you’ll hear tonight are Danny, sampled. And so it’s like he’s here with me, electronically. I think he’d like that. I really think he would think that was a groove”.

 “I just decided that rather than put another drummer through the frustration of not being able to express himself, and to be compared to Danny, which would be awful, for any drummer; not that he would be badly compared, but he would always be compared, he would never be himself. He would never be free. And so I just didn’t wanna get into that. And so I’ve been solo ever since. And actually, I’m enjoying it. It’s kinda fun to be out there by yourself”.

 And you can tour in a little hatchback.

  “Yeah! Yeah, it’s cheaper, no vans!”

 During the period when you were away, were you listening to cutting-edge music, electronic music, and thinking, maybe not necessarily that they were influenced by you, but possibly thinking, you know, our time could really have come, we were ahead of our time? You were talking about the links between you and Krautrock, which came a few years later with bands like Can and Neu! Were you aware of that, and seeing the link with what you’d been doing?  

 “No, not really. I learned about that later, in the nineties, when I was back out in the business and talking to other musicians. That’s when I began to realise that there were bands back there when I wasn’t even playing music who were playing my music from the day, and being influenced by it. I was completely unaware of that. And when I got away from the music business I just like, I’d listen to talk radio or something, the occasional progressive rock station here and there, but I really wasn’t into it, I just sort of burned out”.

 Were you just leading a regular life, or were you like painting, or…?

 “I was painting, and as a day job I was working in an advertising agency as a designer, a graphics designer. Basically what I was doing, I was racing sailboats for a hobby, you know, just keeping myself busy. Painting and trying to get galleries to show my stuff. It was through that art scene thing that I discovered Silver Apples again. One of the artists that I had met at a show in Brooklyn said she was gonna have a one-person show coming up in the spring, and would it be okay if she used my music. And I said, well sure, good luck if you can find it. And she said oh, it’s everywhere, it’s all over the place. You can just go into any record store and buy it. I said, what are you talking about? She said, well, your new releases. I’m, what? And that’s how I found out about the German bootleg, and the tribute, Jack’s tribute, and other things. I had absolutely no idea that any of this was going on”.

 “So I went into a large record store in New York and I said, do you have any stuff by Silver Apples and they said yeah, they took me over to it and there it was, a whole bin full of stuff. And I said holy criminally, where did you get that stuff? And they named distribution and they said why? And I said well, that’s my music. And they said, you’re the long-lost missing-in-action Simeon? And I said, yeah. And they said, would you mind signing some of these? So I sat there and had a record signing afternoon in that store, signing my bootlegs”.

 Yeah. And not getting a penny from.

 “Not getting a dime, and I’m sort of in a state of shock, so I’m just doing anything anybody tells me. Is this what you do, you sit down and sign your bootlegs? I mean, I didn’t realise the significance of that until later, I thought, what a damn fool I was! But yeah, I was a naïve, uneducated person at that point in terms of the music. I had to get re-oriented. And that guy that you saw me playing with, Christian, the keyboard guy, he was very much into, he was almost a musicologist, you’d call him, I mean he really had the whole thing nailed. And he educated me back, schooled me”.     

  What’s the state of your back catalogue now, are they legit releases that you’re getting money from?

 “Yeah. MCA licensed the two albums, the two initial albums, to Scorpio Music, and Scorpio has put out both of them in very nice re-release form, they’re out now. And they’re in the middle of doing Garden. And of course the MCA re-release on CD, the double album on CD, is still out and selling, I still hear about that one, and I see it in stores. And that’s been 12 years since that thing came out”.   

 I’m certainly glad to hear it, because there are still dodgy copies. Radioactive Records…

  “Oh yeah, and Phoenix…”

 Who are the same people, essentially, aren’t they.

 “Are they really? I have no idea”.

 I think because enough people figured out that Radioactive aren’t legit, they re-branded as Phoenix. But it’s the same company, and they’re still in mainstream record stores, the vinyl versions.

 “Oh yeah, I see em everywhere”.

 Yeah, which I guess pushes the legit versions aside…

 “Yeah, it hurts the sales of the legitimate ones, even now. Now that we’re re-releasing the real ones, I’d like to see that stuff pulled. There was a time when I was happy that it was out there, because it was helping me to continue to build the band again. Now, it’s starting to hurt me”.

 I think that a lot of people don’t realise they’re bootleg labels, because they’re in the stores…

 “Even the store owners don’t realise though! They think they’re buying from legitimate companies, yeah. Most people didn’t realise that TRC was a bootleg. They thought that was a licensed thing. They made tons of money off of that. I mean, they sold tens of thousands of those things. I never saw a nickel”.

 Yeah. But at least it has worked out, and you’ve got legitimate stuff out there now. A lot of bands…

  “Oh yeah. And I’m having a good time and I don’t really care about that. It’s sometimes annoying if it’s brought up but it’s not something that I dwell on, that I think about, you know”.

Thanks to Simeon, Sean at Mutante, Stool Pigeon, Jack Trevillion, Phil PIO and Sam Collins for the photos.

The Present- The Way We Are (Loaf Recordings)

June 19, 2009


The press release: “Touchstones include the music of La Monte Young, Dimitri Shostakovich, Wolfgang Voigt, Cluster, Black Dice, Claude Debussy, Aphex Twin, Can, Arthur Russell, Boredoms and Brian Eno, and yet it sounds like none of these.”

 Well, there’s a thing. Reminiscent of the then-unknown BS Johnson punting his first book to publishers with the casual claim that he’s the sole heir to Joyce and Beckett; both hugely self-aggrandising and off-putting to anyone hoping to make commercial capital from your work.

The Present’s debut album, World I See came out last year and was an interesting, intermittently engaging and admirably experimental work, mainly noted due to its Animal Collective connections. The Present is the project of NYC based Rusty Santos, producer of Panda Bear’s rightly-acclaimed Person Pitch LP as well as AC’s Sung Tongs, working in this case alongside a couple of mysterious accomplices known only as Mina (who brings the Japanese pop and folk influences), and Jesse.

With The Way We Are, Rusty, Mina and Jesse have not only followed up with an almost indecent swiftness, they’ve leapt light years ahead. If The World I See sounded pretty way out last year, now it sounds like faltering baby steps compared to The Way We Are.

The album doesn’t play all its aces at once, though it’s clear from the off that this is gonna be a heavier trip than its predeccesor. Opening track, ‘Medman’ sounds like vintage Radiophonic Workshop stuff; incidental Dr Who music soundtracking some Silurian or Sea Devil-like monster emerging threateningly from the deep… it even reprises the clunky, ominous rhythm of the classic theme tune. ‘Saltwater Trails’ is more atmospheric and subtle, but no less sinister once it catches ahold, like sirens luring you out into deadly quicksand… at first alluringly ethereal, then before you know it you’re up to your neck in musique concrete, and all kinds of degenerate spirits and marsh ghosts are being unleashed around you.  In fact, if the first track was Dr Who, this is Sapphire and Steel– voices of long-dead children echo in the distance, some spooky playground chant, the unknowingly departed mutter feebly to each other as all manner of psychic disturbances crack the ether. Do not play this with the lights out or under the influence of… well, actually, maybe do. It could be awesome. If you want your hair to turn white overnight, say.

Fading imperceptibly into ‘Space Meadow,’ we’re suddenly in smoother climes, three-and-a-half minutes of retro sci-fi ambience, inside the head of a valium and synthi-martini dosed 24th Century housewife awaiting her space pilot hubby’s re-entry to their satellite dream home, blissfully orbiting a cold dead planet. But ‘Shapeshifter’ marks the moment when she realises that someone’s spiked her drink: time speeds up and slows down in jerky bursts, her spatial perception starts strobing erratically, and all her digital labour-saving gadgets are malfunctioning and bursting into disobedient half-life at once. Is that the sound of an oxygen leak? Is that hubby knocking at the window, floating lifelessly asphxyated in space?

 ‘Press Play’ finds us back where we started, in vintage Dr Who territory: some hallucinatory March Of The Cybermen, intense, claustrophobic and quasi-operatic. It’s another mini-masterpiece of wordless electronic dread, but all of this is merely an overture for the album’s epic, 32-minute title track: the main act, the thing itself.

Solid clusters of sound dominate the first two minutes, like pressurised steam hissing from between solid metal plates. But then a distant, almost tribal rhythm emerges from behind the lonely singing of satellites, the ancient ghost of earth mysteries and rituals bleeding through into the modern machine age of digital communication and virtual language. After about five minutes this phases into an almost random confluence of urban noise, like jumbled radio waves passing through space, industrial vibrations with still the hint of the natural underneath it all and, for all the confusion, a sense of order, of directedness, even of a serenity beneath the chaos, just waiting to be tuned into. Indeed, as we approach the ten minute mark the chatter falls away and only a profound drone remains, like a mighty ray of light or some universal omnichord. Delicate piano melodies dance around an ineffable alien core that is still somehow warmly familiar. The planet breathing? There is something of Gaia theory to all this, of an alternative Koyaanisquatsi for the more complex, digitally-rerouted 21st Century.    

At the fifteen minute mark, nothing and everything is happening: in the new age minimalist stakes we’re nearer to Steve Reich than Phillip Glass. Gradually, more thin sonic layers are slipped in, one on top of the other, building up the levels of sound almost imperceptibly until, another ten minutes on, you realise you’re dealing with a veritable cacophony: still Reichian, but Richard James and Boards of Canada have dropped in for tea, and Eye from Boredoms is banging at the door. And after half an hour has passed, you realise it’s not a tea party at all, but a seance: calling up all the brutal, unquiet spirits of our age. And then, with an unsettling suddenness, it’s over. And silence doesn’t sound the same as it used to anymore.

The press release: “A kaleidoscopic trip influenced by New York City, The Ocean, Mountains, The Sun and the Trees, Andy Warhol, Yukio Mishima, David Lynch, Friedrich Nietzche, Buddhist Mantra, Mass Transit, Cats, Birds and life. Life in all its myriad complexity and confusions, in all its transcendent beauty and its horrendous brutality.” Which normally I would dismiss as pretentious twaddle. But in this case, one feels they might actually be understating things.

The Way We Are is an ambitious, breathtaking, resolutely forward-looking record. Not for the faint-hearted, nor the jaded thrillseeker. But for those interested in the serious and thoughtful avant-garde of digital music, look no further.  

  The Present? Sounds like the future to me.