Sunday, 29 January 2012

Silver Apples - Oscillating Wildly

 Mono, Glasgow, February 26th 2012
When Simeon Coxe III took a 1940s vintage oscillator onstage with him to lively up the psych-rock band he fronted, sparks flew to the extent that half the band left, and, with only drummer Danny Taylor in tow, Silver Apples were born. With their name taken from a WB Yeats poem (science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury had somewhat appropriately already picked up the adjoining line for his 1953 short story collection, The Golden Apples of the Sun) , the two Silver Apples albums that appeared in 1968 and 1969 melded Simeon's primitive sci-fi zaps to Taylor's busy drum patterns, and set a template for Space Rock and the German Kosmische bands of the next decade.

If such groove-laden future sounds were alien to hippies high on the summer of love's false promises, it was nothing to what Pan Am airlines made of depictions of their hardware on the cover of the duo's second album, Contact. The subsequent law-suit grounded Silver Apples indefinitely. Only when a 1994 bootleg of the two albums appeared on a German label, followed by Enraptured Records' 1996 tribute album, Electronic Evocations, featuring key figures from a new wave of sonic explorers including Windy and Carl, Third Eye Foundation and Flowchart, with the likes of Spacemen 3's Sonic Boom citing Silver Apples as an influence, did Simeon start twisting those dials again.

"It's rewarding to me," says a Zenned-out sounding Simeon from his home in Alabama of the resurgence of interest in Silver Apples. “The best thing is I had nothing to do with it. It all happened of its own volition. When we were around the first time, rock and roll bands were terrified of even using the word 'electronics', as though this was a threat to real instruments. Now it's the other way round."

Silver Apples colourful history looks set to be captured in Silver Apples: Play Twice Before Listening, a new documentary originally scheduled to premiere at Glasgow Music and Film Festival. With the screening now cancelled for the time being, Simeon will nevertheless play a solo set featuring samples of the late Taylor, who played several dates with Simeon before a car crash seemingly put paid to Silver Apples a second time.

"It was almost like the day before yesterday, when we last played at Max's, Kansas City," Simeon says of his reunion with Taylor. “It was like he'd never forgotten any licks. There are lots of people sampling Danny's drums these days. They're so easily loopable, and transferable into virtually any musical language. That's one of the reasons why I don't work with another drummer. Danny would sit and practice for hours, so I have a huge bank of his samples which I use, even on new songs. I always played against him anyway. Danny dictated the pulse of the songs, and worked in layers and textures rather than straight rock and roll beats.

"I don't really play any conventional equipment, but was basically just a straight, stand-up singer. I wasn't against guitars I just wanted to add another thing, so we tried something out and found that it worked. Because I was playing the bass lines with my feet, they had to be kept simple out of necessity, so Danny developed this loopy sound, and that's how it evolved. We weren't trying to be different in any way. It just happened. But Danny was good friends with Jimi Hendrix. He was very interested in what we were doing, and didn't think it was at all that odd. If you listen to him play guitar, he was always striving for something new."

Taylor passed away in 2005, and it wasn't until 2007 that Simeon surfaced again, with solo dates including a spot at the Portishead-curated All Tomorrow's Parties festival at the behest of the Bristol trip-hop experimentalists' Geoff Barrow. Then, Simeon sat at a table awash with vintage equipment in a manner that is now more commonplace among the retro-futurist elements of the Noise and post-Noise scenes.
"I still use some of the old stuff, and a lot of stuff you can replace," Simeon says of his analog kit. "You can still pick up forty or fifty year oscillators, but where you used to be able to pick them up for a dollar, just now they're two or three hundred dollars or more."

With this in mind, wouldn't it be simpler for Simeon to put everything through a laptop and become the, ahem, Silver Apple Macbook, if you will?

"Well, there's no need to carry around sixteen oscillators anymore," he says. "I have them sampled. But the method of performing is exactly the same, and the sound is exactly the same. The physical thinking of what we did, I still like to do that with Silver Apples. But when I'm playing with other people, I'll maybe do things differently. When I played with Hans-Joachim Roedelius (of German Kosmische acts Cluster and Harmonia), for instance, I didn't use any oscillators, but used two computers and a whole set of samples, working against what he does with layers and textures. But with Silver Apples, I'm hands-on, the way I've always been."

While the rest of the world appears to have caught up with Silver Apples, after "banging my head for twenty years against the political bullshit of the art world" as a painter, "not really happy, but just doing my thing," Simeon is philosophical about what might have been.

"If we had continued, I guess we would probably have succumbed to public pressure in order to keep our contract," he reflects. "It wasn't easy - and this is a confession - to walk into a room full of people and hear them constantly say things like 'Why can't you play in tune?' It eats into you, and just because we're human beings, we would never have kept that purity. So in a way I'm glad it didn't happen for us, because there's a cleanliness about it."

As for the future, "I'm in very good health," Simeon says. "Nobody can believe I'm seventy-three years old, but right now I'm doing exactly what I want to do, and I'm enjoying every minute of it."

A version of this appeared in The List, February 2012

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