Silver Apples interview
Photo: Silver Apples official site
SIMEON TALKS WITH YOU AND I
by Shane Christmas (October 2000)
The Silver Apples started around 1967 in New York. The were a 5-piece band who frequented the Cafe Wha?. Originally they were called "The Overland Stage Electric Band" and they had three guitarists. After plugging an old oscillator in one night Simeon decided to flood the Cafe Wha? with electronic sounds. One by one all the guitarists left, leaving just Simeon on the simeon and vocals and Dan Taylor, playing percussion and vocals. At this stage the simeon consisted of nine oscillators and eight-six manual controls. The Lead and Rhythmn oscillators were played with the hands, elbows and knees, and the bass oscillators were played with the feet. Dan Taylor's drums included thirteen drums, five cymbals and other percussion instruments. They are a seminal influence today, for they combined electronic sounds to evocative, rock drumming. Simeon is still recording, collaborating with todays artists, as well as continuing to tour. Their first two albums, Silver Apples (1968) and Contact (1969) are availiable on the one compact disc, released on MCA Records. For further information check out www.silverapples.com.
PSF: What music did you grow up listening to?
I grew up in New Orleans listening to Fats Domino, Little Richard, Big Joe Turner and the like. They all did concerts in the black, rhythm 'n blues clubs there and I sometimes would be the only white boy in the place, but it was wonderful.
PSF: What kind of band did you have in mind when you started Silver Apples?
I wanted to see if it would be possible to make music with feeling, using only oscillators and drums with vocals.
PSF: Why did you build your own instrument?
Because there weren't simply any portable, playable electronics producing instruments at the time that I could afford. I did it by trial and error. I have no technical training so I asked a lot of questions, made a lot of mistakes and burnt up many a circuit board in the process.
PSF: Were you influenced by electronic composers, especially, people who build their own instruments like Hugh Le Caine, Raymond Scott? Did you admire Morton Subotnick (hence the name 'Silver Apples')?
I had never listened to electronic music before... I was strictly a rocker.
I didn't hear of Subotnick until years later. I got the name Silver Apples from a poem by Yeats that had hung in my studio since I was 16 years old called "The Song of the Wandering Angus." I have since come to like and admire the early pioneers a lot.
PSF: Could you briefly describe the Simeon instrument and how it works?
It has gone through many different configurations over the years, but basically it consists of several oscillators hooked up to filters and other wave - distortion circuits, then to on/off pedals or switches, sometimes even keyboards.
PSF: What's is the Simeon like to play? Does it change your mental patterns? What's it been like playing over the years?
In the early days when it was nothing more than a collection of oscillators hooked up with telegraph keys it was a nightmare to keep in tune. I even wrote some songs ("Velvet Cave," "Dancing Gods," "Dust") where the dials were spun at random every performance, and I would have to sing melodies against whatever notes resulted, all this just so I wouldn't have to keep tuning the damn thing. I developed the kind of relationship with it like some people do with an old car, where it becomes a real being with personalities and quirks. One time I got so mad at it during a concert that I poured a quart of beer on it and shorted everything out (killed it). After some cleaning the next day it was more or less OK.
PSF: Were their any hostilities from KAPP Records? Did they try to soften the Silver Apples to make say radio pap?
KAPP Records never had a clue how to handle us. They kept trying to market us as a Top 40 act and we kept sneaking off and doing free concerts in the park for the street people. I wouldn't say there were any hostilities... just a lot of confusion.
PSF: How did you compose the songs for the first record?
Usually I would come up with a melody to fit the lyrics, then Danny and I would work out the different rhythms and arrangements together by jamming, which we did a lot.
PSF: Can you tell me about recording the first Silver Apples album?
It was done in KAPP's in-house studio which was set up for recording a lone pianist (one of their acts was Roger Williams). The engineer had never miked a drum kit before. We were pretty much on our own. We used their 4-track tape deck and simply performed like we were "live," and did very little overdubbing or cleaning up, which was next to impossible with only four tracks anyway.
PSF: Are there any particular favorites of yours from that album?
I guess my choices would have to be "Oscillations" because it was first, and sort of became our signature, and Program because we did live sampling of radios at each performance and never knew where it was going to take us, same with Velvet Cave because the chord changes are completely random, done by closing my eyes and spinning the oscillator dials then trying to sing against what ever chord notes were dealt me. Also, I have to mention "Misty Mountain" because it was our only love song.
PSF: Who the hell is Stanley Warren?
Stanley Warren was a friend of out manager, Barry Bryant, and one day he asked if I would read some of his poetry, and I liked "Oscillations" and "Seagreen Serenades" and "Lovefingers" and others, so I set them to music. I changed some of the words but basically it's his poetry.
PSF: I imagine reviews for the first two albums were varied & encouraging, but what were the sales like? How did you survive?
We never were paid a dime in royalties for those two records, even though the first one was on the Billboard Top 100 List for 10 weeks and the second one for 5. KAPP always claimed Silver Apples was very expensive to market because of its uniqueness, and our promotional expenses were eating up the profits. We survived on money from concerts and by our wits. Our manager was very clever at shoplifting.
PSF: With the distance of time, how do you feel about those first two albums & the accompanying early shows?
The first 2 albums were pretty good benchmarks for where Silver Apples was at that time. I have always had a good time performing my music and mostly there are good feelings about the early shows- some nightmares, too
PSF: How were the Silver Apples received at the early shows?
Usually very well - '60's audiences were into a lot of tripped-out dancing or trancing, and in most places it didn't matter what you did, as long as it had some energy and was flipped out.
PSF: Did you think that Silver Apples did or did not fit in with the music scene at the time the group started?
In New York we made our own scene. We had a fairly cultish following there.
Out in the Midwest (Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati, etc.) where we played a lot, there was a very broad spectrum of musical expressions that toured through there and all were supported by the local blues or rock favorites so audiences were used to seeing almost anything. But out on the West coast, especially in San Francisco, there seemed to be an agenda of what was, and what was not acceptable rock expression. It was mostly based on what was being heard at the Filmore and the Avalon Ballrooms, so many bands, especially New York bands, had a hard time being accepted there.
PSF: Can you tell about the making of Spectrum Versus Silver Apples? What was the recording like?
Just for clarification, it isn't Spectrum Versus Silver Apples, it's Spectrum & Silver Apples, and I think the distinction is important. After Sonic and I agreed we should do something together, we spent several months exchanging music ideas by sending each other tapes. When I toured England again in 1998 his record label booked time for us to record during my tour break. So when we got together we had each had time to digest what the other wanted to do, and the mixture was very friendly and enthusiastic. He is a very creative musician.
PSF: Were you familiar with Sonic Booms' previous material? How did you meet?
I was familiar with Spacemen 3. On one of our 1997 US tours, we were booked on the bill in Boston and in New York with Spectrum who were promoting their latest release. At the sound check in Boston we met, and Sonic presented me with a musical toy apple that he had found at a flea market in England and had painted silver. He said he had been a fan all his musical life, and it was a honour, etc. Well, I had heard his recording of "A Pox on You," and liked it very much, and I told him so, and he invited me on stage during his set to sing it with him. It was great fun, so I invited him on stage with us to sit in on "You and I" on which he played a solo on his Theremin. We had such a good time in Boston, we agreed to do even more together for the New York concert, and before we went our separate ways, we agreed to record together at the first opportunity, and to exchange musical ideas in the meantime.
PSF: Do you like Royal Trux?
Yeah - it's probably sacrilegious of me to say this, but I like them because I think they're funny.
PSF: If the Silver Apples didn't happen, what would you probably have done?
Whenever I'm not doing Silver Apples stuff, I am painting. I have exhibited quite a lot.
PSF: Did you ever have expectations on the music? Back in 1967 did you think people would still be enjoying it in 2000?
No. I was, and still am, blown away by all the tribute recordings and even the covers and bootlegs- it's all very complimentary to me.
PSF: Can I have some brief biographical timeline? How did the '70's and '80's and '90's treat the Silver Apples?
Danny Taylor and I parted musical ways (still friends) in 1970, and I performed Silver Apples as a trio and played a few gigs, then I did some solo performances, many of which were attended by Danny who applauded gleefully. Then in the '70's I settled back into my painting, which I had been doing before the advent of Silver Apples, and also was doing the (then) new medium of video. In the '80's I started a small graphics business to try and pay the bills while exhibiting my paintings, then around 1992 was when I first started hearing about a revival of interest in the music. I once again reformed Silver Apples, again as a trio, and began touring and recording. After a brief interruption in 1998, I formed Silver Apples again as a duo, Joe Propatier the drummer this time, and picked up on the concert schedule. I eventually, after much searching, was reunited with Danny Taylor, and we played a couple of reunion concerts in New York, but basically, I'm working as a solo now.
PSF: What music are you listening to know?
As we speak I have on my turntable a piece by Skylab (Matt Dukasse from London) called "Bite This!"
PSF: Why keep doing music?
Because I love it. I have fans and musicians alike beg me not to change anything or record anything new because they're afraid I'll sully my reputation and they want to remember "the legend" as it was. And I can only say that an artist HAS to grow. I don't care how old he or she is, and the only way to grow is to try something new. I don't care about the past. Let it speak for itself. My life and my art are intertwined, and we are doing new stuff, and some of it is good and some of it falls on its face, but the adventure continues... I have a concert in New York, with lots of new material, next week.
PSF: How's your health?
I am not now, and probably never will be, fully recovered from the car crash in 1998. I still have partial paralysis in my legs, shoulders and hands- but it doesn't prevent me from performing. I practice my keyboards daily and have gotten back to the point where if I can see my hands playing, I can control their playing- I just can't look away because I can't feel anything much. I'll happily take what I can get out of this and make the most of it- I'm fortunate to have survived at all. Other than that- I'm healthy.
PSF: What are you most proud about Silver Apples?
That we stuck to our guns and played music WE wanted to play and not what our managers, agents and record label were telling us to play.
See some of Simeon's favorite music
|MAIN PAGE||ARTICLES||STAFF/FAVORITE MUSIC||LINKS|