Thursday, February 12, 2009

Edgar Breau: An Interview for Anthology Recordings

by Steve Krakow

To say the discovery of Simply Saucer in the late nineties was epiphanous for me would still be some sort of understatement. Here was the promise of everything great laid down in the late sixties made good; the UK free-fest roar, the Velvets’ street-tough chug, Syd’s early exploratory jams, even Krautrock’s primordial dirge—even the immediate influence of Eno’s oscillations were felt—and this was from mid-seventies Ontario?? The story was too good to be true—from-the-day obscurists with names like “Ping” totally out of touch with their contemporaries, in virtual isolation, morphing the best of the immediate past into what came to be called “protopunk.” In particular Edgar Breau’s seething lyrics, kick-ass hooks, and corrosive lead guitar shines in the few Saucer recordings to see the light of day, so it was honor to ask the underground legend a few questions (and it was even more of an honor to play some gigs with the reformed Saucer, but that’s another story).

What was the first music that got you excited?

My sisters used to dance to Elvis Presley '78's, Jerry Lee Lewis, Hank Williams, Marty Robbins—my father liked Hank Snow, Jim Reeves, Italian opera (from his wartime experiences on the Italian front). My aunt Sharon turned me on to the Big O, Roy Orbison, sister Maureen to the pre-British invasion American bandstand acts. I liked all of that including Gene Pitney, Del Shannon, and Freddie Cannon. Then the Stones, Beatles, Kinks, Byrds came along and blew me away.

Tell me a little about pre-Saucer band the Shangs.

Actually, the Shangs are an excellent post-Saucer band put together in the early nineties by David Byers who had played in the proto-Saucer six-piece band circa '72-'73. The original six-piece Simply Saucer played in a more freeform, improvisational style. We were loud and noisy using audio generators, Theremins, a treated saxophone, and keyboards to create musical mayhem. Later on I channeled the improvised bits into song structures and thus was born the Saucer sound.

How was Imants Krumins the sort of “Svengali" of the Hamilton psych-punk scene?

Imants was there from start to finish, driving us and many other band members to concerts, record stores, providing us with a running commentary on all the latest happenings in the psyche-punk world, filling rooms and rooms with recordings. He is still at it…

I know "Mole Machine" is a Fantastic Four/Moleman reference—any other comic book allusions in SS songs?

Can't think of any off hand. We were reading a lot of Silver Surfer, Dr. Strange, Fantastic Four, going to sci-fi B movies like Angry Red Planet, circulating fantasy sci-fi novels like David Lindsay's cult classic A Voyage to Arcturus, William Hope Hodgson's Nightland, E.R.R. Eddison, H.P. Lovecraft and a host of others. There were Dali books, the surrealists, as well as Golden Dawn by Arthur E Waite, some esoteric writings by Louis Claude de St. Martin—that kind of stuff.

When you produced the SS stuff, I read you brought in Pink Fairies and Velvets records into the studio to try and get that sound… what else did you bring?

“Raw Power” and “White Light/White Heat.” I wasn't too sure that the Lanois brothers (Dan and Bob) had recorded music like ours. I didn't want them cleaning up our sound.

Ping seemed to show the immediate influence of Eno in Roxy music—was this his inspiration?

Ping was influenced greatly by Eno both in and out of Roxy Music. Hawkwind (was it Dikmik?) and Kraftwerk as well. He used to give me money to buy him records on my forays into Toronto and Buffalo and I would return with stacks of Sun Ra and Stockhausen recordings. He learned quickly and soon developed his talent into something very special.

What was your guitar/pedal/amp set up “in the day”?

I Started out playing a blonde '67 Fender Telecaster through a big muff distortion pedal, an Orange Wah-Wah and a space echo into a Marshal 4x12 cabinet with a cast iron horn. The Marshal head I can't remember much about— it got real loud !
Eventually I traded the Tele for a brand new telecaster deluxe '75, played that for a few years until it was stolen, then bought a Gibson Les Paul with the mini Humbucking pickups, which I had rewired with EMG live pickups.

Was "Illegal Bodies" a song that grew to such epic lengths or was it always an 8 plus minute barnstormer?

No, the intent was always the epic length. I brought the song to the band in sections within which there was a lot of room for improvisation. I wanted to write something along the lines of the Velvet Underground's “Sister Ray” and “European Son.” Short lines which in retrospect were kind of Dylan-esque and then the long explorative instrumental followed, which was always different and over the top.

Up till recently had SS ever played outside of Hamilton? Like, Toronto even?

Oh yeah, we were part of the Toronto Queen St. scene in '77 to '79 and had played in towns like Smith Falls, Carlton Place, and St. Catherine’s earlier. Not until 2007 did we play the U.S.

What do you think of the rabid US/Europe following SS has?

It's great to be appreciated , and the fans have been phenomenal!

A lot of folks don't know you also play solo in the sort of "American (Canadian?) Primitive" template laid down by John Fahey—how did this start?

During my days with Simply Saucer I had collected truck loads of recordings by people like John Fahey, Robbie Basho, Lightnin' Hopkins, the British folk acts like Pentangle, Nick Drake, Dando Shaft, the Incredible String Band, and those artists who were basically songwriting geniuses like Syd Barrett and Kevin Ayers—and so in the dying days of the band I decided to detune my guitar and begin experimenting with open tunings and finger style playing. Somehow I knew that I was very liable to be in the wilderness (figuratively speaking) for a few years having really played for keeps with Simply Saucer and having it crash and burn like it did. I decided to keep alive musically by learning to play acoustically. I purchased a Laskin guitar, which turned out to be a very wise investment as the luthier who built my guitar went on to international fame. His guitars are now in the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa, and are very expensive.

Anyhow, the troubadour thing appealed to me anyways as I had grown up listening to Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Tim Hardin, Fred Neil, Ray Davies, and had a love of Mississippi John Hurt, Bukka White, people like that. So it was an inspirational time for me; something completely different.

I heard you have a big family too—how many kids again?

Five—and I've just become a grandpa, which is very cool. There are a couple of others as well. The Breaus hail from New Brunswick on the east coast. We go way back to 1755 or so and I'm hoping to make it to the big Acadian Reunion this year and play some shows as well. BTW-I'm told there were Breaus who fought with George Washington!

I'm always asked if I'm related to Lenny Breau…

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