Q&A - Silver Apples
The legendary Silver Apples play Liverpool Psych Fest in September. Credited as being one of the pioneering forces in psych and electronic music, their upcoming performance will not just be a treat for the fans but also every other band on the bill. We caught up with the creative visionary behind Silver Apples and modern day Renaissance man, Simeon Coxe to discuss his upcoming performance, where he finds his inspiration and how Pan Am airways sued Silver Apples into near permanent extinction.
Q. As part of your 2016 tour you will a be playing at the Liverpool Psych-Fest this September, what can we expect to see from you?
A. I perform with 3 oscillators hands-on, and 16 tones sampled from oscillators at home and played back thru various pedals, triggers and effects, with drums on backing tracks and vocals all combined to make about a 10 song set comprised of old and new material.
Q. Psychedelic music infuses a wide spectrum of musical approaches. What have been your influences?
A. At the risk of sounding pompous my influences have always been deeply internal. Danny and I stopped listening to music for 6 months developing the Silver Apples sound and we literally stepped into new territory every time we played. That attitude has stuck with me.
Silver Apples have been brought under the banner of psychedelic music, incorporating all forms from ‘noise’, ‘rock’, ’freak folk’ etc. How would you describe your music?
A. Fun to play.
Q. Simeon – as a young man, you had ambitions to become an artist and have indeed, exhibited your work all over the world. Do you see your art and music as two different creative entities or do they feed into each other?
A. They actually feed each other from the same root, even though the creative process couldn't be more different. In each form I try to resolve a chaotic expression into an acceptable (for me) entity or something I can understand.
Q. You are now revered as one of the pioneers of Electronica but, there is a story of you playing in The Overland Stage Electric Band with you using an oscillator for the first time. Apparently, the resulting jam with yourself and Danny Taylor (drummer) caused the guitarists in the band to ‘down tools’ and quit. How difficult were the early years of Silver Apples in terms of people’s understanding of what you were trying to do?
A. It was all over the place. Sometimes people would jeer and throw stuff, and sometimes people would just stare at us, and sometimes people would do weird dances and tell us it was the most beautiful and amazing music they had ever heard. We never knew what to expect when we walked onstage.
Q. They say that the body’s cells die off and new ones are born all the time. To the point that after some years we are entirely new cellular entities. How is legendary ‘The Simeon’ oscillator after all these years and all those miles – is it fair to say you’ve fitted her with a fair few new parts?
A. There's the story in America of a man walking into an antique dealer with an axe saying that this was the axe that George Washington used to cut down the cherry tree. The dealer says "It doesn't look old enough!" And the man replies "of course not! It's in very good shape! Over the years it's had two new handles and a new head but it's the same axe!"
Q. You recorded your third album, ‘The Garden’ around 1970 but it was never released due to a bizarre and intriguing story involving the band, your record company, a series of law suits and Pan Am Airways. Can you tell our readers a bit about what the whole stink was about?
A. The sleeve photos on the second album, CONTACT, started a whole series of domino effect type collapses that led to the breakup of the band and the closing of KAPP Records [The cover features the Silver Apples in a plane cockpit with drug paraphernalia, and the inner artwork showed the band amongst plane wreckage playing banjos]. PAN AM first approved then vehemently objected to the art work and initiated a law suit against all involved including me and Danny personally. They not only got and injunction against the sale of the record but of us performing any of the songs- which we ignored. So when we launched into A POX ON YOU one night at Max's Kansas City in NY, a bunch of City Marshals pulled the plug and shut down the show. They said they were going to confiscate the equipment from the stage so when they went outside to get their truck we quickly packed up my gear and hid it a friends loft across the street. But when we came back to get Danny's drums they had beat us to it.
So the upshot is that without being able to play and the record label not able to sell the records or survive the lawsuit, they couldn't pay the recording studio for the tapes of The Garden, so it was never released.
Q. You subsequently found the tape recordings for ‘The Garden’ in 1996 – over 25 years later in your drummer’s attic and then released them. No doubt, a wonderful moment and perhaps the catalyst for what has now been a 20 year musical career?
A. Those tapes we found were simply some of the songs on a 2 track dum that Danny had taken home to practice against. They were not produced at all but just rough mix downs, but that's all that survived.
If that whole fiasco had not happened [with Pan Am] Danny and I would have no doubt continued our careers together for many years. We loved to play together and had no interest in expanding the band or changing anything. Who knows what would have happened. Such is life.
Q. You tour extensively all around the world. Can you discuss your relationship to live performance and what attracts you to it?
A. I love to play my music. I have played "Oscillations" thousands of times, and it (or Velvet Cave or A Pox On You) never gets old for me. It's like a new adventure each time.
Q. You have been mentioned as having had a significant influence on many musicians with The Horrors (also playing at the festival) the latest band to state their admiration. What other bands/musicians are you looking forward to seeing at Liverpool Psych Fest?
A. I'm not gonna make a list because I might leave somebody out and hurt feelings. I am the world's worst music critic because I like everything. I was once at a festival where the band ahead of me had the bright idea of getting this girl who had never played a guitar before to sit on a stool and do whatever she wanted, and they would try to improvise around her. After the set she was crying and saying that people were laughing at her calling her stupid - I hugged her and told her that it was one of the most moving and meaningful guitar solos I had ever heard! And I meant it because of its innocence. There's something good in everything.