By Liz Worth
Hamilton proto-punks Simply Saucer are often cited as southern Ontario’s answer to the Velvet Underground. Their cult following has steadily grown throughout the years, with Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Fucked Up’s Damian Abraham included in that fan base.
Simply Saucer’s 7-inch single “She’s a Dog” continues to be an important indie release. The following excerpt from Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond, discusses the challenges in getting that record out to the world.
Edgar Breau – Vocalist and guitarist for Simply Saucer.
Kevin Christoff – Bassist for Simply Saucer.
Gary Pig Gold – Founder of The Pig Paper and Pig Records. Member of the Loved Ones.
Chris Houston – Bassist for the Forgotten Rebels, solo artist.
John Balogh – Hamilton promoter, comedian.
Stephen “Sparky” Park – Guitarist for Teenage Head, Simply Saucer and the Loved Ones.
Tom Williams – Co-founder of Attic Records.
Edgar Breau: Sometimes I felt like if you were loud — if your songs were short, fast, loud, and ugly — it was a pretty good fit for what was going on. It wasn’t as wide open in terms of what genres bands could play within their own set. Now I think it’s really opened up. Back then, it was just a little bit more narrow.
Kevin Christoff: We didn’t sit down and consciously try to write punk stuff. And a lot of songs that came out of that period, if anybody heard them, probably went right through them if it wasn’t their style, or if it wasn’t the kind of thing they were wanting to hear.
Gary Pig Gold: This would have been late ’77, ’78, [and] we decided then we were gonna record Simply Saucer.
You see, I’d been carrying around for years in the back of my mind the first discussion I ever had with Steven Davey [of The Dishes]…
One momentous night he hands me an advance copy of the first Dishes EP Fashion Plates to review. I open up the sleeve, pull out the record, but for some reason I don’t see Capitol or Warner Bros. or anything at all like that on the label. Well, it turns out they’d put this record out THEMSELVES. “You mean, you can do that? In Toronto??” Steven said, “Sure! All you need is a tape, tell them what you want on the label, then you take everything out to this place called World Records in Oshawa,” I think it was, “and they’ll do the rest.”
That definitely put the bug in my ear to start Pig Records someday, someway…
We held a charity corn roast up on Hamilton Mountain to raise money to make a single. We were going to go into Grant Avenue, but we couldn’t afford it. I guess we didn’t sell enough corndogs. So the only other recording studio available in Hamilton was in this guy’s basement.
Edgar Breau: I think the guy’s name was John Boyd. It was not a great studio at all. It was a mistake to record there.
Gary Pig Gold: The second we start, John’s saying “IT’S TOO LOUD!!!” And I said, “Then you just pull the faders down. You’ve got to capture this. You don’t want to turn them down. They’re not the Eagles; they’re something else.” Long battle short, he just barged upstairs at one point and said, “You mix the damn record.”
Kevin Christoff: It was kind of funny. I guess the guy got supremely disinterested in what we were doing, because he ended up leaving us pretty well in charge. He went up to watch the hockey game or something like that, ha ha ha, which suited us fine.
Gary Pig Gold: I remember taking the tape into Toronto for mastering, and the guy had no idea. He said, “This is distorted.” I said, “I know.” And he reached for some knob — “I’ll fix that.” And I go, “Well, no, you can’t, it’s supposed to be distorted.” He goes, “But you actually have distortion on tape!” I said, “I know. And it took a long time to figure out how to get that, by the way.”
There was a day when they wouldn’t have cared so much. Those first Who and Kinks and even Stones records still sound amazing, even though to many people they’re such quote unquote terrible recordings.
Chris Houston: It was so hard then because these people would go into a studio, and they wouldn’t connect with the studio. So you’d have these horrible records of these great bands, and you wanted to love the band …
Gary Pig Gold: It was hard in those days to put out your own record. It took a lot of effort and money to press a thousand 45s. Then mailing them out to all the fanzines and record reviewers and college radio stations, and anyone else you’d tracked down who you thought might be interested.
John Balogh: A lot of those bands, at the onset, didn’t realize they were in the School of Hard on You…We all felt like we were the underdogs, and we were typically the underdogs. We were the bands and we were the people that radio didn’t play, television didn’t show, and we were the unspoken at the dinner table.
Kevin Christoff: We got some good reviews over the single. We got some positive press on that. Some people maybe didn’t like it, but you get that, right?
Stephen Park: There was something in the New Musical Express that compared us with the Kinks and we just were floored. We couldn’t believe it. But that was somewhere in England, and it just seemed so inaccessible. We didn’t seem to be able to capitalize on some of the interest that the single was generating.
SINGLE OF THE WEEK [Record Mirror, London, UK, July 8, 1978]: We’ve Saved It To The End … The Single Of The Week. Simply Saucer: “She’s A Dog” (Pig 1). Canadian band sounding a bit “Oooo very approximately the best single this week, reminiscent of the fab four (harmony wise), constructive guitar work, although the lyrics …err … woof? If you can find it, buy it …”
Gary Pig Gold: Cub Koda — remember “Smokin’ In The Boy’s Room” by Brownsville Station? — he loved Saucer. He gave “She’s a Dog” an amazing review in Goldmine, about how all the “dog, dog, dog”s in the chorus were driving his wife crazy. But how to make best of all this press that was coming in from literally all over the world? I was just one guy, with a bunch of Sharpie pens and cardboard mailers, working out of the basement.
Tom Williams: But most people were like one- and two men operations. They didn’t have the distribution, they didn’t have the know-how, there was no support system in terms of national radio, national television; newspapers tended to ignore the local acts, there were no consumer music magazines that meant anything — a couple of trades that didn’t mean a lot. It was kind of a baby industry, really.
I mean, it really was a bunch of people playing Let’s Make Records, including ourselves, I think. I think we were pretty naïve and we said, “We can do this,” and if we’d actually known what the stumbling blocks were we probably wouldn’t have. But we did, and I think that’s always the way. Because when you’re young you can do anything, in theory.
Liz Worth is the author of Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond. She is also the author of something strange called Eleven: Eleven. Her influences include Greyhound bus rides, girls with smeared makeup and industrial neighbourhoods.
Excerpted from Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond, 1977-1981, Bongo Beat Books, lizworth.com