Interview: Silver Apples
Published on September 20th, 2011 | Jonny Abrams
That they jammed with Jimi Hendrix and inspired John Lennon is no surprise: even during such strange musical times as the end of the sixties, New York duo Silver Apples must have sounded like they were being beamed down from some other planet’s radio station. Fast forward to the present day and they still do.
The remarkable tale of mad musical professor Simeon Coxe III and metronomic drummer Danny Taylor, who passed away in 2005, has been told many a time and as such does not require repeating here. If you’re unfamiliar with it, then go read up on it and be suitably amazed. Suffice it to say, Silver Apples have emerged from some serious setbacks to cement their legacy as one of popular music’s greatest, and surely most unlikely, innovators.
Rocksucker was nothing short of honoured to be granted the opportunity to fire some questions off to Simeon, who shall in October be performing a series of UK shows, dates for which can be found at the bottom of the page. Before we get started, have a listen to this track and bear in mind that it first saw the light of day in 1968…and that, vocals aside, Simeon’s role in the band consisted of manipulating a paneled series of oscillators that he put together himself…(and did so at a time before Aphex Twin had even been born)…
You’ve been touring around the world of late. How has that been? Where did you find the best audiences?
I must mention the China experience. The ‘underground’ or ‘alternative’ music scene has just had a censorship lifted from them by the government in some sort of ‘detente’ move, and all of a sudden hundreds of young musicians that had been banned from public performance are in the open. They have an amazing sense of brotherhood/sisterhood with their music, and are eagerly absorbing ideas like a collective sponge. They support each other’s shows, share equipment, vans, roadies, and recording contacts – I imagine it’s like the Impressionist painters who felt like it was them against the world. They hack into eBay (illegal in China) and smuggle in old Moogs, oscillators, amps and treat them like treasures. I was very impressed with what I saw and heard.
You were undeniably ahead of your time. What on earth inspired you to create sounds like that? People at the time must have thought you were mad!
They did. Danny and I never could figure out why people thought we were so strange. To us, it was music, plain and simple, no matter how it was created.
You must have unbelievable coordination to be able to operate equipment with both hands, feet, an elbow and sing simultaneously. How much practise did that take?
I was born ambidextrous so I can’t claim any credit for that, but I did (and still do) practice constantly.
How many times did you jam with Jimi Hendrix? Are there more recordings out there than this “Star Spangled Banner” one? If so, will they ever see the light of day?
We didn’t keep count, but it must have been half a dozen times that we noodled along just for fun waiting or engineers to show up or whatever. There must be more tapes out there somewhere, but The Record Plant studio is long out of business so I have no idea where they might be.
Did you ever come into contact with confirmed fan John Lennon? Conversely, was he an inspiration to you?
I never met him. The Beatles’ music was so prevalent at the time, I guess every musician was influenced, at least sub-consciously.
Such modern day greats as Beck, Beastie Boys, Stereolab and Geoff Barrow from Portishead/Beak have cited Silver Apples as an influence. Are you familiar with any of their music?
Can you hear your influence in it?
In the shadows, I guess you could say. One time at a performance in Bristol (Postishead’s base) I did a cover of “We Carry On” and later Geoff said it was like “me doing them doing me doing them doing me”. That was funny.
Aside from Danny, the other members of the Overland Stage Electric Band were put off by your strange vision. Did they later regret bailing at that point?
I have no idea. We all went our separate ways.
Are you familiar with The Flaming Lips’ Parking Lot Experiments? There’s a touch of the Silver Apples about it…
Yeah I easily identify with anyone who tries something different.
Does the whole Pan Am fiasco still rankle with you? Whose idea was the plane crash picture?
Actually I think we won! They’re out of business, and I’m still pounding away.
Why did you eventually full out of contact with Danny? How long did you go without seeing each other?
We just lost contact – for about 25 years!
Do you know much about how and why the 1994 TRC bootleg of your first two albums came to be? What was the first you heard of it? How long was it before you started getting offers to perform again? Did anyone offer you a recording contract?
I didn’t even know about it until a friend of mine had an art opening in NY and when I walked in the door I heard “Seagreen Serenades”. The gallery was playing it. I started asking around and eventually got the picture. Offers started to come in for performances, and so I resurrected Silver Apples with another drummer, and started the hunt for Danny. I didn’t entertain recording contracts – too busy trying to learn my material all over again.
You said that, in a way, the broken neck you suffered helped you to become better at your musical craft as you had to work so hard to relearn it. How does it affect you on a day-to-day basis?
People who know me well can see that I’m clumsier and more awkward of gait, but I try to hide it publicly.
How cathartic an experience was it to eventually release The Garden in 1998? It must have gnawed away at you all those years that it never saw the light of day…
Yeah, I thought of all the work that went into it, all for nought.
Apparently Johnny Depp, Kate Moss, Beastie Boys and Sean Lennon attended your 1997 comeback gig at the Knitting Factory. Did you know this at the time? If so, did it make you more nervous?
Yeah, people were telling me who all was there but I was too busy trying to not fuck up to be thinking about celebs.
Are you still working on a Silver Apples opera?
Yes, slow but sure.
How did you find the time to release three albums in 1998? Why have there been none since?
I get a lot more out of live performance and that’s where my energies lie.
Finally, if I asked you right now to name your top three albums of all time, off the top of your head, which would you pick?
The Fat Man – Fats Domino, American Soul Man – Wilson Picket and The Magic City – Sun Ra
Simeon, thank you.
Silver Apples will be playing the following UK shows in October:
Sunday 23rd October – Birmingham – Supersonic Festival
Monday 24th October – Bristol – The Fleece
Tuesday 25th October – Wrexham – Central Station
Wednesday 26th October – Manchester – Night & Day Cafe
Thursday 27th October – London – Corsica Studios
Friday 28th October – Brighton – Coalition