Scholars of electronic music consider the Silver Apples architects of a genre back to which Nineties techno, Eighties new wave, and Seventies progressive rock can be retraced. Formed in the late 1960s, the New York City band released two experimental albums and then disappeared—but “their music,” wrote Robert Coyne years later in the Rough Guide to Rock, “still sounds shocking and exciting.” The creative genius of the Silver Apples was the one-name Simeon, who built a queer, rudimentary synthesizer apparatus that emitted much of the band’s eerie sound; he vanished when the band broke up, along with his self-named instrument. Rehearing the original Silver Apples, wrote Coyne, “suggests that the potential of electronic rock ‘n’ roll have been partially squandered.”
Simeon was originally from eastern Tennessee, but grew up in New Orleans. He exhibited a talent for drawing and painting as a child, but also played the trumpet from an early age. He even performed with an established band, but when the budding musician was hit by a car at the age of 12, he lost his trumpet in the collision and his family could not afford to replace it. As a young adult, he moved to New York City to pursue a career in the visual arts, and one summer worked as a dishwasher at a camp in New York State to earn money. There, he and his colleagues—many of whom were bluegrass musicians—spent their off-hours jamming together, and Simeon’s love of music was rekindled. Back in New York City, they became a soul-and rock outfit called Random Concept, with Simeon behind the mike.
After Random Concept, Simeon then became a member of the Overland Stage Electric Band, which was also the house band at a Greenwich Village hangout called Cafe Wha! The Overland was a blues band, but one night around 1967 Simeon used an oscillator to add spooky outer-space-like sounds to a live session. Afterward, the band’s leader informed Simeon that if he did that again, he would be released from his duties, but Cafe Whal’s prescient owner sided with Simeon because he liked the odd sound. The owner then fired the Overland band and hired Simeon and Overland member Dan Taylor as his new house band. Taylor was a drummer whose previous experience included playing with Jimi Hendrix. He and Simeon named themselves the Silver Apples.
They began writing music together, with lyrics penned by a poet named Stanley Warren, and found approving audiences within New York City’s hotbed of the avant-garde, Greenwich Village. Encouraged by the audience reception of the blips and bleeps Simeon pulled from a variety of electronic devices, he built a large, unwieldy instrument and named it after himself. The “Simeon” consisted of three plywood boxes, several oscillators and 86 telegraph keys. They were color-coded, and by using his fingers, elbows and feet, a variety of sounds could be extracted. Warren’s lyrics attempted to evoke a literary counterpart; “smoldering charades of smoky verity….,” as sung by Simeon, was one example. As Village Voice writer Richard Gehr explained in a 1997 profile, back then, “Taylor beat out lopsided rhythms on tom-tom drums tuned to the oscillators as Simeon pressed buttons and twirled knobs, creating sounds somewhere between those of a synthesizer and an effects-laden electric guitar.”
Another writer, Brian Turner, described the Silver Apples live experience in an essay on the band for the Gallery of Sound web site: “Amidst the futuristic melodies and psych pop came flurries of electronic freak-outs, where Simeon continued to hold down the foundation of the song with Taylor while creating amazing blasts of gurgling analog synth and other bizarre tones creating by homemade contraptions.” The time and the place was right for just such experimentation, and hipster New Yorkers made up the Silver Apples fan base. They also attracted interest from the record industry in the days when experimental rockers such as Frank Zappa, Kim Fowley, and Velvet Underground were selling vinyl. The Apples were signed by Kapp Records, perhaps against the better judgment of all
Members include Xian Hawkins, keyboards; Joe Propaticr, (born early 1970s), drums; Simeon, (born in eastern Tennessee), “simeon” (homemade instrument) and vocals; and Dan Taylor, drums.
Simeon once sang in a band called Random Concept in the 1960s, a member of Overland Stage Electric Band. Propatier’s previous bands included Sourpuss, Pieman, the Laurels, Sybil Green, Scarce, Sparky from Songs Ohio, the White, Long River Train, and Mouth-breather; released self-titled debut in 1968 on Kapp Records; Contact, 1969; Beacon, onWhirlybird, 1997; Decatur, Whirlybird, 1998; group disbanded, 1969; reformed, 1996.
Addresses: Record company —Whirlybird Records, 11684 Ventura Blvd., Suite 267, Studio City, CA 91604.
involved parties, for Kapp was also home to an odd roster that included Eartha Kitt and Burt Bachrach.
The Silver Apples’ self-titled debut was released in 1968. The first single was “Oscillations”; “Seagreen Serenades,” a homage to marijuana bliss, followed. Though Silver Apples was marketed by Kapp in a rather haphazard fashion, it sold a respectable number of copies and remained on the Billboard Top 100 album charts for ten weeks. Coyne, writing in the Rough Guide to Rock, termed it “amazing,” laden with “sci-fi warbling, whistling and whizzing, fruity bass pulses and chattering, back-to-front drums.”
The following year the Apples released a second album on Kapp, Contact. It offered a more diverse range of songs, but still relied heavily on the electronic whizzbang generated from Simeon and his instrument. There were a few hook-laden, near-pop tunes, but also some slightly menacing, decidedly un-Woodstockian sentiments. Warren’s atrocious poetry had been jettisoned, and Simeon wrote the lyrics for Contacts songs instead. His bluegrass experience surfaced in one track that featured a banjo. “Wailing, wandering leads featured heavily along with a high-pitched, theremin-type sound,” wrote the Rough Guide to Rock’s Coyne about the record, and cited “A Pox on You” as “their most enduring song.”
Endure it did— Contact was the last recorded effort of the band for nearly thirty years. Three decades after its release, critics still concurred about the legacy left behind by the Apples. The Village Voice’s Gehr wrote that both LPs “strike a delicate balance between hard technophilia and flower-power romanticism”; Gehr also noted that the music from the Silver Apples was the direct precursor to the arty German synthesizer band Kraftwerk, who achieved an international cult following with several releases in the 1970s and 1980s. English bands like New Order were greatly influenced by Kraftwerk, as were future techno artists like Carl Craig.
In support of Contact, the Silver Apples embarked upon an extensive tour and took the stage of some legendary music venues, including the Fillmore in San Francisco and Max’s Kansas City in New York but other shows were less than well received. In some cases, they were booked as openers for Southern rock bands and their decidedly arty music incited the threat of violence from some audiences. Simeon and Taylor did go back into the studio to make a third album, but then Kapp went under, and the tapes rotted away in storage, never to be released. They soon disbanded and disappeared.
Yet the hard-to-get Silver Apples albums had always been revered among European devotees of progressive rock, and in 1994 a German label, TRC, issued a double-CD version of first two albums. Soon, other bands known for their love of vintage electronic instrumentation, such as Stereolab, started to cover their songs. An English label released an entire tribute album, Electronic Evocations: A Tribute to the Silver Apples, in 1995. Sony Music, who sensed a profitable resurgence, hired a private investigation service to track down Simeon and Taylor, but came up empty. Simeon, however, had simply returned to painting as a vocation and was living in Maryland. He had held a number of jobs over the years, including television reporter and ice-cream truck driver. One day, he visited an art gallery in Brooklyn, New York, and met Xian Hawkins, a keyboard player from the band Mobius Strip, who recognized his name. “He asked me if I knew what was going on,” Simeon told Neil Strauss in the New York Times.
Urged by Hawkins’s words, Simeon found the tribute album in a record store, and the telephoned label to thank them—“They promised us the world if we would create some new music for them,” he told Strauss. Simeon then tried to track down Taylor himself, but had no luck. The Simeon instrument had also vanished, after Simeon left it under a friend’s house in Alabama in the mid-1980s. So he recruited Hawkins, and added another keyboardist, backup singers, and a new drummer, Joe Propatier, who had played in a number of indie-rock bands. He also began writing new material.
The first new Silver Apples song since 1969, “Fractal Flow,” was released on Enraptured Records in 1997. They debuted as a live act again in January of 1997 at the Knitting Factory in New York and the reception was a warm one from critics and fans of electronic music of all ages. They embarked on an extensive tour, including Europe and Japan, later that year and recorded new material with legendary alternative rock producer Steve Albini in his Chicago studios. There were ten new songs, and three revamped versions of original Silver Apples material on Beacon, released in 1997 on the California jazz label Whirlybird. Another record, Decatur, was planned for 1998, and the Beastie Boys were reportedly interested in re-issuing the original LPs on their Grand Royal label. The German hardcore techno band, Atari Teenage Riot, was eager to collaborate with Simeon, who seemed to have emerged from the years of obscurity with a healthy perspective on his newfound cult-hero status. “I feel like a like a caged animal that’s suddenly been released and he’s running around the zoo terrorizing people,” he told the New York Times.
Silver Apples, Kapp, 1968.
Contact, Kapp, 1969.
Beacon, Whirlybird, 1997.
Decatur, Whirlybird, 1998.
New York Times, January 23, 1997.
Village Voice, February 4, 1997, p. 61.
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