Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Zunior Independent Music Hall of Fame 2010 Inductee: Sloan

Official Illustration by Trevor Waurechen.

They weren’t the first band caught up in the Maritime indie-rock blitz of the early 1990s, but Zunior Independent Music Hall of Fame inductee Sloan emerged as the preeminent band of the era, as well as the most enduring.

Formed in Halifax in 1991, Sloan comprised two members of Kearney Lake Rd. (Chris Murphy, and Jay Ferguson), local DJ Andrew Scott and Happy Co. guitarist Patrick Pentland, best known to the others as the shopkeeper at downtown magazine vendor Blowers Street Paper Chase.

From the outset, the band adopted a collective, creative philosophy that not only informed its distinctive sound, but is still cited by members as the primary reason for Sloan’s longevity and relative harmony (both literally and figuratively). Everyone writes and contributes songs, everyone sings on each other’s tunes (most of the time, at least) and, on those occasions when the band is fortunate enough to get paid, everyone gets paid equally.

Admittedly, the progressive architecture of a band’s inner workings is neither sexy nor very “rock ‘n’ roll”. But it’s a noteworthy aspect of the Sloan story and, by extension, that of the Halifax indie-rock scene. After all, had Sloan adopted a more typical, slackerly stance and contented themselves with waiting for the phone to ring, the band likely wouldn’t have created its murderecords label, upon which its 1992 debut, the Peppermint EP, was issued. That release helped garner and galvanize the attention of Geffen Records, which signed Sloan and released the band’s full-length debut, Smeared, the following year.

Although the relationship with Geffen didn’t last, it provided Sloan a considerable springboard with which to promote and distribute future releases by the band, along with those of murderecords signees (and fellow East Coast indie artists) Eric’s Trip, The Inbreds, Thrush Hermit, The Super Friendz, Hardship Post and Stinkin’ Rich (a.k.a. Buck 65), among others.

Over the years, Sloan has continued to tour extensively throughout Canada and parts of the U.S. and has released numerous well-received and critically-acclaimed albums. In both 1996 and 2005, Sloan’s second full-length effort, Twice Removed, was named in Chart magazine’s annual readers’ poll as the best Canadian album ever recorded. The band’s 1996 effort One Chord to Another was bestowed a Juno Award (the Canadian Grammy, if you will) for Best Alternative Album. And as recently as 2009, Sloan’s Parallel Play received a Juno nomination for Best Rock Album, indicating the continued quality and relevance of the band’s music. As of the writing of this profile (summer, 2010) the members of Sloan are at work on the band’s tenth full-length release, which they hope to launch in early 2011 on the 20th anniversary of the band’s first-ever live gig.

Thickspecs’ Chuck Molgat caught up with Sloan co-frontman Chris Murphy (who, like the other three members of the band, now makes his home in Toronto) to find out where the Zunior Independent Music Hall of Fame band is at, and to look back at a few memorable aspects of the route it took to get there.

Chuck Molgat: Under what circumstances did the members of Sloan initially meet?

Chris Murphy: I met Matt Murphy (The Super Friendz, Flashing Lights) right after high school in the summer of 1986. We were both messenger/porters at the Victoria General Hospital. Jay was a friend of Matt’s. Jay, another friend of theirs, Henri Sangalang and I started a trio called Kearney Lake Rd.

Andrew was a DJ at various clubs in the city. I met him in 1988/89 while requesting Public Enemy and heckling his song selects. After Kearney Lake Rd., Andrew and I played in another trio that went under various names (Right Arm/The Despots/Furious George) with a guy named John Goodrich.

Andrew, Jay and I decided we should be in a band so we were looking for a fourth guy and I knew Patrick from his previous bands and those guys knew him because he worked at a magazine/convenience store downtown.

I understand you’re hoping to release Sloan’s next album on the anniversary of the band’s first ever live show. Where was that, what tunes did you play and what is the most enduring memory of the gig?

I have it on video but it looks pretty bad and sounds worse. I believe we played all originals. I’m pretty sure we did “Underwhelmed” and “Marcus Said”, both of which appeared on Smeared and the Peppermint EP. Others we probably did had titles like “Sandy”, “Kool Aid” and “Caroline”. Those were never released.

We were playing the art school (NSCAD) where Andrew and I attended. The evening was going severely overtime. Wolfblitzer’s Gasmask played a bit too long. We didn’t play many songs partly because we had to do a 15-minute stobe light noise freakout complete with a puppet show. I believe Bert of Ernie and Bert fame can be made out in the video. Tempers were high and I remember headliners Coffee In Madrid had the plug pulled on them and there was literally a screaming match about it. “This is a school of art!” someone was screaming at the idea of having the “art” tampered with by “the man” (student council).

What is the secret to staying together so long as a band?

We have always split the money evenly and we make sure the band allows us all to contribute creatively. Plus we have the best drummer in rock.

Have any Sloan members done any solo stuff of any consequence on the side?

I have always tried to keep us from doing solo projects so as to keep our best material in the band. Jay produced You Can’t Touch This by the Local Rabbits. He has guested with lots of people but I don’t think he has done any co-writes. I recorded an album for a band called The Poumons in 1996. I played with The Super Friendz for a bunch of Canadian tours in 1995 and played drums in a country act called Little Orton Hoggett, which produced very few originals and no releases. Patrick has done a bunch of co-writes. I don’t know them all. He wrote a song called “Felix The Frog” for a kids’ show whose name I forget. He recently produced an EP for a band called The Modern Superstitions. Andrew had a band called Maker’s Mark and he was the original drummer for the Sadies and very recently produced an album for Luke Doucet.

I understand Sloan recently performed Twice Removed in its entirety. Any plans to perform it, or any other Sloan LPs, in their entirety again?

We tested it out at Sappyfest and it was great. As trendy as the playing the entire record phenomenon is now, it should be said that Jay has wanted to do it for some time. He has been frustrated by the lack of interest from our booking agents about this but we will probably do more of this in the future. We figure with a few rehearsals we could pull off One Chord To Another, Navy Blues and Between The Bridges. Those would be the ones that people want to see the most. Smeared might be more difficult to bother learning but I would do it.

Sloan covered an Eric’s Trip tune at Sappyfest too, correct?

I thought it might be a bit of a downer to end (Twice Removed) with the album closer “I Can Feel It”, so I sent a text out to the band the day of the show suggesting we have an Eric’s Trip song in our pockets in case an encore seemed appropriate. We didn’t get a chance to rehearse but I have included the text that I sent out to demonstrate how modern the band is:

On 2010-08-01, at 7:53 PM, Chris Murphy wrote:
It might be fun to cover Smother and get Rick and Julie to sing.
But we might not have time and people might not know it.
I have just gone through it with Jay. It’s fairly easy.
The beginning is “tricky” with a 3 chords over 4 bars bit...
F# - A – B – F#
A – B – F# - A
B – F# - A – B

What was the most memorable gig you ever performed and what was it that made it memorable?

The best for all of us I think was playing in Tokyo for the first time. I believe it was 1997. We had been to Europe a few times but all on our first record. That was exciting but we weren’t a great band at that point to be honest. By the time we finally played in Japan, we had been playing for a few years and we were finally getting pretty good and going to Japan was like going to another planet. The fan culture there was over the top and everyone seemed to know the words. It was a real thrill.

What is your personal favourite Sloan album and why?

Mine was always One Chord To Another because we had been broken up for a while and then came back and made this record so cheaply and it turned out to be our best seller. I feel that was the record where Patrick finally stepped out of the shadows and we really had four strong writers/characters/forces in the band.

The next time I was as happy with a record was Never Hear The End Of It. I feel like we had really been put out to pasture during the years that we put out Action Pact and A Sides Win. Action Pact was a bit uni-dimentional and then a hits record that I didn’t want to do but circumstances dictated… (it’s a long story). It seemed like years went by and we had nothing new/interesting to offer. Anyway, to then put out such a bold 30-song eclectic record was very satisfying to me.

Can you name three of your favourite Sloan tracks, and why they rank as such?

No, but I can tell you that I don’t love all of the songs and I’m sure none of us do but I would argue that’s part of what makes us great.

Is there any particular Sloan song or album that inspires in you a sense of "I wish I/we had done such-and-such differently when we wrote or recorded it"?

I have a song called “The Life of a Working Girl” and it has wispy backwards guitar on it. I let someone do that but I shouldn’t have. I have a song called “Anyone Who’s Anyone” which was mixed quickly so that I could go see a Kiss cover band called Black Diamond. I just saw the end of their last song. I should have skipped it and mixed it properly.

If, for buoyancy’s sake, you had to dispatch one of Sloan’s albums from the life raft, which one would it be?

I would go with Never Hear The End Of It because it has the most songs but it might be the least buoyant. I’d like to think that our lesser popular albums are the favourite albums of at least some of the Sloan fans the same way that I would like to think that our audience is divided neatly into quarters each with a different favourite member.

What two decisions were among the toughest the band ever had to make?

Sloan was originally co-managed by Chip Sutherland and Peter Rowan. We split with Peter in 1993 or maybe even 1992. Chip was the business minded lawyer and Peter was the all heart music fan. Peter had done a lot to get us to where we were but we let him go. It was a business decision and it was sad to realize that business decisions would be part of our lives.

Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet were also inducted into the Zunior Indie Music Hall of Fame this year. If Sloan was to perform a Shadowy Men tune at an imaginary induction ceremony, which song would you want to cover, and why?

I know very little about Shadowy Men. I certainly have nothing against them but they were never my bag. I’ve met them all and they are great players and great guys. In 1997, we rehearsed at Phono Comb’s (Shadowy Men minus Brian) space in Toronto and I remember piecing together “Money City Maniacs” at that space. The Kids In The Hall should have used that!

Sloan Discography

Peppermint EP - 1992 - murderecords
Smeared - 1992 - Geffen/murderecords
Twice Removed - 1994 - Geffen/murderecords
One Chord to Another - 1996 - murderecords
Recorded Live at a Sloan Party - 1996 - The Enclave
Navy Blues - 1998 - murderecords
4 Nights at the Palais Royale - 1999 - murderecords
Between the Bridges - 1999 - murderecords
Pretty Together - 2002 - murderecords
Action Pact - 2003 - RCA
Never Hear the End of It - 2006 - Sony/BMG
Parallel Play - 2008 - murderecords
Hit & Run EP - 2009 - murderecords


Underwhelmed (indie version) - 1992
Underwhelmed - 1992
500 Up - 1992
Coax Me - 1994

People of the Sky - 1994
People of the Sky (alternate version) - 1994
The Good In Everyone - 1996

Everything You’ve Done Wrong - 1996
The Lines You Amend - 1996

Money City Maniacs - 1998

She Says What She Means - 1998
Losing California - 1999
Friendship - 1999
If It Feels Good Do It - 2001

The Other Man - 2001
The Rest of My Life - 2003

All Used Up - 2005

I’ve Gotta Try - 2006
Flying High Again - 2006
Someone I Can Be True With - 2006
Believe In Me - 2008

Witch's Wand - 2008

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