Okay, so I get the call at 10:30 in the morning (which, by the way, is the equivalent to 6:30am for all you 9-5 office types) to interview Sloan in two hours. Running around in circles to be on time... I thought it was kind of like Sloan's career to this point. The band has done a lot of running around to have come full circle.
When Halifax became a tent city for American record company reps, Sloan was signed to Geffen Records (DGC) and never received full support from DGC, apparently because the band's second Geffen release, Twice Removed, wasn't "alternative" enough. The band broke up temporarily, spent 1995 putting their lives in perspective, and now they are back. They are no longer with DGC and they have released their third CD, One Chord to Another, on their own Halifax-based Murder Records. Where Eric's Trip and the Hardship Post weren't as fortunate, Sloan has survived "The Halifax Pop Explosion." And now?
Now that they have some time to themselves to reflect and to put their lives and Sloan in perspective, they are no longer a band searching to be stars or wanting to sell millions of records. Sloan is rather a band trying very hard to do what it wants to do -- and this appears to be working. Drummer Andrew Scott has said that One Chord to Another is the first Sloan album that he feels that he can recommend to his friends; and that is noteworthy, because Sloan is a band that is very critical of its records and, as bassist Chris Murphy admits, records are their primary focus.
"We put the emphasis on the records because they're the things that last, you know? You can play a bad show, and believe me we've done our share, but all of our records stand out. I mean, Smeared [the band's first Geffen CD] is dated, I suppose, but I know I'll look back on it someday more affectionately."
This new sense of perspective did not come easily. Like most lessons, they were learned the hard way... but Sloan learned.
"I think we continue to do cool music stuff and we continue to write songs the same as we would have. If we hadn't broken up, we would have been in a position where we would have toured the States a couple of times in places where nobody wants to pay us and stuff. We would have lost everything we had saved, because the real pressure from Geffen is to break the States and I'm glad we didn't put ourselves through it. For sure we would be broken up now, somebody would have taken a swing at somebody... things we're starting to get really tense. Now, it's more relaxed. We want to concentrate on making records and not try to be superstars and, instead, build on what we have. If we tour the States we'll do D.C. and the north-eastern part, but we're not going to go to New Mexico and go $60,000 in debt."
Sloan will be touring in September/October, but for now they are just finishing up a promotional tour for the new record which has them doing performances in record stores (including one at the Robson St. HMV in Vancouver this past August 16) and such to garner support for the record from retailers and get some hype happening. Chris admits that doing this promo stuff isn't really that interesting, but One Chord to Another has taken a lot of shots from critics and in a way it has turned into a Defend the Album tour.
"Against its Beatles-ness or whatever. For some people... some people... um. Okay, I'll have to answer yes, sometimes it has. I've yet to get really self-conscious about it, I don't really care. I like the Beatles, I don't know. The only fight is who's who in the Beatles and who gets to be Ringo."
"I'm going to say Jay [Ferguson, one of band's guitarists]. If you divide people into four... I have this book that divides different groups of four people into groups of Philosopher Father, Nurturing Mother, Intelligent Child and Harmless Child."
He broke it down as follows:
"But then that doesn't really work, I shouldn't even have said that. Nobody in the band is like Ringo. Nobody has a grade two education and can't write a song worth shit!"
That's one of the unique qualities of Sloan. They are all equal partners and they all write songs. This lack of a leader drove DGC insane, but it stands out nicely on One Chord to Another. Though there potentially are a number of "singles," no song blatantly stands out over another.
"To me there's a lot of singles and I want that to carry over to the band too, where there's not one single maker. Every song is equally important on the record and every member of the band is totally equal, and hopefully that doesn't make for tapioca. Hopefully that works out better for the band in the end. I don't want the equality to be about banality. I want to be the best band in the world, the most exciting, and I know we're definitely not. I'm fine though, I like our records..."
Critical acclaim has dogged Sloan since its beginning. There was always the constant pressure to be Canadian Icons. Hell, in Chart Magazine's poll of the top Canadian albums of all time, it was Twice Removed that graced the #1 position.
"It's totally ludicrous, we received way too much critical acclaim too soon and now people are looking to knock us off of our high horse. Twice Removed was a commercial failure and maybe people thought that was cool and voted for it. Whatever. I know they wouldn't do it two years in a row. I don't think we'd even be in the top ten, people would be like, 'I'm not voting for those fuckers.'"
Whether you are "Underwhelmed" by Sloan or think that they are "Deeper than Beauty," the fact is that they simply are Sloan. They just want to be the best Sloan they can be -- and enjoy it -- and, though they'll never perform on the Ed Sullivan Show, you can catch them on Rita & Friends this fall. Is that so bad?
"[There's] not a lot of money happening, but a lot of memories... so many memories..."
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