By Keith Sharp
`12’ is the title of Sloan’s latest album release. The number indicates that this is the 12th studio album this Halifax band has recorded.
The title is also significant for any hard core Sloan fan in that it indicates 12 tracks equally composed by the band’s four members. Chris Murphy (bass), Patrick Pentland (guitar), Jay Ferguson (guitar) and Andrew Scott (drums) all contributing three compositions to the track list and each individual producing his own material.
“It’s always been our mandate to write our own material,” explained Scott from his Toronto residence. “Everybody is in charge of their own real estate. Nobody is looking anxiously over our shoulder saying “you can’t do that”. We trust each other enough to know that so and so isn’t going to come up with some `Umpapa’ composition. We all share the same musical mentality.”
Scott smiles when this writer tells him, `12’ sounds like the best Beatles album they never recorded. All 12 tracks containing simplistic melodies and engaging instrumental hooks reflective of early classic pop.
“Our history has always been to gravitate towards the music we grew up with, it’s not a conscious thing,” Scott explained. “In making our 12th record that represents our history, it’s inevitable that it sounds the way it does. We are not trying to re-invent the wheel.”
With tracks like the debut single “The Day Will Come”, “Right To Roam”, “Spin Our Wheels” and “44 Teenagers”, Sloan has succeeded in assembling an album which captures the essence of their power pop origins.
Song writing-wise, Pentland is noted for his pop anthems, Murphy for his singalong tracks, Ferguson for his prog rock leanings and Scott for his more whimsical introspective musings. Qualities Sloan has consistently maintained in its pure pop focus even though Geffen Records tried to turn them into something they weren’t, an alternative grunge band to cash in on the whole Seattle-Nirvana scene.
Reflecting back on all the hype that was sparked back in 1992 when Geffen and Seattle indie label Sub Pop decided that Halifax was going to be the next Seattle (focusing also on the likes of Eric’s Trip, Hardship Post and jale), Scott admits, that in reflection, signing with a major U.S label was a negative experience.
Sloan had the foresight to launch their debut EP Peppermint on their own Murderrecords in 1991 but when Geffen asked them to re-record those tracks and re-release an extended album `Smeared’ in 1992, the band was happy to comply. But they quickly released they had no connection with the type of sound Geffen was pushing for. And when the band members were given no input into the 1994 follow up `Twice Removed’ released, Geffen made no effort to promote the record.
“Our parting of the ways with Geffen was a bit acrimonious to say the least,” admitted Scott. “It was just a horrible time in modern rock and we took steps to deliberately distance ourselves from the whole scene. The irony is, Geffen is long gone but we are still here.”
So Sloan soldiered on, proving the validity of departing from Geffen by released `One Chord To Another’ in 1996, their best selling album to date and proving they could go it alone on their own indie label.
“It was all about sticking with our guns and going with out gut instinct,” Scott explained. “We have always operated more effectively by doing things ourselves. We’ve never been affected by the decline of major record companies. We’ve had enough of a span of time where we really haven’t had time to deal with the pressures of a major label. We are just accustomed to setting our own pace and forging our own sense of direction.”
That’s not to say that everything has been smooth sailing and Scott admits there have been times when he has questioned the validity of the band’s existence. I did reach a generalized existential crisis zone,” he admitted. “About 10 years ago, I thought, `here I am 40 years old and still pushing water uphill, what am I doing here! The band had to face a decision whether to dump our careers in the garbage can and call it a day or ask do we still believe in ourselves and do we have enough gas in the tank to continue.”
Fortunately, the band listened to their fans who have continued to support new releases and now with `12’ out in circulation and the band in the midst of a 30-date North American tour, Sloan’s popularity seems to be as strong as ever.
“I have to remind myself that now I’m 50 years old, going on tour and leaving my family for a few weeks on the road is something I don’t necessarily look forward do. It’s a bit of a grind but then again – it’s not coal mining – so it’s a pretty good grind.”