Sloan Never Hear the End of It
Published Apr 25, 2011In early 1991, four middle-class, self-trained musicians with a love for noise rock, punk, hard rock and the Creation Records roster drew an international spotlight on Halifax, Nova Scotia when they helped initiate a buzz around the city's growing music scene. Their success, their early deal with the David Geffen Company and the support they provided their friends in other bands in the city (jale, Thrush Hermit, the Super Friendz) and other East coast provinces (Eric's Trip, Hardship Post) drew an oft-cited Canadian parallel with Nirvana and the Seattle scene, which had just become a game changer in the music industry. Sloan followed up their well-publicized first act with a sonic facelift that nearly jeopardized their career. With Twice Removed, they took their cues from the timeless qualities of their record collections and created one of the most beloved Canadian albums of all time. Through each successive release, Sloan has maintained a band democracy allowing all four members a songwriting and singing voice ― no matter how disparate those voices may be. "Anytime somebody tries to pass themselves off as a band, I call bullshit," Chris Murphy noted in 2010 without a hint of modesty. "Broken Social Scene are a collective? It's fucking two guys and some contributors. We are actually the one and only real collective." Their legacy extends to one of the most celebrated independent labels of the '90s, murderecords. The label not only provided a home for Sloan releases in the post-Geffen era, but for some of the revered releases of the '90s indie rock scene. Throughout their 20-year career, they have consistently provided far more hits than misses, and arguably set out the blueprint of artistic and commercial success that at least partially informed the careers of the next wave of indie rockers: Broken Social Scene, the Dears, and Joel Plaskett. This past February marked 20 years since Sloan's first gig at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. As Sloan release their tenth studio album, The Double Cross, this month, we look back on their long and storied career.
1967 to 1980
Andrew Walter Gibson Scott is born in Ottawa on November 15, 1967 to Walter and Diane Scott. His Scottish migrant father, who is a naval architect and engineer, will relocate the family when Andrew is six to Dartmouth, NS. Walter Scott is also an accomplished artist who is often hired by war veterans to paint ships and planes, and plays the drums in a jazz band called the Dixi Tech Seven. His father's background as well as his older sister Kristine's musical tastes will have an indelible influence on Andrew's creative path through adulthood.
John [Jay] Howard Ferguson III is born in Halifax, NS on October 14, 1968 to Howard and Phyllis Ferguson. His parents separate, and he lives with his mother in downtown Halifax. Ferguson will not only be the only member of Sloan to actually hail from Halifax, but he will be the only member to attend a private school, Halifax Grammar School, for his entire education. This is notable for the specific musical culture that exists at the school ― providing him with a lot of exposure to British punk rock and new wave, and an absence of heavy metal.
Christopher M. Murphy is born on November 7, 1968 to Dr. H. Joseph Murphy and Patricia Murphy in Charlottetown, PEI. His father's pursuit of a doctorate leads his family to Virginia, and then Scarborough, ON. Murphy is comfortable in front of the camera at an early age as a young Sears catalogue model and stars in a Schneiders' bacon television commercial. In 1976, Murphy sees Kiss for the first time on the Paul Lynde Hallowe'en Special and is immediately turned on to rock music. By the time Murphy is almost 11, his father lands a job in Halifax, NS. His father will become a professor at Dalhousie University and his mother later finds employment as a psychiatric nurse. Murphy, like all of the future members of Sloan, will have some brief music education, but most of their skills will be developed through self-driven efforts.
John Patrick Thomas Pentland is born to Richard and Patricia Pentland in Newtownards, Northern Ireland on September 20, 1969. In 1975, Richard Pentland's career as a civil engineer moves his family from Ireland to Sackville, NS, where the family will remain until 1991with the exception of an 18-month relocation to Montego Bay, Jamaica in 1976. Like Scott, his father will be a huge musical influence on Pentland. Unlike Scott, Pentland's father loves rock'n'roll.
1981 to 1984
Ferguson has shown an early love for a wide spectrum of music and has started amassing his diverse vinyl collection ― ABBA, Kiss, the Grease soundtrack ― from the nearby department store. In 1981, 12 year-old Jay Ferguson is employed at Ol' Dan's Records in downtown Halifax after owner George Zimmerman fires an employee in front of him, and he's offered the job on the spot. He's interviewed about his job on CBC's youth centred television show, Switchback, and will continue to work there until 1985. Ferguson will continue to surround himself with records, and will later work at Sam The Record Man and host college radio shows. Murphy is still obsessed with Kiss, but has added Rush and punk into his collection. Pentland is also a fan of hard rock ― specifically AC/DC ― but also loves goth rock like the Cult and Bauhaus. In 1982, when Scott is 14, he is alone in his house when his father suffers a fatal heart attack. As Scott noted in Have Not Been The Same, his last words to him are, "Well, I guess you got yourself a drum kit." He doesn't pursue the instrument until adulthood, and focuses on learning the guitar instead. His musical tastes are all over the map ranging from British metal (Motörhead, Venom) to art punk (Joy Division, Swans) to rap (Beastie Boys, MC Shan). Though music is important to him, he focuses most of his junior high and high school time on a variety of sports, namely basketball.
1985 to 1986
All members have their first band experiences during this period. Murphy is inspired after seeing a punk rock band from Halifax West High School, Jellyfishbabies, release their own album in 1985. He plays guitar in a few punk bands culminating with a hardcore quartet named Spent. The quartet travel to Washington, DC to meet Fugazi/Minor Threat leader Ian MacKaye. MacKaye's straight-edge and community ideals are highly influential to Murphy, which will become clearer in the following decade. Ferguson plays in the Deluxe Boys with Matt Murphy [later of the Super Friendz/Flashing Lights], Pentland plays in a hardcore band, the Ripping Convulsions. Both this band and his post-high school band, Happy Co., feature future Thrush Hermit drummer and best friend Cliff Gibb.
1987 to 1989
All four members graduate from high school and start post-secondary education. Scott, an admitted poor student who struggled in public school, finally finds his place when he enrols at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) and will remain there until 1991. During the summer of 1986, Murphy meets Ferguson and Henri Sangalang through mutual friend Matt Murphy, who is working with Chris at the Victoria General Hospital as a message porter. Chris Murphy starts moonlighting from his hardcore band Spent, which will split in 1988, and forms Kearney Lake Rd. in 1987 with Ferguson and Sangalang. The trio carves out a strong following in their hometown with a sound that mixes Ferguson's R.E.M/Smiths influence with Sangalang's mod bass playing and Murphy's hardcore drumming style. They record two self-released tapes, and meet musical dreamer Peter Rowan [future Sloan, Eric's Trip and Hardship Post manager] who runs DTK records in Fredricton, NB. He's viewed as a big deal by the young band. They embark on an ill-fated tour that brings them to the Rivoli in Toronto, and they're interviewed by MuchMusic's Erica Ehm about the state of the music scene in the Maritimes. DTK plans to release the band's third tape on vinyl, but this will never happen. The final Kearney Lake Rd. tape of the unreleased DTK album places 4th on Dalhousie's CKDU year-end chart. Murphy admits he was part of the reason for the break-up because he wasn't willing to make a complete investment to take the band to the next level. The band officially splits after a final gig at King's College in 1990.
Murphy graduates from Dalhousie with a BA in English. Ferguson earns a BA in History, as will Pentland a year later from The University of King's College. By the spring, Murphy is the latest in a succession of bassists in Blackpool, a successful local roots rock band led by guitarists John Wesley Chisholm and Phil Sedore. Rounding out the band is drummer Chip Sutherland who will soon become Sloan's manager. Black Pool has the opportunity to record its second album with famed producer Terry Brown (Rush, Blue Rodeo) for a recording clinic that attendees pay $100 to watch Brown work. Murphy, a huge Rush fan, admits that the thrill of meeting Brown is soon lost when those in attendance are quick to point out his bass playing flaws to the producer throughout the session. Murphy spends two years at NSCAD, where Scott is studying. The two had met each other the previous year when Scott was a DJ at Club Flamingo. They become fast friends, and Scott is learning to play drums. They form a fun band, which they rename with every live performance. Among the best in a series of names is Furious George. While Scott is busy with school and playing drums in No Damn Fears with vocalist Jennifer Pierce and guitarist Dave Marsh, Murphy reconnects with Ferguson. Ferguson, who now hosts a show on CKDU, plays My Bloody Valentine's "You Made Me Realize" on his show, and Murphy is reborn. Both Scott and Murphy will drop out of NSCAD in the following year to fully commit to a band together with Ferguson.
Taking their handle from a friend's nickname, "Slow One"(said in a French accent), Sloan is born in late January with Murphy and Ferguson on guitar and Scott on drums. Ferguson, now employed at Sam the Record Man, occasionally engages in small talk about music with Pentland who is working at a nearby magazine store. Pentland had interviewed Murphy in KLR, and Murphy is aware of Pentland's band history. Two weeks later, Pentland is enlisted on bass. The band debuts on February 8 at an art show at NSCAD. After the band's 11th show, Pentland and Murphy switch roles. Though the quartet all have their primary roles, instrument swapping will be a staple of the band's live shows. Murphy is still working in Black Pool, who release the Terry Brown sessions as We the Living. Even though Murphy's KLR song, "Painting a Room," and a more accessible version of future Sloan song, "I Am The Cancer," entitled, "Kiss Me Kiss Me," are part of the Black Pool live set, none of his compositions are on the album. Ferguson is bothered by Murphy's continued membership in Black Pool. This will later be reflected on Ferguson's "Pretty Voice." By September Murphy leaves Black Pool acrimoniously and makes Sloan his primary mission. In December after winning a Battle of the Bands-type gig, they win some studio time with Terry Pulliam. Ferguson and Murphy find the money to record an album's worth of songs prior to any involvement with a label. The songs that will end up on their first EP and album are recorded for $1500.
"Underwhelmed," the band's calling card, appears first on Hear and Now, a DTK records compilation. The song stitches together a variety of events Murphy experienced with two women from his high school ― Fiona Highet (later Scott's partner), and Murphy's high school girlfriend, future jale member Jennifer Pierce. In February, after much wrangling with the organizers by Peter Rowan, Sloan will also land a spot at the East Coast Music Awards after Scott's former band, No Damn Fears, falls apart and leaves a vacancy. Jay Ferguson invites Cam Carpenter of MCA to the after show gig at the OO Gallery with Thrush Hermit that was organized by Murphy and John Chisholm. Ric Arboit of Nettwerk offers the band a deal after the gig, but Chip Sutherland, now an entertainment lawyer, advises the band not to sign the deal after experiencing a bad deal with Black Pool. Major label interest brews with the band when Carpenter contacts Geffen A&R Todd Sullivan. Peter Rowan sends a DAT to Sullivan, who promises to see the band at Music West. The band embarks on a ridiculous tour across Canada in a minivan riding on the fumes of excitement that DGC and other labels will catch their set. They play Montreal, Regina, Calgary and Vancouver in sparsely populated venues. On the night of their show in Vancouver, the Los Angeles riots or "Rodney King uprising" break out, and it's doubtful that Sullivan would have made it out of LAX. Further worst case scenarios ensue at their Music West performance when they are booked last at the Commodore and suffer through a set with a nasty staff, a keyboard amp for Ferguson to play through, inebriated band members, and a pitiful audience of 20 in attendance. Among the 20 is Sullivan, as well as a few other A&R reps. After a much more impressive gig at the Town Pump the following night, Sullivan and manager/lawyer Chip Sutherland map out a deal for the band on a chairlift in Whistler, BC.
The band will take a few months to refine the details of their contract before signing on the dotted line and taking on Rowan and Sutherland as management. The Peppermint EP is released on the band's own imprint, Murderecords, in June and compiles six tracks from the Pulliam sessions. "Underwhelmed" builds momentum on new rock radio and through respectable rotation on MuchMusic. Scott noted in 1992 in the band's first biography, "We don't want people to think that we penned a deal with DGC and then immediately released an indie EP to try and gain some obligatory punk rock street cred before a major label release. We always wanted to put out our own record and we simply kept a promise to ourselves. We hope to keep Murder going with local bands as a new thing to Halifax: a record label." The band will continue on that mandate between 1992 and 1998, releasing full-length albums, EPs and seven-inches for Eric's Trip, Al Tuck, Stinkin' Rich (later known as Buck 65), Hip Club Groove, Thrush Hermit, Hardship Post, jale, the Inbreds, the Super Friendz, the Local Rabbits, the Vees and Zumpano. This community stance only fans the flames of the media frenzy looking for the next geographical music centre to mine. Articles in Harper's Bazaar, Billboard and plenty more name Halifax the "new Seattle," drawing comparisons of its flagship band on DGC and others signing with Sub Pop (Eric's Trip, jale).The incestuous nature of the scene ― be it romantic links between bands, appearances on each other's albums or referencing each other's works in song ― will be pored over in detail by the band's growing cult. This will soon be particularly evident online.
In the summer, still without their own amplifiers, they open for Bryan Adams, Extreme, and Steve Miller in New Brunswick, and play the Sub Pop Vermonstrous Festival with Eric's Trip in October. Never Mind The Molluscs, a Sub Pop EP inspired by C/Z's Deep Six release featuring Seattle bands, is released featuring Sloan and jale from Halifax and Eric's Trip and Idée du Nord from Moncton, drawing more attention to a burgeoning Halifax scene, despite half the compilation hailing from Moncton, NB. Sloan also appears on the Joni Mitchell tribute, Back From The Garden with what vocalist Murphy calls a "totally grungified" version of "Case of You." The track is produced by the Cult's Jamie Stewart.
Released in October, their debut full-length album, Smeared, features the complete Terry Pulliam sessions glossed over by Dave Ogilvie's (Skinny Puppy, Nine Inch Nails) mix. Notes Murphy, "Listen to the difference between Peppermint and Smeared to see what Geffen's mixing money and snare samples can do. For most scientific results listen to 'Marcus Said' and 'Sugartune' as they are the exact same recordings with different mixes." "Underwhelmed" gets a higher adrenaline facelift switching the tribal drums for a pattern borrowed from Nirvana's "Aneurysm" and a killer new vocal harmony between Murphy and Pentland. Harmonies are provided by Jennifer Pierce, now in the all-female band, jale, on "Marcus Said" and "I Am The Cancer." Most of the material is written by Murphy, but all members contribute. This will be a source of conflict for Pentland during the next recording.
Sloan embarks on a series of dates in support of Smeared. Their Canadian response is strong, and their first U.S. gigs with the Lemonheads are incredible. The remainder of the ten-week tour is depressing, and all members break down at different points. Change is in the air. With the exception of Todd Sullivan, the band's Geffen support team is replaced by a less enthusiastic crowd. The biggest shake-up happens when Peter Rowan and Chip Sutherland part ways, and the band stays with Sutherland, while Rowan manages Eric's Trip and Hardship Post. Scott moves to Toronto to be with girlfriend, Fiona Highet; it will be an oft-cited reason in the press for future band issues. In May, Sloan.net is launched by James Covey and Scott Schuman. It becomes one of the first online fan forums, and it passionately covers the details of Sloan's career and groups in the band's Halifax circle. Covey will later be blamed for unleashing the story of the band's 1995 break-up to the press. After 1998, online discussion on the band will continue through various message boards, and eventually move to the Sloan Message Board. Sloan travel to New York to record their follow-up with producer Jim Rondinelli. It's an exceptionally trying time for Pentland, who is going through a break-up with Jennifer Pierce, and is not as enthusiastic with the band's musical shift during the recording sessions. Though downplayed in recent years, he generally does not reflect fondly on the making of Twice Removed. All members will later admit it's a great album, but also admit that the experience of making it was not. Though Rondinelli forces the band members to listen to each other and acts as a referee, his personality isn't endearing to all members. The length of the recording sessions and six-figure price tag of the project also created stress within the band. And the worst is yet to come.
1994 to 1995
Banking on a Smeared II, DGC is not impressed with the band's 180 degree turn with Twice Removed and tells manager Chip Sutherland that they want the band to head back to the studio. Sutherland advises the band not to re-record the album. DGC releases the album as is, but with very little promotion. "Of course we didn't make Smeared II," Pentland will say in 2010. "Some of us were really into that idea, and some of us weren't. In some ways we set ourselves up to fail. We released that record basically against the wishes of the label, and they didn't really support it. That was a lesson we had to learn: just because it says on the contract you must release a record doesn't mean they have to do anything else." The band's songwriting matures, and they ditch the wash of feedback and guitar effects, and reference quieter recording aesthetics from classic albums by the Velvet Underground, Fleetwood Mac, Bob Dylan and the Beatles. The latter will be the predominant point of comparison henceforth. Though musically upbeat in parts, the themes of death, apathy, infidelity and crumbling relationships make this a more sombre affair than their debut. Murphy's "Penpals" contains the most fun, with its lyrics stitching together verbatim lines from Nirvana international fan mail stolen from the Sub Pop offices. Jale's Pierce sings the album closer, "I Can Feel It," with Pentland, which is ironic given Pentland's song is written for his next paramour, Sandra Kingsley.
Twice Removed is released in the summer of 1994, and is a critical favourite. Due to the audience that has been built in Canada and MCA's promotion, the album's domestic sales are respectable. The album will eventually earn gold status four years later. "Coax Me" and "People of the Sky" are released as singles and fare well. In the U.S., it's a different story. The album earns the distinction from Spin magazine as one of the "10 Best Albums You Didn't Hear In 1994." The band tour with the Super Friendz and Hip Club Groove.
Stress over the Geffen situation, personal issues and band in-fighting lead the band to wanting to take a break. This story is picked up by Sloan.net and then spread in a Halifax Herald article. The band release a seven-inch, and will spend the remainder of the year explaining the break-up as they play a series of farewell gigs ― notably Edgefest 1995 at the Molson Amphitheatre in Toronto, which was to be their final gig ― but subsequently play a few more before officially breaking up. Andrew Scott passes the time as a member of the Sadies and the Makers Mark. He will also train Matt Dillon to appear to play the drums and appear as one of his band members in To Die For. With Colin Mackenzie, Murphy, Ferguson and to a lesser extent, Pentland, focus on Murderecords. Murphy plays drums with the Super Friendz and produces an album by Windsor's the Poumons. Ferguson produces Montreal's Local Rabbits, and Murderecords releases the album, You Can't Touch This, among a number of other recordings by the likes of jale and the Super Friendz. The quartet quickly realize that whatever problems exist are worth working through and decide to record another album to placate the band's cult fan base. Over Christmas, the band record One Chord To Another with Laurence Currie at his Idea of East studio in Halifax. Scott ― still considered a wildcard whom the band fear they will have to replace ― flies in from Toronto and completes his drum tracks for the record in a single afternoon on a four-track recorder. The boxy drum sound will become a defining part of the album's retro palette. He has yet to complete his contributions for the record, and returns to Toronto.
1996 to 1997
Murphy claims the band's fears of having to replace Scott are assuaged when Scott sends his bandmates two fantastic tracks recorded with soundman Brenndan McGuire in Toronto. Scott tells Karen Bliss in Canadian Musician that he had no idea what direction his bandmates were headed. "I trust those guys when it comes to recording. I didn't really feel like I had to be there because the way it usually works in our band is whoever writes the song really has the whip to crack as far as recording it goes, making calls... And I've recorded with them enough to know that they would come up with something good."
Chart Magazine names Twice Removed the Best Canadian Album of all time in a poll assembled by critics, musicians and fans. The album will drop to third in a 2000 poll, but return to the top position in 2005. "Underwhelmed" is voted the second best Canadian single of all time in all three polls. Interest in the band reaches fever pitch with the announcement of a new release in June. One Chord to Another, an album recorded with an approximate $10,000 budget and relatively low expectations, arguably becomes their greatest success. It eventually reaches near-platinum status, propelled by two Pentland singles: "The Good In Everyone" and "Everything You've Done Wrong." Both singles are accompanied by a memorable video ― an homage to Easy Rider and a disastrous wedding scenario respectively ― and receive heavy rotation on MuchMusic. The momentum is sustained with Ferguson's "The Lines You Amend." Ferguson will later refer to this period as the band's "halcyon days." "The Good In Everyone" will later become the theme song to George Strombolopolous's The Hour and George Stromboloupolous Tonight in 2010.
First Ferguson and then Murphy join their girlfriends in Toronto, while Pentland remains in Halifax. The band play a series of high profile shows including Edenfest in 1997 at the Mosport Racetrack in Bowmanville, ON. After nearly re-signing with Geffen, Sloan sign with the Enclave, a U.S. independent label founded by former Geffen A&R Tom Zutaut (Guns'n Roses). The label releases One Chord To Another in the U.S. with a bonus disc, Live At A Sloan Party! in February 1997. The bonus is an homage to the Beach Boys' Live at a Beach Boys Party!, which was also a ruse. There are no live performances. The album is recorded, albeit loosely, at Idea of East studio with Laurence Currie and features gang vocals by Thrush Hermit, Fiona Highet, jale and photographer Catherine Stockhausen. They record conversations from a house pizza party and faux stage patter, and add it to the recording. Sloan win a Juno for "Best Alternative Album" for One Chord to Another. It's their first and only win, having been nominated in the same category for Twice Removed. They will later earn a string of unsuccessful nominations under the Best Rock Album, Best Single and Best Album Design categories. The band tour throughout the spring and summer with Fountains of Wayne and later Matthew Sweet and Fastball. Pentland details most of the key events of the tour in an online journal, including an unfortunate CFOX festival gig in Vancouver that culminates in a disaster that ends up having their album pulled from the station's play list. When the CFOX fox mascot dances around the stage during Sloan's performance, "Chris Murphy pushed [the mascot] out the back door and the whole entire place roared with cheers," soundman Brenndan Maguire noted in a 1997 interview. "He meant it in fun. It's unfortunate that the fox fell down the stairs. Of course the fox interpreted that as evil."
The Enclave plans to invest heavily in promoting "Everything You've Done Wrong" in the U.S., but the label folds in the summer when EMI sells off its share. On the plus side, the band have already been paid for the album and its follow-up. They enter Chemical Sound studio in Toronto and begin work on their follow-up in November.
Sloan remain at Chemical Sound with Daryl Smith until January. Pentland completes the full-band exodus from Halifax when he moves to Toronto with girlfriend Sandra Kingsley. The band are the focus of their own MuchMusic Intimate & Interactive special celebrating the release of their fourth album, Navy Blues. It is released in May and goes gold by June, driven by the anthemic hard rock single "Money City Maniacs," a collaboration between Pentland's verses and Murphy's chorus. Murphy claims that his chorus was made up on stage in Buffalo and that "it means nothing except Patrick's song is about a travelling band, and my chorus is essentially about a wet dream. Arguably, the lifestyle we lead is like a dream, or at least out of touch with reality. I know that's pushing it." The band combines Murphy's high register rocker "She Says What She Means" with another cinematic nod. The video references Privilege, a movie starring Paul Jones (lead singer of Manfred Mann) about a pop star who is controlled by the church and state to bring forth conformity in society. The ambitious video and the single fail to replicate the success of "Money City Maniacs." In the fall, Sloan tour with newcomer Rufus Wainwright and spends four sold out nights at the Palais Royale in November in Toronto. A surprise Kearney Lake Rd. reunion happens during one of these nights, which also happens to be Murphy's 30th birthday. Using finances through their Enclave deals and the appearance of "Money City Maniacs" and later "Sensory Deprivation" in Labbatt's beer commercials, Sloan buy back their publishing from EMI Canada. The band re-releases Smeared and Twice Removed on Murderecords.
1999 to 2001
With the success of OCTA and Navy Blues, the band indulges in an elaborately packaged double live album Four Nights At the Palais Royale compiled from the November 1998 performances. Four songs from OCTA are featured in Sofia Coppolla's second film The Virgin Suicides. Their fifth album, and arguably one of their strongest, Between the Bridges, is released in September to less excitement than their previous two hits. Ferguson steps up his game with three compositions instead of two. Pentland's galloping "Losing California" and "Friendship" are picked as singles. The former does well at radio and is performed on the Mike Bullard Show and Late Night With Conan O'Brien ― the band's only American television appearance other than a 1997 performance on the bizarre MTV show, Oddville. The latter's video is part of a live set planned for a DVD release that remains unreleased to this day. The band tours Australia and Japan for the first time and pairs with Guided by Voices in the U.S. Sloan continue to tour, and begins working on new material. This becomes a protracted process of recording with McGuire (who helmed Between the Bridges) in the band's rehearsal space. "We did Between The Bridges in six weeks," Murphy revealed in their 2001 biography for Pretty Together. "The truth of the matter is it was a political situation: we each got three songs; it's not like we had anyone saying, 'Put all the songs in a hat and pick the best ones.' This time around, I was able to collaborate with everyone, and I think I had something to do with almost every song. When you have time, it makes everyone more open. When you only have six weeks and you make a critical comment, it sticks like a personal attack for that period of time, but when you have time to let it wear off, it's like, 'OK, maybe we'll try that.'"
The band hits their tenth anniversary with the release of a new album, and an eventful 2001. Sloan begin a short relationship with Alan McGee (of Creation Records fame) who is courting the band for his ephemeral Poptones label. He hosts four Poptones DJ nights in Toronto. Everyone but Murphy play DJ for a night. McGee tells Chartattack in July that the band will definitely be releasing their next album even though no contracts have been signed. Nothing ever comes to fruition. Despite McGee's effervescence for the band, Murphy admits, "I don't think Alan McGee was thrilled with the record to be honest. One suggestion he had upon hearing it was that [Andrew Scott's] 'The Great Wall' would be a hit if Jay sang it!" Pretty Together is finally released on Murderecords/BMG in October. The album title reflects the state of the band's unity, is a reference to Sterling Morrison's line in the Velvet Underground's "Temptation Inside Your Heart," and captures the band's approach to recording the album. Pentland admits in the same bio that the original influence for the record is the Flaming Lips' dreamy, synth-laden, The Soft Bulletin, but management convinces the band to play to their strengths as a rock band. Pretty Together ends up showing both of these sides. The electro rocker "If It Feels Good Do It" ― a collaborative effort between Pentland and Murphy ― kicks off the album well. "The Other Man" details Murphy's unpopular role in a love triangle with Leslie Feist and Broken Social Scene / Apostle of Hustle's Andrew Whiteman. It remains a high point in the band's creative and mainstream canon. They enjoy their second MuchMusic special hosted by Rick Campanelli. They also appear on Bullard again, this time performing "If It Feels Good Do It" on Halloween in giant plush animal costumes. Despite radio and video support for the album's two singles, the record is not the commercial success all parties hoped, and pressure will be felt within the band and with their label. A book, Have Not Been The Same: The CanRock Renaissance 1985-1995 (ECW) is released, and features an entire chapter on the band, as well a chapter on the Halifax scene of the '80s and '90s.
2002 to 2003
Guitar rock becomes fashionable again with the success of the Strokes, whom Sloan join on tour. This will somewhat steer the direction of the next record. Scott has his first child with Highet, a daughter named Stirling. They will later welcome a son, Alistair. The band consider a number of producers including Ric Ocasek and Brendan Lynch (Primal Scream, Paul Weller). Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne expresses an interest in working with Sloan in the studio, but his vision isn't embraced by everyone. Pentland admits, "The first thing he said was 'I really want to get you guys back to making a record like Twice Removed. Immediately I was like, 'OK, I don't want to work with this guy.'" They later settle on Tom Rothrock who has worked with Elliott Smith, Beck and Foo Fighters. Demos are recorded in Toronto in December, but the band escapes a harsh Canadian winter by relocating to Los Angeles in February with Rothrock. He informs the band that he wants them to focus solely on their strengths as a rock band. All members stick to their primary instruments, and there is nary an acoustic guitar or keyboard to be found. Ferguson will admit in their 2003 bio for Action Pact, "It's funny. Tom Rothrock is known for producing Elliott Smith, Richard Thompson and Badly Drawn Boy ― these really ornate pop records. But when we get to his studio, he's going on about Ratt and AC/DC ― he doesn't know anything about the Smiths! He's a total metalhead."
Due to Rothrock's selection process, and Scott's diverted focus as a father, this is the first album that does not feature a vocal or songwriting contribution from the drummer. Action Pact, a nod in title alone to Jellyfishbabies' "Youth Action Pact," is released by RCA/BMG in August. "The Rest of My Life" becomes a summer hit, but the album divides the band's fan base. Pentland noted in 2010, "When we made Action Pact we got Tom Rothrock to try and unite us because we were so splintered as a band. It took a year and a half to make [Pretty Together] and we fought. Even touring that record we were pretty splintered as a band. We weren't really seeing eye-to-eye. We knew we were making a record for Sony so we got a producer to come in and help us stay together. That was a collaborative effort more so than most records we've done. I enjoyed it and I had as much freedom as I always have, but it felt a little forced and I know Andrew was unhappy with it." Scott admits on the blog, Radio Free Canuckistan, in 2003, "That one really pissed 'em off! I don't know, there's some success to that too. If you can make people mad with a record, you're doing something right. That record was an obvious attempt at something that failed. Like every successive record for us, we just say, 'Well, back to the drawing board.'" The band embark on an elaborately staged North American tour, and friend Kevin Hilliard documents the tour for a forthcoming documentary.
2004 to 2005
Jay Ferguson organizes the first Olympic Island concert in the summer 2004 with Sloan headlining a line-up of Sam Roberts, Broken Social Scene, the Stills, Buck 65, the Constantines, Death From Above 1979 and Arcade Fire. The band perform a series of shows in 2005 in support of A-Sides Win, the band's singles collection. It becomes apparent that the band is downsizing both venues and its touring approach. Moonlighting ensues. Ferguson and Murphy host a radio show on CBC Radio 3 and broadcasted on Sirius Radio from late 2005 to most of 2006. Ferguson will appear again for a short stint in late 2010/early 2011. Murphy is hired by actor/director Don McKellar to write a purposefully cheesy soft rock song for his movie Childstar. "I pushed him to be pretty bad," Don McKellar told Chart in 2005. "I wanted a sort of California, sort of easy rock sound and I thought it would be fun." All but Pentland appear in the film as Eric Stoltz's band. Pentland has a good excuse ― he's welcoming the arrival of his first child, Marshall. The director, who is friends with the band, had cast the quartet as Nazis or "faux finishing enthusiasts" in the second season of his CBC series, Twitch City in 2000. The band are recording their follow-up to Action Pact in their practice space, but miss a deadline for its release when Ferguson takes time to deal with the loss of his mother. They will continue to record throughout the first half of the next year. They leave their Sony/BMG commitment, and return to releasing their next record on Murderecords.
In January, Sloan land an opening slot for two Rolling Stones gigs in Boston. They will later team up with the legendary rockers for a Halifax Commons show in September. Never Hear the End of It is released that same month on Murderecords in Canada and Yep Roc in the U.S. Yep Roc will be the first American label to release more than two records from the band. The 30-song double album is easily their strongest of the 2000s. Despite critics being divided on the length of the record, most call it a return to form. Scott, whose songwriting and vocal presence was greatly missed on Action Pact, contributes his strongest collection of songs since Navy Blues. Pentland's contributions are limited due to his admitted misunderstanding of the rest of the band's intent to release a sprawling collection of songs. The album's size, eclectic mix of songwriting, song lengths and the sequencing bring back Beatles comparisons; it's often referred as their White Album or Abbey Road. Ferguson's "Who Taught You To Live Like That" becomes his first single since 1999's "Don't You Believe A Word." Scott's "I've Gotta Try" is turned into a psychedelic computer animated video that evokes scenes from Yellow Submarine. In November, Kevin Hilliard's documentary Keepin' The Tour Alive on the band's 2004 Action Pact summer tour is finally released and will later be nominated for an ECMA.
Vancouver multi-instrumentalist Gregory MacDonald is brought into the touring fold. He will continue with the band throughout live appearances and recorded output to present time. He's introduced to Murphy through mutual friends in the Yoko Casionos. Due to the sprawling demands of reproducing Never Hear The End of It in a live setting, he's considered the perfect fit for filling out the sound with keyboards, harmonies and percussion. Given the communication between band members, MacDonald helps to keep the band focused. "He ends up being a musical director for us," noted Pentland in 2010. "He's been with us for a few years and he doesn't just sit in the back and keep quiet. He has his opinions and we listen to his opinions because he's a musical guy and he knows our catalogue well and it sometimes helps to have people from the outside. I know the Stones have a guy, Chuck Leavell, on stage that basically counts them in and arranges the songs for them because they can't agree on the musical side of things."
2007 to 2009
With the exception of Ferguson, all band members are parents. Murphy's first child, Francisco, is born in 2007. He will welcome a second son, Santiago, in the summer of 2010. Pentland and Kingsley's second child, Ivy, is born. The parental theme continues in 2008's Parallel Play, a reference to the way young children engage in independent play beside other children, and to the way the band makes their records. "Believe in Me," a traditional Pentland lead-off glam rock stomper, is the first single, followed by Murphy's jagged confessional, "I'm Not A Kid Anymore." Despite a creative video, Ferguson's catchy "Witches Wand," is largely ignored. Murderecords is briefly and surprisingly reignited as a label to release work outside the Sloan oeuvre. Touring mates and Ferguson's discovery, Will Currie & the Country French's A Great Stage, is the first release. Sloan and Will Currie & The Country French release a free "digital seven-inch" entitled "Push Pins." Murderecords also release Pony da Look's third release, Shattered Dimensions. The band features famed Haligonian photographer Catherine Stockhausen and Murphy's partner/mother to his sons, Rebecca Mendoza. After these releases, Murderecords returns to solely releasing records by Sloan.
On the way home from Ferguson's DJ stint at a Toronto bar in the summer of 2009, Murphy is thrown off his bicycle after being struck by a drunk driver and sustains a badly broken collar bone. Ferguson arrives on the scene, not realizing it's his bandmate who is lying unconscious on the street, and quickly phones 911. At the height of festival season, this handicaps the animated bass player/drummer's abilities. A substitute team of musician friends including drummer Taylor Knox )The Golden Dogs), Kevin Hilliard (Small Sins, the National Anthem), along with MacDonald helps keep their summer tour dates alive. The incident is referenced with the band's first EP of the 2000s, Hit & Run featuring a track from all members, and an extra from Murphy. Murphy works for five months as an "advisor" for Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, which will be released in the summer of 2010. He describes this post as a job "where I coached some actors to look like they could play their instruments." Brandon Routh's Todd Ingram character plays a red Fender "Competition" Mustang copy of Murphy's long-time choice.
2010 to 2011
As the band approach their 20-year anniversary, they work through mounting issues and realize again that there continues to be great value in keeping their collective together. A B-sides compilation, B-Sides Win, is released digitally. It compiles rarities, Japanese bonus tracks and b-sides that fans have traded online for years. First-time producer Scott produces Luke Doucet and the White Falcon album, Steel City Trawler. Scott also launches a website in 2011 to showcase paintings he's been displaying in small galleries over the last two decades. Pentland, who has been the band's social media spokesperson, starts his entertaining blog for Sympatico entitled "Dischord with Patrick Pentland." He pulls back the curtains on the myths of being a rock star, and pokes fun at everything from his touring experiences, writing a rock song and Bon Jovi. He has had a love/hate relationship with social media stretching back to his own online journals, Twitter and the various incarnations of the Sloan Message Board. "There are two tiers of Sloan fans," he admitted to The Toronto Sun in 2008. "I do read the message board and don't really consider them to be real Sloan fans; I consider them to be fans of a certain point in their lives and they want us to be that point again, that soundtrack or something. I know a few of those message board people and they're all nice people, but I think that message board is set up to complain about us. It's like, 'You go make a fucking record.' I have to be torn away from the computer sometimes, I get really angry." Social media is also to blame for giving away Sloan's "surprise" appearance at Sappyfest in New Brunswick thanks to Peter Rowan's spoilers on Facebook. The first-ever performance of Twice Removed in its entirety is warmly received by the crowd of 1500. They encore with Eric's Trip's "Stove/Smother" with help from Sappyfest organizers/Eric's Trip members Rick White and Julie Doiron. They repeat the Twice Removed show for the Halifax Pop Explosion 2010.
In May, 2011, The Double Cross, Sloan's tenth album, is released by Murderecords via Outside Music in Canada and Yep Roc in the States. The traditionally punny title references the band's 20th anniversary (XX). There are no radical departures, just an album of what the band does best: pop rock that contemporizes a pop music encyclopaedia of references from the '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s. In reflecting on the band's place after two decades, Murphy remarked in a 2010 interview, "I think we are still making great records, but I suppose the Stones [think that] too, and they're wrong, so maybe I'm wrong. There are a lot of newer music acts in this country that are doing well internationally in a way that our band and our peers were not able to do. There are a million factors including the possibility that we have always been terrible, but don't believe it. In the meantime we just keep chugging along. I am happy that the band affords us the ability to pay the bills while also creating a large body of quality work. I couldn't ask for more really."
Twice Removed (DGC, 1994)
The infamous sophomore record beloved by critics and fans, but not by Geffen. Twice Removed changed everything ― the production aesthetic, the obvious influences and the state of their major label deal. This most unlikely response to the solid shoegaze grunge-pop of their debut alternates high water power pop with sombre melodicism. Obsessively loved to this day.
One Chord To Another (Murderecords,1996)
Recorded cheaply and without much stress, Sloan created a great record, and a large population finally caught up. One Chord boasted three heavily rotated singles and their highest commercial success. Due to the production techniques and the material itself, this is probably the most retro of the band's discography. Worth searching for the out-of-print 1997 U.S. version for the bonus Recorded Live At a Sloan Party! disc.
Never Hear the End of It (Murderecords, 2006)
A return to form, both in quality and quantity. Boasting 30 songs that range from minute-long punk rock blasts to psychedelic rock to power pop to confessional ballads, the melodies and lyrics are the strongest since the band's first few albums. Like the criminally underrated Between The Bridges, this album's eclectic song cycle flows together like a suite of songs that have no rules except to move effortlessly.