Sloan’s Jay Ferguson on Key to Band Harmony and Longevity
For 30 years, Sloan has been as reliable as the title of their 13th album « Steady », released last week.
The original lineup of Chris Murphy on bass and vocals, Jay Ferguson on guitar and vocals, Patrick Pentland on guitar and vocals and drummer Andrew Scott – who will perform with I Mother Earth at Cureapalooza Volume IV Make A Wish Benefit Thursday at the Phoenix – has remained intact since forming in Halifax.
So what stopped the members of the Juno award-winning band – based entirely in Toronto since the late 90s – from killing each other?
« I’m sure we got close a few times, » Ferguson laughed over the phone last Friday before a performance at Sonic Boom for the album launch.
« Besides making our own decisions musically, we’re also not with a giant management company that forces us to be on tour 10 months a year, » he explained. “Or, being with a label that pushes us to do things we don’t want to do…that would put stressful limits on any band outside.
« We kind of measure our own tours as much as we can, keeping in mind everyone’s limitations. »
Ferguson also revealed that since Sloan is a true democracy, the band is set up to compensate every member equally.
“We split all the money four ways, regardless of the money flowing in, whether it was from songwriting, touring, or profits from album sales. Everyone sort of gets the same amount, so we’re all in the same boat. It’s not like there was one person, à la The Police, where Sting generated so much more revenue than Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers that it probably strained the relationship within that group.
« I think that’s one of the ingredients that helped us. »
Ferguson said this step fills him with gratitude.
« I don’t know what the stats are for the same original band members and how long they last, » Ferguson said. “I don’t think there are many bands that have the same original members who are still active in one way or another. U2 comes to mind I guess.
“I’m grateful that we were able to do this for so long and grateful that there was an audience ready to accept new music. It’s our 13th album: a lot of people probably don’t have more than two or three records per band. There’s a lot of people who have all of our albums – and I’m just grateful that we have an audience that’s always willing to come and see us play new and old songs.
The fact that they were largely able to tread their own creative drums resulted in more than 30 songs that received rotational radio airplay and memorable hits that began with 1992’s « Underwhelmed. » their debut album « Smeared » and includes such favorites. such as « The Good In Everyone », « Money City Maniacs », « Losing California », and « The Other Man ». With the release of ‘Steady’ comes more fresh melodic rock including: ‘Magical Thinking’, ‘Scratch The Surface’ and ‘Spend The Day’. Sloan’s penchant for writing catchy Beatlesque tunes and catchy choruses hasn’t waned.
« We do what we do, » Ferguson agreed. “It’s not like we’ve made a real left turn with a symphony record or an electronic record or a history record. I like to think we play to our strengths and I think that’s what we did on this record.
And while they haven’t sold millions of albums – the majority have been released on the band’s Murderecords label – there’s a loyal following that continues to pick up all the additions to the catalog and go see them live at each tour.
« We were able to make records basically on our own for 30 years, for better or for worse, » Ferguson said. “It would be wonderful if we were bigger in Europe or England or had a bigger audience.
“But overall I can’t complain. I feel lucky that we’ve generally been allowed to make all of our own decisions about our records and our songs.
Perhaps the most ironic aspect of Sloan’s career is that they function more as a collective than collaborators.
« Everyone writes alone in general in our group, » Ferguson said. « For me personally, I can write a lot of music and come up with melodies. For me, lyrics are difficult.
« I admire people who can consistently write lyrics, whether it’s Bob Dylan still making records or Robert Pollard of Guided By Voices who can just crank out lyric after lyric and always have something interesting to say.
« I find that to be the hardest part. »
Ferguson, however, said they lean on each other for help and advice.
« There’s a song of mine on ‘Steady’ called ‘Dream It All Over Again’, which I recorded for our last album ’12’ – and I was struggling to finish the lyrics, so I I kind of abandoned her.
“But before that I had the songs and originally the chorus of the song was the bridge of the song – the middle eight (bars) – and the chorus had a different melody than the guitar part of the song. song now.
« When Chris heard it he said, ‘wow, I really like that bridge – you should rehearse it more, maybe make it the chorus. I took his advice, which resulted in a better arrangement.
Since they’re all writing individually and « each carving out their own real estate on a record, » Ferguson noted that Sloan wasn’t too creatively impacted by COVID.
“We started recording drums on this record about two years ago,” he explained. “Most of it was recorded in a studio in the basement of our engineer Ryan Haslett’s house. And when COVID hit — and you were only supposed to be with your family in your household — there were times when we couldn’t go to his house to record.
« Then when the restrictions eased a bit, we were still very careful, so we would go in alone or maybe in pairs and work a bit. It was very piecemeal, but to be honest, it’s not that different from how we’ve made records in the past. We often work individually or in pairs in the studio. It’s rare that all four of us are in the studio working on a song.
« We were kind of built for COVID. »
The band played four dates in Ontario in November before leaving towards the end of January for a three-month cross-Canada tour.
And while he can’t predict what Sloan’s future will be over the next 30 years, Ferguson promises the band will delve into their past to piece together special collectibles for diehards.
« We put out box sets of our old albums – ‘Twice Removed’, ‘One Chord to Another’ and ‘Navy Blue’, where we would do the main LP, an LP of takes, a demo LP and maybe a beautiful book,” Ferguson explained.
“We’re lucky to have enough of a career to look back on and own enough of those assets to keep making re-releases. It’s fun to make them, but we really saw a lot of fans getting excited about them. So we will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. »
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