Sloan titled its latest album The Double Cross, but not in reference to any personal or business betrayal its members might have suffered. It’s just a crafty way for the Halifax-spawned guitar-rock quartet to announce that it’s celebrating 20 (as in XX) years together. Let’s hear it for the oft-neglected power of Roman numerals!
Singer-bassist Chris Murphy and drummer Andrew Scott met in ’91 at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, with vocalist-guitarist Patrick Pentland and guitarist Jay Ferguson signing on that year as well. The next two decades would see the foursome experience both supreme highs and serious lows, as Ferguson relates from the band’s long-time base of T.O.
“There were some rough times around when we released our second album, Twice Removed,” he recalls. “It was a hard time because our American label, Geffen, did not really support the record. They didn’t feel it was marketable, but they put it out anyhow, and we were just fighting an uphill battle to get noticed. It felt like nobody in America was really paying attention.”
Not quite nobody. Spin magazine saw what was going on and included Twice Removed in its list of “The Best Albums You Didn’t Hear” of 1994. The frustration surrounding that disc’s promotional abandonment led Sloan to briefly break up in ’95, but it overcame that “unfortunate time” and was soon back on track with its ’96 follow-up, One Chord to Another. Issued on the group’s own Murderecords label, it became Sloan’s biggest seller, earning a Juno for best alternative album and setting the band up for a stellar career as one of Canada’s most consistently worthy rock acts.
Apart from its relentlessly catchy brand of Rickenbacker-driven power pop, Sloan deserves credit for the fact that it has managed to remain intact for so long with the same lineup. Ferguson
admits that the four original members don’t always see eye-to-eye, but he’s happy to note they’ve yet to draw one another’s blood.
“I hear about other bands coming to fistfights,” he says, “and it’s like, ”˜Wow, I guess our band isn’t so bad.’ But there’s a lot of things in our favour. Our band is an outlet for everybody—everybody sings and writes—so there’s nobody sort of sitting in the back going, ”˜I want to do my songs!’ And we also share in the profits, so it’s not like there’s one person who’s a millionaire and the other people have no money.
“I think by keeping it democratic like that we keep everybody happy,” he adds, “and that’s the way you gotta keep going. And if we’re making music that we like, then hopefully other people will like it as well.”
There’s a lot to like on The Double Cross, especially for long-time fans of Sloan’s melodies-first approach. Tunes like the freewheeling opener “Follow the Leader” combine with the Slade-meets-Trooper ’70s glam-rock vibe of “Unkind” to make you think it might be the group’s poppiest album yet. The 12 hook-filled tracks were economically laid down at the band’s Toronto practice space.
“It’s not that exciting,” notes Ferguson of the no-frills facility, “it’s a pretty normal rehearsal space. We have a good-sized room, and there’s a little office attached to it, which is sort of the control room. With today’s technology you can record almost anywhere, so we might as well record at our space and self-produce with our engineer [Ryan Haslett].”
After 20 years, 10 full-length studio albums, 30 singles, and countless miles racked up taking Sloan’s music far and wide—including to Japan, where the audience reaction at sold-out mid-’90s shows was “mind-blowing”—Ferguson doesn’t have many regrets. And you can’t really blame him.
“I feel pretty fortunate that we’ve been able to do it this long,” he reflects, “and that we’ve travelled the world and played with so many great bands. We got to play with the Rolling Stones a few times, and that was a big high—meeting Mick Jagger and Keith Richards was pretty fun. I’m still a fan, so I get a kick out of stuff like that.
“There are times when you go, ”˜Oh, I wish our band was a million-selling band,’ but I can’t complain. And I don’t feel like that’s gonna happen now, because there’s almost a window of time when that can happen, and if it doesn’t that’s fine. All I can wish for is just that we keep it going. It’s almost like a small business—that’s the way we run our band—and I would just love to keep it going for as long as we can, because it’s a great career, and it’s a great job.”
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