And now for something completely different...
2001 marks the band’s tenth year together. As a mini-retrospective, here’s one of the band’s first bios from almost ten years ago...
Can you name one band that has a single coming out on Sub Pop Records, opened up for both Bryan Adams and Extreme, was invited to open for Sonic Youth in NYC as their U.S. introduction, and recorded their major label debut before they had their major label? It’s been that kind of year for Sloan.
Since their first show at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax a little over 18 months ago, Sloan have managed to tour Canada, record an album (Smeared), release their own EP (Peppermint), and sign their lives away with major label punk rock kingpins DGC Records.
Sounds unlikely? They sure thought so.
"It’s pretty bizarre," sighs guitarist/vocalist Jay Ferguson, in awe of it all. "Everything began and escalated so quickly." In February 1992, in conjunction with the East Coast Music Awards (Nova Scotia’s version of the New Music Seminar), Sloan set up their own show at an art gallery in Halifax...
The show generated enough interest to spur a cross-Canada tour in mid-April 1992. As the band trudged its way across the continent playing to one empty club after another, DGC called. "The irony was too much. We knew DGC intended to call a lot of bands who sent tapes to sort of say, ’Keep up the good indie work; Big Brother is watching,’ so we didn’t think much of it."
Though things happened quickly for Sloan, it doesn’t mean they are without a history, Jay Ferguson and Chris Murphy (bass/vocals) originally played together in a local punk band called Kearney Lake Road, and Patrick Pentland (guitar/vocals) and Andrew Scott (drums/vocals) played in various Halifax bands before they all came together as Sloan. Chris and Andrew have that seemingly prerequisite punk rock background - art school - having gone to Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Jay and Patrick opted for their university degrees in History and English, respectively.
When Sloan arrived to play their first show in Vancouver, they heard an A&R person from DGC was going to come up from riot-torn LA and check it out. "The riots had just started in LA as we arrived in Vancouver, so whether or not he made it was a mystery to us," says Jay. "The show was a complete fiasco. It took place in this huge ballroom with four or so other bands. We were on last and had just come back from this smoking Redd Kross show across town only to walk into a cavernous hell with maybe 30 people. It was hilarious, but we played. Nightmares galore - a bunch of rented gear was broken and tempers were flaring. All of us were pretty oblivious to the fact that DGC made it. It was pretty funny... rock ’n roll at its worst."
A dirty rock and roll display refined itself for the following night, also in Vancouver, where "We played one of our best and most enjoyable shows to date." Big Brother was pleased and offered the band a deal within weeks.
A few months earlier, December 1991 to be exact, Sloan were pawning records and washing a lot of dishes to work up the cash to record a few songs. A few songs quickly grew into 12 or so. "The whole deciding process was basically, ’Hmm... what do we do today? Let’s try and record a potential major label release’... well, not exactly," says Chris Murphy. "We recorded it in a house in Halifax with a friend of ours, Terry Pulliam, basically on a whim. We were practicing one Monday and we said, ’we should record all of this stuff,’ and then we went in on Friday and did it. We wanted to record a few songs, maybe sell a tape around town or even try for some indie distribution with hopes of making our money back. There was absolutely no pressure when we recorded Smeared because we recorded it ourselves."
Sloan takes its musical cue from such indie guitar-wash faves as My Bloody Valentine, Unrest, and the Vaselines while creating a unique style that can only come from an area yet to be tainted by indie rock stardom. From the pure pop, wide-eyed hijinx of "Underwhelmed" and the noise-rock plunge of "500 Up" and "Two Seater," to the sonic-purr of "I Am The Cancer," Smeared is undeniably infectious sugar-fix of screeching guitar pop.
"Nothing was compromised in any way for Smeared," adds Andrew Scott. "The recordings are the same sessions as the Peppermint EP, as produced under the same circumstances at the same time. The only difference is the songs for Smeared were all remixed in Los Angeles. We didn’t lose any abrasiveness - songs were just refined and brightened. Everything is much more audible."
All in a span of about four months, Sloan achieved the unthinkable. "Halifax of all places" was a common phrase. "I guess none of us really had much faith in the notion of a punk rock band from Halifax doing anything like this because of simple geography," says Andrew. "So many bands from Halifax or Canada’s east coast have picked up and headed for Toronto or Montreal with the hopes of getting noticed, but those are such saturated music markets that the odds were so slim. The current infusion of punk rock in the mainstream changed the face of the music industry and so much of our success owes to that fact. It’s about time too. Hopefully now bands from Halifax won’t have to go anywhere - maybe the record companies will come to them."
The blueprints for Sloan’s Peppermint EP (released on the band’s Murderecords in June of 1992 and distributed by Cargo), were well into the final stages when DGC came into the picture.
"The plan to put something out ourselves was still very important to us so we went ahead even though we were in the process of signing with DGC," says Chris. "We chose six songs from the recording done in December, three of which will not appear on Smeared (released mid-January on DGC Records). It’s really new and dirty with some saccharine undertones, which pretty much sums up our sound. Our influences shine but they are pretty varied. I think appropriation has tuned itself in the band to a point where now we can only rip ourselves off."
"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," adds Andrew. "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."
Sloan come from a place where ’hype’ has yet to be introduced to the native vernacular, where playing a church basement can be just as much fun as a paying gig, and the process of making music will continue whether or not airlines will have to include Halifax in their frequent flyer programs. Will Sloan fall victim to its own early success? "Oh yeah. We’ve got back-up singers and keyboards for the next record already," says Jay laughing. "We’re going to have sponsorships from Molson and Labatts, you know, with big blow-up cans on the side of the stage. We’re all going to wear Nike sneakers... No, I’m not too worried about it. If the record doesn’t do too well, we’ll just go ahead and do another one. I think Smeared is a good quality record and I think that’s all we can do. Just make quality records."
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