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Members include JayFerguson, guitar, vocals; ChrisMurphy, bass, vocals; PatrickPentland, guitar, vocals; AndrewScott, drums. Addresses: Record company--Murderecords, P.O. Box 68510, 360A Bloor St. West, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 1X1, Canada E-mail: e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Halifax, Nova Scotia, power-pop band Sloan became one of Canada's most popular rock acts of the 1990s, but their success proved both a curse as well as a blessing. From the same remote maritime city previously marked as the town that pop musician Sarah McLachlan left, Sloan, whose Beatlesque music became a radio staple on Canadian radio, was a band the young people of their homeland knew well. Despite their presence in Canada, however, Sloan experienced difficulty breaking into the American market, especially after their record label DGC (David Geffen Company) refused to market Sloan's hooky pop tunes in the wake of grunge rock. After years fighting to be heard outside Canada and nearly dissolving the group, Sloan, angered because DGC would not promote their records in the United States, finally left the label in 1994. Although rumors circulated of an eminent breakup, to the surprise of many Sloan returned in 1996 with One Chord to Another, an album that became an instant sensation across Canada and a critical favorite in the United States upon its 1997 American release.
Through their records, their involvement with the Canadian indie label Murderecords, and their stylistic influence on other bands from the frozen north, Sloan not only elevated pop bands and records originating in the Northeast, but also helped bridge the gap between Canadian and American rock, bringing music from both countries into greater synch with one another. Thanks in large part to the success of Sloan, Halifax became regarded as "Canada's Seattle," leading to the signing of several local bands to major record deals. Some of the Halifax-based groups benefiting from Sloan's exposure included Eric's Trip, Thrush Hermit, the Hardship Post, and Jale.
Influenced by an array of musical styles from the Beatles to Sonic Youth, drummer Andrew Scott, bassist/vocalist Chris Murphy, guitarist/vocalist Patrick Pentland, and guitarist/vocalist Jay Ferguson formed Sloan in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1990. They derived the band's name from an unlikely and not so referential source. "It's the nickname of this pot-smoking musician we knew in Halifax," Scott revealed to Jud Cost in a 1998 interview for Magnet magazine. "He worked in a restaurant as a busboy and used to be known as `the slow one.'" All of the members held prior interests in art and/or music, and all participate in songwriting and musical arrangement for Sloan. Ferguson and Murphy were former members of a local band called Kearney Lake Rd, a group inspired by underground American acts like R.E.M. and the Minutemen, while Scott and Pentland played in various local bands as well. The four men eventually coalesced when Murphy and Scott met each other while studying at the Nova Scotia School of Art and Design, and after only a short time of playing local clubs--their first performance was held in the spring of 1991--Sloan had amassed a small, yet supportive following for their feedback-laden live shows.
In early 1992, Sloan arrived with their first record, a six-song EP entitled Peppermint. Recorded quickly and casually at co-producer Terry Pulliam's Halifax home and released on the band's own Murderecords label, Peppermint demonstrated the quartet's best attributes in raw form: thick, noisy guitar energy; alluring and melodic vocals (with guest help from Jennifer Pierce of Jale); and clever, self-effacing lyrics. The first single from the EP in particular, "Underwhelmed," struck an instant nerve with young Canadians, helping to establish Halifax as a hotbed for alternative rock activity. The song also appeared on the local Halifax compilation album Hear and Now.
Sloan's profile continued to escalate, and by the summer of 1992, they had signed with the major label DGC. In October of 1992 in Canada and in January of 1993 in the United States, the group released their debut album, Smeared, which included three songs cleaned up by producer David Ogilvie from the Peppermint EP--"Underwhelmed," "Marcus Said," and "Sugartune"--as well as nine other cuts including "I Am the Cancer" and "500 Up." When Ogilvie finished remixing songs for the debut, Sloan's songs had transformed from inexperienced punk enthusiasm into sublimely balanced punk/power-pop music that revealed the multiplicity of the foursome's influences. Often referred to as Sonic Youth meets the Beatles, Smeared blended the sounds of My Bloody Valentine, Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr, the Velvet Underground, Cheap Trick, and others, showing the diversity that comes with having four competent songwriters in one band. The album earned stellar reviews worldwide as well as in Canada, where it eventually went gold, but also led critics to pigeonhole Sloan as a "retro band," a label the band has fought ever since. Although they freely admitted that Smeared shared much in common with the music of My Bloody Valentine, "That's what we loved in 1992," Pentland explained to Cost. "And I think that's okay for a band's first record, but by the fourth one, you should be somewhere else."
Despite positive press in the United States, as well as tours in the states with the Lemonheads and fIREHOUSE, Sloan's debut failed to sell outside of Canada. Nevertheless, Sloan forged ahead, releasing their second album, Twice Removed, in 1994. Recorded two and a half years after Smeared and produced with Jim Rondinelli, Twice Removed marked a more mature, pensive, and eclectic change in Sloan's style. Rather than concentrating on the distorted rock sound of their prior work, the band instead progressed to carefully intertwined and spaciously electric arrangements, 1960s-styled melodies and harmonies, and more complex rhythms exemplified in songs such as "Penpals, " "Bells On," and "Snowsuit Sound." However, DGC, who wanted a noisier product, failed to promote the bright and melodic album, especially for the American market, though the album received rave reviews and earned substantial Canadian sales. Trying to compensate for the lack of support, Sloan toured relentlessly to promote the album with little success. All the while, Twice Removed was named "The Best Canadian Album of All Time" in a readers' poll by Chart! magazine and the American publication Spin dubbed the effort one of the "Ten Best Albums You Didn't Hear."
The lack of recognition in terms of sales figures caused Sloan to lose its center, and in late 1994, DGC dropped the group amid rumors of a breakup. Canceling shows for the new year, the members of Sloan contemplated their future. To their fans' amazement, however, the band re-emerged in the summer of 1995, playing a handful of concerts and releasing a new single called "Same Old Flame" on Murderecords. During the time apart, the members of Sloan pursued other interests. Scott formed the group Maker's Mark and played with the Sadies, Murphy drummed for the Super Friendz, and Pentland penned a handful of songs. Ferguson focused his energies at Murderecords, where he managed the Inbreds and co-produced a record by the Local Rabbits. He also spent time working with Thrush Hermit, Jale, the Super Friendz, and Eric's Trip. "I'd recommend it to any band who has a good beginning," Ferguson said to Cost about Sloan's hiatus. "Take a break to get your feet on the ground and realize what you want to do. Tons of bands get signed, make a record and then break up. But we've had our own label to fall back on. It's exciting to make your own records and run your own career. Rather than jumping from one label to another, I feel like we're in the driver's seat."
Deciding to reunite on a permanent basis in the late summer of 1995, Sloan shrugged off retirement and entered the studio in the winter of that year to record One Chord to Another. Expanding the power-pop approach of Twice Removed, with nods to the Beach Boys as well as the Beatles, Sloan's "comeback" album was recorded in Halifax at Idea of East Recording for two-thirds the cost of their prior effort. Another instant hit upon its June 1996 Canadian release, One Chord to Another reached certified gold sales in Canada, won the best alternative album Juno Award for 1997, and earned positive reviews. Following months of negotiating with distributors, One Chord to Another was finally made available in the United States in the spring of 1997 by the fledging EMI subsidiary the Enclave.
After touring to support One Chord to Another, the band entered the Chemical Sound Studios in Toronto, Canada, in the winter of 1997 and early-1998 to record their fourth album, 1998's Navy Blues, a record again produced by the band with help from engineer Daryl Smith. In addition to playing their regular instruments and further expanding their pop sensibilities, Sloan added organ, piano, strings, horns, and cello to the lineup. "We've had horns and piano on our records before," said Ferguson in an interview with the iMusic.com website, "but there's more of it on this record. Andrew plays a lot of piano. I wrote both my songs on piano and I'd never done anything like that before." In addition to earning acclaim for its expanded instrumentation, the album also received comparisons to 1970s rock bands like AC/DC and Thin Lizzy, though the band preferred to think of Navy Blues as simply rock and roll. "We get these people telling us, `You guys are a `60s band and this new one sounds like the `70s' " Murphy said to Cost. "'What's next, an `80s record?' " Notable tracks from the diverse album included "Sinking Ships," "On the Horizon," "Money City Maniacs," and "Iggy and Angus." Another Canadian hit, Navy Blues, gave Sloan another gold album in their homeland.
By late 1998, after the relocation of Pentland, all of the members of Sloan were living in Toronto, the first time in six years that the foursome had lived in the same city. Sloan hoped that basing the band in Toronto would finally give their music access to a larger market. In 1999, Sloan released a double live album entitled Four Nights at the Palais Royale, followed by their fifth studio effort, Between the Bridges, recorded again at Toronto's Chemical Sound Studios in April of that year and co-produced with engineer Brendan McGuire. "I'm really glad it's worked out like this for us," Murphy told Cost. "I think we've been through our problems, and now we're here for the long haul--with a lot of longevity in front of us. We're my own favorite band."
by Laura Hightower
Formed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1990; played first gig as a band, spring of 1991; released debut album Smeared, 1992; contemplated breaking up, 1994-95; released "comeback" album One Chord to Another, 1996; called upon 1970s rock influences for Navy Blues, 1998. All members share in songwriting and arranging duties.
Juno Award, best alternative album for One Chord to Another, 1997.
- Selected discography
- Peppermint (EP), (Canada) Murderecords, 1992
- Smeared DGC, 1992; reissued, Murderecords, 1998.
- Twice Removed DGC, 1994; reissued, Murderecords, 1998.
- One Chord to Another (Canada) Murderecords, 1996; Enclave, 1997.
- Navy Blues Murderecords, 1998.
- Four Nights at the Palais Royale (double live album), Murderecords, 1999.
- Between the Bridges Murderecords, 1999.
- Canadian Encyclopedia, McClelland & Stewart, 1998.
- Robbins, Ira A., editor, Trouser Press Guide to `90s Rock, Fireside/Simon and Schuster, 1997.
- Magnet, November/December 1998, pp. 41-42.
- Rolling Stone.com, http://www.rollingstone.tunes.com (March 21, 2000).
- "Sloan," iMusic Modern Showcase, http://www.imusic.com/showcase/modern/sloan.html (March 21, 2000).
- Sloan: the official site, http://sloan.a-d-n.com (March 21, 2000).
- Sloan ONLINE, http://www.cgo.wave.ca/~tarslan/main.html (March 21, 2000).
- UBL.COM, http://www.ubl.com (March 21, 2000).
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