Interview: Sloan

AS PREVIOUSLY SEEN ON ANCHOR SHOP-November 24, 2014

You recently released your 11th studio album, Commonwealth, after more than 20 years as a band. How do you guys continue to stay engaged with making new music and in turn ensure your sound remains as fresh and relevant as possible?

Chris Murphy: Well, one of the things we did early on was have all of us be the writers. I was the principle writer at first, and I guess over the course of our career we’ve released about 200 songs, but I couldn’t have done it myself. I think it’s a good thing we all write and are a band that splits the writing duties equally. In terms of the problem of keeping it fresh, at the rate we put out records, I don’t have to come up with much. If we put out a 12 song record, I’d say I’d write about a song and a half a year, so it’s not crazy. But we all enjoy writing. As for staying relevant, we don’t even really know how to do that, so we don’t care. We just kind of do whatever we want and entertain ourselves.

Most bands typically have a staple songwriter, but as you mentioned, each member of Sloan makes their own contribution and you’ve always sort of done it that way. Can you tell me a bit about the process of taking four separate writing styles and bringing them together to form one cohesive thing?

Murphy: When you talk about all of us as writers and being cohesive, we don’t try to make it cohesive. We’re all about the same age with similar tastes and interests, so we don’t try to make it cohesive. We made an attempt to make a cohesive record in 2003 that was straight forward and non-eclectic, and we had fun, but it suffered because it was our attempt to do that. The flip side is that it was monotone, but we embrace that fact. It helps us take charge, you know? When we become in charge of the setlist or the tracklisting, we get a kick out of the juxtaposition. This record plays to that point where instead of the constant compositional style, we decided to split it into four quarters. It’s almost as if we’re separated on four different islands and we’re about to curate 15-20 minutes of music on our own instead of not knowing what would come before or after the mixing process.

With each member of the band having their own album side, when it came time to put the album together, did you contribute to each others songs or was each section completely independent? Why did you guys decide to structure the album in such a way?

Murphy: Andrew [Scott], actually! He didn’t really know what he was going to do, and since I’m an archivist, I remember riffs from different records, so I’d go up to him and say ‘What about this one?’ or ‘Remember this?’. He kind of almost re-recorded stuff that I had remembered that I had on old cassettes or that were part of unreleased demos. I didn’t make it up so much as I helped contribute. He then put all of these pieces together, as well as new stuff too, and he made this giant composition just shy of 18 minutes. A lot of those riffs didn’t have melodies, so we went in and listened to his songs and it was like ‘Oh you could do this’, or ‘You could do that’, and he used a lot of those ideas, but he sang them and then wrote the lyrics and stuff, and he was open about collaborating. Jay and I do a lot of talking and we usually make demos. I know what Jay is gonna do before hand and we talk about what we like. There have been instances on records where we steal melodies from each other, so I’ll sing some of Jay’s and he’ll sing some of mine. But [this time] everyone played their own and we sing on it. Patrick on the other hand doesn’t need any help. He wants to do it himself. He goes in and knows what he wants to do. Sometimes we cross pollinate, but that’s about it.

Commonwealth was also the band’s first release in 3 years. Is there ever that fear of irrelevance when youre out of the spotlight for too long or after 10 plus album? Do you think a strong fan base can prevent that?

Murphy: We’re currently working on the latter. In terms of actual spotlights, we’ve been out of that since 1997/’98. We’re a working band. Everyone has always asked us ‘How do you stay together?’ and I don’t mind answering that; it’s pretty simple. We split everything equally and financially and make it an avenue for everyone to contribute creatively. And to be clear, we released a record in 2011, and I don’t expect the public to know this, but our fans know, we also did a triple vinyl re-release of our second album, and then we did a hard core punk single with punk covers that was digital only. Then we did a bootleg of a concert of ours from 2001 and 1999, so we do a lot of stuff in between. We realize we talk directly to fans and we’re not part of the big scheme, but you have to give up on that when you’re in a band for 20 years. Unless you’re Madonna or Prince or something. We’re just a small business, but we’re music fans so we just wanna do the things we wanna do.

You guys have been playing large venues for quite a while now, but recently set out back on the road playing smaller venues again. What has it been like for you guys to sort of go back to your earlier roots in a sense and play those more intimate shows? 

Murphy: We were playing bigger shows, but if we played in say, Calgary, we would play at a small venue or at a university which holds maybe 1000 people. But now if we play there, we play to maybe 300 people in a bar, so it’s not like it was stadiums or anything. I remember thinking when we were first stating out, ‘Why are we not getting bigger? This is bullshit!’. Now it’s like thank god we’re not a big band! All of my friends are finished playing or they’ve broken up. We’re just grateful to be playing for anyone. We’re not purposely playing small venues, per say. I just want to play the appropriate size venue that fits everyone who cares about us. I don’t want to play a giant place and have it half-full. I just want us to all be cozy together to enjoy the music.