After ten years, six albums, two near break-ups and
emigrating from the distant shores of Halifax, Nova
Scotia to the bright lights of Toronto, Sloan, Canada's
answer to the Beatles and Big Star have not only given
up caring about major label success, they've redefined
for themselves what it means to be successful in this
business at all.
"We will never conquer America," asserts bassist Chris
Murphy, dryly. "You just need so much money behind you
that it's ridiculous. We would like to disprove the
American notion that you're a success or a failure as
determined by a certain amount of record sales. We would
like to be an example of a moderate success, which the
American way suggests is an impossibility."
stuff, but Murphy has a reason to be so assertive. In
Canada, Sloan are in heavy rotation on the radio and
can be seen on TV, as well as headlining big summertime
festivals. In Canada, the band is practically an icon.
In the States, however, the band is, "kind of underground,"
as Murphy describes them.
"Fuck, man, we're still hungry," exclaims Murphy, brushing
aside a question about the band's success at home. "We
haven't had a hit. We don't get played on the radio
in the States. They have content laws in Canada, so
they have to play us."
"There are times when I wish we would go big or go home,"
Murphy continues. "Are we going to be a failure? Are
we going to sell nothing, or are we going to sell a
lot? Give me a sign. Which way is it headed? Instead
of just selling the same number of records every time
and then thinking we owe it to ourselves to do another
Candour aside, Murphy is careful not to sound too bummed
out about never having to work a day job, and he's quick
to point out he doesn't know what he'd do if the band
Still, no matter how many gold records his fellow canucks
throw at him, it's clear Murphy won't be satisfied until
the band finds success in the U.S.
"This band is everything to me," adds guitarist Jay
Ferguson, for emphasis. "I want our band to be huge."
(As if to say, "we can do it!")
But perhaps it's not to be. Maybe success isn't in the
cards for Sloan. Since it's debut in 1991, the band
has either been overshadowed or out of fashion. With
Nirvana releasing the rock 'n' roll rejuvenating 'Nevermind'
the same year as Sloan's maiden release, the 'Peppermint'
EP (Murderecords), the band found itself battling against
the tide in a sea of anti-musicianship and was quickly
pushed to the margin in favour of the new boss - grunge.
Signing to DGC in 1992 and having Spin declare Twice
Removed, one of the "Best Albums You Didn't Hear This
Year", in 1994, didn't help either. Yet, in spite of
growing disharmony amongst the members of the band and
with its record label, the band managed to trundle on.
By the end of 1994, angry and disenchanted with DGC
for not promoting its music in the U.S., Sloan decided
to leave the label amidst growing rumours of a break-up.
After spending most of 1995 working on other projects,
the members of Sloan reunited in 1996 without a record
contract and recorded the majestic One Chord to Another
for a mere $8,000, releasing it on the band's Murderecords
Step and repeat....
years and numerous sold out Canadian shows later, and
the band is still plugging away, trying to light it's
own fire. But as good as the music is on the band's
latest release, 'Pretty Together' (Murderecords), it's
hard not to feel like the band's collective ambivalence
about success, or its lack of it in their own eyes,
hasn't begun to take its toll.
For instance, when guitarist Patrick Pentland says,
"We didn't have anything to lose on this one," it kind
of begs the question, why not? While the world may never
have an answer, it's probably as simple as the fact
that 10 years is a long time to feel under appreciated
in any business. Murphy says that record sales for the
last two albums have had a distinctly downward trajectory,
so maybe that's it.
Unfortunately for the band's psyche, they're probably
destined to go down in rock history like Big Star or
the Modern Lovers-adored by critics, unknown to the
However, as Ferguson pointed out in an interview with
South End, "it's kind of hard to [stop] yourself."
True enough. And Murphy has already noted that once
you get going, it's easy enough to justify why you should
give yourself one more chance. But maybe Sloan should
just listen to its own advice and relax.
"I kind of just wish we would forget about radio, because
it's an impossible game to win," confesses Murphy. "It's
still important for us to be on the radio in Canada,
but we'll never be on the radio in the States, at all.
Unless we get signed to a major label, and that's probably
not going to happen." Despite his ambivalence about
touring Canada, Murphy says the tour is going well,
even if his contempt for touring with little promise
of being discovered is obvious.
"It's Canada again. So it's all right," he says, softly.
"But we don't have the coolest fans. I guess there's
some kind of math you could do. Like, if we broke up
now and took five years off, then people would be so
psyched to see us then that we could make enough money
to cancel out the next five years of touring. So, if
we strategically take five years off, we'll make millions
of dollars when we come back because everyone will miss
Though Murphy says the band has finally resigned itself
to its fate and given up holding its breath waiting
for stardom, he does cop to feeling a little overlooked
over the years, and admits that he's still got one ace
up his sleeve.
"I want to tell all the critics in ten years, to give
our albums the five stars they deserve," blurts Murphy.
"Hopefully, we'll get to put out more records and hopefully
somebody in Mojo magazine will go, 'Holy fuck, who is
this band, they have all these records and they're so
In the meantime, Murphy says Sloan will probably keep
on recording and touring and see what happens next.
Following a tour of Canada and few selected U.S. cities,
the band will begin gearing up for four shows they have
booked for January in Japan.
Allan Martin Kemler for Crud Magazine© 2001