Sloan’s Jay Ferguson talks
TWENTY YEARS. TEN albums. One hundred and seventy-five songs. Not a single change to the band’s lineup. For a band, this alone is a triumph. For Sloan, the Toronto-based alternative rock quartet of Jay Ferguson, Chris Murphy, Patrick Pentland, and Andrew Scott, it’s just the latest marker of a career that’s been anything but unkind.
Sloan is a band known for its catchy hooks, power-pop tunes, and a distinctly democratic approach: The four split everything evenly—singing, song-writing, success, and the spotlight. So how have they maintained a singular sound?
“I have no idea. I never know how that’s going to work,” said guitarist Jay Ferguson. “We don’t ever sit down and say, ‘Let’s make a acoustic album,’ or ‘Let’s make this kind of record.’ None of that’s ever discussed.”
“Sometimes I feel like we are releasing Sloan compilations and everyone else thinks they’re records,” said Ferguson. “Everybody in our band sings and writes and everything, so maybe that’s the tie that binds a Sloan record together.”
While their first full-length record, Smeared, was released in the early 1990s—when record sales and profits were equally high—their latest release The Double Cross, comes at a time singles and the digital download are increasingly the norm.
“[This trend] hasn’t changed how we record; it hasn’t changed our mode,” says Ferguson.
It’s something the band has embraced, going as far as recording and releasing a five-song digital EP on their site “just for fun.”
“I found that kind of liberating—being able to record it one day, mix it the next, and have it available the next,” said Ferguson. “Usually, you mix it, it takes forever, and you’re lucky if it’s ready in four months, so the immediacy of the digital download—that’s appealing.”
The Double Cross was released soon after R.E.M.’s (another early 1990s rock band) announcement of their breakup. Ferguson compared Sloan to a small business: “Imagine owning a small business for 20 years: If you enjoy your work, it’ll keep you interested in continuing to do that.”
Of equal importance to loving the work is sharing equally the benefits of success.
“If someone writes a great song and it does well on radio, that doesn’t mean they’re going to be more wealthy than the other three. Everybody in our band sings and writes and everybody in the band has had songs that have done well on radio.”
“I think that because we’ve split everything four ways, it helps keep everyone on the same level,” he added.
Despite the demand associated with near-constant writing, recording, and touring, “it provides a great lifestyle and we can still make a living at it, so there’s no reason to stop it.” However, something more than money drives this band to keep playing.
“[We] are still interested in making music. It’s fun. It’s the best job you could ever hope for.”
As long as that remains true, Sloan—Halifax’s unchanged quartet that defined a generation of music lovers and have since become Canadian icons—have no intention of slowing down.