Who Is / Are Sloan?
Sloan is a Canadian power pop-rock quartet originally from the province of Nova Scotia, city of Halifax. The band is comprised today of the same four members who started the band back at the dawn of the ’90’s – Jay Ferguson, Chris Murphy, Andrew Scott, and Patrick Pentland, multi-instrumentalists all.
The offbeat name of the band – Sloan – is not based on the girl from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Sloane Peterson, but instead, the lore behind the name is decidedly more amusing. Sloan, according to Sloan, came from the mispronunciation of their friend Jason’s nickname by a French employer, who used to called him “slow one”. To them, it sounded like he was saying “sloan”, and it became their affable band name, which they’ve had now for over two decades and seems to fit the band like a well-used catcher’s mitt. At concerts, their fans often call out the bands name in a very strange and almost jeering way – “Slo-oan!”
We call the 4-piece that is Sloan a “power pop” band because they are part of that long standing musical tradition, and the guys in Sloan seem to be well aware of it and embrace it rather than denying their “pop” sensibilities.
What is power pop, you say? Allow us to try and feebly encapsulate it. So, rather than play straight rhythm ‘n blues, like many a rock band (eg. the Rolling Stones coming readily to mind), it is a band focuses more on the confectious side of things, similar to bands such as Big Star, Cheap Trick, The Cars – you know, super catchy bands of that sort.
Power pop demonstrates an unabashed zeal for hooks and doesn’t necessarily base everything around the pentatonic scale. Its also really hard to get it out of your head once you hear it. The ear worms you’ll find in this “genre” are merciless!
On that note, take it away, Sloan!
By now, Sloan has recorded and released a whole lot of music onto the unsuspecting (although by now probably suspecting) public, including 11 LP’s and numerous other releases such as a greatest hits album, and too many singles to count (actually, you can count them, and there are so far 31 singles). Some of their albums include Twice Removed, Action Pact, and Navy Blues (you can pick up any of them on the Sloan website).
In Canada, Sloan is one of the most enduring, dependable, and relatable bands there is, and their popularity is far reaching. And rightly so – they’ve certainly toured a hell of a lot over the years and earned themselves a substantial following, even in smaller cities and towns.
To make a perhaps ill-advised comparison, Sloan is kind of like the Canadian version of the Beatles. “Sacriledge!” we hear some fingers out there hitting the keys vehemently. Consider this though – that there are 4 distinct songwriters in the band, 4 mops of hair, four relatively cute mugs, and albums which feature contributions by each songwriter. While we might prefer to compare them more to the Kinks (because they’re better), we can’t, since all members of the Kinks didn’t contribute to the songwriting. Sorry folks!
What? No Mutt?
Sloan distinguishes themselves among other Canadian mainstays like the Tragically Hip and Nickelback by being less blues-driven or Mutt Lange-driven. Sloan always was somewhat of an indie band, even though their popularity has grown considerably over the years. They are currently signed to Yep Roc Records; an independent label that they share with over 100 other fiercly independent acts like Robyn Hitchcock, Mercury Rev, John Doe, and Ron Sexsmith, to name but a select few.
Ultimately, we think of Sloan kind of like a cult band, kind of like their heroes, The Velvet Underground (apologies to Sloan if they are not your heroes). This cult band thing has perks and pitfalls, if one were to accept this categorization of the band. The curse of cult bands is that they are generally unable to leave their “cult status”, partly because of the sheer “THEY’RE MINE THEY BELONG TO MEEE!” attitude of their fanbase. Is Sloan such a band, and are their fans really that way? Are we way off base? You be the judge.
At the start of it all, Sloan once had their own label, called Murderecords, through which they released their first batch of songs, called The Peppermint EP.
Their first proper LP album was called Smeared, and it was released in 1992 on Geffen Records. The early days of Sloan saw the band being a lot more raw and raucous than they are today – pretty much a punk band, with some elements of shoegaze thrown in. At least that’s how we hear it, anyway.
At that time, they were quite noisy, and still experimenting with where they wanted to go with music, and they had a fuck ton of angst that they threw into even their poppier numbers. Here’s a clip of the band from those times. Clearly, they are all full of piss and vinegar!
Cohorts of Sloan who were also from Halifax and played in the early 1990’s were Plumtree, The Inbreds, Jale, Thrush Hermit, and The Super Friendz, among others. There were a great many talented bands from Halifax, as some of us may recall. Very few of these bands have survived and thrived like the boys in Sloan and made a long-term career out of it. The band has since moved their base of operations to Toronto, Ontario.
Refined And Resigned
Fast forward a couple of decades, and Sloan are a touch more refined, at least in terms of their recorded output. Their more recent albums have songs that harken to bands like the Zombies, and other ’60’s acts that could write a great pop songs, but still pack a lot of extras into the arrangements. Catch them live, and you’ll probably get a bit of both – a bit of refinement, and a bit of raunch.
Some songs are sung sweetly and are more laid back, while others still slam you with the fuzz pedal and you’ll see the band rockin’ and rollin’ like a bunch of teenage punks. Like this little gemmer, sung by Andrew…
The reason we wanted to spotlight Sloan in this article is for two basic reasons. They are a great live band, and they bring the hits like a drunken Santa Clause, clogging your chimney with toys that you didn’t even ask for. If you are Canadian, there is even more reason to love the band, because your national pride will kick in when you realize they are proudly Canadian and they don’t try to disguise their heritage. They even sing about Canada sometimes!
If you a fan of rock and / or pop music in any way whatsoever, but you haven’t heard the band yet, Sloan’s large back catalog will probably come as a pleasant surprise to you; kind of like stumbling on a really great restaurant that you weren’t aware of previously.
Sloan’s Best Album?
In terms of which album we’d recommend you check out first, there is really no way to pick a favorite. Fans of the band obviously have their favorites, and we do too, but we’d always suggest starting at the start, and working forward until you get to the latest release. This way, you get to journey through the progression of their music and see it develop and change. Certain members of the band write certain kinds of songs, but there’s no way to predict the bands musical gesticulations fully. Still, every fan seems to have their absolute favorite track, or album, or songwriter. Even other bands will admit to having a thing for Sloan…
At the end of the day, its the songs that keep us coming back for more. Sloan writes a good one. And, luckily, for some strange reason they still don’t seem to hate touring! So, check them out the next time they play in your area and you won’t be disappointed.