This story is sponsored by Dresden Meat Packers and Dresden Meat and Deli:
The Kinstock Music Festival in Dresden is being headlined by Toronto-based rock quartet Sloan on Saturday, July 9.
Throughout their nearly 25-year career, Sloan has released 11 LPs, two EPs, a live album, a Greatest hits album and more than thirty singles.
The Sydenham Current caught up with Jay Ferguson, guitarist and vocalist with Sloan, for a telephone interview on Wednesday.
Ferguson talked about coming to play in Dresden, their latest tour, the longevity of their career, creating albums and advice for other bands and much more.
Tour and box set release
“The tour and release this year was a reissue of our third album which came out 20 years ago called ‘One Chord To Another’ and we made like a Triple LP Box set that has a couple of booklets in it and a 7″ single and stuff like that. So it was something with out takes and rare items. The booklet it full of unseen photos, posters and things like that. So that was something that that box set that Chris (Murphy) and I worked on for the past year,” Ferguson said.
“So we released that earlier this year and then took it on tour where we would play two sets. We would come out and play all of ‘One Chord To Another’ from top to bottom, take a little break and then do another set of random Sloan songs from the rest of our albums I guess you could say.”
Ferguson said that is what they have doing this most recent tour, but the set-list will be different in Dresden.
“Now we are doing the summer shows so they are a little bit different,” he said.
“They are not necessarily just the ‘One Chord To Another’ show, you know its more of a mixed bag. We will play some songs from One Chord in the set for sure but it’s more like, the summer shows are a little bit different because usually its one long set kind of thing or playing outdoors… there are a lot of big fans out there, but there might be people out there than may only know three songs by us.
“You sort of have to play a lot more of the familiar songs but for the proper tour when we are playing specific Sloan shows and venues regular venues in cities we are doing the ‘One Chord’ tour. We did that earlier this year but then we are going to pick up the ‘One Chord’ tour in September and continue on with that with more shows.”
What it’s like playing a full album, from start to finish
“Well for one thing it’s easier, you don’t have to make a set list because its all right in front of you,” Ferguson said.
“It frees up some time before the show, not a lot of debating. I kind of like it. As a fan I like going to those shows. I have seen a few over the years. I think the first one I ever saw that was done that way would have been the late 90’s when Brian Wilson and his band, he took out ‘Pet Sounds’ for the first time and I loved it. I thought it was great.”
“I think some people are critical about it, how it’s not forward moving and sort of regurgitates the past, but we have never really, even when One Chord came out we never payed it all the way though so its kind of a new thing for us. I think its fun and I think its fun for fans as well.”
Ferguson said right before the ‘One Chord; tour and release, the band released a brand new double album, ‘Commonwealth’ in 2014.
“I don’t feel like we are just stuck in the past,” he said.
“We are creating new music but we are also celebrating older records which is fun for us because we sort of take advantage of our older catalogue, which we own. You know we own master tapes and Chris and I saved tons of photos and everything. So it’s nice to put that stuff out there for fans and there isn’t a lot of red tape behind it. We can just do it and release it when we want.”
Treat for the fans
Ferguson said playing albums in their entirety and in order puts the songs that you play LIVE all the time into a different perspective.
“Like we still regularly play ‘Everything You Have Done Wrong’, ‘The Good In Everyone’ and the ‘The Lines You Amend.’ Those are still staples on our regular set but it’s fun to hear them in the context of the album.”
“Also by committing to playing the album front to back, we are playing a lot of songs that we almost never play like ‘Junior Panthers’ or ‘Take The Bench’ or something like that. So there is a lot of songs that fans are probably only going to hear if they come and see us play the album front to back because we really don’t include them in our set with any regularity. I think that is another side of treating the fans. Like hearing those album tracks that we never play LIVE. I think its a bit of a treat from their perspective.”
Playing small towns
“I feel grateful that we can cover both bases,” Ferguson said, when comparing playing small towns to large cities.
“We still get invited to big festivals. Like last year we played Coachella in California and in Ontario we played the Way Home Festival and we still play big venues in Toronto or Vancouver or something like that but some of the small towns are fantastic.”
“I know Kingston isn’t considered a really small town but we played a really, sort of almost like a community festival in Kingston a couple weeks ago and it was one of my favourite shows this year. It was the 11th year they have done it and it’s in one area of Kingston and it’s a couple thousand people in a park. The whole neighbourhood and a lot of people from the city come out. It was really exciting.”
Ferguson said it was a similar format when they played Kincardine last weekend.
“It was like a Scottish Festival but they just had it in a park downtown and everybody comes out. Sometimes in smaller towns, I sort of maybe understand this just form growing up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, that when a band comes to town, if a band doesn’t come there that often, its a bit more of an event and a lot of people hopefully turn out for it,” he said.
“There would be shows in Halifax that maybe I wasn’t that interested in but because so few bands came there, you would go just because its your chance to see a LIVE band in an outdoor setting. It would happen with less frequency than it would in Toronto or Vancouver… I think where you can become spoiled a little bit by the amount of good bands that come through on a weekly basis.”
Ferguson added: “So there is something about playing the smaller towns. Sometimes there is a really an extra enthusiastic crowd that you don’t get in the bigger cities. So fingers crossed that people are interested and enthusiastic to see us in Dresden.”
Advice for other bands
“I don’t give any unsolicited advice,” he said.
“When we played in Kincardine there were a couple other bands playing and they came up and one of them, it was weird, they were like a small pub band from England and they didn’t know anything about our band. They were just like ‘what kind of people do you play to in Canada, your show was incredible’ so that was really flattering and nice.”
“Then there was a couple of other bands that were there too and sometimes they are a bit shy or they just come up and say ‘hey, good show’ but sometimes they will ask about playing larger cities or ask ‘how did you guys do it? What did you do?’. Even though our story at the beginning wasn’t necessarily a ‘move to the big city and play in the clubs for years.’ We had a different, spoiled almost, Cinderella start to our band. We had a little bit of luck on our side.”
Ferguson said it is tough to give advice.
“Anytime you run into a younger musician and they have questions, you are always happy to answer. Give some sort of encouragement or tell them some sort of story that we encountered or pass on some sort of ‘wisdom.’ Any kind of either encouragement or whatever I can share that would be of use or interest to a younger musician. I am happy to talk to them and stuff. Sometimes you don’t even meet the opening bands. Sometimes you do.”
Ferguson added: “It is nice to hear they are looking forward to the show because I think it will be fun. We are looking forward to Dresden as well.”
Keeping the band together
“I think we have been fortunate enough that our band has four singers and song writers,” Ferguson said.
“I think we have a high quality amount of material. At the beginning I think there was a little bit of luck but behind the luck we also had good songs ready to go, so I know that helped. I also know a lot of bands who have great songs but didn’t get that sort of open door at the right moment to go through.”
He added: “A lot of people say you make your own luck which I agree with sometimes as well.”
Ferguson said their longevity can be attributed to Sloan being a creative outlet for everybody in the band.
“There is not like one lead singer and than the disgruntled bass player who doesn’t get to record his songs and he leaves the band or something like that,” he said.
“We are lucky that everybody can sing and write and everybody contributes.So it’s an artistic outlet for everybody.
From a business perspective, the guys in the band split everything four ways.
“Like the money that comes in, we split it four ways so it’s a real democracy,” he said.
“So if someone has success with a particular song than everybody wins or if someone does a lot of work on something, everybody else benefits as well. I think that is one way to keep your band together.”
“There is another thing to be said for, you know we are kind of in the middle. Like we are not so unsuccessful that we just can’t do it anymore, but we are not so massively successful that we can rest on our laurels. Like ‘ah lets just break up because we are all millionaires.’ We are basically like a small business. We are sort of in the middle success ground that enables us to earn a living, but we have to continue as well to earn that living. So it’s almost like being that mid-level success encourages you to stay together. It’s your job or your work. I can’t complain, it’s an excellent job and an excellent line of work. I think those are all sort of the factors that really that have contributed to our band staying together for this long.”
Approach to making an album
Ferguson said Sloan;s approach to making an album has evolved over the years.
“In the early days it was a little more collaborative,” he said.
“Sometimes there would be a song and everybody ends up playing on it you know, everybody ends up playing their respective instrument on it. That kind of lasted up until ‘One Chord To Another’ to ‘Navy Blues’ and then it started to change a little bit where you know Andrew (Scott) didn’t necessarily play all the drums on the songs. Like Chris would sometimes play drums or there might be a song where I would play all of the guitars and Patrick (Pentland) didn’t play any or vice versa. I might play piano on a song only or something.”
“Sometimes there are songs that are created in the studio where it would just be two of us. It might be Chris playing the drums and I would play the guitar. Say it was a song of mine or something where Chris would play the drums, I would play guitar. Than maybe Chris will play the bass and than I would work on stuff. Sometimes Gregory our live piano player will come in and sing some harmonies as well and help out or play the piano part that would take me forever to play. It would take me five hours to get it right, and he could do it in five minutes. So it’s kind of changed over the years. Even now, even on some of Andrew’s, he will play all of the instruments because he is so capable and he can do it quickly.”
Ferguson said family life for the band has changed the studio experience as well.
“Time has changed a little bit,” he said.
“Not everybody but the majority of the people have kids and you know sometimes getting in and out of the studio is, you know you can’t hang out in the studios as much as you once could. So if you are waiting and let’s say a guitar part needs to be done and Patrick can’t come in, you might as well just do it so we can get it done and get on with the job.”
“It has kinda changed a little bit over the years from really everybody playing instruments on all the songs to, it could be like that but it could also be one person playing the majority of the instruments. It’s just the way it goes. It is just the nature of a four headed monster of four different people writing.”
Find out more about Sloan on their website at: http://sloanmusic.com/
– Featured photo credit: Sloan on Facebook
– Inset photo credit: Aaron Hall
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