Sloan occupy a pretty special place in a lot of Canadians’ hearts… They’re kind of like the Weezer of the Great White North, having enjoyed enormous radio and MTV (Much Music) success in the mid and late 90s. But they never quite broke across the border, which seems strange to contemplate considering the kind of ridiculous success of just about every single band in Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg these days. We caught up with Jay Ferguson to discuss the northern phenomenon.
The L Magazine: You probably saw this question coming from a mile away, but how do you feel about all the attention that’s being paid to Canada these days? Are you familiar with any of the young bands?
Jay Ferguson: It’s obviously great and for the most part deserved. We know lots of these bands. We hosted our own “festival” style show on an island in Toronto harbour last summer and invited a lot of younger bands that we love or that we know. The Stills, Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire, Death From Above 1979 and Buck 65 were among the artists that came to play. So many great records are coming out of Canada these days. Feist’s album Let It Die was probably the best LP of last year. It’s a nice feeling when members of some of these groups will tell us about how they loved our records growing up. Mutual respect and all that, you know?
The L: Do you ever experience even a tiny bit of resentment over the fact that this trend wasn’t occurring when you were getting started?
JF: Not at all. We had experienced some hype when we started and felt very fortunate that we could turn our hobby into a career fairly quickly. We were a band from nowhere (Halifax, NS) that was signed to the hottest label at the time (DGC/Geffen) in the heyday of Nirvana, Sonic Youth and Teenage Fanclub. It was unheard of in Canada. Harper’s Bazaar, Sub Pop and NME descended on Halifax to find out what was going on. Such a wild story and great opportunity. A lot of new bands these days have the advantage of internet exposure, so things often happen even quicker with even wider coverage. No resentment at all. If these bands were making crappy LPs and getting attention for it, then it would be a shame. But most of them are making world-class records that deserve the recognition.
The L: You’ve obviously been doing this for a lot longer than most bands currently making the rounds. To what do you attribute your staying power?
JF: Everybody in our band writes and sings, therefore it’s a healthy creative outlet for everybody. It keeps everybody interested.
The L: It’s hard to find a Sloan article or review that doesn’t in some way refer to 70s power pop. Did that genre and period of music play as big a role in your sound as people think?
JF: It’s probably less than people think. Musical tastes in our band are kind of all over the place. I love lots of those records: Big Star, Raspberries, Hudson Brothers. But I think it’s more that some of us have similar influences to the [same] 70s bands (the Beatles, the Who, Motown...). I find that we get pigeonholed in that category, but comb through our LPs and you’ll find lots of songs that are way outside that envelope.
The L: One of my favorite things about Sloan is that you released a live double album. How do you feel about the stigma that comes along with live albums? Do you have any favorites by other bands?
JF: It was kind of Chris’ idea as an homage to Kiss, Rush, Cheap Trick and their career-making live LPs from the 1970s. It was also a way to document our live career up to that point. We made it into a triple vinyl set that came in a box with a book and poster — another homage to the excessive packaging of all those classics!
The L: Talk a little about the new collection. What made you decide the time had come to look back on your career and neatly tie it all together?
JF: We had been thinking about it for a while. Boring answer: business-wise it made sense as our label in Canada (BMG) was in the midst of a merger with another company (Sony), so this was probably the easiest record to put out for them to understand while all the dust settles. We’ve been around for a while now, so it’s kind of a nice way for casual fans to remember our singles and a way for new fans who might only know a couple songs to... y’know.
The L: Do you buy any Greatest Hits collections?
JF: Yeah, sometimes. A friend of mine who defends proper albums to the death refers to greatest hits as “records for housewives and little girls.” That said, I recently bought Linda Ronstadt’s Greatest Hits and The Best Of Jim Croce. It’s also the best way to listen to ABBA and Dionne Warwick. Some artists were just born to be singles artists. And there is nothing wrong with that.
The L: How has NYC typically treated you over the years? Do you enjoy playing here?
JF: The first time we played NYC was CBGB’s in the fall of 1992. I’d never been to New York and assumed I was going to get shot or mugged. That trip I saw Stereolab’s first North American show and met Thurston Moore after seeing Royal Trux. I loved it. I was freaking out. I love playing in NYC. We’ve rarely had a bad show there, though the Lion’s Den in ‘93 wasn’t so hot. Nor was Mercury Lounge in ‘96. We’ve played the Bowery Ballroom many times and it’s such a lovely venue to see a band and to play. We recorded our second LP Twice Removed in Manhattan. I remember being excited to see Paul Simon on the street and Ric Ocasek stopping by the studio telling me how much he particularly liked ‘Snowsuit Sound.’ Thanks, Ric. I always look forward to NYC.