More than 20 years into their career, Sloan is in a unique position. To start with, all four members of the band are still touring and making music, and with 10 studio albums under their belts and another in the works, they’re showing no signs of slowing down.
This fall, they’re embarking on a Canadian tour, which includes a stop at Mississauga’s Living Arts Centre on October 17. The Medium chatted with Sloan’s Chris Murphy about longevity, fan expectations, KISS, and the vision behind the band’s intriguing next album.
The Medium: You guys recently announced your plans to release a new double album where each of the four album sides are written by a different band member. In the past, you’ve all brought your own songs to albums, but what made you want to split up the songwriting duties so evenly and definitively this time?
Chris Murphy: Pretty much by our third record we were all splitting the real estate on the records pretty evenly. It was an effort to keep everyone in the band interested in being in the band and we had decided from the outset to split all of the money and the songwriting credit evenly no matter who wrote what. […] We take pride in our eclecticism and “anything goes” approach. But almost never on our records does one member’s song follow the same member’s songs. We always have it that you are sandwiched in with songs by the other guys. So we just thought that this would be a fun thing, to create four mini-EPs within one record.
The band KISS did this in 1978; they had four solo albums. They each shipped 1,000,000 copies and sold a total of 1,000,000, so they had a giant backlog of returns. It marked the end of their commercial success. [Laughs] Ours is long over, so it doesn’t matter.
TM: As a band, do you get excited about the new opportunities that the Internet and social media offer, or is it more just a necessary side of the business that all bands have to keep up with to stay relevant?
CM: I would say that as a band, we’re excited about it. Not so much me—I really don’t delve into much social media stuff, but I’m willing to roll with whatever’s happening. I don’t care if we release digital albums or real albums. In 2010, we did an EP that was digital-only, just to see what followers of ours would say. When you talk about the record-buying public or kids, they’re probably just using iTunes or downloading music, whereas we’re sort of catering to people who, if they already have 10 of our albums on vinyl, maybe they want the 11th album on vinyl, too. They’re not necessarily giving up physical copies of things. So we released a digital-only EP and of course we got a lot of whining online. […] But I don’t feel, either, that the old way is an albatross and I can’t wait to get rid of it or something. I enjoy making physical things and stuffing album jackets and all that kind of stuff. I like every aspect of my job, although I realize that a lot of things have changed. We are literally a pre-Internet band, so we’ve had to sort of roll with it, I guess.
TM: Because you got your start before the Internet really got going, what kind of career arc do you think you would have if you were a young band just starting now in this era? How do you think it would be different?
CM: Who knows, of course. But we were extremely lucky in the early days because we really got a leg up. Without really having to do much ass-kissing or begging, we got signed to a major record deal with kind of the coolest major label in the world [Geffen Records]. That’s long over, that circumstance, but it really gave us a leg up. We had a big story, we were sort of hot shit in Canada and big man on campus in Halifax, where we were from. But over time, I’ve realized how lucky we were, because so many talented people are just slinging tapes or out postering and [doing] what I think of as essentially undignified [stuff] to have to do to get someone to listen to you. The Internet has opened up new possibilities. You can be in your bedroom and someone can discover you. You can be Justin Bieber or whatever. But it also obviously is a giant wall of noise and, you know, everybody’s in a band. I can’t stress enough that we were extremely lucky when we got started.
TM: When you’re doing live shows, do you feel like people still get excited about the same songs that they did 10 or 15 years ago, along with the newer stuff, or have the audience favourites kind of shifted over the years?
CM: I would like to think that people’s favourites are sprinkled all over the canon of our work, but I think it’s always the case that people love the record that they came in on, and the ones surrounding that. We had our most commercial success in 1997, so the songs on that record are probably the ones that get the biggest hoots and hollers because those are the ones that people know best. But there’s an interesting difference between playing in Canada and the States. When we play in Canada, we’ve been on the radio and we’ve been on TV, so the songs that benefit from mainstream media are that much more recognizable to people. But in the States, we’ve never been on anything, so we don’t find that playing the hits gets any more of a response than album tracks. So it’s kind of more fun to play in the States, in a way, because we can be like an indie band and play whatever we want, whereas in Canada, there’s certainly a responsibility to play the songs that people know.
TM: Are there any songs that you wrote at such a different point in your life that they’re difficult to connect to now when you’re playing them live?
CM: I’m probably emotionally cut off from everything in the world. I’m sort of joking, but I don’t really get that emotional about any of the songs, I must admit. But we rereleased our second record, Twice Removed, last year and we toured that. In the first couple shows, we played a couple song that we hadn’t played in, like, 18 years and literally, without sounding like a goof, I felt sort of choked up singing them. But I don’t normally feel this way. I’m normally a robot.