Sloan is rock music’s Cinderella story

Sloan is belatedly celebrating the 20th anniversary of their seminal release, Navy Blues, with a limited edition vinyl box set and a brief tour across Canada.

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Sloan, consisting of Chris Murphy, Jay Ferguson, Patrick Pentland and Andrew Scott, got their start in Halifax during the early ‘90s. The band played around the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design before moving to Toronto, where they were greeted by fans waiting for them to take the stage.

“It’s not like we were out on Queen Street slugging it out for a long time, we’re very much a Cinderella story waltzing into Toronto and playing a full house right away,” Ferguson says, sitting at Murphy’s kitchen table. The walls of the semi-detached Toronto house are covered ceiling to floor in family photos, without a hint of rock memorabilia in sight.

During the past three decades, Sloan has played hundreds of sold-out shows, usually including their biggest hit, Money City Maniacs, an archetype of the power-pop-indie genre. The tune was the breakout song of the album Navy Blues, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year.

Navy Blues was nominated for the Best Rock Album at the 1999 Junos. The previous album, 1997’s One Chord to Another, won a Juno for Best Alternative Album.

They missed the big double-decade anniversary for Navy Blues, but better late than never. A massive special-edition box set containing three 12-inch vinyl records (of the remastered album, demos and outtakes), two seven-inch singles, a poster and a 32-page book with studio notes, lyrics and unseen photos is available.

“It justified, to my wife, saving so much crap,” says Murphy, holding the box.

Fans will be able to find a few at the merch stands of the current anniversary tour (hitting select cities around Canada). Be quick, however. There’s only 1,200 copies available.

Sloan will play the entire album from start to finish to open every show during this run, then jump into a more traditional set list with songs from each album. They’re hoping the reissue will bring back fans who listened to them in their heyday, but might have missed their past few records.

That’s how it seemed on the previous anniversary tours, which also came with accompanying box sets for the albums Twice Removed and One Chord to Another. They actually skipped over their 1992 debut album Smeared’s anniversary, but say they might cycle back around to it when it turns 30.

Each member of Sloan writes songs and the members are constantly switching instruments on stage. Their record label wasn’t keen on the idea of four songwriters in a band, but they insisted it would help them in the long run. After all, The Beatles, one of their biggest influences, even gave a few songs to Ringo.

“In some ways that probably slowed our success, but in the long run it has kept everyone interested enough to stick with it,” says Ferguson. “Pretty much every decision we make is what would keep this thing going.”

The group is able to put bodies in seats across Canada, but the same level of success in the U.S. has proven elusive, even though they’ve been featured on MTV, talk and variety shows over the years. But they’ll be the first to tell you they’re not superstars, but successful enough to turn down lucrative yet controversial support.

“There have been instances where, because we’re grown ups, we’ve had to take the money,” says Murphy. “But there are opportunities to go in a tour bus wrapped in a Du Maurier. We didn’t do that, but those who did, I don’t hold it against them. We had the luxury of having enough money that we could turn heinous stuff down. When you’re cool, 28 years later, all you can do is keep your head down and try to manage your economics.”

The freedom to choose the projects they want now sees the band cycle between new music and reissues of their classics. In 2014, they released their 11th album, Commonwealth. The 15 songs spread across two LPs saw each member take a side. Scott used his to make one 18-minute song.

“I’d like to brag we’re the only band in the world that could pull that off,” says Murphy. “We’re a democracy, but not a gang-up democracy. We’re not going to say ‘you know, three of us think your song sucks.’ It’s basically whatever you want to do, you bring it.”

— Chris Arnold

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