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Sloan offers democracy in music 

Four singers and songwriters on 25 years and One Chord to Another

Sloan plays Visulite Theatre on Nov. 17. (Photo credit Jannie McInnes)

Sloan plays Visulite Theatre on Nov. 17. (Photo credit Jannie McInnes)

All four members of the Canadian rock combo Sloan are singers and songwriters. It's a collaborative effort that's democratic and creative.

Andrew Scott (drums), Chris Murphy (bass, vocals), Patrick Pentland (guitar, vocals), and Jay Ferguson (guitar, vocals) formed Sloan in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1991. These musicians have made fab records over the past 25 years while maintaining this creative partnership. It's a lesson we should learn while the band is on their current tour through our unhinged post-election America.

They are celebrating the 20th anniversary of their album One Chord to Another with a tour and specially-packaged vinyl box set. The guys will play the entire album in the first set and then launch into a second set of hits and fan favorites.

Sloan's democratic creativity was fully showcased on their last recording, the double LP Commonwealth released in 2014 on NC-based Yep Roc Records, which featured the songwriting prowess of each band member once per side on the vinyl — for CD and digital, just think a quarter of the recording each. The record is a prime example of the diverse voices that gel so well, the fluid individuality merging into one. There are feedback-laden songs, pure three-minute pop ditties, jangly guitars, sweet harmonizing and experimentation. Scott's side is a single 18-minute song while the other three sides highlight each persona that becomes one with their interplay.

I asked Jay Ferguson recently how four songwriters work so well together.

"(Commonwealth) was kind of an anomaly in our career, we are probably one of the few bands that can do that because everyone is a singer and a songwriter. Generally, when we make a record, everybody kind of writes and contributes," he said. "We usually try to make it that if there's 12 songs on the album, everyone gets three songs. If anyone is like 'I only have two songs,' then usually someone can pick up the slack. It doesn't really go through a process like a vote or anything amongst ourselves, everybody kind of brings forward the songs they want to do the most.

"Chris and I get together the most ahead of time so he would know my demos and I would know his and we would chime in like 'You know I really like that song' and Chris would be 'I like this one of yours or less of this one,' and that's sort of an encouraging way to go. Other than that it's sort of like here's your quarter of the real estate of the record and you can do what you want and we just try and sequence it after that happens in the best way possible."

Ferguson explained how the bandmates might come into the recording process with ideas on how one song might flow into the next, but for the most part, they're in charge of their own specific projects.

"We're not all in the studio at the same time, sometimes in groups of two or groups of three. So often it's very Beatles' White Album where Paul's in one studio doing 'Why don't we do it in the road?' and John is in another studio with Yoko cutting up tapes. It works a little bit like that, although we only have one studio. So it's democratic but everyone still gets to rule the roost on their quarter of the real estate."

click to enlarge Cover of Sloan's new album, One Chord to Another.
  • Cover of Sloan's new album, One Chord to Another.

For this tour, the focus is on the album One Chord to Another.

That album was first released on the band's own Murder Records two decades ago when they parted ways with major label Geffen after a couple of records and went the indie route. It was soon picked up by The Enclave label and became a smash in Canada, while bringing Sloan further attention in the States as a power pop combo to be reckoned with. The have steadily released music ever since, including a just-released Christmas 7" with two original songs.

Although I sold their records in the '90s at my record shop, Sloan flew under my radar. I played their records but didn't quite dig into them as I should have. Now, as I flip through killer song after song on the eleven studio albums that stream on their website, I realize how much of shame that was.

However, it's never too late for you.

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