Holding anything together for 27 years is an extraordinary feat. The Beatles only lasted a bit over a decade; the cast of Friends couldn’t stick it out for more than 10 seasons; my longest relationship was a pathetic five years. But Sloan, somehow, has managed to hack it — with its original lineup, mind you — for nearly three decades. The Halifax-bred power-pop foursome has a twelfth album, aptly titled 12, to show for it. And what’s even more impressive? They still sound really fucking good.
So what’s the secret to the band’s longevity? Is it their hyper-democratic songwriting process? Their unswerving resistance to the trappings of rockstardom? Their seeming immunity to male pattern baldness? All plausible theories.
Our hypothesis: Sloan’s cockroach-like immortality stems from the reality that throughout their storied career — from indie rock upstarts to CanRock elder statesmen — they’ve managed to remain everlastingly, unimpeachably cool. So cool, in fact, that they’ve arguably laid the blueprint of coolness for subsequent waves of Canadian indie stalwarts, from Broken Social Scene to The Dears to Arcade Fire. Hell, way before Drake got his first Degrassi cheque, it was Sloan who marked Canada as a hub of musical radness.
We sat down with Sloan singer/bassist Chris Murphy to talk about said coolness, and how he’s managed to retain it while entering his fifties. Along the way, he also compared himself to Kurt Cobain and the Rolling Stones, and dished on the mid-2000s CanRock love triangle he was once in. Why? Because he’s in motherfucking Sloan, the OGs of Canadian swag, and he can say whatever he damn well pleases. That’s why.
So, another record! Does it feel any different the 12th time around?
Well, with Sloan, you have to ask yourself: for a group that’s well into 200 songs now, how many new songs can a setlist absorb? Is 11 too many? And it’s like, Yes! Jesus! Nobody wants to hear that. But at the same time we’re like, I do want to be a cult act, where people still give a shit about what you’re doing. It’s not just the Voodoo Lounge Tour. I often compare myself to the Stones, only because they’re a band everybody knows that has been in existence for way too long. Who goes to see the Stones wanting to hear “Love Is Strong” or any of these new songs? Of course, you talk to Mick Jagger and he thinks Steel Wheels or Voodoo Lounge are great and they’re not so bad. But it’s with a confidence or arrogance that I actually think our records are not terrible. I could be laughably wrong, Mick Jagger style, where everybody in the room is thinking, ‘Dude why do you bother?’
I don’t think so! I’d say you guys are still pretty cool.
I like writing songs. I think my band is awesome. I’m really proud of what we’ve done and I think we have a large body of high quality work. You know, we’re older, but we can’t stop that. All we can be is as cool as 50-year-old guys can be. I think we can laugh off our age. I always get a kick out of telling people, “I’m 50. Why don’t you make me a list of cooler 50-year-olds? P.S. fuck you.” [Laughs.]
Are you annoyed by fans who only want to hear your stuff from the ’90s?
The thing, I’m a dad also, so I have favorite bands and I’ve kind of like lost track of them. I don’t mean to punish people who have who have gone on and done other things in their lives. I defiantly will be playing a bunch of new songs on tour, but we’ll also play them with songs people know and love. Nostalgia goes a long way — you can’t compete with a song someone turned onto at a stage in their life they constantly wish they could return to. Like, “I love Twice Removed because I didn’t have that kid that I hate and I wasn’t yet divorced.” I’m also not embarrassed of our early work like it’s corny or tacky or we have to wear baggy jeans and chain wallets or something. It’s not like, “Oh fuck, I have to do that?” I think everything we did was dignified, not that I care about what it means to be dignified.
Well, for what it’s worth, your latter-day stuff still gets a fair amount of critical praise.
Yeah, well, I think sometimes we’re a little bit ignored. But I sometimes say, “You know what? If people don’t talk about us, I don’t give a shit because I’m not making music for them. I’m making music for rock journalists in the future.” You know, outside of Canada and a few States, we’re definitely an unknown thing. But I do fantasize that one day, basically as the Velvet Underground were to REM, some new hip band will say, “Have you fucking heard these guys? It’s unbelievable.”
Twelve albums with the original lineup is an incredible feat. Even the Pumpkins couldn’t get their full OG lineup back for the reunion tour.
From the get-go, we split the songwriting and money equally — no matter who did what — and we encouraged everyone to write songs and be a part of the creative process. That was an investment in longevity. If the band breaks up and you’re not writing the songs or making the songwriting money, you’re not going to give a shit. I wanted everybody to be invested in the idea of the band. And we came along at a time when we got a big break by the fact that Nirvana changed the landscape of the music industry — a band like us was what people came looking for. We, for better or worse, got to be part of the music industry basically right away. It was a big break when we got signed to Geffen.
And we loved Nirvana, even though I didn’t get the comparison! I mean, I guess our first single “Underwhelmed” was essentially a copy of “Aneurysm” by Nirvana. We loved them, but we were like them in that we were also into Black Flag, Black Sabbath, and the Beatles. And we were the same age, but we weren’t as nihilistic or whatever. I won’t be committing suicide and I can deal with the heaviness of… I’m not a drug addict and all those things, and, you know, Kurt Cobain was a troubled guy. I’m really not. And I don’t mean to say I’m the Kurt Cobain character in my band. Great, now everyone’s going to be like, “Who’s this guy comparing himself to the Stones and Nirvana? Fucking asshole.” I’m just using touchstones that people understand! Stop putting words in my mouth!
So I guess the secret to your band’s longevity is you don’t have a Kurt Cobain character.
I’m not interested in a band with leading members. Even though I want to punch everybody in the band in the face half the time, it’s worth it to me that we’re still together. I’m really glad we have constructed the band to last as long as this. I’m proud of it. I mean, for a band like Nirvana, one guy is clearly the boss and the other guys basically just have to suck it up that they don’t make as much money as Kurt when something gets played on the radio. But at least there’s so much money going around. For a band like us, none of us are rich. We were all able to buy houses and stuff, but we don’t… If I made all the money, I would be rich and I would have four houses I’d rent out to those guys. But they would hate me. They already kind of probably hate me. They would just hate me more. They would have a reason to hate me. Now they hate me for no reason.
You have a knack for writing autobiographical songs. Were any tunes on 12 inspired by real life?
There’s one song I wrote that’s kind of a joke on another song of ours: “Don’t Stop (If It Feels Good Do It).” It’s about something that happened a long time ago when I went away to Europe and I had a friend stay at my house while I was away. The friend was a crazy woman and she had a new boyfriend. They drew a giant mural on my wall of Jimi Hendrix dreaming about sticking a banana in a woman’s ass surrounded by flying hairy monkeys with giant hard-ons. And so, the joke of the song is basically, “Go ahead, do whatever you feel, it doesn’t bother me.”
Wow, it really didn’t bother you?
It did bother me! I was pissed! Like, what the fuck, man? I was like, 30 years old. The other thing that bothered me about it was, “How come I am so upset about this? Shouldn’t I just be like, ‘Whatever man! There’s a giant picture of a banana in a woman’s ass.’” But I was just at the age where I was like, “Ughhh.” I was mad at myself for being pissed that these cool people had drawn all this shit on my wall. I should be cool enough to just roll with it, but I’m kind of pissed! I’m embarrassed to be the uptight adult or whatever.
Speaking of autobiographical songs, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about “The Other Man.” I hear it was inspired by true events. I have experience being the other man, too, and the tune really hits home for me. So I’d love to get the real, Behind the Music story.
I guess the interesting part of the song, for you, is that my girlfriend was Leslie Feist. So yeah, I liked her. She was in By Divine Right and I also saw her singing with Peaches. She was a hair-in-her-face, Malcolm Young-looking rocker, and then she was basically a stripper-rapper, and then I saw her on The Wedge singing a song called, “It’s Cool to Love Your Family.” I was like, “Holy fuck! The same person does all three of those things!” And I basically went out looking for her, and then I met her and she was like, “I have a boyfriend.” So I was like, “Okay, well, I’m going to be here for when that fucks up.” I put that in her ear and I probably poisoned their relationship a little bit. I don’t really behave like that usually. But anyway, Leslie and I are still friends. She liked one of my Instagrams yesterday and I was like “Oh!” So yeah, eventually we got together. I think lyrically in the song it’s like, “I’m gonna come in and steal your girlfriend because I do whatever the fuck I want.” But I more see it as I was there for when things got sour.
And I understand the other guy was Andrew Whiteman from Broken Social Scene?
That may or may not be true. [Laughs.] I saw him cover “The Other Man” one time, which was kinda cool. He was like, “Yeah, it’s a cool tune, cool tune.” [Laughs.] I didn’t know a lot of those Broken Social Scene guys. I was kind of already over the hill then. Leslie was seven years younger than I was. Don’t get me wrong, I was still cool, but I was in my 30s and seven years, when you’re younger, it becomes more of an age gap. But I think I’m buddies with pretty much everybody now. The song did really well for us.
I find it insane that Sloan only has one Juno.
Yeah, but I honestly don’t give a shit. The Junos are a funny thing because at one point we were way too cool to be on them. Like, who the fuck’s on that? Anne Murray? And then it just seemed that in a couple years Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire went on them! I was like, “Wait, are we cool enough to be on the Junos? What happened here” Since those bands, we can’t claim to be the coolest anymore.
How about in the ’90s?
In the ’90s, all we had to do was show up and we were the coolest people in the room. Certainly of anything above ground. We knew Eric’s Trip and Elevator to Hell and the Super Friendz and all these people who were actually really cool, but none of those people really got a break. Anybody like Our Lady Peace, Matthew Good, the Tea Party, I Mother Earth — in my mind, I was like, “This is all shit! All we have to do is show up and we just make these people look like idiots!” Those people are all really popular and I know them all now. I became good friends with post-Edwin I Mother Earth guys — I play hockey with them and stuff. But, you know, as a young guy in a gang, basically, I was like, “I would never even talk to you assholes!”
One could argue you guys paved the way for cooler Canadian bands like Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire.
I don’t know if we can really shoehorn ourselves into the story of either of those groups. But I still think of us as credible. We do exist, to a certain extent, outside of Canada, and the Tragically Hip would have been a group whose career we did not want. We were like, “The Hip? They can’t get arrested in the States. We don’t want that. We want to be a cult phenomenon all over the world.” Then cut to now, really the only place we can make money is Canada. It’s like, “Well, if we were the Hip we’d be selling a million records in Canada instead of 26,000. Being the Hip wouldn’t be so bad!”
We were never big sellers like Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, the Hip, Our Lady Peace — all the people I mentioned are all giants. I think we’re cooler and better than them, but we’re kind of small potatoes. But just because of the way we run it, on such a smart economic platform, we’re able to keep doing it. We do it in spite of the fact that we probably couldn’t get a label to spend a lot of money doing it. We just do it ourselves. I’m a lucky guy in a good place. Still cool. Those are your headlines. Maybe cooler than ever? You have to say that though — that can’t be my quote. Attribute that to yourself, so it’s not always me saying it. God, your headline’s probably going to be “50-Year-Old Man Obsessed With Being Cool.” In a span of 40 minutes, he said it 10 times…