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Sloan: 30 Years Of Going Steady

Chris Murphy muses on the combination of democracy and passion that has kept the celebrated Can Rock quartet together since their high school days. 

by Emma Sloan

Photo by Calm Elliot-Armstrong

Juggling his cellphone in one hand, a recipe for zucchini lasagna in the other (“Like 90 per cent of the population, I’m trying to cut out carbs,” he says wryly), and keeping an eye on baked salmon that presumably isn’t burning in the oven (“I barely know how to cook,” comes the half-joking confession), Sloan bassist/singer Chris Murphy is talking to RANGE from his Toronto home about how his rock quartet is defying the legacy act stereotype through a series of calculated moves. 

Widely regarded as Canadian indie-rock royalty, the foursome originally hails from Halifax, Nova Scotia and have released 13 full-length albums to date. With their nine Juno Award nominations, 20 years of being among the top 75 best-selling Canadian artists in Canada (as well as among the top 25 best-selling Canadian bands in Canada), and reputation for releasing new and fresh material, it’s no small wonder why each of their releases are so anticipated.

“Each Sloan album is a shuffle deck of the musicians involved and our influences,” Murphy says. “We’re set up as a democracy, but not the type where we can out-vote each other – everyone gets their own section of the album. All four of us write, expect each other to write, and share the credit, money, and responsibility evenly. It’s a big reason why we’re still here: because we share everything and give everyone space to contribute creatively. After all, why else would you want to still hang out with someone you hung out with in high school?”

“Why else would you want to still hang out with someone you hung out with in high school?”

“When it comes to the writing process, though,” he adds, “we don’t exactly write together. It’s almost like The BeatlesWhite Album, where it was basically four solo acts that were each other’s backing band.”

As the blissful quiet of the smoke alarm not going off in his kitchen punctuates our conversation, Murphy further chews on the question with his trademark good humour. “There was actually one record where Andrew didn’t contribute to any songs because he’d just had his first kid, but he made the same amount of money as everybody else because it’s all for one and one for all. I mean, if you’re in Nirvana and you have a Kurt Cobain character writing everything and making all the money, it creates this imbalance of how happy members are and how much they’re willing to contribute. Our way keeps things even.”

Another secret to their unbroken original lineup? An unyielding sense of fun. Whether it be holding a band garage sale to surprise fans with a tote bag set of marquee items or accidentally crashing their drone while being nabbed by security in Paris during the shooting of their latest music video, their genuine appreciation for one another – and for the subculture that surrounds Sloan – acts as a clear driving force.

“We’re fans of music, just like everyone else, and love to feed into that fandom. Creating events, items, room for lyric analysis… it’s what it’s all about. When it comes to the band, I’m usually the one making the phone calls like, ‘Our last record came out in 2018. Let’s get on with it.’”

The band’s latest, Steady, follows Sloan’s 2018 record, 12, and marks the 30th anniversary of their debut album, Smeared, which was released in October 1992. Each of Steady’s 12 tracks embody a distinct flavour, all the way from pop-rock crunch to “four tablespoons of Black Sabbath, a quarter-cup of finely-diced Genesis, three dashes of the Rolling Stones, all seasoned with Earth, Wind, and Fire” — according to Murphy.  

When it comes to Steady, he says with a wink clearly heard through the phone, “They say if you want to go fast, go alone – but if you want to go far, go together. I don’t know if there are many other bands you can name that are still making records with their original lineup 30 years in. Look it up!”