Sloan’s 20-year story is the one every single Canadian independent artist hopes they can one day tell themselves. That’s because their achievements are a product of four diverse musical minds clashing, collaborating and creating. That process could not be more evident on their ambitious new album Commonwealth (out Sept. 9th via Yep Roc), but also on their robust back catalog. Frontman and bassist Chris Murphy took the time to discuss the challenges and inspiration behind Commonwealth, the inevitable comparisons to KISS and takes us 20 years into the past to reminisce about their now-legendary album Twice Removed.
What was the thinking behind dividing commonwealth into four parts?
On the one hand, we did it because we can. On the other, that’s just the way we’ve structured the band the whole time we’ve been together. Other albums have been sequenced that way, where each track has one of us taking the reigns – and we’ve been criticized for that before. Personally, I like that about us! I like the juxtapositions of Lemmy, channeled through the Captain and Tenille or what have you.
I really noticed stark stylistic differences on Commonwealth when I was listening to it.
Right, and I’ve never encouraged anyone to conform to a style, even if I think that our palette is limited in a way that we’re not willing to admit. Whether it’s retro, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, punk or metal, I think we all wanted to be as ‘ourselves’ as possible on this album. I don’t know what the reaction is going to be when people hear this record. Maybe it’s going to be “they should go back to their original sound” and I’d welcome that criticism because I’m a bigger fan of bands than I am of solo artists. This was really just us making a point that there’s four voices in this band.
Are those four different voices streamlined into one when you’re recording?
Admittedly, the process wasn’t that different for this record as it was with our other ones. In the past, if someone wrote a song, they wouldn’t know what was going to come before or after it till it was studio time and it might get randomly sandwiched. For this album, we were just stretching that out – giving those songs some more quality real estate. Andrew really took that to extremes with his side and Jay (Ferguson)’s really flows seamlessly. Mine was probably third in terms of considering the whole ‘side’ thing and Patrick really, obviously didn’t care about sequencing at all. He just came into the studio, said “OK, whatever” and did his thing.
Was everyone in favour of it from the beginning?
I think so. I think if anyone was opposed, it would have been Patrick (Pentland). Patrick’s sort of the last to OK anything when it comes to the band, because he’s the contrarian. He’s got kind of a 20-year thing where he felt like he was the last guy at the party. He’s the youngest guy in the band, he’s the last guy to join the band, didn’t come into his own as a songwriter till the third record. Before then, he was just thinking that we’d all reject everything he did, but after that he just didn’t give a shit.
Do you think he felt like more of a worker bee?
I think so. I think he saw himself as joining someone else’s band, but even today, I want to assure him – there’s no cabal against your ideas, buddy. And to be fair, his songs have actually generated the most money for the band.
I think I know which ones you’re talking about, but would you mind being specific?
The one that’s made us the most money of all is “Money City Maniacs”. Him and I both wrote that, but I’d still see that as a ‘Patrick’ song. He also wrote “The Good in Everyone” which was a huge single for us in 1996. It was really around that time that he decided he’d inject some AC/DC and KISS into the equation.
Have you heard any comparisons between what you’ve done with Commonwealth and what KISS did (releasing four separate solo albums) in 1978?
Yes, definitely. And as a deep as I can go with KISS, I’ve actually only heard one of those four solo records – Ace’s. Up until that point, they were the biggest band in the world and those records essentially marked the end of their time at the top.
Because it was too self-indulgent.
Exactly. Forty-eight NEW songs. It’s way too much to digest. Ours is already kind of indulgent by being a double album, but of course ours only clocks in at an hour. In the digital age, having a double album – our second studio double album – is an obnoxious statement, but if you’re going to compare it to four, solo studio albums, it’s a lot more digestible.
Let’s do some word association. Describe each member’s portion of Commonwealth with a couple of words.
Jay’s: Powdered wigs.
Patrick’s: Digital delay.
Andrew (Scott)’s: Cerebral
Click here for page 2 when Chris talks concept albums, the 20th anniversary of Sloan’s classic album Twice Removed, and more!