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19 Sep 2016

Rock From the North: Sloan Makes the Trip From Toronto to the Desert Stars Fest

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Sloan. Sloan. Catherine Stockhausen

Sloan has been around for 25 years—and chances are, you’ve never heard of the band.

If you lived in Canada, it might—or might not—be a different story: The Toronto outfit has released 11 albums, been nominated for 10 Juno Awards, and won one. The group will be appearing during the Desert Stars Festival at Pappy and Harriet’s on Friday, Sept. 23.

During a recent interview, Jay Ferguson (guitar) said that while Sloan has a following in Canada, he doesn’t feel they’re hugely successful.

“We’re not huge anywhere,” Ferguson said. “We’ve managed to make a living for 26 years, and we’re not really huge in Canada. There’s this massive misconception in the States (among people who) don’t know our band that well who say, ‘I hear they’re huge in Canada and can’t make inroads in the United States.’ We’re like a cult band. The people who know us anywhere in the world—we’re like they’re little secret. Even in Canada, we don’t play stadiums or anything; we just play clubs and concert halls.”

Sloan has always had a unique songwriting style, with all four members contributing their own material. The band members have been known to switch instruments on records and during live performances. The group’s sound is similar to ’60s garage rock, with a bit of the British Wave sound thrown in.

“I think our sound has changed a lot in the period we’ve been together,” Ferguson said. “… We were drawing more from British noise rock or even Sonic Youth when we were really young. We draw from old recordings generally. We certainly wouldn’t turn to the latest Korn record or whatever is current in pop/rock; that’s not stuff we generally listen to. I’ve determined that if there’s one band that I’ve sort of derived material from, it would be The Pretty Things.”

During the recording of the latest album, Commonwealth, the band decided to do things a little differently: It’s a double album, with each band member getting a solo section.

“We’re a band with four principal songwriters who all write, and we all sing, and I don’t know a lot of bands that do that; we’ve always done it,” he said. “We’ve never been in a position where one member says, ‘I’m going to go make my own solo record.’ Everybody just gets to do whatever the fuck they want to do. We thought, ‘Let’s make a double album where each member gets a side of wax to do whatever they want.’”

Modern technology has made it easier and cheaper for independent artists to record. Ferguson said there’s an upside and a downside to it all.

“I think for us, we’ve been lucky, because we’ve managed to make a lot of records on tape,” he said. “You couldn’t use the Pro Tools kind of perfection machine and had to settle for your takes when you did it on tape, because time is money in the studio, and tape is expensive. But I think if you do your homework and listen to records and pay attention, then either medium can achieve great results. Computers are forgiving to a fault, but it also makes the idea of the recording studio more affordable, and you can do it in your bedroom. I think in the grand scheme of things, it’s pretty good.”

Ferguson said he’s always liked the sound of vinyl when it comes to recordings.

“We’ve always pressed vinyl of everything we’ve done,” he said. “It never really went away. … I’ve always preferred vinyl records and have had them around. I have young kids myself now who are into buying records, and I can see them sitting there and listening to the record, holding this big sleeve, looking at the cover art work and reading the linear notes. It’s a tactile experience, and it’s so much nicer than listening to Spotify or Google Play. There’s an actual and physical relationship to the music you listen to when you hear it through vinyl.”

Sloan said he and his band mates have never been able to spend that much time in California while touring, and that he is happy Desert Stars will give them an opportunity to see a different part of California.

“I think it sounds like an interesting, unique and oddball kind of thing,” he said. “When we come through California, we’ve always played San Francisco and Los Angeles, and then figure out how to get home. This time, it seems like we’re doing a bit of an unusual Southern California run, which is kind of a different approach for us. We’re all excited to not just go play in Los Angeles and leave.”

Sloan will perform as part of the Desert Stars Festival, which takes place Friday and Saturday, Sept. 23 and 24, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Weekend passes are $125. For tickets or more information, visit www.desertstarsfestival.com.

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