Low budget, lo-fi, and lovable. A dozen songs and 38 minutes of 1960s influenced garage rock with a punk attitude. One Chord to Another pays homage to the likes of Van Morrison, the Rolling Stones, the Zombies, and the Sex Pistols. Twenty-five years on, Sloan’s seminal record remains the band’s biggest seller and still strikes a chord. It’s a timeless document, circa 1995, of a band in flux.
In 1993, Andrew Scott decided to move to Toronto to enjoy a life of domesticity in Hogtown with his then-girlfriend, now wife and mother of his children. Though Chris Murphy and Jay Ferguson were focused on building the independent label (murderecords) they had recently formed in Halifax and putting out music by some local artists, the move caused resentment with some members of the band. Disenchanted with the music industry, burned out from the road after releasing two albums on Geffen in the U.S. (Smeared and Twice Removed), and consumed with petty infighting, Sloan shocked fans by announcing they were calling it quits.
But, before disbanding, they were obligated to fulfill a bunch of previously booked gigs, including a memorable Edgefest that August at the Molson Amphitheatre. Luckily, the result of playing live was a reinvigoration of the magic that happened when these four guys made music together. With a glimmer of hope, Sloan decided to give it one more shot.
That fall, Murphy, Ferguson, and Patrick Pentland convened in Halifax at Idea of East Studio to record some demos. It felt good to crank out a record independently. With no pressure from a label’s brass or its assigned A&R rep, the sessions were fun and loose. The resulting record, One Chord to Another, earned the band its first–and only–JUNO and paved the way for the band’s future success and longevity.
Catching up with Sloan’s four original members (Ferguson, Murphy, Pentland, and Scott), each recalls what a seminal document—and defining moment—this record was in the band’s career. Critics agree. Barney Hoskyns, writing for Rolling Stone, gave the record three and a half stars, saying: “[Sloan] has gone whole hog and made a record that sounds like swinging-’60s Britain transposed to a ’90s Canadian garage. The low-fi, near-bootleg quality of One Chord to Another is a bold move … If ’60s retro pop is finally becoming a genre unto itself, then Sloan are right up there in its vanguard.”
Looking back on the break-up before this record was made, Ferguson says it was more of a break. “I’m glad we took the initiative to make One Chord to Another,” he says. “It was a turning point in our career. It allowed us to be more independent, own our content, and reap the rewards of selling our own records.” Adds Scott: “It is probably my favourite record of our entire catalogue hands down. Other records I enjoy on different levels, but One Chord was the record that saved our band and gave us the chance to try again.”
Scott contributed a pair of songs to the album (“A Side Wins” and “400 Metres”), which he recorded in Toronto with Brendan McGuire and sent to the band to consider. On writing “A Side Wins,” Scott says he, “Just banged that one out by myself in the kitchen one day.” Murphy recalls he was shocked when he heard these compositions. He was still pissed at his bandmate for moving to Toronto and thought Scott would send a “fuck you” to the band in the form of a song. “When I received those songs, I thought they were so good, and I took it as a sign that he wanted to continue with the band,” says Murphy. “I was always in it 100 percent with everybody else,” adds Scott. The first hurdle was cleared. Sloan—despite the physical distance—was still committed. Scott came home that Christmas and recorded all the drum tracks in a single afternoon in the band’s practice space on a four-track, which adds to the record’s lo-fi sound. What also made this record unique is the addition of different sounds and instrumentation including more piano, organ, and even brass. Moving away from the shoegazing of their earlier releases was a real evolution for the band. “We would have thought it absurd to use trumpets when we were making Smeared,” says Ferguson. “It was a broadening of our palette … without sounding corny or obnoxious, One Chord to Another has a timeless feel. I believe it could have been released in 1968, 1978, or 2008 and still fit.”
More so than ever before, this timeless album showcases the democratic philosophy upon which the band was founded; each member contributes songs, and individual ideas are given equal consideration. “Luckily our band allowed for that,” Murphy explains. “There was always a push-pull, more like a mutual fund, than a stock. If someone is not performing, they are still valuable because the rest of the assets will balance them out.”
Of the 12 songs, Murphy contributed four, Ferguson three, Scott a pair, and Pentland, the group’s youngest member, added three compositions. As a songwriter, One Chord to Another was Pentland’s coming out party to fans. He wrote the biggest single on the album (“The Good in Everyone”), which is still a staple of the band’s set 30 years on. “That song became the sound people know us for and gave us longevity,” Murphy says. “It’s a testament to our democracy and our willingness to share––everyone contributes artistically and financially––and that is why we have been together so long.”
Pentland shares the influences behind this Canadian rock anthem saying, “Originally, the beginning of it was supposed to be like the beginning of The Who’s ‘My Generation’ with that beat. At the time I had also rediscovered and was listening a lot to the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks. Chris suggested the beginning riff and how it starts and then briefly stops like ‘New Rose’ by The Damned. Musically, that whole song was a tribute to the mid-’70s era of punk and the subject was just about an ex-girlfriend.”
Eventually, One Chord to Another was released in the U.S. on The Enclave, an indie label distributed by EMI and founded by Tom Zutaut, a former A&R executive at Geffen. Early signings included Belle & Sebastian and World Party. Unfortunately, the label was folded into Virgin Records in 1997, so the record never took off stateside. One Chord was also the first of Sloan’s albums to be released in Japan. To celebrate the 20th anniversary in 2016, the band released a box set and reissue that included three LPs, complete with demos and outtakes, and a 32-page book telling the complete story of the making of this seminal album.
ONE CHORD TO ANOTHER FAST FACTS
RECORD: One Chord to Another
BAND: Jay Ferguson, Andrew Scott, Chris Murphy, Patrick Pentland
RELEASED: June 12, 1996
STUDIO: Idea of East Recording Studio Halifax, Nova Scotia
- First time used trumpets on a record
- Debuted at No. 15 on The Record’s Canadian Albums Chart (Certified Gold)
- Remains Sloan’s best-selling album. Followed problems with Geffen from Twice Removed
- Cost $10,000 to make ($110,000 less than the previous album)
- JUNO for Best Alternative Album (1997)
1. “The Good in Everyone” Patrick Pentland
2. “Nothing Left to Make Me Want to Stay” Chris Murphy
3. “Autobiography” Chris Murphy
4. “Junior Panthers” Jay Ferguson
5. “G Turns to D” Chris Murphy
6. “A Side Wins” Andrew Scott
7. “Everything You’ve Done Wrong” Patrick Pentland
8. “Anyone Who’s Anyone” Chris Murphy
9. “The Lines You Amend” Jay Ferguson
10. “Take the Bench” Chris Murphy
11. “Can’t Face Up” Patrick Pentland
12. “400 Metres” Andrew Scott