Sloan’s Jay Ferguson On Commonwealth, Watershed Moments and the Future

November 20, 2014

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Sloan (from L-R) Jay Ferguson, Patrick Pentland, Chris Murphy and Andrew Scott. Credit: Berkeley Church.

“I’m kind of a nerd for cool keyboards, like Moogs and Mellotrons and harpsichords,” says Sloan’s Jay Ferguson about his interest in visiting the National Music Centre (NMC) for the first time. “I have a TONTO’s Expanding Head Band record at home, and I knew that Stevie Wonder had used it. I was totally psyched to see it…I could have spent way longer [at NMC] just trying things out…what made the collection really special was that it was available to be used and tried out and not just be a thing behind glass. ”

Last month, Ferguson and keyboardist Gregory Macdonald made a pit stop at NMC while they were in Calgary in support of their double album, Commonwealth, the 11th full-length from the much-loved Toronto-by-way-of-Halifax indie-rockers.

Though the band has always split songwriting duties, Commonwealth is presented as four mini-solo records under the Sloan moniker, allowing each member to delve deeper into their own distinct songwriting worlds, with Andrew Scott’s cerebral 17-minute closer being the most exploratory of the lot.

“I think maybe the genesis of it would be the four KISS solo albums that came out in the late 1970s where they all had the egos to think ‘hey, we’ll just all release a solo album and we’ll all sell millions,’” says Ferguson. “The joke was ‘it shipped gold and returned platinum,’ because not many people bought them.”

“Cleopatra,” one of the excellent tracks from Jay Ferguson’s song suite, off Sloan’s Commonwealth.

While each member flirts with going solo on the new record, Ferguson says the album shouldn’t be perceived as a swan song or any sort of indicator of things coming to an end.

“I think we still have more songs that we want to put out,” he says. “I think we have lots of energy in us to continue touring new music or a lot of reissue packages for as long as our audience will tolerate it.”

Almost mid-way through their second decade as a band, Ferguson still vividly remembers some of the band’s watershed moments—inking a deal with Geffen in 1992; getting dropped from Geffen and then releasing One Chord to Another—their most successful album to date—on their own label in 1996; and playing Japan for the first time in 1998 to a fervent fan reception.

A glimpse of Sloan’s early years on CBC’s ‘Ear to the Ground’ in 1993 (Part 1 of 2). 

Sloan on CBC’s ‘Ear to the Ground’ in 1993 (Part 2 of 2). 

“It was hard for a band from Halifax to get any attention from a record label from Toronto let alone American major labels from Los Angeles or New York,” he recalls. “It was just unheard of in Halifax, so the fact that we made a record on our own in our living room in Halifax, and it was being pursued by Geffen Records, who were the hottest label at the time with Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Teenage Fanclub, Hole and Guns N’ Roses. That was a really exciting time for us.”

In 2012, Sloan’s 1994 sophomore Twice Removed was reissued as a triple-LP box set, followed by a North American tour with the band playing the album from cover to cover. Ferguson says they’ll likely do the same thing with their third record, One Chord to Another, in 2016.

“I’m just grateful that we still have an audience that will follow us and put up with us,” he says.


–Julijana Capone

Wanna talk music? Email me at julijana.capone@nmc.ca or follow me on Twitter @thejulijanaruin.

About the Author

Julijana Capone

Originally from Winnipeg, Julijana is NMC’s senior publicist and the managing editor of Amplify. In addition to her role at NMC, she is the founder of Light of Day Publicity, a company she formed to promote the work of emerging Canadian artists.

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