Sloan goes to town, ’70s guitar-rock style, on Action Pact

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, OCT. 16, 2003

By Steve Newton

When Sloan headed into an L.A. studio with producer Tom Rothrock earlier this year, diehard fans of the Halifax-bred power-pop quartet might have had cause for concern. The last two projects Rothrock had helmed at that point were Badly Drawn Boy’s Have You Fed the Fish Today? and the soundtrack to About a Boy. Judging by those rather ornate pop records, Rothrock wasn’t looking like much of a riff-rock specialist.

“I guess not, no,” agrees Sloan guitarist-vocalist Jay Ferguson, on the line from a Winnipeg tour stop. “But I think he wishes he was, ’cause he was totally into, like, Mutt Lange and AC/DC records. One morning Chris [bassist-vocalist Chris Murphy] and I came in there and he’s cranking ‘Out of the Cellar’ by Ratt. So I think he’s definitely a closet metal fanatic—a hard-rock fanatic, anyway. Big into Aerosmith.

“Not that our record really sounds like any of those bands,” he continues. “Some of our records in the past have been a little bit all over the place, but I think when he saw us play live, he was like, ‘You know what? Let’s make a record that really reflects your live strengths, which is layers of harmonies and loud guitars. And Andrew behind the drum kit.’ ”

With Andrew Scott pounding everything into place, Sloan really goes to town, ’70s guitar rock–style, on the aptly named new disc, Action Pact. They offered more than 35 demos to Rothrock and basically left the rest up to him. “We’ve made records for so long,” Ferguson notes, “making all the decisions ourselves, that it was kind of fun just to give the reins over to somebody else and say, ‘Here, you choose the songs. Tell us what kinda record we should make.’ ’Cause I think our band could make any kind of record, to be honest.”

Although Action Pact sees Ferguson, Scott, Murphy, and guitarist-vocalist Patrick Pentland keeping things on the guitar-rock track, the band has shown a lot of versatility in the past. That openmindedness is echoed when Ferguson cites the last three CDs he went out and bought: the soundtracks to Lost in Translation and Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and the new Rufus Wainwright disc, Want One. Guess which one you’d have a hard time prying from Ferguson’s cold, dead fingers?

“I love them all,” he claims, “but I’m gonna put a big thumbs up for Rufus’s new album, which I think is one of the best albums this year. There’s a lotta really good Canadian records this year—and a lot out of Montreal—but I think Rufus is probably the best songwriter alive today.”

That’s hefty praise coming from a guy who’s penned some mighty catchy tunes himself over the years. Sloan—which plays the Vogue Theatre on Friday (October 17) and the City Limits Cabaret in Abbotsford on Saturday (October 18)—has been going steady since ’92, which is more than you can say for most groups.

“There’s a lot of bands that we started out with,” the 35-year-old rocker says, “and they’re basically all gone. Whether it’s bands that started the same time as us or ones that actually came from our scene—which would be like Eric’s Trip and Hardship Post and Thrush Hermit—all the bands that came out of that early-’90s Halifax scene. They all broke up along the way, and I’m glad that we’re still here and making records.”

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