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Atlantic Canadian band comes back for 30th ECMA

Sloan is returning for the 30th anniversary of ECMA. Pictured here are band members Andrew Scott, Jay Ferguson, Chris Murphy and Patrick Pentland. VANESSA HEINS
Sloan is returning for the 30th anniversary of ECMA. Pictured here are band members Andrew Scott, Jay Ferguson, Chris Murphy and Patrick Pentland. VANESSA HEINS - Submitted

On Thursday night, the band that put Atlantic Canada’s alternative music scene on the international map and continues to be the standard bearer for the Halifax “pop explosion” of the early 1990s gets treated like rock royalty at the 2018 East Coast Music Awards.

Still sporting the original lineup that debuted in Halifax in 1992 with the Peppermint EP and major label album Smeared, Sloan will receive the ECMA Directors’ Special Achievement Award, along with playing on the Thursday night gala at Scotiabank Centre and the Q104 Rock Showcase at the Marquee Ballroom later that night.

It’s a fitting tribute for a band that still acknowledges its East Coast origins in song as well as interviews, despite having made the strategically sound move to Toronto before the ’90s were done, and a far cry from the cooler relationship between ECMA and local indie music a quartercentury ago. “All these A& R people came to town because Nirvana had just gotten really big, and we couldn’t get an official gig,” recalls guitarist/ singer Patrick Pentland during a Calgary stop on the tour for the brand new album Sloan 12. “So we put on our own show outside of the showcases, and all these label guys came to our gig, and the next day we were offered an official ECMA gig.

“But that was like 25 years ago. Now I think it’s good for the city, and it’s good for the music scene.”

Pentland says he doesn’t keep close tabs on what’s happening on the ground in Halifax these days, but often checks in with East Coast acts that head to Toronto, and is fond of bands like the Molly Rankin-fronted Alvvays and Sackville, N.B.’s Partner, who’ve both put down roots in Ontario. Fellow Sloan member Jay Ferguson plans to check out the hazy rock dreamscapes of Halifax’s Walrus, who share the Marquee Ballroom bill on Thursday, along with Adyn Townes, Hello Delaware and the Town Heroes, while catching up with friends during their brief stopover.

Ferguson also takes note of the changes in ECMA,and the music industry in general, since Sloan got its start. The Nirvana-centred indie rock juggernautthat helped shine a light on Halifax as the so-called“Seattle of the East Coast” didn’t automatically create a bridge between the mainstream

and alternative music scenes overnight.

“I don’t think the records we were making were aimed at an ECMA sort of crowd, or at least that wasn’t necessarily our goal,” he says. “That’s not an obnoxious statement; Geffen had already come in and signed Sloan, Sub Pop signed Eric’s Trip, so the world had already opened up a little bit at that point.

“And maybe that opened other people’s eyes as well. It’s kind of funny that one year where we didn’t get an ECMA showcase, so we set up our own show at an art gallery on Gottingen Street, but the word got around and they did give us a slot as well. But then Smeared came out, a year later we were nominated for seven categories, we played on the awards show, and won zero awards.”

Ferguson laughs and is quick to point out the East Coast Music Awards the band did receive for the 1996 album One Chord to Another, prominently displayed on a shelf in his kitchen. “That was a big year for us, and we were more heralded by the ECMAs at that point, and not thought of as a fad or some sort of upstart scenario, which some may have thought about us five years before.”

Sloan has more than proved its mettle in the quarter-century since its debut, and with Sloan 12 returns to a distribution partnership with Universal Music Canada, which carried the first five studio albums and the live 4 Nights at the Palais Royale. In the U.S., they continue a healthy relationship with boutique label Yep Roc Records, which also handles prestige artists like Nick Lowe and Robyn Hitchcock.

While the band will continue its string of deluxe archival reissues of key titles from the back catalogue — 1998’s Top 5 album Navy Blues appears to be the next in line for box set status—doing another set of new material seemed to be up in the air until they started talking to Universal.

The band still does well as a touring act, arriving in Halifax this week after recently playing across the Prairies and down the West Coast, but doing more than an EP to tide fans over wasn’t something the foursome had reached a consensus on prior to hearing from Universal.

“That piqued our interest,” says Pentland, who feels that their previous release, Commonwealth, a double album with each member writing a side, “was basically invisible.”

“It didn’t get a ton of airplay or press, but knowing Universal would be involved and would promote the record a lot more made it more intriguing to do another album. We always have tons of songs kicking around, so then it was just a matter of actually recording it.

“For various reasons, for different members, scheduling was a bit tricky. It’s not just like the bass player goes in, records all his parts and goes home. Everybody’s producing their own songs, so they need to be at the studio all the time, but we can’t always all be there at once. It’s difficult, especially when you want to get it done by a specific time.”

After appearing at ECMA 2018 in Halifax, and a Friday night Moncton show, Sloan continues down the Eastern Seaboard, then around Ontario and through the rust belt up until the end of June. Along the way, they’ll likely hear from longtime fans whose love of the band led them to other East Coast acts the band shepherded on its murderecords imprint, from Joel Plaskett’s early band Thrush Hermit to hip-hop hipster Buck 65.

Hopefully, that causes their ears to perk up whenever they hear of another artist that hails fromAtlantic Canada.

“We were just in Vancouver,” recalls Ferguson, “and I was talking to a guy who owns a record store there and follows the B.C. music business, and he told me, ‘Y’know what? The East Coast has its act way more together than the West Coast does. They put way more effort into promoting their artists than the West Coast does, I’ve got to hand it to them.’ “I don’t know if it has to do with opportunities provided by grants and things like that, or the way organizations like ECMA are just much better at promoting their own than anywhere else in Canada, but that’s the perception that someone I met in Vancouver had.”

The 2018 East Coast Music Awards Show hosted by Jonathan Torrens takes place on Thursday at Scotiabank Centre at 8 p.m. Sloan is part of a packed bill of performers including the Barra MacNeils, Classified, the Joel Plaskett Emergency, Rose Cousins, Measha Brueggergosman, Neon Dreams, Quake Matthews, Universal Soul, Makayla Lynn and many more. For tickets and passes, visit www.ecma.com, or watch the show live on Bell Aliant Fibe TV1 or on the ECMA website.

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