Talking on the Road with Chris Murphy of Sloan

Sloan is one of the Godfather’s of indie rock. Hands down. Hailing from Canada, the band is stronger then ever and shows no sign of slowing down. Recently I had the chance of talking to the hillarious and charming Chris Murphy, who plays bass, sings and also does drums on the revolving instruments in the band. The band has just released a new EP and a B-Sides compiliation on their website, which you can listen to and buy HERE. Here is what Chris Murphy had to say….

You’ve been a band for over 18 years. How has the relationship between the band changed over time? Do you hate each other now?

Chris Murphy: A little bit. Well we all started out kind of into new music that was happening, whether it was music called grunge, punk or shoe gazing like My Bloody Valentine. So we all thought we were part of new music, and we were inspired by new music. But at the same time we didn’t want to be categorized with a lot of stuff that was terrible, and the language I would use was “jock bands,” posing as alternative bands and we didn’t want to. We thought the word alternative and grunge and all that stuff would die pretty soon. Even though the sort of scene, that went, the sort of Eddie Vedder scene and all of that sort of gross thing, which went on for years. You could even count Nickelback which I’m not sure. We really wanted to run from that. When it came time to go back in history, and we’re asked what kind of music are you, we realized we were all. Jay and I and Andrew are closer. Patrick and I share things like certain hardcore bands we were really into like Killing Joke. Also luckily for us when we became this 60’s band, this Beatles type band, we started to gain some followers. Patrick really didn’t want to have anything to with that. He kept us from becoming a 60’s cover band. And now we know how to push each other’s buttons. The same with any relationship, you know how to get the other person going when you want to. Sometimes you deal with things, sometimes things fester and it gets worse.

The new EP was released digitally, how come you decided not to release it in physical form?

CM: We were sort of chickening out on manufacturing them because we always manufacture too many then we have to pay to store it. It was an experiment. We’re also putting all of our releases on the site, even though people don’t buy catalog that much. It’s a way to move forward. We want to make new music to bring on tour. We need an excuse. Nobody knows what the new model is going to be. We grew up buying records. There is no physical version of the EP but we’ll probably make one. One idea being if it does okay and it doesn’t bomb, we make another EP and put it together as one on vinyl or CD.

Sloan hasn’t put out an EP since the Peppermint EP. How come you decided to make one now?

CM: Because it’s easier and cheaper to finish and set a deadline. We could have done it. Consumer demand. Do people want to hear 12 new songs? Do we want to bring 12 new songs to people? We’ve been playing all the songs. We recorded 6 songs but only put 5 on.

How do you specifically write a song? Do you have a method?

CM: Well none of us really get together and jam which is the way some people do it. I’m kind of tired of my own method. Sit, play guitar, watch TV and sing something to myself. I call my phone and leave it on the phone and then when I have 5 or 6 ideas on the phone I go through them. Sometimes I’ll have messages with ideas in mind and erase the others. Then I recorded it into the computer and use a drum machine. I strum all of my ideas and melodies into that and I color code them, so like I’ll color the verse red, chorus, you know red, blue, yellow and I’ll literally arrange them according to color like “That looks nice!” and I’m always thinking “How long is this?” I always basically want to make them 3 minutes long. I don’t like long songs. I don’t like playing our old songs because they’re so fucking long, like “Underwhelmed,” over 4 and a half minutes. Then often times, I’m really bad at writing riffs. I usually write chord progressions and melodies. No intro, no riffs, then breakdown, strumming, strumming, strumming, the end. Sometimes I rely on the guys, especially Andrew because he’s such a good musician and more so a little bit Gregory now. I wouldn’t let him put keyboards in the first two records he was involved in because I wanted the four of us to do everything. Gregory is more available when I call him. “Gregory?” “I’ll be right there!” but it’s two weeks from now. If I’m working with Andrew he’s really good on his feet, more so than I am. I get him to do it 5 times and then I’ll cut together some things. Then he’s like “See you later,” and what took him 20 minutes takes me 9 hours.

How do you choose the songs to get on the record?

CM: Usually when we’re dealing with the 12 song model, it’s usually three each. We use our time and resources. We’re really good at communicating. Like I have lyrics for a song, press record. The only jurisdiction we have is just over your own place on the record, and we just keep going. Usually when we finish Patrick doesn’t realize that we had made that many songs. We don’t make money separately from the songs, we split it. In that case it doesn’t matter who gets how many songs.

After all of these years, what made you decide to bring the keys back full time in the band?

CM: I became friends with Gregory in 2004 and he always joked if we bring back the keys he wants in. So Gregory was my friend more so than the other guys and I didn’t want to force someone on the band. I guess we started using a lot of keyboards for Never Hear the End of It and then we thought it was appropriate for him to come in. Then we decided, and he’s very musical. He inserts way too many harmonies all the time whether you want it or not. He’s very enthusiastic. Andrew was the best keyboard player out of the four of us, so it would be hard for him to play drums, guitar and keyboard. If I wanted to play keyboards in my own song, it’s very rudimentary. I have done it.

The band always does short tours. Do you guys ever get tired of touring even though it’s not for months at a time?

CM: I would personally like to do a few longer tours. But the way that we tour with a bus and a big crew, it’s hard to scale down, and we’re not going to. Like playing this little club doesn’t break even of all the costs. We can’t go back. We’re not going to come down here in a van, which honest to God I would. I would like to travel, I would like to be. I enjoy my work, I enjoy meeting people and all that kind of stuff. We’re fortunate people care enough to see us play. I haven’t been on a tour bus in a while. We’re not road hogs. I have a son and he’s two years old, but I’m happy to get some sleep. Going on tour is a long time to indulge, and not get up at 6 in the morning. Then you go back to your normal life. It’s opposed to waking up at 2 in the afternoon. I love being home but I wish there was more to this (touring).

Does everyone in the band record on each other’s tracks? I know Andrew has recorded some alone. Do you stay true to your own instruments?

CM: No. I play a lot of my own stuff. Andrew let me play some drums. On this record I think he did everything on his own songs. Jay played on my songs. We just change it. I can’t remember! I play bass on Patrick’s songs. It just depends on who’s around. I think Jay played drums on one.

Is it really hard to learn the songs to go on tour after you created them in the studio first?

CM: That describes a punk band, but yes. I will argue that Patrick doesn’t know how to play any of the songs right now. I’m not good at my own songs like “Oh Dear Diary,” it’s hard. Andrew knows all the songs. Jay’s just bored. That covers anything. He does a lot of extra circular work.

What is your overall inspiration when it comes to writing lyrics?

CM: It’s different for all of us. I think we are all reluctantly writing poems over the music that we like. I spend time on them. I always get accused of being silly. I don’t have anything to say really. I try not to be too earnest, or I guess I’m nervous to be too earnest. Patrick is quite earnest even though he’s very funny, and not very earnest with me. His songs are very earnest and people love them because of that.

If you had to choose one, which song do you regret writing?

CM: Well the song that everyone hates, well all the fans hate is “Pick it Up and Dial It.” I went back a couple of months ago and listened to that one now and thought “I like it. It’s fun,” but it doesn’t perhaps belong on that record. My songs are kind of melancholic, which I guess is why I thought the record needed something like that. But I’m a big KISS fan, and I think a lot of our fans are not KISS fans. A lot of our fans are fans of like Belle and Sebastian. British pop music, which I also loves. Silly rock music, maybe awkward.

 You guys restarted Murderecords, how come you decided to bring it back? Why did it go away?

CM: Well we decided it was to hard to do and we lost the relationship with our distributor. Jay put a lot more time into it then I did. My idea was to sign my girlfriend’s band (Pony Da Look) which everyone in the world hated. I love their records, they’re so cool and fun. Trying to get people that were interested in us, interested in them, didn’t work. We try to appeal to everyone, especially with our online store. We wanted to find out who are fans are.

If you weren’t in Sloan what would you be doing?

CM: I’d be trying to make music on my own. It’s my life’s work. Just making music. If I had never been in a band, I’d probably be a teacher by now. I have no idea. That’s why we stick together. I’d have nothing else to do.

10 years ago did you think Sloan would still be a band? And 10 years from now do you think you’ll still be a band?

CM: I don’t think there is ever a reason for us to break up. We may not be a full time record producing band then. Maybe something will happen when someone will get involved with something other then Sloan. Maybe Patrick will produce some band and that will really kick off for him. I have nothing else to do. It’s not about money. If it was we’d be retired. I like how we’re all poor enough. We tried to build it to last from the beginning. With all sharing publishing, we are all in the same boat. Maybe we’ll play gentle, old man music.

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