Interview – Jay Ferguson of Sloan
– by Rachel Fox
Sloan’s Jay Ferguson and I have one thing in common – we both worked at record stores and had the same manager, Kim (albeit in different chains, coasts and decades).
I had the chance to catch up with Jay to talk about Sloan’s current tour, their new EP “Hit and Run” (inspired, no doubt, by bandmate Chris Murphy’s experience as the victim of one this past summer), fandom, laundry, and Ogopogos.
Rachel Fox: Where are you calling from and what are you doing right now?
Jay Ferguson: I’m calling you from Calgary, Alberta in Canada. I am waiting for my laundry to dry at a hotel in Calgary and watching a film all about about apartheid in the 1940s or 50s on Turner Classic Movies with the sound down – so don’t worry I’m paying attention.
RF: That’s very glamorous. I really like the laundry part. I like to think of rock stars as having clean britches.
JF: [laughs] Today was the last day. That would not have happened tomorrow if I’d have not done laundry today. Is there a limerick around there…?
RF: So you’ve done some dates in the Northeastern US and across Canada in the winter, which seems very brave to me. How’s that going, what’s that like?
JF: [laughs] Well, it was brave. I was shocked to learn it… We were supposed to do dates earlier in October, but there were a couple of little setbacks, and Chris in our band had a little accident, broken collarbone and we had to move some shows around.
So we’re touring in this ridiculous month of December in Western Canada. The Northeast was pretty great actually in the States, the weather was really nice. But yeah, going across Canada went from a pleasant 10 degrees to -20 in Winnipeg the other day so it was a bit of a shock to the system. Basically, I couldn’t walk further than a block. It was brutal.
RF: Wow, and people live there.
JF: I was sitting in Winnipeg, and thinking, “Why is this place… populated? Why do people move here? Why is it civilized… here?”
RF: I’m looking at your new EP, “Hit and Run”. Why an EP?
JF: What were we thinking? Why on Earth did we do that? The original idea was that we were starting an online store of our catalogue on our website, all our older records which we own the rights to, and we thought, Now’s a good time to put it all out because we’ve learned about this new application platform that can turn your website into almost a little iTunes store.
So, a lot of our albums weren’t available digitally through iTunes in Canada, so we thought, in order to launch the store, let’s put something new as well to talk about at the same time, which became “Let’s do a little EP instead of a full-length new album, because that would take longer to do and as part of this experiment, let’s just make a short little EP that would take less time to prepare and record and mix.” So that’s mainly why.
RF: Do you have any plans to release it as a physical, tangible thing?
JF: Uh, maybe. We have a lot of people at our shows complaining already, “Where’s the CD?” and it’s like, “Well, you just download it,” but they want something to hold in their hand…
RF: So you’ve had to explain the Internet to people.
JF: Basically I’ve had to explain, “What you do, is you go buy a computer. Then you go home, and then you plug it in. And then you call up a service provider, and then blah blah blah, then two hours later they sort of understand.” So it’s been a little frustrating.
But no, I’m teasing. Most people are into it. I like the idea of recording something and it’s immediately available online and you can sell it. As a musician, it’s fun to record a song one week, mix it, and then next week it’s up for sale on your website as a giveaway or something.
RF: Looking at your site, stalking you guys online and stuff, it seems like you are really using social media. I noticed there’s something already up online on Youtube from your show last night. Who’s in charge of that and how important a component is social media to you guys now?
JF: It’ a good thing, especially to a band of our size; we’re on the radio a lot in Canada but not so much the US, so all those things are really good at connecting fans with each other about letting and know about shows or contests, or anything that gets you excited about being into a band. So it’s pretty important to us. I don’t really know a lot about Twitter. Patrick in our band runs the Sloan Twitter thing.
RF: I was very intrigued to learn about The Maughns’ Mary Cobham and her tribute album to you, Songs in the Key of Jay. I read about you being “ Sloan’s sweetest member,” and that this was something of an aural love letter to you. As someone who’s been on that creepy side of musical fandom, I’m curious – what was your initial reaction to being approached for it?
JF: I didn’t have anything to do with it (musically), although I ended up inadvertently doing press for it because so many people were asking about it when it came out. I didn’t really know Mary, she played in a band in Halifax and we had mutual friends, and she had a song out that was about me, and I’d heard about it and thought, “Oh my gosh, that’s so flattering.” And then I met her …
RF: And then you were frightened?
JF: No, she’s super nice. Mutual friends introduced her and she was like, “Hey, I hope you don’t mind I’m doing that song and by the way, I’m not crazy, I thought it was a fun thing to do.” And I said, “No, that’s fine, it’s cool, “and then she said, “by the way, I’m sort of planning a whole album based around you.” And I was like, “Ohhhh-kay.” I was fine with that, and after talking to her I realized that she wasn’t weird or anything like that.
She explained that she was doing it as a tribute to ’70s Tiger Beat pop fandom obsession, and that it was fun and cute and, “I’m taking this lightly, and I hope you don’t mind if I do this.” And I said it was fine as long as I get a copy when it was done as I’d like to hear it, and she sent it to me when it was done and I thought it was very sweet. It didn’t bother me because now… well, and now she lives in Toronto and she lives in my neighborhood I think.
RF: I feel like this is a script to a film and I kind of wonder why you don’t know what’s going on.
JF: In fact, my neighbor said there was someone mysterious in my backyard the other day… blonde hair and, oh… never mind. No it’s fine, she’s cool. I see her around every once in a while, it’s not like she’s knocking on my door. I don’t think she wants to hang out with me or anything like that. When I see her it’s nice and we always have a chat and a good laugh but it’s not weird, I have no weird vibes from her. I always thought she was very sweet and very friendly.
Video – Sloan, “The Good In Everyone”:
RF: Do you guys have crazy, band-aid-type fans in your audience?
JF: Not really. Sometimes we meet crazy fans, but not so much. We have regular fans that we recognize.
RF: So, you’re not on the stage and spotting them in the audience and going, “She a Patrick,” or something like that.
JF: Oh, you mean, like can you tell… no, not really. Although anybody who’s into Patrick, they’re usually on his side of the stage and anybody who’s into me, they’re on my side, so the division is visual.
RF: Alright, good to know. I’ll pay attention to that at the Commodore.
JF: Patrick’s side is gonna be piled and my side is gonna be a bunch of 30-year-old guys with glasses
RF: I’ll keep my eyes open for the 30-year-old woman in a dress and Doc Martens. I’m thinking that’s your fandom’s aesthetic on the ladies’ side.
JF: Is that right? That’s our demographic?
RF: That’s what I’m thinking. Girls in dresses, glasses, fishnets, and Doc Martens. It’s what I see.
JF: Really? It’s funny you’re saying that, I don’t really see that so often. But I’ve found in the States, our audience is so much older than in Canada, it’s wild. Definitely 30 and above is the core audience, they’re all quite a bit older… actually a lot of 40-50-year-old people at the shows.
Then we come back to Canada, like in Winnipeg, and it was a bunch of 19-year-olds in the front row. It’s a really interesting view of how people get into our band or how people see our band. In the States, because we’re not on commercial radio and we’re more of an underground thing, and we have people who’ve stuck with us from the beginning, from the early ’90s, and have grown [with us].
Not a lot of super young people there, we’re not on MuchMusic anymore, but in Canada, because we’re still on the radio or in the central media we get a younger audience. It was very interesting to see the difference between Chicago and then all of a sudden Winnipeg, it was like night and day.
RF: You guys have such timeless, listenable, poppy songs that get played more here [Canada[, which attracts a younger audience as well, so it’s more relevant here…
JF: I think you’re probably right, yes.
RF: Just say I’m right.
JF: I agree!
RF: Thank you. On the other side of the fandom equation, I’m curious—are there any musician crushes that if you were going to create an album—who would it be for? No judgment.
JF: Oh, I don’t know. If I was younger… I’ve been listening to a lot of Blondie recently, so I think I could’ve written a good song about Deborah Harry, although it’s too late now….
RF: She’s single.
JF: Is she really?
RF: She was with Chris (Stein) for a long time, but I believe she is single.
JF: Oh, wow, well, I guess this is my chance. How old is she now? She’s only 60, that’s fine.
RF: She’s a cougar.
JF: Oh my God. I don’t know if I’ll be pursuing that. I’ve been reading a book, The Making of Blondie, and she looked so awesome in the late ’70s… but the people who I was into more when I was a teenager, it would have been guys… it’s embarrassing. I wouldn’t write a love album to Keith Richards or something like that.
RF: If you wanted to there’d be no judgment from me. Are there any “bests-of-2009” that resonated with you, music, movies, anything from the past year?
JF: I saw Up, the animated Pixar movie and it blew my mind. Have you seen it, do you know it?
RF: No. I have issues with suspension of disbelief and animation, so I’m not very good with it.
JF: [Laughs] You mean because it’s tricking you?
RF: This goes back to childhood… I can’t relate very well to things that aren’t three dimensional. I saw Fantastic Mr. Fox and I really liked it because he lives in a world with gravity and depth, as do I.
JF: I’m psyched to see it, but I can’t say it because I haven’t seen it.
One of the things I really liked this year was the new Julian Casablancas, I liked a lot of that. And I really enjoy a singer-songwriter from Vancouver, International Falls. I don’t think the band is around anymore, but there’s a guy named Jay Arner who makes his own solo music and has a new EP that is online.
And I’m almost embarrassed to say this because I sang harmony on one song (“Uncoverers”) for him, but I’m actually a fan of his, and he has an EP out that is called “Bird of Prey,” and it’s fantastic. I think he’s an awesome songwriter that basically nobody knows about.
RF: That’s cool. Everything really does come full circle. I’m looking forward to seeing you at the Commodore on the 15th, have you played there before?
JF: We’ve played there many times. I always really enjoy the Commodore, it’s great.
RF: Those are all the questions I’ve got for you. I have to transcribe, you see. I’m old school. I have no minion to do my bidding.
JF: [laughs] Oh, just get Kim to do it for you. She doesn’t have anything to do today.
RF: Actually, I’m babysitting for her tomorrow. I do my laundry at her house.
JF: Oh, really? Aww, that’s lovely. That’s so nice.