LIKE NAIL POLISH and amphetamines, obsession can come in many forms. Since 1994, my biggest weakness—nay, infatuation—has not been money, drink, or even human. It has been Canada. Or, more plainly, Canadian pop music. I've blown thousands of dollars on this addiction, and it's all Sloan's fault.
Graceland, Thursday, October 14
If you're American, chances are your pulse doesn't exactly quicken at the mention of Sloan. But a frenzied network of maple leaf-clutching freaks does exist south of the border; those who worship Sloan understand the magnitude of greatness oozing from every one of the band's hard-to-find albums. For me, this has meant five long years of drooling and general idiocy at the hands of the Canadian Fab Four.
Like a brace-faced junior higher, I scribble their lyrics on scraps of paper. I use band member's names for my Internet passwords. I even once bought a silver 1986 Jetta from Ontario and named her Sloan. She was sooo Canadian that she even came with a trunk full of Tragically Hip tapes and a speedometer that only read in kilometers ("Sorry, officer, I had no idea I was going 80—my car only reads in metric, and who can convert that crazy stuff?"). And like her namesake, Sloan propelled me into a happier state, and did so in raggedy style.
But why does one of my favorite bands hate Seattle so much? It's been six years since Sloan played here. Instead, American fans are forced to road trip across the border for shows, which are always sold out because Sloan is bigger than beer in Canada. Our only option this year was to see them opening for apelike Alanis in a Vancouver hockey stadium. "Boo hoo," says bassist-singer Chris Murphy. "For us, playing Seattle is like playing England. It's intimidating, because who knows us in the States? We've never had a good experience playing Seattle."
It may sound like a case of self-pity—or good old-fashioned Canadian humility, which the Mod Squad-like Sloan is not known for. But when you've got gold records on your wall in Toronto and kids are rioting to see your in-store performance at the Vancouver Tower Records (this actually happened last year), coming to America is moot. Sloan has its own label, Murderecords, what Murphy calls an insurance policy against the group's inevitable fall from the majors (referring to the group's two years on Geffen's Nirvana-centric DGC imprint). Every tour and album pressing comes out of the members' own pockets, making them hesitant to travel east of Chicago on this side of the border. Sloan must be doing something right; when I mention that I hate how panhandling punks assume I've got more money than they do, Murphy cheekily exclaims, "Stick with me, kid—I'm fuckin' loaded!"
SLOAN'S FORTUNE COMES no thanks to American consumers. In the last two years, our top 10 radar has missed three excellent albums: the '60s orchestral power-pop of One Chord to Another, the handclap-heavy rocker Navy Blues, and an astounding double-disc live album (which is so filled with fanatical chants that you come away frightened at how huge Sloan are in Canada), 4 Nights at the Palais Royale. This is all without mentioning the newcomer, Between the Bridges, where ribbons of harmony inch their way past note-perfect riffs and sardonic lines.
"We're basically just a glorified garage band," admits Murphy. "We just choose to embellish some albums more, to give people something good through production. It just doesn't happen to translate internationally." A good comparison would be the amazing Australian pop group You Am I, bigger than Silverchair in the land down under, but brutally ignored in America. Instead, indie rockers here choose the carnival Beatles-esque mimicry of Olivia Tremor Control or the grossly misled Ladybug Transistor. This is child's play in the wake of Sloan's snaplocked power ballads, where songs about G chords and concentrated orange juice somehow translate into a thing of multifaceted joy.
Self-righteous, preening, and wealthy, Sloan pretends not to care that the phenomenon stops short of Blaine. But when I tell Murphy there is a healthy core of Seattle fans sick of being shunned year after year when Sloan hits the road, he's flabbergasted. It's as if Canadians, force-fed our shitty Harrison Ford blockbusters and dumb coffee franchises as part of daily life, can't believe it could be the other way around. "Thanks for pumping me up, eh," says Murphy. "I hope you really mean it. It's probably just you and one other person who likes our shit." We tip our toque to you, Sloan. All 12 of us here in Seattle think you're the greatest band ever.