An Interview with Patrick Pentland of Sloan

Sloan (Credit: Missing Piece Group)
Canadian power-pop rock band Sloan hits San Francisco next week at the Rickshaw Stop in support of their new album Commonwealth (iTunes) and we had the chance to catch-up with Patrick Pentland earlier this week. Tickets are still available for the Oct. 22nd show and can be found here.

San Francisco Bay Area Concerts: I’m going to eschew any attempt to be unbiased—Sloan are the best live band, period. The stream of live “bootlegs” you’ve released recently (Australia ’99, “Is that all I get?” 1993, etc.), and Palais Royale, seem to prove me right. How do you guys do it?

Patrick Pentland: We have been playing live music, both in Sloan and with other bands/people for 25+ years. We have learned to entertain as much as simply play the songs. Not every night is a home run, but we try the best we can.

SFBAC: Your shows in San Francisco at both Slim’s and The Independent were fantastic. The Rickshaw Stop is a relatively new space in Hayes Valley—somewhat similar to when you played Kung Fu Necktie a little while back in Philly. How will the Rickshaw help you show off the dynamism of Commonwealth?

Patrick Pentland:  No idea, except that the venue has little to do with how we perform, usually. We play all sizes, and can adapt to restrictions if need be. But we basically just do the same show no matter where we are. There's no pyro, although there is a backdrop.

SFBAC:  The recent article in self-titled magazine about “Favorite Sloan Songs” was fantastic—reading it made me even more conscious of the different personalities in the band. Keeping a relationship fresh between two people is a challenge over XX+ years—I can’t imagine how the four of you make it work.

Patrick Pentland:  It's not necessarily a matter of keeping things fresh. We do what we do, and even if we may have different definitions of what that is, depending on who you're talking to, it's generally not that far off from each other. We're not interested in re-inventing the wheel, but there's a lot of music out there to draw from and absorb into what we individually and collectively present. 

SFBAC: Once you each write your own songs, how much input do the others have when it comes to composing and producing?

Patrick Pentland: For my songs, none. I'm not sure how much the others interact with each other, but for the most part it's individual writers and producers on the same album.

SFBAC:  The Twice Removed Deluxe Edition (iTunes) was a revelation—it still boggles my mind that "Same Old Flame" (iTunes) didn’t make the original album. How do you decide what stays and what’s temporarily shelved? And are we going to see this treatment for One Chord to Another (iTunes) or Navy Blues (iTunes) any time soon..? 

Patrick Pentland: "Same Old Flame," in the incarnation that you would be referring to, wasn't recorded until after Twice Removed was recorded and released. That is the case with most of our extra tracks.

It's usually pretty obvious when a song isn't cutting it, or isn't ready to be released. As a band, we're not super precious with songs, and are able to let them sit until the writer finds the "solution" or direction they want to take it in. Songs are mainly just chord progressions, melodies, and lyrics. It's what you do with those elements that give the songs currency or weight, and it can be hard to pull that out of the air.

We will be re-releasing other records in the future in the same way as Twice Removed.

SFBAC:  Many Sloan songs weave in and out between tracks—bend and blur. But I think Commonwealth is the first time you’ve intentionally separated an album into four separate cycles—why?

Patrick Pentland: We wanted to do something akin to 4 eps, with each "side" representing a chunk of real-estate for each member. There wasn't really a big reason for it, except it was something that we hadn't done before. After 10 records, you look for something to set the 11th apart.

SFBAC:  On Commonwealth, you can’t hear lines like “where’s the parallel” and “delivering maybes” without thinking of the Sloan back catalogue with a wink and a smile. Are any albums or songs permanently on the shelf, or is everything ultimately fair game?

Patrick Pentland: Nothing is shelved, but there are songs that we don't play, or don't know how to play if requested. Not everything sounds great live. We have a lot of songs, but in a live situation you're trying to represent a new album, plus please yourself, fans who want "deep cuts," fans who want singles and favourites, and new listeners you're hoping to draw in.

SFBAC:  It’s not hard to imagine you being influenced by Kiss, The Beatles and The Who. But what are some of the more hidden artists that make your top 5? Do you have “group” favorites, or are various musical influences constantly shifting for the individual members under the skin?

Patrick Pentland: Those bands would not be in my personal top 5, but they are, to varying degrees, interwoven into modern rock music anyway. You can't really call the Beatles an influence on rock music; it's like saying you like to breathe. It's a given that, in most forms of modern music, the Beatles can be found somewhere in there. Or George Martin.

I don't know if I have a top 5, per se, but Bowie, Sex Pistols, AC/DC, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Dinosaur Jr., Motörhead, The Smiths and a whole bunch of other bands would be name checked. I grew up in the 80s, so I have a lot of post-punk, pre-grunge influences.

There are probably bands that we agree on, like the Beatles or Who, plus bands like the Stones, Guided By Voices, or the Stooges. Hardcore punk was also big when we were young, so Black Flag, Bad Brains, or Minor Threat can make their way onto the stereo on the bus every so often.

SFBAC: That's great. Thanks so much for making the time Patrick and we're looking forward to the show at the Rickshaw next week!

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