One would be hard-pressed to find much correlation between the Toronto power-pop institution that is Sloan and famed makeup-metalers KISS, but as of late, that task has become increasingly easy.
Back in 1978, riding a crest of popularity following the fact that KISS’ live albums were making them bigger stars than their studio albums ever were, the band’s manager thought it would be great idea to have each band member release their very own solo album on the same day, each disc counting as half-an-album in their five-album contract with their label. Although such a unique marketing idea had never been tried prior, the stunt itself turned out to have more of a lasting legacy than any of the material that appeared on those discs, but, if KISS gained a reputation for anything, it was being great at marketing.
For Sloan, however, the band has quietly been turning out brilliant pop albums every few years like clockwork, which makes them sound like they exist purely as craftsmen, but their consistently-stunning, quietly-developing style has been the very thing that has endeared them to their fans, which explains why, how after two decades in the business, they are still going strong, with each member (Chris Murphy, Patrick Pentland, Jay Ferguson, and Andrew Scott) proving to be a dynamic, distinct songwriter in their own right.
So, for Commonwealth, their 11th full-length, the band basically pulled their own KISS-style solo album stunt, releasing a double-disc set wherein each band member gets a “side”, or, a mean average of 14 minutes to fill with whatever they want. Being Sloan, the entire set is brimming with bright melodies and immediately-hummable hooks, but for a band that started releasing material all the way back in 1992, it is astonishing how fresh, dynamic, and downright fun Commonwealth sounds, the disc feeling like the end result of a bunch of ambitious twentysomethings trying to make every song they write the new Greatest Pop Song Ever.
Unlike his bandmates, drummer Andrew Scott decided to fill his entire side with a single song: the shapeshifting rock epic that is “Forty-Eight Portraits”, a semi-biographical shimmy through a litany of six-string styles. To help celebrate Commonwealth‘s release, Scott answers PopMatters’ 20 Questions and reveals a bit about where his love of portraiture came from, how artistic pursuits lead him to to steal a whole bunch of USA license plates, and how it’s best to take one’s moderation in moderation ...
1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
The World According to Garp.
2. The fictional character most like you?
The Great White from the movie Jaws. Why? because everybody thought it was so evil and cold and calculating but in reality it was simply eating.
3. The greatest album, ever?
The Velvet Underground (a.k.a. their self-titled third album).
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
5. Your ideal brain food?
Therapy, flow, and art.
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
What accomplishment? I suppose one should be proud of any accomplishment as long is it’s part of the solution and not part of the problem, particularly if that accomplishment is a complete and utter failure. That is something we should be proud of—failure—because then you have the opportunity to learn and bounce back. Hindsight is 20/20 ...
7. You want to be remembered for ...?
Art and music, not that they necessarily occupy different planes of existence. Agnes Martin once said that “music was the highest art form”—I can’t say from where I stand, but I go to battle with both painting and music on a daily basis and I can experience terrible vertigo from either vantage point.
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
I don’t go too much for “inspiration”. I prefer to just show up and “get to work”. As far as influences go there are simply too many to name ... where would I begin: the ancient Greeks?
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
“Dear Prudence”, a song from a band called the Beatles—or almost anything by American sculptor Donald Judd, especially the wall mounted work.
10. Your hidden talents ...?
I am right handed, however I can write upside down and backwards with my right hand and forwards with my left ... simultaneously!
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
“Come and do my intro painting class”. Words spoken to me from Gerald Ferguson (studio painting instructor and future mentor to me) when I interned as a printmaking technician at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) in the late ‘80s. Making prints was something that felt good to me but in the fog of perfect facilities and perpetual access. I never had the foresight of what came after I graduated. He had me re-etch a few zinc plates from a series of intaglio prints he’d had done years prior and when my job for him was complete he very bluntly said something like “What the fuck are you doing this stuff for?! Do you think after you leave here you’ll have access to a 10,000lb press and huge limestone slabs (for lithography) that have to be moved around with a small forklift? Come and do my intro painting course!”
As he stated, it was something that was light and portable and you could do it almost anywhere literally until the day you dropped dead. I had no desire to be a painter—I thought I wanted to be a graphic designer but quickly learned that that was not for me. Long story short, I did enter his class and fell immediately in love with the process of painting and still wrestle with it to this hour. Jerry took his own life for reasons that very few of us will ever understand a while back, and I still struggle with how to process that “lesson”. I am dealing with it on my own terms in between carrying out the answers to these questions ...
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
Back to my printmaking days! Years before, my good friend Tony and I lived close to a giant mall where every summer, huge swaths of Silver Stream trailers would park up and I guess “camp out” for days on end to do this or that. Well we would dress in head to toe “Peter Sellers” black and at sundown we’d creep and skulk and get on our backs, wrenches in hand, and remove the license plates as the inhabitants slept (they were from all over the USA). The really choice ones for me were Arizona, Nevada, California, Texas—all the hot states. I later made some pretty nice prints from them.
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or ...?
Well, that depends wholly upon where I am and with whom? But definitely never Armani. I’d much rather sport a suit made by some young cat from my neighborhood.
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
I’ve fielded this question before and my answer remains the same: Gwynne Dyer. He is a Canadian-born (and based in London) journalist, columnist, and military historian. Super smart and dry and if you want to know what’s really going on in this world—he knows and he doesn’t mince words. A born Newfoundlander so he probably drinks too.
15. Time travel: where, when, and why?
This very precise moment in time (oh shit it’s gone?) because there is no before or future. The only time that exists is exactly when and where we are and I don’t live for yesterday or tomorrow ...
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation, or Prozac?
Ice hockey three to four times weekly, year round (so Canadian).
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or ...?
Although none of the aforementioned are essential to my life, I must admit that some participate with me, some more than others, and some more often than they should. Al Tuck says it best: “Moderation. Everything in moderation, including moderation ...”
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
Either right downtown or way out in the country—nowhere in-between. Nova Scotia for the rural and for the urban, right where I am in my backyard in downtown Toronto. I never really saw myself living in this city but I have for a long time and since having two kids, I really can’t think of a better place to be? Sure there are “better” places everywhere but I have what I have and this is our community. Nowhere is perfect but I’ve heard that it is better to want what you have than it is to have what you want ...
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
“Resign now!” and then, “You’re under arrest for crimes against humanity.”
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
I’m working on a series of paintings that for the first time in a while seem like they are going my way ... I am also busy learning how to play our newest LP with my co-workers. This too is going well. Now I have to make dinner for my family and then go see my therapist. When I get home I intend to work very hard on a bottle of good Spanish red wine. Then I will work on bed and the cycle of life begins again tomorrow.