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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Sloan’s Two By Four

James Brotheridge
Published Thursday October 2, 04:56 pm
Patrick Pentland ponders a four-man double album

Sloan

Tuesday 14

O’Brians

The story this time around: Commonwealth, the latest record in Sloan’s over-20-year history. It’s a double record where each of the four members get their own side for their own material.

According to Patrick Pentland, guitarist and one of the group’s four singers, Sloan often tries to have a story behind its new records — “more of a story than, ‘Some label gave us the money to record a record’,” as he put it.

Pentland sees 1998’s Navy Bluesas their hard-rock record, for instance, and 2006’s Never Hear the End of Itas a 30-song rock opus. This time, Pentland, guitarist Jay Ferguson, bassist Chris Murphy and drummer Andrew Scott each got a 20-ish minute chunk for their own songs.

Pentland had a bunch of possible approaches in mind.

“Originally, I was working on music that was quite different from anything anyone in Sloan would’ve done, and then eventually I just thought, ‘I don’t want to record stuff on this record that’s radically different for the sake of being radically different,’” says Pentland. “So I reined myself in. I’m just going within the context of Sloan, because it was still a Sloan record.”

What other directions could his side have taken?

“I had two different approaches. One was more of an ambient, electronic sound. I had a bunch of music that I had recorded over the years that I was going to bring back and flesh out, that basically had no guitars and no live drums or anything. I realized that was going to be a little bit too brattish or something, a little bit too thumbing my nose at the rest of the band,” he says.

“The other –– I had done a lot of demos with Chris of stuff in an open-G tuning, which is more of a Stones-y, bluesy-rock sorta feel, more Zeppelin-sounding sorta stuff,” adds Pentland. “I had about four or five songs like that. But then I realized, I’m going to have to tour this record and play these songs for a year and then have them as part of my repertoire. So, if my heart’s not fully into these songs, I don’t want to play and record them.”

What he didrecord for Commonwealthsounds like classic Pentland stuff. Of Sloan’s four members, Pentland’s songwriting style might be the easiest to pin down: he’s a straight-ahead rock guy. “‘13’ and ‘Take It Easy’ are just noisy guitar songs,” he says of a couple of his tracks on the record.

“Some people might look at those as very simple or something, but that’s what I wanted,” he says. “I’m never interested in fleshing songs out so that people will be impressed. I’m capable of adding strings and horns with harmonies to everything I do, but I don’t do it just to show it off. I’ll do it if the song really needs it.”

If Pentland sounds a little defensive, it’s not the only time in our phone interview. At another point, he talks about his frustration with Commonwealth’s reviews.

“I find it frustrating reading reviews of the record –– I’m happy that people are writing about it, but they’re constantly picking the side that wins or whatever,” he says.

It’s hard to hear that and not think of Mason Pitzel’s Prairie Dogreview. Pitzel wrote that Pentland’s side “sounds as desperate as a 40-year-old’s sudden, conspicuous interest in motorcycles.” Ouch. And Canadian music monthly Exclaim!’s review, meanwhile, said that Pentland’s “riff rock fetishes ... fare poorly when placed all together.”

But Commonwealthisn’t designed to be experimental, and Pentland’s songs have the essential simplicity that’s made him a go-to guy for singles, from “Ill-Placed Trust” off Never Hear the End of It, to “Believe in Me” off Parallel Play, to “Unkind” off The Double Cross.

When helistens to Commonwealth, Pentland hears four musicians playing to their strengths — even Scott, who delivers a single, near-18 minute song. “I don’t hear it as being a big departure or anything like that. It’s all good. I think people brought strong material to the record,” he says.

So even Scott’s side isn’t surprising?

“Of course not. You don’t think, given a side, Andrew would make one long song? Of course he would.”

 

UNTIMELY DEMISE

Saturday 11

Amigos

There probably couldn’t be two better ambassadors for metal, or Saskatoon music in general, than brothers Matt and Murray Cuthbertson of Untimely Demise. They walk into Amigos for our lunch together, all metal shirts and flowing long hair, but greeting me with big waves and grins. They might get stares in a shop from pearl-clutching old ladies that think they look like dangerous ruffians, but they defy these stoner-moron metal stereotypes.

The brothers are whip-smart and driven, both with university educations (guitarist/vocalist Matt in Mathematics, bassist Murray in English and History). They might hammer out some impossibly fast and technical metal, but they’re also two of the nicest, most positive guys you’d ever meet.

“We’re The Karpinka Brothers of metal,” laughs Matt.

As they’ve gotten older they’ve matured quite a bit, giving them a sense of drive that’s brought them international success.

“With this band, it’s always been about the music,” Matt says. “Not getting super-hammered before shows. We’ll drink at the shows and have beers after, but in general we’re not going hard and doing shooters so your voice is all cut up on tour.”

“It’s different too, when you’re on tour, you’re usually still signed up to do a bunch of driving after, so you’ve gotta have yourself together,” adds Murray.

“If we’re not practicing, “says Murray, “my bro and I are hanging out — we’re talking about music, we’re listening to albums, we’re talking about band business, getting the next thing planned.”

There’s strength in numbers, and two guys throwing their shoulder at a goal makes a bigger dent. Some sibling relationships might be fire and ice, but hanging out with the Cuthbertsons, who are only two years apart in age, you see that they’re two sides of the same guitar pick.

“We get along pretty friggin’ good,” says Murray. “Matt’s always had my back and doesn’t give up on me. We’re both always looking up to the other one, if that makes sense. [When we were younger] Matt was a great skater and I would try to learn from him, and I was big into photography and I’d show him that stuff. We have a similar taste in music and a similar outlook in life.”

Even when they’re not getting along, they have work habits that help keep them simpatico.

“If we have an argument or something, we do fresh starts all the time,” explains Matt. “We’ll say, okay let’s back up and keep going here.”

“That’s a [phrase] that’s thrown around a lot,” says Murray: “fresh starts.”

While the brothers are based out of Saskatoon, the band itself has almost gone bi-city; their drummer Cory Thomas and second guitarist Sam Martz both reside in Winnipeg, which means the band has two launching points.

“We’re out in Winnipeg at least once a month-ish,” says Matt.

“[Support in Winnipeg is] great,” says Murray. “Saskatoon is some of our best support, but Winnipeg is about four times bigger, with five times more metal bands. You can play there more often and people don’t get burnt out.”

All this hard work has landed them another amazing opportunity — a slot on the Western Canadian leg of the “Death to All Tour,” a huge event in the world of metal. Orlando band Death was one of the most influential death metal bands of all time, but their career was cut short when founder and frontman Chuck Schuldiner was struck down by brain cancer in 2001. Death to All features former members of Death playing in tribute to Schuldiner, which sort of makes them one of the most genuine tribute bands of all time.

It’s a huge scoop for Untimely Demise to be added to the tour, thrashing in front of legions of metal fans with some of the biggest names in the genre.

“[Death] invented death metal, and Obituary and Massacre are both contemporaries from the original Florida death metal scene,” says Murray. “We were on a tour with Massacre, which got us on the radar for this one. It’s a huge watershed moment for the band.”

While the Death to All tour doesn’t actually hit Saskatoon (you can catch it in Regina though, or Winnipeg, Calgary or Vancouver), Untimely Demise will be playing a Saskatoon show at Amigos on Oct. 11th. They’re half done writing an album that they’ll probably start recording in the winter of 2015, so this is most likely your last chance to see them in Saskatoon for 2014.

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