Written by Bob Mersereau.
It’s the best of both worlds these days for beloved Canadian alt-rock heroes Sloan. They are happily balanced between the past and the current, celebrating their legacy of hit songs and albums from the ’90’s and 2000’s, and continuing to make new, exciting albums. The group members are in the middle of recording their latest and 12th new album, but are taking a break to play the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival, headlining Thursday, Sept. 14.
Guitar player Jay Ferguson admits he gets to do everything he always wanted to do. “I basically have the job that I wanted when I was 12, so I’m still riding that wave. I like writing songs and I like recording, and I listen to music every day,” he says. “I feel like I write songs easier and better than I did 10 or 15 years ago, so I feel encouraged, he says. “I feel like it’s a well that hasn’t run dry.”
Along with Chris Murphy, Ferguson assembles the detailed archival releases the band’s fans cherish, such as 2016’s box set celebrating the band’s One Chord To Another album for its 20th anniversary. That’s work he loves doing, just as much as working on the new, as yet untitled album. He says he’s happy playing the old stuff too for the festival crowds. “I think there’s a lot of bands that are in that mode of, never look back, just always looking forward, nothing nostalgic. But the music is still good, it’s not dated, why should time affect the music? A great song that Patrick wrote 20 years ago is still a great song today, and you know what? He’s got another great, new one right here.”
As usual, the group members, all four of whom are writers, work on the new songs individually, usually thinking of parts the others might add. Then as the songs near completion, they call in their bandmates to add to the final product. That’s what Chris Murphy has been doing the past few days, working on Ferguson’s songs.
“I love sort of defiantly creating a giant body of work, whether anyone’s listening or not,” laughs Murphy. “It’s hard to compete with your old records when you’re this far in. I always say even if you wrote Bridge Over Troubled Water now, people would be yelling out for Underwhelmed, which you wrote in five minutes.”
Murphy is always happy to be on stage, so much so that he’s now a member of not one but three bands, two of which are playing Harvest. Last year, he teamed up with some old Halifax friends to form TUNS, and this year he joined a group of ’90’s music vets in the TransCanada Highwaymen, who are playing Friday, Sept. 15.
That band consists of four like-minded, fun-loving songwriters: Murphy, Steven Page from Barenaked Ladies, Moe Berg from The Pursuit of Happiness, and Craig Northey from the Odds.
The idea is four well-known people up on stage to sing their big hits, have fun and spread that feeling to the audience.
“Everybody involved is super-funny and wants to entertain,” says Murphy, who plays drums for most of the set. “With the Highwaymen, everybody brings their top hits, most recognizable songs, and we just chirp on each other, make fun of each other the whole time, and it’s a ball.”
The TransCanada Highwaymen have only played eight shows so far, but member Moe Berg says the shows have been great fun for the audience and the band. “It’s a very entertaining show, it’s very funny. Chris and Steven are very funny, and it’s new every night, we just riff off whatever’s happening, and everybody’s just playing their hits, so the whole thing is to make it as entertaining as possible, make sure everybody gets their money’s worth.”
Sloan will be at the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival on Thursday, Sept. 14, at the TD Mojo Tent at 10:15 p.m., and you can see the TransCanada Highwaymen on Friday, Sept. 15 at the TD Mojo Tent’s late show at 11:30 p.m.