It’s not really a statement that Chris Murphy needs to make.
Nor something that anyone would dispute.
But early into our conversation, the musician, ensconced in a T.O. Timmy’s, a refuge from his noisy home where his wife was babysitting — not his own kids, he’s quick to point out, obviously well-versed in the fact that when it’s your own kids, it’s “parenting,” not “babysitting — he offers it.
“Sloan is my life’s work and I’m proud of it,” Murphy states simply of his iconic Canadian quartet.
Again, it’s not something anyone could possibly argue with or even call into question.
Of course he is. Of course he should be.
The veteran Haligonian four-piece remain one of this country’s most influential yet still somehow fringe power-pop acts, having released a handful of Canclassics in their 25-year career.
Perhaps, though, the fact that his attentions have been wandering of late have made it necessary to reassert his commitment and allegiance to his three mates and their veteran collective.
Maybe he’s feeling a little guilty and needs to justify his other recent dalliances?
“I spent my life pooh-poohing the idea of people doing side-projects. I’ve only ever wanted us to just do Sloan,” he says.
“But we were never commercially as big as, certainly, The Tragically Hip, or Our Lady Peace or these other ’90s phenomena that people associate us with. You know, the ’90s — Blue Rodeo, Sloan and The Tragically Hip.
“Those guys were fucking huge and millionaires, and we were never like that. I’ve made a living playing music the whole time, which I’m very proud of and grateful mostly.
“But 2015, for example, we didn’t play that many shows, we didn’t make that much money, and I was like, ‘Fuck, man, I guess I’m going to have to think about other things to do.’ ”
Options? Well, he pondered producing or mentoring other songwriters, but he dismissed the former because he says he’s not much of a gear guy and the latter because, “I basically know how to prevent a song from being a hit.”
So he did what he did bestest. Make more music.
Murphy set about forming a pair of what folks might consider Canuckle supergroups. One, is an act called The Transcanada Highwaymen, which features Murphy, Moe Berg from Pursuit of Happiness, Craig Northey from the Odds and ex Nekkid Lady Steven Page performing the hits that each one penned in their other lives. It was a lark. It was fun.
The other, more pressing, truly original, excellent yet even more fun one is Tuns, which features Murphy on the skins and sticks joined by guitarist and fellow right coaster Matt Murphy, formerly of The Super Friendz, and Mike O’Neill of The Inbreds on bass.
Last year the trio released a self-titled, nine-song debut that was, for those that love the pop when it packs a punch, a goddamn sweet knockout.
Hum, clap and singalong through each cut and summer will settle into your soul.
It may come in handy when Tuns hit town for a show Saturday night (Jan. 21st) at Dickens as part of the BIG Winter Classic.
As to how the project came to be, Murphy, of the Chris variety, notes that, “We go back, and musically we’re all fans of each others.”
The other Murph man, in particular, is a longtime friend and a dude whose skills he admits he’s always wanted to harness for a musical endeavour of some sorts. In fact, that it’s taken so long is perhaps more notable than that it finally happened.
“It was just random that Matt wasn’t in Sloan,” Murphy says of his non-related pal. “He went to McGill and he was away when we started. And when he got back we already were hot shit.”
He laughs. “And we couldn’t do anything about it.”
The pair, though, remained friends and the Chris to the Murphy even toured with The Super Friends as a drummer — O’Neill and his Inbreds were also on that jaunt, hence the connection, furthered later when Matt was briefly a member of the ’Breds — when Sloan was “kind of broken up in 95.” Murphy admits to pushing to maybe make their connection a little more formal, a little more permanent at the time.
“I wanted to join their group or steal Matt away,” he laughs of the period before the Friendz released their own lasting national pop monument Mock Up, Scale Down, which was released on Sloan’s Murderecords imprint in ’95.
“I remember saying to Matt, basically, ‘I’ve left my wife, you’ve gotta leave yours.’ ”
He didn’t, obviously, and Chris and the Sloan boys eventually got back together, continued making the voodoo that they do so well. Matt did the same, later with Flashing Lights. And O’Neill and his band of merrymaking men also forged their own path.
It was only in 2013, during a Murderecords reunion party, was the seed planted, eventually coming to fruition last year due to the fact that, as previously mentioned, Sloan wasn’t working much, Matt was working at CBC at the time and wanted to do something on a musical level, and O’Neill’s father passed and he found himself in Toronto a great deal in order to be closer to his mother who lived in Oshawa.
“We all found that we had the time and we were ready to do something for fun,” says Murphy. “The whole angle of the thing is fun even though, my aside is that I wouldn’t mind making a couple of bucks off of it, too.”
He laughs again.
“But that’s just a sideline. Honest to god, it’s just for fun … I have other friends who are going to Vegas and fucking around, but I never want to do that. I enjoy project-based fun with friends. And I can justify it with my wife that we make a little bit of money.
“I’m 48 years old and I’m having a ball with my friends. It’s a pretty fun time.”
When it came to putting together actual music, original music, Tuns music, Murphy admits the process, due mainly to those existing friendships and admirations, was fairly effortless.
“It was super fun and easy to make,” he says. “Those guys are kind of like magic musicians.”
He says the early process was basically the three men in a room “sniffing each other’s arses” on a creative level, eventually banging out around 50 jams, making stuff up on the spot. Eventually those were then whittled down to ones they thought might go somewhere, finally filling them out in whatever manner made sense.
“It was so collaborative,” Murphy says. “We all contributed melodic ideas and we all contributed lines. They’re all quite collaborative.”
And, again, the final product is something pretty wonderful and, true to the way it was made, fun. From sweet, clanging harmonic opener Back Among Friends to the absolutely perfect summer singles Mind Over Matter and Lonely Life and the very Teenage Fanclubby closer I Can’t Wait Forever, it’s an album that stands on its own, lives up to its dream team potential — albeit one with limits.
After last year which was spent touring and promoting it, Tuns will likely be pushed to the back burner for awhile.
The Calgary date and a Friday night one in Saskatoon are all the they have planned for the foreseeable future, with talk of, maybe, some summer shows.
That doesn’t mean Tuns is a dead man walking, though, as Murphy admits that they have already started the same process that went into their debut for a possible sophomore followup
“We’ve done all that magic for another record, but we haven’t had the time to hammer them into songs for awhile. But we’re anxious,” he says.
“But again, there’s nothing riding on it, we all have these other jobs. It’s not like we’re going to run out of money and we’ll be fucked if we don’t do it.”
Those other jobs include a rather intensive one for the other Murphy, who is now working at Vice, and O’Neill has just co-written a TV show with Mike Clattenburg, creator of Trailer Park Boys, which will begin shooting in the next few months for the CBC.
As for Chris, he’s already begun returning to his one true love, the one he’d originally thought he’d alway be in a monogamous relationship with. The previous day he and the rest of the Sloan gang had a band meeting in order to map out the plan of attack for a followup to their last album, 2014’s Commonwealth, which was actually four solo EPs from each band member, put on one side of a double-album.
“We sold them together so we wouldn’t break up because only one person’s sold,” Murphy laughs, conjuring the legacy of Kiss’s ill-fated solo outings, which were notable only for Ace Frehley’s and his aces cover of New York Groove.
Going forward, Murphy admits, is one of those interesting questions, with Sloan, a quarter century in, having to decide if they’re an “oldies band or a heritage group,” or if they want to keep making new music, current music.
If they do, it will likely be a “shorter, less sprawling, more collaborative” album, and if they don’t, well, they can do what they’ve been doing lately, which is reissuing albums from their catalogue and touring on the backs of them.
“We’re back and forth about it — are we artists or are we entertainers? Do we come out and just play greatest hits every night or do we show off the fact that our last couple of records were good? Obviously we arrive at a balance,” he says.
“We’re talking about making new music. But for a group like Sloan, making a 12th studio album, the amount of time, money and energy that goes into it, how much of that music do we need? How much will we play? When you have more than 200 songs and you’re obligated to play in the vicinity of 12, 14 songs every night … it’s almost like three-quarters of it goes in the garbage right away.
“To make an obnoxious comparison, when the Stones make a new album, how much are they going to use? One song or none song, because those are the choices. And they’d be better off playing none.
“But,” he says, before making another statement that is somewhat unnecessary, “I’d like to think that Sloan is capable of making good music.”
Tuns performs Saturday night at Dickens Pub as part of BIG Winter Classic. For tickets and information go to bigwinterclassic.com.
Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for theYYSCENE.ca. He likes beer. Buy him one. And contact him at Twitter/@mrbell_23 ore email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.