Digging into the creative process, Byta speaks with artists, musicians, producers, DJs and anyone involved with music creation. A conversation about how they create, collaborate and share music. From studio setups to routines, and the first person to hear about the next 'big' work.
Where are you based?
How, when and where did you start making music? Are you primarily a musician or a producer, or do something else?
I have been playing in a band called Sloan for over 30 years with the same four guys – Jay Ferguson, Patrick Pentland, Andrew Scott and myself. Gregory Macdonald was added as a keyboard player in 2006. We had all been in other bands by the time we came together in early 1991. At that time we lived in the small town of Halifax, Nova Scotia. The music alternative/punk music scene was relatively small so we had all seen each other perform before we formed.
Who would you consider some of your biggest influences when it comes to your “sound”?
We have 4 writers who each sing their own songs so it is hard to say exactly what our influences are. We all loved My Bloody Valentine when we formed in 1991. Patrick and I were really into hardcore punk. Patrick and Andrew loved metal as kids. Jay and I liked The Beatles. Andrew loved the Kinks and Bob Dylan. Patrick liked post-punk and Primal Scream. Jay liked Prince and the Bee Gees. I liked Kiss and Rush as a kid and turned onto hardcore punk in my teens. We steal freely (Frehley?) from all of them.
Explain your creative process. Do you have a routine?
I always have a dozen or more songs brewing at any given time. I only need 3 or 4 to make a Sloan record so some of them have been getting overworked for years. Music always comes first, I’m afraid. I have a lot more musical ideas than lyrical ones. That said, I don’t like to throw crappy lyrics onto songs just to finish them thus so many half-finished songs lying around. Often the music is completely worked out but they need lyrics. I have written some songs where the lyrics came first but that was back in the days when I wrote in a journal. It was not recently.
What is your “studio” setup?
My home set-up is very sparse. I never learned to use compressors and the like. My computer is used for demoing in Logic where I plug a mic into an interface. I sometimes use MIDI to work out the string or string-like parts. I used to make my demos on a TASCAM 464 4-track cassette recorder. The sound of that is something I loved. When Sloan records we use an engineer who knows what they’re doing. Sloan made its last bunch of records with a guy named Ryan Haslett.
What is your process when working with other people? How is collaboration different in the studio vs working remotely?
Our collaboration is less about working on songs together and more about an agreement to split all money and credit equally between the 4 original guys. There hasn’t been much jamming together to come up with song ideas in the past 25 years though there has been some cross-pollination. A bridge thrown into someone else’s song idea or someone else sings lead for a verse here and there. Where songs might not be collaborative, the albums themselves are collaborative by the nature of us all contributing songs.
At what point(s) are you comfortable letting other people hear what you are working on?
I have way more song ideas than there is room on Sloan albums (at the current rate) so by the time I bring them in, they are pretty worked out/overworked. As much as I love adding to other people’s songs, they usually come in with fairly formed songs too.
Do you share your work in progress (streams or downloads)? Any technical frustrations?
I sometimes agree to use Dropbox but I usually use WeTransfer to share big files.
How do you know when a track/album is finished?
When everyone is tired of hearing it? Ha. I guess it’s case by case. In Sloan, I like to have us sing on each other’s songs so I try to make that happen as much as possible.
How do you listen to the final mixes/mastered work?
When files get sent to me, I have to download them to my laptop but my iTunes is ancient so I have to put the files on a hard drive then put them on my wife’s laptop and into her iTunes then sync my phone to that so I can listen to them on my phone. Not ideal.
How important is pre-release security when sharing new work?
I’d like to think we have to be concerned about security. Ha!
Who on your team gets to hear the final versions first and why, and what formats do they each need?
Sloan works with an engineer who will share the songs as files on Dropbox and at least one of us won’t know how to access them and they will get emailed around in a rat’s nest.
Outside of your inner circle who are the people that will need to hear the new tracks next?
I have sent friends and journalists links to a Soundcloud page or download codes using Bandcamp.
Anything you are working on, anyone you are working with and want to share?
Sloan started recording a new album in the fall of 2020 but it got shut down. Sloan also has been making elaborate reissue box sets of our old albums but we want to release a new one next. I also play in a band called TUNS, which just released an album called Duly Noted in March.