- The Washington Times - Friday, November 27, 2009

Those who still subscribe to the old adage that “too many cooks spoil the broth” haven’t been to Sloan’s kitchen. For nearly 20 years, the band has cooked up some of Canada’s most memorable pop songs, and it has done so with four songwriters clamoring around the pot.

“That’s our dynamic,” admits Jay Ferguson, whose band duties run the gamut from songwriter to rhythm guitarist to intermittent bassist. “I’m still the worst drummer in the band, but that’s the fun part about being in Sloan. The whole weight of the band is equally shared, and we all get to play multiple roles. I can’t imagine being in a band when you’re just the bass player and you never sing. Adam Clayton — I don’t know how he does it!”

Sloan’s members now live in Toronto, where they operate their own studio and rehearsal space. Being in close proximity enables the group to continue releasing albums at a steady clip, issuing approximately one studio record every two years. On the other hand, working together has never been a big priority for Sloan.

“We’ve made very few records where we all play at the same time,” Mr. Ferguson explains. “Our band is sort of backwards. We usually work on our own or in small couples, and sometimes one person will play most of the instruments on a song. Once a record has been made, everybody has to sit down and learn how to play it before we tour.”

Harmony and pop-influenced melody are mainstays of Sloan’s sound. They hold the band together, ensuring that Sloan maintains some sense of cohesion despite its four active songwriters. Like any band with multiple contributors — particularly the Beatles, to whom Sloan is often (not unjustly) compared — the band has covered a wide swath of ground, even issuing an expansive double album in 2006.

Lately, though, the band has narrowed its focus. Released earlier this month, the “Hit & Run” EP is just five songs long. Its title ostensibly refers to a recent accident in which Sloan co-founder Chris Murphy was hit by a car (he has since recovered), but the disc also hints at a new direction for the band.

“Hit & Run” was created to coincide with the opening of an online store on Sloan’s Web site, a virtual marketplace where fans can purchase digital copies of the band’s catalog. Faced with an injured band mate and a number of touring commitments, Sloan decided that recording an EP was more appropriate than creating an entire album. Upon its completion, they realized that such projects definitely have their merits.

“Having an online store really frees you up,” Mr. Ferguson explains. “You can go record something, mix it the next day and put it online by the weekend. You’re not tied up by manufacturing times, delivery times and distribution times, which generally weigh you down in the recording business. It’s just fun and very immediate.”

As for the title itself — it’s growing on him. “At first, I didn’t want it to be referring to the accident,” he says of “Hit & Run.” “I was there, and it was pretty frightening. But then I realized it sounded like some generic Stones song from the mid-‘80s — something off of ‘Undercover’ or ‘Dirty Work,’ where all the songs have names like ‘Hittin’ Hard’ or ‘Kick to the Curb’ or ‘Fight!’”

Laughing, he adds, “We also found a really nice ampersand to use on the title. So I couldn’t say no.”

Sloan visits Jammin’ Java on Tuesday. Magneta Lane opens the show, which starts at 8 p.m. to the tune of $15.

Trax Americana

With a name that evokes memories of the most iconic figure in early rock ‘n’ roll, it’s appropriate that Elvis Perkins often looks to the past for guidance. His “Doomsday” EP even finds him flirting with gospel and vintage rhythm and blues, a combination that roots him strongly in earlier eras.

“There is surely some gospel to be heard on the EP,” he admits, “and I suppose my earliest experience with it — and with group musical activity in general — occurred in church as a young person.”

The Perkins clan was “largely a Christmas and Easter type of churchgoing family,” but the songs performed during each church service left an impression on the young songwriter. He grew up surrounded by art — his father, actor Anthony Perkins, famously portrayed Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” while his mother, Berry Berenson (sister of model-actress Marisa Berenson), dabbled in film, fashion and photography. The creative home life shaped his own aspirations.

Mr. Perkins dropped out of Brown University to pursue music, trading the comfort of the classroom for the challenge of the national club circuit. The passing of his parents — including his mother’s death in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — lent an emotional weight to the material he wrote.

“I played with a couple of formations in California that included my brother on drums and various other comrades wielding various tools,” he says of those early days as a performer. He’s since assembled a more permanent band, and the group dubs itself Elvis Perkins in Dearland.

The “Doomsday” EP explores the far-flung corners of Americana, with songs adapted from the Sacred Harp and 19th-century folk traditions and an original that evokes a 1950s sock hop. Mr. Perkins handles himself like a poet throughout, a temperament that may be responsible for his frequent comparisons to Bob Dylan.

The band will visit the District next week, and Mr. Perkins sounds excited to build upon his memories of the area. “My history [in the city] is mostly comprised of making a few concerts and a field trip in elementary school,” he explains. “We had a day off not too long ago on tour, and I stayed in the area with a friend, and together we beheld some native artifacts and the kitchen of Julia Child.”

Elvis Perkins in Dearland plays the Rock and Roll Hotel on Wednesday. Bowerbirds will open the show, which starts at 8:30. Tickets are $14.

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