What’s the connection between Led Zeppelin, a custard pie and one of Canada’s best-known power-pop bands?
According to Sloan singer-guitarist Patrick Pentland, a touch of anxiety.
On the cusp of releasing Parallel Play, he’s worried about the band getting pegged with another overriding influence, such as earlier comparisons to the Beatles. While Sloan has worked to shake that tag, it’s a stress.
“The other day I brought a custard pie into the studio from a bakery down the street. Someone said ‘Hey, remember Custard Pie, that Led Zeppelin song?’” he said. “Someone had it in their iPod and we put it on, and Jay said ‘Why don’t we rip off the drum beat and write a song around it?’…But then we thought someone might say ‘Oh they’re going through a Zeppelin stage’!”
Pentland also bats away possible connections to roots rock, despite the acoustic base of some of the new disc’s songs and Wilco-esque production flourishes. Instead, he points to the band’s diverse influences: rambling, electric-era Dylan, reggae, and keyboards played by Pentland’s father.
This range, he said, stems from the band’s songwriting process — an approach referenced in the title Parallel Play. The term, pulled from child psychology, describes a situation where children enjoy playing independently, but in the company of other kids.
“Sometimes in the past, we had not wanted to talk about how we make songs, since there’s this romantic idea we all straggle into the studio, and one person starts counting out the tempo and we all start playing,” he said. “It’s not like that. We all play and record together, but go off and write the songs alone.”
Not every member likes Spoon- and Shins-style production flourishes — but Pentland sure does. Album-opener Believe in Me features backwards guitar, reverb, eight guitars layered over one another, and a delayed organ. Pentland assembled the song piece by piece over time — the opening guitar riff was actually written last, and then cut and pasted as an intro.
“You can play (the songs) on an acoustic guitar, but there’s all kinds of production on top of that,” he said. “It adds flavours…It’s like making an apple pie and throwing in a little chili, or if your popcorn is too salty, you pour some syrup on it. It tastes good, even if it’s not something you’re supposed to do.”