Halifax, NS, a town of 100,000 on the east coast of this huge island, is home for the four-piece band Sloan, who have slogged away at their thrash pop sound since 1991, and have been rewarded with a deal from the rock monster label Geffen. Lead singer and bassist Chris Murphy talked desolately about geographical isolation.
'There's a limited touring season - you can still get a blizzard in April. So you're up against a lack of venues, lack of recognition, long distances, plus you have to join the union, which costs CNdollars 1,000.'
With catchy songs like '500 Up' from the CD Smeared, Sloan are already adept at stirring up a live audience - even if that live audience, in Halifax, usually consists of the same few kids. 'There's really only one venue, the Double Deuce, which caters for our type of music. There is a large black population - there's a whole Halifax hip hop scene, but all anyone's heard about is the race riot last summer. There are five universities. It just gets a bit quiet during the vacations.'
Quiet. And cold. According to The Canadian Encyclopaedia 'the whole province is affected by the proximity of the Labrador Current and the Gulf Stream. Generally the water has a moderating influence upon the climate, particularly along the Atlantic coast, where the average January temperature is 4 degrees C and the summer mean temperatures are in the high teens Celsius.' Still, it's nothing that an extra thick plaid shirt won't keep out.
Alongside Sloan on the recent Sub Pop compilation EP Never Mind the Molluscs are Jale, four young women who began playing less than a year ago. As Wayne Bledsoe put it in the Knoxville News-Sentinel, 'The Jale sound is a tapestry of angelic vocal harmonies hanging on a stunning, discordant wall of noise. The songs have an unconventional manner of meandering along, before taking surprising, beneficial twists and turns.'
'None of us wanted to be the token woman in anybody else's band,' says drummer / vocalist Alyson MacLeod on the telephone from the student house she shares with guitarist / vocalist Eve Hartling. 'And we're not like the Indigo Girls (an acoustic Canadian girl group) either,' chips in Eve on an extension. 'We just wanted to get the guitars out. We like L7 too, but we never intend to be that hard- edged. We're not Riot Grrrls.'
As this fashionable reference suggests, all the British publications such as the NME, Melody Maker and Q sell well in Nova Scotia. Jale manage to be uniquely Canadian, while still speaking the indie esperanto of modern rock. 'Lung', their song on the Molluscs record, dates from the time last summer when Alyson's lung collapsed. 'But it's not really about my lung,' she confided, 'it's an unrequited love song.' They've just got a deal with Sub Pop. 'And there are plenty of other Halifax bands . . . Merge, there's a bunch of 16-year-olds called Thrush Hermit, and then there's Hardship Post from Newfoundland . . .'
And straight out of Moncton (three hours away), there's Eric's Trip. Everybody in Halifax loves Eric's Trip (named after a Sonic Youth track). 'Moncton is a small town in New Brunswick, another of the Maritime Provinces,' says drummer Mark Gaudet. 'What's great is it's much smaller than Halifax, so its punk scene has been totally preserved. There are no venues, so you have to play in old warehouses and church basements. Strip away our mystery and strange imagery and we're a punk band. When Julie (the singer) gets going, she's wild, she's a little banshee. A lot of music is just not dangerous any more, it's controlled by the corporations.'
Enter Sub Pop, who signed them at the second attempt. As the search for the raw music of post-industrial North America goes on, the tight sound of Nova Scotia has come into its own.
Nova Scotia: the facts:
Average number of frost-free days per year in Yarmouth (south-western tip): 160
(Average number of overcast days per year in Seattle: 257)
Population of Nova Scotia: 847,442
(Population of Seattle: 2,559,164)
Fisheries: molluscs and crustaceans, plus haddock, cod.
Transportation: 26,000km of highways.