Sloan’s Chris Murphy Made Us A Playlist

The iconic indie musician transports us to Halifax’s 90s musical heyday, reflecting on the bands he loves the most.

My name is Chris Murphy. I play in a band called Sloan and I’m one-quarter owner of Sloan’s label, murderecords. It was “established” in 1992 because Sloan needed a catalogue number for our debut EP, Peppermint. Sloan signed to Geffen later in 1992, but we kept murderecords going as a way to document the thriving music scene in Halifax and the surrounding Maritime provinces. It was always a community service project. The label never made any money but stands as a great document of what was going on musically from 1992 to 1998 in the east coast music community. I could have made a playlist of songs that came out on murderecords, but instead I made a playlist comprised of songs by artists who had been associated with the label and moved on to bigger and better things, artists who were left scrambling for a label when murderecords packed it in, and artists who were loosely associated but somehow aligned with what we were doing at the time.

Follow along with this Spotify playlist.

Eric’s Trip – “Viewmaster”

When I heard a cassette of Eric’s Trip, [an indie-rock band] from Moncton, New Brunswick, I called Rick White (frontman) to tell him how much I loved it. I was, after all, in a band that everyone was talking about at the time. Surely, he would be excited to hear from me. Well, if he were, I wouldn’t know it. He was extremely soft-spoken and probably dying to get off the phone. They were all shy, quiet, and sensitive, but fully capable, as a band, of being extremely loud. Their lyrics sometimes suggested deviance beyond my well-adjusted/middle-class understanding, but we adored them. It was Peter Rowan who brought them into our orbit. He was managing Sloan and Eric’s Trip. By the time they played in Halifax, they had released a couple of cassettes and at least one seven-inch single. They released an EP called Peter on murderecords in 1993, and almost immediately, Sub Pop swooped into town and signed them. We were happy for them, and Sub Pop was good to them. 

Hardship Post – “Watchin’ You”

Hardship Post moved to Halifax from St. John’s, Newfoundland in 1992 and they were just an amazing live three-piece band, albeit heavily steeped in Nirvana (who wasn’t). They also came to us through Peter Rowan, who managed to get them signed to Sub Pop too, where they became The Hardship Post. They shed their grunge act and made a fantastic record for Sub Pop called Somebody Spoke. They lost their drummer and toured that album as a two-piece. It wasn’t nearly as exciting. Last thing I heard, they were The New Hardship Post and they had a seven-inch single on Squirtgun Records in 1996. That must have been the last thing they did. Too bad. 

Matthew Grimson – “To Kill a Catholic” 

Matthew Grimson was a songwriter friend of mine during university in the late 80s. He moved away to Toronto in early 1992, just as Halifax became known as/was accused of being the “New Seattle.” Matthew recorded a handful of songs while living in Toronto with help from Andrew Scott (Sloan) and moved back to Halifax in the fall of 1995, where he recorded 10 or so more songs with me and Matt Murphy (The Super Friendz). Those recordings made their way around Halifax in 1995 as a cassette but didn’t reach many ears. In 2020, murderecords reared its head to lend its name to an LP comprised of these recordings. Joel Plaskett remixed all of the songs and is co-presenting this release with his New Scotland Records imprint. The album is called Prize For Writing, and comes out on August 7. It’s pretty out-there, but I love it so much. It incorporates both the brutal and the tender and is worth your time. 

Zumpano – “I Dig You”

Zumpano were signed to Sub Pop before we knew them, so I can’t complain that they were stolen out from under us, but I do consider Zumpano to be part of our extended family because we released a seven-inch single by them in 1996. We loved their 1995 album Look What The Rookie Did. It kicked our ass musically. Sloan had been forged in punk rock and unprofessionalism. We took a few musical steps forward in 1994, but Zumpano were one of the bands that made us want to get better on our instruments and be more musically ambitious.

Jale – “All Ready”

Jale was started at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design by four women whose first names created the J-A-L-E anagram (Jennifer, Alyson, Laura, Eve). Jennifer Pierce was my old friend (and Grade 12 prom date) who I remember being with at a show by a local band (in 1985) and rightfully observed that the hands of the guitarists were just moving up and down the fretboard in the same shape. She insisted she could do that so she taught herself to play guitar. Jennifer sang a few songs on the first Sloan EP and LP, and soon after started the band that would become Jale. They also signed to Sub Pop before we even had a chance to get a record out by them. But Sub Pop allowed murderecords to release an EP called Closed. “All Ready” is from Jale’s second Sub Pop LP, So Wound (1996).

Plumtree – “Scott Pilgrim”

Plumtree was also comprised of four women. On top of that, the Gillis girls, Carla and Lynette, went to the same church as my family in the suburbs, so I knew them since they were babies. They were snapped up by Halifax label, Cinnamon Toast Records. They did a couple of seven-inch singles in 1994 including a split-single with my cousin Craig’s band, Strawberry. Their second full-length, Plumtree Predicts the Future, contained a song called “Scott Pilgrim” that inspired Brian Lee O’Malley to write the comic Scott Pilgrim vs the World, which then became a cult favourite movie. I actually worked on the movie, attempting to coach the non-musician actors to look convincing on their instruments. I had varying degrees of luck, but it was super fun.

Elevator to Hell – “Backteeth”

Elevator to Hell were born out of what I always considered to be the worst thing one can do to their band. They were a side project (to Eric’s Trip) that made a better record than the next Eric’s Trip record. I remember feeling pissed off about it at the time. Why weren’t these the songs on the new Eric’s Trip record?! There was one more Eric’s Trip record after the first Elevator to Hell record, but after that Rick White and Mark Gaudet turned their attention full-time to Elevator to Hell. Like Eric’s Trip, they were signed to Sub Pop, but murderecords was able to release an EP in 1998 called Original Music From the Motion Picture The Such. It was the last non-Sloan murderecords release until 2008. This song is from Elevator to Hell’s (now Elevator Through’s) second full-length on Sub Pop, Eerieconsiliation (1997), and I think it’s a classic.

Thrush Hermit – “From the Back of the Film”

By 1999, everyone in Sloan was living in Toronto. We were also the busiest we ever were, so murderecords just became a name to put on the Sloan records. The guys in Thrush Hermit were seven years our junior and we met them when we were fairly young, so they were really young. We released a couple of EPs by them, then they signed to Atlantic, where they recorded a full-length. By 1999, they were free agents and released their most beloved album, Clayton Park, on Sonic Unyon Records. While murderecords had the undisputed best roster (if you ask me) of any indie label in Canada during the 90s (ever?), Sonic Unyon definitely had (and still have) their shit together. I was busy with my own band in 1999, but I remember feeling a little heartbroken that Thrush Hermit was with “the competition.” Thrush Hermit had long tired of being Sloan’s baby brother band. A curse that plagued more than one Halifax band. I saw the Hermits play this record front to back last year during their 20th Anniversary tour of Clayton Park

The Super Friendz – “Highschool”

The Super Friendz released two full-length albums, a 10-inch EP and a single through murderecords and enjoyed the “prestige” of being the second biggest-selling act on murderecords. I was personally involved with the band in that I played drums on their first seven-inch single and on the tour for the excellent, Mock Up-Scale Down. My involvement didn’t help them shed the Sloan’s baby brother band rap. Matt Murphy and I shared a last name and people thought we were brothers. I often said we were (we aren’t), which probably drove Matt up the wall. The Super Friendz shut it down in 1997, not knowing that they would reform to make one more record in 2003. In the meantime, the members formed a few other bands, including Matt Murphy’s, Flashing Lights. The Flashing Lights released two full-length albums and an EP between 1999 and 2001, all of which were fantastic. This song is “Highschool” from their debut record Where the Change Is (1999). A label called Brobdingnagian started putting out the records that probably would have been with murderecords if we had kept it going. 

The New Pornographers – “Letter From An Occupant” 

The New Pornographers were a supergroup comprised of people we knew from the west coast. They were the post-Zumpano band for the amazing songwriter, Carl Newman. Zumpano had released a seven-inch single through murderecords. The band also featured Neko Case, who I met while touring with The Super Friendz and she was drumming for Cub. I loved this song, “Letter From An Occupant,” from their 2000 debut album, Mass Romantic, on Mint Records. I would have been so psyched if I was Mint Records. Based out of Vancouver, Mint was the third Canadian indie label, along with Sonic Unyon and murderecords, that we thought of as “competition,” but really we were friends with everyone. 

Joel Plaskett Emergency – “Maybe We Should Just Go Home”

I am a romantic about bands so I was sad when Thrush Hermit broke up in 1999, but their break up started the prolific solo career of Joel Plaskett who released his first record that same year. He has been a songwriting machine throughout the past 20 years, releasing about 15 albums worth (one was a triple and one was a quadruple) of music. Joel discovered he was better off releasing his own records and went on to form New Scotland Records. This song is from his Down at the Khyber LP (2001). Needless to say, Joel stayed home, worked his ass off, and built a modest empire; something that is on the long list of things of which I am jealous.

The Local Rabbits – “Never Had To Fight”

The Local Rabbits were the first out-of-town signing to murderecords. We met them in Montreal in 1993 or 1994 [and] they were aggressively hilarious. I was a punk rocker who didn’t immediately appreciate their norm-core aesthetic. I still don’t know what hit me. Was “Montreal” Pete Elkas (his blues moniker) really into the blues? Did Ben Gunning actually think a giant foam cowboy hat was cool? They didn’t have a Punk bone in their bodies. I mean capital ‘P’ punk. I lent Ben a bunch of hardcore records, and he thought none of them were tough, except “My War” by Black Flag. But in a way they were also the punk-est, in the same way that I say Rush were the punk-est Canadian band ever. They did whatever the fuck they wanted. When we released their second full-length record, Basic Concept, we had already left Halifax and didn’t have much energy or resources to help them. They kept on for a few more years and released This Is It Here We Go in 2002 on old reliable, Brobdingnagian

Mike O’Neill – “Wasted Time”

The Inbreds were a two-piece (bass and drums) band made up of Mike O’Neil and Dave Ullrich  out of Kingston, Ontario. They released a number of singles and a bonafide classic album, Kombinator (1994) on their own label, PF Records. We fell in love with their music and the guys themselves when we met them. They moved to Halifax and were managed by Sloan’s manager, Chip Sutherland. The Inbreds were signed to an Atlantic subsidiary called Tag for about five minutes. Murderecords re-released Kombinator and two more records for them, ending with the amazing Winning Hearts (1998). 1998 was basically the end for murderecords; the Sloan guys moved away from Halifax almost as soon as The Inbreds showed up and they broke up in the midst of that lack of momentum. Dave Ullrich started as a place for independent artists to sell their music digitally. Mike O’Neill kept writing songs and releasing under-appreciated solo records. This song is from his album, Wild Lines (2012)

Jellyfishbabies – “Alba”

When I first started going to shows in Halifax in the mid-1980s, the best band in town was Jellyfishbabies. They put out an LP in 1986 when I was finishing Grade 12 and they were younger than me! I was so envious. Jellyfishbabies and so many other great bands peaked before the musical landscape changed into one that might have recognized their potential. [They] moved to Toronto and then New York City, trying to get people to hear their music, but they never got a break. For what it’s worth, they had a huge impact on me. This song is from their LP, The Unkind Truth About Rome (1990).

TUNS – “Mind Over Matter” 

I sometimes say that most of my friendships are project-based. I don’t know if that’s totally true, but I’m always happier to play music or even argue about fonts to use on a record cover with friends than to scope out the latest watering hole. A few years ago, I started such a project with two of my favourite singers/players/people, Matt Murphy (The Super Friendz/Flashing Lights) and Mike O’Neill (The Inbreds). The three of us formed a band called TUNS (rhymes with buns) and in 2016 released a self-titled record on Royal Mountain Records. If I’d been thinking clearly, I would’ve called the record ‘16 TUNS. That’s what I’m going to call it heretofore.