Trigger Warning: this article discusses physical abuse. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 if this raises anything for you.
If you’re looking for a new musical obsession with influences rooted in the romance of ‘60s French rock, the riot grrrl badassery of the ‘90s and the dreamy indie pop stars of today, look no further than Sloan Peterson.
It’s no surprise her stage pseudonym draws from the famous 1986 film, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (similarly named Sloane Peterson was Ferris’s girlfriend in the iconic film). Sloan stirs up countless pots of inspirations in her mind from bygone eras like ‘50s doo wop, The Beatles and kitschy artists like John Waters, and it means her tunes are exciting, fresh and injected full of attitude.
Nightmare, her latest single, is a masterclass in theatrics – Sloan sets the scene at a funeral to illustrate the frustrating double standards women face in the music industry (and elsewhere), wryly winking and posturing to the camera and making us feel like there’s no way we’d cross her.
Check out this behind-the-scenes video of the making of Nightmare, and then get to know Sloan as we chat to her about her religious upbringing, love for musical theatre and visuals, and how COVID has affected her songwriting process. Like her on-stage persona, in real life the singer/songwriter is honest, animated and a total barrel of laughs too, the epitome of the effortlessly cool girl at the party you'd want to befriend.
How have you been going in COVID times?
I was just mentioning before, I feel a little bit ignorant in a way because I feel like COVID has just been this moment of complete thriving [for me]. Like I've been really, really busy. And actually a lot of people in the creative industries that I've spoken to have been insanely busy. I don't know if we're picking up for Melbourne because they've had like quite a lot of lockdown. I probably focus more so on the craft [anyway], I'm more of a visual [person] and I'm really hands on when it comes to that stuff. So for me I feel like I'm still so a part of that. Yeah, in fact, like touring’s the last thing on my mind I'm like ‘wait, I'm gonna have to play this live?’
Congrats on Nightmare! It’s such a fun, kitschy song, and you look so amazing in the video! It's like ‘60s French new wave vibes meets Jane Birkin meets The Runaways meets John Waters, it’s such a sick mood board and palette.
You are really naming off everything that I like, you're really ticking boxes here. It's great. I'm stoked, like, working with Courtney Brookes. She just really brought an idea that I had to life, she really took the visuals and we worked quite hard on that. And at the end of the day, it was quite a performance piece. But I grew up in musicals and theatre, so I am very theatrical. I am unapologetically theatrical.
What brings about such classic inspirations for you?
Yeah, I mean, I grew up in quite a Christian family. We were sheltered in many ways, but like, almost confusingly. I grew up dancing from three to 13 doing musicals and everything like that. My mum would be the kind of person like… I'd never seen Forrest Gump. I've never seen the real version. Because you know when you could watch TV and you would hit record, and you could pause the moments you didn't want to record on old VHSs, my mum would stop on movies like Mrs. Doubtfire! So when I got older, and started watching real versions of shows, I'm like, ‘Is this like, the uncut version?’ And they're like, ‘No, it's just normal Forrest Gump.’ I’m like, ‘I never saw this raccoon scene!’ And mum's like, ‘oh, sorry, I thought it was gonna be a sex scene.’ She was very sheltered in some ways, but when it came to musicals, and anything that’s song and dance, like, she took me my sister to go see like Chicago, when I was like, 12. And it's like about murdering your husband! But it’s all song and dance baby, it’s FINE! So I feel like that's been like a big thing in my life. It's just like, ‘why don't we sing about it?’
What musicals were you in?
I was in High School Musical. I'm not talking about anything big. I grew up doing like, hometown musicals. I was Vanessa Hudgens. I remember that was like the first thing I had to remember lines for and I was so nervous, I hit puberty before anyone else that was in the group, so I was like, really big. They called me Big Joe, not even kidding! What else did we do? We did Wizard Of Oz. I feel like there was so many other little ones on the side but I danced the majority of the time, dance, jazz, tap. It was really good though. Like, I enjoyed it. And I think it gave me a good idea of structure. You know, like in rhythm and routine, also working together with others as well.
Was it weird lying in a coffin in Nightmare? I feel like most of us will never get to do that while being aware of it!
No, you know what? It felt really… right. [laughs] The morning of the shoot, I had to wake up at 4am for makeup, where I have red lipstick all over my face. And I went to go order a coffee and the guys are looking at me, I’d forgotten that I had that on ‘cause it was so early. Oh and then we missed two hours, because we had like, a mess up, so by the time I was laying in the coffin, I think I was just ready to go to bed!
I wanted to go right back and get a bit of back story from you. You’ve dabbled in musical theatre, you’ve done some modeling, you’re focusing on music now – what did you want to do when you were young? Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
No! I love visuals. I love that side of things. So with music - I write poems, and that turns usually into my songs. But actually everything is important to me. Music is the thing that seemed [to make] every door open, do you know what I mean? But I like to spend as much time on the visuals and everything aesthetically, just as much as the music. Every year I keep thinking like, ‘all right, universe, like whatever it is, you open doors and I'll follow.’ Yeah, so everything's just organic and it's just always been music.
So you grew up in Brisbane, when did you move to Sydney?
I moved here when I was 16. Just me. My parents were trying to save me essentially. Like, I'm just a big personality and I’ve got a lot of love to give and sometimes that sends me in the wrong direction. And I ended up with a guy who was just quite, like, physically abusive to me. When I think back now, it triggers me more now than it ever did. I don't know if that's getting older. But at the time, like, yeah, I grew up with this idea of like, you know, ‘you can figure it out, he's a good person, you can fix them.’ But I was just delusional.
Then when I was 16, it was Australia Day and I came home from a friend's party. And my dad had just packed up my whole room, put it in a trailer and he was just like, ‘get in the car. I don't want to hear a word out of your mouth. Go get in the car.’ Because they had tried to get me away from him. They tried. I just couldn't. I was just mesmerised and a little zombie in love. So all they could do is something so drastic, and they saved my life. So they moved me down here, I moved in with my sister. Her and her husband, who were only like 21 at the time, they raised me. They put me through year 10, 11, 12 again, I've been down here since.
I also feel thankful like, for the journey as well. Finding music was my therapy, writing about it and finding outlets and creativity. If I hadn't come to Sydney, I don't know if I would have done that. As soon as I got down here, I was always flying back to see them on the weekends. I was only 16. Yeah, they did what they could to help me. Realistically, I don't think they ever wanted me to leave, but they knew it was just the best thing for me.
Do you remember the first song you ever wrote and what was it?
When I was about 17. The first song I probably wrote... I got really into doo wop music like The Crystals, I'm really into just how simple it was, it's so classic, and the lyrics are just so straightforward. It's like, ‘you love me. I love you.’ You know what I mean? It's just so simple. There’s no metaphors, mind games, it's just simple love. So I figured out I had Logic on my laptop and I did a little five track EP of doo wop songs. And one of them was called I Want You and Ride which actually is on my very first ever EP Midnight Love. They were the first songs I ever wrote and recorded. I mean, there was probably so many before that. I write so much junk.
Do you find that any music you’ve written this year has been affected by what we’ve collectively been going through, lockdowns and tour cancellations and everything?
Don't get me wrong, when I say I'm thriving through COVID I mean, my music and my work, but personally, it has been a massive struggle. And I think that has come into my music. My personal life has been pretty turned upside down this whole year. Mentally it's been really difficult to navigate not being able to travel, see family, that's been really hard because I love family. And that's definitely been a big impact on my music. I do find it being a bit darker. I like dark music. And it seems to - I don't know what that but - it makes you feel more empowered? I don't know. I don't know why. You’re in a dark place. You like dark music. Psychology, it's weird, isn't it?
What I find interesting is that people resonate so much with your music, except you’re pulling influences from decades ago. From The Beatles, to Elvis, to The Beach Boys, really enduring stuff – what do you think you do differently that makes young people today connect with your music, instead of feeling like it’s old school sounding?
Just as you were saying that, I had this visual of that scene from Bring It On, you know, when they go to the montage of them like, ‘we did miming! We did jazz!’ I don't like one particular genre. I think I spent a lot of time listening to The Beatles, so the ‘60s is very much what I do put on if I'm putting on a track, but in saying that I'm not opposed to any genre. I’ll listen to anything if it's a good song, if I like that song.
So I think the difference between my music now is that there's so much kind of influence but I've had a really good team and producers that know the modern sounds, they’ve really helped me get my craziness of erratic songwriting and make it a little bit poppier and a little bit more modern. But not only that, it can relate to a lot of people because like, a lot of people think, ‘oh, this sounds like Panic! At The Disco. This sounds like Lily Allen.’ I've been getting the WILDEST comparisons. And I had a stage when I listened to that. Everyone that has said, ‘this sounds like this’ has had like, a couple of months of my life where I listened to them on repeat, so I can really see why they think that.
Do you have any pie in the sky collaboration goals, who would you love to feature on a record with?
The Strokes and Julian Casablancas. I love him. Like, I feel like he's got a really cool style and a cool eye. I worked in a studio in New York when I was like, 19 that they had worked in and they had written “2001, The Strokes” in the elevator. And there’s this little part of me like, I'm always meant to work with you. Yeah, like kindred spirits.
Where’s the first place you’ll go once international borders open, COVID is under control and we’re back to our normal lives again – hopefully?
Ibiza, baby! [laughs] No, I've never been to Europe. So I'm hoping to do a Europe tour. And I love French music. I listen to a lot of French music. I go to America very often and I love it. I've got like family there too. Like, when I say family like, they're not actually blood, but they’re my brothers! But yeah, Europe.
FArkk YAH mofos dis is My emotional support teddy because I’m so darn emotionally overwhelmed that both shows 4 das week SOLD OUT overnight ??and my single got spot add rotation on @triple_j ?Lordy bless y’all cotton socks for all the support & love you have given me so far! I wanna hold all ya hands in a big circle & sing songs forever! Who wants to hear some deep purple, smoke on the water!?