By Keith Sharp
When the pandemic ground the entire global music scene to a screeching halt, Saskatoon’s The Sheepdogs were in advance preparation for another major European tour. So, according to the band’s lead vocalist/guitarist Ewan Currie, the band did what comes naturally to them, record another album!
Now amid a major makeup tour of Western Europe which is responding ecstatically to their latest `Outta Sight’ album release, Currie reports the band has always received a strong European following.
“I don’t know what it is about our music that connects with them but it’s a region that has always responded favourable to us,” Currie noted. “We’ve always been big in Spain for some reason but it’s a reaction we’ve seen all over Western Europe,” Currie noted from his Toronto residence before heading overseas to join up with band members, lead guitarist Jimmy Bowskill, bassist Ryan Gullen, drummer Sam Corbett and brother Shamus Currie (keyboards) for a tour that has taken them through the month of May into June. Then the band is booked for a series of Canadian summer festival dates before executing a major 53-North American tour later this year.
Dates that will give the band plenty of opportunities to plug an album, which even by their terms is a stripped-down, bare-bones collection of pure rock music tracks. “When the pandemic stopped us from touring, we did the only other thing we know what to do and that is to record a new album,” Currie mused. “We’ve made a bunch of albums by now, so we know there’s only one way to record, and that’s to get us together in a room and see what happens. If the result is good then sweet, we keep going, but if it’s not, we don’t worry about it, we’re just happy to be playing, period.”
Kicking off the song list with the hard-driving “Here I Am”, Currie feels the entire album is reflective of the rawness they captured on their 2007 debut, `Trying To Grow’ release. “The energy comes from a place of balls-up energy, a sense of repression, teenage angst, a rebel without a cause energy” he mused.
“It’s not lost on me that The Sheepdogs have been together longer than The Beatles, we’ve been sticking together as a group for a long time, logged many, many hours in the studio and on stage as we’ve worked to improve our craft, our desire to work towards perfecting ways of writing songs that reflect the virtues of this band.”
A self-confessed workaholic, Currie has also released a solo album ‘Out Of My Mind’ in 2019 plus a duet with brother Shamus (BROS Vol 1 in 2016) when he is not actively creating material for his own band. “I was blown away when I discovered that Elton John had put out five albums in like 18 months, we are talking about classic era Elton John. Personally, I like to just keep cranking them out, we don’t put them out fast enough for me, if it was my call, we’d be putting out two albums a year.”
As for ‘Outta Sight’ Currie wanted to release a more stripped-down effort than their more adventurous 2018 `Changing Colours’ project. “Some of the songs were fully realized as demos before we started to record but other songs were like a rough idea or a riff. What I did was make a little dropbox, and put a bunch of demos in there from a full song to a couple of riffs. I went through them with the guys who told me which ones sparked their interest, then we’d run with it.”
It’s true that The Sheepdogs do use synthesizers on their latest single “I Wanna Know You” and Currie has embraced computers in recording the new album to fix mistakes. “But some people get too carried away with all of this technology until they lose the vibe, we would not want that to happen with us.”
Launched in Saskatoon, Ewan Currie, Ryan Gullen, Sam Corbett and original guitarist Leot Hanson initially aimed for a feel-good, blues-based sound when fell somewhere between Led Zeppelin and Crosby Stills And Nash with further credit to The Beatles, Allman Brothers and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Famously, they drew major attention by winning a Rolling Stone Magazine “Choose The Cover” contest in which magazine readers got to select one of 16 new bands to grace the cover of the magazine’s August 18th 2011 cover. Accompanying the prize was a U.S recording contract with Atlantic Records.
The Sheepdogs had already recorded three albums (their 2007 debut “Trying To Grow’, `The Sheepdogs’ Big Stand” in 2008 and `Learn To Burn’ in 2010 plus a `Five Easy Pieces’ E.P which was released prior to their Rolling Stone contest win. But with the win, Atlantic wanted a new album so Black Keys’ drummer Pat Carney was conscripted to record the band’s self-titled U.S debut during an intensive two-week session at Haptown Studios in Nashville.
Released September 4th, 2012, with the appropriate push from Atlantic, the album became the band’s second platinum sales release and resulted in major U.S exposure and a long stretch of touring which featured appearances on The Jimmy Kimmel Show and festival concert appearances at Coachella, Lollapalooza, Bonaroo and Glastonbury Festival in the U.K.
Yet while recognizing that all the attention boosted the band’s international profile, Currie was not happy with their U.S debut. “We had to compromise with what Atlantic wanted and we didn’t have much communication with the label. We don’t think the label did much to service that record, our management was frustrated with their lack of effort. They seemed to care more about chart positions and album sales while all we cared about was our music.”
The band had already enjoyed domestic success with “I Don’t Know” off their ‘Learn And Burn’ album and the Atlantic release created a major buzz for “Feeling Good” which enjoyed chart success in both the U.S. and Canada. Having re-released “Learn And Burn”, the Sheepdogs won three Juno Awards in April 2012 for Best Rock Album, Best New Group and Single Of The Year “Feeling Good”.
With brother Shamus joining the band in 2012 and Bowskill replacing Rusty Matyas (who had previously replaced Hanson) in 2015, the Sheepdogs have succeeded in creating their own distinctive sound with Currie and co-producer Thomas D’Arcy developing a series of albums that have found a receptive European audience.
“It’s hard to say why we are so popular but no matter where we go in Europe, they seem to love us,” mused Currie. “I think it’s because of our definitive American rock n roll sound but there’s something there that they like.”
Canadian and U.S audiences will get to re-acquaint themselves with The Sheepdogs when the band returns to North America for an exhaustive itinerary that will take them through to the end of 2022. A level of work that Currie encourages. “Prior to this European tour, I have never been off the road that long in my whole career. Getting up for the show that night gives you a sense of purpose, it just feels so good to be playing again.”
For tour information please link to thesheepdogs.com