Platinum-selling and JUNO award winning group, The Sheepdogs, made history in 2011 when they won their chance to be the first unsigned band to make it onto the cover of Rolling Stone.
Fast forward eight years and the Saskatoon band has a packed spring and summer full of touring. Their retro vibe on recent album, Changing Colours, landed them their 10th JUNO nomination, this time for Rock Album of the Year 2019. The band consists of lead singer and guitarist Ewan Currie, lead guitarist Jimmy Bowskill, bass guitarist Ryan Gullen, drummer Sam Corbett, and Shamus Currie on trombone, keyboards, tambourine, and electric guitar. Their unique 70’s groove blended with classic rock n’ roll has given this old-school group a triumphant rise over the last decade.
We chatted with frontman Ewan Currie about how the Sheepdogs’ music has evolved, and got the details on his process of releasing a solo album in March. The Sheepdogs lit up the Bluesfest stage in Ottawa on Wednesday night, and once again did not disappoint.
Did you take an interest in music while living in Australia, or not until you moved to Saskatchewan?
I was always really into music. My Dad was a classical composer and a pianist so it was always very much a part of our household. I think even from an early age I listened to music pretty intensely and closely, more than just casually.
You and your bandmates grew up in Saskatoon and have stayed true to your Canadian roots throughout your rise to success over the last decade. What does it mean to you to be such a successful Canadian band?
I’m certainly proud to be from here. As we travel more overseas and in the States, I like when people ask me questions to learn about our country. This is where I make my home and it’s always good to be back home. I don’t think of ourselves as being a Canadian band, I just think of us as being a band that happen to be from here.
Your debut solo album Out Of My Mind is releasing in just a few days. You said the record was made very quickly but the songs reflect several years of writing. Tell us about the inspiration behind this new project. Is it similar to the music fans are used to from The Sheepdogs?
We only made it in about two and a half weeks of actual recording time, but writing these songs took place over several years. I spend most of my time as a touring member of The Sheepdogs and it takes up most of our year. In the little bits of time in between, I would work on songs, and if they weren’t the oysters rock’n’roll songs that we typically do, I would stash them away for a rainy day. I figured I had this group of songs that were more personal, more vulnerable, and a little more gentle than what we do with The Sheepdogs so I figured that some day they would find a home. I wasn’t sure exactly what that would be, but a couple years ago it became clear that I had an album’s worth of music that made sense together. So I found this producer that I really liked, Paul Butler, and we kind of tried to give it a little different flavour than what people would expect from The Sheepdogs because otherwise, why make a solo record if it just sounds the same?
Changing Colours was nominated for 2019 Rock Album of the Year at the JUNOS. Your band put more time into this album than a few of your previous ones. What were you going for with this record and what did you want fans to hear in this music?
I think when you take a little more time, it gives you more options. You can make the case for “less time is better”, like with my solo record, I really had to let things fly and you can’t overthink things. That way, you can’t smooth out all the natural vibes. When you have more time, you can just try different approaches. There were songs we would work on that just weren’t working, so we would take them apart and try something different to completely change the arrangement. There’s no one way to make a record and that’s kind of why music is beautiful. It’s not a mathematical thing. It’s part art and part science and you just go between the two.
How has your music evolved over time, and how have you changed as a band?
I think we’re still trying to say the same things and do the same styles of music. But I think I’ve gotten better at figuring out how to do them and how to write them melodically, and not just think about loud, rockin’ riffs. I want to think more about the melody, and the way the singing connects to people. I think that is a little more of a lasting way to connect by doing so through melody. And we’re also trying to highlight more harmony, as opposed to being loud with high energy. It’s more about the subtleties and making prettier songs.
What types of music influences your sound? Is there any artists you look up to?
I still bow down to the greats that I always have. Lennon, McCartney, Beatles, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young. It’s still who I look up to.
The Sheepdogs are set to perform at Bluesfest again this July. What do you enjoy about playing these kinds of summer festivals?
It’s good to play outside… when the weather is nice. We do a lot of outside stuff all year and unfortunately the cold weather gigs are not my favourite. It’s tough on the old hands playing guitar in the cold weather. Canada in the summertime is one of the greatest places around the world. Bluesfest is a really good time, and I like the set up of it. I like the way that it’s not all on one or two days, it’s spread out over a few weeks and it’s a pretty sweet festival.
Favourite thing about visiting Ottawa?
We always end up going downtown to the Dominion, and I like the big quarts of 50 you guys have.
What’s the story behind the Sheepdog’s name?
Before we were in this band, the original guys and I were in two different bands. One was called The Sheep and the other was called The Dogs, so it just kind of made sense to amalgamate the two.
Does your band have any interesting rituals on show days?
Before we go on, we usually have a Ouija board that we travel with and we usually ask it a few questions. We ask if we’re gonna have a good show, and other things about the set list.
What’s next for the band this year?
We’re starting off our US Tour opening for Rival Sons this Spring, and then in June we’re gonna do a tour of Europe.