“It’s an isolated city,” begins Ewan Currie, vocalist and guitarist for Saskatoon, SK-based rock and roll outfit The Sheepdogs about how their home base in the Canadian prairies shaped his band’s sound. “It really gave us the freedom to do our own thing; we never felt the need to be a part of an existing scene or trend.”
Some listeners may argue that the sounds soaring from their speakers while listening to the band’s latest EP, Five Easy Pieces, or preceding full-length, Learn & Burn, are familiar relics of decades past, and they’d be right; however, it’s the manner in which The Sheepdogs borrow bits from classic, psychedelic, and boogie rock iconoclasts like Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Allman Brothers, and The Grateful Dead and mix them with modern rock sensibilities that really sets them apart.
From the always silky-smooth three-part vocal harmonies prominent in tracks like “Why?” or the single “I Don’t Know” through to the dual-guitar interplay and pulsing rhythmic beds found on, well, pretty much every tune, The Sheepdogs don’t so much bring listeners “back in time” as they do weave the past with the present for an undeniable aural experience that appeals to audiences of all ages.
That appeal was recently proven when The Sheepdogs, via 1.5 million public votes, were declared the winners of a contest that found them as the first unsigned band to grace the cover of iconic rock rag Rolling Stone and, subsequently, landed them a deal with Atlantic Records. To the many that first caught wind of this decade-defying musical force surrounding that swirl of media attention, they may seem like something of an overnight success, though in reality, The Sheepdogs are anything but.
“Being from a small town, we were all looking to get out there – maybe try some new things,” says bassist Ryan Gullen about how he, Currie, drummer Sam Corbett, and guitarist Leot Hanson first came together to make music. All fans of the same kind of meat-and-potatoes rock and roll from the past, as well as its resurgence in the music of acts like The White Stripes or Kings Of Leon, it was their mutual musical mindsets that made for an undeniable chemistry. “It came from a very honest place,” continues the bassist. “We weren’t trying to be anything specific,” and with time, the band would only grow tighter and more comfortable with their sharpening sound.
Over the years, The Sheepdogs have trekked across Canada in their beaten-down van playing as many new cities as possible. The shows themselves were usually smokin’; the circumstances surrounding them often weren’t. “It was such a challenge pushing through roadblock after roadblock,” recounts Gullen, recalling the trying times of indifference from the industry. “We could rock any crowd we played to,” he says, but seemingly couldn’t shake the stereotypical struggles of the touring rock band. Those struggles often emerge in Currie’s lyrical content, along with musings from ladies, love, and loneliness through to isolation, drugs, and other demons.
Since having their unshaven mugs showcased in Rolling Stone and onstage at Bonnaroo, though, it seems the band has finally found their break and are ready to capitalize on the opportunity. “It used to be that we wanted to quit our day jobs and just make music,” says Currie of the band’s aspirations. “Now, it’s about hitting the road, playing some kick-ass shows, and getting ready to impress people with a new record.”
That full-length, expected in 2012, will surely cement the fact that, though they’ve had a bit of luck on their side, the only thing responsible for The Sheepdogs’ recent slew of success is the sweat they’ve left onstage and the sweet, sticky throwback tunes that share their infectious grooves with anyone taking them in.
Ewan Currie - Lead Vocals, Guitar, Keys
Leot Hanson - Guitar and Backing Vocals
Ryan Gullen - Bass and Backing Vocals
Sam Corbett - Drums and Backing Vocals
"The Breaks EP" (2006)
"Trying to Grow" LP (2007)
"The Sheepdogs' Big Stand" LP (2008)
"Learn & Burn" (2010)
"Five Easy Pieces EP" (2011)
Cover of Rolling Stone Magazine
First unsigned band on the cover
Patrick Carney Producing New Sheepdogs Album
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Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney is producing the new Atlantic Records album by the Sheepdogs, winn...Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney is producing the new Atlantic Records album by the Sheepdogs, winners of Rolling Stone's recent Choose the Cover contest. The as-yet-untitled album will be co-produced by Rolling Stone contributing editor Austin Scaggs with mixing by Tchad Blake and is tentatively scheduled for a late spring release.
"We're recording live in the same room with no headphones," reports Sheepdogs frontman Ewan Currie. "Pat's got great ideas and we all seem to be on the same level." That would make sense
The Sheepdogs (National Post Articles)
The Sheepdogs play it cool
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The Saskatoon history-repeaters showed up strong on Saturday at Lee’s Palace, the second of two sold...The Saskatoon history-repeaters showed up strong on Saturday at Lee’s Palace, the second of two sold-out shows at the black box on Bloor Street. The Sheepdogs did their stoned choogle and Southern-rock dreaming to beery applause and encouragement. The experience was an homage to the wheat-field soul of the Guess Who, the blue-jeaned boogie of Grand Funk Railroad and the peach-brandy blues of the Allman Brothers.
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Alot of people, particularly over the age of 40, can be heard saying things like ‘what happened to m...Alot of people, particularly over the age of 40, can be heard saying things like ‘what happened to music’?
There’s room there, for a multitude of theses, for the academically inclinded.
And there’s proof here, that in some far reaches of the world (ok, Canada), the kind of music I’m speaking of still exists.
For the umpteen over-produced, highly processed and compressed bar chord bands, with football harmonies that have long clogged the ears of A&R reps on this continent, every now and again there’s a band like this, that somehow cuts through the clutter.
The Sheepdogs on CBC radio 2
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Happy New Year! It being the start of a brand new year we thought we'd bring you a re-broadcast of o...Happy New Year! It being the start of a brand new year we thought we'd bring you a re-broadcast of one our most popular Up Close sessions with a band that also happens to be one of Canada's most popular bands, The Sheepdogs.
The Sheepdogs, Learn and Burn [Album, Concert Review]
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Apparently, there’s a saying that “nothing ever comes out of Saskatchewan, Canada except hookers and...Apparently, there’s a saying that “nothing ever comes out of Saskatchewan, Canada except hookers and hockey players.” Nonetheless, there are at least two bands that are making a strong case for the statement to be augmented to include musicians. The Deep Dark Woods, a longtime favorite of HearYa’s, are one. While the other band, The Sheepdogs, are new to these pages.
Although The Sheepdogs are indeed from the north, they confess to looking south for their inspiration. This influence is clear on the band’s latest LP, Learn and Burn, which presents 11 songs and concludes with a four-part medley. On “I Don’t Know,” the lead vocals shine in front of hard-hitting electric guitar to attain a sound that is reminiscent of Creedence Clearwater Revival. The title track conjures thoughts of early Santana with its combination of percussion and spiraling guitar. The aptly named “Southern Dreaming” employs a beautiful guitar intro that invokes The Allman Brothers Band.
Almost every song seems to pay homage to a different legend of rock ‘n’ roll. However, the band finds consistency and success in the use of soulful lead vocals, layered instrumentation, and striking harmonies that combine to achieve a brilliant sound throughout the record.
It was therefore, with considerable excitement that I attended a late afternoon unofficial CMJ showcase in Brooklyn on Wednesday to see The Sheepdogs play an acoustic set. Although limited to a handful of songs, they delivered a tremendous performance that highlighted each of the qualities that make The Sheepdogs a band to look out for. Hookers and hockey players should especially take note, as The Sheepdogs very well may steal your thunder.
The Sheepdogs, 70s-style rockers who were born to boogie Meet the Saskatoon four-piece who are making the me decade hip again
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Who are they? The Sheepdogs are a four-piece from Saskatoon who play ’70s-style rock with a… hey, w...Who are they?
The Sheepdogs are a four-piece from Saskatoon who play ’70s-style rock with a… hey, where are you going?
The stigma of swagger
Lord knows the world has heard enough bands working the same narrow swath of classic rawk, which is what makes The Sheepdogs’ Learn & Burn such an unexpected triumph. Thanks to their aversion to post–Van Halen guitar wankery and their avoidance of super-slick nü-rock production, The Sheepdogs actually sound like they’re from the ’70s. You’d think Learn & Burn had been discovered in a time capsule alongside a pet rock and a set of sideburn trimmers.
How do they succeed where so many have failed?
For one thing, their vision of that maligned decade is more inclusive. Learn & Burn is actually relatively light on massive riffs, delivering a smorgasbord of The Guess Who–style harmonized backing vocals, Latin interludes, Southern boogie-rock shuffles and scads of other me-decade touchstones.
So, who are their influences?
Along with the usual cadre of Guitar Player magazine cover fodder (Jimmys Page and Hendrix, Clapton et al.), lead guitarist Leot Hanson and singer/guitarist Ewan Currie cite lesser-known axe-wielders like original Chicago guitarist Terry Kath and Paul Kossoff from Free. “Pretty much anyone British that played a Les Paul… cranked.”
Learning to burn
Having formed in 2005 at the University of Saskatoon and having taught themselves how to play from the ground up (Currie remembers an initial 30-day, 30-rehearsal binge), the then-trio of Currie, bassist Ryan Gullen and drummer Sam Corbett soon added the dexterous Hanson on lead guitar. Buoyed by advice from well-travelled fellow Saskatoon band Junior Panthers, The Sheepdogs started touring and cutting LPs such as Trying To Grow, though they weren’t thrilled with that disc’s modern sound.
“We were very green, and we were at the mercy of people we were working with,” Currie shrugs. “They helped us out, but it happened that the studio we were working in was one that was used for commercial recordings.”
For Learn & Burn, which was released on CD early this year and has just become available on vinyl (you can snag an LP at the shows), the band recorded themselves at home. “Even though it’s an old-school album, we used the newest technology. But just because you use ProTools doesn’t mean you have to use Auto-Tune and computerize everything.”
The anxiety of influence
Gullen understands why people assume the band is living in the past, especially given their predilection for bell-bottoms and other fashion signifiers. He says, “If somebody in visual art was taking cues from the renaissance era, it’s not like they’re going to start walking around in medieval clothing. For some reason that transfers over more to music than in other medium, because there’s that performance aspect of it.”
Currie, however, wants folks to know that The Sheepdogs are citizens of the year 2010.
“It’s not like I want to bring [the ’70s] back, it just happens that the art from that time connects with me. I shouldn’t say there’s no great music now, there are quite a few good bands around.”
Gullen reminds Currie of yet another way that he’s, to paraphrase Garth from Wayne’s World, living in the now.
“Just the other day we figured out which Jersey Shore star Ewan is. He’s The Situation.”
Currie grins, looking like he wants to disappear into the floor. Maybe they could use a time machine after all.
Learn and Burn Full Review
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The Sheepdogs expertly borrow elements of classic rock, alt.country, and Canadiana to craft an album...The Sheepdogs expertly borrow elements of classic rock, alt.country, and Canadiana to craft an album that could have come straight out of your dad's record collection with Learn & Burn.
It's all familiar: the Pink Floyd-inspired vocal effects in "The One You Belong To," Beatles-esque piano in "Please Don't Lead Me On," Zeppelin-inspired guitar in "I Don't Know" and "I Don't Get By" and the album's retro-sounding production are just a few of the musical hat tips made by The Sheepdogs on this 15-track release.
Rather than sounding like a rehashing of rock classics, however, Learn & Burn is a carefully-written, timeless record. The strength of Ewan Currie's confident vocals against tight, solid instrumentals make the album much more than a tribute to rock records of the past — it's a cheeky synthesis of old and new.
In keeping with its vintage feel, Learn & Burn uses techniques such as the end-of-song fadeout and the seamless continuation of one song into the next (heard on the Beatles' Abbey Road and Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon), subtle details that don't go unnoticed by the keen ear.
The self-produced album features guest appearances by familiar names — Lucas Goetz of The Deep Dark Woods plays pedal steel guitar on "I Don't Get By" and "Learn & Burn," and the album's closing "Medley" was mixed by S.J. Kardash of Violent Kin (formerly of The Blood Lines).
Both classic rock fans and supporters of Canadian music will enjoy rocking out while picking out the historical and musical references on Learn & Burn.
The Sheepdogs: Learn and Burn Review
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Did the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (their LCBO) suddenly start stocking premium bourbo...Did the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (their LCBO) suddenly start stocking premium bourbon? Whatever sparked the formation of Saskatoon’s The Sheepdogs, they’ve certainly soaked up all the right ’70s influences. But, more importantly, they’ve got the songs to match the sound. You might call hookfests like the chuggin’-and-a-grinnin’ “I Don’t Know,” or the faintly Latin bongo- and organ-assisted title track, Psychedelic Psundaycore. Thankfully, singer/guitarist Ewan Currie stops short of Black Crowes–style mugging, crooning with muscle but also restraint as he and guitarist Leot Hanson blaze up a glorious cloud of axework on “Right On.” There are a few underdeveloped songs and the band could be tighter, but to paraphrase Currie on “The One You Belong To,” they’ve done more right than wrong.
The Sheepdogs: Learn & Burn
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Rolling and tumbling out of the flatlands of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, the Sheepdogs play classic roc...Rolling and tumbling out of the flatlands of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, the Sheepdogs play classic rock-a-boogie, with shaggy-haired deference to the likes of Humble Pie, the Faces, and Blind Faith, all the while quietly harboring the musical chops to saunter away from their comfort zone when the mood takes them. Led by blue-eyed soul shouter Ewan Currie, the Canadian quartet can be heard kicking up inordinate amounts of blues-rock dust one moment (“I Don’t Know”, “Catfish 2 Boogaloo”), weaving dueting guitars, congas, fluid organ, and super-tight harmony backing into a groovy soft rock mambo the next (“Learn & Burn”), before turning left into an intricately arranged, jazzy lounge ballad with horns and piano called “Rollo Tamasi”. Learn & Burn is the group’s fourth self-released album since forming in 2006. Which begs the question—why hasn’t anyone signed them yet?
The Sheepdogs: shaggy heroes of rock ’n’ roll
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In true fashion of the musical pioneers that came before them, the Sheepdogs sport shaggy hair and t...In true fashion of the musical pioneers that came before them, the Sheepdogs sport shaggy hair and typically laid back attire, perhaps in reference to their name. But don't let the ragged exterior fool you: they are music's new heroes, here to resuscitate rock 'n' roll.
Originally from Saskatoon, Sask., the band was formed in 2005 by a group of friends: Ewan Currie (lead vocals, guitar), Leot Hanson (guitar, backing vocals), Ryan Gullen (bass, backing vocals), and Sam Corbett (drums, backing vocals).
"We [were] all at a point in our lives where we wanted something different and new and I could play a little bit of guitar," said Currie. Corbett rented a drum kit and they immediately began to write and play originals, improving as musicians through the process. "From day one we really took it seriously even though we never had like... musical talent at all. Even from our first jam we committed [to the band], maybe a bit foolishly, but it actually worked out really well."
Often compared to great classics like Humble Pie, The Allman Brothers, and Free, The Sheepdogs' music spills over to jazz, country, old soul and blues with influences like Curtis Mayfield and Derek And The Dominoes.
They established a strong fan-base both in Saskatoon and Winnipeg, which Currie calls their second home. But who knew that the group of friends who could barely play their instruments would eventually be making waves all the way to Eastern Canada? Not only have they been nominated for Artist of the Year on XM radio's The Verge, their second album Big Stand was nominated for a Western Canadian Music Award for Independent Album of the Year. They have also played events like Junofest, the Red Gorilla Festival in Austin, Texas and recently North by Northeast, a large-scale industry music and film festival in Toronto.
Playing in Toronto sparked a collaboration with music-video director and editor Frank Guidoccio, who introduced himself after one of their shows and expressed his willingness to direct their first video. The official music video "I Don't Know," depicts two boys taking an automotive joyride of adolescent discovery. Aptly it has a Dazed and Confused vibe and a ‘70s wardrobe.
"We really like the video. We [shot] it in one afternoon and Frank did a really good job editing it together. We did it without any resources, just with Frank's ingenuity. We're hoping to make another video with Frank ‘cause if this is what he can do with, you know, no resources imagine what he can do" with them.
After their first two albums Trying To Grow (2007) and Big Stand (2008), they decided to take the production process into their own hands. Learn & Burn, which was released in early 2010, was recorded entirely on a computer, using Pro Tools and a microphone set. The band is pleased with the direction their album has taken, and feels Learn & Burn is the closest they've ever come to an end product that resembles their initial goal of how it would sound.
Though their fan base mainly stretches throughout Western Canada, the Sheepdogs are no strangers to Montreal. This time around, they will be headlining a showcase at Montreal's International Music Festival, POP Montreal, with Dog Day, Sister, and Dan Romano Oct. 1 at O Patro Vys.
"We're very excited about POP. I just hope if there are people out there that dig rock 'n' roll, guitar solos, harmonies, big choruses and just a nice groove, they'll come down and rock out."
If you believe true rock 'n' roll was buried in the ‘80s, let the Sheepdogs be a brightly shining beacon of hope. They play catchy tunes, wear leather and headbands and sound like your parents' dusty vinyls. And their nostalgic rock sound may very well revive your faith in rock 'n' roll.
Sunday Morning Coffee: The Sheepdogs
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Classic rock is a tough sell. I mean, the majority of the bands trying to rehash the sounds of The A...Classic rock is a tough sell. I mean, the majority of the bands trying to rehash the sounds of The Allmans or Skynyrd probably saw Almost Famous one too many times and can't wait for it all to start happening. TOPEKA!
I'm 99% sure that traveling along the road of a modern classic rocker is almost impossible. People give anyone sounding like Neil Young or The Beatles a pass - not a John Mayer type of pass - but if you try to rekindle a love of Foghat people give you the gas face. Honestly, if you can actually find a classic rock fan, chances are they would always pick up a dusty CD from their shelf before heading down to a dingy club hoping to hear someone get it right when it comes to sampling from The Stones catalog.
It's also the one genre that everyone assumes bands attack with a tongue planted firmly in cheek, resulting in songs steeped with irony. It becomes easy to dismiss the effort as a novelty act, instead of a bunch of dudes just loving music that came from years ago and was made with guitars, bass, drums and keys instead of Mac Books and loops. That my friend, is too bad because when a band gets it right - like Vancouver's Lions in the Street - the results are enjoyable. An act that is right on the cusp of reaching that level is Saskatchewan's The Sheepdogs. Their latest record - Learn & Burn - is full of classic rockers with some soul and sepia-drenched keys/organ mixed in an encased in a giant cloud of sweet smelling smoke.
I can't say the record ever reaches that "classic" status for me, but I never question the band's integrity. These songs never feel like The Sheepdogs are simply pilfering from the past and that's why, even with the occasional mention of facebook, no one would object if you threw this record onto an old dive bar juke box and hit play. The recipe of guitars, drums and nicely executed harmonies feels legit, built on years of listening to the same songs and jamming out in the garage. You hear the familiar touch points - heavy in 70's southern rock and some Beatles-y riffs - but you also can tell The Sheepdogs are trying hard to carve out their niche in a genre forgotten by most people unless karaoke is on the menu.
When the band gets it right - like they do with the nostalgic anthem, I Don't Get By - you can't help but think back to a time when music meant something and the nights spent listening to it were the best nights of your young life. The band will be making a stop here in Halifax to burn the Seahorse down on March 3rd. Might be time to get your matching denim jacket and jeans out of the closet and rock out.
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There is a ton of great music out there right now. Just go to any festival like Warped or Lollapaloo...There is a ton of great music out there right now. Just go to any festival like Warped or Lollapalooza and you will see hundreds of great bands on any given day. However sometimes you have to escape the modern sounds and in the case of The Sheepdogs cross the Canadian border to find the next great band. With their latest release The Sheepdogs Big Stand, the Saskatoon based band takes you on a journey back in time through their 70’s rock roots. “Let It All Show” pulls you into the album and with the very first chord you will be swinging your arm around in Pete Townsend like fashion, but as the opening gives away to the song you see that Who like inspired sound give away to Southern Rock feel ala Skynyrd that will have you moving right along throughout the song. As you dig through the album this same 70’s influence is proudly on display with cuts like “Waiting For The Morning To Come,” “In My Sights,” “Garbageman,” “Creeps,’ and the guitar driven album closer “The Contenders,” a personal favorite from this album. They do slow things down a bit as they show on “The Sea” and “Black and Tan,” but for the most part this stays right around the 70’s era, guitar rock anthem style. The fusing together of big guitars with sing-a-long chorus and rhythms to keep you moving throughout the album is enough to attract attention and it has. It is no surprise that this album has been nominated for a Western Canadian Music Award for Independent Album of the Year. Definitely worth a spin for you classic rockers as this sounds like a lost album from the 1970’s and for you youngsters, this is something that sounds like what you’d hear on re-runs of That 70’s show. (JK)
new music: the sheepdogs
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Do you ever feel like classic rock stations and local dive bars have exhausted your favorite 70s sou...Do you ever feel like classic rock stations and local dive bars have exhausted your favorite 70s southern rock jams? Need some new tunes for that Skynard stocked road trip play list? If you're searching for a new band to compliment those a cappella "Blackwater" sessions look no further than Canada's own shaggy headed foursome, The Sheepdogs.
Their music is anything but retro imitation. Rather, it's authentic good old rock 'n' roll; the kind that makes you want to throw back a beer at some highway worn mom and pop joint somewhere below the Mason-Dixon. The Sheepdogs successfully synthesize that CCR/ Allman Brothers, down-by-the-levee blues rock with Ray Davies worthy melodies. Ewan Curries' vocals are incredibly complementary to their sound; he can rock out the Fogerty power and still hit the softer soul vibe. Commanding southern rock riffs and Brit pop harmonies make their music familiar enough to draw you in and fresh enough to keep you listening.
The band's sophomore album The Sheepdogs' Big Stand was released earlier this year, and it's just been nominated for Independent Album of the Year at this year's Western Canadian Music Awards. Starting in early September, The Sheepdogs will kick off a tour of the northeast and Canada while catching some studio time for their third album. We got the slate of dates below for your consideration. - Amelia Trask
New dogs, old tricks Saskatoon rockers play music inspired by the era of rock ‘n’ roll they like the most
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It’s often said you shouldn’t live in the past – but that old adage doesn’t hold true for Saskatchew...It’s often said you shouldn’t live in the past – but that old adage doesn’t hold true for Saskatchewan rock outfit The Sheepdogs.
That’s because the four members look like The Allman Brothers with their shaggy hair and grubby beards, sound like CCR with pop overtones and choose to indulge in records their parents grew up with in the earlier days of rock ‘n’ roll.
“We all like the music produced between 1964 and 1974 – the rock, pop and soul of that era. That’s the music we listen to, so that’s the kind of music we like to make,” bass player Ryan Gullen said by phone last week, moments after pulling the band’s tour van into Toronto following a long trip from New York.
“As far as looks, that goes with the music. I guess we all just want to look the part.”
Having finished recording their third full-length album one day before leaving on tour, The Sheepdogs are playing 17 shows in 19 days. They’ll stop in Winnipeg this Saturday, Oct. 10 for a show at the Times Change(d).
But life wasn’t always as hectic for The Sheepdogs.
Rounded out by singer-guitarist Ewan Currie, guitarist Leot Hanson and drummer Sam Corbett, the band first formed four years ago in Saskatoon out of a common love for old music and a desire to create their own.
“We wanted a sound different from music out there today. New music is just so over-produced, over-compressed and over-analyzed to the point where they’re taking every piece of music and making it so that every instrument is perfect,” the 25-year-old Gullen said. “Every snare hit sounds the same over and over again, and the guitars are processed through the computer. We thought music recorded in the ‘60s and ‘70s had a lot more character, so that’s the style we were going for.”
To achieve that sound, the band uses old recording techniques such as using only two mics to record the drums.
And for their latest outing, they employed mix engineer Bill Moriarty, who is known for his use of vintage analogue gear and producing warm ‘60s-noir sounds.
The Sheepdogs have also proven to not only posses a knack for heartfelt, old-time southern rock songwriting, but also a steady work ethic.
“An album should be an experience. Not just a couple of singles and a few shitty b-sides,” Gullen said about the stock the band puts into a record.
The band has released two full-lengths and earned a nomination for best independent album of the year at the Western Canadian Music Awards for last year’s The Sheepdogs’ Big Stand.
The didn’t win, but the weekend wasn’t without any excitement. Gullen witnessed two teenagers break into Winnipeg singer-songwriter Romi Mayes’ van.
When police arrived on the scene, Gullen gave the officers a couple of Sheepdogs CDs.
“These kids are in the back of the cruiser and the cops blast our CD as they pulled away,” Gullen laughed.
“They not only got arrested, but they also had to listen to our songs all the way down to the police station.”
LET LOOSE THE DOGS OF ROCK: NEW ALBUM IN TOW, SHEEPDOGS SET TO BUILD ON BURGEONING REPUTATION
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In only a few short years, The Sheepdogs have gone from being a group of young guys, simply hanging ...In only a few short years, The Sheepdogs have gone from being a group of young guys, simply hanging out and jamming, to one of Saskatoon’s most well-known musical acts. Their music is straight-up, Southern-style rock ‘n’ roll reminiscent of Skynyrd or Creedence Clearwater Revival, but given a unique twist with the addition of elements from soul, country, and psychedelia. The guys themselves are unpretentious prairie lads, usually sporting long shaggy hair and excellent beards. Overall, The Sheepdogs take pride in making good music, giving audiences their money’s worth and making each other laugh.
The scruffy foursome have just put the finishing touches on a new full-length album called The Sheepdog’s Big Stand, the follow up to last year’s Trying to Grow. Though they’re busy getting ready for the album release on April 12th at Louis’, but bass player Ryan Gullen and frontman Ewan Currie were more than happy to answer a few questions about the growth of their music, crazy touring stories, and where the hell that exclamation point after Saskatchewan! came from.
PLANET S: You’re pumping out albums at a solid pace of one per calendar year — an impressive feat. How has your sound changed since 2007’s Trying to Grow?
SHEEPDOGS: Leot joined our band partway through recording of Trying to Grow and only played on a handful of tracks. [On Big Stand] he was involved on each song from conception, developing his guitar parts as the song itself developed. Overall, the new album is a logical next step from the previous one — it doesn't deviate too far stylistically, but the songwriting is better, there are more harmonies and a dual-guitar attack, and overall the playing is better. This album represents the benefit of all the shows on the road and at home we've played since Trying to Grow came out.
PS: What has changed since Trying to Grow in regards to the band itself?
SD: We've learned many things, both on the music side and on the business side. It's a lot easier for us to focus on the musical side of things, and we've come a long way since the last album musically. The business side of things has improved, but it's a lot tougher going. We've learned lots from musicians we've met, and just by meeting bands and promoters in different cities, we're able to hook up shows and find places to stay for free.
PS: Who produced the new album, and where did you record it?
SD: [The album was produced by] Randy Woods, Ross Nykiforuk and The Sheepdogs. The original bed track sessions were done on a giant soundstage in the Media Group building, [because] we were shooting for a “big room” sound. Then we did overdubs at CosmicPad Studios, where we did our last two albums.
PS: Are there any underlying or recurring themes on the album?
SD: There isn't a consistent theme to the album — the songs have varying content and intents — but a few tunes, [like] “Creeps,” “The Garbageman” and “Push It Along” are sort of character sketches. This is us taking a page out of the Kinks' book — Ray Davies would often write about a specific individual or character. The title of the album reflects our desire to make a big impression — we've been going as a band for a while, toured a bit, and this is our third album in three years. We want this album to impress.
PS: Who grows the best beard in the band?
SD: Ryan has rocked the beard consistently for the longest — two years now. Ewan usually has either a beard or some kind of variation of moustache; Leot looks like Frank Zappa with his ‘stache, otherwise he looks like Brian May; Sam's usually clean-shaven. Probably Ryan takes this one.
PS: Congrats Ryan — your statue is in the mail. So, what drew you guys to the Southern-influenced, ‘70s rock sound?
SD: It's simple: we make the music we like listening to, and we've listened to lots of Derek and the Dominoes, The Allman Brothers and so on, so inevitably they show up in our tunes. Southern rock is great because it combines the soulfulness of things like roots and country music with the excitement and energy of rock n’ roll. [There are] even British bands who do the Southern thing: The Kinks, Humble Pie, The Rolling Stones, [and] the music just kicks ass. If it moves you, you’ve got to go with it.
PS: Has being from the prairie influenced your music at all?
SD: We write about grain elevators and the Roughriders. Just kidding. I don't think being from the prairies actually influences the music — it affects us as people, but musically we draw on influences that are usually from the UK and the US.
PS: You’ve had the chance to play with some pretty widely-established acts — who was your favourite?
SD: The best was playing with Matt Mays. He's got a good thing going career-wise, and he plays the kind of music we like. It was the first time we played with a band that we had been fans of previously. The weirdest might be playing with Faber Drive in Ontario. They're a pop-punk band with videos on Much Music, and they sound-checked for about two hours, and made a bunch of primadonna demands. The crowd [consisted of] about 250 young teenage girls, and we were so out of place — long-haired, bearded guys playing long guitar jams in front of all these 15-year-old girls. They didn't move or make a sound while we played, but they clapped attentively at the end of each song. We posed for photos with some girls and signed autographs — and felt pretty cheesy.
PS: That’s pretty funny. What’s the craziest tour or show story you have?
SD: Probably no single show stands out as much as just the various characters we've met across this fine nation. At the end of one western tour we made a list of all the wackos we'd met. From drunken disgraced ex-ministers from Hanna, Alberta to guys asking us to have sex with their ex-wives, we've met some weird dudes — and both those guys were at the same show. When you play ‘til 2 a.m. in bars each night — not just on weekends, but throughout the week — you inevitably meet people who exist on the fringes of society.
PS: What plans do you have for touring after the album is released?
SD: We plan to do trips out west and east, although at this point we're still trying to get a new van. Our old van has been written off after having a window smashed out twice in five months. On our most recent tour, the first day we were heading to Calgary it began leaking transmission fluid. With no time or funds to replace the transmission we just topped up the fluid to keep it running. Some 25 litres later, we abandoned it in Airdrie, where it was broken into and impounded. We got a rental van for the rest of the tour, but it had a window smashed out in Victoria four days later. So we had three smashed windows in five months. Still, we plan to continue spreading our music, doing trips to the west coast, and hopefully getting to the east coast. Thus far we've only made it as far as Montreal, although we've played Toronto a couple of times.
PS: We all saw you in a huge print campaign awhile back. I thought it was a Sasktel ad, but let’s set the record straight. What was it and how was the experience for you?
SD: It was for the [former government’s] “Saskatchewan!" campaign — they hipped up Saskatchewan by putting an exclamation mark after it. It was promoting Saskatchewan as a place to live and work, citing us as an example of artists who are able to do what they love in their home province. It certainly raised our public awareness a fair amount — we were on billboards here and there, and a lot of those bathroom stall ads. It was ridiculous how many people told us they saw our ad while sitting on the john. [A lot of people besides you] thought that the ad was for Sasktel and thought we were getting some kind of kickbacks.
PS: What can an audience expect to hear at The Sheepdogs CD release show at Louis’ on April 12th?
SD: A tight, well-grooving rock and roll band. Everybody singing together, guitars playing in harmony — sweaty, long-haired dudes playing their hearts out.
PS: By most measures, you guys are doing great, playing good music and getting lots of exposure — but how do The Sheepdogs measure success?
SD: By the way we feel we play and by people's reactions and comments after shows. We've played a lot of quiet shows on the road, and it's not the greatest, but when a few people come and tell us how much they loved our music and how glad they are that we're playing the kind of music we are, it makes up for it. Then, of course, we have busy shows where people are having a ball, singing along to songs they've never heard before. I think we determine a lot of our success based on crowd response. If you stand up on a stage and play music, it's for people — and if we're entertaining them, then we've succeeded.
Sheepdogs united in their rock ‘n’ roll resolve
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The Sheepdogs may be the hardest-working band on the Prairies. These guys were serious from day one...The Sheepdogs may be the hardest-working band on the Prairies.
These guys were serious from day one. For two months after the band formed in Saskatoon in the summer of 2004 – without really knowing how to play their instruments – the three original members practiced together every single day. When one of them was out of town, the other two practiced anyway.
These guys want to be a working band - a band that records often and tours often, a band that “doesn’t take a night off,” a band that delivers.
And as the shaggy rockers – Ewan Currie on vocals and guitar, Sam Corbett on drums, Ryan Gullen on bass and recently added guitarist Leot Hanson – prepare to deliver their first full-length album this week, they explain that The sheepdogs are a hard-working band because they have to be.
“From day one, it was like, ‘let’s go jam.’ It was very serious. Like ‘let’s try and be as good as we can,’” said Currie in an interview.
“We’re by no means classically trained musicians,” added Gullen. “We’re the first ones to admit we’re not the best f our kind… We’re very modest about the fact that we just try and get better and better.”
“That’s not to sell ourselves short,” noted Currie.
“I mean, we can get a good jam going.”
The Sheepdogs’ approach has long been focused on being the best live band they can be - to write songs that sound good live and pull them off as best they can, Currie explained.
“We still have a lot of room to grow,” said Gullen. “ The more we play, the better we sound.”
They may be modest, but more accurately, they are simply ambitious.
And there’s nothing amateur about The Sheepdogs’ new record, appropriately titled Trying To Grow. If you love the Stones or CCR – hack, if you love rock ‘n’ roll period – you’ll likely dig the riff0heavy, swampy southern rock on this record.
Hang Onto Yourself is propelled first by big, boisterous guitar work, Currie’s hearty yowl and interjections of “Do you really love me?” from backing vocalists Gullen and Corbett. Later the song has handclapped percussion and a wailing guitar solo. The moody Tonight has a steady acoustic strum underneath and adds chiming electric guitar and organ. The song’s chorus, with its major-minor switch, is stunning.
“There’s these great moments when we play live, but there’s also these great moments on the album,” said Currie. “I’m really excited for people to hear it. I can’t wait for people to hear it.”
While Currie concedes the songs have a “retro” feel, he points out a double standard here. If a band is influenced by The Rolling Stones or The Beatles, they’re called throwbacks, but “if you sound like Morrisey or The Cure, that’s OK – that’s new.”
“It’s not a conscious effort to replicate,” Currie continued. “You just gravitate naturally to what you enjoy … that’s what speaks to us.”
The band members agree their music has appeal across age groups – yep, their parents and even grandparents don’t mind the music.
“It’s because the music of that bygone era – the melodies – are more timeless. They speak to everybody,” said Currie.
And surely plenty in that older generation would be impressed by The Sheepdogs work ethic.
The band is seeking label support – some help to get their music out there and get more gigs. (The group has toured between Banff and Toronto in 2006, and also played for a crowd of 30,000during the Saskatoon centennial bridge party.)
Gullen , for one, wants to look back in 10 or 15 years and say they gave it all they had. “Rather than being like, ‘yeah, we jammed a bit ,’ it’d be nicer to say we put out these albums… and we worked two jobs so we could go on tour,” he said. “It’d be nice to look back and say we actually took a shot at it, as opposed to just petering out.”
The Sheepdogs’ CD release shows are Friday and Saturday night at Lydia’s pub. The band is joined by All The King’s Horses on Friday and The Musty Steers on Saturday.
Trying To Grow (Review)
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An aptly titled full-length debut, Trying To Grow, finds local Saskatoon throwback act The Sheepdo...
An aptly titled full-length debut, Trying To Grow, finds local Saskatoon throwback act The Sheepdogs with one foot firmly stuck in the bluesy classic rock territory they’ve become known for and mastered, but expanding their sound and thematic focus.
The band, recently fleshed out by newest member, guitarist Leot “Squirrel” Hanson, consists of songwriter Ewan Currie and the backbone of Ryan Gullen (bass) and Sam Corbett (drums). Despite being released in the cold of winter, this album is a clear contender for a summer sing-a-long heavyweight, Currie’s vocals are immediately endearing, both charismatic and full-bodied; you can almost taste the whiskey and beer on his breath. He’s convincing enough that you can share a tear with him as he woefully expresses affliction as a “greedy man”, and yet raise your glass in salute while he boasts being “one of the baddest mother-fuckers of all time,” within seconds of each other.
The guest additions of slide guitar and saxophone are tasteful and complementary over the classic rock quartet formula, accentuated by a slightly heavier concentration of keys and backing vocals that call to mind similarities as diverse as pink Floyd to more modern acts as Sam Roberts, and even The Weakerthans
A welcome and logical evolution from the earlier EP’s, Trying To Grow provides evidence of a band seeking to do just that. With luck and some hard work, the group will have cemented their status as party band extraordinaire, with hefty portions of heart to spare. With influences lovingly shepherded under collective wings, The Sheepdogs have corralled their own signature sound, and it will grow.
File under: Four Shaggy musicians. Ain’t that a thang?
The Sheaf, U of S Student Newspaper
Feb 1, 2007
Typical set is 45-90 minutes of originals, but we can play up to 3 45 minutes sets of music, mixing in some songs by the Kinks, Free, Neil Young, The Black Keys and others.
There are no upcoming dates at this time.