BY: TYLER FYFE
Three time Juno award-winning band, The Sheepdogs, are bringing masculinity back to music with stadium-ready rock anthems that are just as epic as their beards. The Saskatchewan natives who have been making music since early 2004 are living evidence that the road to genuine success is a journey of inches. Now looking back on ten years of weathered stepping, it’s hard to see the distant horizon without a sense of surreality. Since their Saskatoon beginnings, these soldiers of southern-rock have pushed their way to the forefront of the Canadian music industry, signing a deal with Atlantic Records and making primetime appearances on popular shows such as Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. Recently, I caught up with bassist Ryan Gullen and singer/guitarist Ewan Currie during sound check before the band played to a sold out crowd at Toronto’s historical venue, The Castlefield Event Theatre.
In 2011, the band was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine, becoming the first unsigned act in the magazine’s history to receive the honour. Widely regarded as the “holy grail of music publications,” this tribute came as the result of the “Choose The Cover” competition, with The Sheepdogs reigning victorious after the totalling of 1.5 million public votes.
Ryan Gullen comments, “We’d been driving around in a van for a lot of years and making no money, so being thrust into the spotlight and getting the platform for people to hear and appreciate our music was huge for us.”
The international hype was enough to get the their music heard by Patrick Carney of The Black Keys, who became so passionate about the sound direction that he invited the band to the studio in early 2012. The album was released later that year and peaked at number one on the Canadian music charts. “He is a really smart guy musically and was a big part in helping us forge our own distinct sound,” says Gullen.
This had been an evolution of environment as previous to Carney the band had self-produced their work at a makeshift home studio.
Currie says, “we would work from my computer, setting up microphones without any rhyme or reason. Instead of thinking about the fancy equipment you have, you think a lot more about melody lines or guitar parts. It really put the focus on music and not technology.”
The band stays true to the organic roots of music making, focusing on strong song writing rather then trying to reinforce a limp-tune with layered production after the fact. It’s through such artistic integrity that the band managed to secure “Single of the Year” back in 2012 for their song I Don’t Know. Although a song-centered creative style is not necessarily a new-age revelation, it is certainly a needle in a haystack mentality in an industry largely blinded by “studio magic.”
Currie says, “I try not to be so specific in my songwriting. I like when music is more subjective. Most people think a song is about one thing when it’s not even remotely close to the writer’s intention. I like to keep things open to interpretation but still somehow familiar.”
The band’s signature Southern sound draws influence from past over present, citing CCR, Neil Young and The Band as sources of inspiration. “To me music stopped getting better after around 1971,” says Currie. The current rise of electronic music in mainstream discourse has driven rockers to a countercultural status, The Sheepdogs being major proponents of a modern day rock ‘n’ roll revival.
As Currie puts it, “Every music matches up to some type of drug. Electronic music matches perfectly to ecstasy and MDMA, but that doesn’t really interest me. Rock ‘n’ Roll is beer-drinking music and that’s more where I am at. There are still a lot of beer drinkers out there and we won’t forget them.”
Currently, The Sheepdogs have a new album in the works but maintained secrecy of their working title. The band assures fans that the sound direction will stay in line with their past work, holding on to the hard-hitting, upbeat energy that dovetails perfectly with summer highway driving. The band will be making their rounds at festivals all over the country this summer, must-see tour dates available at www.thesheepdogs.com. The Sheepdogs are undoubtedly a powerhouse on the Canadian music scene and stand as a living-example of why vintage is forever cool.